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Precarious objects, precarious lives: Grounded aesthetics in poverty contexts

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This article will present and discuss results from a research study on aesthetics and poverty, recently carried out in Milan (Italy). Beauty, as a quality usually connected with art objects and tied to property and wealth, has been investigated in the ‘unusual’ context of economic poverty, where ownership of objects is precarious or indeed non-existent. Using ethnographic observation and instruments of visual culture (photos), the research investigated the meanings of particular daily objects (i.e. pictures, clothes, religious images, etc.) displayed during meetings with a sample of Italian and immigrant people, living in indigent conditions. The results suggest a critical review of P. Bourdieu’s theory on aesthetics and on taste as distinction practice, focusing instead on the ethical and relational dimensions of a grounded aesthetics. As anthropology and material culture studies suggest, the aesthetic object acts in people’s lives as a polysemic item, contiguous with usefulness, rituality, relation. At he crossroads of the aesthetics of existence (Foucault) and daily practices (De Certeau), certain objects considered beautiful become containers of affection, tools for public representation of the self, personal narrative and memories, displaying a practical and emotional control of a present difficult daily life.
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Keywords: aesthetics; everyday life; material culture; neo-austerity; objects; poverty; visual sociology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore 2: University of Ferrara

Publication date: 2012-11-16

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  • The Journal of European Popular Culture investigates the creative cultures of Europe, present and past. Exploring European popular imagery, media, new media, film, music, art and design, architecture, drama and dance, fine art, literature and the writing arts, and more, the journal is also of interest to those considering the influence of European creativity and European creative artefacts worldwide.
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