What anthropologists can teach journalists: Daniel Miller’s The Comfort of Things

I’ve just finished Daniel Miller‘s book The Comfort of Things. It’s a remarkable work of contemporary anthropology, in which Miller and an assistant spend 17 months interviewing and observing nearly all the inhabitants on an ordinary street in suburban London.

I think this book should be compulsory reading for journalists and especially students of journalism schools and courses. This is because the approach Miller takes to interviewing and engaging with his subjects is almost the polar opposite of the typical way in which journalists and reporters approach the task.

Rather than approach his task in the one-dimensional, goal-directed way so common of journalists – in which they relentless interrogate their subject until they get the answer they want – Miller gently befriends the inhabitants of this ordinary street, eventually obtaining access to their living rooms and discovering what their material possessions can tell us about their lives, their loves and the status of their lives. It’s the sort of “long-form narrative” that actually achieves the kind of engagement that most contemporary novelists seem to struggle with, let alone journalists. The best comparators I can think of are Iain Sinclair and Theodore Zeldin.

To top it all off, Miller’s writing is beautiful, easily superior to almost anything you’d read in the New Yorker, The Guardian or the London Review of Books.

Recommended.

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4 thoughts on “What anthropologists can teach journalists: Daniel Miller’s The Comfort of Things

  1. Why would you undermine a good review with a rather odd comparison to New yorker, guardian, LRB – its comparing apples and oranges and implies somehow that these latter are part of the bad journalism that you point to. Ian sinclair and Zeldin both write in the LRB

  2. Hi Ben — You probably already know this but Danny Miller will be in Australia later in November doing a speaking tour for the Cultural Research Network. His Melbourne dates are a seminar on Wednesday 17 November (6:30pm at The Spot Basement Theatre, U. Melbourne) and open office consultations on Monday 22 November & Tuesday 23 November, 2:00pm – 5:00pm at the University of Melbourne (bookings via Isabelle de Solier, ids@unimelb.edu.au). He’ll in Sydney between the 25th and 29th and is doing events here at UTS and UWS. — Elaine

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