Saturday, April 08, 2006

Meeting #6 - Reading List

Readings for our final meeting (April 21), on colonialism/culture contact:

Comaroff, John L. and Jean Comaroff (2001). On Personhood: an Anthropological Perspective from Africa. Social Identities 7(2): 2001. (Downloadable. Historical anthropology on personhood in colonial contexts, I think this goes well with the Gosden.)

Dietler, Michael (2005). The Archaeology of Colonization and the Colonization of Archaeology: Theoretical Challenges from an Ancient Mediterranean Colonial Encounter. In The Archaeology of Colonial Encounters: Comparative Perspectives (G.J. Stein, ed.), pp. 33-68. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe.

Eaton, Natasha (2003). Excess in the City? The Consumption of Imported Prints in Colonial Calcutta, c. 1780-1795. Journal of Material Culture 8(1): 45-74. (OPTIONAL!! Downloadable. Considerable po-mo wankering, but it does discuss some of the themes we talked about earlier – could be interesting.)

Gosden, Chris (2005). Archaeology and Colonialism: Cultural Contact from 5000 BC to the Present. Cambridge University Press, Cambrige. Chapter 3 (“A model of colonialism”) and Chapter 7 (“Power”).

Harrison, Rodney (2003). ‘The Magical Virtue of These Sharp Things’: Colonialism, Mimesis and Knapped Glass Artefacts in Australia. Journal of Material Culture 8(3): 311-336. (Downloadable)

- OR –

Harrison, Rodney (2006). An Artefact of Colonial Desire? Kimberley Points and the Technologies of Enchantment. Current Anthropology 47(1): 63-88. (Downloadable)

Stahl, Ann B. (2002). Colonial Entanglements and the Practices of Taste: An Alternative to Logocentric Approaches. American Anthropologist 104(3): 827-845. (Downloadable)

Van Dommelen, Peter. (2006). Colonial Matters: Material Culture and Postcolonial Theory in Colonial Situations. In Handbook of Material Culture (C. Tilley et al., ed.), pp. 104-124. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Meeting #5 - Reading List

Our next meeting will be on Friday, April 7 at 2 in the ARF atrium. Copies of those readings that are not downloadable are in John's ARF mailbox.

Memory and Identity

Memory: focus on (*).

*Connerton, Paul (1989). How Societies Remember. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: Chapter 3, “Bodily practices,” pp. 72-104.

Forty, Adrian (1999). Introduction. In (A. Forty and S. Küchler, eds.) The Art of Forgetting, pp. 1-18. Berg, Oxford.

Harrison, Simon (2004). Forgetful and memorious landscapes. Social Anthropology 12(2): 135-151. (Downloadable; this is a really interesting study, relevant to archaeologists on the landscape front.)

*Jones, Andrew (2003). Technologies of remembrance: memory, materiality and identity in Early Bronze Age Scotland. In (H. Williams, ed.) Archaeologies of Remembrance: Death and Memory in Past Societies, pp. 65-88. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York. (One of the most obvious archaeological routes to memory, the other generally employed context is in commemorative monuments.)

*Joyce, Rosemary A. (2003). Concrete Memories: Fragments of the Past in the Classic Maya Present (500-1000 AD). In (R.M. Van Dyke and S.E. Alcock, eds.) Archaeologies of Memory, pp.104-125. Blackwell Publishing, Malden MA. (This is a treatment of memory that draws out the more fluid, tactical, everyday engagement of materials.)

*Lucas, Gavin (1997). Forgetting the past. Anthropology Today 13(1): 8-14. (Downloadable. I love this one, it’s why every archaeologist ought to be concerned with the topic.)

Nora, Pierre (1989). Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire. Representations 26 (Spring): 7-24. (Downloadable. An important figure in memory studies, though a few degrees separate from our material focus.)

