13 Apr

Geographical Review Preview: Masks and Materiality in the Era of COVID-19

By: Sara Beth Keough, Ph.D.

What is the main purpose of your study? 
To reflect on how masks recommended for use to prevent the spread of COVID-19 reflect are linked to other elements of culture like gift-giving, identity expression, and waste.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? 
Since the onset of COVID-19 in the US, mask-wearing has been mandated in most places and has become a common-place activity. Yet, we don’t often think about other ideas that mask-wearing (or not wearing) express.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Other forms of material culture have been studied for their value as gifts, waste, economic goods, symbolism, etc.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? 
1) This is yet another example of how material culture is always changing.
2) Economic value of an object is often related to (among other things) conditions of abundance and scarcity. Symbolic value of an object is often instead related to the process and people involved in obtaining that object.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? 
Degrees of alienation involved in obtaining an object (gift culture literature)
Consideration of objects within a cultural and regional context.

How does your research help us think about Geography? 
Human geography considers the symbolic meaning of spaces—what geographers call “places”. Objects like masks are interpreted within a spatial and symbolic context. Their meaning is linked to place and can change as conditions change in that place.

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Click here to read the abstract of this article.