How it Works

Each of the objects in the Object Ethnography Project has been donated by an ordinary person. Each object has a story. Some discuss the history of the object, why it has meaning to the donor, or why the donor chose to part with their object. Anyone can donate an object.

During the life of the project, all these objects were available for exchange. Anyone could trade for any object by offering a new story about it. What attracts you to the object? What will you do with it? How will the object spend its time in your possession?
Once a story had been offered for exchange, the object was mailed to its new owner. The

What remains is a final online exhibition of a photograph of each object and its paired stories.

These objects and their stories were the basis of a research project to see how narrative influence worth, economies, and circulation.



  1. Dale S. Brown says:


    I wanted to let you know a story about an object I did not donate- because I think it’s a good story. In 1973, Pope John Paul VI blessed some crosses when my Dad was on an official government visit. We are athiests in my family. He gave them to me. I am a bit more spiritual than my family, so I hung on to them. I had hopes that I would run into someone who would find them meaningful.

    About a year ago, I started looking for homes for many of the objects that I owned. I have always practiced “Stewardship of Objects,” making sure that the things that I own are passed on in a responsible manner. So I tried to find a home for the crosses.

    I used Free Cycle- and was able to distribute 4 crosses to people who found them meaningful. But it was very hard to make the connection between me and the person who wanted them, because I felt they were sacred objects and didn’t want to leave them hanging on my apartment door. So I gave the rest of them to Our Lady of Victory Church in our neighborhood. Janet, the secretary was delighted and grateful and I believed they were finally where they belonged.

    Then two more turned up. I was on the web and found your project and thought I might donate the crosses. I wrote the story- and was about to send them on. Then I remembered that they were sacred – and changed my mind. I didn’t really know if you handled religious objects- I just thought they might be better off in Our Lady of Victory.

    But your project excites me. I want to participate and am looking for an object to donate. I probably have a good object that comes with a good story. But I wanted to share this with those of you who are working on the project– I think it is important to realize your power and influence, even though I didn’t donate the crosses, your project made their story even better.

    Dale S. Brown

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