Olick, Jeffrey K. and Joyce Robbins (1998). Social Memory Studies: From “Collective Memory” to the Historical Sociology of Mnemonic Practices. Annual Review of Sociology 24: 105-140. (Downloadable. An overview piece, much like a field statement but has a decent bibliography for source-mining.)

Rowlands, Michael (1993). The role of memory in the transmission of culture. World Archaeology 25(2): 141-151. (Downloadable. A classic implementation of Connerton’s inscribed/ incorporated practices.)

Van Dyke, Ruth M. and Susan E. Alcock (2003). Archaeologies of Memory: An Introduction. In (R.M. Van Dyke and S.E. Alcock, eds.) Archaeologies of Memory, pp.1-13. Blackwell Publishing, Malden MA. (This is a decent intro to the volume and some of the issues, useful if you have not already had a look at the book.)

Identity: I’ve put less in here, not because there isn’t good material to look at but because I’m coming to kind of different way of thinking about it… and we will probably focus more on the memory stuff, since there seems to be more interest in it. I’ll add more as I compile the list, but these are thought-provoking bits for our purposes.

*Brück, Joanna (2004). Material metaphors: the relational construction of identity in Early Bronze Age burials in Ireland and Britain. Journal of Social Archaeology 4(3): 307-333. (Downloadable)

*Lele, Veerendra P. (2006). Material habits, identity, semeiotic. Journal of Social Archaeology 6(1): 48-70. (Downloadable. More employment of Peircean semiotic.)

Meskell, Lynn and Robert W. Preucel (2004). Identities. In (L. Meskell and R.W. Preucel eds.) A Companion to Social Archaeology, pp. 121-141. Blackwell Publishing, Malden MA. (A broad overview piece – but attuned to some of the problematic areas.)

Voss, Barbara L. (2005). Sexual Subjects: Identity and Taxonomy in Archaeological Research. In (E.C. Casella and C. Fowler) The Archaeology of Plural and Changing Identities: Beyond Identification, pp. 55-77. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York. (This is a nice example of linking a complex theoretical literature to the extant archaeological consideration of sex/gender.)

Friday, March 17, 2006

"The Things They Carry"

A short article and photo essay on the tokens (religious, familial, and "lucky") taken into battle by U.S. soldiers:

References a book about the Vietnam-war era-- "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien. Has anyone read it? And if so, worthwhile, or not?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Meeting #3 - Notes and Discussion

This meeting’s readings, which focused on the agency of objects and aesthetics, brought forth a number of important ontological and epistemological issues that need to be considered in understanding the study of materiality. Based on this meeting’s readings, it is apparent that while archaeologists are beginning to write more on the agency of objects, many take for granted the reasons for pursuing this particular line of inquiry. This brings about the need to explicitly address the following questions:

1) What is the goal of studying the agency of objects?
2) Why should we study materiality?

The goal of studying materiality and the agency of objects (which is a core concept in the study of materiality) is to come to some sort of understanding of the social lives of human beings. This perspective begins with the assumption that sociality arises out of the mutually constitutive entanglements between humans and the material world (materiality). The processes of materiality are the foundation for the social lives of human beings, and therefore their study is essential if we desire any sort of understanding of human sociality.

Within the study of materiality, there are a number of ontological and epistemological considerations that need to be taken into account.

Ontological Considerations

What seems to be often at issue in the study of materiality is the ontological status and relationship between people and the material world. Should we be thinking about people and things as separate entities or as hybrids/socio-technical assemblages which cannot be separated? In addition, the specific nature of the relationship between people and things is in question and is often a major point of disagreement. (NOTE: it should be pointed out that the ontological status of people and things and the nature of the relationship between the two can be approached both emically and/or etically)

One perspective on the relationship between people and things, emphasizes the dialectical nature of this relationship (see e.g. Gell 1992; 1998). People and things are mutually constitutive, as people act on things and things act back to affect people. People are given priority in this relationship (which is an asymmetrical relationship, as seen in Gell’s primary and secondary agents) and are thus thought to be ontologically separate from things. This is a cognitivist perspective that separates mind from matter, where actions are conceived of first in the mind and then carried out in the world.

