The rich will make temples for Shiva
What should I, a poor man, do
My legs are pillars
The body the shrine
The head the cupola of gold
Listen O Lord of the Meeting Rivers
Things standing shall fall
But the moving ever shall stay
Basavanna, 12th century AD Indian philosopher and poet
premises of entanglement theory
• humans depend on things
• things depend on other things
• things depend on humans
• humans depend on things that depend on
humans (entanglement as interdependency)
• the entanglement of humans and things
played out over time influences the success
or failure of social and cultural traits
‘Things standing shall fall, but the moving ever shall stay’. Much contemporary work that seeks to explore the relationships between human society and material culture assumes that the fixity and solidity of material culture provides a stability and continuity to social life. Because material things endure, they help to tie society together through time. The argument in this volume is that material things do indeed tie people together, but at the same time materials are unruly and difficult to manage. Things fall apart. The human dependence on things is productive, but it also draws humans more fully into a dependence on and care for things that is entrapping.
The idea that movement and instability are at the core of human experience is also present in Western thought. In 1651 Thomas Hobbes published his ‘Leviathan’. The core of his argument about how society should best be governed is motion. Drives, appetites, aversions are all motions within us that are caused by the actions of external objects (Leviathan Chapter 6) that are themselves continually in motion. Society needs to find mechanisms of government to promote and manage this motion. Today we are more fully aware of the ways in which matter is made of sub-atomic particles that are in continual motion. Modern scientists and philosophers describe the fundamental uncertainty and relationality of the physical and biological worlds. For example, John Dupré in his book ‘The disorder of things’ asserts ‘the extreme diversity of the contents of the world’ (1993, 1) such that it is difficult for science to come up with discrete categories or species. Things such as biological species keep changing. ‘An assumption that dates back at least to Aristotle is that organisms can be unambiguously sorted into discrete, non-overlapping kinds on the basis of gross morphological properties. Since the theory of evolution undermined the belief in the fixity of species this position has become increasingly difficult to defend, and has indeed been almost universally rejected’ (ibid., 54).
It is this unstable messiness that is at the heart of the idea of entanglement. Things are unruly (or at least they appear so to us). We try and manage, and categorize and order them. We try to use them to create enduring structures. But these efforts are continually undermined. So we work yet harder, and enlist yet more things, to help us manage them. There is a continual dialectical tension between our dependence on things, our reliance on their various affordances, and the constraints and entrapments that the reliance on things entails. We can talk of and study the networks, meshworks, symmetries and engagements between humans and things as so many have done over recent years, but this is to miss the key nodal point about human-thing relations, that they involve asymmetrical tensions and a dialectical co-dependency.
In Chapter 2 in this volume I reprise the theory of entanglement and discuss the four component forms of dependence and dependency between humans and things (HT), things and humans (TH), things and things (TT), humans and humans (HH). The notion that humans depend on things is of course unremarkable; indeed the concept of Homo faber has a long history in the study of human evolution. Humans have long been identified with tool-making, and the use of tools has been linked to human biological traits such as upright posture and cognitive functions. In the social sciences and humanities there has been for many decades recognition that humans use material culture to symbol, to exchange and to manipulate social relations. Humans are dependent on things in cognitive and psychological development, in terms of power and authority, in terms of identity, perception and being. In this volume, therefore, HT relations are rather taken for granted. It is accepted that human ‘being’, in all its dimensions, is radically dispersed and distributed, and is thus dependent on material things.
It is the TH and TT relations that constitute the driving force of the entanglement account. Humans depend on things, but so too do things depend on humans (TH). Certainly this is true of all man-made material culture. Made things depend on human action for their production, use, maintenance and discard. One might argue that ‘natural’ things exist outside this purview. But the opposition of culture and nature is difficult since in many ontologies they are inter-mingled, with ‘nature’ involved in various types of relation with humans (Descola 1994). Certainly since the Palaeolithic, humans have had impacts on their environments such that the ‘environment’ is always already part of human culture (Roberts 1998). Humans and the ‘environment’ are always already entangled. Humans are not entangled with things in a separate exterior ‘environment’. There is just an overall entanglement in which things have to be managed, cared for, looked after if humans are going to remain dependent on them.
