Toward an Ecology of Materials

Posted: 8 Oct 2012

Date Written: October 2012


Both material culture studies and ecological anthropology are concerned with the material conditions of social and cultural life. Yet despite advances in each of these fields that have eroded traditional divisions between humanistic and science-based approaches, their respective practitioners continue to talk past one another in largely incommensurate theoretical languages. This review of recent trends in the study of material culture finds the reasons for this in (a) a conception of the material world and the nonhuman that leaves no space for living organisms, (b) an emphasis on materiality that prioritizes finished artifacts over the properties of materials, and (c) a conflation of things with objects that stops up the flows of energy and circulations of materials on which life depends. To overcome these limitations, the review proposes an ecology of materials that focuses on their enrollment in form-making processes. It concludes with some observations on materials, mind, and time.

Suggested Citation

Ingold, Tim, Toward an Ecology of Materials (October 2012). Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 41, pp. 427-442, 2012, Available at SSRN: or

Tim Ingold (Contact Author)

University of Aberdeen ( email )

Dunbar Street
Aberdeen, Scotland AB24 3QY
United Kingdom

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