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A manifesto for the 'how' question (and for things) in social science

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Archaeology and anthropology analyse how people do things, in the past and in the present. But both the ‘things’ and the ‘doing’ in this phrase are subsequently filtered out of these disciplines’ interpretive narratives. At most, things respond to human needs or slot into human schemes of meaning. At the same time, how people do things is seen as a mere illustration to the real historical questions of ‘who’ does things and ‘why’ do they do things. Nevertheless, it is the question of ‘how’ that reveals the close interdependency of people and things. In this presentation, I will argue that the key to rethinking human-thing relations is to grant a historical, explanatory role to the ‘how’ question. Based on examples drawn from my work on Roman material culture, I will illustrate how this changes historical narratives and current dilemmas.

This talk is part of the Homerton Seminars series.

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