American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
In capitalist societies the accumulation of value is one of the tenets of social virtue, acclaimed by the likes of Benjamin Franklin, and yet hoarding is now understood to be a pathological mental disorder. In this paper, I draw upon fieldwork in seemingly normative US middle class to try to discover how the things that accumulate in and out of storage space might explode such distinctions and challenge theories of consumption as the primary form of relationships with objects in capitalist societies. Rather than accepting the definition of hoarding as the disordered accumulation of valueless things as opposed to the organized amassment of wealth, what might we discover if we examine the spatiotemporal trajectories of possessions in relationship to value production? While Munn described the Gawan circulation of goods through space and time as key to the production of social recognition, Wiener highlighted the importance of keeping and concealing valuables, producing a fixed and enduring spatiotemporal relationship with possessions. Counterpointing between ethnographic particulars of US domestic practices and broad historical and cross-cultural perspectives on hoarding, I seek to reframe the distinction between hoarding and collection through a sense of accumulation as a social force that intersects with moral economies of value in culturally specific ways. The fact that accumulation is increasingly represented as pathological in late-capitalist society may indicate a sea change in the cultural evaluation of amassing possessions.