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How materials work: Materials agency and crafting practices in a Melanesian society

Friday 23 November 2018
National Museum of Antiquities
Rapenburg 28
2311 EW Leiden
Leemanszaal (begane grond)

This paper will elaborate on the ‘vibrant’ nature of materials used in the built environment and the ways in which materials make themselves known (DeLanda 2006). Focusing on plant materials used in men’s house (haus boi) construction in New Ireland (Papua New Guinea), I investigate how material agency is located in architectural design projects employing the selective use of ‘old’ plant materials – in contrast to ready-made, imported materials – the effects of which mediate and amplify new spheres of male power in the region.

I will describe how the incorporation of select materials ‘of the past’ into the built environment – public spaces used for the performance of ancestral ceremonies – are brought into relation with other materials and so used as a vehicle to make tangible connections to ancestral sources of power as well as centres of government that reside on a translocal scale. Materials agency, I argue, can therefore be understood as transformative, not just in terms of creating form and function, but also as ‘enabling’, enacting new forms of sociality and linking to new sources of power.

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