chapter  30
‘Things’ as social agents: Alfred Gell
WithALFRED GELL
Pages 8

Take, for instance, the relationship between human beings and cars. A car, just as a possession and a means of transport is not intrinsically a locus of agency, either the

owner’s agency or its own. But it is in fact very diffi cult for a car owner not to regard a car as a body-part, a prosthesis, something invested with his (or her) own social agency vis-à-vis other social agents. Just as a salesman confronts a potential client with his body (his good teeth and well-brushed hair, bodily indexes of business competence) so he confronts the buyer with his car (a Mondeo, late registration, black) another, detachable, part of his body available for inspection and approval. Conversely, an injury suffered by the car is a personal blow, an outrage, even though the damage can be made good and the insurance company will pay. Not only is the car a locus of the owner’s agency, and a conduit through which the agency of others (bad drivers, vandals) may affect him – it is also the locus of an ‘autonomous’ agency of its own.