Ian Hodder


On his book Where Are We Heading? The Evolution of Humans and Things

Cover Interview of September 25, 2019

The wide angle

I have tried in this book to engage with a range of disparate theoretical perspectives. On the one had there is a clear influence from Bruno Latour and other writers on actor networks. In archaeology this aspect of new materialism is associated with Symmetrical Archaeology – that is an archaeology that places humans and things in the same networks and refuses to privilege and separate human from nature. My emphasis is rather different in that I focus on the entrapments and path dependency caused by human-thing networks, and as a result I argue that human-thing relations are always asymmetrical; humans and things always work both together and against each other. My approach is more similar to that of Timothy Ingold, who describes meshworks, in that I place an emphasis on the sequences of human-thing action that generate flows of energy. Again, my emphasis differs in that I am interested in the entrapments that result, in the inequalities that are produced, and in the directionalities that can be both positive and negative for the species.

Another and very different set of theories that I am responding to is neo-evolutionary. As noted in my response to the first prompt, much evolutionary theory in archaeology argues that human evolution is not directional in some overall sense; it is nonteleological. Certainly, there is local adaptation as species respond to local environmental stimuli, but there is no reason why these local adaptations should lead in some overall direction. This is true of both biological and cultural evolution. Recent developments have incorporated the human-made material environment into cultural evolutionary theory. In particular, Niche Construction Theory has explored the ways in which the human-made environment can play a significant role in the selection of traits (cultural and biological). While I see this as a welcome step in the right direction, it still treats the organism as responding to environmental change rather than being trapped within human-thing entanglements, and it still sees cultural and biological evolution as separate (as in dual transmission theory). Recent developments in the understanding of epigenetics and horizontal gene transfer are opening up new vistas in which we can begin to envisage the cultural entering directly into the biological. In this way the biological can take its place as part of evolving entanglements rather than as simply adapting to environments.