EAA 2012 in Helsinki

Yesterday I received an email saying that my paper proposal for the upcoming meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists has been accepted. I sent in a proposal for the session called ‘Animal agency?’. This is what I wrote:

Animal pragmatism?

Much of modern European philosophy has for hundreds of years centralized the human individual as the rational and autonomous thinker. This approach in turn has had a huge impact on how people relate themselves to other animals, and things for that matter, and how we as modern humans conceive past human-nonhuman relationships. During the recent ten years or so, many archaeologists have become concerned with anthropocentrism and asymmetry between things and humans. While certain approaches, such as symmetrical archaeology, have been able to regain some of that symmetry, relatively little time has been devoted to the study of human-animal relationships in archaeology.

What would a more symmetrical and non-anthropocentric human-animal relationship look like? Are we able to discard the brute dualistic distinction between humans and nonhumans? Criticizing the rationalist philosophies, I propose that a pragmatistic approach should be adopted in the study of human-animal relationships and more emphasis placed on the importance of emotions and intuition. Similarly, following Charles Peirce’s (1839–1914) idea of continuity, I propose that clear distinctions between species are more characteristic of the so-called analytical philosophy of the modern age and most likely differ from those of many premodern peoples.

What I did not mention in the abstract but told one of the session organizers (Kristin Armstrong Oma) as I met her in Oulu at the NTAG today is that the whole concept of agency should be abandoned altogether (as also proposed by Johan Normark) since it is essentially an anthropocentric term that has its roots in rationalism and subject metaphysics on the one hand and in structuralism on the other.

I have lately (during the last six months or so) been reading the works of some speculative realists and found that there are a lot of similarities between contemporary continental philosophy and classic American pragmatism (which basically has nothing to do with neo-pragmatism). Both take a very non-anthropocentric approach to the subject object distinction (discarding that distinction altogether) and meaning for example. The funny thing is that pragmatism (or pragmaticism and the writings of Peirce in particular) predate speculative realism by more than 150 years.

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