Skip to main content

The symmetries and asymmetries of human–thing relations. A dialogue

  • Ian Hodder and Gavin Lucas

This paper presents a dialogue about the question of symmetry and asymmetry in human–thing relations, and the links between such asymmetries and those encountered in power relations amongst humans. The conversation discusses various issues, such as whether symmetry is possible in any kind of relation, how one defines asymmetry, whether there are different kinds of asymmetry, and how inequality between humans is related to the asymmetries in human–thing entanglements. The last issue is considered especially important in light of the various critiques that have been levelled at actor networks and other relational materialisms for their weakened political stance insofar as sources of inequality and injustice are so widely distributed that they become, in effect, apolitical.

Corresponding author
*Ian Hodder, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA. Email:
Gavin Lucas, Department of Archaeology, University of Iceland, Iceland. Email:
Hide All
Alberti, B., 2016: Archaeologies of ontology, Annual review of anthropology 45, 163–79.
Alberti, B., Jones, A. and Pollard, J. (eds), 2013: Archaeology after interpretation. Returning materials to archaeological theory, Walnut Creek, CA.
Barad, K., 2007: Meeting the universe halfway. Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, Durham, NC.
Bauer, A., and Kosiba, S., 2016: How things act. An archaeology of materials in political life, Journal of social archaeology 16 (2), 115–41.
Bennett, J., 2010: Vibrant matter. A political ecology of things, Durham, NC.
Bloor, D., 1976: Knowledge and social imagery, Chicago.
Braidotti, R., 2013: The posthuman, Cambridge.
Brughmans, T., Collar, A. and Coward, F., 2016: The connected past. Challenges to network studies in archaeology, Oxford.
Callon, M., and Law, J., 1997: After the individual in society. Lessons on collectivity from science, technology and society, Canadian journal of sociology 22 (2), 165–82.
Conneller, C., 2011: An archaeology of materials. Substantial transformations in early prehistoric Europe, London.
Coole, D., and Frost, S. (eds), 2010: New materialisms. Ontology, agency, and politics, Durham, NC.
de Castro, E.V., 1998: Cosmological deixis and Amerindian perspectivism, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4 (3), 469–88.
de Castro, E.V., 2004: Exchanging perspectives. The transformation of objects into subjects in Amerindian ontologies, Common knowledge 10 (3), 463–84.
DeLanda, M., 2006: A new philosophy of society. Assemblage theory and social complexity, London.
DeLanda, M., 2016: Assemblage theory, Edinburgh.
Deleuze, G., and Guattari, F., 1983: Anti-Oedipus, Minneapolis.
Deleuze, G., and Guattari, F., 1987: A thousand plateaus, Minneapolis.
Descola, P., 1994: In the society of nature. A native ecology in Amazonia, Cambridge.
Dolphijn, R., and van der Tuin, I. (eds), 2012: New materialism. Interviews and cartographies, Ann Arbor, MI.
Domanska, E., 2006: The return to things. Archaeologia Polona, 44, 171–85.
Edgeworth, M., 2016: Grounded objects. Archaeology and speculative realism, Archaeological dialogues 23 (1), 93113.
Fowler, C., 2013: The emergent past. A relational realist archaeology of Early Bronze Age mortuary practices, Oxford.
Fowles, S., 2016: The perfect subject (postcolonial object studies), Journal of material culture 21 (1), 927.
Fuller, D.Q., Allaby, R.G. and Stevens, C., 2010: Domestication as innovation. The entanglement of techniques, technology and chance in the domestication of cereal crops, World archaeology 42 (1), 1328.
Fuller, D.Q., Stevens, C., Lucas, L., Murphy, C. and Qin, L., 2016: Entanglements and entrapments on the pathway toward domestication, in Der, L. and Fernandini, F. (eds), The archaeology of entanglement. Walnut Creek, CA, 151–72.
Gell, A., 1998: Art and agency, Oxford.
Graves-Brown, P. (ed.), 2000: Matter, materiality and modern culture, London.
Haraway, D., 1991: Simians, cyborgs and women. The reinvention of nature, London.
