Department of Anthropology

The recent re-emergence of materiality as a key topic for social scientists and humanists has at...

Life with Things: Archaeology and Materiality

Mon, March 2, 2009 | EPS 1.128

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

The recent re-emergence of materiality as a key topic for social scientists and humanists has at times seemed to be taking place without centrally engaging archaeology, a set of disciplinary approaches that is founded fundamentally on the proposition that we can talk about the lives people led in the past through the things that persisted from that past to our present. This is not to say that archaeologists have remained silent in debates about "the social lives of things", "object agency", or even ANT. But even as these discussions produce a productive blurring of lines that sees ethnographers studying ancient Moche pots and Inka khipus, and archaeologists looking at the way that Las Vegas circulates Egyptica, it seems that often archaeologists are talking past their interlocutors. We archaeologists claim a specific expert position in these discussions based on our long history of grounding in materiality, even as the status of materiality as grounding is called into question. But as we use the terms of craft that we have tested and come to trust over generations, we may in fact be failing to adequately account for the complex models of circulation of things that our terminologies index. In this presentation, I draw on a series of recent analyses in which I have presented linked case studies in rethinking the language of archaeological materiality in order to reframe the understandings of materiality that archaeology provides. Dealing with gender, age, and the constitution of social agents in historically situated positions, these case studies represent an attempt to better communicate the understandings of life with things that are central to archaeology and should be a central contribution of its practitioners to contemporary transdisciplinary considerations of materiality.

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