The things that depend on humans also depend on each other (TT). This is obviously true of human-made things that usually involve other tools in their production, use and discard. As will be discussed at length in Chapters 3 and 8, things are involved in ‘chainworks’. Archaeologists are used to describing the sequences of operations that are required to make and use, for example, a cooking pot. But each of these operational sequences or chains is tied into other operational sequences. Thus, the cooking of food on the hearth requires that the making of a pot, the making and firing of a hearth, the obtaining of food to place in the pot, have been scheduled in relation to each other. Each step in the operational sequence has to wait for other steps to be completed. Thus making or using one thing is entangled in the making or using other things. But what of things not made by humans? Human-made things depend on clay to make the pot, or animals to kill and stew in the pot – in other words they depend on the supposedly ‘natural’ world outside entanglements.
Biological beings in this environment are entangled in ecological relations, Darwin’s ‘entangled bank’, subject to evolutionary processes and processes of death and decay. Humans also depend on non-biological physical things such as clay to make houses or stone to make tools. These materials are subject to the geological, chemical and physical processes of lifting up, erosion, gravity, transformation, deposition, breaking down, wear and tear. Human being is entangled in evolutionary and non-evolutionary processes of things in their relations to each other. Things are tied up or chained to other things, whether human-made or not, in heterogeneous ways. Humans are drawn into these TT dependencies because of the TH and HT relationships, and indeed it is difficult to isolate a sphere of TT relationships in which humans are not involved. As noted above, humans are always already involved in the ‘external’ world of biological, physical and chemical processes.
As some commentators have pointed out (e.g. Mills 2013), I have not discussed HH dependencies at any length. This was for a number of reasons. The first is that there are very few dependencies between humans that do not involve things in some way. For example, power relations in which one human dominates another are often concerned with the control of property or rights to property in some form. Exchange relations between humans involve the giving and receiving of gifts, or the bartering, buying and selling of goods. Marriage and kinship involve the passing down and exchange of rights to resources. Communities may form to protect access to land or agricultural products, and so on. Many of these HH relations in which things are involved lead to entanglements. The receiving of a gift implies the obligation to reciprocate and may involve the entanglement of debts that cannot easily be repaid. Notions of property and rights may entangle humans in co-ownership or the exclusion of claims by others. Marriage involves vows and promises that involve co-dependency.
There are certainly HH relations that little involve things, such as notions of honor, shame, pride. Many verbs specify ties between people that do not involve things. Thus love or hate, emulate or shun, respect or disrespect, dominate or resist, value or devalue can all occur without material things being involved. And many of these terms lead to various forms of entanglement between people. As the Roman poet Catullus wrote in an admirably short poem ‘odi et amo’, I hate and I love. Co-dependency relations between two people often involve enabling and constraining sides, positive and negative components. Similarly, core-periphery or master-slave relations may be both enabling and constraining and destructive, the development of one partner very much at the expense of the other. The second reason for not discussing HH relations in any great depth is that these types of relations have been the foci over centuries of psychological, sociological and political analysis.
A third and final reason for limited discussions of HH relations is that I have focused too narrowly on material things. This was a mistake. Many forms of HH relations involve words and ideas. If we follow Heidegger (1971) and define a ‘thing’ as an entity that draws other entities together, then words and ideas are both things. Humans get entrapped in words and ideas in both trivial and non-trivial ways. In learning to speak we take on or react to the accepted meanings of words and thus get entangled in a history of associations, meanings and assumptions that guide our thought processes. When I start speaking a sentence I am already entrapped in those meanings and grammars such that I can only end the sentence in a limited number of ways. I am entangled in the broader cultural meanings of words and in the way that I have started the sentence. Ways of speaking are deeply embedded and habituated and it is not easy to break out of them. Similarly, humans become attached to ideas that they come to believe in and may be willing to die for, from religious ideas, to ideas of freedom and democracy, to notions of nation and community, and so on. In this volume, these types of entanglements in ideas are discussed with regard to concepts of hunting in the Neolithic of the Middle East (Chapter 4), theories about evolution in Chapter 6, and religious ideas in Chapter 7.
