A fascinating new book has gone straight onto my Amazon Wish-List. The Comfort of Things is non-fiction that details how material objects come to embody social relationships. And it shows this by focussing on the lives lived in thirty homes in just one street in south London…

“collections of plastic ducks and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, mementoes of Franz Ferdinand, bottles of whisky from the Queen’s Jubilee, religious images, photographs of reality TV babes, and miniature bottles of foreign liquors. In every case, Miller endeavours to show the parts these material objects play in constituting and organising his subjects’ lives. […] a powerful corrective to the banal notion that materialism is synonymous with excessive individualism and, perhaps above all, an informed, sensitive, and wholly sympathetic guide to the human diversity to be found through the keyholes of our capital city.” (Review by Laurie Taylor).

“This is a book quite out of the ordinary. Among other things, it is further evidence that geographers and anthropologists have picked up the banner of close social observation that British sociology, once proud of a heritage which began with Charles Booth, has let drop in pursuit of the flashier charms of postmodernism and post-postmodernism.” (Review in the TLS, unfortunately illustrated with a Martin Parr photo)

“It is a book that also makes you think about the cosmology of meaning within one’s own immediate household. I couldn’t help but contemplate the collection of scores of glass fish acquired by an old friend, for example, or the placing of the various knick-knacks and family photographs in my parents’ front room. […] On his street, he finds that it’s the people who give meaning to the things. They care about their collections of photographs or their carpets, or their china statuettes, but that is because these objects, often apparently trivial, represent relationships with their families and friends, and sometimes with the wider community.” (FT review)


The author writes about his book on the Material World blog. Polity Press has the full table of contents.