2007 volume 39(3) pages 555 – 569

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Holloway J, Hones S, 2007, "Muji, materiality, and mundane geographies" Environment and Planning A 39(3) 555 – 569

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Muji, materiality, and mundane geographies

Julian Holloway, Sheila Hones

Received 26 February 2005; in revised form 31 January 2006

Abstract. This paper is based on the premise that mundanity is not so much a quality inherent in an object or event as an appearance or affordance generated at the intersection of object, subject, and location. Assuming that a single object will appear banal in one context and different in another, we focus our attention on cases in which a single object is encountered as both banal and different—visible and invisible at the same time, marked out by its ability to blend in. In this paper we explore the mundane and distinctive by reference to marketing and products of the Japan-based company Muji, and in particular through relating the two contrasting aspects of the Muji image to the different ways in which the objects are located in presentation – marketing contexts and in wear – use contexts. In order to explore the usefulness of this distinction between display space and use space we perform a tactical erasure of the commonsense distinction between the textual and the material, thereby enabling the collapsing together, into the single category of display space, of the textual spaces of Muji catalogues and the material spaces of Muji shop floors. The distinction between the en-masse presentation of new objects in highly controlled display spaces and the mundane wear and use of purchased objects in the various and variously encountered spaces of everyday life is explored through the hybrid display – use space of Muji show homes known as Muji-Infill. We conclude by proposing that this display – use distinction can be used strategically to articulate the way in which skilled consumers are able to encounter objects imaginatively and practically in two different contexts simultaneously. In other words, we speculate that, when skilled consumers encounter a superficially mundane Muji object in the literal and disorganised context of use space, they are able to recognise it as stylish and desirable in part by referring to an acquired understanding of the ways in which that object-in-use evokes a Muji marketing space of massed objects-on-display.

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