Reader in Archaeological Theory: Post-Processual and Cognitive Approaches.
Commendations to Routledge for inaugurating a new textbook series that brings together 'classic' essays focused around some particularly salient theme in archaeological method and theory. The first two volumes in the 'Readers in Archaeology' series take up the most heated debates of the 1980s and 90s: gender and cognitive and post-processual archaeology (future editions will tackle less contentious themes). Compilations of this sort are welcome on several fronts, not the least of which is that they make it easy to incorporate their topics into course syllabi. They also provide immediate access to core materials not always found in today's under-funded libraries. By definition, these topical volumes delineate cutting-edge issues that are (or should be) recognized as relevant to all archaeologists, regardless of the specific time, place and archaeological situations they study. Perhaps most importantly, they help us reflect on major shifts in the polemics of the past 15-20 years; for who could have imagined there would ever be a need for textbooks introducing students to such supposedly epiphenomenal topics as gender and post-modernism? It is, however, a gamble to compile a selection of works said to represent fairly some intellectual trend, because what is (necessarily) left out of such volumes may be at least as significant as what is chosen for inclusion.
The Gender Reader includes an Introduction by its two editors and 20 mostly classic essays (the book jacket says 19) divided into seven thematic sections: Sex, Gender, and Archaeology; Human Origins; Identifying 'Sexual' Divisions of Labor; From Sexual Divisions to Gender Dynamics; Gender Iconography and Ideology; Power and Social Hierarchies; and New Narratives, New Visions. The Post-processual and cognitive Reader includes an Introduction and 15 reprinted articles, also divided into seven themes: Theoretical Viewpoints; Meanings of Things; Prehistoric Cognition; Archaeology and History; Gendering the Past; Ideology and Social Theory; and Archaeology and Social Responsibility. Rather than do a post-mortem on the reprints, I here reflect on the editors' Introductions and their choice of material for inclusion. In textbooks reprinting previously published materials (another in this end-of-the-millennium trend is Preucel & Hodder's 1996 Contemporary archaeology in theory), the Introduction plays an especially weighty role: it must set the stage for and explain the contexts in which the reprints were originally written and highlight key issues that the reader should understand and look for when tackling the articles themselves. The Introductions to both volumes take this as their task, though with a novice readership in mind I think they could have done better.
For example, the Gender Introduction is a mere five pages; and while there are brief (two-page) introductions for each thematic section, I don't think this is adequate to help students place the interpretive/explanatory topic of gender in its historical context (and explain why this did not happen much before 1984), nor to understand the complexity of methodological issues swirling around the question of how to study gender through the physical remains of the archaeological record. That task is left to Gilchrist's essay (first published in 1991). Thus, I would like to have seen the editors provide a more comprehensive review of the political background in which the original call for gender research was voiced (yes, the 1984 Conkey & Spector essay rightly leads off the volume), and what the reactions of the community-at-large were then (and have been since), as well some attempt to characterize the current state of affairs (for example, by teasing out the substantive differences between gender research, engendering the past, and feminist archaeology, or discussing how the question of gender has led to serious reconsideration of fundamental concepts such as culture, power and technology). Most of the essays reprinted here focus on past divisions of labour, the negotiation of power and influence, and external categories of gender difference. But because there is no discussion of the contested issues within the gender research community, I worry that the student-reader will assume that among gender enthusiasts there is widespread agreement about what researchers should be doing and how to go about it. A summary of some of these recent debates, which turn on difficult ontological, epistemological, methodological, interpretive and political controversies, would have made an excellent concluding essay. I found it paradoxical that the editors put a glossary in the front of the book, defining such terms as gender, gender attribution, gender ideology, gender role, sex and sex roles. I understand why they did this, but it suggests that the subsequent articles define the terms similarly, where not all of them do. Moreover, the very use of a glossary tends to fix these concepts in ways that, again, mask important debates about them. I also wonder why the authors decided to include Spector's 1983 'Task differentiation' essay, given that she has since gone on record as rejecting it. In its place, I would rather have seen at least one article arguing the macroscale importance of something as seemingly interpersonal as gender, such as Silverblatt's (1988) 'Women in states'. These few criticisms notwithstanding, the volume accurately reflects what most archaeologists want to get from gender research, demonstrating to students by concrete example that understanding ancient gender dynamics is both possible and necessary to an anthropological appreciation of ancient societies and culture change.
