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ARCHAEOLOGICAL THEORY: THE LAST TEN YEARS Prof Matthew H Johnson University of Southampton

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1 ARCHAEOLOGICAL THEORY: THE LAST TEN YEARS Prof Matthew H Johnson University of Southampton


3 Elements of talk Where theory is, formally Where theory is, really Student response

4 Theory: the order you put facts in (has theory become too inclusive – does it refer to everything?)

5 N America: processual-plus past is engendered agency is everywhere interest in symbolism interest in materiality whose past is it? Moss, Watkins 2005 argue that tension is essential: Hegmon doesnt include indigenous, Marxist, feminist, queer, postcolonial archaeology Hegmon, M Setting theoretical egos aside: issues and theory in North American archaeology. American Antiquity 68:2, Brumfiel, E.M Distinguished lecture in archaeology: breaking and entering the ecosystem – gender, class and faction steal the show. American Anthropologist 94: 551–67.

6 N America: influence of NAGPRA North American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, signed 1990 by George HW Bush Federally-funded institutions such as museums and universities draw up inventories of their collections and send summaries of all Native American human remains, sacred and ceremonial objects, and other objects deemed to be of cultural patrimony to tribes likely to be associated with such material

7 UK: Key changes Agency Materiality Phenomenology Field practice Stakeholder issues (heritage, diversity, inclusion) These broaden and deepen existing theory

8 Global Context Hegmon: processual-plus in North America Continental Europe: different articulations of theory World Archaeological Congress

9 All these developments… roll out an interpretive agenda (?re-read Shanks and Tilley) Diffuse theory into different practices

10 Discordant elements Darwinist, behavioural archaeology An enduring empiricism/culture-history

11 Empiricism Formal definition: belief that facts speak for themselves, without the need for intervening theory Discourse or habit of thought: division between experience and words or concepts, and the prioritisation of the former

12 Empiricist Rhetoric Appeal to the self-evident and familiar – we all know what this is [Rhetorical] rejection of rhetoric – plain speaking Primacy of field experience Primacy of difficulty/hard work

13 That only academics have the time for theory, and professional archaeologists, or those working in museums or cultural resource management, have no time to do it; That as an archaeologist one can choose between taking or not taking a theoretical approach; and/or that some approaches are very theoretical while others are very empirical; That the moment for doing theory occurs after a basic grasp of the data (a moment that never seems to be now); A rhetoric which implies that theory is somehow less empirically grounded than archaeology without explicit theory; An implication that plain speaking is superior to a theoretical rhetoric; The notion that more empirical studies will be of more enduring value, whereas theories are merely passing fads; The definition of questions which are more knowable or legitimate than others; for example, that subsistence or lordship is a legitimate explanation for patterns in the landscape whereas exploration of memory or gender is wild or fanciful; Empiricism: The Enduring Legacy I

14 Empiricism: The Enduring Legacy II The proposition that there is a position from outside theory, from which theory can be evaluated At the most basic level, the notion that the accumulation of more data, in and of itself, will automatically lead to a better knowledge of the past

15 Empiricist Appeal Primacy of the field (students want more fieldwork) Centrality of materiality In this sense, we are all empiricists


17 One of the most dismaying features of theory today is that it is endless… It is an unbounded corpus of writings which is always being augmented… Theory is thus a source of intimidation, a resource for constant upstagings: What? You havent read Lacan! How can you talk about the lyric without addressing the specular constitution of the speaking subject?…the completion of one task will bring not respite but further difficult assignments. (Spivak? Yes, but have you read Benita Parrys critique of Spivak and her response?). (Culler 1997, 15). Theory Makes The Theorist Vulnerable

18 Student Responses Avoid a vulnerable position Separate theory and other knowledges into distinct domains (Darwinist complaint about culturalist knowledge; theory in continental Europe)

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