It can be objected that this extension of entanglement to words and ideas is a watering down of the original concept. The key idea in entanglement is that humans get caught in a double bind, depending on things that depend on them. This double bind occurs because material things are unruly and follow biological, chemical and physical processes of transformation and decay. While it cannot be argued that words and ideas (as opposed to the paper and ink they are written with) follow these same processes of unruly transformation and decay, words, ideas and their meanings require constant vigilance and care in order to sustain their coherence. They need to be looked after. It is also the case that words, ideas and their meanings are always entangled in other words, ideas and meanings, as well as usually in different forms of material practice. Thus to change a word or idea usually involves changing other words, ideas and practices with which it is tied up. Examples of this type of entangling are provided particularly in Chapters 6 and 7 in this volume. In summary, then, it seems possible to extend the entanglement of humans and things to words and ideas.
Another type of entity that was, again mistakenly, excluded in earlier discussions of entanglement, are larger-scale human groups, nations, institutions, bureaucracies. These are again things in the sense that they bring entities, other humans and things, in relation to each other. Many are largely concerned with HH relations. They often come into being so as to manage the unruliness of human-thing entanglements at a lower level. Thus conflicts regarding human access to things require the development of law and institutions of the law. The distribution of goods to people requires bureaucracies. The management of knowledge, ideas and the meaning of words requires schools and universities. All of these institutions and bureaucracies marshal things in the management and regulation of humans and their relations with each other. They need supervision and require organization; they draw humans into their care. Their size often leads to their being unruly and contradictory. They often become both enabling and entrapping; people get caught up and diminished in the intricacies and lack of humanity of bureaucracies – the ‘iron cage’ or ‘the shell as hard as steel’ described by Max Weber and Talcott Parsons (Baehr 2001). Indeed, such bureaucratic entities have given us the term ‘Catch 22’. The novel of the same name by Joseph Heller published in 1961, is set in World War 2. The paradox, the bureaucratic ‘Catch 22’, is that airmen who were mentally unfit did not have to fly missions; but if you did not want to fly missions you must be sane. So you had to fly missions. This type of double bind or logical contradiction is common in bureaucracies and the term ‘Catch 22’ neatly captures the entrapment that occurs.
Overall, then, it is difficult to hold fast to the original definition of entanglement as the sum of HT, TH, TT and HH dependencies. Such a characterization appears to separate subject and object, culture and nature, in ways that have long been critiqued. As discussed above, human being is always already dispersed and distributed into the world; there is no environment separate from human culture and society. It is thus difficult to talk of TT dependencies without human involvement, or of HH dependencies without things. Separating out TT, HH, TH and HT dependencies from overall entanglements is difficult. A more satisfactory definition of entanglement starts with the overall inter-dependence of humans and things and focuses more on the double bind, the tension between dependence or reliance between humans and things, and the dependency or constraint between humans and things; thus entanglement is the dialectic of dependence and dependency between humans and things (Hodder 2012). Below we shall see that there are problems with even this definition since humans too are things or are often treated as things. It can also be said that the definition of things depends on humans; things flow into each other and are separated out from each other by humans. We will need to return to the issue of definition later in this introduction.
We have seen that it is important to extend the discussion of entanglement to HH relations, and to a consideration of words, ideas, institutions as things that can entrap and channel. As already noted, the various chapters in this volume explore various aspects of this extended perspective. Indeed, in comparison to an earlier publication (Hodder 2012), the present volume explores several new avenues that seem opened up by the idea of entanglement. This book is in part a mopping up of ideas inadequately dealt with in the previous volume, and partly an exploration of new directions that the concept of entanglement seems to afford or promote.
For example, a focus on the idea of entrapment or path dependency in relation to the origins of farming and settled life in the Middle East leads to the new and initially counter-intuitive notion that social and ritual entanglement in hunting practices led to a delayed adoption of farming, and later to a take-up of farming in such a way that hunting could be more effectively pursued. In the end, it is argued in Chapter 4, farming was adopted so that people could hunt better. This account derives from a consideration of the entanglements of hunting and the multiple ways in which it had become the core of social and ritual life. Another example of a new perspective provided by entanglement is the discussion of power in Chapter 5. The entrapments of entanglement might be thought to be closely allied to the power of dominant over subordinate groups, and core-periphery and master-slave relationships have been discussed above. But in Chapter 5 it is argued that it is important to distinguish entanglement and power. Even if subordinate groups are relieved by the removal of dominant groups, they may remain trapped in circumstances from which it is difficult to escape. While dominant groups often have the resources to disentangle themselves, subordinate groups suffer two forms of marginalization. First, there is the subordination produced by dominant groups. But even if those dominant groups are removed, a second form of marginalization is produced by constraining and limiting entanglements which entrap and bind. The links between entanglement and poverty traps are explored; entanglement is argued to contribute to understanding of the ways in which humans get caught in poverty.
