Signs, things and packaging: the material agency of the cigarette packet

This week in the CRESIDA seminar series, the speaker is Kirsten Bell, Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Roehampton. Her talk is on the material agency of the cigarette packet.  Come and join us on Thursday, November 15th, at 4.15pm in Room G070 at Parkstead House to learn more.

Abstract

In recent years, cigarette packets have become the site of considerable legislative attention via initiatives to remove industry branding from tobacco products, based on the premise that branded cigarette packaging acts as a ‘silent salesman’ for smoking. According to this perspective, the cigarette packet has a particular sort of agency, but one rooted entirely in its communicative powers rather than its material qualities. In this essay I reconsider this view, drawing together insights gleaned through a decade of research with smokers in Canada, an analysis of archives in the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library, and scholarship on materiality and containerization. Taking up the idea of containers – and enclosures more broadly – as undertheorized forms of materiality, I argue that the cigarette packet has powerful, albeit largely invisible, physical consequences on the circulation of cigarettes and the practice of smoking itself.

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