Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
ArchaeologyThe Discipline of Things$

Bjørnar Olsen, Michael Shanks, Timothy Webmoor, and Christopher Witmore

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780520274167

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520274167.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 24 May 2022

Getting on with Things

Getting on with Things

A Material Metaphysics of Care

(p.196) Chapter 9 Getting on with Things

Bjørnar Olsen

Michael Shanks

Timothy Webmoor

Christopher Witmore

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

In the final chapter of this book we explore this issue and suggest care as a mode of getting on with things. Being a sensitive, responsive, and nondiscriminatory way of attending to things, care involves far-ranging consequences for how we conceive of Stonehenge, an exploded bunker, rusted barbed wire, or a Greek perfume jar in terms of heritage and meaning. Moreover, at excavation sites and in museums and laboratories all over the world, this mode has been essential to our disciplinary practices. It is more appropriate than ever to urge disciplinary confidence. Thus, what is needed today, we conclude, is an archaeology that looks back at its own past with wonderment, approaches it without embarrassment and contempt, seeks to revitalize its important legacy, and folds this into a future vision for the care of things.

Keywords:   care, ethics, heritage, archaeology

Throughout this book we have made the case that we are more than ever merged with our material pasts, and that the things of those pasts push back. As we have often repeated, the reason why—and how—they push back cannot be reduced to this imbrication itself. Things are not merely “enslaved in some wider system of differential meaning” (Harman 2002, 280). They possess their own capacities, inhabit their own compartments; in short, they have at least partial autonomy.

As a discipline concerned with things, archaeology helps one realize that objects cannot simply be sorted into the easy categories of “flatland philosophies” (Harman 2005, 231). Neither exhausted by their relations with other objects and people nor islands of unalloyed integrity, things blend both their inherent qualities and their alliances. This is why we have made the analogy to isotopic elements: real and enduring, while nonetheless shifting states of compositional stability. This holds whether we speak of Acrocorinth, Fussell’s Lodge, or a map of Teotihuacan. Archaeology’s intimacy with things and the processes that involve them in human affairs over the long term sheds light on the irreducibility of things in their bewildering differences and ambiguities.

The irreducible paradox of things as fields in which we are immersed, while they simultaneously retain individuality and integrity, is not solely an issue of ontological or metaphysical concern. It also has wide-ranging ethical implications, which extend far beyond any disciplinary boundaries, archaeological or otherwise. However, the suggestion that humans (p.197) have neither generalized autonomy nor particular hegemony, that we reside among other entities in a differentiated, but not oppositional, world is countered with the expected, predictable, charge of reification. That is to say, putting humans on the same ontological footing as nonhumans inevitably evokes the modernist and humanist horror scenario of making people into things. Let’s not rush to cast out our Frankenstein’s Monsters, however. The radical ethical implication of our approach is to refit humanism’s tradition of attentiveness and care for people to embrace things and nonhumans as well, and in no small measure (so subtly worked out in Mary Shelley’s original). Also taking into consideration the current debates on environmental issues and the accelerated exhaustion of Earth’s bounty, such an inclusive ethics does not seem untimely, if even belated.

In this chapter we conclude the book with an appeal for “collective care,” specifically, symmetrical care for people and things (and all non-humans), and the rapports between things, a care that is more responsive to the “wicked problems” characterizing the complexly interdependent circumstances of our contemporaneity. Furthermore, we urge archaeologists to practice their discipline with trust and confidence. What is needed today is an archaeology that looks back at its own past with neither embarrassment nor contempt, but with wonderment combined with the will to revitalize its important legacy.

Archaeological Ethics

Ethics have become a serious concern in archaeology. Indeed, surveying the literature one can find a number of ethical theories and positions (among many others, for example, see Green 1984; Hamilakis and Duke 2007; Karlsson 2004; Lynott and Wylie 1995; Scarre and Scarre 2006; Zimmerman, Vitelli, and Hollowell-Zimmer 2003). By the 1970s and into the 1980s, questions of how to act and issues of accountability increasingly became an outspoken agenda for archaeologists. During this period, normative issues as to how archaeologists conducted their work were debated and eventually codified into professional codes and ethical protocols. The adoption of its code of ethics by the Society for American Archaeology (SAA),1 the largest professional archaeological (p.198) society in the world, was an indicator of the widespread urgency about taking normative issues seriously. What caused this turn?

