Humans depend on things. From the first stone tools to the most advanced smartphones, how we interact with, utilize, and manipulate our environment defines who we are as a species. We are made by our interactions with the things and spaces around us. A “return to things” has recently been advocated within the humanities and social sciences. Disciplines as diverse as anthropology, archaeology, art, cognitive psychology, cultural geography, history, sociology, and beyond, have recognised the importance of material culture to understanding the human experience. It is impossible to separate mind from matter. The things we make, use, trade, keep, and throw away (and how we do so), all underpin individual and communal identity. As sensory creatures, we cannot isolate our behaviour, nor our thinking, from the material world around us. In the end, “matter matters” (Miller 1998) because we wouldn’t be human without the things we make. More recent approaches to material culture recognises that things have agency. Objects can act as repositories of memory, they can influence mood, motivate behaviour, and induce action. They also rely on other things in complex entangled networks of interdependency which draw us in and make it difficult to extricate ourselves.
The “return to things” has yet to make significant progress within the Indian academy – despite the subcontinent being one of the most diverse places on the planet for material culture. With cultural heritage from civilisations spanning millennia, to a vast variety of living craft traditions, to a modern and increasingly consumerist emerging economy, India is a space wherein the production, consumption, reuse, transportation, and discard of material culture is at the heart of the behaviour which ties communities together. Housed within the Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, and in keeping with the philosophy of the Liberal Arts tradition, CMCS aims to provide a flexible space wherein these relationships can be investigated across disciplinary boundaries. By advocating for new perspectives forged in the diversity of the subcontinent experience, CMCS hopes to drive material culture studies into new territory.