Planned object

Title: The return to things


Domańska, Ewa

Date issued/created:


Resource Type:



Archaeologia Polona Vol. 44 (2006)


Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Polish Academy of Sciences

Place of publishing:



ill. ; 24 cm


This text analyses the so-called "return to things", a movement which appeared in the humanities and human sciences in the late 1990s. The author attempts to move beyond both the positivistic and the semiotic approaches to the description of things and discuss the so-called "new material culture" and "technoscience studies" (Don Ihde's "material hermeneutics") as approaches which inspire this field of inquiry. The author claims that the "enchantment with things" can be placed within the context of the prevailing discourse of the Other and the ongoing attempts to create counter-disciplines, such as counter-history, counter-archaeology, etc. In such counter-disciplines, things, which hitherto have been silent and reduced to passivity, are allowed to speak in their own voice or manifest themselves in their individuality. However, even if scholars claim that things should be incorporated into history as something other than passive recipients of human actions, they appear to remain unable to transcend conventional epistemologies. To illustrate this claim, the author analyses the "biographical" approach to things and concludes that this approach is characterized firstly, by the personification of things that results from anthropocentrism and provides a way of neutralizing the threats posed by nonhuman entities; and secondly, by a kind of genealogical and genetic thinking, which by no means helps us create an alternative epistemology of history but, on the contrary, revives in a different context the fetish of origin. It appears that a discourse in defense of things (and in general of non-humans) is in the end a discourse in defense of the human being. Things are coming to be existential, "stable" markers that help unstable humans to orient themselves in the world


"Archaeological Dialogues", 2004, 11, 1, June 2004 (debate about Adam T. Smith's essay The end of the essential archaeological subject)
Badiou, A. 2003. Ethics. An essay on the understanding of evil. London—New York
Benso, S. 2000. The face of things. A different side of ethics. Albany
Bird-David, N. 1990. The giving environment: another perspective on the economic system of gatherer-hunters. Current Anthropology, 31 (2): 189—96
Bird-David, N. 1999. 'Animism' revised. Personhood, environment, and relational epistemology. Current Anthropo-logy, 40, Supplement: 67—91
Brown, B. 2003. A sense of things: the object matter of American literature. Chicago—London
Brown, B. (ed.). 2004. Things. Chicago—London
Czapliński, P. 1999. Rzecz w literaturze albo proza lat dziewięćdziesiątych wobec „mimesis". In Człowiek i rzecz. O problemach reifkacji w literaturze, filozofii i sztuce, S. Wysłouch and B. Kaniewska (eds), 207-37. Poznań
Domańska, E. 2005. "Necrocracy". History of the Human Sciences 18 (2): 111—22
Droit, R.-P. 2005. How are things? A philosophical experience. London
Gell, A. 1998. Art and agency. Oxford
Gosden, C. and Y. Marschall (eds) 1999. The cultural biography of objects. World Archaeology 31 (2)
Hamilakis, Y. 1999. Stories from exile: fragments from the cultural biography of the Parthenon (or "Elgin") Marbles. In C. Gosden and Y. Marschall (eds): 303—20
Heidegger, M. 1970. What is a thing?, W.B. Barton Jr. and V. Deutsch (trans.). Chicago
Heidegger, M. 1972. What is called thinking?, F.D. Wieck and J. Gray (trans.). New York
Heidegger, M. 1996. Being and time. J. Stambaugh (trans.). New York
Holtorf, C. 1998. The life-history of megaliths in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany). World Archaeology 30 (1): 23—38
Holtorf, C. 2002. Notes on the life history of a pot shard. Journal of Material Culture 7 (1): 49—71
Hyde, W.W. 1916. The prosecution and punishment of animals and lifeless things in the Middle Ages and modern times. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 64 (7): 696—730
Ihde, D. 1999. Expanding hermeneutics: visualism in science. Evanston, IL
Ihde, D. 2003. More material hermeneutics (paper presented in the meeting of Hermeneutics and Science, 7—11 Jun e 2003 — Tihany, Hungary (manuscript)
Jungvirth, G. 2005. Strugar jailed for Dubrovnik attack. Institute for War and Peace Reporting 392, February 4, 2005 Internet: http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/tri/tri_392_4_eng.txt
Kopytoff, I. 1986. The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process. In The social life ofthings, A. Appadurai (ed.), 64—91. Cambridge
Kristeva, J. 1986. Revolution in poetic language. New York
Kristeva, J. 1998. The subject in process, In The Tel Quel Reader, P. French and R.-F. Lack (eds), 133—78. London—New York
Latour, B. 1996. On Actor-Network Theory: a few clarifications. Soziale Welt, 47, 4. Internet: http:// amsterdam.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-9801/msg00019.html
Latour, B. 1999. Pandora's hope. Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge Mass.—London.
Latour, B. and P. Weibel (eds). 2005. Making things public — atmosphere of democracy. Karlsruhe
Meskell, L. 2004. Object worlds in Ancient Egypt. Material biographies past and present. Oxford—New York
Myers, F.R. (ed.) 2001. The empire of things: regimes of value and material culture. Oxford
Olsen, B. 2003. Material culture after text: re-membering things. Norwegian Archaeological Review 36 (3): 87—104
Parker Pearson, M. 1999. The archaeology of death and burial. College Station
Pálsson, G. 1996. Human-environmental relations: orientalism, paternalism and communalism, In Nature and society, P. Descola and G. Pálsson (eds), 68—81. London—New York
Pausanias's Description of Greece. Vol. I. 1913. J.G. Frazer (trans.). London
Sandholtz, W. (forthcoming). The Iraq National Museum and international law: a duty to protect. Columbia Journal of Transnational Law
Seligman, K. 2005. Computer crashes booming business. San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, April 17, A19 and A21
Tamen, M. 2001. Friends of interpretable objects. Cambridge, Mass.—London
Thomas, J. 1996. Time, culture and identity: an interpretive archaeology. London—New York.
Witmore, C. 2004 Four archaeological engagements with place: mediating bodily experience through peripatetic video. Visual Anthropology Review 20 (2): 57—72


Archaeologia Polona



Start page:


End page:




Resource Identifier:



IAiE PAN, call no. P 357 ; IAiE PAN, call no. P 358 ; IAiE PAN, call no. P 356 ; click here to follow the link



Terms of use:

Copyright-protected material. May be used within the limits of statutory user freedoms

Digitizing institution:

Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Original in:

Library of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Edition name Date

This page uses 'cookies'. More information