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Matters of Substance: Meanings and Materiality in Human-Environmental Relations | Engaging Resources
New Anthropological Perspectives on Natural Resource Environments

Matters of Substance: Meanings and Materiality in Human-Environmental Relations

Veronica Strang, University of Auckland

Material things are not just passive recipients of imposed human categories, meanings and values, or mere subjects of human agency.  Their particular qualities and behaviours contribute to the generation of meanings and are co-constitutive of human-environmental relationships. Phenomenological engagements with the material world are central to these processes, as are the representational media through which meanings are communicated. Human societies thus inhabit both a generative and formative material environment, and an equally dynamic mediatory context of communicative acts. This paper considers how issues of materiality play out across a range of analytic scales. It shows how the meanings co-generated by the material qualities of things, as well as material things themselves, flow through and connect micro-levels of phenomenological engagement, local interactions with environments, societal processes of resource management and use, and transnational flows of material objects. In doing so, it hopes to contribute to a more integrated anthropology of resources.