Cover image for
My life with things : the consumer diaries / Elizabeth Chin.
Chin, Elizabeth, 1963- author.
Durham : Duke University Press, 2016.

viii, 239 pages ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 221-234) and index.
0822361183 (hardcover ; alk. paper)

0822361361 (pbk. ; alk. paper)

0822374269 (e-book)

9780822361183 (hardcover ; alk. paper)

9780822361367 (pbk. ; alk. paper)

9780822374268 (e-book)


Material Type
Call Number
Book HF5415.32.C539

On Order



Unconventional and provocative, My Life with Things is Elizabeth Chin's meditation on her relationship with consumer goods and a critical statement on the politics and method of anthropology. Chin centers the book on diary entries that focus on everyday items--kitchen cabinet knobs, shoes, a piano--and uses them to intimately examine the ways consumption resonates with personal and social meaning: from writing love haikus about her favorite nail polish and discussing the racial implications of her tooth cap, to revealing how she used shopping to cope with a miscarriage and contemplating how her young daughter came to think that she needed Lunesta. Throughout, Chin keeps Karl Marx and his family's relationship to their possessions in mind, drawing parallels between Marx's napkins, the production of late nineteenth-century table linens, and Chin's own vintage linen collection. Unflinchingly and refreshingly honest, Chin unlocks the complexities of her attachments to, reliance on, and complicated relationships with her things. In so doing, she prompts readers to reconsider their own consumption, as well as their assumptions about the possibilities for creative scholarship.

Author Notes

Elizabeth Chin is Professor of Media Design Practices at Art Center College of Design and the author of Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture .

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Anthropologist Chin's latest book stretches the boundaries of anthropology by way of autoethnography (a field-based study centered upon the ethnographer). With herself as both subject and object of study, Chin (Art Center College of Design, CA), author of Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture (CH, Dec'01, 39-2259), weaves a highly personal, idiosyncratic, and explanatory narrative. Ever the provocateur, she brings her own consumer diaries over the span of several years into conversation with the likes of Karl Marx, not only at a theoretical level but also as biographical touchstones. The narratives, structured around the themes of inheritance, survival, and love, detail the author's close relationship with the everyday items that surround her. The results can be exhilarating, giving readers self-reflexive pause on the consumptive world and how they got there. The results can also be discomfiting because of the intimacy of their disclosure: this is clearly not only about buying things but also about the affective background of their purchase, including personal tragedy, turmoil, and celebration. Readers may or may not recognize themselves within these pages, but at the very least, they will confront the spirit of inquiry as the mirror spins inward and outward upon the contemporary industrialized world of consumption. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. --Christine Reiko Yano, University of Hawai'i