University of Notre Dame

Objects Matter

Course Number: SOC 13181-5
Instructor: Terence McDonnell

The less we are aware of objects, the more powerfully they influence our expectations and behavior. This class takes objects seriously, exploring how objects intervene in social life. We’ll ask questions like:

How do phones disrupt or encourage communication and friendship? Why do cultures form around Twilight novels and Pokemon cards? Do surveillance cameras and red light cameras reduce deviance? Why do men leave the toilet seat up? How are racial inequalities inscribed in objects like kids toys or video chat technologies? Who is at fault when self-driving cars kill someone, the car’s owner or the corporation? How are hoarding and minimalism linked with social class? Are we turning into cyborgs, as we come to rely on Fitbits and Google glasses to get through life? Will carebots for the elderly or sex dolls change social relations?

In this rigorous, interdisciplinary seminar, we’ll discuss how objects communicate meaning, express and establish identity, create community, instantiate or disrupt moral orders, control our behavior, the promise and perils of consumerism, the power of materiality, and more. Students will engage in an number of “object lessons,” where they explore the power of objects through real world exercises.

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