I have uploaded the final version of my contribution to an anthology in two volumes that soon will be available. Most of this text was written three-four years ago as the proceedings from the symposium Urban Variation: Utopia, Planning and Practice. My text focus on what I call settlement topology which makes use of Deleuze’s and DeLanda’s concept of assemblage.
Yesterday I read an interesting article that pretty much falls into my current trajectory. The article is “The perfect subject (postcolonial object studies)” by Severin Fowles. Since it was published earlier this year in Journal of Material Culture I had missed it since I have strayed away from topics concerning both “material” and “culture” for the past decade or so. For a while I looked into object oriented ontologies (OOO) and tried to apply them on archaeological data with various successes. However, when I attempted to apply it on Maya caves I found that I had very little use of OOO other than in a general sense. This has pushed me in another direction which does not disqualify the previous position altogether (more on that another time). However, I have become more and more dissatisfied with the “Speculative turn’s” tendency to treat objects as oppressed subjects (particularly in archaeology). Fowles’s article explains how we have reached this point. Here is the abstract:
“This article argues that the late 20th-century tradition of material culture studies, as well as its more recent object-oriented offspring, emerged as a response to the 1980s crisis of representation and the deeper postcolonial critiques that accompanied this crisis. As it became more and more difficult to study and make claims about non-Western people, anthropologists and scholars in related disciplines began to explore the advantages of treating non-human objects as quasi-human subjects. Things proved safer to study than people and the popularity of ‘thing theory’ grew, at least in part, for this very reason. More importantly, the analytical shift of focus from people to things had the effect of salvaging – and, indeed, greatly amplifying – the representational authority of Western scholars at the precise moment when that authority seemed to be evaporating.”
Basically, then, “when the West lost its ability to write about non-Western people however it liked, non-humans surfaced as surrogate objects of study” (Fowles 2016:25).
Later today I shall attend Peter Jimenez’s final seminar for his dissertation thesis entitled Orienting West Mexico: The Mesoamerican World-System 200–1200 CE. This will be the third dissertation thesis on Mesoamerica from my department.
The final version of my article “Multi-scalar cognitive time: Experiential time, known time, and Maya calendars” has just been published in Quaternary International. It is part of a special issue called: The material dimensions of cognition: Reconsidering the nature and emergence of the human mind.
After our trip on Sumatra in 2014 we took a flight from Medan to Kuala Lumpur and headed directly to the city of Ipoh north of KL. Surrounding the town are some impressive Chinese Buddhist temples inside caves. The reason why the flags are at half-mast is because the Malaysia Airlines flight 17 had been shot down in Ukraine the day before we entered Malaysia.
After Ipoh we spent a few days on Pulau Pangkor. The island was largely covered in haze. If you want to see hornbills, this is the place to visit (no, these are not toucans as many tourists believe).
It turns out I have not blogged about my travels since October 17, 2013. Since the summer of 2013 I have been back to Indonesia and Malaysia twice, Thailand, China and India. I will write some blogposts about these trips in the next couple of weeks. However, they will not contain much specific information.
In the summer of 2014 me wife, son and I first went to Bali, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan before we headed to Jakarta to continue to Medan on Sumatra. A few hours ride from there lies Bukit Lawang where one can trekk and spot orangutans. The bath afterwards was cool.
From Bukit Lawang we went to Berastagi where there are hot baths and the nearby volcano Sinabung who had been erupting only a few weeks before. Later the same day we arrived at Lake Toba which probably was the highlight of this trip. Below are pictures of Batak houses and tombs.
My academic trajectory has changed several times during the past twenty years. The first course I took was a distance course in Classic archaeology at Uppsala University in 1993/1994. Back then I was interested in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome. However, I had begun to read some books on the Maya and that became my main interest in the following years when I became a full time student at the University of Gothenburg (1994-2000). My BA-theses in both archaeology (1997) and social anthropology (1998) dealt with Maya issues. So did a minor thesis (“B-uppsats”) in a course on the history of ideas (2000). Since I began my full-time studies I have not changed geographical/cultural area. However, my theoretical approaches have changed.
