In the This American Life episode (with the theme “Cat and Mouse”) running on most NPR radio stations in the USA this weekend there is a compelling tale of one man’s 18 year (plus or minus) quest for the perfect couch. The story makes several linkages between marital and material aspirations and, in the engaging and entertaining style characteristic of the show in general, illustrates in miniature many of the themes central to contemporary research in material culture studies, including the role of consumer objects as social agents, the social nature of consumption and desire, the materiality of real and imagined objects, and the linkage of objects and personal experience narrative.

I have, for several years, pointed students and colleagues to the show with the argument that it offers some of the best humanistic ethnography being produced today. Last year I had the opportunity to attend a staged lecture/show by This American Life’s host, Ira Glass, in which he discussed and demonstrated how the weekly shows are assembled and reflected upon the kind of radio journalism he and his colleagues practice. The lecture included great tips for, and reflections on, compelling storytelling that I wished I could have shared with all of my students.

The episode will be available online next week.

Recommended Posts