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Assigning Cultural Values

Edited By Kjerstin Aukrust

Assigning Cultural Values is a collection of thirteen essays focusing on the analysis of cultural value in light of aestheticization or aesthetic practices. Reflecting the fruits of the Research Council of Norway’s comprehensive programme for cultural research (KULVER), this anthology studies cultural phenomena not as static dimensions, but rather as factors involved in negotiations and exchanges. By examining the processes in which aestheticization is prominent, the contributors show how the experience-based, relational, and perceptual aspects of assigning cultural values come into focus. Each of the essays offers unique perspectives on the value given to different cultural phenomena, by focusing on their historically changeable aspects, their reciprocal relationships, and their connection to social contexts and power. Drawing on case studies from the fields of cultural history, aesthetics, literature, film, gender studies, art history and theory, design history, and museology, the collection provides a wide-ranging and multifaceted analysis of how the assignment of cultural values is changed, displaced, transferred, and acquired, and will therefore interest all researchers and students within the field of humanities.


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The emergence of the microscope in Europe during the early seventeenth century marked the beginning of a scientific revolution whereby the world’s smallest creatures, “microfaunae” such as the microbe, finally became visible. At the time, the microscope was employed to challenge a scalar anthropocentrism that placed inordinate value on the lives and bodies of larger animals at the expense of nature’s minutiae. In his essay on the cultural history of microfaunae in seven- teenth-century Europe, which opens this book, Adam Dodd argues that in less than 100 years after the invention of the microscope, what can be referred to as “the microscopic gaze” had seriously and permanently altered our perception of all nonhuman animals: The inherent “greatness” of the biggest creatures was no longer naturally given, nor was the “obvious” insignificance of the smallest crea- tures to be taken as a certainty. Thus, the very ways in which cultural value, and its attendant aesthetics, was assigned to microfaunae were significantly altered. In this anthology, Dodd’s analysis marks the first example of how cultural and aesthetic values are assigned within different humanities fields. Each of the thirteen essays in this volume, which is divided into five parts, represents a unique “microscopic gaze” into different cultural phenomena, all chosen to shed light on issues related to the assignment of values. Authors of chapters in part one discuss both the aesthetic and the cultural value of science: After Adam Dodd’s introduction to the cultural history of microfaunae in seventeenth-century Europe, Anja Johansen takes...

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