How things act: An archaeology of materials in political life

Andrew M. Bauer, Steve Kosiba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


This paper develops a theoretical perspective on how archaeologists might examine the actions of things-objects and materials-in long-term historical processes and political practices. In recent years, anthropological theories pertaining to materiality and new materialisms have challenged traditional philosophical perspectives on things, attributing a degree of social agency to materials, places, and objects that had been previously labeled inert or passive. We critically engage these theories and suggest that they might better account for the social acts and political roles of things by applying a holistic archaeological perspective attuned to how materials and human values converge to produce political action, particularly through their incorporation into specific historical processes that we term “entrainment.” We present recent archaeological and environmental data from South India to demonstrate how researchers might see political action less as an ontological property of a conscious goal-oriented agent or a broad assemblage of things, and more as a potentiality that emerges in politically-inflected and contingent associations of people, organisms, and things.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-141
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Social Archaeology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Funding for portions of the research presented above was provided by the National Science Foundation and the American Institute of Indian Studies.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2016.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Agency
  • Iron age
  • Materiality
  • New materialism
  • Political practice
  • South Asia
  • Symmetrical archaeology


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