Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-16-2022


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Communication and Rhetorical Studies


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Janie Harden Fritz

Committee Member

Richard H. Thames

Committee Member

Erik Garrett


heirloom, intergenerational contaminated objects, heritage, inheritance, estate, artifact, gift, material culture, new materialism, communication ethics


Intramundane objects often become “intergenerational transfers of contaminated objects,” commonly known as heirlooms (Belk 151; Heisley and Cours 425; Holmes). Rather than priceless possessions, heirlooms are mostly ordinary objects, such as photographs and gardening tools. Regardless of rarity or monetary value, as familial artifacts, heirlooms compel an ethic of responsibility. For this project, the term “heirlooming” is a performance of communicative practices of story-telling, ritualizing, and kin-keeping that contribute to heirloom preservation and continuation. A narrative ethics background structures family communication to both make meaning and make sense of ongoing and changing practices across generations. Heirlooms situated within family narratives as petit récit bond kin and sustain time and space connections in the holistic space of praxis. Interdisciplinary insight into the perspectives of material culture, new materialism, the gift, communication ethics, and family communication provides ‘object discourse’ for discussing heirlooms in scholarship. Heirlooms, like gifts, exist within an asymmetric, agapic framework of acknowledgement rather than demanding reciprocity within an exchange system of recognition (Belk and Coon; Schrag God as Otherwise 119-120). Identifying objects as inalienable and indexical counters a consumerist culture that needlessly and recklessly discards objects it considers inert and insignificant. While this project encourages an ethic of responsibility toward material culture, it rejects a “flat ontology” or equal agency for the material object and the human subject. While the most recent ‘material turn’ raises critical questions about the interrelations of humans and objects, these philosophies lack fore-structure for heirlooming, ultimately threatening the rhetorical nature of heirlooms and the human condition.



Included in

Rhetoric Commons