Posted by: Johan Normark | May 18, 2009

PA 7 – More microarchaeological stuff, fibres and threads

Before I continue to expose some other mircroarchaeological terms, it is important to note that I make a distinction between action, act, and practice (which the microarchaeologists do not do). Action is solely related to the human agent’s duration and its habits; it cannot be broken down into fragments. An act is such a defined sequence of action. It is non-durational, isolated from true duration as it is spatialized. Practice is also spatialized, but it has taken the act to a level of continuity and persistence beyond the single human agent as a quasi-object (Normark 2004a: 75).

In Microarchaeological terminology, the serial actions are like the fibers of a thread (Cornell & Fahlander 2002a). However, as will be argued, the fibre and threads are spatialized ideals, devoid of true duration in a Bergsonian sense. The Wittgensteinian (1998) derived metaphor of a fibre represents a repeated practice, such as burning copal incense. Several other fibres of related practices that persist through time are called a thread, and can be labelled “ancestor veneration” in some cases. However, the copal burning fibre can appear in other threads as well, such as “house dedication”. In some cases, the copal burning fibre is missing, but with the other fibres left, the thread could still be called “ancestor veneration”.

Thus, it is argued that these threads or positivities form and are being formed by the subject and the collective in relation to the materiality. These are often unconscious and can operate in different fibres. Although the series are brief, the materialities that shape these series may persist longer than serial action, such as monumental architecture or causeways (Normark 2004c). Materiality has therefore been seen as nodes of the structurating (in Giddens’ terms) of activities (Fahlander 2003: 41).

The fibre metaphor has value as an analytical concept, but I think that the only “structurating positivity” (thread) we have in the archaeological record lies in the materialities themselves. The fibre metaphor relies on the idea of a shared externality. If we add quasi-objects, such as practices and positivities, these have to be our own presently known quasi-objects. The problem is therefore that they are assumed to explain past human behaviours. The unknown Other is turned into the known Same. Further, the practices are seen as being both in duration and existing as multiple (numerical) separate fibres. However, the idea of the extended fibre relates to a spatialized view of time and is not true duration, which is nonnumeric and nongeometric (Bergson 1998).

This is therefore another major difference between microarchaeology and posthumanocentric archaeology (according to me). MA focuses on social spatialized practices of human beings and PA focuses on durational processes of materialities and assemblages.

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