Tom Maschio has published extensively on the topic of consumer culture and the application of anthropological techniques to business problems. He is also the author of several scholarly works based on his ethnographic research in Papua New Guinea




Culture, Desire, and Consumer Culture in America in the New Age of Social Media

Thomas Maschio, Qualitative Market Research: an International Journal, 19 (2016), 416-425.

This opinion piece considers the role of desire in giving shape to culture forms and in guiding economic practices in contemporary American Culture. This essay also outlines how certain basic values of American culture are reproduced on the consumer plane and that American consumer culture is partly defined as a restless pursuit of values. The larger theme is that America is developing new forms of sociality and self, and that these can be clearly glimpsed in the actions and preferences of consumer culture, most especially the emergence of social media and the rise of digital life-ways. Read the full article

Emotion and Consumer Rituals

Thomas Maschio, Anthropology News, January 2012

I originally trained in the anthropology of religion and did my first fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, studying a Melanesian people's sense of the sacred. My work as a business consultant studying consumer culture has turned out to be not very different. Read the full article

Closing the Gap Between Doctors and Patient

Thomas Maschio, Anthropology News, December 2008

In the consulting work my colleagues and I have carried out over the past few years we have found ourselves continually recommending to the medical establishment—doctors, pharmaceutical companies, HMOs—that it invest greater effort in attempting to understand the ways in which patients frame and experience various conditions and diseases. We continually advise consideration of the specific folk models of illness that guide patient behavior, in effect making a plea for cultural analysis and anthropological understanding. Read the full article

The Refrigerator and American Ideas of Home

Thomas Maschio, Anthropology News, May 2002

The particular refrigerator that I am recalling in my mind now was literally plastered over with pictures of children, and with certificates and citations that marked their athletic and educational accomplishments…The anthropologist (in this case me) who first sharpened his analytical eye observing the rituals and mores of a remote Papua New Guinean tribal group began to see the refrigerator in a new light. It was an object that had been ritually marked by this middle class, midwestern family. Read the full article

Everyday Things: An Anthropologist's Take on Consumer Rituals

Thomas Maschio, The Journal of Business Anthropology 4 (2015), 342-351.

In categories as varied as pet food, bicycles, credit card use, food, and electronics, the successful product or brand often gives people a sense of what can only be described as the sacred in the everyday. Read the full article

Google, Humanistic Anthropology and Smartphone Play

Thomas Maschio, The Journal of Business Anthropology 3 (2014), 238-245.

Some months ago Google approached me to ask how I might frame a study of the meaningful dimensions of smart phone, tablet, and computer use. They were also interested in my take on the power and meaning of visual imagery in the digital space. After a few preliminary interviews I began to see that the subfield of anthropology called humanistic anthropology offered insightful ideas and approaches to my study problem. Read the full article

Metaphors > Persuasion

Thomas Maschio, lowleveljetstream.com, 2011

The advertiser's art of persuasion demands the use of powerful metaphors— metaphors that express fresh insight into the relationship between the consumer and the product and product category. Read the full article

How Doctors and Patients Talk Past One Another: The Clash of Scientific and Folk Worldviews

Thomas Maschio, Anthropology News, April 2007

Doctors and patients sometimes bring radically different perspectives to a consultation. These perspectives color the logic and language they use when talking to, or more accurately, past one another. While doctors as professionals express a scientific worldview when discussing medicine and disease, patients of all social classes often operate from a folk worldview in making sense of their symptoms and their causes. Read the full article

Culture of Desire

Thomas Maschio, Anthropology News, April 2000

Having spent the last three years listening to middle class Americans talk about their cars, SUVs, athletic fashion, the hotels they prefer, cosmetics they use, trains they ride, airlines they fly, houses, furniture and appliances they buy, concerns about health and appearance of their bodies and their use of vitamins, it seems that American consumers have almost millenarian expectations about what products can do for their lives. Read the full article




Metaphor, Anthropological Insight, and the Advertiser's Art of Persuasion

© Tom Maschio, 2005

The advertiser is a maker, a manufacturer of meaning, as is an artist. Both must be masters of metaphor before they can be considered successful. Read the full article

Uses of Anthropology

© Tom Maschio, 2005

What are Some Important Uses of Cultural Anthropology for Advertisers and other Business Types? Let's take the example of soap. Read the full article


Academic Publications

Academic Publications

Tom and his friend John Katumbu while conducting field research in Papua New Guinea

Tom and his friend John Katumbu while conducting field research in Papua New Guinea

The Narrative and Counter-narrative of the Gift: Emotional Dimensions of Ceremonial Exchange in Southwestern New Britain

Thomas Maschio, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4 (1998), 83-100.

