Call for Papers: Special issue of the EAZ "An Ontological Turn for Archaeology? Novel perspectives on material, practical, political, and reflective engagements"


Gianpiero Di Maida, Martin Porr

Over the last quarter of a century or so, prominent sections of anthropology have experienced a radical change in their theoretical approaches and orientations. The impact of this shift proved to be so substantial, that it continues to shake the very foundations of the discipline. This change became known as the ontological turn and it is concerned with the notion of culture itself, which lies at the heart of all anthropological studies and inquiries.

The ontological turn proposes that it is not cultural differences that are most significant between people and societies. It rejects the idea that knowledges relate to the same world and worldviews are just different perspectives on the same thing – it doesn’t matter how greatly. Rather, the idea behind the turn is that, depending on which cosmological system actors are born into, they construct the world in different ways. This shift in perspective has significant consequences: If it is the relationships between actors and the world that are variable and constituted differently by groups of people and individuals, stories that are told, myths that are narrated, relations that are built, objects that are created do not reflect cultural differences. They are ontologically different. For archaeology, as the discipline that is primarily concerned with the study of past human communities and their material expressions, such a shift poses a vast number of challenges as well as opportunities.

The past decades have shown a growing interest by archaeologists toward the debates within anthropological studies, engaging with several aspects such as relations of power, art expressions, human–animal–“other-than-human” dynamics, the impact of Indigenous knowledges and decolonial studies. Archaeology has demonstrated that it is not only a spectator in these ongoing debates but is also perfectly capable of developing its own theoretical and methodological contributions. More than that, we believe that investigations of past human groups and their material cultures could greatly profit from a more extensive dialogue with the themes raised within the ontological turn. Furthermore, with its access to a vast record of expressions of human diversity across space and time, archaeology could contribute new and crucial elements to several open themes within the ontological debates. This applies, for example, to the flourishing of discussions that developed around Philippe Descola’s influential book Beyond Nature and Culture, particularly after the publication of its English translation in 2013.

With this call for papers, we are proposing an engagement with the ontological turn from a variety of archaeological perspectives.

Our idea is to collect case studies from a range of archaeological contexts that, through the analysis of material culture, would shed a light on past ontological orientations, by explicitly, critically, and thoroughly working through the implications of the ontological turn as it was briefly outlined in this call. Additionally, we also aim at broadening this call beyond the study of past material expressions, specifically asking for contributions that deal with the conceptualisation of ‘ontology in practice’, namely studies that recognise the relevance of ontological aspects for contemporary archaeological practice in a wider sense of the term. Those studies would include dimensions of archaeological fieldwork, museum and archival work, collaborations with Indigenous communities, and aspects of cultural heritage management. In this way, we want to draw attention to the relevance of ontological questions and an anthropologically/theoretically informed archaeology in the everyday practice of our disciplines.

The collection we envisage should reflect the above-mentioned aims in content, form, and spirit. Furthermore, we believe that the discussion will profit from fresh approaches and experimentations, thus allowing a higher degree of freedom in the presentation and the structure of the individual contributions. All submitted manuscripts will also be required to be made available as pre-prints to enhance opportunities for knowledge sharing and further engagements. For this scope, we suggest to use Zenodo, although authors will be free to rely on a comparable service of their choice: In any case, a link to the pre-print will be a requirement for a manuscript to be considered for publication.

The papers will be published as a special issue of the open-access journal EAZ – Ethnographisch-Archaeologische Zeitschrift and will undergo a peer-review and revision process before publication.

The deadline for the submission of the manuscripts is March, 1st 2024: Please, send a link to the pre-print repository hosting your manuscript to the email addresses mentioned in this PDF. The expected publication deadline is end 2024 / early 2025.

The tower of Babel. M.C. Escher 1928. Figure: Wikimedia Commons.

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