An alternative perspective proposes that the relationship between people and things can be understood as socio-technical assemblages, networks of people and things that are inextricably connected. Within these networks, people and things come together in mutually transformative/constitutive relationships, changing the nature of both people and things through the formation of hybrids (e.g. Latour’s example of a person with a gun). In this way, things and people cannot be considered to be ontologically distinct entities, as the very nature of their being is dependent on their mutual connection. From this perspective people and things are given equal weight in the constitution of social life (i.e. the relationship is symmetrical). These assemblages/networks arise out of the engagement of people and things within the course of skilled practice and lived experience (see Ingold 2000).

Another metaphor for this relationship that we discussed was that of the weaving together of threads to form a piece of clothing. The threads come together to create something different and as a whole the threads take on new meaning as part of the piece of clothing. They are inextricably linked to other threads and to remove any of the threads involves changing the nature of the individual thread that is removed and the piece of clothing as a whole. People and the material world can also be conceived of as being weaved together through skilled practice and lived experience to create social life/society. To pull them apart is to pull apart the very fabric of human sociality.

Archaeologists have the difficult task in most circumstances of having to reconstruct the whole of social life with only half of the remaining strands (the things we recover). The archaeological record therefore forces upon us an analytical separation between people and things that we may or may not accept as representative of their status or relationship in the lived contexts of the past or present.

A related additional ontological consideration concerns the nature of agency. More precisely, where is it that agency resides? Is it possessed by people? By objects? Both? Or neither?

The dialectical perspective on the relationship between people and things often emphasizes the agency of both people and things (even if the agency that both possess are seen to vary been people and things-again, Gell’s distinction between primary and secondary agency). Within a network perspective, agency in not possessed by either people or things, but rather can be thought to arise out of and is distributed across networks of people and things. It emerges out of the engagement between people and things in the course of skilled practice and lived experience within in a particular environmental and temporal setting (the environmental and temporal setting enables and constrains the flow of action, but does not determine it) (another way of thinking about this is in terms of the creation of “fields of action”, see Robb 2004).

Epistemological Considerations

Following from the ontological considerations, there are a number of epistemological considerations that should be taken into account in the study of materiality. How do we study materiality? How can we get at the nature of the relationship between people and things? Instead of offering detailed answers to these difficult questions, I only offer some things to consider as an entry point into the study of materiality.

To begin with, materiality must be understood to be historically contingent. While I would argue that the processes of materiality in the most general sense (i.e. that people and the material world affect, and mutually constitute each other and that this relationship is the foundation of human sociality) is a universal aspect of human existence, the precise nature of the relationship between people and the material world will play out differently in different socio-historical contexts. Furthermore, those aspects of the material world which are significant for understanding the processes of materiality will differ with context as people do not engage with all aspects of the material world, and the material world affects people differentially.

Recognizing the historically contingent nature of materiality brings about the necessity of identifying those aspects of the material world with which people engaged, and the potential effects that people and the material world had on each other.

Identifying the aspects of the material world with which people engaged obviously includes recognizing all forms of material culture and modified landscapes. While in most cases this is simple enough, it is important to take into consideration those aspects of the material world that may have been significant but where there is little evidence (or where the evidence is not obvious to us for whatever the reason) for their engagement with people.

Identifying and understanding the effects that people have had on the material world has been widely discussed within archaeology. This has involved the study of the technology, production, and consumption of material objects as well as the modification of landscapes. There has been less study of the effects that the material world has had on people (at least from a non-functionalist/adaptationalist perspective), although archaeologists have been increasingly interested in addressing this issue in recent years. This has come in the form of the study of the social aspects of technology, the biography of objects (both of which we will discuss later this week), the impact of the build environment and landscapes, and aesthetics (which we discussed in the last meeting).

