Material culture surrounds us and yet is habitually overlooked.
So integral is it to our everyday lives that we take it for
granted. This attitude has also afflicted the academic analysis of
material culture, although this is now beginning to change, with
material culture recently emerging as a topic in its own right
within the social sciences. Carl Knappett seeks to contribute to
this emergent field by adopting a wide-ranging interdisciplinary
approach that is rooted in archaeology and integrates anthropology,
sociology, art history, semiotics, psychology, and cognitive
science. His thesis is that humans both act and think through
material culture; ways of knowing and ways of doing are ingrained
within even the most mundane of objects. This requires that we
adopt a relational perspective on material artifacts and human
agents, as a means of characterizing their complex
interdependencies. In order to illustrate the networks of meaning
that result, Knappett discusses examples ranging from prehistoric
Aegean ceramics to Zande hunting nets and contemporary art.
Thinking Through Material Culture argues that, although
material culture forms the bedrock of archaeology, the discipline
has barely begun to address how fundamental artifacts are to human
cognition and perception. This idea of codependency among mind,
action, and matter opens the way for a novel and dynamic approach
to all of material culture, both past and present.
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