Universiteit Leiden

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Towards a process archaeology (and beyond questions of agency)

  • Chris Gosden
Tuesday 26 May 2015
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden
Vossius room

Two key issues face archaeology; one old and one new. One of the constant questions for archaeology (and indeed any historical discipline) is how to understand and take account of change. The newer issue might be seen as 'archaeology beyond the human'. People engage in a great range of relations and in each of these the plants, animals, artefacts and landscape they engage with have an influence upon them. Human intentions and desires are not always determinant in how these relations unfold. For instance, agriculture is seen as a mode of subsistence humans develop in order to cope with rising population or to take advantage of beneficial ecological conditions during the Holocene. But, in engaging in close relations with other plants and animals, people have to partly pattern their actions onto those of other species, which then have considerable influence over historical trajectories. Taking inspiration from process philosophers, such as A. N. Whitehead, I argue for the need to see change as crucial to all relations. Humans engage in multiple relations. Change derives from all partners within these relations, lacks overall direction (such as progress) and needs to be understood on a case-by-case basis. Such a set of views, I would also argue, make notions of agency seem too partial and particular to be helpful. I will use the notion of agriculture to exemplify my argument (with some brief thoughts too on the history of materials).

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