segunda-feira, 16 de abril de 2007

Crónica da sessão do TAG de 2006, Overcoming the Modern Invention of Material Culture


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é da autoria de Chris Witmore (Brown University).


TAG 2006: A Highlight

Posted by Andrew Cochrane and Ian Russell

On 17 December 2006, an amalgamation archaeologists, anthropologists, social theorists and artists descended on the University of Exeter for a full day of debates and deliberations in the spirit of the 28th meeting of the Theoretical Archaeology Group. Taking part in a session organised by Vítor Oliveira Jorge and Julian Thomas, a dynamic and accomplished panel of speakers regaled a room filled to capacity for most of the day with presentations engaging with the important topic:
‘Overcoming the Modern Invention of Material Culture’.

The full-day session began with the presentation of Julian Thomas’ (University of Manchester) paper ‘The Trouble with Material Culture’. In true Thomas fashion, he contextualised his presentation with the depth of intellectual history regarding the construction of ‘material culture’ as a concept. Exploring the dichotomies nature:culture and mind:body, Thomas advanced his contention that ‘material culture’ is the projecting or stamping of ‘culture’ onto a perceived inert matter. Thomas proposed rather that archaeology could approach this material positivism through the metaphor of ‘cultivation’ as opposed to culture. Proposing a tending of the landscapes of relationships, with assemblages of beings, while navigating existence through material ontologisations, Thomas’ presentation lit the first logs of what would become a raging debate throughout the day. The most pertinent question raised against Thomas related to his use of the term ‘cultivation’ in relation to ‘pre-Neolithic’ (that is people who lived before the adoption of settled lifestyles and agricultural cultivation).

Unfortunately, due to a clash of schedule, Joshua Pollard (University of Bristol) was unable to present his paper ‘The Power of Things’.

Proceedings then moved to Stephanie Koerner (University of Manchester) who offered an expectantly enthusiastic paper titled ‘Habitus Unbound: Challenges Posed by Paradigms for the Normativity of Material Culture and the Shifting Place of “Necessity”’. Koerner’s presentation, which was refreshingly clear and concise, deepened the discussion over the intellectual circumstances of the conditions for the articulation of a concept of ‘material culture’. Weaving an enticing web of intellectual relationships ranging from the scholastics of the Middle Ages and contemporary cinema, to contemporary political issues relating to the struggle for a common world embroiled in ecological, political and militaristic risks. Building upon this, Koerner focused in on the issue of the source of individual intentionality and its relationship to the construction of globalised natural or social knowledge.

In the weeks before TAG, the session organisers distributed a forthcoming paper by Tim Ingold. In this paper, Ingold requested that readers saturate a rock or pebble with water and place it in front themselves while they read the paper. This was to draw attention to its changing states resulting in a drier rock by the end of the paper. Ian Russell (Trinity College, Dublin) took up this challenge, and decided to saturate his rock in fluid social contexts by carrying it with him and visually documenting its participations in everyday activities. Against this witty philosophical backdrop, Russell dug deep into some contemporary theoretical underpinnings. Russell demonstrated that approaches to philosophies are best started from the position of humility and that approaches to understandings of enmeshed humans in the world from the position of media. Russell interwove this exploration with objections to the oxymoronic term ‘object-agency’ – labelling it a ‘non-statement’, and therefore unhelpful in the endeavour to move beyond modernist archaeological imaginations.

After the first coffee break, we were granted reprieve from overt philosophical discourse and were instead treated to a discussion of contemporary practice – artistic practice.
Cordula Hansen (Waterford Institute of Technology) reflected on ‘Understanding Common Human Experience through Creative Exploration’. Reflexively engaging with her own corpus of artistic work, Hansen succeeded in illustrating a series of possibilities for engaging with materials and rendering narratives of materialities.Focusing on the practice of art, Hansen paralleled her work with that of the field archaeologists in that it required measured, mature and responsible application of methodologies and theories as well as a process of revision and refinement. One of the most resonating points that Hansen offered was that archaeologists can often view objects as finished objects (as they represent the ‘end’ of a temporal phenomenon in their deposition), and she suggested that we might instead view all material objects as ‘works-in-progress’, as part of a continual renegotiation of human perception and interaction with a changing world.

