Material Cultures – The Same but Different

Our task this week, after a lecture unpacking the concept of ‘matter’ and how we understand things to be both physical matter and to have ‘matter’, we were asked to look at our chosen objects in a new light. Below are my five images of my object in a different format to it’s original.

Clockwise from the top left:

Image 1: Steg, my original chosen object.

Image 2: An artist’s rendering of a Stegosaurus

Image 3: A skeleton of a real Stegosaurus

Image 4: The Ty Company logo

Image 5: The stuffing found inside most soft toys.

It is immediately clear to see that when I consider my object through different formats, the connotations of it change completely. Steg is my beloved stuffed stegosaurus toy whom I have owned and loved for probably close to fifteen years. Yet this cute stuffed toy is based upon an ancient dinosaur, one who looks neither cute nor friendly. The reality of his origins becomes much more apparent, and almost makes me wonder who thought this large, ungainly, and frankly quite ugly, dinosaur would make a good children’s toy once it had been ‘cute-ified’. The skeleton and the drawing both show something primitive and very large, and the image of the skeleton is that of the most complete skeleton in the world. We only have a fragment of an idea of what the Stegosaurus would really look like, and yet we have cute cuddly representations of them gracing the shelves and bedrooms.

I’ve also looked to break down Steg into his component parts – both the company to which he came from, and his literal parts. The Ty company are responsible for the 1990s craze of Beanie Babies, to which Steg is a member of their family. Originally, he came with a Ty tag stapled into his shoulder, but I swiftly removed both the cardboard heart and plastic tag as it made him difficult to cuddle. He does, however, still bear the Ty logo on the label (which also contains information about his physical parts and how to wash him). The final picture is what he is filled with, what makes him by definition a ‘stuffed toy’. This is the soft fibre filling that most toys are stuffed with to make them squishy and lovely to cuddle. However, even though Steg is an inanimate object, I find it somewhat morbid placing this image alongside him – this raises issues of the abject (Kristeva 1982), perhaps particularly because I have an emotional connection to him and have personified him over many years. I realise it is no different to highlight that a human is organs and bones, but I feel reducing him to such meaningless parts takes away from what he really is, and what he means to me. Butler’s work on Bodies that Matter is important to the discussion here, as while I know and understand Steg to be an object, I still attach matter and meaning to his body. I understand that he is both the physical matter of the stuffing, as well as the emotional matter of being my childhood object.

I highlighted last week in my embodiment discussion that I understand how I and Steg have our own bodies, connected by the sense of touch, emotion, and by the feelings of skin (Ahmed 2000). Although Butler’s work looks to break down notions of performativity and the impact of dominant structures on the body, her attention turns to construction of subjects. ‘A construction is understood in this latter case to be a kind of manipulable artifice, a conception that not only presupposes a subject, but rehabilitates precisely the voluntarist subject’ (Butler 1993: 7). Looking at this idea of the ‘manipulable artifice’ I consider how my own positioning and identity, has shaped Steg’s identity and subjectivity. Interestingly, I didn’t name him; he came ready with the name and I stuck with it. Already he came to me with a basic identity and subjectivity. From this springboard, I have shaped over the years his identity and his matter, both physically and emotionally. I voluntarily took up the task of shaping his matter and identity, one which was within consideration or thought other than I wanted to explore this – almost a form of quiet role play on my behalf (MacCullum-Stewart 2014).

Marres and Lezaun (2015) discussed in their paper how people engage with objects through social, political, and economical discourses. They seek to highlight that physical matter does not have to be simplistic site of the struggle. ‘Objects, devices, settings and materials, not just subjects, acquire explicit political capacities, capacities that are themselves the object of public struggle and contestation, and serve to enact distinctive ideals of citizenship and participation’ (ibid: 491). They highlight that the very subjectivity and identity of an object, it’s matter, can be considered to be where discourses clash and are played out, rather than needing a literal physicality to react with. I do find it a little difficult to deposit such huge discourses onto my stuffed toy, but in reflection I can fully see how their point unfolds. Steg’s label reads ‘Made in China’ – already we see these huge discourses unfolding through his very matter. I was given him as a gift, purchased from a shop, and thus perpetuating the capitalism of the Ty company, but also of the political, social, and economical values of the supply chain and manufacture.

It becomes clearer when more closely examined that objects, as well as having subjectivity, can be the sites of conflict for these discourses, malleable as they are. Considering the social, economical, and political discourses around matter, both physical and emotional, allows me to gain a wider global perspective of objects and their connotations and place within structures and discourse.



Ahmed, S (2000) ‘Embodying Strangers’ Strange Encounters: Embodies Others in Post-Coloniality. London: Routledge.

Butler, J (1993) Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. London: Routledge

Kristeva, J (1982) The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press

MacCullum-Stewart, E (2014) Online Games, Social Narratives. London: Routledge

Marres, N and Lezaun, J (2015) ‘Material and Devices of the Public: An Introduction’ Economy and Society Vol 40 (4) 489-509

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