The materiality of emotion: Steps toward understanding affective experience in the South Andes

Author(s): Elizabeth DeMarrais

Year: 2015


Anthropologists routinely acknowledge the affective significance of things. Display and use of objects (in rituals and performances) can evoke strong emotions. Elaborate objects may be used to forge consensus, to evoke memory, or to foster solidarity and express shared interests. Alternatively, displays may divide opinion, generating a diverse response. Understanding the role of emotions in the past is crucial, both for creating rich and nuanced pictures of past societies, as well as for explaining their trajectories of change.

In this paper, I set out initial steps for thinking about past emotions using archaeological evidence. First, I consider the visibility, scale, and permanence of different categories of objects, suggesting how their varied materialities afforded distinct potentials for materialising affective experience. I discuss how specific objects may have sustained particular types of affective experience, taking audiences and scale into account. Through a case study from the Andes of northwest Argentina, I show how objects were used in creative and idiosyncratic ways (1) to evoke a sense of place and locale, (2) to sustain memory of events in the life of a household, and (3) to forge personal networks within the wider South Andean region.

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The materiality of emotion: Steps toward understanding affective experience in the South Andes. Elizabeth DeMarrais. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397741)

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min long: -93.691; min lat: -56.945 ; max long: -31.113; max lat: 18.48 ;