Moving from one practice to the next, Benjamin Alberti (Framingham State College, USA) offered an example of archaeological practice in his ‘Destabilizing Meaning in Anthropomorphic Forms from Northwest Argentina’. Strongly paralleling many points of Hansen’s presentation, Alberti presented some dynamic examples of archaeological objects which confront the term ‘material culture’ – that is a series of pots in anthropomorphic forms from the Candelaria and San Francisco societies of Northwest Argentina. Alberti presented the decorative motifs of these pots, which could simply have been described as ornamental, as parallel examples of decorative practices of human skin. Alberti contended that the manipulation of these materials could have entwined with the understandings of the manipulation of skin and physical appearances of humans. Thus, the making of objects could have related to the making of lifeworlds – or to the construction of continuity between hybrid forms of both human and material (although these may not have been experienced as separate by these peoples).

In the next paper given by Matt Edgeworth (University of Birmingham), we moved from theoretical practice to the tools we use. In his ‘Testimony of the Space: Towards an Embodied and Reflexive Theory of Material Culture’, Edgeworth poetically unpacked the complex assumptions made whenever we pick up a tool in the process of excavating a site. Brandishing a spade fresh from the field, Edgeworth performed and didactically illustrated many of the complex theoretical and philosophical points articulated thus far in the day. Commenting upon issues of intentionality, technology, task-theory, tool-theory, behaviour, performative rhythm, practice theory and ‘rehearsal theory’, Edgeworth’s contribution was both humbling, in that it brought a lofty debate down to the ground (literally), and striking for its articulate philosophical insight. Edgeworth should be commended for bringing pedagogical professionalism to what had so far been an intellectual discourse.

Continuing with the theme of tools, Hannah Cobb (University of Manchester) presented us with a dynamic and scholarly engagement with stone tool technology from the Mesolithic of the northern Irish Sea basin. Titled ‘Mutable Materials and the Production of Persons: Reconfiguring Understandings of Materiality in the Mesolithic of the Northern Irish Sea Basin’, Cobb’s presentation opened with a delightful recounting of many of the pithy maxims and stock phrases of the English vernacular relating to ‘stone’. Not merely content to draw ‘blood from a stone’ or to challenge archaeology’s ‘heart of stone’, Cobb wished to confront a tendency in Mesolithic studies to simply treat a ‘lithic’ like a ‘lithic’. Cobb’s contention was that to dispel static narratives of identity in the Mesolithic and Neolithic (or any period for that matter) -- rendering it imperative to confront the supposed ‘immutability’ of stone upon which these temporal distinctions are based. Echoing sentiments raised in Hansen’s paper, Cobb expressed the continually renegotiated relationships between humans and materials during the process of artistic or craft practice – noting the experience of flint knapping in particular.

The following paper elaborated on the being of stone. Presented in absentia by Ann Wynn Cooper, Chantal Conneller’s (University of Manchester) contribution ‘Are Stones Alive?’ challenged the often accepted imposition of a projected human mentality on the occurrence or phenomenon of materials and tools. Focusing strongly on the dichotomy of form and material, Conneller presented her research on the use of fossils at various Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites to position her question. Rich and original, Conneller’s work was received well, but it was a pity that she was not in attendance, as her intimate understanding of this unique research field would have provided the stimuli for a dynamic series of questions.

Before lunch, we were then treated to the first of two ‘master classes’ under the direction of Tim Ingold (University of Aberdeen) who weaved a thread of significance through the morning’s proceedings. Raising issues of permeability and personhood, Ingold challenged us to view experience or narration not as a line or as a circle – but as a tangle of narrative themes and encounters – a network in the more traditional sense. He felt this would help to redress the issue of agency and it’s embeddedness in issues of cognitive theory and causative relationships. Most resonant was his point that to say that man is organic or an animal, is not a demotion of the significance of human life – rather it is an acknowledgement of the beautiful complexity of organism. For life (organisms) in all its (their) forms are the very wonder(s) by which we are so entranced. Ingold also highlighted a tension in approaches to discourses over ‘culture’ – that of laboratory or library interrogation and that of reflexive interrogation in the field. Not wishing to create a hierarchy of value, he illustrated different priorities of questions which arise in such engagements, reminding us of the commonality of the world which we share, and the importance to recognise the role humans as organisms play within the broader ecological phenomena of life.

Returning from lunch, the proceedings were restarted by the presentation of Hannah Lynch (University of Newcastle), ‘Foreign Objects in an Egocentric Landscape: Understanding Objects and Interaction during the Neolithic of northern England’. Lynch’s paper touched on some of the earlier themes of intentionality and egoist discourse in ‘material culture’ discourse. She proposed that objects acted less as commodities and more as microcosms of inter- and intra-relationships. Thus the movement of these objects can reflect more of the tangled narrative themes proposed by Ingold than simply as markers of exchange and transfer of materials.

In the next contribution from Andrew Cochrane (Cardiff University), we returned to the realm of Latourian thought and the proposition that ‘We have never been material’. Cochrane proposed that we begin with mixtures rather than end with them (see also Chris Witmore's entry Deprivation through ‘dialectics’). It was argued that in viewing materials and persons as permeability and intra-related essences (rather than pure forms), it is possible to transcend dialectical perspectives that perpetuate dualities. By encouraging an appreciation of the intimate nature of material experience, Cochrane enhanced and accentuated the range of possible conceptions and engagements. The implications for Cochrane’s research on megalithic sites such as Fourknocks I and the Mound of the Hostages, Tara, Co. Meath are indeed significant as it moves us further along the proposition that it is more beneficial to explore the possibilities of the mixtures with mixtures in the Irish Neolithic.

Following this, Daniela Hofmann (Cardiff University) offered a rich and textured presentation based on her current research. Titled ‘The Conceptual Animal: Technologies of Body Representation and Human/Animal Relations in the Neolithic of Lower Bavaria’, Hofmann’s paper not only provided ample evidence for the application of many of the theories discussed throughout the day but also marked a major step in the development of theoretical archaeology in archaeology from Germany and central Europe. Based on an engagement with the assumption that the concept that humans and animals were conceptually different originated in the Neolithic, Hofmann’s contention was that animal and human identities were actually intertwined. Providing ample evidence from her studies of Middle and Late Neolithic hybrid figures and the mixing of human and animals bones in cremations from the Bavarian LBK context, Hofmann’s thesis on the permeability of identities of animals and persons related strongly to Cochrane’s application of the notion of mixtures of beings. It should be said that the expertise reflected by Hofmann in the breadth of her research significantly contributed to the raising of archaeological professionalism in the days proceedings.

Moving to the not-so-distant past, Dan Hicks (Bristol University) offered a paper exploring what historical archaeological theory can bring to the broader debate. Titled ‘“The Driest Stuff that Blows”? “More-than-Social” Archaeologies of Life, Affect and Materiality’, Hicks presented a poetic and historically sensitive illustration of the interpretive weight that can be gained from modern graveyards, be they in New England, Orkney or Bristol. The significance of Hicks contribution was that it helped bridge the difficult temporal theoretical divide between past material and present intellectual discourse. The resonance of Hicks’ engagements with the material of eighteenth century stone, dynamic testified to the impact of historical archaeology in enabling an appreciation of encounters, both documented and otherwise, with materials which are ‘more-than-social’.

After the second coffee break, Erin McGowan (University of Melbourne) led to recommencement of proceedings with her paper ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ambiguous: Boundary Issues of the Western Mindset in the Interpretation of Minoan Iconography’. Presenting the beginnings of her doctoral research, McGowan offered a fresh theoretical perspective on a field of study that has been often under-represented in theoretical sessions such as this. Exploring the assumptions made by many scholars attempting to establish typologies of iconography in Minoan seals, McGowan introduced a dynamic notion of ambiguity into what has traditionally been studied as a corpus of stylised typologies within art historical structures.

Christopher M. Watts (University of Toronto) continued the proceedings with his paper ‘Artifacts and their Alterity’. Engaging with the perceived division between archaeologists working in the present and the artefacts of the past, Watts illustrated the dangers of enforcing the alterity of artefacts within modernist paradigms. Rather, Watts suggested it would be more useful to remove from archaeology such a perspective and see artefacts as participants within a negotiation of a continuum or stream of consciousness and being. Thus, Watts argued that these artefacts could be more than simply access points to a distant past and could instead facilitate an appreciation within contemporary society of the interdependent webs of relationships between humans, animals, materials and the world.

