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4110 - Intentionality Matters: A Critique of Object Agency in Archaeology

Many archaeologists have challenged the dualism in Western thought that categorically separates human agents from inactive material objects. They seek to move beyond this Cartesian dualism using a concept of “object agency” derived from the work of Bruno Latour and Alfred Gell that gives purposeful agency to objects. I argue that “object agency” as deployed in archaeology is thinly veiled neoliberal ideology. By placing humans and materials on the same plane, we equate humans with objects that can be bought and sold. By dispensing with actors’ intentionality, we deny people the collective ability to transform social relationships. Relational realism offers a more socially responsible way beyond subject/object categories. I illustrate my arguments with a brief case study from ancient Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

Keywords: intentionality, Southwest United States, object agency

Author: Van Dyke, Ruth (Binghamton University, Ud States of Am / USA)

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