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Agency ‘in itself’. A discussion of inanimate, animal and human agency

  • Torill Christine Lindstrøm

Abstract

‘Agency’, the concept, its connections to ontology and its uses within archaeological theory, are discussed and criticized. In recent archaeological theory, the term ‘agency’ has been attributed to things, plants, animals and humans. In this paper it is argued that the term ‘agency’ is logically meaningless if applied to everything that moves or has effects on its surroundings, and that we need a new, more precise terminology that discriminates between ‘agency’, ‘effect’, ‘actant’ and ‘effectant’. That people, of all cultures, perceive and experience things/objects as having agency is explained as being due to projections of human characteristics, human psycho-neurological functioning, and the fact that all individuals and cultures are deeply involved with and dependent on things/objects. Connected to this, questions regarding different ontologies, animism, ethics and sciences are discussed. The paper presents a critique of symmetrical archaeology and materiality studies. Broader paradigmatic perspectives, more theoretical and methodological inclusiveness, and more inter- and trans-disciplinary endeavours are suggested to increase archaeology's ‘agency’.

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Corresponding author

*Torill Christine Lindstrøm, Department of Psychosocial Science, University of Bergen, Norway. Email: Torill.Lindstrom@uib.no.

References

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Agency ‘in itself’. A discussion of inanimate, animal and human agency

  • Torill Christine Lindstrøm

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