9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN02 Sociology of the Arts

2009-09-05 09:00:00 2009-09-05 10:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 09:00 - 10:30 Arts´Classifications Building II, C6.07

The autobiographical role of aesthetics in poverty contexts

The possession of art objects - and even more the art collecting - has been until now theoretically classified as cultural/expressive consumption practice, and analysed as a distinctive class behaviour, where people with more or less competent taste, as effect of social, cultural, and economic condition, can afford to buy a (normally expensive) art work. The beauty - as quality "generally" connected to art objects - seems therefore to be tied to property and wealth. But what happens in a context of economic poverty? Does it exist "beautiful" where property of objects is precarious or absent?
The paper will present and discuss some results from a research on aesthetics and poverty, recently carried out in Milano (Italy), interviewing a sample of Italian and immigrant people, living in indigent conditions. Using ethnography observation in the houses and the instruments of visual culture (with the use of photos), the research has inquired into the role, the characteristics, the meanings and the functions of some particular objects displayed during the encounters (i.e. daily objects, pictures, religious images, clothes etc..), that the interviewees defined as "beautiful". The described "aesthetic object" turned out to be polysemic, contiguous to the concept of usefulness, rituality, relation - as anthropology of art suggests. This aesthetics in action, describing the relationship between individuals and some particular emotional daily objects, seems to function as unusual autobiographical tool. Methodologically, the progress from the self of interviewee to the transitional object, has produced a narrative freedom to account for a personal or family history. So, also in a context of poverty (relative or absolute), some objects - described as beautiful - , seem to carry out the complex function of public representation of self, a function of narration and documentation of the past, displaying a role of genealogic continuity (with the family or with the culture of origin in the case of immigrants) and finally a role of emotional control and practical connection with a present difficult daily life.