Posted by: Johan Normark | January 16, 2010

Posthumanocentric archaeology – where is it located on the archaeological theoretical spectrum?

Perhaps I should justify this question. People tend to squeeze me into the “postprocessual” faction, that is, that mish mash of theories that emerged in the early 1980s that includes semiotics, structuralism, poststructuralism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, practice theory, structuration theory, etc. One could perhaps say that more recent approaches such as postcolonial theory, symmetrical (Latourian) archaeology, other material agency approaches, microarchaeology, etc. are extensions of these ideas but the picture is far more complex nowadays. The problem is that many archaeologists are trapped in dichotomized thinking and only see things in black or white. Posthumanocentric archaeology does not solely belong to this field, especially since the ontological foundation is based in the hard sciences.

The reason why these approaches above are all called postprocessual is that they criticize the so-called processual archaeology which basically is a positivistic view of archaeology. The problem with traditional processualism is that it used idealized and discredited equilibrium-based theories as their model. Now, there have actually been several other approaches that have moved archaeology away from the hardcore New Archaeology of the early 1960s when processual archaeology emerged. These are approaches that postprocessualists on the other hand would label processual because they are more affiliated with the hard sciences than with humanistic and social sciences. The three dominant trends here are cognitive/neuroarchaeology, neo-Darwinian archaeology and complexity theory.

Now, among some archaeologists there is nowadays an interesting crossover between these dichotomized approaches. Carl Knappett is one of them. In his studies he treat large scale networks in the Aegean from advanced mathematical models and in other studies he work along material agency approaches. I would like to see Posthumanocentric archaeology as belonging to this crossover/hybrid.

First of all it is posthumanocentric archaeology and not posthuman archaeology. This distinction means that I am post-humanocentrism which I define as archaeology’s obsession with finding the human behind the artifact. That is not an impossible task but it will ultimately end up in a generalized human being, not the specific individual. Hence, we learn little of that active human behind the artifact than we already know from ethnography (typically, ethnographical analogies are frequently employed in understanding the human behind the artifact). In Posthumanocentric archaeology that human is decentralized, she becomes one part of a greater assemblage and I suggest a greater focus on the parts that we do have (artifacts, buildings, postholes, bones, etc.).

The ontological foundation is found in Deleuze and perhaps even more in DeLanda’s reinterpretation of Deleuze as a complexity theorist. Complexity theory in archaeology emerged in the 1980s. It de-emphasizes chaos and focuses on how agents and variables create emergent properties in a broader system. In their use chaos is an unpatterned system opposed to an ordered system where the potential to change is low. Complex systems are located in-between these two extremes. Computer simulation has modeled phenomena from the bottom up by focusing on simple rules that still produce complex behavior and emergent properties (Beekman and Baden 2005:3).

In Posthumanocentric archaeology everything is about emergent processes. An artifact is never a finished product it always becomes involved in new assemblages and contexts. Here we may also learn a lot from semiotics, Latour, postcolonial theories, etc. Since processes emerge through time neo-Darwinian and Bergsonian ideas are not unimportant as well. I could go on for long here but the point is that Posthumanocentric archaeology is neither processual nor postprocessual, it is its own approach, it is a haecceity (“thisness”), an individual singularity. Following Deleuze and Guattari I can only but conclude that “there is no general prescription. We have done with all globalizing concepts. Even concepts are haecceities, events.”

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  1. […] This “invisibility” is rooted in the methodological reluctance of those in the process school to uncover ideological dimensions. Following Walker, I posit that relegating the […]


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