This panel seeks to intervene in the social scientific literature on hoarding, currently dominated by psychology and economics. These disciplines have not attended to the difference between sanctioned and unsanctioned hoards, nor do they attempt to place the practice in any cultural context.
When is accumulation beneficial and when is it immoral, irrational, or otherwise unsanctioned? When is hoarding equivalent to saving; when is it miserly, deviant or dangerous? When does spending, circulation or release garner approval and when scorn? How does hoarding and its evaluation vary cross-culturally and historically?
The phenomenon of hoarding has been approached primarily from either psychology, with its focus on individual mental disorder and the irrationality of useless accumulation, or economics, which since the crisis of 2008 has been concerned with the collective problem of hoarded wealth, leading to a lack of circulation and unhealthy economies where banks refuse to release useful liquidity into the market. In contrast, as anthropologists we seek to approach hoarding as a dialectical relationship between individual and collective attributions of value in relationship to time. We contend that hoarding and storage aims to divert contents outside normal flows of temporality - either congealing the past (heirlooms, archives, databanks, keepsakes) or retaining potential futures (confidential information, unspent wealth, unfinished projects, unsorted clutter).
As the contents of our social lives agglomerate over lifetimes, various registers of value (familial connection, exchange value, personal memory, future potentiality, public documentation) become jumbled and disconnected and more difficult to contain. In a conference dedicated to Staying, Moving, and Settling, we investigate the relationship between humans and their accumulations—the struggle to keep them in place or send them flying outward, as well as the collective judgments directed toward the mobilization and immobilization of valuables and un-valuables.