We are happy to announce that the 2019 edition of the annual Unruly Heritage seminar/workshop will be held in Poznań, Poland, between October 17 and 20, 2019.

This year’s theme is ‘Rethinking Agency, Politics, and Ethics in the Anthropocene‘, with a keynote address by Levi Bryant on October 17. A broad range of topics will be addressed in three sessions the next day, followed by a panel discussion on October 20.

You will find the outline and program below, followed by a list of available abstracts.



Rethinking Agency, Politics, and Ethics in the Anthropocene

Unruly Heritage 2019 Workshop

Poznań, October 17-20, 2019

The Anthropocene has become hard to ignore. Not so much by its name, perhaps, which may be disputed and contested, as by its impacts and presences. It is a rupture both in a geological, environmental – and archaeological – sense, and has increasingly shaken also intellectual and political landscapes. While diagnosed and named by natural scientists in the early 2000s (Crutzen/Stoermer), the Anthropocene is not something discovered or imagined by scholars. It has rather announced itself through a series of truly novel and affective objects, including greenhouse gasses, global warming, and microplastic. Being often massively distributed in time and space, these are what Timothy Morton aptly has called hyperobjects: huge composite objects made up of a mix of other things (“global warming comprises the sun, the biosphere, fossil fuels, cars, and so on”) and for which the categories offered by modern ontology have proved seriously inadequate.

This workshop takes as a starting point the instability and insecurity brought about by the Anthropocene and invites discussions of how to respond to its range of ontological, political and ethical challenges. So far, such responses have been mixed, as witnessed not the least in archaeology. In some environments the Anthropocene, and the way its objects blur and contest some of the most persistent distinctions in western thinking (e.g. between culture and nature, and the animate and inanimate), is taken as a call to radically rethink the range of non-human agencies and relations and to search for alternatives to anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism. For others, such concern with ontology and more-than-human agency is rather seen as an escape, a more or less willful side-stepping of the serious political and ethical issues involved and where our concern more firmly should be with human agency, action, and survival.

In this workshop, we encourage presentations that go beyond this split and which discuss how the Anthropocene requires new ways of thinking agency, politics, and ethics in archaeology and the humanities at large. This involves a range of questions, such as: In what way is agency, also understood as a non-human faculty, affected by the new res publica of the Anthropocene? Is agency still a relevant term? How are we to think about politics, and what politics is, in times when more-than-human concerns are rapidly growing? Moreover, what does it mean to be critical under these new conditions; – can criticism be developed beyond its modern legacy of suspicion, unmasking, and moral supremacy? And with the new instability and uncertainty in mind, are there any alternatives to a normative ethics?





Thursday, October 17

Poznan University Library – Humanities Reading Room

ul. Ratajczaka 38/40, 1st floor, room 141

5:30-7:00 – Keynote lecture by Levi Bryant – Domestic Objects, Wild Things: Aletheia, Ruination, and Drift


Friday, October 18

Polish Academy of Sciences

Działyński Palace, Stary Rynek 78/79, 2nd floor

Session I – Moderated by Bjørnar Olsen

9:30-9.50 – Stein Farstadvoll – Aftermath: Natural Landscapes and the Politics of Anthropogenic Legacies

9:50-10.10 – Monika Stobiecka – Transheritage: Conceptualizing a Platform for the Future

10.10-10.30 – Torgeir Rinke Bangstad – Material Life: The Geological Imagination and Architectural Conservation in the Anthropocene

10.30-11.15 – Discussion 


Session II – Moderated by Mats Burström 

11:30-11:50 – Anatolijs Venovcevs – Beyond Local Destruction: Dispersed Agency of Mining

11:50-12:10 – Caitlin DeSilvey – The Asset Strippers and the Asset Hiders: On Machines, Memory and Mutabilitys

12:10-12:30 – Tomasz Michalik – Pre-Catastrophe Archaeology: Looking for Agency in Conceptual Framework

12:30-12:50 – Anna I. Zalewska – Archaeology of Transience – Ethics, Politics and Material Engagements of the ‘Gas-scapes’: From the Great War Till Today’s Poland

