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MC8 Appropriating Innovations

Appropriating Innovations: Entangled Knowledge in Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Eurasia

Coordination: Joseph Maran


The question of how to conceptualize the role of technological innovations during the last 12,000 years is of crucial importance for understanding the mechanisms and rhythms of long-term cultural change in prehistoric and early historic societies. Although the accelerating force of the advent of agriculture and sedentary village life during the early Holocene is widely acknowledged, the changes that have come about since then have often been modelled as gradual and linear. Already in the 1920ies such a position was countered by Vere Gordon Childe (1925; 1929) who insisted on the importance of technological and economic innovation coupled with human mobility and communication between societies in Asia and Europe in triggering periods of upheaval which he envisaged as “revolutionary” in their consequences. While Childe was rightly criticized for his belief in teleological progress and his oversimplified idea of diffusion from few “civilizational cores” in the Near East and Egypt to “peripheral areas” as almost resembling a natural force, his ideas were groundbreaking for their emphasis in coupling societal change with interaction and technological innovation. By focusing on the case examples of two basic innovations that changed the course of history of Eurasia, namely the so-called “Secondary Products Revolution” of the 4th millennium BCE and the spread of bronze casting technology in the following millennium, this interdisciplinary research group will argue that Childe was not in a position to appreciate how innovation unfolds its potential because he lacked a concept of interculturality and was disinterested in the actual social context of the appropriation of new technological traits. By coupling an approach towards materiality inspired by Actor-Network Theory (Law 1986; 1992; Latour 2007) with an intercultural framework it will be analyzed how the introduction of novel technologies (animal husbandry, bronze casting etc.) led to a transformation of existing economic systems and the underlying social orders.

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LATOUR, B. 2007: Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: University Press.
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LAW, J. 1992: Notes on the Theory of the Actor-Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity. Systems Practice 5, pp. 379-393.