People and Things: A Behavioral Approach to Material Culture (Manuals in Archaeological Method, Theory and Technique)

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The study of the human-made world, whether it is called artifacts, material culture, or technology, has burgeoned across the academy. Archaeologists have for cen- ries led the way, and today offer investigators myriad programs and conceptual frameworks for engaging the things, ordinary and extraordinary, of everyday life. This book is an attempt by practitioners of one program – Behavioral Archaeology – to furnish between two covers some of our basic principles, heuristic tools, and illustrative case studies. Our greater purpose, however, is to engage the ideas of two competing programs – agency/practice and evolution – in hopes of initiating a dialog. We are convinced that there is enough overlap in goals, interests, and conceptions among these programs to warrant guarded optimism that a more encompassing, more coherent framework for studying the material world can result from a concerted effort to forge a higher-level synthesis. However, in engaging agency/ practice and evolution in Chap. 2, we are not reticent to point out conflicts between Behavioral Archaeology and these programs. This book will appeal to archaeologists and anthropologists as well as historians, sociologists, and philosophers of technology. Those who study science–technology– society interactions may also encounter useful ideas. Finally, this book is suitable for upper-division and graduate courses on anthropological theory, archaeological theory, and the study of technology.

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People and Things: A Behavioral Approach to Material Culture
James M. Skibo, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Normal, IL
Michael B. Schiffer, Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

The core of archaeology is the relationship between people and things. Left without informants and, in many cases, textual data, archaeologists strive to reconstruct past life through the window of artifacts: things made, used, and modified by individuals while participating in the activities of everyday life. According to behavioral archaeologists, our ability to understand the relationship between people and things in the present is the foundation for archaeological reconstruction of the past.

This comprehensive text sets forth a theory for understanding the relationship between people and things. Humans, whether in the distant past or in our current world, make choices while inventing, developing, replicating, adopting, and using their technologies. A wide arc of factors, from utilitarian to social and religious can affect these choices. The theoretical model presented here provides the means to understand how people, whether it be Paleolithic stone tool makers or 21st century computer designers and users, negotiate these myriad factors throughout the artifact’s life history.  While setting forth a behavioral theory, the book also engages the ideas of other competing theories, focusing especially on agency, practice, and selectionism.

Six case studies form the core of the book, and provide clear examples of how the theory can be applied to a range of artifacts and people from prehistoric North American ball courts and smudge pits to the first electric cars and 19th century electromagnetic telegraph technologies. This book provides the reader, for the first time between two covers, a wide array of examples that can guide their own work.

Archaeology and anthropology graduate students will find this book of interest. Twenty years in the making, this work will be an essential tool for new scholars as well as experienced members in the field of archaeology or any researcher who investigates technology.

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"Skibo (anthropology, Illinois State U., Normal, Illinois) and Schiffer (anthropology, U. of Arizona, Tucson) present a theoretical framework for understanding the choices people, past and present, make in inventing, developing, replicating, adopting, and using their technologies. a ] For students, scholars, researchers, and practitioners in archaeology, anthropology, history, sociology, and philosophy of technology." (Reference and Research Book News, Vol. 23 (2), May, 2008)

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