Harman, G., 2014: Entanglement and relation. A response to Bruno Latour and Ian Hodder, New literary history 45, 3749.
Harman, G., 2016: Immaterialism. Objects and social theory, Cambridge.
Heidegger, M., 1971: Poetry, language, thought (trans. A. Hofstadter), London.
Heidegger, M., 1973: Being and time, Oxford.
Henare, A., Holbraad, M. and Wastell, S. (eds), 2007: Thinking through things. Theorising artefacts ethnographically, London.
Hodder, I., 2012: Entangled. An archaeology of the relationships between humans and things, Oxford.
Hodder, I., 2014: The asymmetries of symmetrical archaeology, Journal of contemporary archaeology 1 (2), 228–30.
Hodder, I., 2016b: Studies in human–thing entanglement, Open Access.
Ingold, T., 2007: Lines. A brief history, London.
Jones, A., 2005: Lives in fragments? Personhood and the European Neolithic, Journal of social archaeology 5 (2), 193224.
Jones, A., 2007: Memory and material culture, Cambridge.
Jones, A., 2012: Prehistoric materialities. Becoming material in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland, Oxford.
Jones, A., 2015: Meeting pasts halfway. A consideration of the ontology of material evidence in archaeology, in Wylie, A. and Chapman, B. (eds), Material evidence. Learning from archaeological practice, London, 324–38.
Knappett, C., 2005: Thinking through material culture, Philadelphia.
Knappett, C., 2011: An archaeology of interaction. Network perspectives on material culture and society, Oxford.
Knappett, C., 2013: Network analysis in archaeology. New approaches to regional interaction, Oxford.
Knappett, C., and Malafouris, L. (eds), 2008: Material agency. Towards a non-anthropocentric approach, New York.
Latour, B., 1987: Science in action, Cambridge, MA.
Latour, B., 1993: We have never been modern, Cambridge, MA.
Latour, B., 1996: On actor-network theory. A few clarifications, Soziale Welt 47, 369–81.
Lucas, G., 2007: The unbearable lightness of prehistory, Journal of Iberian archaeology 9–10, 2537.
Lucas, G., 2012: Understanding the archaeological record, Cambridge.
Lucas, G., 2015b: The mobility of theory, Current Swedish archaeology 23, 1382.
Malm, A., and Hornberg, A. 2014: The geology of mankind? A critique of the Anthropocene narrative, Anthropocene review 1 (1), 6269.
Mandel, E., 1975: Late capitalism, London.
Marx, K., 1976: Capital, Vol. 1, Harmondsworth.
Olsen, B., 2007: Keeping things at arm's length. A genealogy of asymmetry, World archaeology, 39 (4), 579–88.
Olsen, B., 2010: In defense of things. Archaeology and the ontology of objects, Walnut Creek, CA.
Olsen, B., Shanks, M., Webmoor, T. and Witmore, C., 2012: Archaeology. The discipline of things, Berkeley.
Olsen, B., and Witmore, C., 2015: Archaeology, symmetry and the ontology of things. A response to critics, Archaeological dialogues 22 (2), 187–97.
Rindos, D., 2013: The origins of agriculture. An evolutionary perspective, New York.
Shanks, M., 2007: Symmetrical archaeology, World archaeology 39 (4), 589–96.
Shapiro, S., 1997: Caught in a web. The implications of ecology for radical symmetry in STS, Social epistemology 11 (1), 97110.
Watts, C. (ed.), 2013: Relational archaeologies. Humans, animals, things, London.
Webmoor, T., 2007: What about ‘one more turn after the social’ in archaeological reasoning? Taking things seriously, World archaeology 39 (4), 563–78.
Weiner, A.B., 1992: Inalienable possessions. The paradox of keeping-while-giving, Berkeley.
Whitehead, A.N., 1978: Process and reality, New York.
Whittle, A., and Spicer, A. 2008: Is actor network theory critique?, Organization studies 29 (4), 611–29.
Witmore, C., 2007: Symmetrical archaeology. Excerpts of a manifesto, World archaeology 39 (4), 546–62.
Witmore, C., 2014: Archaeology and the new materialisms, Journal of contemporary archaeology 1 (2), 203–24.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Archaeological Dialogues
  • ISSN: 1380-2038
  • EISSN: 1478-2294
  • URL: /core/journals/archaeological-dialogues
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed