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The complicated, dynamic relationships between inventor, society, corporation, regulator, shopkeeper, community, family and customer is terrifically laid out by UC Santa Barbara and New York University sociologist Molotch in this persuasive monograph. Myriad links, he argues, ultimately produce and constantly change what we want, buy, keep and throw away; thus, neither consumers nor producers are to be blamed for our numerous possessions, since these items and constituencies all "lash-up" with one another, creating and reinforcing lifestyles and needs. Molotch's paradigmatic toaster requires an electric socket, bread and butter or jam to be useful. Adherence to "type-form"-modern or retro styling, color options to match kitchens, and knobs and controls for different functions-provides opportunities for the small appliance's owner to mark his/her identity and associate feelings with it, removing the object from the realm of the mundane. Manufacturing techniques, marketing, retail display and ultimate disposal also play large roles. The importance of all these factors is well argued, but despite the subtitle, no specific products (even the vaunted toaster, mentioned throughout and depicted graphically in the header) are studied in sustained or thorough enough detail to satisfactorily explain their continued forms or popularity-perhaps to avoid accusations of product placement. Even so, Molotch's description of systemic person-product complexes could work to end blame-the-consumer guilt-mongering in the popular discourse. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
As a sociologist, Molotch (New York Univ.; Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) is concerned with how societies shape and are shaped by their material environment--"the stuff system"--with the pragmatic aim of improving our goods, and thus our lives, through a better understanding of the mechanisms by which goods come to be, and how they then evolve or resist change. His exploration encompasses design studios and shop floors, aesthetics versus utility, the connection between place and product, and the roles of middlemen and markets, government regulation and corporate culture. This book rewards reading for many reasons (penetrating insights and entertaining details abound), but the chief among them is the single sentence deep in the final chapter: "When ways of having fun and making profitable products endanger the earth, the challenge looms large to find new ways of doing things." Yet it is both facile and fruitless to rail against rampant materialism (Molotch confesses to such simplistic sentiments in his youth), so he provides instead a "user's guide" to the world of artifacts to help us all to be more conscious of and conscientious in our engagement with the stuff of our daily lives. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through graduate students. L. W. Moore formerly, University of Kentucky