Chapter 7 aims to contribute to debates about religion from the perspective of entanglement. As will be discussed further below, it is difficult to identify the boundaries of entanglements, both in space and time. The analyst as much as the social actor knows that everything depends on everything else, well beyond what is immediately understood and experienced. Religion too deals with the beyond, the transcendent. Religion can be understood not as the contemplation of a set of abstract intellectual beliefs, but as a technology for dealing with something real. It is difficult for human actors to follow all the strings and filaments of entanglements and to understand them in all their complexity. And yet these distant unbounded filaments affect us, cause death and suffering, impinge on our daily lives. Religion can be seen as the mobilization of existing knowledge in order to intervene in remote parts of entanglements that matter to us. Religion often seems to be a practical attempt to fix problems in areas that are not fully understood, to disentangle. Rather than, for example, seeing religion as an ideology serving the interests of dominant groups or as creating community cohesion, the entanglement view is that humans are caught in filaments and threads that extend into a real beyond. Religion is a pragmatic attempt to make sense of and intervene in that beyond.
The discussion of entanglement in this book also raises epistemological issues. One such issue, already addressed in the discussion of entanglement and religion, concerns the boundaries and limits of study. Spatially we can follow all the dependencies between humans and things. For example, we can look at the impact of cars on global warming by isolating all the 20,000 or so individual parts, identifying where they were made, what types of materials and labor were used, how the parts were transported and assembled. To focus on a thing is to explore all the other things that make it possible. To study the entanglements of a thing is to ask what are the conditions of existence of that thing. In the case of the car, those conditions of existence include all the parts, their production and sourcing, the international trade agreements, labor relations, financial transfers, social values placed on cars, impacts on the environment, the construction of roads and so on. One might limit the study to only these factors, or only to the sourcing of parts, but it might also be argued that the machines used to make the parts, and indeed the machines used to make those machines are also relevant. Where does one draw the boundary? Temporally too, where are the limits to the study? For example if we are interested in the impact of cars on global warming, how far back do we go? Do we limit study to the present-day impact or do we also include the contribution of cars to global warming since the start of the 20th century? Or do we look even deeper at the effects on the environment of carriages drawn by horses and carts drawn by cattle? Or is the real culprit the invention of the wheel in Eurasia at around 4000 BC?
The answers to these questions used to be relatively simple. Study was limited to the system of interest and everything outside the system was defined as an external variable. The ‘region’ and the ‘period’ were defined based on a domain of interest or on a perceived coherence or homogeneity of content. External influences on the region or period were then sought. In studies of cultural systems, the external world was frequently described as the environment, the natural world to which the cultural system adapted. Culture was defined as man’s extrasomatic means of adaptation. But from an entanglement perspective there is no environment. As noted above, everything is always already entangled. And there is nothing extra-somatic, outside the body, because the body, mind and meaning are distributed. Culture/nature, subject/object have all been very effectively critiqued. In exploring the conditions of existence of a region, period or cultural system, entanglement studies follow the filaments, the threads that make those entities possible. The value of the study is precisely to go beyond boundaries that have been set and explore their construction.
From the earliest of human entanglements in the world, the ‘environment’ has been the production of a heterogeneous multiplicity of forces in which humans have played their part. There is no ‘external’ environment impinging on a cultural system. Everything is always already entangled so that there is only ‘internal’ adjustment and adaptation. Rather than elements of a system being ‘selected for’ in different ‘environments’ there is just one overall whole moving along as a mass, unhinged, unfettered, unconstrained by external limits. There is just a heterogeneous entanglement juggernaut held together by cross-cutting dependencies between stones, rivers, humans, made things, ideas, institutions and so on. It is these internal ties and constraints that provide direction, taking the mass as a whole down particular pathways.
There are of course hubs and concentrations in the overall mass, and some examples are identified and explored in Chapter 8. In the Neolithic of central Anatolia, the house acts as a central node through which many relations of dependency are defined. It is indeed possible to explore the concentrations of dependencies around such nodes. In any set of dependencies some things are more entangled than others, and there are troughs and margins between the concentrations. It is possible to confine analysis to the hubs and concentrations. This is a bottom-up approach. The boundaries are discovered through in-depth empirical research in relation to specific questions and research interests, and always recognizing that the boundaries are ultimately arbitrary, best seen as stages in the research process.
A number of epistemological issues are raised by the notion of entanglement as an unbounded and externally unfettered messy totality. In particular it becomes very difficult to identify causes. In Chapter 3, arbitrary starting points such as the collapse of mud-brick walls are selected from numerous other possible ‘causes’ such as the use of dung fuel or the making of cooking pottery. In fact all these ‘causes’ have their antecedents and they multiply interact. Causality is dispersed into the entanglements as a whole. Small things can have big effects, but only by being compounded by numerous other factors and processes. Archaeologists can identify some of the small-scale events, the small things forgotten (Deetz 1977). They are better suited than many other sciences to be able to examine mundane acts in all their grainy specificity. But archaeologists are also well placed to explore the multiple heterogeneous dependencies of those acts, the moving juggernaut as a whole. The notion that small perturbations can have big effects is common to a number of approaches that model complex systems. In different ways, Catastrophe Theory, Chaos Theory and Complexity Theory all explore ways in which sudden large-scale change can be produced through the gradual change of variables within highly complex but gradually changing systems. They all try to find mathematical models that normalize, predict or make sense of large-scale and often sudden changes; they attempt to discover regularities where at first sight there appears to enormous complexity. There are important links between these approaches and entanglement, and in particular there is much to be gained from the study of the ways in which highly complex systems work. There is great value in studying complexity itself rather than reducing complex interactions to simple formulae. But entanglement differs in that it does not seek to ‘clean up’ the messiness and build general models. Rather it focuses on the specific sets of heterogeneous interactions within radically open systems. A similar point is made by Lewontin (2000, 113-4) in relation to biological systems.
If entanglement provides an opportunity to examine the relationships between small everyday acts and events and the large-scale movement of a socio-material totality, then it has obvious parallels with behavioral and evolutionary approaches in archaeology. In these latter cases, traits are seen as selected for in particular environments or niches. I have discussed the problems with such approaches in archaeology (Hodder 2012), including the reductionism involved (everything is reduced to reproductive or replicative fitness). Entanglement provides an alternative in that the fittingness of traits is assessed not in terms of reproductive or replicative success but in terms of contributions to the heterogeneous web of dependencies. Kristiansen (2014) is thus right to argue that entanglement attempts to bridge materiality studies and evolutionary theory, although it tries to do that in a non-reductive way. Entanglement also tries to bridge to behavioral and ecological approaches, although redefining costs and benefits to include social, religious and other dimensions of being. After the processual-postprocessual debates in archaeology in the 80s and 90s, Kristiansen sees a return to big questions as a result in advances in the analysis of ancient DNA and the amassing of big data allowing large-scale modelling. Kristiansen argues that entanglement tends to lead to a focus on the small-scale at the expense of big questions. I hope this volume puts that view to rest. Several chapters deal with large-scale questions such as the origins of agriculture (Chapters 3 and 4), the nature of power and poverty (Chapter 5), the origins of religion and creativity (Chapters 6 and 7). This volume argues that it is only by considering the small-scale everyday practical dependencies between humans and things that the larger-scale transformations can be adequately understood.
Entanglement proves to be a fruitful and productive lens through which to explore a variety of contemporary issues in the social sciences and humanities, from archaeology and anthropology to history, philosophy and classics. What entanglement offers is the study of large-scale and long-term issues solidly grounded in the socio-material practices of daily life. While other writers, such as those influenced by Actor Network Theory, have explored how daily practices take place within a heterogeneous mix of human and non-human processes, entanglement adds the notion that the human-thing relationship is fraught and constraining so that directional change is generated. Other approaches to materiality have focused on relationality, ontology, engagement, symmetry (Graves-Brown et al. 2013; Malafouris 2013; Olsen et al. 2012). Entanglement accepts these contributions but argues further that human and things do not just relate to each other. Rather they are dependent on each other in ways that are entrapping and asymmetrical. Entanglement argues that things are so caught up in other things and in other human-thing dependences, that daily practices are directed down specific pathways, that humans are drawn in specific directions that create further entanglements. Entanglement teaches us to look away from whatever is the immediate object of study, to explore the networks of dependencies that constrain and drive the human condition. It invites us to trace the threads that spread out from each action, entangling that action within wider socio-material realms.