Alison Wylie, a primary participant in the formulation of the SAA’s Principles of Archaeological Ethics, suggests that the accelerating destruction of archaeological resources in the wake of increased land development and trade in illegal antiquities, coupled with the professionalization of cultural resource management (CRM) made the formalization of archaeology’s conservation ethic a necessary countermeasure (Lynott and Wylie 1995; Wylie 1996; 2006, 15). This move prompted a number of professional bodies to follow suit and establish codes for their members. For instance, the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA; formerly the Society of Professional Archaeologists [SOPA]) and the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) developed principles of good practice. Both not only established codes of ethics, but also, uniquely, provided for tribunals for punitive enforcement of its agreed-to statutes (RPA 2002 [1998]; AIA 2004; cf. Smith and Burke 2003, 192). And in 1997, the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) adopted codes similar to that of the SAA (Hamilakis and Duke 2007, 26).

An increased concern for indigenous people further fueled these developments. Such interests were, at least in part, aroused by representatives of various indigenous/ethnic minority groups, who increasingly asserted their presence in archaeological discourses and practices. Very important in this respect was the establishment of the World Archaeological Congress (WAC) in 1986 (Ucko 1987). The codes of ethics adopted by this organization, such as the Vermillion Accord (1989), the First Code of Ethics (1990), and the Tamaki Makau-rau Accord (2006), were all implemented in response to the appeals of indigenous peoples regarding their own heritage, including access to sacred sites and objects and the treatment of human remains. Indigenous rights to heritage also became legally recognized in a number of countries, such as Norway, where since 1978, the National Cultural Heritage Act has provided automatic protection to Sámi monuments and sites over one hundred years old. In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed as a U.S. federal law. This demanded, among other things, the repatriation of culturally significant Native American material (human remains, sacred objects, etc.) from federal agencies and institutions (Thomas 2000; Fine-Dare 2002). The whirlwind of archaeological activity surrounding these native, normative, and legal initiatives leaves no doubt that archaeologists took ethical issues seriously (p.199) and responded thoughtfully to changes and discourses in contemporary society. Some opted for a “political ethic” and judged archeological activity as a tool for social and political justice (see Hamilakis 2007, 35; Shanks and Tilley 1987; McGuire 2008).

As outlined above, ethical issues in archaeology have frequently been raised in relation to what suggestively is known as cultural heritage. Loss of heritage is seen as a loss of identity and self, and provides a major rationale for its protection (Rowlands 2002; Brattli 2009). The development of this ethics has also clearly been motivated by groups reclaiming heritage and history from Western possession. No one can therefore deny a sincere concern with how archaeology has been involved in depriving people of their heritage on the part of practitioners (Trigger 2006 [1989]). However, at the same time, the question of possessing a past as a foundation for identity is also related to an effective tradition of historicist and nationalist ideologies (Olsen 2001). Moreover, one finds less discussion about how these discourses and positions, as also reflected in international laws and conventions, are grounded in liberal ideals of human rights and autonomy, and increasingly twinned with neoliberal definitions of identity linked to possession and property. Proprietary relations and the attribution of ownership with respect to archaeological materials have been a vocal component of the ethical debates in archaeology and heritages studies over the past thirty years (Shanks 2008). In their book The Ethics of Archaeology (2006), Christopher and Geoffrey Scarre demonstrate how the enfolding of archaeological materials within notions of property has led to a politicized ethics. They define ethics as “the relations between archaeologists’ goals and the morally significant interests of those whom their activities affect” (Scarre and Scarre 2006, 4; emphasis added).

Established ethical principles in archaeology are undoubtedly reflecting a willingness to see heritage as a matter of concern both to the interested public and to science. It is also true that the relative importance of the outlined social and political concerns has increased in relation to matters of pure scholarly interest. Nevertheless, despite all good intentions to purge potentially unethical behavior from archaeology and to protect heritage from destruction, there has been a conspicuous and increasing elision of things themselves in these concerns. While at least marginally present at the beginning of the debates about normative behavior, the focus upon archaeological politics, upon justice and just engagement with the world, has displaced a care for things.

(p.200) The primacy of notions of property and rights of access and ownership in concern over the illicit trade in antiquities and artworks serves to focus attention on human rights and responsibilities. While raising awareness of the scale of the damage done by robbers and hobbyists wielding metal detectors, who destroy ancient sites in search of loot and collectibles, does indeed express care for the protection of heritage, we are often caught in the contradictory bind that we have been at pains to challenge in this book. That is, the push for things themselves all too easily deflects to the register of non-things: meaning, informational context, identity construction, and so forth. Consider, for example, how protecting cultural heritage for its rightful owners is identified with retaining the proper contexts for things. Contexts make the human past more readable, help us access the Indian behind the artifact; plundered artifacts sold on the art and antiquities market without context and provenance/provenience become supposedly “mere things,” commodities detached from what gives them meaning and significance as expressions of creative human achievement.

