Chapter two assignment: The Shoe Exercise
This exercise is designed to get us thinking critically about culture, especially with regard to the production, use and meaning of artifacts of material culture. Make sure your responses are put in paragraph form. Please note I strongly discourage single word responses, preferring instead substantive responses. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation count.
Decide upon an object which you will “interrogate,” then write an essay in which you address the following questions.
What is the object? How do you know? Were you born knowing this? If the members of your society had no previous experience or knowledge of the object and it simply fell from the sky one day what meaning might you attach to it and how might you use it? What do you actually use it for? Do you use it just for one thing or can it have multiple uses? What does this item mean in your culture? Does possessing it say something about your status in the society? What might it mean to someone in another culture? Imagine how the meaning of this object might change in the future, within both your culture(s) and the cultures of others.
How is the item produced? Do most individuals have the ability to produce one on their own? Why or why not? What does that say about the complexity of the item? Does the item represent sophisticated or simple technology? How long have humans had the technological capacity to make this sort of item?
Think about the material(s) used to make the object. Where did they come from? Did they come from the same basic geographic region or were they gathered from far and wide? Would this have been possible or practical 2000 years ago? Where (country, region, etc.) was the object made? Was it made in a factory or in someone’s home? Think about the lives of the people who likely made the object. What are they like? Do they own vehicles? Do they enjoy their work? Is their place of employment a comfortable place, clean and well-lit with air conditioning/adequate heat? Does their work afford them a better or worse life than they previously had? Can they afford to purchase the product they help produce? Do they live in the country or city? Are they supporting a nuclear or extended family? Will their participation in the production of this product likely help them achieve upward social mobility?
How much do you think it costs to produce the item and get it to the store so you can purchase it? How much does it cost? Is there a large gap between what it costs to get it to market and what consumers pay for it? Why?
Do you think it has been improved upon since it first appeared? Doesn’t the “old version” work just as well? Will you only purchase the “new version” when your current model literally breaks or otherwise ceases to function? Why would you get a new one if the old one still functions?
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