ASA18: Sociality, matter, and the imagination: re-creating Anthropology

18-21 September 2018, Examination Schools, University of Oxford

The Firth Lecture (the opening keynote)

The Paradox of the Long Term: Human Evolution and Entanglement
Ian Hodder (Stanford University)

Over recent decades many archaeologists have eschewed evolutionary theories, and in doing so they have turned away from the identification of long-term trends that are of great relevance to present-day matters of concern. In particular, there is clear evidence for an overall long-term increase in the amount of human-made material and associated human-thing entanglements, an increase tied up with environmental impact and global inequalities. The directionality of these long-term changes is clear and yet evolutionary theory largely eschews notions of overall directional change. This paradox and its implications are the subject of this talk, with the suggestion made that, for human evolution at least, notions of directionality and path dependence need to be embraced, with concomitant changes in human evolutionary theory, and with implications for environmental and social policy.

Ian Hodder was trained at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London and at Cambridge University where he obtained his PhD in 1975. After a brief period teaching at Leeds, he returned to Cambridge where he taught until 1999. During that time he became Professor of Archaeology and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. In 1999 he moved to teach at Stanford University as Dunlevie Family Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Director of the Stanford Archaeology Center. His main large-scale excavation projects have been at Haddenham in the east of England and at Çatalhöyük in Turkey where he has worked since 1993. He has been awarded the Oscar Montelius Medal by the Swedish Society of Antiquaries, the Huxley Memorial Medal by the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Fyssen International Prize, has been a Guggenheim Fellow, and has Honorary Doctorates from Bristol and Leiden Universities. His main books include Symbols in action (1982 CUP), Reading the Past (1986 CUP), The Domestication of Europe (1990 Blackwell), The Archaeological Process (1999 Blackwell), The Leopard’s Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Çatalhöyük (2006 Thames and Hudson), Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships Between Humans and Things (2012 Wiley Blackwell). For further information, please click here.

Closing keynote lecture

Anthropology and Psychology: Finding Common Grounds
Rita Astuti (LSE)

Anthropology and psychology have had a cold relationship (with some notable exceptions on both sides). As a result, extreme and seemingly irreconcilable positions have emerged, in ignorance of each other’s empirical findings and theoretical advances. In this lecture, I will illustrate ways in which both disciplines can re-engage with each other constructively and respectfully, thus providing a better analysis of how human beings understand and act in the world.

Rita Astuti is Professor of Anthropology the London School of Economics. Her research has focused on a fishing village in Madagascar. She has published an ethnographic monograph on kinship, death and identity (People of the Sea 1995, CUP). In collaboration with developmental psychologists, she has reanalysed her ethnographic findings through the use of experimental techniques (for example, in Constraints on Conceptual Development, 2004, SRCD Monographs). In her publications and in her teaching, she has advocated a closer integration between anthropology and psychology. For further information, please click here.


Language and imagination

Failures in Intersubjective Attunement and their Implications for a Theory of Collective Action
Alessandro Duranti (University of California, Los Angeles)

The conditions for collective action have long been a major focus of speculation for philosophers and cognitive scientists who introduced the notion of 'collective' or 'shared intentionality' as an alternative to the earlier phenomenological notion of intersubjectivity (Tuomela & Miller 1985; Searle 1990; Bratman 1993; Tomasello 2007; etc.). The models proposed by these authors have been based on situations in which the joint activity under consideration (e.g., participating in a toast, playing music in a band, dancing with others) occurs smoothly, that is, without interruptions or errors. In this talk I examine a number of audio- and video-recorded interactions where 'glitches' or full-blown errors occur. I show that participants miss seeing or hearing the contextually relevant 'aspect' – a notion introduced by Wittgenstein in the late 1940s – because of socio-historically rooted and typically embodied expectations about what should be happening next in the context at hand. Within the temporal unfolding of the collective activity, certain sonic, musical, visual, linguistic, or textual qualities of the event acquire an attentional pull (Throop & Duranti 2014) that overwhelms key participants leading them into interactional trouble.

Alessandro Duranti is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he teaches courses in linguistic anthropology phenomenology, and jazz aesthetics. His current theoretical focus is the role of the unexpected in human interaction. For more information, click here.

Creative bodies

The Light of the Piece: An Exploration of Materiality and Creative Practice in a Maine Landscape
Anna Grimshaw (Emory University)

In this presentation, I will screen a short film in order to raise questions about how the medium can be used to explore embodied practice within a material landscape. How might anthropologists work with image, sound and movement to explore the creative body and how might the medium render imaginative dimensions of experience? What does a filmic engagement ask of subjects, audiences, and, crucially, the anthropological filmmaker herself?

Anna Grimshaw teaches anthropology at Emory University. She is the author of The Ethnographer's Eye and co-author of Observational Cinema. Her films, Mr Coperthwaite: A Life in the Maine Woods and At Low Tide are distributed by Berkeley Media and the Royal Anthropological Institute. For more information, click here.

Environmental imaginations

Anthropocenic Reconfigurations: Re-imagining and Re-enacting Environment-Health Relations in a New Era
Melissa Leach (University of Sussex)

Our entry into the Anthropocene (and associated ‘cenes’ – from Capitalocene to Chthulucene) arguably signal new ways of being in/with nature, and understanding and imagining our past, present and future – not least by anthropologists. In previous eras relations and anxieties were often configured in terms of a (biblical) ‘fall’ from grace or harmony, with (divine) intervention disrupting natural orders, or in terms of ‘progress’ towards modernity, harnessing or overcoming natural forces. Yet the Anthropocene suggests an era of co-emerging socio-natures, in which as humans we cannot escape our agency and responsibility, but must acknowledge its inter-negotiation with multiple species, ecological and atmospheric processes. Is this indeed a fundamental shift- and what are its ontological, cosmological and political dimensions and connotations? What imaginations and practices are implied around time and its (non) linearity, and place-based socialities (one anthropocene or many?) How and how far are discourses and practices around environment and health – as a central focus of public, political and indeed anthropological concern – being reconfigured anthropocenically – for instance as ideas of epidemic as fall and disease control as progress are joined by, inter alia, notions of planetary health, one health, and multi-species socio-ecologies of zoonosis? What social and political implications follow – for our relations with each other and with non-human nature?

Melissa Leach is Director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex. She founded and directed the ESRC STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre ( from 2006-2014. As a social anthropologist she has carried out long-term ethnographic fieldwork in West Africa while engaging with global discourses and debates around environment, health and development. She has led numerous interdisciplinary, policy-engaged research programmes in Africa and beyond. Amongst external roles, she was vice-chair of the Science Committee of Future Earth 2012-2017, lead author of the 2016 World Social Science Report 2016 on Challenging Inequalities and the UN Women’s World Survey on the Role of Women in Economic Development 2014, and is a member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food). In 2014-16 she co-led the award-winning Ebola Response Anthropology Platform. For more information, click here.

Transformation and time

Placing Time
Caitlin DeSilvey (University of Exeter)

Caitlin DeSilvey will speak on the relationship between temporality and perceptions of (past and future) place. Drawing on research in heritage contexts, she will explore how material transformation and ruination afford a continuous relation with past time, in contrast with the discontinuity introduced by efforts to restore or conserve. She will also discuss the complex temporalities invoked in landscape-scale rewilding initiatives, in which radical landscape transformation is often indexed to deep ecological time, but through an iterative, experimental (rather than a restorative) framework.

Caitlin DeSilvey is Associate Professor of Cultural Geography at the University of Exeter, where she has been employed since 2007. Her research explores the cultural significance of material and environmental change, with a particular focus on heritage contexts. She has worked on a range of interdisciplinary projects, supported by funding from UK research councils (AHRC, EPSRC, NERC), the Royal Geographical Society, the Norwegian Research Council and the European Social Fund. Recent publications include Anticipatory History (2011, with Simon Naylor and Colin Sackett), Visible Mending (2013, with Steven Bond and James R. Ryan), and Curated Decay: Heritage Beyond Saving (2017). For more information, click here.

Passing: Duration, Permanence and Time
Michael Rowlands (University College London)

My lecture will focus on different senses of passing. I make a distinction between duration and time: I associate duration with permanence/perpetuity and time with transformation. The perception of permanence is that things will continue to exist. A familiar cognitive example is the first experience of the mother-child relation, created by touching and sucking the breast, relating to the child touching, feeling, and handling and manipulating objects before speech and language. This gives us a clue as to the origin of the ideal of permanence over change - the famous Freudian observation of fort/da. The ideal is materialised as struggles to create permanence, for example, the attachment to furnishing, decorating, cleaning, and cooking, or the ideal of curating to create a sense of permanence. But if duration is permanence, the former is active; or, as Bergson taught us, duration involves redefinition of memory, an investment which in turn involves creativity and the acceptance of transience and movement. Fashioning provisionally stable lives out of instability also requires access to social and economic lives and relationships outside the immediate conditions of unstable futures, as for instance in the struggle to maintain ancestral continuity alongside modernisation in Africa, China, Europe, or North America. This implies the possibility of time or the control of time. Control of time implies control of futures, but who has this? I will therefore limit the notion of transformation to a more absolute idea of time as breaks and ruptures that destroy the sensibility of futures.

Michael Rowlands is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology and Material Culture at University College London. Most recently he has completed field research on heritage and locality in South-West China. He is completing a book with Stephan Feuchtwang entitled Civilisation Recast. For more information, click here.