Do Caves Have Agency?

Peterson, Rick orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4185-1288 (2019) Do Caves Have Agency? In: Between Worlds: Understanding Ritual Cave Use in Later Prehistory. Springer, New York. ISBN 978-3-319-99021-7

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Recent studies of later prehistoric cave use have stressed the affective qualities of these natural spaces. Certain properties of caves, darkness, constriction and their active geomorphology for example, can lead to caves be characterised as active agents, natural places with profound powers. However, is it really plausible to interpret caves, inanimate geological formations, as active agents? This paper 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 as having agency.

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