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Do Caves Have Agency?

  • Rick Peterson
Chapter

Abstract

Recent studies of later prehistoric cave use have stressed the affective qualities of these natural spaces. Certain properties of caves—for example, darkness, constriction and their active geomorphology—can lead to their characterisation as active agents, natural places with profound powers. However, is it really plausible to interpret caves, inanimate geological formations, as active agents? This chapter will review arguments on social, environmental and material agency. This will include structuration theory, with its emphasis on human consciousness as a key aspect of agency; Ingold’s ‘dwelling perspective’, which allows the possibility of non-human agents; the work of Alfred Gell; and actor-network-theory. Two common threads are drawn from these approaches to describe the way that things act. Things act in accordance with the properties they have and in a way that is structured and enabled by their past history. From this perspective, caves can be shown to act, and therefore caves would have been perceived in the past as having agency.

Keywords

Social agency Environmental agency Structuration Dwelling perspective Actor-network-theory 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Lindsey Büster, Dimitrij Mlekuž and Eugène Warmenbol for the invitation to speak at the 2014 European Association of Archaeologists conference in Istanbul and for the further invitation to submit this chapter to the present volume. Particular thanks are due to Lindsey who kindly read my contribution in Istanbul when I was unfortunately unable to be physically present. The arguments in this chapter have benefitted from extensive discussions about agency and caves with many colleagues, but I should particularly thank Vicki Cummings, Julia Roberts, David Robinson and Duncan Sayer. Thanks are also due to Josh Cameron who introduced me to the detail and implications of the Wookey Hole sequence.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Archaeology, School of Forensic and Applied SciencesUniversity of Central LancashirePrestonUK

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