|thing theory (2008)
An intensified concern with materiality and the slippery category of “things” has emerged in the past decade as an explicitly interdisciplinary endeavor involving anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, political scientists, philosophers, and literary critics among others. The new field of material culture studies that has resulted inverts the longstanding study of how people make things by asking also how things make people, how they mediate social relationships, how they gather particular social worldsultimately how things can be understood as having a form of subjectivity, being, and agency of their own. In this seminar, we will explore many of the recent foundational works by Bruno Latour, Alfred Gell, Tim Ingold, Graham Harman, Web Keane, Daniel Miller, W. J. T. Mitchell and others who have situated their work at the increasingly blurred boundaries between such “things” as object and subject, gift and commodity, art and artifact, alienability and inalienability, materiality and immateriality, as well as at the disciplinary boundaries between ethnography, archaeology, art history and philosophy.
Seminar participants will not be asked to compose a traditional academic term paper. Rather, each participant will construct two “object studies”. Unlike the classic anthroplogical methodology in which the cultural world is approached through the thoughts, experiences, and actions of human agents, these studies should follow in the spirit of Barthes’s Mythologies, offering relatively brief sketches that rely upon object agents or actants as their entrée into the social. The primary ethnographic gaze should be upon an object individual, a class of objects, or a discrete community of objectswhat Appadurai has referred to as a “methodological fetishism” in which one accepts that “it is the things-in-motion that illuminate their human and social context.” Beyond this core focus on the object world, participants will have the latitude to use these sketches as platforms for commentary on issues of identity, meaning, structure, representation, social critique, materiality, immateriality, the slip from object to thing, etc. as they move through object agents to an analysis of the human worlds that are gathered by them.
Object studies will be presented at the middle and end of the term. The format of these short presentations will be at the discretion of the participant, although use of imagery is encouraged. Past presentations have incorporated live bagpipe performance and strip tease videos to make particular theoretical pointssuffice to say that anything goes.
method of evaluation
Grades will be determined based upon class participation, presentations, and the two essays.
The following texts are required and will be available for purchase at Labyrinth:
session 1: the turn toward things
Brown, Bill. 2001. Thing theory. Critical Inquiry 28(1):1-22.
Olsen, B. 2003. Material culture after text: re-membering things. Norwegian Archaeological Review 36(3):87104.
Preda, A. 1999. The turn to things: arguments for a sociological theory of things. The Sociological Quarterly 40(2):347-366.
session 2: the fetish, or the illusory agency of the object
Discussants: chase, ernie, anjeli
Ellen, Roy. 1988. Fetishism. Man (N.S.) 23:213-35.
Keane, Webb. 1998. Calvin in the Tropics: objects and subjects at the religious frontier. In Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces, edited by Patricia Spyer, pp. 13-34. Routledge, New York.
Pels, Peter. 1998. The spirit of matter: on fetish, rarity, fact and fancy. In Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces, edited by Patricia Spyer, pp. 91-121. Routledge, New York.
Stallybrass, Peter. 1998. Marx’s coat. In Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces, edited by Patricia Spyer, pp. 183-207. Routledge, New York.
session 3: the work of art, or the indexical agency of the object
Discussants: allen, audrey, maxim
Gell, Alfred. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Clarendon Press, New York.
session 4: the work of art II
Discussants: glenda, michael, megan
Belting, Hans. 2005. Image, medium, body: a new approach to iconology. Critical Inquiry 31(2):302-319.
Knappett, Carl. 2006. Beyond skin: layering and networking in art and archaeology. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 16(2):239-51.
Mitchell, W. J. Thomas. 1996. What Do Pictures Really Want? October 77:71-82.
Pinney, Christopher. 2001. Piercing the skin of the idol. In Beyond Aesthetics: Art and the Technologies of Enchantment, edited by Christopher Pinney and Nicholas Thomas, pp. 157-180. Berg.
Thomas, Nicholas. 2001. Introduction. In Beyond Aesthetics: Art and the Technologies of Enchantment, edited by Christopher Pinney and Nicholas Thomas, pp. 1-12. Berg.
session 5: the stone, or the materiality of the object
Discussants: rachel, louis
Miller, Daniel. 2005. Materiality: an introduction. In Materiality, edited by Daniel Miller, pp. 1-50. Duke University Press.
Keane, Webb. 2005. Signs are not the garb of meaning: on the social analysis of material things. In Materiality, edited by Daniel Miller, pp. 182-205. Duke University Press.
Engelke, Matthew. 2005. Sticky subjects and sticky objects: the substance of African Christian healing. In Materiality, edited by Daniel Miller, pp. 118-139. Duke University Press.
session 6: the stone II
Pinney, Chris. 2005. Things happen. In Materiality, edited by Daniel Miller.
Ingold, Tim. 2007. Materials against materiality. Archaeological Dialogues 14:1-16.
Tilley, Christopher. 2007. Materiality in materials. Archaeological Dialogues 14:16-20.
Knappett, Carl. 2007. Materials with materiality? Archaeological Dialogues 14:20-23.
Miller, Daniel. 2007. Stone age or plastic age? Archaeological Dialogues 14:23-27.
Nilsson, Björn. 2007. An archaeology of material stories. Archaeological Dialogues 14:27-30.
Ingold, Tim. 2007. Writing texts, reading materials. A response to my critics. Archaeological Dialogues 14:31-38.
session 7: presentations
session 8: the tool, or the cybernetic agency of the subject-object
Discussants: chris, ernie, laurent
Ingold, Tim. 2000. Tools, minds and machines: an excursion in the philosophy of technology. In The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill, pp. 294-311. Routledge, London.
Ingold, Tim. 2000. On weaving a basket. In The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill, pp. 339-348. Routledge, London.
Ingold, Tim. 2000. Of string bags and birds’ nests. In The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill, pp. 349-361. Routledge, London.
Latour, Bruno. 2000. The Berlin key or how to do words with things. In Matter, Materiality and Modern Culture, edited by Paul Graves-Brown, pp. 10-21. Routledge, New York.
session 9: the collective, or the networked agency of the thing
Discussants: megan, sarah, tim
Latour, Bruno. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Harvard University Press.
session 10: the collective II
Discussants: caitlin, sarah, eric
Bennett, Jane. 2005. The agency of assemblages and the North American blackout. Public Culture 17(3):445-65.
Bennett, Jane. 2004. The force of things: steps toward an ecology of matter. Political Theory 32(3):347-372.
Latour, Bruno. 1999. Chapter 6: A Collective of Humans and Nonhumans. In Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies, pp. 174-215. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
Oppenheim, Robert. 2007. Actor-network theory and anthropology after science, technology and society. Anthropological Theory 7(4):471-493.
session 11: the thing, and its gatherability
Discussants: katie, fan, louis
Heidegger, Martin. 2001. The thing. In Poetry, Language, and Thought, pp. 165-182. Harper Collins, New York. -
Kharkhordin, Oleg. 2005. Things as Res publicae. In Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, pp. 280-289. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Latour, Bruno. 2004. Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern. Critical Inquiry 30(2).
Rorty, Richard. 2005: Heidegger and the atomic bomb. In Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, pp. 274-275. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
session 12: object-oriented philosophy
Discussants: caitlin, tim
Harman, Graham. 2005. Chapters 1-7. Guerrilla Metaphysics, pp. 1-99. Open Court, Chicago.
session 13: object-oriented philosophy
Harman, Graham. 2005. Chapters 8-12. Guerrilla Metaphysics, pp. 1-99. Open Court, Chicago.
session 14: presentations II