Archaeological ethnography: a mul...
AN40CH25-Hamilakis ARI 16 August 2011 14:17 Archaeological Ethnography: A Multitemporal Meeting Ground for Archaeology and Anthropology Yannis Hamilakis Archaeology, School of Humanities, University of Southampton, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, United Kingdom email: email@example.com Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 2011. 40:399–414 First published online as a Review in Advance on June 29, 2011 The Annual Review of Anthropology is online at anthro.annualreviews.org This article’s doi: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-081309-145732 Copyright c 2011 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved 0084-6570/11/1021-0399$20.00 Keywords materiality, temporality, heritage, reflexivity, modernist archaeology Abstract Archaeology and anthropology, despite their commonalities, have had a rather asymmetrical relationship, and the periodic attempts at closer collaboration resulted in mutual frustration. As both disciplines have re- cently undergone significant changes, however, with anthropology em- bracing more fully materiality and historicity, and archaeology engag- ing in contemporary research, often involving ethnography, the time is ripe for a new rapprochement. Archaeological ethnography, an emerg- ing transdisciplinary field, offers such an opportunity. Archaeological ethnography is defined here as a transcultural space for multiple en- counters, conversations, and interventions, involving researchers from various disciplines and diverse publics, and centered around materi- ality and temporality. It is multitemporal rather than presentist, and although many of its concerns to date are about clashes over heritage, this article argues that its potential is far greater because it can dislodge the certainties of conventional archaeology and question its ontological principles, such as those founded on modernist, linear, and successive temporality. 399 Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 2011.40:399-414. Downloaded from www.annualreviews.org by University of Washington on 07/26/12. For personal use only.
AN40CH25-Hamilakis ARI 16 August 2011 14:17 WORLDS APART? INTRODUCTION The time was the mid-1990s the place, a seminar room at a British University. The discussion had touched on the links between archaeology and sociocultural anthropology when one anthropologist colleague, who was known for his unusually open attitude toward collaborations and engagements with archaeol- ogists, commented, “the thing I like most about archaeology is that, unlike anthropology, peo- ple cannot talk back.” I was reminded of that comment very recently, as we witnessed the launching of a number of initiatives, meetings, and publications, which seemed to indicate that there is renewed interest among practitioners in both fields to reignite the discussion on the nature and character of their respective schol- arly endeavors. The aim in this recent move is not necessarily to bring about any sort of con- vergence or even closer collaboration. Rather, it is motivated by the need to perform a kind of comparative auto-ethnography, which may lead to a better self-understanding in both fields (see, for example, the 2009 Bristol meeting of the UK’s Association of Social Anthropologists, entitled, “Anthropological and Archaeological Imaginations: Past, Present, Future” see also Garrow & Yarrow 2010, among others). One could say that there is nothing new in these periodic rituals of collective soul-searching among archaeologists and anthropologists, which, more often than not, end in mutual disappointment, retrenchment, and further border policing. Recall, for example, the well-known dismissive comments by Edmund Leach in 1977, at the end of such a meeting: The real stumbling block which inhibits useful collaboration between archaeologist and anthropologist seems to me to lie just here. When archaeologists resort to model making, the “structural system” (by whatever jargon you choose to describe it) is ultimately represented by a set of material, lifeless things when anthropologists engage in a compa- rable type of operation they are ultimately concerned with patterns of verbal categories categories which belong to the realm of language and which can have no meaning at all which is independent of the living beings who use that language. (Leach 1977, p. 166) And also, [A]rchaeologists need to appreciate that the material objects revealed by their excavations are not “things in themselves,” nor are they just artefacts,—made by men,—they are rep- resentations of ideas. (p. 167) Archaeologists always felt that there is funda- mental asymmetry between their field and that of anthropology because they themselves were (and still are) engaging regularly with anthro- pological ideas, whereas anthropologists, with a few exceptions (e.g., Kirch & Sahlins 1992), would rarely see the need for archaeological in- put into their work (see Garrow & Yarrow 2010, Gosden 1999). Flannery (2006), in the pages of the ARA reminisced, for example, that during his formative years (1960s and 1970s), We were never convinced that the ethnolo- gists felt they needed us the way we needed them. . .we on the other hand, felt that the only conceivable purpose for ethnology was to provide archaeologists with descriptions of living cultures, helping them to interpret the evidence of the past. (p. 5) Yet there are reasons to believe that the current wave of reflection and thinking holds more hope than similar such attempts in the past. For a start, archaeology and anthropology overall are radically different today compared with 15 or 20 years ago. Most archaeologists today would not recognize themselves in Leach’s description, and in view of much current theorizing on the agency of objects and on the properties of materiality (see Gell 1998), they would contest the claim that material objects are static and “lifeless.” Moreover, they would counter the idea that anthropology’s primary 400 Hamilakis Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 2011.40:399-414. Downloaded from www.annualreviews.org by University of Washington on 07/26/12. For personal use only.
