Posted by: Johan Normark | March 11, 2016

An evolutionary trajectory

My academic trajectory has changed several times during the past twenty years. The first course I took was a distance course in Classic archaeology at Uppsala University in 1993/1994. Back then I was interested in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome. However, I had begun to read some books on the Maya and that became my main interest in the following years when I became a full time student at the University of Gothenburg (1994-2000). My BA-theses in both archaeology (1997) and social anthropology (1998) dealt with Maya issues. So did a minor thesis (“B-uppsats”) in a course on the history of ideas (2000). Since I began my full-time studies I have not changed geographical/cultural area. However, my theoretical approaches have changed.

In both of my BA-theses I was influenced by Bourdieu’s theory of practice which I had encountered in both disciplines. That theoretical approach also laid the initial foundation for my doctoral project on causeways. Once I became a doctoral student (2002) I became influenced by other agency theories, Gell and Bachelard as well, as seen in my licentiate thesis (2004). This was a development towards a “nanoarchaeology”, i.e. splitting up the units of structurating practices used in Cornell and Fahlander’s “microarchaeology” into even smaller segments. I called this “polyagentive archaeology.”

I continued to call this approach “polyagentive archaeology” in my dissertation thesis (2006). I regret that today since I had turned towards the ontologies of flow, of continuity rather than discontinuity. Bergson became my main inspiration with some late additions of Deleuze and DeLanda. Hence, I ditched Bachelard in favor of Bergson. I maintained Gell and made more use of the Swedish anthropologist Göran Aijmer. Apart from an article on Maya warfare (2007) I have not continued to use the term “polyagentive archaeology”. I am no longer convinced that agency is a useful concept (particularly not object/material agency).

In my early postdoctoral phase I became increasingly influenced by Deleuze, DeLanda, and Protevi. This can be seen in my articles published between 2008 and 2012. DeLanda’s assemblage theory work very well with complex systems theory and therefore it fitted my first postdoctoral project on caves and climate change. However, once I received funding for my “water as archaeological material” project (2011) I had encountered speculative realism and particularly object oriented ontologies. This has resulted in a couple of articles (from 2012 to present date). Although Meillassoux, Harman, Bogost, Garcia and Morton have affected my writing it is Bryant that I find to be of most interest. I will still make use of Deleuze and DeLanda in my upcoming articles that are in press. It may not be obvious but I do use DeLanda in my most recently published article on neuroarchaeology (2016).

So where am I now? Well, considering this trajectory I have mainly emphasized theoretical issues that few Mayanists care about. I will most likely continue with that but I also feel that my archaeological interests go beyond the Maya area today. This summer I will travel to Indonesia for the tenth time but I believe I never will actively work there. I am stuck in the Maya area. However, I am also a bit tired of the ontological stuff but I think I have found a way out of the ontological turn.

I am currently developing a project idea that shall combine two separate topics that I deal with in two articles that I am currently writing: evolution and some aspects of the ontological turn. I see this as a new change in my academic trajectory. Why? Because I do not think archaeology is the discipline of things. I once did think so but what separates archaeology from other disciplines is the study of the long-term development of Homo sapiens. It is time for me to go back to what I initially found interesting in archaeology. 


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