Posted by: Johan Normark | March 3, 2012

1+1=3 or why holism should be rejected

One often encounters the claim that archaeologists should have a holistic view. We must take as much as possible into account to understand the “past society as a whole”. This claim depends on the idea that all entities are parts of a whole, such as agents (micro) are part of a structure (macro). The thesis of holism in social sciences often has these two levels (or other varieties). DeLanda has shown how insufficient it is to have only two levels, there are instead assemblages/objects of multiple scales. Further, as Levi Bryant says, “there is no harmony or identity of parts and wholes. Parts aren’t parts of a whole and the whole isn’t a whole for parts. Rather, what we have are relations of dependency where nonetheless parts and wholes are distinct and autonomous from one another” (p 217).

Relations between two autonomous objects create a third autonomous one but it does not erase the two earlier ones. Bryant exemplifies this with a romantic relationship which is not composed of two objects but rather three objects (two persons and the relationship itself). The couple talks about being in a relationship, their friends treat the couple as a unit, etc.

So given the example of the romantic relationship above, why cannot we talk about a holistic view of the archaeological record? It is because all these artifacts, ruins, bones, etc. were and still are part of greater objects and these objects are in their turn part of even greater objects. There is no upper end and there is none at the bottom either. There are objects all the way, objects within objects, and so on.

Like my former discussion of distributed objects Bryant also argue that objects are not dependent on a particular location in time and space. A school class is an object but it forms in the morning and dissolves in the afternoon, it is non-existent during the evening and night (in most cases). Sometimes it is located in the school building, on other occasions it is on excursion away from the school building. An archaeological analogy would be a trade item that is found in one location. It is part of many different objects (trade corporation, ship, market, etc.) that is widely distributed in time and space (it is perhaps even a hyperobject in Morton’s sense). There is therefore no way we can ever get a holistic view of objects. It

Bryant, Levi (2011). The Democracy of Objects. Open Humanities Press: Ann Arbor.

About these ads

Responses

  1. [...] 1+1=3 or why holism should be rejected, Johan Normark Why cannot we talk about a holistic view of the archaeological record? It is because all these artifacts, ruins, bones, etc. were and still are part of greater objects and these objects are in their turn part of even greater objects. There is no upper end and there is none at the bottom either. There are objects all the way, objects within objects, and so on. Archaeological Haecceities, 3 March 2012 [...]


Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 125 other followers

%d bloggers like this: