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Taking the Wrong Turn? Re-examining the Potential for Practice Approaches in Archaeology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 May 2021

Andrew Gardner*
University College London Institute of Archaeology 31–34 Gordon Square London WC1H 0PY UK Email:


Is the ‘material’ or ‘ontological’ turn a major new paradigm in archaeological theory? Or is it another iteration of the cycle of piecemeal innovation which has created a very fragmented discipline? While there are insights from recent scholarship in this vein which are certainly important, this paper will err toward the latter view. Even though ‘symmetrical’ and other object-agency approaches are still growing in mainstream archaeological debate, much of the source literature upon which they draw has been around for several decades, and accumulated a fair amount of critique. At the very least, therefore, we need to learn from the way the materiality debate is playing out in other sub-fields. Beyond that, I will argue, we should go back to the turn before this one—the practice turn—and explore that road a bit more thoroughly, if we are to find the most useful approaches to develop in the future.

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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