Original Paper

Journal of Maritime Archaeology

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 21-49

First online:

‘The Social’ and Beyond: Introducing Actor-Network Theory

  • Jim S. DolwickAffiliated withCentre for Maritime Archaeology, University of Southampton Email author 

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In recent years, it has been suggested (e.g. TAG 2002, 2006; IKUWA3 2008) that it is necessary for the discipline to move beyond the study of ships and boats towards the ‘wider social contexts’ of seafaring and maritime activity. This paper investigates the contours of ‘social’ as an object of study. Two questions are asked: (1) how is this object defined within sociology, classical and contemporary social theory, and archaeology; and (2) what is the status of nonhumans, physical-material things, artefacts, plants, animals, etc.? After taking a look at several different theories, it is argued that it is not necessary for us to move beyond ships and boats. Instead, an alternative approach is offered, one that allows us to move beyond the restrictive ontology of the social.


Social Agency Hybrids Objects Ambivalence Actor-networks