Yard Sales: A Book and an Exhibition: From Selling Off Objects to Redeeming Memory


  • Octave Debary University of Paris Descartes Paris V, France




Yard sales (vide-greniers), objects, memory, exhibition, second-hand, France


The fate of everyday objects, when they reach the end of their lives — worn out, and sometimes even broken — varies a great deal. In some cases, their remains are exhibited in museums as instances of our heritage; in others, they end up in garages and attics, or are simply disposed of. This paper focuses on the social operations surrounding the redefinition of their status as second-hand objects. We pay special attention to what happens when they are requalified as objects of memory in yard sales. Over the past thirty years, such markets — where personal stories change hands — have become favoured destinations for Sunday outings in France. They are open-air museums, where new memories are cobbled together from old objects. We attempt to show what is at stake in these transactions and transitions through a presentation of a book and an exhibition (2011-2012) devoted to French yard sales.


Baudrillard, Jean (1968/1996): The System of Objects, New York: Verso.

Bon, François (2012): Autobiographie des objets, Paris: Seuil.

Clifford, James (2004): “Looking Several Ways: Anthropology and Native Heritage in Alaska”, Current Anthropology, 45:1, 5-30. doi: 10.1086/379634

Debary, Octave & Arnaud Tellier (2004): “Objets de peu, les marchés à réderies dans la Somme”, L’Homme, revue française d'anthropologie, (“Espèces d'objets”), 170, 117-138.

Debary, Octave (2014): “Loppis, Vide-granges. Promenades suédoises au milieu des restes”, Ethnologies, revue de l’Association canadienne d’ethnologie et de folklore, Canada, 35:2, 163-182.

Einstein, Carl (1929/1991): “André Masson, étude ethnologique”, Documents, 2, 92-102.

Flem, Lydia (2004): Comment j’ai vidé la maison de mes parents, Paris: Seuil.

Freud, Sigmund (1985): Œuvres complètes de psychanalyse, Paris: Gallimard.

Gabel, Philippe, Octave Debary & Howard S. Becker (2012): Vide-greniers, Paris: Créaphis.

Gell, Alfred (1998): Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Godefroy, Frédéric (1891-1902/1982): Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XV4 siècle, Genève-Paris: Slatkine.

Guigon, Emmanuel (2005): L’objet surréaliste, Paris: Jean-Michel Place.

Hennion, Antoine & Bruno Latour (1993): “Objet d’art, objet de science. Note sur les limites de l’antifétichisme”, Sociologie de l’art, 6, 7-23.

Hertz, Robert (1928/1970): Sociologie religieuse et folklore, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.

Herrmann, Gretchen M. (2004): “Haggling Spoken Here: Gender, Class, and Style in US Garage Sale Bargaining”, The Journal of Popular Culture, 38:1, 55-81. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-3840.2004.00100.x

Herrmann, Gretchen M. (2006): “Special Money: Ithaca Hours and Garage Sales”, Ethnology, 45:2, 125-141. doi: 10.2307/4617570

Hetherington Kevin (2004): “Secondhandedness: Consumption, Disposal, and Absent Presence”, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 22:1, 157-173. doi: 10.1068/d315t

Hoskins, Janet (1998): Biographical Objects, How things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives, New York: Routledge.

Kopytoff, Igor (1986): “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process”, Arjun Appadurai (ed), The Social Life of Things, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 64-91.

Maxwell Mary P. & James D. Maxwell (1993), “Garage Sales: Meaning and Messages of Material Culture", Culture, 13:2, 53-65.

Miller, Daniel (ed), (1998): Material Cultures. Why some things matter, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. doi: 10.4324/9780203167014

Pradelle (De La), Michèle (2006): Market Day in Provence, Chicago: University of Chicago Press (Les vendredis de Carpentras, Paris, Fayard, 1996).

Sansot, Pierre (1992): Les gens de peu, Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Stewart, Kathleen (2007): Ordinary Affects, Durham: Duke University Press. doi: 10.1215/9780822390404




How to Cite

Debary, O. (2015) “Yard Sales: A Book and an Exhibition: From Selling Off Objects to Redeeming Memory”, Culture Unbound, 7(1), pp. 123–142. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.1571123.



Theme: Circulating Stuff through Second-hand, Vintage and Retro Markets