SO313      Half Unit
Material Culture and Everyday Life

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Don Slater S310


This course is available on the BSc in Social Policy and Sociology and BSc in Sociology. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

This course is available as an option course to second and third year students on the BSc in Sociology, and as an outside option for students in other departments.


No specific pre-requisites, but this course is only available to second and third year students in Sociology and other programmes. It is not available as a first year option.

Course content

The course focuses on how ‘things’ enter into and mediate everyday social relations and practices. Students will consider all aspects of the social life of things, from design and production through use, consumption and everyday practices. This will allow them to address a range of long-standing theoretical and political concerns within sociology such as the role of objects and materiality in social life; social organizations of objects and exchange, such as consumer culture; design, technology and innovation; and the socio-political status of ‘everyday life’ itself. At the same time, there will be a strong methodological emphasis: not just how do we study objects in everyday life, but how might such studies impact on social research more generally.

The course will rely heavily on case studies. After mapping out central traditions in material culture studies, the course will focus on 2-3 strategically chosen objects to explore analytical and methodological issues (eg, mobile phones, water, bicycles, food, supermarkets, etc). Cross-cultural differences will be raised throughout but at least one of the cases will be predominantly focused on major global difference.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures, seminars and online materials totalling a minimum of 20 hours in the MT.

Reading Weeks: Students on this course will have a reading week in MT Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

1,500 word essay, due after reading week, in which students are asked to analyse an object from the standpoint of one of the theoretical perspectives introduced in the course. They will additionally submit a short research outline (probably 1-2 A4 sides) on which they can base their work towards the summative assessment.

Indicative reading

Drazin, A. & Küchler, S. (eds.) (2015) The social life of materials: Studies in materials and society. Bloomsbury Academic, London.

Gunn, W., Otto, T. & Smith, R. C. (2013) Design anthropology: Theory and practice. Bloomsbury Academic, London.

Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lury, C. (2011) Consumer culture, 2nd ed. Polity, Cambridge.

Miller, D. (2008) The comfort of things. Polity, Cambridge.

Molotch, H. (2003) Where Stuff Comes From: How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers and Many Other Things Come to Be as They Are. New York and London: Routledge.

Shove, E., M. Hand, J. Ingram and M. Watson (eds.) (2007) The Design of Everyday Life. Oxford: Berg.


Research report (100%) in the LT.

A 3,000 word research report on an object of the student’s choosing in which they are asked to address a clear list of considerations such as design, material properties, social practices and uses, methodological questions and so on.

An electronic copy of the assessed essay, to be uploaded to Moodle, no later than 4.00pm on the first Thursday of Lent Term.

Attendance at all classes and submission of all set coursework is required.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
First 35.6
2:1 35.6
2:2 25.4
Third 1.7
Fail 1.7

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2019/20: 26

Average class size 2019/20: 26

Capped 2019/20: Yes (30)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness