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.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Meeting #1-Notes and Discussion

Here are some notes on our discussion and some random thoughts that I had on the readings…

Definitions of Material Culture and Materiality

In our meeting we discussed the importance of defining key concepts and terms. Our definitions stem from our theoretical perspectives, and they frame the way we think about and analyze phenomena in the world. For us to be critical of our assumptions, perspectives and ideas, we need to be explicit about the meanings of the terms and concepts that we use. With this in mind, I offer some (rough/in progress) definitions of materiality and material culture (these are in no way meant to be universal definitions).

Material Culture: those non-human entities (actors?) that are (or have been) involved in the processes of materiality.

Materiality: 1) the relationship between people and the material world (general definition); 2) the mutually constitutive relationship between people and the material world (specific definition).

These definitions are based on a particular vision of materiality that attempts to breakdown subject/object dichotomies and recognizes the entangled nature of the relationship between people and the material world. In doing so, this way of thinking about materiality emphasizes the active role of material culture in the constitution of social relations, practices, and human experience. Materials become cultural through their engagement with people (i.e. the processes of materiality). Both people and the material world are transformed through this mutual engagement (the transformation of the material world need not be thought of just in terms of its physical transformation-e.g. I would include here aspects of the landscape that are deemed meaningful through interacting with humans, but which have not been physically modified in any way). The processes of materiality are not universal, rather their specific nature varies according to social and historical context. Likewise, what constitutes material culture will vary, since the non-human entities involved in the processes of materiality will vary.

Dimensionality of Material Culture

We also discussed the notion of the multi-dimensional nature of material culture that was brought up in the essays by Buchli (2004) and Tilley (2001). Multi-dimensionality refers to the sensuous (or more precisely multi-sensorial) and polysemous qualities of material culture. I find this way of thinking about material culture useful, not only because I think that it accurately characterizes the various ways in which material culture can be experienced and understood, but also because it allows archaeologists to develop new ways of conceptualizing and analyzing material culture.

Buchli (2004: 179) points out that our own appropriation of material culture from the past is destructive and wasteful (in ways other than the usual understanding of excavation as a form of destruction). We emphasize certain ways of experiencing objects and ignore other potentialities (e.g. as in museums). In this process, we lose an understanding of the engagement between people and the material world in the past and think about objects from the perspective of present day material relationships (this is an example of our own materiality coming into conflict with past materialities). Archaeology’s emphasis on empirical observation (due, in part, to its desire to be scientific), has led to a focus on the visual aspects of material culture to the exclusion of other possibilities. But there is no reason to assume that the visual qualities of material objects were given priority over other aspects (i.e. dimensions) of these objects in the past. Their texture, smell, or the sounds that they make may also have been significant aspects of how they were experienced in the past (i.e. of past materialities).

One of our goals as archaeologists should be to (re)construct these past materialities through the analysis of material culture (see Meskell 2004 who makes this same argument). The problem then becomes how we do this, for which there is no simple answer (I hope we will spend some time throughout the semester addressing this issue). While we may not be able to understand all of the various ways in which objects in the past would have been experienced (a point that Kat made) (and they may have been experienced quite differently by people within the same historical/social/cultural context), by recognizing that there are numerous ways in which objects from the past could have been experienced (and by considering what some of these may have been), we reduce the effects of imposing our present day understandings of materiality onto the past (which results in ignoring significant aspects of past materialities and experiences of material culture).


One final area that I would like to comment on is the notion of ‘immateriality’ that both Buchli (2004) and Miller (2005) brought up in their essays. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of this or how to understand it (especially since I really didn’t like Buchli’s example), but after some contemplation, I see how it might be useful. This notion of immateriality relates to situations where it makes sense or where it could be helpful to discuss why certain material relations or forms of material culture are not present (or disappear). For example, anthropomorphic figurines (which are the topic of my dissertation) are found throughout southeastern Europe during the Neolithic and the Copper Age. But they are very rarely found (if at all) in central or northern Europe during this time period. Why? Why were they so important in the Balkans, and yet never a significant aspect of the societies in central and northern Europe? In addition, anthropomorphic figurines disappear, for the most part, after the Copper Age in southeastern Europe. Why? And, in what other ways did these societies change at this time (that is, what are some of the potential effects of the disappearance of anthropomorphic figurines?)? While answers to these questions have not been forthcoming, answering these questions can play an important role in understanding the significance of Neolithic figurines and the potential effects these figurines would have had on the lives of people within these societies.

New Books on Materiality/Material Culture

Just wanted to let you know about 4 books on material culture/materiality that have been recently released.

Handbook of Material Culture. Christopher Tilley, Webb Keane, Susanne Kuechler-Fogden, Mike Rowlands, and Patricia Spyer, editors. 2006. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks. 576 pages. $125.00 (cloth)

This was just released here in the US last week and looks like it will become the standard text for material culture studies. It includes many articles written by archaeologists and anthropologists. The table of contents can be found at:

Here is the publisher’s description:

The study of material culture is concerned with the relationship between persons and things in the past and in the present, in urban and industrialized and in small-scale societies across the globe. The Handbook of Material Culture provides a critical survey of the theories, concepts, intellectual debates, substantive domains and traditions of study characterizing the analysis of things. It is cutting-edge: rather than simply reviewing the field as it currently exists. It also attempts to chart the future: the manner in which material culture studies may be extended and developed.

The Handbook of Material Culture is divided into five sections.
- Section I maps material culture studies as a theoretical and conceptual field.
- Section II examines the relationship between material forms, the human body and the senses.
- Section III focuses on subject-object relations.
- Section IV considers things in terms of processes and transformations in terms of production, exchange and consumption, performance and the significance of things over the long-term.
- Section V considers the contemporary politics and poetics of displaying, representing and conserving material and the manner in which this impacts on notions of heritage, tradition and identity.

The Handbook charts an interdisciplinary field of studies that makes an unique and fundamental contribution to an understanding of what it means to be human. It will be of interest to all who work in the social and historical sciences, from anthropologists and archaeologists to human geographers to scholars working in heritage, design and cultural studies.

Archaeologies of Materiality. Lynn Meskell, editor. 2005. Routledge, London. 229 pages. $34.95 (paperback)

This edited volume stems from a SAR short seminar held in 2004. All the papers (with the exception of the introduction by Meskell and the afterword by Daniel Miller) were written by graduate students from Columbia University. The table of contents can be found here:

Here is the publisher’s description:

Archaeologies of Materiality explores the philosophies that underpin materiality for specific cultural moments across time and space. Drawing on social theory, this volume provides a range of object orientations and is one of the first books to showcase substantive archaeological case studies devoted to the exploration of materiality. From prehistoric to contemporary contexts, this collection explores the idea of a material universe that is socially conceived and constructed, but that also shapes human experience in daily practice. Each case study demonstrates the saliency of materiality by linking it to concepts of landscape, technology, embodiment, ritual, and heritage. Archaeologies of Materiality will be of interest to students and scholars studying archaeology, anthropology, museum studies, and material culture studies.

Materiality. Daniel Miller, editor. 2005. Duke University Press, Durham. 294 pages. $22.95 (paperback)

I copied the introduction to this edited volume as part of the reading for our first meeting. There are some very interesting essays in here.

Here is the table of contents:

1) Materiality: An Introduction / Daniel Miller
2) Objects in the Mirror Appear Closer Than They Are / Lynn Meskell
3) A Materialist Approach to Materiality / Michael Rowlands
4) Some Properties of Art and Culture: Ontologies of the Image and Economies of Exchange / Fred Myers
5) Sticky Subjects and Sticky Objects: The Substance of African Christian Healing / Matthew Engelke
6)Does Money Matter? Abstraction and Substitution in Alternative Financial Forms / Bill Maurer
7) The Materiality of Finance Theory / Hirokazu Miyazaki
8) Signs Are Not the Garb of Meaning: On the Social Analysis of Material Things / Webb Keane 182
9) Materiality and Cognition: The Changing Face of Things / Susanne Kuchler
10) Beyond Meditation: Three New Material Registers and Their Consequences / Nigel Thrift
11) Things Happen: Or, From Which Moment Does That Object Come? / Christopher Pinney

