Posted by: Johan Normark | July 14, 2009

International conference: Getting Back to Matter

Last year I joined the Nordic Network for Amerindian Studies and particpated in their first conference, held in Copenhagen. That conference focused on cosmology and my presentation focused quite a lot on more materialist perspectives of cosmology. I should perhaps have waited until this year since the theme now is “Getting Back to Matter.” I have to see what my contribution will be but I guess I make a new interpretation of the causeways or the caves in the Cochuah region. For those interested, and not part of this network already, here is some information:

The Nordic Network for Amerindian Studies convenes its 2009 international conference with the theme of Matter. Striving to ‘get back to matter,’ we want to explore new approaches to the ways in which humans are actively involved with material substances, be it through practices of production or appropriation of resources to satisfy needs ranging from nutrition to exploitation of cultural creativity for commercial purposes.

 Scholarly interest over the past few decades has been overwhelmingly focused on the mental realities of Amerindian cultures, symbolic interaction, principles of thought, representations, cosmologies, identities, or the emblematics of landscape and language. As the 21st century is taking shape, political trends in the Americas are changing toward democratization, public participation, and efforts to overcome poverty and marginalization of large sectors of the population, including Amerindian groups. In academia a renewed focus on the basic conditions of survival and engagement with the surroundings is emerging, reflecting at the same time global economic, environmental, and ethical concerns.

‘Getting back to Matter’ brings together anthropology and archaeology in an effort to explore the relations between human beings and the environments they inhabit and consider, on the level of practice, the employment of embodied skills of perception and action within the contexts of Amerindian development. The concerns with practice include reconsiderations of the ethical practices of anthropology and archaeology in their relations with Amerindian populations.


The following keynote speakers have accepted the invitation thus far: 

Tim Ingold, Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen.

Ingold’s work links the themes of environmental perception and skilled practice within a relational approach focusing on the growth of embodied skills of perception and action within social and environmental contexts of development.  

William R. Leonard, Professor and Chair of the Anthropology Department at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

His research foci include biological anthropology, adaptability, nutrition and energetics among contemporary and prehistoric indigenous agricultural groups in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.


The conference will take place at the University of Copenhagen, Humanities Campus.

The deadline for abstracts is September 1st 2009.

Complete papers should be submitted to the coordinator before  November 15th 2009.


For further information contact the Network coordinator

Hanne Veber, Ph.D., senior researcher

American Indian Languages and Cultures Section

Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies. ToRS

University of Copenhagen

Artillerivej 86, 0.13

DK-2300 Copenhagen S





  1. Sounds really interesting. I like a lot of Ingold’s work, and I really enjoy the growing effort to merge cognitive sciences with anthropology in a way that is neither biologically deterministic nor too intellectualist. It would be nice if we could finally dispose of the old dichotomies.

  2. I agree. Ingold has such a broad spectrum of research, from his earlier Bergsonian inspired view of evolution to contemporary neuroscience. I like the way he tackled Tilley and Miller in his 2007 article in Archaeological Dialogues (who have far more idealist perspectives).

  3. Cool, sounds like a good one. I really like Ingold too, especially since he is pretty readable and clear (always nice).

    As far as materialism vs idealism in archaeology, it’s always interesting to see the shifts in thought over time. It seems to me there are some interesting movements toward more materialist studies across the discipline, at least in some areas. Have you read anything by Elizabeth Edwards? She does a lot of work with photographs (the book “Photographs, Objects, Hisotories” is one that I have read through lately). Good stuff.

  4. No, I have not read anything by her. I have to check her out.

    It is also my impression that there has been a change towards materialism in archaeology in recent years: material engagement theory, neuroarchaeology, microarchaeology, symmetrical archaeology, evolutionary archaeology, etc. all attempt to have a more optimistic view of matter. Thank goodness we are passed the time of pseudophenomenology, Saussurean structuralism, and hermeneutics.

    Ingold has been an important figure in this changing process and he is one of few social anthropologists that do have an interest in archaeology as well. It is interesting to note that Shanks is part of the symmetrical archaeology “movement”, but if one read his contributions it seems that he is still attached to the postprocessual legacy he created. I wonder when or if Tilley change his course?

  5. shanks is doing some cool stuff. have you looked through his stanford website at all? definitely tons of projects. a lot of his ideas really get me thinking. i have always liked his work though, but ya, i know what you mean about the “postprocessual legacy”.

    his ideas about photography and archaeology are really interesting too.

    and, just so you know, you can list me as one more socio-cultural anthropologists who has a strong interest in archaeology (i suppose i am still in training though, so there’s a small qualification). if i could do a duel phd, i probably would. but then, i want to avoid going insane, so i will just find ways to explore archaeology all along the way.

  6. No, I have not checked out his personal website. However, shortly after I defended my dissertation, I was invited by Christopher Witmore to post some stuff on Archaeolog:

    Symmetrical archaeology appears to be Olsen, Witmore and Webmoor’s thing. Shanks is trying to jump on the Latourian/Serresian bandwagon but you do not see much of it in his recent texts. However, I still have not seen any operational examples of their archaeology. So far it has mainly been references to Latour and others but no empirical examples. This is strange, but maybe their new book will be full of examples.


%d bloggers like this: