Posted by: Johan Normark | March 30, 2009

PA 1 – humanocentric archaeology

Since I call my form of archaeology posthumanocentric (PA) there must obviously be archaeologists that are humanocentric (or anthropocentric). With humanocentric archaeology is meant that; (1) Models of the past are formed from a perspective that tries to explain the past human being or past culture, that is, from what is not present in our contemporary material remains. Therefore it needs to rely on atemporal, essential and universal quasi-objects/abstract classes that are the same today and in the past. In many cases, but not all, abstract classes are believed to be ontologically secure, or they are seen as mere social constructions open for relativism. (2) Materialities are forced into these models since material properties are seen as passive or inert. It relies on a hylomorphic view of matter (the idea that matter is given a predefined form by external agents). (3) Materialities are secondary and human agents are primary in the archaeological discourse. Most theoretical archaeological texts appear to discuss human conditions which materialities are supposed to reflect.

In humanocentric approaches, active duration, which should be of concern to archaeology, is being erased. The paradox is that time seldom plays any role in humanocentric archaeology. There is a preference of describing a given society or human beings at a specific time period and comparing it to another specific time period, often with some temporal “distance” in-between. This is not a long term perspective. It is a study of processes reduced to instantaneous, static and solid frames of moments that are filled with essential human or cultural perspectives (see my post on Bergson). One way to get around such a “cinematographic” archaeology of static frames is to work “upwards” from the processes that have been continuous from the past until now. These processes are not found in humanocentric entities derived from anthropology, sociology and history, thus, from sources beyond matter. The processes must be sought elsewhere and we find them in the material objects but to reach the basis itself, we must abandon much of the humanocentric burden, particularly the “idealist” tradition propelled by various forms of “postprocessualism.”

There is a string of philosophers (Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze, Manuel DeLanda, Elizabeth Grosz, Keith Ansell-Pearson, John Protevi, etc.) that replace essences and abstract classes with becomings. They have often been blamed for being relativists and/or nihilists by their critiques, but they seek to know the changing reality of the world. Such a world is not relative; it is just harder to understand for those who believe that there are static essences from where we can make trustworthy judgments. Neither is this world something socially or subjectively constructed. Instead, these philosophers take us beyond both “naïve” realism and idealism and focus on emergent properties. In some of my upcoming posts I shall discuss the core ideas in posthumanocentric archaeology where I make use of ideas developed by the above mentioned philosophers.

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