While I applaud Whitley's careful and appropriate choices (among so many possibilities) of what to include in a single volume characterizing the range of issues subsumed within post-processual and cognitive archaeologies (he included several of my all-time favourites), I found his Introduction (28 substantive pages) a bit problematic, though this may reflect the nature of the subjects under discussion as much as his treatment of them. After setting the stage with a brief overview of the positivism and behaviourism underwriting 1970s processualism, he explains what the 'posts' are specifically reacting against and working toward, along four thematic axes:
1 science (both as an epistemology and as a cultural/hegemonic practice);
3 social and culture theory;
4 postmodernism and poststructuralism.
To help students negotiate this heady minefield, he italicizes his key points, but they problematically overgeneralize his discussion. I think he unnecessarily confuses important distinctions between social and culture theory by not referring to the background British (sociological) and American (anthropological) traditions from which they derive, nor does he cite any original literature for the students' benefit. Curiously, he never explicitly mentions either the realist or pragmatist middle-ground between 'pure' positivism and 'pure' relativism, nor does he offer references to the primary archaeological literature on any of these positions (and I was surprised not to find even one piece by Wylie included here). I also found his discussion of postmodernism and poststructuralism (which could more usefully have been placed up front rather than saved as the last topic in the essay) too abstract to be helpful in comprehending either their relationship to postprocessual and cognitive archaeology or against processualism. Instead, he might have explained the postmodern concept of the simulacrum and then demonstrated its relevance to the post-processual critique with some concrete archaeological examples.
These points aside, I found Whitley's section introductions wonderfully clear at pointing out what students should look for in these articles and how to read them in light of rejecting (or moving beyond) mainstream (processual) positions. Moreover, by including Mithen, Lewis-Williams and representatives of the Annales school in this reader, Whitley shows how such labels as (post)processual, (post) positivism, (post)structuralism, and (post)modernism obfuscate the complex standpoints and approaches actually in practice. And while it is appropriate to include a section on gender here, I do not understand why he chose to reprint two articles already in the Gender Reader. Why not use this opportunity to introduce a topic not covered there, such as feminist philosophy, methodology, or the long-term impact of gender inquiry on either epistemology or fieldwork? Perhaps the biggest red flag for me was his claim that 'whether we like it or not, we are all postmodernist archaeologists. Arguments to the contrary are simply quibbles about definitions' (p. 21). I think this is far more wishful thinking than fait accompli, for the ontological, epistemological and political 'battleground' of science, technology, development and 'progress' lies both at the heart of the contemporary cultural and political wars and the intellectual schisms (still) ripping the academic community apart. But, on the necessity of working toward common ground between competing (scientific and humanistic) interests in the past, I appreciate that Gary White Deer is permitted the last - eloquent - words on the subject.
While I have quibbles with these Introductions (and found a few too many missing or incomplete references and typos), these Readers should quickly become essential texts in all history, method, and theory courses - a wonderful complement to Trigger's A history of archaeological thought (1989) and Kehoe's The land of prehistory: A critical history of American archaeology (1998). They are appropriately affordable and they bring together many of the fundamental essays defining contemporary (and future?) Anglo-American archaeology. For these reasons they are an indispensable resource that belongs in all our libraries (personal and institutional) and, especially, the classroom.
MARCIA-ANNE DOBRES Archaeological Research Facility Department of Anthropology University of California, Berkeley (CA) dobres@QAL.berkeley.edu
KEHOE, A. 1998. The land of prehistory: A critical history of American archaeology. London: Routledge.
PREUCEL, R. & I. HODDER. 1996. Contemporary archaeology in theory. Oxford: Blackwell.
SILVERBLATT, I. 1988. Women in states, Annual Review of Anthropology 17: 427-60.
TRIGGER, B. 1989. A history of archaeological thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1999|
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