Penelope Bickle (Cardiff University) followed with ‘I’m your Venus: The Citation of Gender through Shaving Practices’. This paper provided a powerful application of gender theory to the interpretation of social expectations of materials to signify and directly affect the representation and presentation of the human body. Bickle’s engagement with the social convention of female shaving provided a startling relevant contemporary illustration of the impact of the theoretical approaches developed through study of material on the understanding of contemporary social expression and relationships. The repeated action of shaving was thus presented as a means of blurring the distinctions between human and tool, while creating a sense of femininity that needs to be constantly worked at or performed.

Following, we were introduced to the second of our two session organisers, Vítor Oliveira Jorge (University of Porto, Portugal). Presenting a paper titled ‘The Evanescence of the “material” and of the “cultural”: The Impossibility of Fixing a Face’, Jorge’s presentation can be described more as a visual essay. Although there was a large amount of text on each of the many slides, the visual narrative of the slides, which carried a ‘star-studded’ list of influential modern and contemporary artists, weaved a powerfully poetic statement of the inherent qualities of archaeology as visual culture and its sometimes artificial and ephemeral nature – a significant, yet also ironic, point to make in a session on ‘overcoming material culture’.

Chris Fowler (Newcastle University) concluded the papers with his contribution ‘Fragment, Form and Flow: Relationships in Fractal Worlds’. Attempting to illustrate the application of the recent mathematic theory of fractals to the structure and flow of relationships in the world, Fowler put forward a refreshingly new perspective on ways of expressing relationships between mutually permeable persons, places and materials. Although some in the audience were dubious of the applicability of what was seen to be a scientific mathematical structural language onto an ambiguously narrated past, the vibrancy of Fowler’s new ideas provided a taste of things to come with the increasing collaborations across disciplines in the sciences, social sciences and humanities.

Tim Ingold closed the proceedings with a second ‘master class’ on the application of diverse philosophical discourses to ‘material culture’. Ingold asserted that we must accept a certain level of cognitive necessity – for instance, that we accept that we have beds which we get out of everyday. It is in this cognitive necessity that narrative coherence is enacted. He also articulated poetically that within all the session papers was a theme of life as a series of surfaces with flows across, along and through them. Calling the participants to be brave in their appreciation of the essence of materials and their relationship to social significance, Ingold urged the presenters to observe, interact and write about the issues at hand. Ingold also seemed intrigued by the influences of Latourian thought on the session’s papers – this led him to conclude that whether one believed in modern dichotomies, the world is still divided by those who use them and those who do not! As with his request to immerse a stone in water while reading his paper, he summed up by saying that although archaeological knowledge is currently predominantly articulated textually, it is also fundamentally a discipline of tasks. Thus, he called for a move towards texts with tasks to help move traditional archaeological records beyond realistic abstraction of fact towards poetic encounters with lived and shared experience.

The papers from this session and many more are now to be found in print within the Journal of Iberian Archaeology 9/10.

Posted by Andrew Cochrane and Ian Russell on March 27, 2007

2 comentários:

Anónimo disse...

lamentei não poder ir a exeter, mais o dinheiro não da para mais....

parabens pela organizaçao e a publicaçao! será muito interessante ler as actas, no entanto não é o mesmo ler que poder presenciar -o participar- na discussão de ideias directamente.

seria bom que tivéramos um contexto similar na península, mais acessível para os jovens, no que discutir e falar sobre novas ideias e propostas, tanto do âmbito anglosajon como peninsular, para assim poder conheceras e compreenderas melhor....em fim supongo que só com o "wishful thinking" nao se chega a nada..

saludos cordiais, marta dg

Vitor Oliveira Jorge disse...

Ambas as coisas têm interesse e são complementares... sem o livro, muito do que lá se passou esfumar-se-ia, sobretudo para as pessoas cuja língua materna não é o inglês!
Estes colóquios TAG são já uma tradição em Inglaterra, mostrando a pujança da sua arqueologia universitária e a iniciativa dos seus estudantes e jovens docentes, que é quem os organiza.
Por mim, sou cliente - já faz parte do meu Natal, todos os anos (é mesmo antes)...