The study of aesthetics provides a useful entry point for trying to understand the potential effects that the material world had on people. It is through the senses that people engage the material world, so to come to some sort of understanding of how and in what ways particular aspects of the material world impacted people’s sensory experience is important for addressing their effects.

However, to try to study the effects that the material world had on people is not enough, and both the study of the senses and these effects requires a consideration of knowledge, belief, and meaning (this is in contrast to the perspective proposed by Gell). The senses are mediated through cultural understanding, belief, and knowledge, and the ways in which people act towards/act with and react to the material world can be thought to be culturally specific skills that are developed through embodied social practice and experience. We learn how to live and act within the material world. We are born into and socialized within pre-existing worlds of knowledge, understanding, and tradition which shape our engagement with the material world. This is why the specific processes of materiality are historically contingent (for more on this perspective see Robb 2004).

Meeting #2 - Notes and Discussion

Here are some very rough notes from our discussion which focused on characterizing the works of Gell, Ingold, and Latour. Please add to these, as they are from notes that I quickly put together (and are thus not very detailed).


•Focuses on understanding the role objects play in mediating social relationships

•He is primarily interested in understanding social relationships

•Is concerned with the effects of objects, i.e. on how objects work rather than their meaning or symbolism

•For Gell, the relationship between people and things is asymmetrical. This can be seen in his distinction between primary (humans) and secondary (non-human) agents. Objects facilitate the relationship between primary agents and patients.

•Cognitive approach: Gell makes a distinction between mind and matter, and humans and nonhumans. Intentional actions are conceptualized first in the mind and then carried out in the world through the manipulation of objects.


•Focuses on challenging human/non-human, mind/matter dichotomies (symmetrical)

•Emphasis on skill and embodied practice and experience

•The forms that objects take do not begin with a preconceived image of the finished product in the mind, but rather arises out the engagement between people and the material world through skilled practice.

•Objects are not surfaces over which a layer of cultural meaning is placed. The meaning of objects arises only through their involvement in social practices. As their social contexts change, the meanings of objects can change.


•Attempts to breakdown dichotomy between society (humans) and technology (non-humans)

•Gives equal weight to humans and non-humans in the constitution of social life (symmetrical)

•Focuses on heterogeneous networks of people and things. Social relations and agency arise out of these network relations (human and non-human interactions)

•Inductive and primarily descriptive approach

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Meeting #4 - Reading list

The Biography/Life History of Objects & Technology

Our next meeting will be on Friday, March 17 at 2 in the ARF atrium. We will focus on the biography of objects and technology. We can also discuss Tim Ingold's paper if there is a desire to do so. I will have copies of those articles that are not downloadable in my ARF box by Wednesday.

The Biography/Life History of Objects

*Gosden, C. and Y. Marshall
1999 The Cultural Biography of Objects. World Archaeology 31(2):169-178. (Download from Library)

Hoskins, J.
2006 Agency, Biography and Objects. In Handbook of Material Culture, edited by C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Kuchler, M. Rowlands and P. Spyer, pp. 74-84. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks.

*Jones, A.
2002 Archaeological Theory and Scientific Practice. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Ch 5 “Material Culture and Material Science: a Biography of Things.

Try to read at least one of the following examples:
Historic Example

Peers, L.
1999 'Many Tender Ties': The Shifting Contexts and Meanings of the S Black Bag. World Archaeology 31(2):288-302. (Download from Library)

Prehistoric Example

Skeates, R.
1995 Animate Objects: a Biography of Prehistoric 'Axe-Amulets' in the Central Mediterranean Region. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 61:279-301.


*Childs, S. T.
1999 "After All, a Hoe Bought a Wife": The Social Dimensions of Ironworking among the Toro of East Africa. In The Social Dynamics of Technology: Practice, Politics and World Views, edited by M. A. Dobres and C. Hoffman, pp. 23-45. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.