Here is the publisher’s description:

Throughout history and across social and cultural contexts, most systems of belief—whether religious or secular—have ascribed wisdom to those who see reality as that which transcends the merely material. Yet, as the studies collected here show, the immaterial is not easily separated from the material. Humans are defined, to an extraordinary degree, by their expressions of immaterial ideals through material forms. The essays in Materiality explore varied manifestations of materiality from ancient times to the present. In assessing the fundamental role of materiality in shaping humanity, they signal the need to de-center the social within social anthropology in order to make room for the material.

Considering topics as seemingly diverse as theology, technology, finance, and art, the contributors—most of whom are anthropologists—examine the many different ways in which materiality has been understood and the consequences of these differences. Their case-studies show that the latest forms of financial trading instruments can be compared with the oldest ideals of ancient Egypt, that the promise of software can be compared with an age-old desire for an unmediated relationship to divinity. Whether focusing on the theology of Islamic banking; Australian Aboriginal art; derivatives trading in Japan; or textiles which respond directly to their environment, each essay adds depth and nuance to the project that Materiality advances: a profound acknowledgment and rethinking of one of the most basic properties of being human.

Sensible Objects: Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture. Elizabeth Edwards, Chris Gosden and Ruth Phillips, editors. 2006. Berg Publishers, Oxford. 288 pages. $30.95 (paperback)

I haven’t seen this one yet, nor can I find the table of contents. Below is the publisher’s description of the book.

Anthropologists of the senses have long argued that cultures differ in their sensory registers. This groundbreaking volume applies this idea to material culture and the social practices that endow objects with meanings in both colonial and postcolonial relationships. It challenges the privileged position of the sense of vision in the analysis of material culture. Contributors argue that vision can only be understood in relation to the other senses. In this they present another challenge to the assumed western five-sense model, and show how our understanding of material culture in both historical and contemporary contexts might be reconfigured if we consider the role of smell, taste, feel and sound, as well as sight, in making meanings about objects.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Meeting with Tim Ingold

I have made arrangements for our group to meet with Tim Ingold on Wednesday, Feb 22 at 11-12. We will most likely meet in the atrium. For those of you who cannot attend, I will post notes from the meeting on the blog. While we will focus on Ingold's work on technology, skill, and materiality, he has written on numerous topics. If you want to get a better sense of the breadth of his work, I recommend looking at his most recent book, "The Perception of the Environment" (full reference below). Most of this book contains previously published essays, with some new ones included.

Below is a list of some additional references for those of you that are interested. I will make copies available of those writings listed below that are not downloadable from the library.

Ingold, T.
1993 The Temporality of the Landscape. World Archaeology 25(2):152-174.(Available for download from the library)

1995 Building, Dwelling, Living: How Animals and People Make Themselves
at Home in the World. In Shifting Contexts: Transformations in Anthropological Knowledge, edited by M. Strathern, pp. 57-80. Routledge, London.

2000 The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. Routledge, London. Ch 14 "Stop, Look and Listen! Vision, Hearing and
Human Movement"

2001 From Complementarity to Obviation: On Dissolving the Boundaries
Between Social and Biological Anthropology, Archaeology and Psychology. In
Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution, edited by S. Oyama, P. E. Griffiths and R. D. Gray, pp. 255-279. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

2004a Beyond Biology and Culture: the Meaning of Evolution in a Relational
World. Social Anthropology 12(2):209-221. (Available for download from the library)

2004b Culture on the Ground: The World Perceived Through the Feet. Journal of Material Culture 9(3):315-340. (Available for download from the library)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Meeting #2 - Reading List

Agency of Objects/Actor Network Theory - Part I - Gell, Ingold, and Latour

Our next meeting will be on Friday, February 17 at 2 in the ARF atrium. A little change in plans for our next meeting. Since Tim Ingold will be visiting soon, I thought that we should read some of his work that relates to our concerns with the agency of objects. Given this, I suggest that we focus on the writings of Gell, Latour, and Ingold for our next meeting and hold off on reading the archaeological literature related to this topic until the meeting after (meeting #3). Below is the updated reading list for our next meeting. Copies of all of these readings will be placed in my ARF mailbox by Wednesday afternoon.

