Culture of objects is focus of professor's new book

September 13, 2010

Ask anyone about their favorite things, and undoubtedly you will get a story about how a person came to inherit a rare ring made by hand, how someone chose to relinquish three meals a day to purchase a pair of shoes, or how a grandmother knitted an awful sweater (two sizes too small) as a birthday gift.

Objects tell stories and have fluid meaning over their lifetime. Download Full Image

But most importantly, objects have agency in ways that are not obvious. Objects and people have a cross-causation effect, meaning that as we shape objects, they tend to shape us. But in what ways?

“In very subtle ways [objects] become a part of who we are," says Prasad Boradkar, professor and director of ASU's InnovationSpace at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. "They shape our identity, routines and even our behaviors.”

Boradkar  is the author of the recently published "Designing Things: A Critical Introduction to the Culture of Objects." In his book, Boradkar doesn’t just explore the aesthetic design of objects, but their value, agency and impact using different theoretical perspectives and multidisciplinary approaches. The book also is the companion to a graduate course of the same title.

“Design education, in general, tends to follow the model of the studio," Boradkar says. "One of the things I wanted to do was bring theory into discussion to help students understand what objects mean from a cultural perspective.”

Among the key concepts Boradkar discusses in his book is the idea that no object has inherent value, but that the meaning and value of an object are the result of fluid aggregation. In other words, objects are part of a network of things that have agency over one another. Boradkar says that no one can claim absolute ownership; no one can claim absolute influence.

However, Boradkar is quick to point out that many objects can have disastrous consequences to society. For instance, research shows smartphones and media devices have begun to have an impact on our ability to concentrate and be creative.

Cars are a perfect example of identity, but also charged with environmental messaging. In his lectures, Boradkar often presents images of the various iterations of the iconic Hummer SUV and asks students to interpret the consequences of producing such a vehicle for mass consumption.

“Our conversation with objects is one of configuration – we configure each other," Boradkar says. "The result of this conversation is that if we are careless, it can have some effects on us as a society, our behaviors. It could have impacts on our environment."

There is no better example of how objects shape our behavior than when addressing the issue of fetishes – a concept to which Boradkar has dedicated an entire chapter of his book. Fetishism is the attribution of inherent value or powers to an object. For example, shoes (particularly high heels) are among the most highly fetishized objects of the modern world.

“What often happens in the overvaluation of high-heel shoes is sexual fetishism," Boradkar says. "The shoe becomes a replacement for the woman. So certain men will become obsessed with the shoe, and almost disregard the woman and focus all their attention on the shoe."

For a sample chapter of "Designing Things" or more information about the book, visit" target="_blank">

What are a few of your favorite things?
Do you have an object that brings a unique meaning to your life? Why is this object important? Leave a comment.

New minor broadens scope of sustainability offerings

September 13, 2010

Arizona State University has launched a new minor in sustainability that can complement a student’s major in another academic discipline. This unique 18-credit program enables undergraduate students to explore the challenges of sustainability and learn what determines the sustainability of human institutions, organizations, cultures and technologies in different environments at the local, national and international levels.

The minor offered this fall marks a milestone for ASU’s initiative to make sustainability education and practices universitywide across all four campuses. Download Full Image

The minor is available for undergraduate students in all major programs that do not already offer a sustainability minor or concentration. The series of courses will introduce sustainability principles and explain how sustainability relates to various academic disciplines and professional fields. In addition to two new courses on sustainability principles, students will be required to take courses that touch on two of four themes: Earth Systems; Human Transformation of the Earth; Coupled Human-Environment Systems; and Social, Political, and Economic Treatment of Natural Resources and Environment.

“The demand already exists for sustainability education," said Chris Boone, associate dean of education for the School of Sustainability. "The minor allows students unable to commit to a sustainability major to apply sustainability principles and practices to their own field of study. An increasing number of companies and agencies ask for students with a sustainability background, and the minor in sustainability is designed to offer a path for students to create their own jobs in the area of sustainability.”

Sustainability is a core educational principle at ASU and courses offered under this minor will continue to develop and grow. One currently under way is Advanced Concepts and Integrated Approaches in Sustainability. This course will connect students with outside professionals, providing students with multiple perspectives and real world learning experiences.

“The sustainability minor is a university-wide minor, meaning that it is owned by the university and not by one particular department. Students can receive advising from the department of their current major,” said Lisa Murphy, program development specialist for the School of Sustainability. “Advisers across the university will be equipped to answer questions and add the sustainability minor to their student’s plan of study.”

“The multidisciplinary nature of ASU’s minor in sustainability is very appealing to students, and enrollment is predicted to eventually reach the thousands,” Boone added.

ASU has been ranked 81st in the top 100 universities in the world by the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Further, ASU has been named one of the country’s best institutions for undergraduate education, according to The Princeton Review in its 2011 annual college guide, “The Best 373 Colleges.” ASU also made the “Green Honor Roll,” rating as one of the nation's 18 "greenest" universities, and is named among the top 120 Best Western Colleges.

For more information about the sustainability minor visit:">">http://sc...