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‘Crafting Agency’: An Inquiry into Symmetrical Human-Thing Assemblages



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Núñez-García, Alicia 


By seeking to redefine the boundaries of the human, posthumanism has promoted approaches that bring focus to non-human entities (Braidotti 2013). Within this framework, many forms of posthumanism have developed. The new materialisms question a human-centred ontology by conceiving matter as self-transforming and self-organising (Coole and Frost 2010). These include, for instance, Bennett’s (2010) theory of vital materialism and Barad’s (2007) agential realism. Assemblage theory analyses the ontological way material systems self-organise (DeLanda 2006; Deleuze and Guattari 1987). These philosophical theories have made their way into archaeology. Since Gell’s (1998) anthropological exploration of art, especially visual artefacts, as an entity acting upon its own use, perhaps the most structured attempt to introduce posthumanist thinking to archaeology has been symmetrical archaeology. Initially, symmetrical archaeology was influenced by Latour’s (1993, 1999, 2005) exploration of the shifting networks of relations between entities in Actor-Network-Theory (ANT). Here, societies are formed by objects and people, acting together in equal capacities and forming networks. Early ideas of symmetrical theory focused on removing human primacy over agency and understanding the world as a shifting flow of ‘agents’. However, in a ‘second wave’ of symmetrical archaeology, Olsen (2010) developed these ideas further (Harris and Cipolla 2017). Influenced this time by Harman’s (2011) Object-Oriented Ontology, Olsen (2010) moved beyond relational association to focus on the qualities of things in themselves. This paper will focus on this last perspective and the issues with its approach to the agentic relations within archaeological networks.



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Archaeological Review from Cambridge

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Archaeological Review from Cambridge

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