Advocacy for such a human-centered archaeological practice in the service of social justice is succinctly expressed by Randall McGuire, who in his foreword to Hamilakis and Duke 2007 repeatedly asks: “archaeology for whom?” (McGuire 2007, 10). By slow degrees, the discipline of things has veered toward a discipline for “people,” that is, a discipline for a purified image of human beings separate from things whose performance of the visible is merely a derivative aspect of their social compacts. Throughout this book, we have explored how this dislocation and anthropocentrism have been an ambiguous part of the archaeological project, especially, and increasingly, articulated in its theoretical formulations, its working assumptions of key concepts, and indeed its notion of what it is to be human. It is, however, in the disciplinary arms of public outreach, in cultural heritage and ethics, where care for things is most clearly spurned.

Heritage, Things, and the Quest for Meaning

The major imperative accepted today for protecting and preserving things and monuments is that they are of concern to people. So the argument often goes that they are of importance for cultural identity and well-being, and/or for serving as a resource, for science and society, for psycho-politics and the economy. Without such human attachment and utility, sites such as Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, and Pompeii are hardly (p.201) more than bundles of inanimate materials, devoid of any need for ethical concern. Reading through heritage conventions, rationales for stewardship of heritage, and the ever more abundant literature in heritage studies, it is hard to find any statement expressing any explicit concern with things in their own being (qua things). “While places, sites, objects, and localities may exist as identifiable places of heritage … these places are not inherently valuable, nor do they carry a freight of innate meaning. Stonehenge, for instance, is basically a collection of rocks in a field,” Laurajane Smith asserts. What makes these things and places valuable and meaningful, and thus turns them into heritage, according to her, “are the present-day cultural processes and activities that are undertaken at and around them, and of which they become a part. It is these processes that identify them as physically symbolic of particular cultural and social events, and thus give them value and meaning” (Smith 2006, 3; see Solli 2011 for critical discussion).

While it is indisputable that many people are concerned with the things of the past, and that many do feel a strong attachment to sites and monuments, it is less evident that this attachment is just an asymmetrical product of emotive narratives and cultural habits. Actually, it may as well be the case that “significant” sites evoke their own importance. Things—monuments, topographic features, landscapes—may stand out as significant because of their unique, conspicuous qualities. Stonehenge after all is different from other collections of rocks in the field (fig. 9.1). Not just any collection of rocks is the focal point for the accretion of numerous landscape features over the millennia. Not just any collection of rocks has a parking lot, museum, and hundreds of texts written about it that are easily found on most library shelves. Not just any collection of rocks draws paying crowds by the hundreds of thousands annually. And not just any collection of rocks is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Stonehenge’s inherent, exposed difference has played a major role in making it unique as heritage.

In less conspicuous cases, things such as abandoned mining shafts, derelict ironworks, and 1913 Coca-Cola bottles also facilitate their own construction as heritage (or anti-heritage) through their intrinsic qualities. There is a reason why things are more suited to be heritage than spoken words and passing thoughts (Shanks 2012). An ethics that embraces things also involves acknowledging the humble principle of symmetry that they themselves may be the source of their signification (Benso 2000, xxvii). Our approach to things as outlined is this book is grounded in the recognition that things make a difference, that they play a role in (p.202)

Getting on with ThingsA Material Metaphysics of Care

Figure 9.1. A sixty-ton crane, one of only two of its kind in the United Kingdom, sets the eighteen-ton lintel as part of the reconstructed trilithon during restoration work at Stonehenge ca. 1950. Three Lions, Getty Images # 3332900.

their own formation, and that their ability to affect and act on us cannot be reduced to our inescapable entanglement with them (Hodder 2011). The way things affect us—and each other—is also a product of their own specific qualities, of the fact that they are “capable of an effect” (Harman 2002, 21). These should not be conflated with human-like qualities, which implicitly become the case when according things qualities and significance through association with humanity. This would be (again) to deflect attention away from things, to commit ontological ventriloquism.

