The social lives of handmade things: Configuring value in post-apartheid South Africa

Green L. (2008)


Taking Arjun Appadurai's suggestive argument about the 'social lives' of things as its starting point, this paper traces the pathways of two commodities for sale in South Africa: a pottery bowl and a resin spoon. Both these objects acquire their value in part from the quality of being handmade. The aim of this paper is not to demystify the claim to value made by either the pottery bowl or the resin spoon, nor to judge one or the other as the more 'authentic' expression of a resistance to the contemporary reifications of the everyday. Instead, it explores a family resemblance between these two objects and traces the way in which, within contemporary global 'regimes of value', what is handmade acquires value. If, as Jean and John Comaroff suggest, neo-liberalism ideologically constructs a world of increasing abstraction, the trajectories of these two objects reveal how both locality and work return in an attenuated form as attributes of commodities. © 2008 Taylor & Francis.

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