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The Comfort of Things by Daniel Miller


The Comfort of Things by Daniel Miller

The diversity of contemporary London is extraordinary, and begs to be better understood. Never before have so many people from such diverse backgrounds been free to mix and not to mix in close proximity to each other. But increasingly people's lives take place behind the closed doors of private houses. How can we gain an insight into what those lives are like today? Not television characters, not celebrities, but real people. How could one ever come to know perfect strangers? Danny Miller attempts to achieve this goal in this brilliant expose of a street in modern London. He leads us behind closed doors to thirty people who live there, showing their intimate lives, their aspirations and frustrations, their tragedies and accomplishments. He places the focus upon the things that really matter to the people he meets, which quite often turn out to be material things, the house, the dog, the music, the Christmas decorations. He creates a gallery of portraits, some comic, some tragic, some cubist, some impressionist, some bleak and some exuberant. We find that a random street in modern London contains the most extraordinary stories. Mass murderers and saints, the most charmed Christmas since Fanny and Alexander and the story of how a CD collection helped someone overcome heroin. Through this sensitive reading of the ordinary lives of ordinary people, Miller uncovers the orders and forms through which people make sense of their lives today. He shows just how much is to be gained when we stop lamenting what we think we used to be, and instead concentrate on what we are becoming now. He reveals above all the sadness of lives and the comfort of things.


An outstanding piece of work: a fine example of modern anthropological fieldwork, a powerful corrective to the banal notion that materialism is synonymous with excessive individualism and, perhaps above all, an informed, sensitive, and wholly sympathetic guide to the human diversity to be found through the keyholes of our capital city.

Laurie Taylor, The Independent

A wonderful and unusual antidote to the fear that humanity and individuality is losing its battle with modern consumerism. In his book, even the most trivial product of consumerism can be rendered almost magical by its owners.

Financial Times This book sums up how far social anthropology has progressed since Henry Mayhew wrote about the skull shapes of costermongers in the 19th century.

New Statesman

A set of delicately drawn pen portraits of lives in a single, unnamed South London street ... this is a book quite out of the ordinary. While you read these pages, this is the street where you live.

Times Literary Supplement

[I]t would be an injustice to Daniel Miller and to the exquisite text he has crafted to describe The Comfort of Things as anything less than beautifully written ... This particular book opens up a variety of avenues for exploration, and serves as a reminder of what sociologists can learn from such rich anthropological research. British Journal of Sociology

This is social anthropology at its finest.

Steven Carroll, The Age

This is the very best kind of micro-ethnography. Miller writes better - and with more insight and compassion - than most novelists. This book will profoundly change the way you look at your friends
and neighbours

homes and possessions
- and indeed your own.

Kate Fox, Social Issues Research Centre and author of Watching the English

I am so impressed by Danny Miller's book. It is so keenly felt and beautifully written, it provides as deep a view of modern Londoners as early anthropologists tried to provide of residents of more distant and exotic zones. Miller has produced a marvelously personal and creative work, provoking us to wonder at the extraordinary attachments of ordinary people. This is a great and lasting achievement.

Sharon Zukin, Brooklyn College

Through shoe leather fieldwork, human empathy, and unflinching readiness to discern, Daniel Miller shows the central role of material culture in contemporary urban life. An instant classic.

Mitchell Duneier, Princeton University

An artful antidote to continually demonised consumerism.

Crafts Magazine

A timely reminder that investing possessions with meaning is proof of humanity rather than inhumanity.


In this remarkable book Daniel Miller provides an illuminating portrait of people's relations to the ordinary objects that surround them. The result is a surprising meditation on how we all maintain order in our daily lives.

Viviana Zelizer, Princeton University

This book offers a bold and creative model for how we might go about the work of theorising and abstracting, trying to tell more or less convincing stories about the 'relationships which flow constantly between people and things'. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

About the Author

Daniel Miller is Professor of Material Culture at University College London.

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Book Info

Publication date

22nd May 2009


Daniel Miller

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Polity Press


300 pages


Cultural studies



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