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Luo Ethnography and Material Culture Theory

with Ingrid Herbich


From 1980 through 1983, Ingrid Herbich and I conducted ethnographic and ethno-historical research among the Luo people of Kenya, in conjunction with research assistants Rhoda Onyango, Monica Oyier, and Elijah Oduor Ogutu. This project, which was designed by Ingrid and carried out by her for a year before I joined her, was a regional study focused on a range of themes, including especially the production, distribution, and consumption of Luo pottery and other material culture; settlements, architecture, and the social landscape; feasting and alcohol; the origin, development, and current operation of indigenous markets; precolonical trade and exchange; and production and labor mobilization. Comparative research was also conducted on Iteso, Maragoli, Marachi, and Marama pottery systems toward investigation of the role of material culture in cultural identiy and inter-societal relations and boundaries. 


Various aspects of this study, including reflections on material culture theory that were generated by it, have been treated in numerous articles published in journals and edited volumes. In addition, two jointly-authored books are in preparation that will provide more comprehensive analysis of this research: Biography and the Luo Material World: Relating Lives, Objects, Landscape, and Memory in Rural Africa, and “Potting is Our Second Garden": Ethnoarchaeology of the Luo Ceramic System




2009. Herbich, Ingrid, and Michael Dietler.  Domestic space, social life, and settlement biography: theoretical reflections from the ethnography of a rural African landscape.  In L’espai domestic i l’organizació de la societat a la protohistòria de la Mediterrània occidental (Ier mil.leni aC), Actes de la IV Reunió Internacional d'Arqueologia de Calafell (Calafell - Tarragona, 6 al 9 de març de 2007), edited by Carme Belarte, pp. 11-23.  Barcelona: Arqueo Mediterrània, 10.


2008.   Herbich, Ingrid, and Michael Dietler.  The long arm of the mother-in-law: post-marital resocialization, cultural transmission, and material style.  In Cultural Transmission and Material Culture: Breaking Down Boundaries, edited by Miriam Stark, Brenda Bowser, and Lee Horne, pp. 223-244. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.


2006.  Dietler, Michael, and Ingrid Herbich.  Liquid material culture: following the flow of beer among the Luo of Kenya.  In Grundlegungen. Beiträge zur europäischen und afrikanischen Archäologie für Manfred K.H. Eggert, edited by Hans-Peter Wotzka, pp. 395-408. Tübingen: Francke Verlag.


2002. Herbich, Ingrid.   The Luo.  In Encyclopedia of World Cultures Supplement.  C. Ember, M. Ember and I. Skoggard (eds.), pp. 189-194. New York: Macmillan Reference.


2001. Dietler, Michael.  Theorizing the feast: rituals of consumption, commensal politics, and power in African contexts.  In Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power, edited by Michael Dietler and Brian Hayden, pp. 65-114. Washington, DC: Smithsonian.


2001. Dietler, Michael, and Ingrid Herbich.  Feasts and labor mobilization: dissecting a fundamental economic practice.  In Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power, edited by Michael Dietler and Brian Hayden, pp. 240-264. Washington, DC: Smithsonian.


1998.   Dietler, Michael, and Ingrid Herbich.  Habitus, techniques, style: an integrated approach to the social understanding of material culture and boundaries.  In The Archaeology of Social Boundaries, edited by Miriam Stark, pp. 232-263.  Washington DC: Smithsonian.


1994. Dietler, Michael, and Ingrid Herbich.  Habitus et reproduction sociale des techniques: l'intelligence du style en archéologie et en ethnoarchéologie.  In De la préhistoire aux missiles balistiques: l'intelligence sociale des techniques, edited by Bruno Latour and Pierre Lemonnier, pp. 202-227.  Paris: La Découverte. 


1994. Dietler, Michael, and Ingrid Herbich.   Ceramics and ethnic identity: ethnoarchaeological observations on the distribution of pottery styles and the relationship between the social contexts of production and consumption.  In Terre cuite et société: la céramique, document technique, économique, culturel.  XIVe Rencontre Internationale d'Archéologie et d'Histoire d'Antibes, edited by Didier Binder and Françoise Audouze, pp. 459-472.  Juan-les-Pins: Éditions APDCA. 


1993. Dietler, Michael, and Ingrid Herbich.   Living on Luo time:  reckoning sequence, duration, history, and biography in a rural African Society.   World Archaeology  25: 248-260.


1993. Herbich, Ingrid, and Michael Dietler.   Space, time, and symbolic structure in the Luo homestead: an ethno-archaeological study of "settlement biography" in Africa.  In Actes du XIIe Congrès International des Sciences Préhistoriques et Protohistoriques, Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, September 1-7, 1991, Vol. 1, edited by Jan Pavúk, pp. 26-32.  Nitra: Archaeological Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences.


1991. Herbich, Ingrid, and Michael Dietler.   Aspects of the ceramic system of the Luo of Kenya.  In Töpferei- und Keramikforschung, 2, edited by H. Lüdtke and R. Vossen, pp. 105-135.  Bonn:  Habelt.


1989. Dietler, Michael, and Ingrid Herbich.   Tich matek :  the technology of Luo pottery production and the definition of ceramic style.   World Archaeology 21: 148-164.


1989. Herbich, Ingrid, and Michael Dietler.   River-Lake Nilotic:  Luo.  In Kenyan Pots and Potters, edited by Jane Barbour and Simeyu Wandibba, pp. 27-40.   Nairobi:  Oxford University Press.


l987. Herbich, Ingrid. Learning patterns, potter interaction and ceramic style among the Luo of Kenya.   The African Archaeological Review, 5: 193-204.


l98l. Herbich, Ingrid. Luo Pottery:  Socio-cultural Context and Archaeological Implications  (An Interim Report).  Nairobi:  Institute of African Studies,  University of Nairobi,  Paper No. l55.




















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