Lisa Andersen, University of British Columbia
Entanglement is first and foremost a notion that allows us to begin to theorize and articulate the complexity and heterogeneity of the world in which we live. Despite the increasing popularity of the term in the fields of philosophy, social sciences and humanities, there is little consensus on a definition. This is perhaps fitting given that an inherent feature of entanglement is a resistance to closing off meaning. Tim Ingold has described entanglement as “a meshwork of interwoven lines of growth and movement (Ingold, 3).” Particularly important to Ingold’s conception of entanglement is the way in which it acts as an alternative to the idea of networks of connections, favouring instead “[t]he entwining of…ever-extending trajectories…” (Ingold, 11). Entanglement relies heavily on notions of flow and flux in order to resist conclusive directionality or reduction to an individual point of origin. Rather, entanglement is concerned with processes or lines of becoming and conditions of possibility. A recent collection of essays on the archaeology of entanglement identifies trajectories “in which there are multiplying and continuously transforming entrapments emerging from interactions between humans and nonhumans” as a key tenet of entanglement (Der and Fernandini, 15). Theorists have offered several constructs for visualizing the nature of entanglement including Alan Rayner’s fungal mycelium, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s rhizome, or Ingold’s spider web.
Entanglement has been a particularly potent concept in recent years for scholars whose work is concerned with intercultural studies and global art history. As Jean Dennison has observed, this approach allows for an understanding that cultural forces have “a varied, dynamic, and uneven impact across space and time” (Dennison, 8). Nicholas Thomas’s early work, Entangled Objects, took an anthropological and material culture approach to problems of colonial exchange, deploying entanglement as a method to problematize prevailing ideas of reciprocity in cross-cultural interactions. While acknowledging existing or historical power imbalances, entanglement is sensitive to resistance, improvisation, friction, leakage, and unforeseen consequences. Unlike hybridity or syncretism, entanglement maintains distinctions between different lines or threads while recognizing moments when they can become enmeshed or interwoven, even if only briefly.
© Lisa Andersen, last modified 24 April 2016
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Translated by Brian Massumi. London, Continuum, 2004.
Dennison, Jean. Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-First-Century Osage Nation. Durham: University of North Carolina Press Books, 2012.
Der, Lindsay and Francesca Fernandini. “Introduction.” In Archaeology of Entanglement, edited by Lindsay Der and Francesca Fernandini. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2016.
Ingold, Tim. “Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials.” NCRM Working Paper Series. ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. (July 2010)
Ingold, Tim. “When ANT meets SPIDER; social theory for arthropods.” In Material Agency: Towards a Non-Anthropocentric Approach, edited by Carl Knappett and Lambros Malafouris, 209 - 215. New York: Springer, 2008.
Rayner, A.D.M. Degrees of Freedom. London: Academy Editions, 1997.
Thomas, Nicholas. Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1991.
Fig. 1. Anonymous (Mexican or Spanish), Triptych with The Descent from the Cross, Christ Carrying the Cross, Saint Veronica and Christ as Man of Sorrows, 16th century, wood, silver, and humming-bird feathers, 59mm x 54mm x 10mm (open). British Museum, London 1889.0507.7 (© Trustees of the British Museum).