Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-56f9d74cfd-fv4mn Total loading time: 0.178 Render date: 2022-06-27T18:59:12.728Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

The material constitution of humanness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 May 2014


This contribution responds to recent calls to establish a ‘symmetrical archaeology’ that will assign agency both to humans and to things. My case is that living and non-living things should be distinguished, and for archaeology to be particularly concerned with the ways different qualities of humanness have been constituted in the symbiotic relationships between Homo sapiens and other living and non-living things.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Barrett, J.C., 2012: Agency. A revisionist account, in Hodder, I. (ed.), Archaeological theory today, Cambridge, 146–66.Google Scholar
Barrett, J.C., 2013: The archaeology of mind. It's not what you think, Cambridge archaeological journal 23 (1), 117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Binford, L.R., 1962: Archaeology as anthropology, American antiquity 28 (2), 217–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Binford, L.R., 2001: Constructing frames of reference. An analytical method for archaeological theory building using ethnographic and environmental data, Berkeley.Google Scholar
Bintliff, J., 2011: The death of archaeological theory?, in Bintliff, J. and Pearce, M. (eds), The death of archaeological theory?, Oxford, 722.Google Scholar
Boivin, N., 2008: Material cultures, material minds. The impact of things on human thoughts, society and evolution, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Burch, R., 2010: Charles Sanders Peirce, in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2010 edn), available at Scholar
Casper, M.J., 1994: Reframing and grounding nonhuman agency. What makes a fetus an agent?, American behavioral scientist 37 (6), 839–56.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Childe, V.G., 1951: Social evolution, London.Google Scholar
Clark, G., 1957: Archaeology and society (3rd edn, revised), London.Google Scholar
Clarke, D., 1968: Analytical archaeology, London.Google Scholar
Dupré, J., 2002: The lure of the simplistic, Philosophy of science 69, 284–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fowler, C., 2004: The archaeology of personhood. An anthropological approach, London.Google Scholar
Friedman, J., and Rowlands, M., 1977: Notes towards an epigenetic model of the evolution of ‘civilisation’, in Friedman, J. and Rowlands, M. (eds), The evolution of social systems, London, 201–76.Google Scholar
Gell, A., 1998: Art and agency. An anthropological theory, Oxford.Google Scholar
Giddens, A., 1979: Central problems in social theory. Action, structure and contradiction in social analysis, London.Google Scholar
Giddens, A., 1981: A contemporary critique of historical materialism, London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hodder, I. (ed.), 1982: Symbolic and structural archaeology, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hodder, I., 2012: Entangled. An archaeology of the relationships between humans and things, Chichester.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hookway, C., 1985: Peirce, London.Google Scholar
Johannsen, N., 2012: Archaeology and the inanimate agency proposition. A critique and a suggestion, in Johannsen, N., Jessen, M.D. and Jensen, H.J. (eds), Excavating the mind. Cross-sections through culture, cognition and materiality, Aarhus, 305–47.Google Scholar
Knappett, C., 2005: Thinking through material culture. An interdisciplinary perspective, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
Latour, B., 1993: We have never been modern, Harlow.Google Scholar
Latour, B., 2005: Reassembling the social. An introduction to actor-network theory, Oxford.Google Scholar
Law, J., 1999: After ANT. Complexity, naming and topology, in Law, J. and Hassard, J. (eds), Actor network theory and after. Oxford, 114.Google Scholar
Leach, E., 1973: Concluding address, in Renfrew, C. (ed.), The explanation of culture change. Models in prehistory, London, 761–71.Google Scholar
Malafouris, L., 2008: At the potter's wheel. An argument for material agency, in Knappett, C. and Malafouris, L. (eds), Material agency. Towards a non-anthropocentric approach, New York, 1936.Google Scholar
Maturana, H.R., and Varela, F.J., 1980: Autopoiesis and cognition. The realization of the living, Dordrecht (Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maturana, H.R., and Varela, F.J., 1987: The tree of knowledge. The biological roots of human understanding, Boston, MA.Google Scholar
Misak, C., 2004: Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), in Misak, C. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Peirce, Cambridge, 126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Noble, W., and Davidson, I., 1996: Human evolution, language and mind. A psychological and archaeological enquiry, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Odling-Smee, F.J., Laland, K.N. and Feldman, M.W., 2003: Niche construction. The neglected process in evolution, Princeton.Google Scholar
Olsen, B., 2003: Material culture after text. Re-remembering things, Norwegian archaeological review 36 (2), 87104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Olsen, B., 2007: Keeping things at arm's length. A genealogy of asymmetry, World archaeology 39 (4), 579588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Olsen, B., 2012: Symmetrical archaeology, in Hodder, I. (ed.), Archaeological theory today. Cambridge, 208–28.Google Scholar
Olsen, B., Shanks, M., Webmoor, T. and Witmore, C., 2012: Archaeology. The discipline of things. London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Oyama, S., 2000: The ontogeny of information. Developmental systems and evolution (2nd edn, revised), Durham, NC.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Oyama, S., Griffiths, P.E. and Gray, R.D. (eds), 2001: Cycles of contingency. Developmental systems and evolution, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
Peirce, C.S., 1955: Philosophical writings of Peirce (selected and edited by Bucher, J.), Mineola.Google Scholar
Renfrew, C., 1972: The emergence of civilisation. The Cyclades and the Aegean in the third millennium BC, London.Google Scholar
Robb, J., 2004: The extended artefact and the monumental economy. A methodology for material agency, in DeMarrais, E., Gosden, C. and Renfrew, C. (eds), Rethinking materiality. The engagement of mind with the material world, Cambridge, 131–39.Google Scholar
Schiffer, M.B., 1976: Behavioral archaeology, London.Google Scholar
Thompson, E., 2007: Mind in life. Biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
Van der Leeuw, S.E., and McGlade, J. (eds), 1997: Time, process and structured transformation in archaeology, London.Google Scholar
Webmoor, T., and Witmore, C.L., 2008: Things are us! A commentary on human/things relations under the banner of a ‘social’ archaeology, Norwegian archaeological review 14 (1), 5370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Witmore, C.L., 2007: Symmetrical archaeology. Excerpts of a manifesto, World archaeology 39 (4), 546–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The material constitution of humanness
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

The material constitution of humanness
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

The material constitution of humanness
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *