Die Sprache der Dinge und Gegenstände des Alltags. Eine afrikanische Perspektive
Sociologia Internationalis 44.2006:1-19
Keywords: materiality of society, material culture, objects as signifiers, semiotization, consumption

The language of things and objects of everyday life. An African perspective
##The meanings of things, i.e. their language, constitutes a central approach to the materiality of a society. But this idea has been criticized in several ways. Some criticism is related to the complexity of the meanings communicated with objects, other is concerned with the limits of social action, a term describing the usage of objects as signifiers. A third direction of criticism comes from theorists of consumption, who take the meaning as a point of departure for their theories. They understand the semiotization of everyday life as a fairly new and problematic characteristic of the western consumer societies. This pattern of consumption critics goes along with an idealistic view of contexts with lesser material possessions. Questioning this hypothesis, empirical data based on research of the author in the context of lesser material possessions give evidence to the high importance of meanings even in a society where people do not have more than 100 objects/person. Thus the semiotization of everyday life seems to be a universal phenomenon and the consumption critics lack some of its foundation. But there are anyway important differences between consumer societies and societies of lesser material possessions regarding the materiality. The obvious limitations of resources and the lack of material goods in those societies are the premises for a specific reflection on the autonomy of things. This particular discourse stresses the unavailability of things and refers to a distance to the material, which is completely alien to the thinking about objects in consumer societies. The material things" condition of being autonomous and the logic of unavoidable material properties (things are used up after short time) are elements of the quite different materiality in those societies. The supposed distantiation from the material as a characteristic of the post-modern is questioned by these findings. In the light of other societies" materiality, objects and the material seem to be much closer in western societies.##