From Passion to Possessiveness


Collecting is a pastime that has become immensely popular, especially during the last two or three decades. It is estimated that one in three persons in the adult population in western industrialized countries is or has been a collector. As a pastime collecting easily turns into an engrossing passion or even addiction, with immoderation and sometimes transgression of moral and legal rules in its wake. In popular opinion collecting, even in its moderate and normal forms, is surprisingly often referred to in terms of passion and love compared to eroticism. So is also the case on fiction, where the collector character abounds. The aim of the article is to discuss the systematic character of rhetorical figures in this discourse on collecting. These figures, most often comparisons and metaphors, are investigated as a symbolic way of understanding the ambiguous phenomena of collecting and possessiveness. As the use of concepts like symbol and symbolism are rather unclear in the ethnological tradition, the author argues for a pragmatic use of some structuralist ideas to grasp their systematic character. This article concentrates upon symbolic perspectives on collecting, whereas the author’s research project on collecting comprises topics like gender, consumption, socialization, etc., as well as the history of collecting.

How to Cite

Rogan, B., (1996) “From Passion to Possessiveness”, Ethnologia Europaea 26(1), 65-79. doi:

Publisher Notes

  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.


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Bjarne Rogan (University of Oslo)



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