Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Grasping Things

Grasping Things: Folk Material Culture and Mass Society in America

Simon J. Bronner
Copyright Date: 1986
Edition: 1
Pages: 272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Grasping Things
    Book Description:

    America stocks its shelves with mass-produced goods but fills its imagination with handmade folk objects. In Pennsylvania, the "back to the city" housing movement causes a conflict of cultures. In Indiana, an old tradition of butchering turtles for church picnics evokes both pride and loathing among residents. In New York, folk-art exhibits raise choruses of adoration and protest. These are a few of the examples Simon Bronner uses to illustrate the ways Americans physically and mentally grasp things. Bronner moves beyond the usual discussions of form and variety in America's folk material culture to explain historical influences on, and the social consequences of, channeling folk culture into a mass society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4856-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. 1 Grasping Things
    (pp. 1-22)

    To express themselves people respond quickly with words, but the objects they grasp have more lasting things to say. The object derives power from its fixity. More stable than speech, the object attracts inspection by many senses, especially those of touch and sight. Differences appear in the priority of senses in modern mass society and many older folk societies. Folklorist Alan Dundes made the claim that in modern American culture, vision comes first. He pointed out that in everyday speech, “vision” stands for “understanding.” “I see what you mean,” “eyewitness,” “eye-opener,” “insight,” and “the mind’s eye” are phrases equating sight...

  5. 2 Entering Things
    (pp. 23-86)

    “Who does not remember the interest with which, when young, he looked at shelving rocks, or any approach to a cave?” Henry David Thoreau asked in 1854, reporting his experience inWalden. He had come to the woods to reflect on the things that a man can build and use to gain nature’s blessing. In the childhood of life, he mused, as in history, one entered caves: “From the cave we have advanced to roofs of palm leaves, of bark and boughs, of linen woven and stretched, of grass and straw, of boards and shingles, of stones, and tiles.” “Expansive”...

  6. 3 Making Things
    (pp. 87-159)

    Why bother making things? Today, you can order almost anything, it seems, in a choice of colors and styles from a department store, catalogue company, or central warehouse. The thing is ready-made without delay, and with cash the transaction is “over-and-done-with.” You never face the capricious craftsman. You know what you're getting and you can easily replace the thing. Every year we have new models and old ones become passé or scrap or, after time, vintage.

    What would Edward Bellamy, author of the most famous utopian novel,Looking Backwards(1888), have thought? After all, he foresaw a contented industrial army...

  7. Color illustrations
    (pp. None)
  8. 4 Consuming Things
    (pp. 160-210)

    Ralph waldo emerson’s claim of 1860 that in America “every man is a consumer” was balanced by his self-reliant idea that every man “ought to be a producer.” But although the man who made things seemed to be less evident, signs of consumption were ever increasing. What was being produced was wealth with which to buy wares and services. The widely circulating bookEighty Years’ Progress of the United States(1868) noted the consuining mood by citing that the annual production of wares rose to over one billion in 1850, over 40 percent above what it had been 1820. “With...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 211-216)

    I made my observations, wrote my stories, and wondered if events that followed would change things. Turtle soup still sells briskly at church picnics in southern Indiana. Meanwhile consumption of folk art adds plates to its feast.Americana(January-February 1985) spreads on its pages an advertisement of a porcelain plate collection of Mattie Lou O’Kelley, “the South’s greatest folk artist.” The first issue is entitled “Down Home Memories” and the advertisers note, “You will be assigned your personal registered number so every plate will be matched, enhancing the value of the series.” Anna Bock writes to tell me that she...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 217-239)
  11. Index
    (pp. 240-247)