1st Edition

A Return to the Object
Alfred Gell, Art, and Social Theory

ISBN 9781350093478
Published November 27, 2020 by Routledge
268 Pages 21 B/W Illustrations

USD $44.95

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Book Description

This book draws on the work of anthropologist Alfred Gell to reinstate the importance of the object in art and society. Rather than presenting art as a passive recipient of the artist's intention and the audience's critique, the authors consider it in the social environment of its production and reception.

A Return to the Object introduces the historical and theoretical framework out of which an anthropology of art has emerged, and examines the conditions under which it has renewed interest. It also explores what art 'does' as a social and cultural phenomenon, and how it can impact alternative ways of organising and managing knowledge. Making use of ethnography, museological practice, the intellectual history of the arts and sciences, material culture studies and intangible heritage, the authors present a case for the re-orientation of current conversations surrounding the anthropology of art and social theory.

This text will be of key interest to students and scholars in the social and historical sciences, arts and humanities, and cognitive sciences.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Gell and his influences

Part I: Rethinking the frame

Chapter 1: Lessons from the Art Nexus

Chapter 2: The index and indexicality

Chapter 3: The prototype and the model

Chapter 4: Immanent relationality and its consequences

Part II: Following the Prototype

Chapter 5: Virtuosity and style

Chapter 6: Aesthetics and the ethics of relation

Chapter 7: Generativity and transformation

Chapter 8: Agency (social)

Part III: Rediscovering the object

Chapter 9: Material agency

Chapter 10: Colour, Palette and Gestalt

Chapter 11: Patterns and their Transposition

Chapter 12: Motile Animacy

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Susanne Küchler is Professor of Anthropology and Material Culture at University College London.

Timothy Carroll is a UK Research and Innovation Future Leader Fellow in Anthropology at University College London.


'This book is at once penetrating and kaleidoscopic, full of exposition coupled with evocative ethnographic illustration. It extends Gell’s ideas into new domains… The synthesis is extraordinary. Ranging across time and space and diversity of perspectives compared and contrasted, this volume will take its place alongside others—one thinks of The Savage Mind, Purity and Danger.'

— Frederick H. Damon, University of Virginia, USA

"Küchler and Carroll have brought their different anthropological experiences and deep knowledge together in a book to engage the anthropology of art with a deep reading and extension of Alfred Gell’s framework. Calling for a "return to the object," a theoretical project that follows Gell’s movement away from the emphasis on signification and to the study of "relations immanent within objects", the book is ethnographically detailed and philosophically articule. Readers may find it a challenging formulation, spanning over numerous case studies, but it rewards us in profoundly enriching the possibilities of the anthropology of art."

— Fred Myers, New York University, USA

"Vivid, generous, and theoretically exciting, Küchler and Carroll bring the Anthropology of Art back to the world of big ideas. But never at the expense of the objects themselves. Featuring an extraordinary array of ethnographic detail and insight, this landmark publication is a must-read for anyone seeking to become more alive to the generative, relational, and conceptual capacities of images and objects. The work of apprehension it argues for—and offers up—is astonishing." 

— Jennifer Deger, James Cook University, Australia