Material Culture and the Dance of Agency

Andrew Pickering

in The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780199218714
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology

Material Culture and the Dance of Agency

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  • History and Theory of Archaeology



This article revolves around the discovery of matter. The first section concerns science studies. It emphasizes the importance of a focus on practice and performance as a way of undoing the ‘linguistic turn’ in the humanities and social sciences. The key concept here is that of a dance of agency. The second section reviews a variety of examples of this dance in fields beyond the natural sciences — civil engineering, pig farming, and convivial relations with dogs, architecture, technologies of the self, biological computing, brainwave music, and certain hylozoist and Eastern spirituality. This article focuses on contrasting forms that dances of agency and their products can take, depending on the presence or absence of an organizing telos of self-extinction. The third and final section reflects on the significance of this contrast for a politics of theory. This article traces the discovery of matter followed by the concepts of method, time, and agency.

Keywords: material culture; discovery of matter; dance of agency; linguistic turn; hylozoist; politics of theory

Article.  8236 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; History and Theory of Archaeology

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