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“Worlds Otherwise” Archaeology, Anthropology, and Ontological Difference

Benjamin Alberti, Severin Fowles, Martin Holbraad, Yvonne Marshall and Christopher Witmore
Current Anthropology
Vol. 52, No. 6 (December 2011), pp. 896-912
DOI: 10.1086/662027
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/662027
Page Count: 17
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“Worlds Otherwise”


The debate concerning ontology is heating up in the social sciences. How is this impacting anthropology and archaeology? What contributions can these disciplines make? Following a session at the 2010 Theoretical Archaeology Group conference at Brown University (“‘Worlds Otherwise’: Archaeology, Theory, and Ontological Difference,” convened by Ben Alberti and Yvonne Marshall), a group of archaeologists and anthropologists have continued to discuss the merits, possibilities, and problems of an ontologically oriented approach. The current paper is a portion of this larger conversation—a format we maintain here because, among other things, it permits a welcome level of candor and simplicity. In this forum we present two questions (written by Alberti and Witmore, along with the concluding comments) and the responses of five of the Theoretical Archaeology Group session participants. The first question asks why we think an ontological approach is important to our respective fields; the second, building upon the first set of responses, asks authors to consider the difference that pluralizing ontology might make and whether such a move is desirable given the aims of archaeology and anthropology. While several angles on ontology come through in the conversation, all share an interest in more immanent understandings that arise within specific situations and that are perhaps best described as thoroughly entangled rather than transcendent and/or oppositional in any straightforward sense.

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