Theme and Call for Sessions and Papers





Theoretical Archeological Group—North America


May 18-20, 2017


In recognition of the contributions of Toronto scholar Marshall McLuhan, the theme of the meeting is:


 “The Medium is the Message: Media and Mediation in Archaeology.”


The theme is intentionally broad and highlights how existence is profoundly conditioned by the material world, an issue that has been of central concern to archaeologists as well as to posthumanists and new materialists in other disciplines.  In the oft cited aphorism, “the medium is the message,” University of Toronto philosopher Marshall McLuhan (1964) intended to stress how technologies, especially print and later digital media, transformed human cognition and social organization.  In a similar vein, archaeological publications commonly declare that social relations, political inequality, and structures of practice were “mediated” by landscapes, ecologies, and assemblages of things and technical orders.  In a sense, mediation becomes synonymous with process itself.  In a recent publication, Arjun Appadurai (2015) has critiqued Latour and other proponents of the material turn, and he proposes that a focus on “mediants” and “mediation” permits more historically sensitive analyses of the formation of diverse social collectives entangling people, places, and things.  At the same time, archaeological research is an inherently mediated enterprise, for interpretation relies on the traces and material signs of past practices.  As Zoë Crossland recently noted (2014: 3): “Archaeology is the exemplary discipline of signs, spinning narratives of past worlds around the material detritus left in the wake of human lives.”  Thus a diverse number of sessions could be considered, ranging from the effects of new digital media on archaeological inference to the problems inherent in archaeological attempts to mediate or translate indigenous lifeways.


Session themes could also address: mediation and materiality; media and aesthetics; the politics of mediatization; mediation as semiosis, media of archaeological interpretation, trace as medium, media of religion and ideology; the present as medium of the past (space as medium of time  and history)—and so forth.


In appreciation of the first President of the University of Toronto, Daniel Wilson (who is credited with coining the term “prehistory”), sessions exploring the history of archaeological thought would also be welcome, along with themes not directly related to media and mediation.


Special Call for Artist's Proposals


TAG Toronto invites artists to participate in the conference for art relates directly to the theme “The Medium is the Message: Media and Mediation in Archaeology”. Artists are invited to present their original work in order to generate new ideas, stimulate discussion, and, explore how representational and interactive media condition and shape all dimensions of the social. Art projects will be exhibited on Friday and Saturday, May 19-20, in the Anthropology Department of the University of Toronto, with the display of installations and video taking place concurrently throughout the conference. Performative pieces are also encouraged but as part of proposed sessions. Space will be allotted in various locations in the department, (common areas or research laboratories) and projection equipment, easels, and tables can also be provided if required. The spaces will be overseen by TAG conference volunteers during the day, but artists are encouraged to remain near their work when possible during breaks in sessions to answer questions and promote conversation. Security is available for the public spaces overnight as needed.

Applicants must submit an abstract (max 300 words) of the proposed project/display to the meeting coordinators by March 7, 2017. Please explain your project, how it fits with the tag theme, and how you plan to install and present your project. Feel free to contact the coordinators if you have any questions or concerns.


Works Cited


Appadurai, Arjun  2015.  Mediants, Materiality, Normativity.  Public Culture 27(2): 221-237.


Crossland, Zoë  2014  Ancestral Encounters in Highland Madagascar: Material Signs and Traces of the Dead.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


McLuhan, Marshall  1964.  Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw Hill.