Airship Captains, Pith Helmets, & Other Assorted Brassy Bits: Steampunk Personas and Material-Semiotic Production

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Matthew Hale


Steampunk is an aesthetic and ideological system that revolves around the appropriation, (re)creation, and (re)design of select aspects of the documented past. Steampunk is a generic complex. It is a form of literature and thus narrative, a design aesthetic, and a mode of material production and consumption. Within this work, the author explores the relationship between materiality and textuality within steampunk and suggest that material-semiotic hybridity, that is to say the ongoing processes through which stories and objects mutually inform, delimit, or shape one another, is central to the genre’s “form-shaping ideology” (Bakhtin 1984:92). In doing so, the author suggests that materiality (in other words, substance) and textuality (or concept) are neither separate, nor are they pure categorizes, but that they are, in fact, entangled and co-productive forces.

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How to Cite
Hale, M. (2013). Airship Captains, Pith Helmets, & Other Assorted Brassy Bits: Steampunk Personas and Material-Semiotic Production. New Directions in Folklore, 11(1), 3-34. Retrieved from
Author Biography

Matthew Hale, Indiana University

Matthew Hale is a dual PhD student within the Folklore and Ethnomusicology and Communication and Culture departments at Indiana University. He earned his BA in anthropology and MA in folk studies from Western Kentucky University. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Bill Ellis and the Warren Roberts paper prizes from the American Folklore Society and the Richard M. Dorson paper prize from Indiana University's Folklore Institute. He has published works in Folklore Forum as well as Julie Ann Taddeo and Cynthia Miller's co-edited collection entitled Steaming into a Victorian Future: A Steampunk Anthology and his ethnographic photography has been featured in Anthropology News. His research interests include visual anthropology and ethnographic video production, material culture and embodiment, fandom and participatory cultures, intertextuality, and human-object-environment relations.