ARTEFACT (2017-2022)

ARTEFACT is a 5-year project starting in September 2017 and funded by the European Research Council (ERC) through a Consolidator Grant of €1.43m (ERC-2016-COG — Grant #724451).


The Global as Artefact: Understanding the Patterns of Global Political History Through an Anthropology of Knowledge – The Case of Agriculture in Four Global Systems from the Neolithic to the Present.


ARTEFACT aims to offer a novel understanding and theorisation of ‘the global’ by examining the constitution and transformation of global political structures from the anthropological perspective of humankind’s epistemic development. To do so it takes as a case-study the emergence and diffusion of four major global agricultural revolutions of the ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary eras, focusing on the patterns and pathways characterising the co-constitution and co-evolution of global and international socio-political and epistemic structures and processes in each of, and across, these major historical configurations.

ARTEFACT also aims to create an academic-institutional space for the development of ‘Global Epistemics’ as a cross-disciplinary field of theoretical and empirical inquiry, concerned with the global production, diffusion, exchange, and use of human knowledges across their different cultural configurations and ideational-material manifestations. Advanced cross-disciplinary collaborations and pedagogical training will be fostered through the development of a global network of academic cooperation and activities, an institutional and virtual infrastructure, and a publishing outlet dedicated to the free diffusion of its research outputs. The Centre for Global Knowledge Studies (gloknos) will be launched in 2017-18 and will create opportunities for a range of international collaborations in cross-disciplinary research and pedagogical training, through the organisation of seminars, symposia, and summer schools.


ARTEFACT adopts an anthropological approach to the emergence and transformation of global political systems or ‘world-systems’, focusing specifically on how the development and diffusion of human knowledges have affected global socio-political structures and processes.

‘Knowledge’ is here understood as the sustainable and transmittable stock of collective representations, techniques, and skills of social and material organisation, (re)production and control that human collectives develop in response to challenges arising from their natural and social environments. From this perspective, ARTEFACT is interested in how different epistemic configurations come into existence and diffuse (or not) across socio-cultural and socio-geographical areas, and with what effects in terms of short- and long-term socio-political structures and processes. The focus is very much on processual phenomena of (co)constitution/(co)evolution and global connectivity.

In terms of temporal scope and scale, the project is dedicated to a ‘big’ anthropological approach that would capture general evolutionary patterns of our species’ epistemic development and transformation across cultural areas in different socio-economic and natural environments/conditions. The anthropological perspective is therefore combined with a longue-durée global historical approach that goes back to knowledges predating the emergence of writing technologies. Simultaneously, the project goes beyond the formal and contemporary classifications of knowledge that segregate scientific from non-scientific, and theoretical from praxical/empirical/indigenous knowledges. The anthropological perspective aims to capture precisely the way that epistemic innovations transmute – spatially, intellectually, and institutionally – into differently configured, and more or less ideationalised or materialised/embodied, systems of knowledge, that are ‘owned’ and ‘carried’ by more or less institutionalised collectivities (from manual workers and migrants to research institutions and multinational corporations).

The empirical ‘anchor’ of the project is agriculture, which provides a perfect case-study given its anthropological and historical scale, and its role in the socio-political and natural histories of humanity. The project draws on agricultural studies to conceptualise the evolutionary patterns of the transformation of agricultural systems in different regions of the world, and better track the diffusion of agricultural products (conceived as carriers of human knowledge), infrastructures, techniques, and practices across these regions and through time. This will be examined in conjunction with the constitution and transformation of socio-political and cultural structures, in four increasingly inclusive ‘global systems’ from Antiquity to the contemporary era, which will be subjected to a comparative analysis.

The four epistemic-political global configurations that will be examined are:

  1. The Near-Eastern Neolithic Agricultural Revolution and its impact on the constitution and transformation of the Ancient Mediterranean Empires. This work package will focus on the Mesopotamian (Sumero-Akkadian and Babylonian) Empires and their cultural-political extensions across the Mediterranean area, especially in Egypt and Greece.
  2. The ‘Arabic’ Agricultural Revolution of the ‘medieval’ era in the context of the constitution and spread of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates and their cultural-political extensions into North Africa and southern Europe (Italy and Spain), with their characteristic diffusion of technological and scientific innovations, and agricultural infrastructures and products from India to Europe.
  3. The British Agricultural Revolution of the ‘modern’ period in the context of the rise and expansion of the British Empire and the consolidation of the scientific revolution.
  4. The ‘Green’ Agricultural Revolution of the 1950s in the context of the bipolar global system of the Cold War and the early decades of the post-Cold War multipolar system and its associated networks of epistemic transfer and exchanges.

In each of these four work packages, analysis will focus on the relevant agriculture-related knowledge-systems and epistemic objects of that era (from the first writing and mathematical technologies and agricultural techniques of Antiquity to the medical, agronomic, and genetic advances of contemporary science, as well as local and traveling indigenous knowledges of farming communities). The constitution, evolution, and diffusion of these epistemic objects and configurations will be investigated in relation to the structures and processes of global connectivity characteristic of each period and global system (trade, slavery, migrations, war/empire, religious missions, translation movements, networks of learning, scientific travels and cooperation, etc.).





Associated Papers

Hamati-Ataya, Inanna (2019) “The Sociology of Knowledge at the Service of a Universal History: Societies, Sciences and Techniques Through the Prism of the (Very) Longue Durée.” Paper to be presented at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris, France (January 2019).

Hamati-Ataya, Inanna (2018) “Deep-Historicising Global Connectivity: The Diffusion of Pre-Historical Knowledges in Neolithic Eurasia.” Paper in preparation for the European International Studies Association’s 12th Pan-European Conference on International Relations (Section 18: Global Epistemics), Prague (September 2018).

Hamati-Ataya, Inanna (2017) “Knowledge, the International, and the Global(ised): A Case for the Anthropological Imagination.” Paper presented at the International Theory Workshop, Department of International Relations, LSE (18 January).