Review Edward Biddulph
When does an object become an artefact? Is an artefact always an artefact? How do artefacts relate to human evolution? How do artefacts themselves evolve? These are some of the questions posed by Michael Chazan in this thought-provoking book.
Using a variety of objects, from Palaeolithic handaxes to satellites in space, the author explores how artefacts are dynamic objects that are shaped by humans and in turn shape humans. Artefacts have a hybrid status that has both human and non-human qualities, but it is temporary. Without human engagement, artefacts can revert to the inert state of their constituent materials.
While human agency is critical to the status of artefacts, artefacts themselves have vitality and evolve in an autonomous way. There is an obvious connection here to the mechanism of Darwinian evolution, although the author does not pursue the link very far. This is curious, as the author ends with an ‘ecology with artifacts’, a concept with origins in Darwin’s ‘entangled bank’. That said, the book is packed with exciting ideas and is well worth reading.