Alfred Gell

Gell, A.
1998 Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Ch 2 and 3

*Gell, A.
1999 The Art of Anthropology: Essays and Diagrams. Athlone Press, London.
Ch 5 "The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology"

Layton, R.
2003 Art and Agency: A Reassessment. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9:447-464. (Download from library)

Thomas, N.
2001 Introduction. In Beyond Aesthetics: Art and the Technologies of Enchantment, edited by C. Pinney and N. Thomas, pp. 1-12. Berg, Oxford.

Tim Ingold

*Ingold, T.
2000 The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. Routledge, London. Ch 18 "On weaving a basket," Ch 19 "Of string bags and bird's nests: skill and the construction of artefacts"

Ingold, T.
2002 From the Perception of Archaeology to the Anthropology of Perception:
An Interview with Tim Ingold. Journal of Social Archaeology 3(1):5-22.(Download from library)

Latour, Posthumanism, and Actor Network Theory

*Jensen, C. B.
2003 Latour and Pickering: Post-human Perspectives on Science, Becoming and Normativity. In Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality, edited by D. Ihde and E. Selinger, pp. 225-240. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Latour, B.
1992 Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts. In Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, edited by W. Bijker and J. Law, pp. 225-258. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

*Latour, B.
1999 Pandora's Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. Ch 6 "A Collective of Humans and Nonhumans: Following Daedalus's Labyrinth"

Law, J.
1992 Notes on the Theory of the Actor-Network: Ordering, Strategy, and Heterogeneity. Systems Practice 5(4):379-393. (Download from library)

Pickering, J.
1997 Agents and Artefacts. Social Analysis 41(4):46-63.

*Focus on these readings

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Some I mentioned

I brought up some references the other day -- these are all those I could think of that have to do with learning -- perhaps appropriate for later on.

Crown, P. (1999). Socialization in American Southwest Pottery Decoration. Pottery and People: A Dynamic Interaction. J. M. S. a. G. M. Feinman. Salt Lake City, The University of Utah Press: 25-43.

Friedrich, M. H. (1970). "Design Structure and Social Interaction: Archaeological Implications of an Ethnographic Analysis." American Anitquity 35(3): 332-343.

Herbich, I. (1987). "Learning Patterns, Potter Interaction and Ceramic Style Among the Luo of Kenya." The African Archaeological Review 5: 193-204.

Lave, J. and E. Wenger (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Marchand, T., International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments., et al. (2000). "Traditional" knowledge : learning from experience. Berkeley, CA, Center for Environmental Design Research University of California at Berkeley.

Marchand, T. H. J. (2001). Minaret building and apprenticeship in Yemen. Richmond, Curzon.

Minar, J. C. (2001). "Motor Skills and the Learning Process: The Conservation of Cordage Final Twist Direction in Communities of Practice." Journal of Anthropological Research 57(4): 381-405.

Minar, J. C. a. P. L. C. (2001). "Learning and Craft Production: An Introduction." Journal of Anthropological Research 57(4): 369-380.

Sassaman, K. E. a. R., Wictoria (2001). "Communities of practice in the early pottery traditions of the American Southeast." Journal of Anthropological Research 57(4): 407-426.

Sillar, B. (2000). Shaping Culture: Making Pots and Constructing Households: An Archaeolgical Study of Pottery Production, Trade and Use in the Andes. Oxford, J. and E. Hedges.

Stanislawski, M. B. a. B. B. S. (1978). Hopi and Hopi-Tewa Ceramic Tradition Networks. The Spatial Organization of Culture. I. Hodder. Pittsburgh: 61-76.

Wallaert-Pêtre, H. (2001). "Learning how to make the right pots: apprenticeship strategies and material culture, a case study in handmade pottery from Cameroon." Journal of Anthropological Research 57(4): 471.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.