Archaeology and the New Materialism

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

The papers in this session take up different engagements with "new materialism", demonstrating both the potential of archaeology to contribute to this transdisciplinary discussion, and some of the challenges inherent in a project that is far from unified and still emergent.One touchstone of new materialism has been the redefinition of matter as something beyond any specific physical stuff, as active, in Jane Bennett's felicitous term, Vibrant Matter, engaged in what Karen Barad characterizes as "intra-active becoming", "a congealing of agency". While on the surface these statements seem close to archaeological glosses on materiality and the agency of non-humans, one of the goals of this session will be to explore how new materialism goes beyond these well-integrated themes in archaeological research, and what changes new materialism might demand.Interrogation of boundaries between humans, other animals, and other things in the world in new materialism culminates in the pursuit of new ontologies, especially non-dualistic ontologies. This again has many connections with existing archaeological approaches to "relational" ontologies. Contributors to this session are challenged to specify how the ontological relations they pursue align with new materialism and its existing archaeological precedents.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-6 of 6)

  • Documents (6)

  • The Archaeological Climate: New Materialisms and Ontologies of the Anthropocene (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Andrew Bauer.

    Archaeologists have long documented how humans have historically responded to climate changes. With broad scholarly debate over the adoption of the "Anthropocene" to describe the current period of Earth history, they are also contributing to evaluations of how land-use practices historically influenced Earth's climate, arguably since at least the mid-Holocene. While archaeological approaches to past climate changes have much to contribute to the Anthropocene debate, they often uncritically leave...

  • ‘Limestone Bars’ as Power Objects among the Ancient Maya: a Consideration of Objects as Active Participants in Ritual Practice (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lisa Johnson. Arlen Chase. Diane Chase.

    This paper considers how people and things come together in a ritual setting and attempts to break down the division between the human participants and the materials engaged. Using contemporary perspectives surrounding post-Marxian materialism, it is argued that archaeology has the means to explore the ways in which materials exhibit their active nature in particular contexts. With this in mind, this study will reassess small bar-shaped limestone artifacts that have been recovered from...

  • Mutable materials and gathering worlds (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christopher Watts.

    Owing to a plethora of recent and ever more divergent scholarship on materiality, the lens through which we view the ontological status of things has become increasingly opaque. New thinking about the ways in which materials are always and already in flux compels us to consider how seemingly obdurate things can, paradoxically, transcend their own solidity. To this we may add a budding concern with the immaterial – regimes of light and sound, for example, and their mutability – and the extent to...

  • Slow thinking: beyond the entangled list (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Noa Corcoran-Tadd.

    Several theorists under the broad umbrella of a new materialism have argued that our accounts of the social-natural world proceed too quickly, skating over rich complexities and contradictions in favor of simple ontological impressions. In response, they suggest, we need to slow down our analytical movements in order to track the complex articulations of a world that becomes difficult to resolve at higher speeds. Here I argue that this issue is particularly relevant for archaeologists for...

  • Things that Queer: Disorienting Intimacies in Late Nineteenth Century Jooks (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jamie Arjona.

    This paper examines late nineteenth and early twentieth century jook joints as sites that generated queer African-American intimacies and animacies. Emerging in the 1880s throughout much of the rural United States, jook joints crafted a performatively queer medium within African-American communities. Particularly in the rural south, these jooks offered a haven for black music, dance, gambling, prostitution, and alcohol consumption that disoriented expectations of temperance and frugality. ...

  • "Under the Volcano": Assemblages, Causality and Volcanic Matter at San Pedro Aguacatepeque, Guatemala. (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Guido Pezzarossi.

    The colonial Maya community of San Pedro Aguacatepeque, located in Pacific piedmont Guatemala, sits on the eastern flank of the Volcan de Fuego, a long-active stratovolcano. The interventions of new materialist approaches, in particular Bennett’s notion of the "vibrancy" and influence of nonhumans in the unfolding of history, are brought into relief when considering the abundant historical entanglements between the Volcan de Fuego and Aguacatepeque. The regular flows and bursts emanating from...