(p.203) One radical implication of this proposal is the need for an ethics embracing things in their own being, recognizing that things are valuable in and of themselves. Again, this is not a question of anthropomorphizing things, treating them as humans, but rather of respecting their otherness and integrity (Benso 2000; Olsen 2012). It implies adopting a more humble attitude of knowledge, care, and esteem for what things are in their own being. Needless to say, such an attempt is fraught with difficulties. The dominant approach so far in archaeology, heritage, and material culture studies has been isomorphic, subjecting things to sameness. Things are little more than things-for-us, reduced to what Heidegger termed Bestand (stock, inventory), by which only their manipulative being as a “standing reserve” for us remains (Heidegger 1993; cf. Introna 2009; Olsen 2010, 82). Through processes of embodiment, things are claimed to have been made social and meaningful, advanced from inanimate to animate beings and charged with sociality and personality (Appadurai 1986; Meskell and Joyce 2003). However, their own “voices” are silenced, their destiny is “always to live out the social life of men” (Pinney 2005, 259), clinging to them as private labels. And if these things speak, it is only our own voices that are heard (Andersson 2001, 30–36; Benjamin 2003, 255–56).

Being attentive to and respecting the integrity and otherness of things includes their right not to be meaningful in the dominant interpretative sense (to be the background noise of history of which we spoke in chapter 6). In the latter conception, meaning has always been confused with representative, symbolic, or metaphorical meaning, whereby the only possible significant role of things is to serve as a window onto cultural or cognitive realms; to provide a means by which to reach something else, something more important (the fallacy of expression or representation, outlined above in chapters 5 and 8). An ethics encompassing things also involves their liberation from this imperative of intellectualization; such an ethics impels one to be attentive to the significance of their own being (Olsen 2010, 84–87, 152–53; 2012). The significance of a boat, for example, is not primarily a function of the symbolic role it potentially may serve in transitional rituals, by acting as an embodied sign of power or by communicating individual or group identity. What seems forgotten in the vast majority of material culture studies is that the thing is mostly significant for what it is—that is, as boat, ax, house, laptop, drum, birch tree, and so forth. Whatever symbolic roles they may play, these are mostly residues of the primary significance of their own being. (p.204)

An Archaeology of Care

However, in all this, we should not forget that archaeology also has another face, though one that has been stigmatized and bricked up behind the humanist imperative to be “concerned with people rather than things” (Leach 1973, 768). This face of archaeology, as practiced by archaeologists and museum curators and technicians alike, is characterized by a devotion to things. This attitude, this passionate interest is rarely seriously discussed and brought to attention, and if on rare occasions it is acknowledged, it has mostly been subsumed by the rationale provided by William Lipe in his influential conservation ethic, which has been embraced to the point of having become something of a credo for the profession (Lipe 1974; cf. Shanks and Tilley 1992, 27–28). Lipe’s ethic centers on the recognition of archaeological material as a nonrenewable resource, a record that may be destroyed only if justified by the benefit to research (Lipe 1974, 243). Though a concern for things is apparent, the conservation ethic nonetheless views archaeological resources as valuable primarily for information extraction. Since such material is the “base” and justification for the profession, this ethic aims at the self-perpetuation and legitimation of the discipline. The stuff of the past is valuable to the discipline to the extent that it is able to extract it efficiently for the information economy.

Notwithstanding its rationale—scientific, political, interpretative—the categorical imperative to care for things that is primarily voiced has been that they are a resource and thus valuable for us. To care for or to study “just things” has long been a source of disciplinary embarrassment, equated with a mindless antiquarianism surviving in dusty museum spaces. Still, despite all criticism and contempt, and despite the lack of expressed and codified justification, this face of archaeology has stubbornly survived. It represents a kind of altruistic attitude that has become rare and even ridiculed in more theoretically oriented archaeology and material culture studies where dirty hands do not feature too prominently anymore and things are permitted importance only insofar as they reveal something about people (Ingold 2007). The painstaking toil of cleaning, examining, describing, drawing, photographing, conserving, and storing artifacts by technicians and curators reflects a concern with what things are in their own thingness, their quiddity (whatness) and haecceity (thisness); it denotes a respect for their allure; it expresses an attentive care for their well-being. In this way the archaeologist, the curator, is more akin to Walter Benjamin’s collector than to his counterpart (p.205) theoretician. The collector’s lot, according to Benjamin, is the Sisyphean task of emancipating things from their use-value and commodity character, which is associated with a desire for a better world “in which things are freed from the drudgery of being useful” (Benjamin 2002, 39).

