Matt Edgeworth has posted his manifesto for an archaeology of flow at Archaeolog. It is an extract from his new book on the archaeology of rivers and other flows of materials. It is from that perspective it is of interest to my “water as an archaeological object” project. He makes the same observation as I have done regarding the primary role solid materials have in archaeology vs fluid ones. Edgeworth states that rivers and streams are the dark matters of landscape archaeology.
Our basic difference is also clear enough. Edgeworth ultimately makes a cultural analysis because earlier researchers have set flowing water as a natural background. There is a fundamental distinction between nature and culture in this study even though he suggests we should overcome this divide. The best strategy is, however, not to make use of this divide to begin with. Rivers are seen as cultural artifacts that not only have been artificially shaped but also that their flow shapes other things through the help of watermills. Rivers are also partially wild no matter how much they are modified. Human involvement with rivers is like “a wrestle, an intertwining, a confluence, an enmeshment, an assemblage or an entanglement”. Floodplain formation is also affected by human activity and rivers are “part of the human story”.
Perhaps of most interest to me is the discussion of how humans have affected the hydrological cycle directly through “damming, diversion, dredging, embanking, draining, irrigation, etc.” and indirectly through “deforestation, agricultural practices, etc.”
Yet another part where we differ is that Edgeworth suggests that it is good to think in terms of flows since it has its own logic. To think “in terms of flow leads to a greater emphasis on continuities – less on discontinuities”. This is indeed the common way to view fluidity, that it is continuous in time and space. From a metaphysical perspective that is a problematic statement. Edgeworth does refer to Latour but Latour focuses on actuals with no continuity. There is a becoming without continuity as Whitehead would have phrased it. In my view, fluidity gives a misleading sense of temporal continuity.
Nowadays I am hesitant to see people, goods, money, paths, fibre-optic cables, etc. as flows or channels of material flows. I have worked with such a model of flow in my earlier works based on Bergson, Deleuze, and DeLanda but I now have problem with this fluidity. Movement is not the same as fluidity and I actually think that the archaeological record itself reveals the “chunkier” reality of the world. The past was not just a flow of events and activity. It involves “chunks” and “voids” and that is not well captured by a model of fluidity. That is why I see the hydrological cycle as an object, or a hyperobject, rather than a flow.