Dobres, M. A. and C. Hoffman
1994 Social Agency and the Dynamics of Prehistoric Technology. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 1(3):211-258. (Download from Library)

*Killick, D.
2004 Social Constructionist Approaches to the Study of Technology. World Archaeology 36(4):571-578. (Download from Library)

Lemmonier, P.
1993 Introduction. In Technological Choices: Transformation in Material Culture Since the Neolithic, edited by P. Lemmonier, pp. 1-35. Routledge, London.

Additional Paper

This paper is an unpublished critique of the study of materiality. We won't focus on it, but we can discuss it if people are interested in doing so.

Ingold, T.
2006 Materials Against Materiality. Unpublished Manuscript.

* Focus on these readings

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Meeting #3 - Reading List

Agency of Objects - Part II/Aesthetics

Our next meeting will be on Friday, March 3 at 2 in the ARF atrium. Below is the updated reading list for Meeting #3. For this meeting we will focus on archaeological examples dealing with the agency of objects. We will also spend some time discussing the related topic of aesthetics. You can download most of these readings from the library. I will have copies of those articles that are not downloadable in my ARF box by Tuesday.

Agency of Objects

*Gosden, C.
2005 What Do Objects Want? Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 12(3):193-211.

*Knappett, C.
2002 Photographs, Skeuomorphs and Marionettes: Some Thoughts on Mind, Agency and Object. Journal of Material Culture 7(1):97-117.

*Martin, A.
2005 Agents in Inter-Action: Bruno Latour and Agency. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 12(4):283-311.

*Normark, J.
2004 Sakbihs and Polyagency: The Architectural Causes of Human Activities in the Cochuah Region, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Current Swedish Archaeology 12:141-168. Download from:

Robb, J.
2004 The Extended Artefact and the Monumental Economy: a Methodology for Material Agency. In Rethinking Materiality: The Engagement of Mind with the Material World, edited by E. DeMarrais, C. Gosden and C. Renfrew, pp. 131-139. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge.


*Gosden, C.
2001 Making Sense: Archaeology and Aesthetics. World Archaeology 33(2):163-167.

Howes, D.
2006 Scent, Sound and Synaesthesia: Intersensoriality and Material Culture Theory. In Handbook of Material Culture, edited by C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Kuchler, M. Rowlands and P. Spyer, pp. 161-172. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks.

Jones, A.
2002 A Biography of Colour: Colour, Material Histories and Personhood in the Early Bronze Age of Britain and Ireland. In Colouring the Past: The Significance of Colour in Archaeological Research, edited by A. Jones and G. MacGregor, pp. 159-174. Berg, Oxford.

Pollard, J.
2001 The Aesthetics of Depositional Practice. World Archaeology 33(2):315-333. (Download from Library)

Saunders, N.
2001 A Dark Light: Reflections on Obsidian in Mesoamerica. World Archaeology 33(2):220-236. (Download from Library)

*Saunders, N.
2003 “Catching the Light”: Technologies of Power and Enchantment in Pre-
Columbian Goldworking. In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, edited by J. Quilter and J. Hoopes, pp. 15-47. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. (Download from

Young, D.
2006 The Colours of Things. In Handbook of Material Culture, edited by C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Kuchler, M. Rowlands and P. Spyer, pp. 173-185. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks.

*Focus on these readings

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Meeting Schedule for the Semester

Here is a tentative meeting schedule for the rest of the semester. This is not written in stone and changes can be made as needed. I dropped "place and landscape" from the list since it seemed to me to be the least relevant for our purposes. If most of you would prefer to bring back that topic and drop one of the other ones, we can definitely do that. I also thought that we should have our last meeting sooner rather than later as I know that all of you will have other things that you will have to finish up around the end of the semester.

February 17-Agency of Objects I
March 3-Agency of Objects II/Aesthetics
March 17-Technology/Biography of Objects
April 7-Identity/Memory
April 21-Colonialism/Culture Contact/Globalization

If you have any suggested readings for any of these topics please send them to me and I will add them to the lists.