Social Theory and Archaeology

Social Theory and Archaeology

Michael Shanks

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 0745601847

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Archaeological theory and method have recently become the subject of vigorous debate centred on the growing realization that archaeological theory is social theory and as such can be looked at by means of a wide variety of sociological frameworks, such as structuralism and post-structuralism, Marxism and critical theory. In this analysis, Shanks and Tilley argue against the functionalism and positivism which result from an inadequate assimilation of social theory into the day-to-day practice of archaeology. Aimed at an advanced undergraduate audience, the book presents a challenge to the traditional idea of the archaeologist as explorer or discoverer and the more recent emphasis on archaeology as behavioural science. The authors examine and evaluate the new possibilities for a self-reflexive, critical and political practice of archaeology, productively linking the past to the present.

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Consequently, the past becomes conceived as a set of presences (artefacts and their associations) contrasted with the present, absented and distanced from the past. The past is felt to reside in an objective substance of its own - the reality, the presence, of the hand axe. However, the past clearly does not possess objective substance when described or re-presented in a text. The admittance of the relevance of theory, subjectivity, the present, writing, makes us feel suspicious, insecure, on

real strength of approaches derived from structural Marxist anthropology lies in the attempt to overcome a functionalist separation and reification of religion, politics, economics etc. as separate interacting subsystems. However, in practice, in the process of writing an account of the past, this seems to have made very little difference, hence the frequently adopted economistic models and 'applications'. Kristiansen places great emphasis On the distinction between cultural form and material

work and explanations in the context of contemporary capitalism, critically assessing the ideology of archaeology (Shanks and Tilley, 1987; Miller and Tilley (eds), 1984). However, these challenges are only beginning to be widely acknowledged. Fragmentation, specialization, divergent approaches, 'paradigms', theories of the social: different archaeologies. Rather than enter this labyrinth and perhaps identify the most likely archaeological exit, we intend instead to take a different line. We aim

a single context of meaning, the concrete horizon of the present exalted by tradition, to be an imitation of the past, conforming to the ancestral model. To presume to calculate the future is hubris. So rational calculation of the future, opening up possibility, opposes a prophetic readings of signs for which tradition furnishes TIME AND ARCHAEOLOGY 129 the key, a reduction of possibility. Provision for the forthcoming involves hoarding, concrete deferred consumption, opposed to abstract

In both, time is an indexical quality. These orders of temporality are clearly implicated in social practice. It should also be noted that they are not mutually exclusive: we can understand the time of the peasant, just as the peasant can understand chronology. The important point is the structural relation of time to social practice, the social and historical production of time. Levi Strauss has written that The characteristic feature of the savage mind is its timelessness; its object is to

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