COLLOQUIUM: Peter Van Dommelen, Brown, "Hybridity in Practice: Understanding Material Culture in Colonial Situations"

Thursday, September 29, 2016 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall 

Hybridity, mestizaje, creolization, entanglement, métissage, syncretism and the Middle Ground are all terms that have been put forward in the past decade to capture processes of mutual cultural and social influences that occur in contact and colonial situations. As hybridity, or one of its alternates like hybrid and hybridization, would seem to have gained most currency, the concept has increasingly been tied to the appearance of individual objects, as detecting hybrid objects has practically become an end in itself. While all these terms have no doubt contributed to a greater awareness of the complexities and multi-faceted nature of colonial contexts, I will argue that their explanatory contribution has been rather more equivocal as a result of a descriptive and superficial focus on the outward appearance of objects.

In this paper, I will argue that such 'hybrid objects' are all too often and all too readily taken as straightforward evidence of cultural hybridity. In an attempt to counter this trend, I propose to go back to square one and to begin by questioning what hybrid objects can and cannot tell us about contact and colonial situations, before moving on to examine how material culture and meanings may be constructed in such contexts. Drawing on ethnographic and archaeological evidence from across the West Mediterranean, I will eventually focus on first millennium BC Sardinia, where the sites of nuraghe S’Urachi and Monte Prama offer a wealth of new evidence that is as intriguing as it is illuminating.