Dormant Things

Project Details


This project aims to explore ‘dormant things’  – items which people keep in spaces in the home such as cupboards and attics which they do not currently use (or never have). Understanding dormant things has implications for understanding memories, life and relationship changes and also for developing more sustainable consumption.

Carefully stored or saved for later?
This project explores the accumulation of things in domestic spaces. Houses are full of items that have accumulated over time – ranging from items deliberately stored and concealed to those placed somewhere for later consideration and often forgotten about. Like archaeological layers, these accumulations tell us about the histories of a house, the people who live and have lived there, and their wider relationships and lives.

Memories and futures
However, very little is known about these ‘hidden’ spaces within the home, such as drawers, attics and cupboards, as there is a lack of empirical research on the topic. This project would be the first to offer a comprehensive understanding of ‘dormant’ things – things at rest or not currently in use – within houses as this relates to past memories and possible future uses.

The research will have two strands:
• in depth research in people’s homes looking at dormant things and where they are stored.
• a citizen social science strand where people are invited to contribute photos or drawings and stories of their own things and where they keep them.

Current levels of consumption are understood to be unsustainable, and whilst there has been a wealth of research on things people get rid of or buy, there has been very little research on accumulated things in the house in relation to these debates. Most household items spend at least some of their lives stashed away in drawers or cupboards.

In highlighting these things, this project will shed light on long-term relationships people have to things (as well as more short term ones) and why certain things are loved and cherished while others may be kept but forgotten.

Looking at things that accumulate in the house involves understanding how they may be used again and provides a more complex understanding of the lives of domestic objects than reducing things to being used or unused.

The research will be carried out by me, Sophie Woodward; I am a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at The University of Manchester. I started my research career rooting around in women’s wardrobes as part of a project into looking at why women wear what they wear (and wrote a book of the same title) and am now continuing as a pseudo-archaeologist/sociologist doing research in people’s cupboards and attics. I am fascinated both by everyday things in our homes, that may seem unimportant but are actually a fundamental part of how we live our lives and connect to other people.

Academic publications related to Dormant things:
• Woodward S. Clutter in domestic spaces: Material vibrancy, and competing moralities. The Sociological Review. March 2021. doi:10.1177/0038026121998218
• Woodward, S. 2019 Material Methods: Researching and Thinking with Things. London: Sage
• Woodward, S. 2019. ‘Meaningful Objects and Consumption’ in the Wherry, F and Woodward, I (eds) Oxford Handbook of Consumption (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
• Woodward, S. 2015 ‘Hidden lives of dormant things: cupboards, lofts and shelves’ in Casey, E and Taylor, Y (eds). Intimacies: critical consumption and diverse economies. Palgrave Macmillan.

Academic talks
• Invited Keynote. 2019 ‘Dormant Things in Domestic Spaces’ at the BSA Regional Event ‘Exploring the Value of Material Culture in the Everyday’, University of Sheffield, 1st March, 2019.
• Invited Keynote 2019 ‘Approaching collections: theorising things, relations and assemblages’ at the FOMU network annual conference, K A Almgren Museum, Stockholm 24th-25th January, 2019.
• Invited presentation 2018 ‘Dormant things: the hidden lives of things in attics, cupboards and garages’, at the Material and Visual Anthropology research seminar, University of Oxford, 9th March.
• ‘Dormant Things and everyday relationalities: keeping hold of old hair, teeth and ashes’ presentation at the BSA Annual Conference, University of Manchester, April 6th, 2017

Public engagement:
• ‘One Person’s rubbish is someone else’s treasure’, a public engagement event at the John Ryland’s Library, 9th August, 2017  in conjunction with the Life of Objects exhibition. Objects from my research were displayed in conjunction with the library’s own dormant things.
• Dormant Things project has been part of Lynne Chapman’s Leverhulme funded Artist in Resident Scheme with the Morgan Centre, and the project was 
- featured on her personal website 
- been a featured project in an exhibition ‘Unfolding Stories’ in July 2016 at the Zion arts centre in Hulme. 26th July – 1st August 
- been a featured project on a documentary film ‘Unfolding Stories’ based upon Lynne’s residency. 
• ‘Worldly Goods’ 9/2/2016 an article in the online magazine Standard Issue 
• Thinking Allowed (BBC Radio 4) talking about Dormant Things on 9/11/2015
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