By Silvana Rodarte
CitationBerger,A. A. (2016) What Objects Mean: AnIntroduction to Material Culture (2nd ed.). NY, NY: Routledge.
1 Methodology: Psychoanalysis
1.1 Definition: That unconscious mental
processes exist and play an important role
in our lives. It is 1) the name of a procedure
for the investigation of mental processes
which are almost inaccessible any other
way. 2) of a method (based upon that
investigation) for the treatment of neurotic
disorders, and 3) of a collection of
psychological information obtained along
those lines which is gradually being
accumulated into a new scientific
discipline. Characteristics: it is an
interpretive art that can be applied to
artifacts, objects, and psychological
1.2 Methods: Certain mental acts in normal individuals,
seen in his findings, were symptoms of neurotic: that
is to say the had a meaning. It was unknown to the
subject but could be discovered by analytic means.
1.3 Method: We resist knowing contents of our unconscious
and repress recognizing the importance of the Oedipus
complex of our sexuality.
1.4 Method: It is the hidden meanings and symbolic significance of various
artifacts of material culture that a psychoanalytic approach to
the subject attempts to discover.
2 Methodology: Artifacts and the
Unconscious: Freud's Topographic
2.1 Feud defines topographic hypothesis and characterizes
three levels to the human psyche: consciousness,
pre-conscious (material we ca access and of which we are
dimly aware), and the unconscious, which we cannot
access without guidance from psychoanalytic trained
2.2 Method: The analogy of the iceberg helps us see how the three
levels are related to one another. Consciousness (on top=what
we are aware of), Preconscious (middle on water line= what we
can barely make out), Unconscious (dark area= makes up most
of our psyches.
2.3 Method: Can be applied to artifacts: Conscious (what artifact
does), Preconscious (other aspects of the artifact’s functionality
of which we may be aware, and Unconscious (unrecognized
symbolic meaning connected to the artifact.
2.4 Method: Example of the cigarette lighters examined by Ernest Dichter. It uncovered that people often
have attitudes towards objects of which they are unaware, attitudes that are hidden in the
unconscious areas of their psyches. Lighter used to light (conscious) cigarette yet it goes deeper; it
involves mastery and power, and the ability to summon fire (preconscious) at one’s command.
Findings were that the deepest level the feeling that one’s lighter will work is connected to attitudes
about sexual potency, and the flame of the lighter symbolizes, at the unconscious level, sexual union
(unconscious) being consummated.
3 Methodology: Id, Ego, and Superego: Freud's Structural
3.1 Definition of Structural Hypothesis according to Freud: It suggests
that our psyches have three components: id, an ego, and a
superego. His theory suggests that objects can have different
levels of significance.
3.2 Definition of Structural Hypothesis according to Charles
Brenner (author of “An Elementary Textbook of
Psychoanalysis”): id comprises the psychic representatives of
the drives, the ego consists of those functions which have to do
with the individual’s relation to his environment, and the
superego comprises the moral precepts of our minds as well as
our ideal aspiration.
3.3 Characteristics: id is our drives (“I want it all
now”), ego is balancing act between id and
superego, and superego is our sense of guilt,
conscience, and similar phenomena. People who
have overly powerful ids or superegos that
dominate the ego elements in their psyches
generally have psychological problems and
experience difficulties in their lives.
3.4 Method: It is possible to
classify artifacts according
to their connection to id,
ego, or superego elements
in our psyches. Example: a
Barbie doll (id),
dictionaries (ego), bible
3.5 Method: Psychoanalytic theory suggests
that the ego can also employ a number of
defense mechanisms to help it control id
and super ego elements is our psyche
prevent anxiety and overwhelming guilt,
and control our instincts.
3.5.1 Defense mechanisms we use are: Ambivalence-
a simultaneous feeling of action and repulsion
Avoidance- refusal to face maters that distress
us. Denial: inability to accept reality of things
that generate anxiety. Fixation- obsessive
attachment to something generally a result of
trauma. Identification- desire to be like
someone. Rationalization- offering excuses for
untoward behavior. Regression- individuals
return to an earlier stage of development.
Repression- barring certain phenomena from
consciousness. Suppression- putting certain
things out of mind.
3.6 Method Example: Identifying a sports hero and
purchasing a type of running shoe advertised by
that figure. We place a fixation on shoes and buy
more than what we could use.
4 Methodology: Symbolic Aspects of Material Culture
4.1 Definition and Characteristics according to Hinsie and
Campbell is their book “Psychiatric Dictionary”: symbolism
is the act or process of representing and order or idea by a
substitute object, sign, or signal. We often disguise
unconscious aggressive and sexual desires by using
symbols, doing so enables us to escape from the strictures
of the superego.
4.2 According to Freud the psychoanalytic theory
would suggest that people are not aware of
the symbolic significance of the objects they
use, but quite obviously a large number of
artifacts have either a masculine penetrating,
or female incorporating character to them.
4.3 Definition of symbol according to Martin Grotjahn in his
book, “The Voice of the Symbol”- “message from our
unconscious which communicates truth, beauty and
4.4 Method: An example Freud uses is that most of the symbolic
phenomena in dreams have a masked sexual content, and
this masking protects dreamers and prevents the superego
from waking them. The penis is symbolized primarily by
objects which resemble it in form (sticks, umbrellas, and
poles) and expresses property of penetration (knives and
daggers). Female genitalia symbols are enclosing spaces
(caves and pits), and body (apples and peaches).
4.5 Method according to Cifford Geertz in “The
Interpretation of Cultures”: Much of our thinking
is based on “significant” symbols and that we
use symbols to “impose meaning” on things; our
understanding of symbols is connected to the
communities in which we are born.
5 Methodology: Sexual Development and
5.1 Definition and Characteristics of Sexual Development described in Charles
Brenner in “An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis”- First year and a half is
the mouth, lips, and tongue as sexual organs of the infant. The next year and a
half is the anus. Towards the close of the third year is the genitals known as the
phallic (penis and clitoris). The last stage is genital stage where they focus on
members of the opposite sex.
5.2 Methods: According to Freud, young boys between ages two
and five develop an unconscious desire for their mothers
and hostility towards their fathers (known as Oedipus
Complex). Resolved in boys by their anxiety about being
castrated. Girls wish to supplant their mother and resolve
their problem by finding someone to supplant their father
(lover or husband).
5.3 Method: We can use Freud’s typology to classify objects
according to whether they are primarily oral, anal,
phallic, or genital in nature, recognizing that people who
sue these objects are generally not aware of their
sexually symbolic nature.
5.3.1 Oral (pacifier), anal( enema), phallic (video game joystick), genital
(condom/vibrator) Method: For example using French toys like some
“live” dolls. Dolls that eat and urinate are all symbols to prepare a
young girl for the causality of housekeeping and “condition” her role
as a future mother.