The Hoarders: Material Deviance in Modern American Culture (Hardcover)

The Hoarders: Material Deviance in Modern American Culture By Scott Herring Cover Image

The Hoarders: Material Deviance in Modern American Culture (Hardcover)


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The verb “declutter” has not yet made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, but its ever-increasing usage suggests that it’s only a matter of time. Articles containing tips and tricks on how to get organized cover magazine pages and pop up in TV programs and commercials, while clutter professionals and specialists referred to as “clutterologists” are just a phone call away. Everywhere the sentiment is the same: clutter is bad.

In The Hoarders, Scott Herring provides an in-depth examination of how modern hoarders came into being, from their onset in the late 1930s to the present day. He finds that both the idea of organization and the role of the clutterologist are deeply ingrained in our culture, and that there is a fine line between clutter and deviance in America. Herring introduces us to Jill, whose countertops are piled high with decaying food and whose cabinets are overrun with purchases, while the fly strips hanging from her ceiling are arguably more fly than strip. When Jill spots a decomposing pumpkin about to be jettisoned, she stops, seeing in the rotting, squalid vegetable a special treasure. “I’ve never seen one quite like this before,” she says, and looks to see if any seeds remain. It is from moments like these that Herring builds his questions: What counts as an acceptable material life—and who decides? Is hoarding some sort of inherent deviation of the mind, or a recent historical phenomenon grounded in changing material cultures? Herring opts for the latter, explaining that hoarders attract attention not because they are mentally ill but because they challenge normal modes of material relations. Piled high with detailed and, at times, disturbing descriptions of uncleanliness, The Hoarders delivers a sweeping and fascinating history of hoarding that will cause us all to reconsider how we view these accumulators of clutter.
Scott Herring is associate professor in the Department of English at Indiana University. He is the author of Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism and Queering the Underworld: Slumming, Literature, and the Undoing of Lesbian and Gay History, also published by the University of Chicago Press. 
Product Details ISBN: 9780226171685
ISBN-10: 022617168X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: November 9th, 2014
Pages: 208
Language: English
“This well-argued study of so-called hoarders and their relationship with modern material culture asks for a second opinion on the recent identification of ‘hoarding disorder’ in the DSM-5 as a type of psychopathology. . . . Herring digests a considerable amount of sociological, psychological, and scientific research into an engrossing and accessible exploration.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Herring’s argument, like most books written by professors in defense of things thought to be deplored by upstanding people, can be accused of slumming. . . . Still, he has a point. It is hard to understand why, all of a sudden, in the nineteen-nineties, we started seeing houses that were inundated with rat droppings and old newspapers. Maybe he’s wrong. Maybe the war between hoarding and anti-hoarding isn’t a struggle between individualists and conformists. But, if not, then what is it?”
— New Yorker

The Hoarders tackles the contemporary medicalization of ‘hoarding’ as a psychiatric disorder. Taking aim at the reification of hoarding disorder by doctors and professional organizers, this is a book less for psychiatrists than for those interested in the idea of hoarding in American culture. . . . Maybe Herring is right: We should leave hoarders alone rather than reprogram them with drugs—or is it only the rich who have the right to destroy themselves through accumulation?”
— Chronicle of Higher Education

“Anxious you may be stockpiling too much stuff? No worries: Scott Herring’s seriously smart book turns the tables on experts who have declared accumulating ‘junk’ a mental illness. Putting the pack rat back into historical context, this intelligent and humane book examines how precisely disorder became a disorder. From the rise of antiquing, through the gospel of cleanliness, and all the way to reality television, Herring’s culturally informed and deeply sympathetic readings of America’s celebrity hoarders (the Collyer brothers, Andy Warhol, Big Edie Beale) succeed in nothing less than de-stigmatizing our own domestic caches of everyday things. Add this one to your household collection: it’s a keeper.”
— Diana Fuss, author of The Sense of an Interior

“What do hoarders reveal by their unwillingness to part with things? Why is the nation currently fixated on eradicating their clutter? Drawing by turns on psychiatric debate, cultural lore, and family history, Herring’s sharp and insightful book does not disappoint.”
— Christopher Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness

“Using a fascinating array of sources, Herring places the contemporary obsession with hoarding within an intricate cultural and historical matrix. His innovative and ingenious work shows how hoarding became a mental disorder through the efforts of an unusual variety of groups encompassing not just psychiatrists, social workers, and other mental health professionals but also sanitation authorities, closet organizers, and TV producers.  In the tradition of Emile Durkheim, Mary Douglas, and Michel Foucault, The Hoarders is a worthy addition to the literature on social boundaries and moral order. It reformulates our conceptions not just of hoarding but of psychiatric disorder itself.”
— Allan V. Horwitz

“Drawing on insights gleaned from material culture studies, thing theory, cultural geography, queer studies, and disability studies, Herring focuses on contem­porary discourses of material deviance: how it is today that things—certain things, such as rubbish and dirt—so unsettle us, and why this unsettling has been medicalized as a dis­ease. . . . All of the hoard­ers discussed in this book challenged modern notions of how to collect and organize things, and which things matter. Making hoarding a disease, Herring explains, shows how the flu­id meaning of things has been codified and pathologized as psychiatry has increasingly be­come a means of social control.”
— Journal of American History

“For Herring, whose sole task has been to critique the modern psychopathology of material life, this oppositional logic extends beyond the Beales. In a lyrical conclusion, he advocates on behalf of all hoarders who similarly don’t want to be fixed. Given the rigorous case that he’s mounted across The Hoarders, it’s hard to argue otherwise. One hopes that medical humanities scholars sharing Herring’s position will read and build upon his arguments, that empiricists hewing to the DSM-5’s diagnostic criteria will supplement and challenge his claims, and that hoarders will learn the history of those individuals who framed their identity.”
— Literature and Medicine