Toward an Ecology of Materials

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Both material culture studies and ecological anthropology are concerned with the material conditions of social and cultural life. Yet despite advances in each of these fields that have eroded traditional divisions between humanistic and science-based approaches, their respective practitioners continue to talk past one another in largely incommensurate theoretical languages. This review of recent trends in the study of material culture finds the reasons for this in (a) a conception of the material world and the nonhuman that leaves no space for living organisms, (b) an emphasis on materiality that prioritizes finished artifacts over the properties of materials, and (c) a conflation of things with objects that stops up the flows of energy and circulations of materials on which life depends.Toovercome these limitations, the review proposes an ecology of materials that focuses on their enrollment in form-making processes. It concludes with some observations on materials, mind, and time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-442
Number of pages15
JournalAnnual Review of Anthropology
Early online date2 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


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