Materiality and intentionality. Some difficulties of material agency theory and the ecological approach


  • Andrés Pablo Vaccari Universidad Nacional de Río Negro
  • Diego Parente Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata



Philosophy of technology, material agency, ecological approaches to cognition


In this paper we evaluate the strengths and limitations of two approaches that privilege material dimensions of technology in their respective accounts of technical practice: the ecological account of Tim Ingold and the material agency theory of Lambros Malafouris. Both these authors eschew the centralized intentionality of classical approaches in favor of epistemic externalism: the view that ecological and material affordances are the key drivers of agency in action, and determinant of artifactual form. We argue that these approaches have significant difficulties accounting for some amply recognized, key features of technical agency at the center of debates in the philosophy of technology—namely, its normative and teleological aspects.

= 667 veces | PDF (ESPAÑOL (ESPAÑA))
= 221 veces|


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Andrés Pablo Vaccari, Universidad Nacional de Río Negro

Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas- CONICET
Centro de Estudios en Ciencia, Tecnología, Cultura y Desarrollo
Universidad Nacional de Río Negro
Viedma, Río Negro, Argentina

Diego Parente, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata

Departamento de Filosofía. Facultad de Humanidades
Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata
Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina


Aristóteles (1995). Física. Traducción y notas de Guillermo R. de Echandía. Editorial Gredos.

Baker, L. R. (2004). The ontology of artifacts. Philosophical Explorations, 7, 99–111.

Boivin, N. (2010). Material cultures, material minds: The impact of things on human thought, society, and evolution. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Dant, T. (2005). Materiality and society. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Dipert, R. (1995). Some issues in the theory of artifacts: defining ‘artifact’ and related notions. The Monist, (78)2, 119–136.

Dreyfus, H. (2007). The return of the myth of the mental. Inquiry, 504, 352-365.

Elder, C. L. (2007). On the place of artifacts in ontology. In E. Margolis, S. Laurence (Eds.) Creations of the Mind: Theories of Artifacts and Their Representation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Emirbayer, M. and Mische, A. (1998). What is agency? The American Journal of Sociology, 103(4), 962-1023.

Hayles, N. K. (1993). The materiality of informatics. Configurations, 11, 147-170.

Hilpinen, R. (2004). Artifact. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed July 23rd, 2009.

Houkes, W. & Meijers, A. (2006). The ontology of artifacts: the hard problem. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 37, 118–131.

Houkes, W. and Vermaas, P. (2009). Contemporary engineering and the metaphysics of artifacts: beyond the artisan model. The Monist, 92(3), 403-419.

Ingold, T. (2000). The perception of the environment: Essays in livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge.

Ingold, I. (2010). Bringing things to life: Creative entanglements in a world of materials. NCRM Working Paper # 15. Realities / Morgan Centre, University of Manchester. Accessed 12 / 04 /2011.

Ingold, T. (2012). Toward an ecology of materials. Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 427–42.

Kirchhoff, M. D. (2009). Material agency: a framework for ascribing agency to human culture. Techné, 13(3).

Kirchhoff, M. D. (2011). Anti-representationalism: Not a well-founded theory of cognition. Res Cogitans, 2, 1-34.

Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA; London, UK: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (2000). When Things Strike Back: A Possible Contribution of ‘Science Studies’ to the Social Sciences. British Journal of Sociology, 51, 107–23.

Law, J. (2008). Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics. In B. S. Turner Ed., The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory (pp. 141-158). London: Wiley-Blackwell.

Livingston, P. (2005). Art and intention: A philosophical study. New York: Oxford University Press.

Longy, F. (2006). Function and probability: the making of artifacts. Techné, 10(1), 81–96.

Malafouris, L. (2008). “At the potter’s wheel: An argument for material agency”, en Material Agency: Towards a non-anthropocentric approach, Knappett, C. & Malafouris, L. (eds.) New York: Springer.

Matthen, M. (2009). “Teleology in living things”. En A companion to Aristotle, Anagnostopoulos, G. (Ed.), pp 335-347. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

McLaughlin, P. (2003), What functions explain, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, D. (Ed.). (2005). Materiality. Durham: Duke University Press.

Pickering, A. (1995). The mangle of practice: Time, agency and science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pickering, A. (2010). Material culture and the dance of agency. In D. Hicks & M. Beaudry (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies, pp. 191-208. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Preda, A. (1999). The Turn to Things: Arguments for a Sociological Theory of Things. Sociological Quarterly 40(2), 347–66.

Preston, B. (2013). A philosophy of material culture: Action, function and mind. New York and London: Routledge.

Rowlands, M. (2006). The normativity of action. Philosophical Psychology 193: 401-416.

Schmitz, M. (2012). The Background as intentional, conscious and nonconceptual. In Z. Radman (ed.), Knowing without thinking: Mind, action, cognition and the phenomenon of the Background (pp. 57-82). Palgrave: MacMillan.

Searle, J. (1983). Intentionality: An essay in the philosophy of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Simondon, G. (2015). La individuación a la luz de las nociones de forma y de información, 2ª edición. Buenos Aires: Editorial Cactus.

Sterelny, K. (2004). Externalism, epistemic artifacts and the extended mind. In Richard Schantz (Ed.), The externalist challenge: New studies on cognition and intentionality. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Sutton, J. (2013). Skill and collaboration in the evolution of human cognition. Biological Theory 8(1), 28-36.

Thomasson, A. (2007). Artifacts and human concepts. In E. Margolis & S. Laurence (Eds.), Creations of the mind: Essays on artifacts and their representation, pp. 52–73. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomasson, A. (2009). Artifacts in metaphysics. In A. Meijers (ed.), Handbook of the Philosophy of the Technological Sciences (pp. 191-212). Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.

Trentmann, F. (2009). Materiality in the future of history: Things, practices, and politics. Journal of British Studies, 48, 283–307.

Turkle, S. Ed., (2007). Evocative objects: Things we think with. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vannini, P. Ed., (2009). Material culture and technology in everyday life: Ethnographic approaches. NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.



How to Cite

Vaccari, A. P., & Parente, D. (2017). Materiality and intentionality. Some difficulties of material agency theory and the ecological approach. Estudios De Filosofía, (56), 152–178.



Original or Research articles

Similar Articles

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.