A blog about universal and accessible design

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


I was just (re)reading Bernard Herman's material culture essay "The Bricoleur Revisited," from Ritchie Garrison and Ann Smart Martin's American Material Culture: The Shape of the Field (1997) - the bricoleur, Herman writes, is a "putterer with a message" - basically us, scholars and lovers of stuff, picking through the detritus of history for little messages and meanings.

I thought of that figure of the bricoleur in this world of not just objects, but bodies. Disability studies helps us think of not all bodies as the same, and I kind of waffle about whether I consider that to be a material culture statement or not. (bodies are not objects, but they are part of the material world. I am not crazy about a lot of scholarship on "the body" however, because it tends to be singular).

Something I read today made me think of it again.. Steven Kuusisto (fantastic poet, blogger, joker, and activist, who is blind) writes about becoming an honorary member of the "Wretches and Jabbers," a group of non-speaking writers (apparently there is a new documentary out about the group), and visiting them for a meeting. He describes sitting among them, everyone typing out words on talking computers, jumping and lurching as they needed to or wanted to:

Suddenly I was in "a happening"--a cognitive, inter-active jam session with four men and one woman, each with an electronic keyboard. Stories emerged about loneliness and about being misunderstood. (People with Autism can tell you things about childhood that will curl your hair.) But there were also many joys for this was a kind of autistic rock and roll session. (from Planet of the Blind)
The bricoleur looks into a box of things - stones, shells, an earring, a shard of a ceramic pot - and constructs stories. I liked thinking of how that applies to modern life, our funny tools and sounds and the stories and connections they help us make. I don't want to say bodies are objects but they are part of the picture.

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