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Where Stuff Comes From: How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers and Many Other Things Come To Be As They Are Hardcover – March 14, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The complicated, dynamic relationships between inventor, society, corporation, regulator, shopkeeper, community, family and customer is terrifically laid out by UC Santa Barbara and New York University sociologist Molotch in this persuasive monograph. Myriad links, he argues, ultimately produce and constantly change what we want, buy, keep and throw away; thus, neither consumers nor producers are to be blamed for our numerous possessions, since these items and constituencies all "lash-up" with one another, creating and reinforcing lifestyles and needs. Molotch's paradigmatic toaster requires an electric socket, bread and butter or jam to be useful. Adherence to "type-form"-modern or retro styling, color options to match kitchens, and knobs and controls for different functions-provides opportunities for the small appliance's owner to mark his/her identity and associate feelings with it, removing the object from the realm of the mundane. Manufacturing techniques, marketing, retail display and ultimate disposal also play large roles. The importance of all these factors is well argued, but despite the subtitle, no specific products (even the vaunted toaster, mentioned throughout and depicted graphically in the header) are studied in sustained or thorough enough detail to satisfactorily explain their continued forms or popularity-perhaps to avoid accusations of product placement. Even so, Molotch's description of systemic person-product complexes could work to end blame-the-consumer guilt-mongering in the popular discourse.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Successful products must fit into the whole panoply of life and society. The whole story can only be told by someone with a grand view of things, who sees both the trees of design and manufacturing and the forest of the social and political forces upon all of us. Three cheers for Harvey Molotch-this is a great book."
-Donald A. Norman, author of "The Design of Everyday Things
"With great originality, Molotch has created a sociology of objects, seen as the product of the joint work of many people, especially designers. With this in hand, he brings new perspectives to old debates about consumerism and creativity."
-Howard S. Becker, author of "Art Worlds
"This is an engaging and enjoyable book about the design of everyday things. Harvey Molotch tells us what design is, who designers are, where design happens, and how society, culture, geography, the marketplace, and just about everything else imaginable all contribute to making things look and work the way they do."
-Henry Petroski, author of "The Pencil and "The Evolution of Useful Things
"Human beings like stuff. We like to make, steal, hoard, and especially use things. How these goods come to be, how they are designed, manufactured, distributed, and especially used to make meaning is the central concern of industrial society. "Where Stuff Comes From is a superb introduction to exactly how this process works...or doesn't. It's MUST reading for anyone interested in the power of the manufactured world."
-James B. Twitchell, author of "Living It Up: Why We Love
"Superb, a witty and verbally pyrotechnical book. "Where Stuff Comes From is deeply subversive and revolutionizes our thinking aboutconsumerism."
-Jules Lubbock, author of "The Tyranny of Taste
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; First Edition edition (March 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415944007
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415944007
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,896,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Harvey Molotch gets network thinking. More than that, he does it. In his book, "Where Stuff Comes From", he shows, with brilliant simplicity, the complex web of interactions that lie behind creation and production of the everyday stuff that surrounds us. This is a book that every thinking designer should read. Actually, it's a book that anyone who cares about the world we live in should read. Sensible, humane and thoughtful, it brightened up my day.
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Format: Paperback
It's a delightful book. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring how the design of ordinary things came about and now find myself wondering why some designs ever disappeared (luckily, some have come back as "retro"). Molotch has an engaging writing style that keeps the book entertaining throughout, with no lulls in attention. I don't usually care for books in the "culture studies" field, but this book is a huge exception. It would be terrific as a gift or as a bedside book.
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Format: Paperback
The everyday objects of our lives, and where they come from, are the subject of this book. How do items such as paper clips, post-it notes and bathtubs come into being? What factors influence design, and why do we (many of us, anyway) want this stuff?

I found this book fascinating. Some items of `stuff' - such as toys and lamps change relatively quickly in response to fashion. Some other items - such as pencils and toilets - do not. The influences on change seem to vary, depending on the item.

Take, for example, the chair.

Chairs are not universally used around the world; many people squat, sit cross-legged or sit flat on the ground. But where chairs are used, we actively train our children how to use them `properly'. And as a consequence, for many of us: `Chairs have become part of the methodology of respect and rectitude.' The design of chairs has changed, and while there is some contrast between the utilitarian and the artistic, the distinction is often blurred.

It's interesting to consider some of the cultural and other factors that influence design, as well as the functionality that mirrors contemporary life. There are plenty of examples including the garlic press; the Palm Pilot; and the Chrysler PT Cruiser. And there are items that could be different: the computer keyboard (which evolved from the typewriter) for example, or the conventional western toilet which could be modified to accommodate squatting but isn't. Why things are the way they are and what factors influence this makes for very interesting reading. The linkages between items are interesting to consider: the toaster (to give one example) did not develop in isolation.
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