Social Theory and Archaeology

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Middle-Range Theory in Archaeology

NO YES. Social Theory and Archaeology. Selected type: Paperback. In Chapter 1 Theory and Method in Archaeology , for instance, the points are made that the theory of archaeology is not separate from its practice, as the methods we employ are a statement of what we should and should not do.

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In this way archaeology is at once theoretical, social, political and autobiographical pp. Shanks and Tilley re-iterate these points in various ways, concluding that since the past is gone forever, and that archaeology establishes and expresses particular relations between archaeologists and what they study and, through the dissemination of ideas. In essence the main value of the book is that it forcefully dispels any such notion, and argues that archaeologists should always keep in mind that what they do is a form of power: it dictates how the past is to be seen and that the past can be seen as distinct from the present and the future , and that it is accessible to everyone so long as they can get their hands on the archaeological texts.

These points are repeated throughout the book, with further important issues raised to question established concepts in archaeology. For example, Chapter 2 Social Archaeology raises the point that in talking of the function of an object, we are merely describing it, not explaining it a point raised previously in numerous structuralist writings.

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Issues dealing with style and meaning are also discussed in this chapter. Chapter 3 introduces the concept of the individual in archaeology and as social agent, an often neglected part of modern archaeology.


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The individual subject is signifier in the Saussurian sense to another signifier identified as subject in process of mediation. In modern thought, the subject is the source of subjectification.

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But is it? Although the authors may be correct in asserting that the concept of the individual is not universal, the examples they use to illustrate this point, in effect, both situate the process of subjectification creation of a concept of self as a mediation between an identity and what it excludes. It is not evident to me that this process is not universal.

These transformations take place in contexts that are not universal temporalities. Rather, our perceptions of the past as distinct from the present and analysable as such is a recent construct of Capitalism. In this Shanks and Tilley argue that societies are networks of relational systems, and that to understand any given social system, we have to understand what makes it a system, what gives it a particular identity.

Social Theory and Archaeology | General & Introductory Archaeology | Subjects | Wiley

To do this, we should turn to those systems themselves, and look at the forces which regulate change. It is in understanding power structures that the directions and forces of change will be understood including an understanding of the contradictions inherent within the systems.

In this sense, both stability and change are intricately connected. In short, this book is not for the archaeologist who is not interested in social theory.


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This is unfortunate because the authors have much to say — it is the way they say it that makes it difficult to recommend to all archaeologists. The language throughout the book need not have been so heavily contorted with jargon. But Shanks and Tilley over-do it. To those who are interested in social theory, this book is a must.