In both of my BA-theses I was influenced by Bourdieu’s theory of practice which I had encountered in both disciplines. That theoretical approach also laid the initial foundation for my doctoral project on causeways. Once I became a doctoral student (2002) I became influenced by other agency theories, Gell and Bachelard as well, as seen in my licentiate thesis (2004). This was a development towards a “nanoarchaeology”, i.e. splitting up the units of structurating practices used in Cornell and Fahlander’s “microarchaeology” into even smaller segments. I called this “polyagentive archaeology.”
I continued to call this approach “polyagentive archaeology” in my dissertation thesis (2006). I regret that today since I had turned towards the ontologies of flow, of continuity rather than discontinuity. Bergson became my main inspiration with some late additions of Deleuze and DeLanda. Hence, I ditched Bachelard in favor of Bergson. I maintained Gell and made more use of the Swedish anthropologist Göran Aijmer. Apart from an article on Maya warfare (2007) I have not continued to use the term “polyagentive archaeology”. I am no longer convinced that agency is a useful concept (particularly not object/material agency).
In my early postdoctoral phase I became increasingly influenced by Deleuze, DeLanda, and Protevi. This can be seen in my articles published between 2008 and 2012. DeLanda’s assemblage theory work very well with complex systems theory and therefore it fitted my first postdoctoral project on caves and climate change. However, once I received funding for my “water as archaeological material” project (2011) I had encountered speculative realism and particularly object oriented ontologies. This has resulted in a couple of articles (from 2012 to present date). Although Meillassoux, Harman, Bogost, Garcia and Morton have affected my writing it is Bryant that I find to be of most interest. I will still make use of Deleuze and DeLanda in my upcoming articles that are in press. It may not be obvious but I do use DeLanda in my most recently published article on neuroarchaeology (2016).
So where am I now? Well, considering this trajectory I have mainly emphasized theoretical issues that few Mayanists care about. I will most likely continue with that but I also feel that my archaeological interests go beyond the Maya area today. This summer I will travel to Indonesia for the tenth time but I believe I never will actively work there. I am stuck in the Maya area. However, I am also a bit tired of the ontological stuff but I think I have found a way out of the ontological turn.
I am currently developing a project idea that shall combine two separate topics that I deal with in two articles that I am currently writing: evolution and some aspects of the ontological turn. I see this as a new change in my academic trajectory. Why? Because I do not think archaeology is the discipline of things. I once did think so but what separates archaeology from other disciplines is the study of the long-term development of Homo sapiens. It is time for me to go back to what I initially found interesting in archaeology.
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Posted in Archaeological theory, Mayanist studies | Tags: Agency, Aijmer, Alfred Gell, Archaeology, Assemblage, Bachelard, Bergson, Bourdieu, DeLanda, Deleuze, Evolution, Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, Levi Bryant, Maya, Microarchaeology, Object oriented ontology, Ontology, Philosophy, Polyagency, Practice theory, Protevi, Speculative realism, Timothy Morton, Tristan Garcia
I have uploaded the abstract for my upcoming article in Quaternary International. It is called “Multi-scalar cognitive time: Experiential time, known time, and Maya calendars.”
On March 18, 2016, Teobaldo Ramirez Barbosa will defend his dissertation thesis Churches, Chapels and Maya Dwellings of Colonial Yucatán and Belize. The opponent will be Professor Elizabeth Graham, University College London (UCL). Teo has Professor Per Cornell as thesis advisor, i.e. same as I had.
Right now doctoral candidate Peter Jimenez is in Gothenburg to present his dissertation project The Archaeology of West and Northwest Mesoamerica 300–1300 CE: A World System Perspective. Peter has Professor Kristian Kristiansen as thesis advisor.