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Social History of Culture


Matera V.

Course director


  1. Outline of the concept of culture.
  2. Evolution, diffusion, function and structure, interpretation of culture.
  3. Ethnography of/in historical processes.
  4. Words and Things: theories of cultural production.
  5. Language ideologies: uniformity, diversity, inequality of languages and cultures.
  6. The "traffic" of cultures.
  7. The construction of memory and cultural heritage.
  8. Nation-building, imagined communities.
  9. The route to modernity.
  10. Global imagination, social media, subjectivity.


The course presents the main theoretical and methodological perspectives of reference for the analysis of culture, with specific attention to the particular/universal, individual/collective, local/global connections as they are disposed in contemporary world. The course provides knowledge and conceptual tools to critically approach the theoretical nodes that drive research in cultural anthropology and ethnography with regard to the temporal and historical dimensions proper to societies and to the human existential condition.
Specific attention will be devoted to the role that words - and in general all communicative and semiotic resources - and things play in orienting perceptual, cognitive, and material human beings' acting with regard to worldview, construction of subjectivities, planning strategies, actualizing the past, and making plans for the future.
The aim is to enable students to acquire the capability to critically stand before the main cultural dynamics of contemporary societies.
By the end of the course, students will have acquired in its basic lines the capacity to observe cultural and communicative phenomena from the cultural anthropological perspective, moving from the details of everyday life towards the broader global frames in which they fit. Students will also be able to understand the role that historical dimensions play in the construction of identities within contemporary world. In addition, they will gain awareness of epistemological issues concerning both the analysis of culture and field research with respect to historical nature of cultural productions.

Teaching mode

In presence

Learning methods

The course is based on lectures, supervised discussions, and ethnographic exercises. Students will be constantly challenged to take critical and personal positions from proposed readings and "study questions" debated in classrooms aimed to highlight contents relevant in relation to the learning objectives.

Examination information

Examination consists of an oral discussion on the topics presented during the course and on the comprehension of the texts listed as part of the program.

The examination program consists of the texts listed below:

1. Fabietti U., Malighetti R., Matera V., 2020, Dal tribale al globale, Pearson, or P. Burke, What is Cultural History?, Polity Press.

2. One text chosen out of the following groups of texts:

A. Culture and communication

  • Biscaldi A., Matera V., 2016, Antropologia della comunicazione. Interazioni, linguaggi, narrazioni, Carocci, Roma.
  • Biscaldi A., Matera V., 2019, Antropologia dei social media. Comunicare nel mondo globale, Carocci, Roma.
  • Cardona G. R., 1990, I linguaggi del sapere. Laterza, Roma- Bari.
  • Iannaccaro G., Matera V., 2009 (a cura di), La lingua come cultura, Utet università.
  • Miller D., 2018, Come il mondo ha cambiato i social media, Ledizioni, Milano.

B. Memory, material culture, and heritage

  • Dei F., 2018, Cultura popolare in Italia. Da Gramsci all’Unesco, Il Mulino.
  • Douglas M., Isherwood B., 1984, Il mondo delle cose, Il Mulino.
  • Fabietti U., Matera V., 2018, Memorie e identità, Meltemi, Milano.
  • Harrison R., 2020, Il Patrimonio culturale, a cura di V. Matera e L. Rimoldi, Pearson.
  • Miller D., 2013, Per un’antropologia delle cose, Ledizioni, Milano
  • Miller D., 2008, Cose che parlano di noi, Il Mulino.