AN40CH25-Hamilakis ARI 16 August 2011 14:17 archaeological use is to provide analogies for the interpretation of past material evidence. Equally, both fields have left behind rep- resentationist, structuralist, and linguistic in- terpretive schemes, or at least have theorized and problematized their application and useful- ness. As recent commentators have noted (e.g., Yarrow 2010), the perceived asymmetry be- tween archaeology and anthropology may have had positive effects because it has forced archae- ology to think deeply about the potential and properties of its immediate object, i.e., mate- rial things, and on its genealogy, its historical and sociopolitical underpinnings, and its gen- eral role and purpose. Anthropologists, on the other hand, have started paying much more at- tention to material objects (revealing perhaps an unacknowledged debt to archaeology, along with cultural history and microhistory), plac- ing themselves at the center of the emerging field of material culture studies. The trend is an outcome of the general move in humanities and social sciences away from textualism, cogni- tivism, and constructionism, and toward things and materials and their sensuous properties and effects (see Brown 2004, Domanska 2006, Fahlander & Kjellstr ¨ om 2010, Hamilakis et al. 2002, Henare et al. 2007, Hoskins 1998, Latour 2005, Miller 2009, Myers 2001, Turkle 2007). Anthropologists have also shown a renewed in- terest in history, following the thriving, at least since the 1980s, tradition of historical anthro- pology (e.g., Cohn 1990, Comaroff & Comaroff 1992, Sahlins 1985) more pertinently, the ex- ploration of the diverse social modes of popular and vernacular historicization has gained new impetus (see Hirsch & Stewart 2005). Most importantly, however, and to return to the anecdote above, it is the belief that archaeol- ogy deals with dead people who cannot answer back and contest our account of them that has been heavily eroded and problematized. Al- though even in sophisticated treatments today, we often hear and read that a fundamental attribute of archaeology that distinguishes it from anthropology is absence, the absence of people, that is, who are present only through the material traces they have left behind (e.g., Lucas 2010), scholars are increasingly realizing that such an assumption is a fallacy, and one with serious consequences and not only of epistemological nature (see Zimmerman 2008). The assumption is certainly false in all these cases of the archaeology of the contemporary past (on which more below). This assertion of absence is based on the fact that when archaeologists investigate certain time periods, the ones they call prehistoric for example, they often rely on material traces alone. Leaving aside, for the moment, the assumptions behind this premise (that archaeology is almost exclu- sively the pursuit of knowledge about the past), one could note that even in those cases our contemporary archaeological practice, more often than not, involves living people, as well as materials: the fellow researchers and other spe- cialists the people who live near and in some cases within or on the top of what we designate an “archaeological” site and the people who stake claims on and express allegiances with the material past, which we have named (often problematically) “archaeological record.” Even for archaeology, therefore, and not just for anthropology, people are around, and they can and often do answer back, challenging not only the archaeologists’ stories and interpre- tations, but often their legitimacy and their self-proclaimed exclusive right as stewards and interpreters of the material past [see Comaroff & Comaroff (1992, p. 15) for a critique of a similar anthropological miscon- ception of history]. This paper aims to demonstrate that the transformed fields of archaeology and anthro- pology now have the opportunity for a lasting and much more fruitful rapprochement, in the emerging shared ground and space of archaeological ethnography. At the same time, this transdisciplinary field also constitutes the space for transcultural encounters and provides the arena for the meeting of practitioners from other fields, from history to contemporary art. More importantly, as the invocation of ethnography denotes, this transcultural space facilitates multiple coexistences, encounters, conversations, and dialogues, and also critical www.annualreviews.org • Archaeological Ethnography 401 Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 2011.40:399-414. Downloaded from www.annualreviews.org by University of Washington on 07/26/12. For personal use only.