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Towards a vocabulary of limitations: the translation of a painted goddess into a symbol of classical education

Journal article
Authors Jonathan Westin
Published in International Journal of Heritage Studies
Volume 18
Issue 1
Pages 18-32
Publication year 2012
Published at Department of Conservation
Pages 18-32
Language en
Links www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080...
Keywords Limitations, Actor-Network Theory (ANT)
Subject categories Cultural anthropology, Cultural Studies, Classical archaeology and ancient history, Archaeology, classical

Abstract

This paper discusses how ties with society are accumulated and interpreted as the ‘culture’ of an artefact. Following the reinterpretation of a painted statue into a white museum artefact, I argue that the rules we have to follow in approaching an artefact create a series of unrelated socio-cultural connotations which shape our perception of the object. The culture of the artefact is therefore largely the culture of the context through which it is presented. Hence, by distancing an artefact from an established context you also distance it from the networks that make up a large part of its cultural value. To discuss this process I draw on the works of Michael Callon and Bruno Latour, describing the presentation as a ‘translation’ – a process where the artefact is reinterpreted from one state into another. As a method to describe values sprung from the presentation of the artefact, I propose, and exemplify, a vocabulary of limitations for mapping the ties between society and artefact in different contexts. This vocabulary – developed for this article – helps us identify deeper connections between artefact, context and society by focusing on how interaction has been shaped around the artefact.

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