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Ethics, Not Objects

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 May 2021

Ruth M. Van Dyke*
Anthropology Binghamton University 4400 Vestal Parkway Binghamton, NY13902-4600USA Email:


Posthumanist or new materialist tools, positions and conversations contain some useful ideas for archaeologists to think with, but others that I find deeply problematic. In this opinion piece, I organize my thoughts around three posthumanist ‘turns’ to objects and materials, relations and assemblages, and non-human animacy. I appreciate how some strands of Posthumanism can help us think more creatively and thoughtfully about relations between humans and non-humans, but I argue against non-anthropocentrism, flat ontology and symmetrical archaeology. Animacy and perspectivism can help remedy colonialist and late-stage capitalist destructive forces, but archaeologists should take care not simply to appropriate, patronize, or re-colonize non-western thinkers. Ultimately, I argue, we should not need continental philosophy to remind us to care about one other, all living creatures and the well-being of our shared planet. What is needed today are ethics, not convoluted turns toward objects.

Special Section: Debating Posthumanism in Archaeology
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

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