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2005 | 65 | 7-23

Article title

On the Turn Towards Things in the Contemporary Humanities (Towards Non-anthropocentric History)


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The article discusses the so-called turn towards things, which became apparent in British and American humanities at the end of the 1990s. Interest in things has a long tradition, but the research questions addressed to things as well as assorted approaches and methods of their analysis have undergone changes. By following the example of Bruno Latour, numerous present-day researchers indicate that things should not be treated as passive subjects, dependent upon people, but as legitimate members of the human and non-human community which, albeit deprived of intention and consciousness, do possess a specific agency. In analysing texts by Igor Kopytoff, Cornelius Holtorf and Andrew Jones, which constitute examples of a biographic approach towards things, the authoress demonstrates that it contains discernible features characteristic of traditional epistemology: a personification of things, which is an expression of anthropocentrism, together with genealogical and genetic thinking. The biographical approach, however, is accompanied by an interesting proposal of ascribing agency to things, i.e. the impact exerted by things upon the establishment and transformation of interpersonal relations. Generally speaking, the relation between things and people becomes redefined, and objects are granted the status of active participants in the life processes in which they not only exist, but also act. The thing appears to be 'relational', and prime research emphasis is placed on studying relations and not things as such. We are dealing, therefore, with thinking in the categories of differences between man and thing, although this is a hierarchic difference, in which man constitutes a point of reference and an exemplary way in which the thing should be perceived. The 'turn towards things' thus entails a certain paradox: on the one hand, the thing is conceived as 'the other' about which biographies are written, and hence is subjected to anthropomorphisation; on the other hand, 'spokesmen of the thing' seek possibilities for departing from the anthropocentric and personifying perception or one which treats things as fetishes.








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  • E. Domanska, Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza, Instytut Historii, ul. sw. Marcin 78, 61-809 Poznan, Poland


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