A note on object agency

My first ever post for this blog, way back in August 2014, was about object agency. I wrote that object agency is about the reflected agency that a person gives to a thing. As a lens through which to view archaeological finds, it allows us to reflect on the meaning that an object had to a person or group in the past. I have always looked at it as being a concept we could apply to the past, but in the last week I have been thinking that it is actually part of our lives and that it drives the things we do.

The impetus for this line of thinking was my friend’s wedding. She married her partner last Saturday is a beautiful ceremony in the rose garden at Old Parliament House in Canberra. The bridal couple were glowing, her dress was fabulous, tears were shed. It was absolutely lovely. Part of the ceremony really fascinated me – a ring warming ceremony. According to the first website in the google search results for ‘ring warming ceremony’:

 A ring warming is when you give your loved ones the opportunity to hold and imbue your wedding bands with a wish, blessing or prayer for your marriage. By the time your rings make it on to your fingers they will be saturated with the love of your friends and family. (http://www.withtheseringshandmade.com/ring-warming/)

During the ceremony, the wedding bands were circulated amongst the guests in a small organza bag (which I had made from the material I used for my own wedding dress, more on that later) while one of the guests gave a reading about the nature of love. I was struck by the object agency we were all participating in. As the guests passed around the bag, there was more happening than its transportation around a venue, and more than people just having a bit of a looky-loo at the rings. Everyone genuinely seemed to be imbuing the rings with well-wishes and love.

My partner seemed to really take to it, and held the rings tightly, saying he needed to ‘charge it up’ with his well-wishes before passing it on.

Part of the ceremony that people were not aware of, in the main, was that I made the organza bag for my long-time friend from the material I used for part of my own wedding dress. Although people were not aware of it, I was, and so was the bride. You could say it was sentimentality rather than object agency, and perhaps it was, but it felt as though I was drawing upon that very special event in my life course and helping by passing it on to my friend. It had a monumentality I was not expecting.

The ring-warming bag
The ring-warming bag

It made me think about all the little touches that must have happened throughout history and all the stories we don’t know. All the archaeological finds of functional objects may have these stories behind them but we won’t ever know. If the concept of object agency helps us to understand that people in the past had special, secret, impractical, irrational relationships with the objects around them, then it is worth pursuing in archaeological research.


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