Symmetrical Archaeology

  • Christopher WitmoreEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-51726-1_2708-1

Introduction

If archaeology is the study of things with an aim to understand pasts and their relevance for life, then the addition of the adjectival qualifier “symmetrical” constituted a provisional step to help render it so. With its popular definition as “the study of the human past through its material remains,” archaeology relegates its objects to the subordinate position of means and bestows upon its ends a spurious precedence, ultimately denying those throngs of ceramic fragments, hand axes, wall foundations, buried road surfaces, or rusty sardine cans their role as protagonists. Without things, any understanding of past worlds would be impossible (Olsen et al. 2012). And yet, the common definition of archaeology limits its objects to the status of mere vehicles. Symptomatic of this overly reductive, end-oriented (telocentric) definition are a series of compulsory disclaimers, sounded throughout the field’s history, to remind practitioners of the need to reach beyond the thing...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Bangstad, T.R. 2017. Nærvær og presentisme. Om synet på fortiden i nyere historieteori. Tidsskrift for kulturforskning 16 (2): 31–45.Google Scholar
  2. Barrett, J. 2016. The new antiquarianism? Antiquity 90 (354): 1681–1686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bloor, D. 1991[1976]. Knowledge and social imagery. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  4. Braidwood, R.J. 1959. Archeology and the evolutionary theory. In Evolution and anthropology: A centennial appraisal, ed. B.J. Meggers, 76–89. Washington, DC: Anthropological Society of Washington.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, B. 2003. A sense of things. The object matter of American literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clarke, D. 1968. Analytical archaeology. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  7. Dartnell, L. 2014. The knowledge: How to rebuild our world from scratch. New York: The Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  8. Delanda, M. 2006. A new philosophy of society: Assemblage theory and social complexity. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  9. Van Dyke, R. ed. 2015. Practicing materiality. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  10. Fowles, S. 2016. The perfect subject (postcolonial object studies). Journal of Material Culture 21 (1): 9–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. González-Ruibal, A. 2007. Arqueología Simétrica. Un Giro Teorico sin Revolucion Paradigmática. Complutum 18: 283–285.Google Scholar
  12. Grabowski, R., B. Olsen, Þ. Pétursdóttir, and C. Witmore. 2014. Teillager 6 Sværholt: The archaeology of a World War II prisoner of war camp in Finnmark, Arctic Norway. Fennoscandia Archaeologica 31: 3–24.Google Scholar
  13. Graves-Brown, P. 2013. Review of In defense of things. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19: 183–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Harman, G. 2010. Towards speculative realism: Essays and lectures. Winchester: Zero Books.Google Scholar
  15. Harman, G. 2011. The quadruple object. Winchester: Zero Books.Google Scholar
  16. Harman, G. 2014. Entanglement and relation: A response to Bruno Latour and Ian Hodder. New Literary History 45 (1): 37–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Harman, G. 2016. Immaterialism. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  18. Hodder, I. 2014. The asymmetries of symmetrical archaeology. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 1 (2): 228–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kuletz, V.L. 1998. The tainted desert: Environmental ruin in the American West. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Latour, B. 1993. We have never been modern. Trans. C. Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lingis, A. 1998. The imperative. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lucas, G. 2012. Understanding the archaeological record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lucas, G. 2015. Archaeology and contemporaneity. Archaeological Dialogues 22: 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Nativ, A. 2018. On the object of archaeology. With comments and reply. Archaeological Dialogues 25 (1): 1–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Olivier, L. 2011. The dark abyss of time: Memory and archaeology. Trans. A. Greenspan. Lanham: AltaMira Press.Google Scholar
  27. Olsen, B. 2003. Material culture after text. Re-membering things. Norwegian Archaeological Review 36: 87–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Olsen, B. 2010. Defense of things: Archaeology and the ontology of objects. Lanham: AltaMira Press.Google Scholar
  29. Olsen, B. 2012. Symmetrical archaeology. In Archaeological theory today, ed. I. Hodder, 208–228. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  30. Olsen, B., and C. Witmore. 2015. Archaeology, symmetry and the ontology of things. A response to critics. Archaeological Dialogues 22 (2): 187–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Olsen, B., M. Shanks, T. Webmoor, and C. Witmore. 2012. Archaeology: The discipline of things. Berkeley: The University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pétursdóttir, Þ. 2012. Small things forgotten now included, or what else do things deserve? International Journal of Historical Archaeology 16: 577–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pétursdóttir, Þ. 2018. Drift. In Multispecies archaeology, ed. S.E. Pilaar Birch, 85–101. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Preucel, R.W. 2016. Pragmatic archaeology and semiotic mediation. Semiotic Review 4: 1. https://semioticreview.com/ojs/index.php/sr/article/view/11.Google Scholar
  35. Schiffer, M.B. 1987. Formation processes of the archaeological record. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.Google Scholar
  36. Stengers, I. 2011. Wondering about materialism. In The speculative turn: Continental materialism and realism, ed. L. Bryant, N. Srnicek, and G. Harman, 368–380. Melbourne: Re.press.Google Scholar
  37. Wallace, S. 2014. Contradictions of archaeological theory: Engaging critical realism and archaeological theory. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  38. Watts, C. 2007. From purification to mediation: Overcoming artifactual ‘otherness’ with and in Actor-Network Theory. Journal of Iberian Archaeology 9/10: 39–54.Google Scholar
  39. Webmoor, T. 2012. STS, symmetry, archaeology. In The Oxford handbook of the archaeology of the contemporary world, ed. P. Graves-Brown, R. Harrison, and A. Piccini, 105–120. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Webmoor, T., and C. Witmore. 2008. Things are us! A commentary on human/things relations under the banner of a ‘social’ archaeology. Norwegian Archaeology Review 41: 53–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Whitridge, P. 2005. Whales, harpoons, and other actors: Actor-Network-Theory and Hunter-gatherer archaeology. In Hunters and gatherers in theory and archaeology, Center for Archaeological Investigations, Occasional paper, ed. G.M. Crothers, vol. 31, 445–474. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University.Google Scholar
  42. Witmore, C. 2006. Vision, noise and the percolation of time: Symmetrical approaches to the mediation of the material world. Journal of Material Culture 11 (3): 267–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Witmore, C. 2007. Symmetrical archaeology. Excerpts of a manifesto. World Archaeology 39 (4): 546–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Witmore, C. 2014. Archaeology and the new materialisms. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 1 (2): 203–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Witmore, C. 2017a. Complexities and emergence: The case of Argos. In Regional approaches to society and complexity studies in honor of John F. Cherry, ed. A.R. Knodell and T.P. Leppard, 268–287. London: Equinox.Google Scholar
  46. Witmore, C. 2017b. Things are the grounds of all archaeology. In Clashes of times: The contemporary past as a challenge for archaeology, ed. J.M. Blaising, J. Driessen, J.P. Legendre, and L. Olivier, 231–246. Louvain: Louvain University Press.Google Scholar

