Objects and Agency: Some Obstacles and Opportunities of Modernity
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Citation:Ian Russell, 'Objects and Agency: Some Obstacles and Opportunities of Modernity' in Journal of Iberian Archaeology, 9/10, 2007, p71 - 87
Series/Report no:Journal of Iberian Archaeology
Description:Objects from the past are present all around us, everyday of our lives. It is through interaction with these objects that we glean an interpretation of things which came before. But we must ask can artefacts act? Can they speak? A new field of study has been put forth by scholars at previous academic meetings discussing the theory of object agency; however, at the same time, it is admitted that archaeological artefacts are inanimate and mute. Julian Thomas described the urge to interpret an object's existence in our present timeframe as evidence of previous human or sentient agency as the 'archaeological imagination'. In psychological terms, the externalisation of individual and social expectations for 'past' and 'meaning' onto inanimate objects (artefacts) creates images of the past. However, we can argue that the interpretation of an object and the creation of images of the past are all aspects of the broader psychological function of perception. These modern perceptions are what are used to bridge the existential crisis of sentient beings fulfilling the desire for a notion of purpose and continuity with a greater lineage of agency. However, to what extent do our own methods of structuring and constructing perceptions and rendering meanings through methods of science and humanistic interpretation simply reify systems of supposedly synonymous modern dichotomies and dualities and modern paradigms? This paper is designed to engage with how the concept of 'object agency' obscures the phenomenon of the construction of images of the past through the viewing, interpreting and rendering of artefacts and objects in the world we inhabit. It will also suggest some possible ways archaeology can move beyond modernity through an engagement with the world not as materials but as media.