12:50-13:30 – Discussion


Session III – Moderated by Arek Marciniak

15:00-15:20 – Michał Pawleta – A Liquid Heritage in the Anthropocene

15:20-15:40 – Denis Byrne – Landing on the Coast: Developing an Anthropocene Optic on the Littoral Zone

15:40-16:00 – Timothy James LeCain – Avoiding Anthropocentrism in the Anthropocene: The Benefits of Embracing Human Insignificance

16:00-17:00 – Discussion


Saturday, October 19

Theatre Hall

Collegium Maius, ul. Fredry 10

Panel Discussion – Chaired by Geneviève Godin

17:00-19:00 – Short presentations by Þóra Pétursdóttir, Ewa Domańska, and Bjørnar Olsen, followed by a group discussion.




Keynote lecture

Levi Bryant – Domestic Objects, Wild Things: Aletheia, Ruination, and Drift

In the world of everyday experience consisting of our engaged and concernful dealings with objects, things are disclosed as domestic objects. At the most general level, domestic objects are characterized by localization, endurance or a lack of change, passivity, discreteness, and are above all subordination to use and meaning. This disclosure of things as domestic objects gives rise to the illusion that they are without agency, but rather are passive recipients of human mastery. Under this account, things are passive lumps of matter that are recipients of our activity and agency, that solely come into being through our agency both at the level of human craft and conceptual genesis. Such a concept of the object proves to be an impediment to thinking the Anthropocene, for where the thing is conceived as a passive lump lacking in agency, it cannot act in ways that exceed human mastery, transforming the very fabric of the earth. Drawing on the work of the symmetrical archaeologists, this talk argues that lurking beneath the domestic object is the wild thing. The wild thing is the object emancipated from human mastery and determination such that it discloses an agency in excess of the uses to which it is put for human ends. In characterizing the wild thing, I aim to develop a concept of the thing as characterized by ruination and drift. Etymologically, “ruin” derives from the Latin verb ruere, meaning “to fall”. The wild thing is that which falls out of the domestic object, exceeding human uses and domestication, revealing a hidden agency often veiled as a result of how we maintain the object. Drift refers to that which is driven in the object, exceeding all locality and gathering things together in all sorts of unexpected ways. Between ruination and drift, we thus encounter the spatio-temporal structure of the wild thing in excess of human mastery.


Session I

Stein FarstadvollAftermath: Natural Landscapes and the Politics of Anthropogenic Legacies

This speculative paper dwells on politics in and of the afterlife of anthropogenic things. The term “afterlife” is anthropocentric but is used to point beyond human intentionality. It refers to the existence of things that exceed their “originally” intended purpose, function and ends. The age of the Anthropocene, Capitaloscene, Polemocene, Chthulucene, and so on, is very much about the consequences and continuation of things that exceed their blueprint. The object of speculation will be the persistent remnants of a Second World War Luftwaffe camp in Northern Norway. Today the camp lies within a designated “Landscape Protection Area” that both protect natural and cultural landscapes. The camp has recently come into the attention of the park board, and it has started to dawn that even these new, but problematic remains, are more than just toxic pollution but also a contingent part of the natural-cultural landscape. However, are the things and beings that inhabit the remnants of the camp today only passive servants of external political realities, both of the past and today, or can it be the matter of political subversion and resistance? And, how do ecology and the nonhuman environment fit into this?

Monika StobieckaTransheritage: Conceptualizing a Platform for the Future

The Anthropocene has brought to archaeology a deeper awareness and sensibility that redirects the research on the “old things” (Olsen et al. 2012) toward the future. Parallel processes such as heritigization (Harrison 2015), capitalistic consumerism resulting in accumulation (González-Ruibal 2018), and omnipresent digitization in culture, immensely affect the way of thinking about heritage. Old concepts often seem irrelevant and reductive when facing challenges of current problems of heritage studies. In my presentation I would like to focus on recent interest in “trans-studies” that are concerned with highly diverse community of theory and practice and explore how this “trans perspective” can help to conceptualize an idea of “transheritage”. I will claim that “transheritage” is transmaterial (it goes from material to digital back and forth as an effect of digitization), translocal (it may be easily moved from place to place), transnational (it is a subject of identification for contemporary nomads, who come from no man’s land), transcultural and transracial (it has a particular potential to be a contemporary “totem” for different cultures), transcorporeal (it can be a very personal and intimate form of heritage like blood or genes), and possibly transgender. I will investigate what does “trans-“ mean for our understanding of heritage? Why it is better to talk about transheritage, than about transcultural heritage, or transdisciplinary heritage? I will also confront “transheritage” with cross- or inter-heritage and try to prove that “transheritage” might be a predominant form of future heritage. To illustrate my talk, I will analyze new forms of heritage: 3D prints and digitized historic environments (as a response to transmateriality, translocality, transnationality, and transgender) and popularity gained by MyHeritage Service (as a response to transculturality, transraciality, and transcorporeality, see https://www.myheritage.pl). I will base my considerations on Karen Barad’s notion of an intra-action (2007), meaning that distinct agencies that intra-act contribute to the emergence of a new one. In this sense I would treat the trans-meetings as intra-actions contributing to the emergence of transheritage as a new form of heritage.

Torgeir Rinke BangstadMaterial Life: The Geological Imagination and Architectural Conservation in the Anthropocene

In this paper I will draw inspiration from the idea of an intimate correspondence between geological formation and architectural construction; that architectural tectonics and earth tectonics relate through different articulations of material life. The influence of geology on architectural thought and practice in the 19th century, has been seen as a result of attempts at temporal synchronization that is currently re-actualized by the Anthropocene and its convergence of timescales: The slow and deep time of volcanoes, mountains, glaciers which out-scale the time of human cultural history, construction, habitation and production. In the geological imagination of the 19th century architectural thought, fossils, mountains, glaciers enabled the recognition of the abysmally deep past through processes still at work, but they also shaped ideas of architectural construction and conservation at the time. Ruination of buildings was seen as analogous to the erosive forces at work in mountains; both phenomena were subject to the same play of structural forces, albeit on vastly different scales. The thread that connected the history of human-made forms with geological formation processes, was the sense of life in non-organic matter, the erosion and encrustation of mountains, their ceaseless, if slow, transformation that could inspire architectural forms which yielded to rather than resisted the vital force of things. These ideas have resurfaced today as a “geologic” operative within and between human beings, material bodies and the built environment, as a force that compels us to relate to the geologic time at work in our everyday surroundings. Architectural conservation, then and now, yields a tension between, on the one hand, conservation technologies’ arrest of time, and, on the other hand, the belief that the ongoing transformation of materials is a fundamental condition for appreciating the vitality of things.


Session II

Anatolijs VenovcevsBeyond Local Destruction – Dispersed Agency of Mining

Both policy and popular imagination generally conceives of mining as local environmental destruction. Although this destruction can be quite extensive, the creation of local sacrifice zones is seen as unavoidable for the material wealth achieved by the extractive industry. This presentation seeks to challenge that conception by tracing the networks revolving around mineral exploitation. Specifically, it will use examples from recent work in Labrador, Canada to extend the environmental alterations outward. By considering the various anthropogenic networks, the imprint of material legacies from mining enterprises expands ever further challenging us to think of mineral exploitation as a dispersed regional and perhaps even global phenomenon, that has deep chronological implications into the future.

Caitlin DeSilveyThe Asset Strippers and the Asset Hiders: On Machines, Memory and Mutability

Working through two spaces–the art gallery and the collection store–this paper will explore the shifting identities of a particular class of heritage objects. The commonplace industrial machinery of late-capitalism, now largely released from its intended use in manufacturing and domestic production, has entered a new phase characterised by selective accumulation and appropriation against a background of widespread disposal and destruction. The paper will work with two sets of machines, drawn into two different institutional systems, and consider how their spatial displacement inflects their affordances of memory and meaning. It will reflect, as well, on the ways in which the machines appear to resist their reinscription and revaluation, retaining links to other possible pasts, and futures.

Tomasz MichalikPre-Catastrophe Archaeology: Looking for Agency in Conceptual Framework

Archaeology has an extensive portfolio in the study of material aspects of catastrophes. From Pompeii to Auschwitz, through the battles and natural hazards researchers analyze apocalyptic heritage. But what about contemporary times? Is this experience useful in understanding pre-catastrophic period called Anthropocene? There is no doubt that the new geological epoch brings a series of challenges. Archaeologists and geologists cooperate on one of the basic ones – the stratigraphy of Anthropocene. But usage of archaeological methods (excavations and data records) is not enough. Following Timothy Morton’s idea of hyperobjects and negation of classic divisions (eg. nature vs culture) researchers (including archaeologists) are facing the challenge to develop new conceptual framework to describe reality. In my speech I would like to focus on how materiality influences our thinking about the past and the future (artifacts as non-human agents). My reflection will start with a study conducted among archaeology students and professionals which shows that different representations of artifacts influence our conceptual framework concerning the past. According to these results I will analyse the relations between new category of objects arising in the Anthropocene (hyperobjects) and current narrations created in archaeology (their invisibility). In conclusion, in reference to the mind-body problem and Anti-Cartesian movement in cognitive science I would like to propose new way of thinking about non-human agents in the Anthropocene.

Anna I. ZalewskaArchaeology of Transience – Ethics, Politics and Material Engagements of the ‘Gas-scapes’: From the Great War Till Today’s Poland

The aim of the presentation is to discuss the specificity and outcomes of the cognitive and social interactions that have been experienced in direct connection to things and places within the project “Archaeological Revival of Memory of the Great War” (ARM project). That project was fueled by material remains of the life and death in trenches of the Eastern Front and by the observation of the condition of the former battlescape (gas-scape) in the region of the Rawka and Bzura in Central Poland. I will focus on problematic agency of the material entities whose mass presence was presentified through archaeological and historical research, with engaging remote sensing, forensic methods etc. By approaching in microscale some selected (subjectively seen as most evocative) causative realms suspended between times, their constant change (transformation), their overwhelming independence (insubordination) and also higly however selectively politicised and repressed statuses will be exposed.

The attention will be drawn to the ethical dimension of beeing ineffable by growing (as in Polish case, here and now) awareness of the raw presence of the remnants of wars form the 20th century in the 21st century including those burdened inter allia by the eruption of inventiveness in the field of methods of killing which took place a.o. in 1915 in Central Poland. Those remnants will be treated as the basis for sketching the gists for the so far tentatively identified tropes of durations of analysed material entities (to some extent strongly competing/ overlaping), which in a brilliant and perfidious way can be simultaneously “fragile matters of concern” and /or imposing provocative and causative. Those tropes extending between raw duration and significant presence will be shown as at least tripartite: – anarchizing, – provocating (warning) and –soothing. By seeking what cognitive and culture-forming opportunities might arise from applying “object-oriented ontology” to the things and places burdened by the experiences of the 20th century wars and approached archaeologically I will seek to determine and rethink the types of connections (sutures) between those things and places, between things among themselves and between us and “them“ and the ways of rethinking those sutures via very archaeological grounding of them.

The reflections will be entangled/sutured with the outcomes of the fieldwork which embraced an area of about 440 km more or less saturated with the presence of movable and immovable entities, many of which (especially demised ‘sensitive’ and ‘causative’ places), despite the pasage of only a little over a hundred years of primarly depositional process requiared care, translation and presentification. Also, the problematic delineation of the „beginning“ of the Anthropocene (located i.a. „around the end of World War II, with the invention of nuclear weapons“) will be shyly questioned (discussed) and burdened with another alternative proposal.

Session III

Michał PawletaA Liquid Heritage in the Anthropocene

The perspective of Anthropocene has introduced into the scientific debate a degree of complexity that impairs the theoretical foundations on which our ways of thinking of the world has been constructed, as for example, the central oppositions of nature/culture, subject/object, human/ non-human etc. It also relates to the very notion of heritage and its place in the present. Traditionally, cultural heritage is seen as the set of traces left by people in their effort to inhabit the Earth and understand it by changing it. The Anthropocene radically challenges such notion of heritage and forces us to adopt more complex understandings. Thus, the questions arise what are the challenges that this new perspective forces us to face in our approach to the preservation, valorization, transmission and management of what we recognize today as cultural heritage? Or, how cultural heritage can be conceptualized from the perspective of the Anthropocene? The goal of my presentation is to find an answer to the abovementioned questions analysed through the prism of the idea of a liquid heritage. I will focus my attention on changing conceptualizations of the very idea of cultural heritage since the introduction of the term heritage by the UNESCO in the 1970s and try to determine what role it plays in the present age of the Anthropocene. For this purpose the mechanisms observed and explained by Zygmunt Bauman in “Liquid modernity” (2000) and “Retrotopia” (2017) will be compared and referred to the rudiments of heritage. I argue that some ideas proposed in his works allow us to reorient and reconceptualise heritage and make it more apt to the present circumstances.

Denis ByrneLanding on the Coast: Developing an Anthropocene Optic on the Littoral Zone

In Down to Earth (2019), Bruno Latour maintains that the climate crisis requires us to reorient ourselves away from such fixations of the last few centuries as growth economics and the tension between globalization and localism. We have to ‘come down to earth; we shall have to land somewhere,’ he maintains, because our survival as a species is now in question. Focussing on coastlines and extending from my work on the archaeology of coastal reclamations I explore here the potential for archaeology to help people see the familiar terrain of our lives in its Anthropocene complexion. It is often difficult to actually see the Anthropocene in the world around us because many aspects of its footprint have been naturalised. The terrain of the coast is a good example. Our terraforming projects there, capitalism’s ‘second nature,’ often now seem beguilingly timeless. Without slipping into human:nonhuman, culture:nature dualisms, there is value in being able to identify and own what is ours in today’s littoral zone and – more than that – being able to name the economics, technologies, ambitions and occluded visibilities that gave rise to it. This is one aspect of the Anthropocene ‘optic’ which I argue is going to be useful as we come back down to earth. Another, again in relation to the littoral zone, is its potential to help people see the inherent and escalating instability of the waterfront. In this paper I examine the horizontal and vertical axes of the waterfront, playing with ways of looking at extensions and contractions of Asia’s coastlines. Also, following Paul Virilio’s excursions to the beach in the 1950s and 60s and reflecting on his architecture of the oblique, I look at what our addiction to flatness has done to the coast.

Timothy James LeCainAvoiding Anthropocentrism in the Anthropocene: The Benefits of Embracing Human Insignificance

Despite its unapologetically anthropocentric name, the material realities of the proposed Anthropocene epoch present a profound challenge to the conventional modernist and post-modernist focus on the centrality and agency of human beings. One of the most striking aspects of this supposed Age of Humans is that many of its defining features—climate change, radioactive strata, ubiquitous plastic pollutants, species extinction, etc.—were largely unintended and unexpected consequences of humans pursuing what had initially seemed to be entirely unrelated goals. The early creators and adopters of coal-powered engines in no way intended, expected, or even imagined that their machines might cause dangerous planet-wide warming several centuries later. Likewise, humans were surprised to belatedly discover the bio-concentration of radioisotopes and the stubborn persistence of microplastic particles in the environment. Yet if the material changes that characterize the Anthropocene were for the most part unintended, this raises important questions about the nature of human and non-human agency. In the modern and post-modern era most scholars emphasized the centrality of human agency, suggesting that ideas and discourse determined the material world and society. Any suggestion that humans were substantially shaped by an environment in which they were inescapably embedded tended to be dismissed as a crude environmental or technological determinism. The unexpected emergence of the Anthropocene thus offers an opportunity to shift the focus away from ourselves and to imagine a less anthropocentric and more holistic humanism. Rather than hanging on to the age-old faith in human centrality, what manner of politics and ethics might emerge from truly embracing our own insignificance?



Panel Discussion

Þóra Pétursdóttir – Beyond Natural Heritage

I will in my paper/panel discussion reflect on a project outline (work in progress) focusing on natural heritage and the nature of heritage at the verge of Anthropocene. Some prospective fieldwork was conducted in relation to this project during the summer of 2019, at the volcanic island and UNESCO natural reserve of Surtsey off the south coast of Iceland. This initial work, the experience of the heritage site itself and, no less significant, the engagement and collaboration with natural scientists working there, has allowed me to develop the project further, adding significant nuances in terms of how natural heritage is constituted and sustained.

Ewa DomańskaHomo homini humus est: Soil Heritage as a Challenge for Historical Research

Bjørnar Olsen – Deep Time, Shallow Memory: Some Archaeological Reflections on the Anthropocentric Uniqueness (and Entrapment)

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