Rock stories: The discourse of rocks and rock-collecting

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Rod Giblett


Humanity's relationship with rocks is a long-standing one. Belk (1995, p.2) describes archaeological evidence of early assemblages of rocks found in Cro-Magnon caves that would not be out of place in contemporary rock-collections. Historically, apart from being used as material for tools and buildings. rocks were also used for magical, pharmaceutical and decorative purposes. During the Renaissance and Enlightenment, the practice of collecting rocks became associated with the sense of discovery and the colonial expansion of western European civilization across world, and with advances in mining, science and industry. It is a practice that continues through to the present day. This thesis is an ethnography that asks contemporary rock collectors: why do they collect rocks? How do they collect rocks? And, how do they talk about them? Adapting Foucault's theoretical framework on discourse (1970) and utilising positions on collecting put forward by Baudrillard ( 1994), Belk ( 1995), Benjamin (1999), and others, the thesis analyses interviews and images of rock-collectors and their collections and puts forward a snapshot of the discourse of rocks and rock-collecting as currently practiced. The thesis's theoretical framework is first tested on texts of popular culture on rocks and rock-collecting to locate and identify the statements and discursive formations that make up the discourse, and then it is applied to the interviews of contemporary collectors talking about their collections. While some rock collectors practice alone and their approaches may appear idiosyncratic, others, sharing knowledge and experience, practice in a club environment. The collectors' approaches to rock collecting range from the taxonomic and scientific to the aesthetic and utilitarian, personal and historical, and, for some, to the metaphysical. In Australia some aspects of rock-collecting are allied to prospecting and mining. For some collectors the rocks are souvenirs, and are connected to travel. For other collectors rock-collecting is associated with understandings of nature, time and space. The interviews reveal that in a consumer society rocks are also commodities, with many of the collectors not only acquiring their rocks in the field, but also buying what they cannot find, or trade, for their collection. The analysis of the collectors' interviews demonstrates that the discourse does not stand as an isolated figure, but shares statements and configurations of statements with many other discourses in the field of knowledge, including science, history, archaeology and metaphysics. The interviews also illustrate how discourse and their associated practices are subject to external and internal rules and regulations, imposed by the State, and by institutions of academia and cultural and scientific practices, such as museums and universities. Some collectors aspire to emulate museums, and wish to share with others knowledge about to their collection through exhibition. The variety of themes and practices found in the interviews reinforce Foucault's proposition that within a discourse statements and configurations of statements may arise that are incompatible and form diffractions in the discourse. While apparently incompatible themes, variations and differences exist within the discourse, the analysis of the interviews and the conclusion of the thesis underscore the underlying unities of the discourse of rocks and rock-collecting.

Access Note

Access to this thesis is restricted to current ECU staff and students. Email request to library@ecu.edu.au

Access to this thesis is restricted. Please see the Access Note below for access details.