In contrast to a previous account of entanglement (Hodder 2012), this volume introduces a number of new dimensions.
• The things with which humans are entangled include ideas, thoughts, emotions, desires, as well as larger-scale phenomena such as institutions and bureaucracies. As Pauketat (2015, 911) notes in a review of relational approaches in archaeology, we need ‘to open up the discussion to include more than things. We need to make an affective turn’. If things can only be understood relationally, it is important to consider all the threads that contextualize things, to explore the full heterogeneity of relations. In this volume wider definitions of entanglement are particularly explored in Chapters 5 on power, 6 on creativity and 7 on religion.
• At another level of analysis, however, there are no things at all, only flows. It may be convenient analytically, as I have done throughout this book, to use the conventional classification of the world into things. But in reality the things are themselves just flows of matter, energy or information. Things are unstable and unruly. Material things decay and erode, institutions crumble, ideas and thoughts pass fleetingly. Some appear to stay, to have duration, but looked at from sub-atomic or long-term perspectives, all is in flux. There are physical, biological, chemical, informational, social, ideological processes that occur at different rates and rhythms, jumbled up and tumbling over each other. We call this cup, bull or mountain a thing, but it is itself just a very slow flow, intersecting with many others. The flows of things are particularly explored in this volume in Chapters 2 and 3.
• There are similar problems with networks. Again, it may be convenient to analyze the relations between things, the flows, in terms of networks with nodes, as in Chapter 8 in this volume. But the idea of a network seems to assume a set of stable nodes with links or edges between them along which flows of matter, energy and information can pass. But in fact the network is a by-product of the flows. The different types and rates of flow generate nodes and generate the pathways, relations and interactions between them. It is the ‘taskscapes’ (Ingold 1993) that produce the nodes and their interactions, not the other way round. The study of networks may allow us to map and model human-thing interactions, but we should not confuse the study of networks with an understanding of the complex interacting flows that produce them. In this volume, the more static analysis of networks in Chapter 8 can be compared with the complex intersecting flows uncovered in Chapter 3.
• If everything is relational, mixed, heterogeneous, messy, then analysis must proceed in a bottom-up way, refusing to consider things out of their contexts, always building up from the daily practices of everyday life and the mundane fixes that people find themselves in. This point is made most forcefully in this volume in Chapter 3 where it is shown that the complex mixes of human and things produce problems that need fixing with further mixes of humans and things in an endless flow. The approach aims to be thoroughly anti-essentialist, building up towards generalization from careful empirical analysis. Concepts such as the social, the economic, population increase, agricultural intensification are nothing but by-products of daily practical problem solving within the heterogeneous mix of human-thing entanglements. Exploring things involves seeking the conditions of their existence, which involves moving away from the things, both in space and time, to expose the entangled threads that produce them. Rather than reducing the analysis to a limited number of variables, such as reproductive or replicative success, or adaptive efficiency, or ideological impact, or social inequality, the analysis attempts to map the full domain of intersections. The approach thus aims to be fully anti-reductionist, despite the problems entailed (see below).
• While entanglement starts with detailed empirical studies of the specific ways in which humans are caught up in the flows of matter, energy and information, it also encourages the analyst to delve into the long term and large scale. This is partly because the refusal of reductionism leads the analyst to keep asking ‘why’, to follow the long threads that lead backwards and forwards in infinite regress, and that lead outwards to connected domains and struggles that may seem initially far removed from the problem at hand. In these ways time and space are collapsed. The smallest of events in the most distant of lands and eras are seen to reverberate and to interlock in the present. As explored in Chapter 6, events in the 19th century such as Darwin’s writing on evolution, can be followed back and connected to events across centuries and millennia. Contemporary events such as global warming have deep roots, as shown in Chapter 2. Understanding the micro-scale turns out to have immediate relevance to big questions. Indeed, it is argued that large-scale processes are best understood as the product of micro-scale processes (as shown in Chapter 3).
• Entanglement often appears to have a negative emphasis because of its focus on entrapment. The harnessing of energy and information through the use of things has of course led to enormous advances in the human condition. Agriculture and animal domestication were attractive to early farmers because they allowed more resources to be obtained from a given unit of land. But they also drew humans into greater labor, and into denser communities, greater disease and worsening health, into conflict over property and increasing social inequality. All technologies have their positive and negative components and entanglement cannot be understood unless both sides are examined. It is also important to recognize that disentanglement is possible. In Chapter 5 in this volume, elites and non-elites are discussed in terms of their differential abilities to disentangle. In Chapter 7 religion is defined as a technology for fixing, disentangling entanglements. In Chapter 6 creativity is defined as a moment of disentanglement. Indeed, all social agency can be seen as a clearing of a space, a moment of disentangling the messy filaments in which our being is embedded.
These new discussions of entanglement also raise problems that remain difficult and unresolved. Some of the problems in terms of analysis and method are discussed in Chapter 8. But the two most intractable problems are as follows.
• If everything depends on everything else in the heterogeneous mix of humans and things, where is the boundary of study? If complex entanglements cannot be reduced to a limited set of variables, how can one study everything? If everything depends on everything else in an infinite regress, how can we set the boundary to a period of study or a region of study? ‘Why limit our archaeologies by partitioning our subject matter into discrete theories or subfields, or by accepting pre-defined categories of things, beings, systems, etc.? We need richer interrogations of the multiplicities and entanglements that produce people, other-than-human-beings, places, qualities and things’ (Pauketat 2015, 911). But how do we decide where the boundaries occur in these limitless domains of interest? The methods discussed in Chapter 8 allow nodes or concentrations of dependencies between humans and things to be identified, with less dense zones between them. But even here much depends on how the nodes and connections are defined. In practice some degree of tacking back and forth between full descriptions of entanglements and some reductive bounding will be necessary. In practice, some restriction of study to immediately relevant connections can often be justified. But exactly how to strike a balance between the full exposure of dependencies and some reductive bounding and limiting remains a challenge.
• If everything depends on everything else in the heterogeneous mix of humans and things, how can one define causality? This is effectively the same as the first problem, in that analysts are often attracted by the strategy of enlisting external vari ables as causal. So, population increase, climate change, or social competition, are often argued to be external factors that cause change within entanglements (see examples in Chapter 3). But in the entangled mixes there is no external, no outside. Population increase, climate change and so on are themselves produced within the entanglements. There can thus be no external causative ‘kick’. There are only internal perturbations that generate change. But since these internal perturbations are often multiple and very small, and because they are also multiply connected, there can be no clear ‘cause’; and even if there were, it would be unlikely that archaeologists would stumble over a small specific event. Causality is thus radically dispersed and it may be fruitless to try and identify specific causes. All the analyst can do is continually explore entanglements from different perspectives, understanding new dimensions within a multi-dimensional world, opening up new links and connections. Such an approach may allow ‘richer interrogations’ but the lack of explanatory capability in terms of cause may seem problematic to some.
In the chapters that follow, these new aspects of entanglements and the associated problems are explored. In the Afterward, criticisms are debated. The overall effect is not to establish a coherent domain of research but rather to probe towards new perspectives, pursuing the affordances that the notion of entanglement opens up. We work always with metaphors, and the value of the metaphor of entanglement can best be assessed in terms of whether it provides fruitful new directions and understandings. We can define entanglement as a metaphor that tries to capture the contradictory messiness of the flows and counter-flows that produce, enchain and encompass entities (humans, animals, things, ideas, social institutions).
The value of the entanglement metaphor can also be assessed in terms of whether it contributes to an understanding of the current world in which we live. As noted above, entanglement has a negative hue, imparting a sense of being trapped in pathways that lead in specific directions. Part of the attraction of the term may be that it resonates with a wider global sense of being trapped. Increasingly we seem met by intractable problems such as global warming, or the gridlock of international agencies such as the UN that seem powerless to act, or by the inability to introduce gun laws in the US despite repeated mass shootings. In terms of food consumption we are trapped in the nonsense of throwing away large amounts of the food that is produced; and campaigners such as Alice Waters argue that we are imprisoned in fast food leading to obesity and a high incidence of diabetes. In small and large ways we seem increasingly stuck. These everyday senses of being cornered and unable to find a way out are perhaps what provide entanglement its traction in the contemporary world.