“As archaeologists—with our reliance on the material world serving as the basis of our interpretations of the past—we must question Western assumptions about how the world is organized and divided in terms of the roles and significance played by ‘things.’ This book does just that.”
—Linda Brown, George Washington University
“This is an impressive collection written by a wide range of specialists each of whom makes an important contribution.”
—Chris Fowler, Newcastle University
Relational Identities and Other-than-Human Agency in Archaeology explores the benefits and consequences of archaeological theorizing on and interpretation of the social agency of nonhumans as relational beings capable of producing change in the world. The volume cross-examines traditional understanding of agency and personhood, presenting a globally diverse set of case studies that cover a range of cultural, geographical, and historical contexts.
Agency (the ability to act) and personhood (the reciprocal qualities of relational beings) have traditionally been strictly assigned to humans. In case studies from Ghana to Australia to the British Isles and Mesoamerica, contributors to this volume demonstrate that objects, animals, locations, and other nonhuman actors also potentially share this ontological status and are capable of instigating events and enacting change. This kind of other-than-human agency is not a one-way transaction of cause to effect but requires an appropriate form of reciprocal engagement indicative of relational personhood, which in these cases, left material traces detectable in the archaeological record.
Modern dualist ontologies separating objects from subjects and the animate from the inanimate obscure our understanding of the roles that other-than-human agents played in past societies. Relational Identities and Other-than-Human Agency in Archaeology challenges this essentialist binary perspective. Contributors in this volume show that intersubjective (inherently social) ways of being are a fundamental and indispensable condition of all personhood and move the debate in posthumanist scholarship beyond the polarizing dichotomies of relational versus bounded types of persons. In this way, the book makes a significant contribution to theory and interpretation of personhood and other-than-human agency in archaeology.
Susan M. Alt, Joanna Brück, Kaitlyn Chandler, Erica Hill, Meghan C. L. Howey, Andrew Meirion Jones, Matthew Looper, Ian J. McNiven, Wendi Field Murray, Timothy R. Pauketat, Ann B. Stahl, Maria Nieves Zedeño