Posted by: Johan Normark | August 17, 2010

Armchair research

Emelianov continues his bashing of what he calls the church of OOO (object-oriented ontology). This time it is the “church’s” lack of engagement with empirical data that he attacks by calling it “armchair philosophy.” He makes a crucial point that also is valid for archaeology and anthropology. Back in the early days of anthropology Tylor and Frazier mainly worked with data collected by missionaries, traders and explorers. Since they did not work with their own collected data they were given the nick name armchair anthropologists. I suspect few armchair anthropologists exist today as most enter the field, at least in the early phases of their careers.

Archaeologists working along metaphysical trends in philosophy have also tended to downplay the empirical part of research. It is not impossible to write a dissertation thesis or an article solely based on others’ texts and material. This is of course also empirical data and part of the research process, but in my view an archaeological researcher must be able to operationalize the metaphysical construct with some archaeological data. I have tried to operationalize Deleuze, DeLanda and Bergson in archaeological case studies. The only problem is that I needed to spend too much time and space explaining their ideas for an archaeological audience.



  1. I don’t know if I was necessarily “bashing” anyone – it’s just that reading miles and miles of comments directed at Derrida’s supposed preoccupation with texts/books only made me think that nothing really changed with OOO, since it’s still just books about objects or books about books about objects – where’s the innovation in that sense? Levi Bryant’s favorite trope is to tsk-tsk armchair philosophers and tell them to get out there and so on. I’ve asked him on several occasions how he intends to lead the way on the matter and I got no response. Is he going to become a practical philosopher? Study sciences? Become an engineer? What? His upcoming book (this was not my thought, someone else pointed it out at An und fur sich) is not going to be any different from any other book of philosopher – it’s discussion of texts of others, now in some original combination with pictures.

  2. Maybe they are planning to follow up their books with empirical studies in the future? I am a bit curious how they deal with objects in real life. In an earlier blog post Harman discussed Jared Diamond and his view of culture. Diamond uses an essentialist approach to culture quite common in archaeology. From my understanding of OOO the Classic Maya culture would be an object just as a stone axe is an object. The only problem is that the Maya culture is a fabrication, a tool for archaeologists to roughly categorize a multitude of materials into the same arborescent structure. However, the structure itself has no real existence other than in textbooks, etc. Therefore some major case studies on several scales would be appreciated to show if OOO can be operationalized in a world with “real” objects.

  3. I’m about to release an article on recent statues installed in our community and nearby cities to warn people about the embedding of the security state. Where I think OOO might hit pay dirt is discernment.

    For example, if you consider a child playing to be an object and deconstruct the child down to things they might imagine then if the toy is a helicopter there will be certain details that should be idealized in a child’s mind and certain other details which can be nothing but soft fascist promotion of death at a distance as something fun and respectable.

    I have pictures which makes the case even more bizarre.

    The question is what prevents many people from recognizing a non-idealized toy in a child’s hands? And further why is it difficult for them to see that there is extra meaning in the statue than merely a child playing with a helicopter?

    Specifically, why does the helicopter include ready to fire missiles accurate in design as opposed to simply a helicopter with a few easily identified missiles.

    Should helicopters be so anatomically correct when they are portrayed in the hands of children? Can we really dismiss the extra details as nothing but details?

    Adult toys in the hands of children right there on the street as statues. Unbelievable.

    Separating the expected object and comparing it to the one in sight is perfect testing ground for OOO theories.

    OOO might finally allow the analysis of self-inconsistency to be formalized and be held up as respectable technique for exposing propaganda in a world where people has so many buffers and filters to prevent an intimate intellectual and emotional connection with what they are looking at.

  4. Where will this article be published? Do you have any link an image of these statues?

  5. It will be on my conspiracy, self-help, news defuse site. The only place where you get a dose of underground news and how tos on not procrastinating. If you’re gonna do niche topics might as well hit all of them.

    Clickez-vous on my name.

    I only have pictures taken at night. My little publication is a totally ghetto operation. If we see something we take bad pictures because we’re not going that way for a long time. But I think it will be clear from these just what we’re stepping into.

    I’ll keep you posted.

  6. Greetings,

    I’ve been following this blog for about half a year now and I already feel enlightened on post-humanocentric concepts streaming out from your posts 😛

    My urge to submit this comment is to state that I’d like to steal your arm-chair research idea for one of my forthcoming presentations. You wouldn’t mind, would you? 🙂

    Also I have to express my metallic respect for your bold citation : ” Dirkschneider et al.” I couldn’t believe in my eyes, this really made it to an actual publication. Congratulations, keep up the witty work!

  7. Sure, go ahead.

    My old Licentiate thesis (2004) was named after an Iron Maiden song that I quote in the beginning of the book:

    • Great! I’m also thinking of including in my thesis a quote from your compatriots, Tiamat 🙂

      By the way, does you thesis have to do with time geography?

      I’m trying to look into algorithmic problems arising from archaeological applications. So far, I’ve seen quite enough regarding viewshed analysis, topological prominence (lots of archetypical implications for post-modernist thought) and site catchment analysis. Yet for the latter I haven’t seen many publications going out lately.

  8. No, that thesis dealt with whether or not time consists of continuous duration or discontinous instants (by contrasting the philosophers Bergson and Bachelard). I have changed my ideas since then (in favour of Bergson).

    The reason why catchment analyses are few today has probably to do with it being associated with older processual/positivist archaeology. However, I still find them of major interest as analytical tools.


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