This article considers how issues of identity, choice and moral imagining are defined through a Melanesian narrative of gift-giving and exchange. The article also discusses patterned scenarios of exchange through which Rauto, a Melanesian people, explore the emotional correlates of giving and receiving. The article thus develops a novel perspective on ceremonial exchange by considering the emotional entailments of the gift. 'While showing that emotion is a constitutive part of the gift, the article argues that a focus on the emotional aspects of cultural phenomena allows us to explore the experiential dimensions of these phenomena more fully than we would otherwise be able to do.

Narrative, Memory and the Self in Southwestern New Britain

Thomas Maschio, Anthropology and Humanism 20 (1995), 98-116.

In philosophy and classics, in literary criticism, in history, and in anthropology, particular narrative styles have been thought to reveal different concepts of self. Autobiographical narrative understood as a "recovery of lost time"—as a retrospective joining of the past incidents of a life in order to assign life a patterned or thematic meaning—has seemed an expressive form particularly suited to convey a unitary notion of the self. Both autobiography and the unitary concept of self have been viewed as consummately Western culture forms. This essay questions classifications that posit a vast divide between the nature of Western and non‐Western concepts of self, and thus between the character of Western and non‐Western life stories. As it shows how New Britainers use different narrative forms to come to terms with different types of experience, it reveals how the manifold structures of the Melanesian self are continually rearticulated in discourse. The essay is primarily about the phenomenology of memory in Melanesia; it is about the constitutive role that memory plays in the establishment of identity.

Mythic Images and Objects of Myth in Rauto Female Puberty Ritual

Thomas Maschio, in Gender Rituals: Female Initiation in Melanesia, ed. by Nancy Lutkehaus and Paul Roscoe (London: Routledge Press, 1995), 131-161.

On one of the last days of my field stay among the Rauto, I saw a performance of the ritual that marks a woman’s menarche. The ceremony took up one full day, from dawn to dusk, and its poetry and beauty both moved me and helped me understand the type of power a Rauto woman can draw on to express and construct her identity. The rite also appeared to be a formal celebration of the part Rauto women play in helping to form the social identities of female adolescents, and it demonstrated that Rauto women are considered the producers and possessors of important aspects of their culture’s religious imagination.

Remember the Faces of the Dead: Mourning and the Full Sadness of Memory in Southwestern New Britain

Thomas Maschio, Ethos, 20 (1994), 387-420.

This essay considers the genre of the mourning song of the Rauto people of New Britain. As a night-long poem about death, loss, and separation, the mourning song takes particular emotional meaning from the desire of bereaved people to possess, to hold, and to finally cast off the objects of the dead. Through such rituals, people are able to learn the vocabulary of emotion by associating feelings with prototypical scenes or events in life. The mourning songs reflectively create a meta-emotion for and a meta-thought about the character of death and loss. They also highlight the link between a specific style of cultural creativity or invention and a particular ethos of feeling. M. Buber's (1958) psychology of mourning is used to show how these songs transform socially disruptive forms of grief and anger into culturally creative emotions and quietly borne emotional pain.

To Remember the Faces of the Dead: The Plenitude of Memory in Southwestern New Britain.

Thomas Maschio (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994).

Explores how such emotions as nostalgia, anger, sadness, and grief are creatively transformed during the course of religious performance and expression into a form of cultural memory—one that juxtaposes a pattern of cultural meaning with the emotional feeling of plenitude the Melanesian Rauto call makai. Evoked during initiation, mourning, and agricultural rites, and figuring prominently in Rauto discourse about the self, makai joins personal memory to patterned sets of images and meanings that Westerners would call culture.