Further Reading

  1. Alberti, B. 2016. Archaeologies of ontology. Annual Review of Anthropology 45: 163–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alberti, B., A.M. Jones, and J. Pollard, eds. 2013. Archaeology after interpretation: Returning materials to archaeological theory. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bryant, L.R. 2011. The democracy of objects. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Fowler, C. 2013. The emergent past: A relational realist archaeology of early Bronze Age mortuary practices. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Harris, O.J.T., and C.N. Cipolla. 2017. Archaeological theory in the new millennium. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hodder, I., and G. Lucas. 2017. The symmetries and asymmetries of human–thing relations. A dialogue. Archaeological Dialogues 24 (2): 119–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Knappett, C., and L. Malafouris. 2008. Material agency: Towards a non-anthropocentric approach. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Martin, A.M. 2013. Archaeology beyond postmodernity: A science of the social. Lanham: AltaMira.Google Scholar
  9. Shanks, M. 2007. Symmetrical archaeology. World Archaeology 39 (4): 589–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Sørensen, T.F. 2016. Hammers and nails. A response to Lindstrom and to Olsen and Witmore. Archaeological Dialogues 23 (1): 115–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Webmoor, T. 2007. What about ‘one more turn after the social’ in archaeological reasoning? Taking things seriously. World Archaeology 39 (4): 563–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Classical & Modern Languages & LiteraturesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jordan Ralph
    • 1
  • Troy Lovata
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Honors CollegeThe University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA