I was buying furniture for a doll’s house the other day. There is a fabulous shop on George’s Street in Dublin which has floor-to-ceiling doll’s furniture, doll’s houses and dolls themselves. Failing to switch completely out of work mode, I mused to myself that this must be an excelent place for doing some ‘visual culture’-style analyses. But which?

I’d noticed on a previous visit, for example, that any ‘new Irish’ girl with browner than average skin would most likely find her ‘type’ relegated to the boxes and cabinets of ‘exotic’ dolls. Nordic types fared much better, as did kids from middle to upper income brackets. On the current visit the place struck me as embalmed in time: outside, real houses and furniture and people had gone to economic hell, but inside all was as immutable as ever.

So far, so grand, but as visual-culture analyses go, very banal. The enjoyable thing about visual-culture, or material-culture, analyses is when they transform how you look at a particular thing. They make you less innocent about the visual stuff around you. Interesting visual-culture analyses tend to be like works of art or, indeed, elegant mathematical proofs: they tell you something you didn’t know. That’s not an easy thing to do, and I wish I knew how to apply the trick to a shop full of dolls.