We suggest “care” as an alternative mode of getting on with things. Health care provides some interesting parallels. As practiced in the secondary sciences of nursing, physical therapy, or nutrition, the feeling and logic of care is to be attentive, responsive, and nondiscriminatory. As Annemarie Mol argues in her ethnography of health care, the more mundane aspects of healing are often seen as supplemental, as incidental or subsidiary to the supposed real activities of medicine, intervention and invasive procedures, surgically excising, manipulating, adjusting, and suturing, what might be called “the logic of cure” (Mol 2008, 1). There is more than just a metaphorical resemblance to archaeological interventions here. The political economy, institutional power relations, and operational procedures that undergird such a denigration of care are not that dissimilar from the factors that facilitate and frame archaeology’s attentiveness to the past. As with archaeological sites that are transformed into rubbish dumps, exposed wall remains left to collapse, and so on, care regularly becomes visible only when it is lacking.

We have already discussed many of these facets of archaeological professionalization (chapter 3). Here we are not arguing that current frameworks for attending to the past are deluded, misguided, or, worse, detrimental. Instead, rather like the good intentions of medical professionals who advocate patient choice and holistic methods for curing ills, we suggest that within archaeology “good care is often silently in-corporated into practices and does not speak for itself” (Mol 2008, 2). We therefore ally archaeology’s skilled attentiveness to mundane objects with the good care of the secondary health sciences (Star 2009). For Mol, the humility of care in the health sciences results in the misattribution of healing to the heroic efforts of doctors and specialists; this at the expense of the many minute and seemingly inconsequential interactions between patients, care providers, and the material integument of healing practices (Mol 2002; 2008, 2; Mol, Moser, and Pols 2010, 14).

Similar to the structuring logic of cure that Mol describes, archaeology has misattributed good professional practice to ethical conduct. Not just any ethical conduct, for, like Mol, we are not arguing against established methodologies for caring for the past. Rather, we argue that the development of archaeological professional principles has mistakenly incorporated a care for things into a framing or logic of human-centered (p.206) ethics. Indeed, it is here that our contemporary ethics resides, because this morality is rooted in a modernist humanism crafted to maintain the autonomy and sovereignty of the human subject (Verbeek 2009; Sloterdijk 2009; Latour 2002). Thus, it is not that we are seeking to extend ethics but that they need to be reformed, rearticulated, augmented, and transformed. This is a subtle distinction that deserves reemphasizing.

Care as an alternative mode of getting on with things clearly triggers a number of other critical questions. Should we extend our care to a pair of Nike shoes produced at factories using child labor? And what about nuclear weapons, concentration camps, or run-down factories polluting our environment (fig. 9.2)? If things themselves are capable of an effect, have agency, do things that do bad things deserve our care? Should we judge them consequential, deontological, or as reflecting their own virtue? If things have intrinsic capacities, a relative autonomy, does this also imply that they are moral agents to be judged by the virtue of their affordances? Although this raises important questions, which need to be carefully debated, one should nonetheless acknowledge that the problems created by “bad entities” are not an issue reserved for things or nonhumans. Just as little as we can exclude our species from attentive care because of the shortcomings of individuals, we cannot a priori dismiss things per se from any ethical concern because of the destructive potential of some things.

Care is symmetrical in its mode of being-with-others. Archaeology has taken part in an epistemological tradition “happily equating our understanding with an active elimination of everything about ‘us’ that cannot be aligned with a so-called ‘scientific’ conception of matter” (Stengers 2011, 368). “Bad” matter, matter out of place, awkward or abject things have too readily been excised away from the “us” of humanity. Technoscience writers placed the unseemly figure of the cyborg at the center of modern and future existence (Haraway 1990). In this book, we have shown how we have always been inseparable from our nonhuman “selves” (chapter 8). Mess, disorder, and other “impurities” in Mary Douglas’s (1966) sense, noise and interference as opposed to clean signal, have always been a part of our being. Indeed, we might say that this state of mess increases, that the real mark of the contemporary age is not purifying ourselves from the stuff of the past, but instead the mounting weight of accumulating pasts (Olsen 2010). So rather than something to be explained away through categorical thinking, messiness must be recognized as the normal state of affairs (Law 2004, 6). With (p.207)

Getting on with ThingsA Material Metaphysics of Care

Figure 9.2. Chemical waste from a broken vial, surrounded by animal tracks, discarded documents, wiring, and other materials, on a floor in the abandoned biological station at Dalniye Zelentsy, inside the Arctic Circle on the Kola Peninsula, Murmansk Oblast, Russia, July 2011. Photo by þóra Pétursdottir.

Isabelle Stengers (2011), we affirm that care often involves wondering with things rather than reducing them to intellectually assimilable scenarios (Webmoor 2012b).

Care and concern, both from the Latin root cura, imply devotion, nurturing, and thoughtfulness directed toward something. Care is “an affective state, a material vital doing, and an ethico-political obligation” (Puig de la Bellacassa 2011, 89). It is transitive in the sense of to care. As such, care invokes intimacy: an intimacy with things and animal species and other nonhumans that is impartial in term of epistemic and ontological discriminations. Care moves us on from the eliminativist and reductionist tendencies in the natural sciences that Isabelle Stengers bemoans (2011). Caring is immanent. It does not view the world in terms of transcendent reasoning and ethical principles that, however well-meaning, restrict us to human fraternity. Rather than for breaks, divides, and disjuncture, it looks for the connections among objects, environments, people, and animals, all of which share membership in the dwelt-in world (cf. Merleau-Ponty 1968). Things care for themselves, each other, and other entities too. It is this broader, more inclusive “self”-interest that we advocate (cf. Bennett 2010). (p.208)

Conclusion: Archaeology as Archaeology

The advent of the new or processual approach in the 1960s initiated a development that gradually turned archaeology into a theoretically more reflexive and mature discipline. In his fin de siècle celebration of this achievement, Ian Hodder wrote with confidence that “[t]here is in the years around 2000 an undoubted diversity of archaeological theory, and an undoubted vigour in theoretical debates. … Archaeologists … are more than ever aware of the theoretical underpinnings of all data recovery, description and sequencing, and … they are more than ever aware of the diversity of theoretical approaches being explored” (Hodder 2002, 77). What is not as explicitly expressed or celebrated is that this “diversity of theoretical approaches” almost exclusively originates from other disciplinary domains where things hold little dignity. Despite the optimism expressed by Lewis Binford and others on behalf of the potentials of the archaeological project, archaeologists were increasingly made consumers of theories produced by forerunner disciplines. Archaeology was no longer a place to look for theoretical inspiration. It is perhaps symptomatic that theorizing in archaeology was almost consistently paired with denunciation of our own disciplinary past.

Indeed, there is nothing negative about being familiar with philosophies and social theories, quite the contrary, the new and unrestricted transdisciplinary outlook was clearly needed and refreshing, and also well in accordance with the nineteenth-century roots of the profession itself. However, and contrary to the symmetry characterizing the interdisciplinary toil of our forebears, the new eagerness to look to other disciplines somehow made us lose sight of our larger loyalty to things by subsuming them under these discourses. Theories largely ignorant of things were parasitically adopted without recognizing how this actually contributed to a devaluation of our own subject matter (e.g. Webmoor 2012b on science and technology studies and archaeology).2 Without this concern for things, the distinctiveness of the archaeological project is lost. In fact, archaeology’s tools, concepts, and vocabularies arise from and are best adapted to things, and this is precisely where the bricoleur thrives (cf. Olsen 2010).

Archaeology’s past was never entirely innocent, but in writing this book, we have confronted its extraordinary history with wonderment (p.209) and reaffirmed our trust in our discipline’s ability to confront any situation presented by things in our engagements with the material past. Ironically, archaeology’s most significant theoretical asset has been its name, which has become a popular catchphrase among philsophers, psychologists, social scientists, and literary critics. Even if few of those attracted by its metaphorical payoff have bothered to think seriously about what an archaeological contribution to the topics they address might actually look like, the fascination with the term still points to something genuinely and intellectually appealing about the archaeological project. However, to reveal its potential it is necessary to repatriate archaeology from its intellectual staging as a convenient but semantically obligation-free metaphor in social and cultural theory.

This book is an attempt to achieve this by exposing the archaeological project as a distinct, content-filled, and intellectually rewarding undertaking. Archaeology is first and foremost a concern with things and inasmuch as things are once again the subject per se of social and cultural discourses, archaeologists, arguably their most dedicated students, should naturally make their voices heard. Our long-held concern with things constitutes an intellectual skill that is clearly highly relevant to these debates. Moreover, given our concern with things, it is appropriate that writing and reading theory from an archaeological point of view should make a difference. Our theorizing, although in part dedicated to common materials, objects, and things, and the processing of similar philosophies, should be distinguishable—at least to some extent—from other theoretical discourses. Archaeology’s habitat is unique and rich.


(2) . This is not to say that these theories were not transformed and granted different nuance by being brought into a new habitat such as archaeology.