As we wrap up this semester I wonder what I have learned from this class. Has this class changed my thinking, and if so, is it a change in terms of knowledge– in terms of methods– or the radical shift in ontology that appears to be the goals of many of the authors that we have read? I think that there has been a shift in each of these “categories”.
In terms of knowledge – the subject/object argument has always been one that I found more tiring than anything. I had worried that this class would rehash many of the same old arguments – but instead I found myself enlightened, in terms of an increase in knowledge, in how we can reframe this discussion. In particular – I kept coming back to Miller’s article as a step in the right direction. While I don’t think that Miller, or any of the authors, actually “solved” the object/subject problem – he was able to reframe the discussion in a way that makes this divide a point of creation rather than a line of separation.
I certainly see a change in how I plan on going forward with my future analyses, writings, and otherwise interacting with anthropological/archaeological data. Latour’s works have been the most influential in terms of methods – the insistence on letting the objects speak and allowing the relational network appear in front of you, rather than imposed certainly sounds like a lofty goal that we should all be striving for. Whether one can reach it…. Latour has also both given and taken away the syntax and the vocabulary with which we can describe the world(s) around us. Delegation, actants, purification – these are words that have the potential to act as tools with which to build something that would otherwise be impossible. I, like many, am still more than a little hesitant to drink Latour’s ANT Kool-aid – it has a certain romance to it (saving/merging with objects and all that), but it may also be a methodological dead end. In particular, the point of which the unpacking ends is extremely troubling (as many have pointed out in class). Sev made this explicit when he argued that without the blackboxing performed by Latour – we would be forced into a Heideggerian world worlding – and I don’t think anyone wants that.
The one point where I have probably not progressed (or regressed (becoming premodern)?) is in my overall worldview – in my ontology. Ingold’s leaky worlds where a tree and a bird are so intermeshed that he can describe them as a single entity does not resonate with me. And while I found Henare et al cry for an opening to worldviews to be worthy of attempt – I found those authors who attempted it to fail miserably (must we bring up the powder article?). The granting of primary agency to non-animate objects was the implicit goal of several of the authors – and is the most obvious ontological shift that could have happened through the class. It was a shift that I could not make. While some of the authors, like Ingold and Bennett, attempt to muddy the waters about what agency is – and even if it is meaningful – I find myself unwilling to divorce from the idea of directed, purposeful action as being a useful concept that is only applicable to animate objects. The ontological shift that I did end up embracing was the one called for by Gell. Objects as secondary – yet absolutely integral – actors whose presence offers a purchase which allows action has struck me as a convincing shift in ontology.