Posted by: Johan Normark | April 20, 2011

Crazy Waters and Pacbitun: Emerging posthuman perspectives

There are at least two upcoming theses in archaeology and anthropology that have been affected by various posthuman/neorealist/neomaterialist theories, including those proposed by myself. Jennifer Weber at Georgia State University is writing a MA thesis on the causeways at Pacbitun, one of which connects the site with a cave. I am so far not exactly sure what it will deal with apart from the fact that she attempts to study these features from a non-cosmological perspective.

Christian Sørhaug at the Faculty of Social Sciences, The University of Oslo, Norway, has finished writing his dissertation thesis called Holding house in Crazy Waters: an exploration of householding practices among the Warao, Orinoco Delta, Venezuela. The thesis deals with

householding practices and focuses on the everyday activities and materials involved in householding among the Warao, an Amerindian group living in the Orinoco Delta, Venezuela. Investigating this theme I apply posthumanistic theory encompassing several more recent trends in human- and social sciences, like Science and technology studies, and Actor-Network theory. Though these theoretical trends vary, there are certain common traits. One central trait is the insistence that the human condition is also conditioned on nonhuman properties. Decentralizing the analysis, considering both human and nonhuman dimension constitute one significant methodological technique within posthumanistic theory.

Applying the above mentioned theory on the householding assemblage of the Warao, I am focusing on the continuous act of holding. This constant act of holding house involves both humans and nonhumans – something being especially evident in relation to Warao houses, which are literally held above ground by their stilted foundations.

Posthumanistic theory is interesting in relation to household studies due to its constant exploration of the nature-nurture borderlands. Households are often portrayed as nurturing units preoccupied with production, consumption and distribution, standing in opposition to nature. Exploring the nature-nurture borderlands I am applying the concept of culture-materiality, from the perspective of the constitutive entanglement of culture and materials. The Warao are constantly engaging their surroundings in their effort to hold the house, gathering components; palms leaves for roofs, wood for silts, fishing, gardening, hunting and gathering.

Central in this thesis is the aim of bringing matter back into the analysis. The concept of enactment is important in the analysis insisting that in practice, materials are enacted. As such, in the practice of householding, attention must be paid to the enactment of both human and nonhuman potentialities. Whatever it means to be human implies becoming with nonhuman surroundings. The holding of house is enacted by both humans and nonhumans and personhood emerges with this relational field. This thesis is explored through eight main chapters

Warao village



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