For most of the development of human society the past has posed no problem or threat to the present. There has been no need for a special class of experts to investigate it, to probe into its trajectories, contours and hidden depths. Archaeology and a scientific history are preoccupations of a recent date. This sense of the past, cumulatively building on itself since the Renaissance, marks a new consciousness in which humanity becomes both object and subject of knowledge. It has led to an unparalleled enquiry by the west into its own genesis through detailed examination of empirical culture sequences to reconstruct the past of individual nation states. More recently in Britain and other European nation states this is increasingly being ideologically channeled through university courses and in more popular discourses to create a notion of a distinctive 'European' past. It is important to remember that both archaeology and history are impositions which only become structurally necessary in certain types of society such as our own. This imposition is part of the project of modernity which I take to both subsume and account for much contemporary discussion as regards the emergence of so called post-modernism, often conflated with post-structuralism. Post-modernity, however we may choose to define it, remains entrenched in modernity, it forms part and parcel of the same project, although its forms may be defined as different. Following Berman (1983) I want to refer to modernity in a very general sense as involving a definite experience of the world, a quality of contemporary life inducing:
Modernism is, of course, part of the social and cultural space of capitalism. Capitalism has created the modern world, conditions for modernity. It has also created the conditions for its transcendence. Marxism is a thoroughly modern set of beliefs. Forged in a society of constant change, it itself proposes to change the world, to turn it upside down to create a new social order out of the wreckage of the old. In this limited sense modernity may be, as Habermas argues (1981), an incomplete project.
Archaeology is rooted in modernity. The historical knowledge code, itself forged in the modern age, becomes increasingly packed with signs of social transformation, growth, innovation, development. A sense of the past helps to fuel the modernist fires of change. Furthermore, a historical approach has to be invoked in any attempt to explain them, to make sense of our own experience. We actively create the past in a modernist identity space. The crucial questions become: what is the status of this knowledge of past worlds? and what do we want out of it?
The problem with archaeology in relation to a modernist identity space is that it has not sufficiently embraced the enormous potentialities provided to create new pasts, new knowledges, new truths and to use the difference of the past to challenge and restructure the black side of modernity: domination, exploitation, repression, alienation, violence. There has been an insufficient modernist dynamic within archaeology itself. Traditional and 'scientific' archaeological knowledges have both remained seriously abbreviated or curtailed. Given that we might say so much about the past, the lack of diversity in archaeological texts remains striking - the same old stale statements tend to be endlessly repeated. Nowhere is this more evident than in explaining change in the archaeological record where a few simple processes such as population pressure, technological or environmental change or an inexorable process of internal 'evolutionary' societal growth are often held to account for social change.
Furthermore for too long archaeology has consistently tended towards providing an alibi for cultural escapism as opposed to cultural critique. The past ten years or so have witnessed the surfaces of emergence of an archaeology which is beginning to embrace and self-reflexively understand itself as a modernist discourse, and a variety of competing and contradictory discourses have begun to develop to forge a fresh understanding of the past; structural-Marxist archaeologies; structuralist and contextual archaeologies; archaeologies drawing on hermeneutic theories; post-structuralist archaeologies; feminist archaeologies; archaeologies forged by ethnic minorities. The discipline is no longer one united in a spurious consensus. It is fragmenting, creating a new identity space that is, and can no longer be, totalising. This is again typical of the modem condition and may, of course, lead to a contradictory set of attitudes - on the one hand nihilism: such fragmentation destroys archaeology. If there is no longer one way to approach the past which may now be inscribed and reinscribed in texts in an endless piece of transformation, what guarantees can we possibly have of ever approaching the truth? If we have no solid means of grounding the statements that we make doesn't archaeology become a waste of time? We must either be aiming to achieve certain knowledge or we have no knowledge at all. On the other hand the growth of plurality of different approaches to the past may be held to positively encourage a sense of endless productivity and dynamism - fresh spaces for debate, discussion, self-awareness, new knowledges. It is this latter sense of dynamism, productivity and debate that I think needs to be fostered without embracing a strident relativism. A truly modernist vision of archaeology will be to regard it as an activity taking place now, something that intimately involves ourselves as part of the creation of meaning for our own times: a vital, living, socially aware, politically and intellectually critical and relevant lifeworld. To embrace modernity must be to embrace archaeology as intervention in the present, part of living.
LIVING, WRITING, WORKING
I have recently come across an unusual document purporting to represent some of the strands of recent developments in Anglo-American archaeology. In relation to my argument it seems worth quoting from at some length:
'Late one night, back in 1962, Lew sat down in his study feeling thoroughly frustrated. He didn't want to be a historian any more. The very thought of history sickened him. All day long he'd been trying to remember which artefacts he should put in which culture group. As a young novice, he didn't possess the necessary experience to do this but he wanted to start serious work right away and bypass all the years of training that were required. He'd been told that the culture groups kept on changing through time and across space because of invasions and migrations. These were good things and kept on happening. None of these events had any proper dates and neither Lew nor anybody else knew the names of the invaders. It was strange that the invaders always brought their pots with them and smashed up all the old ones. Still, this was probably a fact of life and certainly made charting social life in the past that much simpler.
Earlier in the evening Lew had been watching television. The space race was on. He became fascinated by the achievements of all the men and women in white coats wandering around the rockets. Having made a strong cup of coffee, Lew began to write. Inspiration had come and he knew precisely what to do. Instead of being a historian, he would be a scientist. Next day he told everyone about his tremendous idea. The old professors shook their heads with mild amusement and told him to get back to studying the culture groups. That made Lew very cross. He read lots of books on science which he loved more and more every day. He wrote lots about it too, telling everyone how marvellous science was and what a great feeling it was to be doing it. He measured and weighed everything he could find in the meantime and then wrote about how great that was. At the end of this measuring and weighing you could construct big equations. That really was proof you were doing something useful.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, David and Colin had got pretty much the same idea as Lew. They also disliked history and found it increasingly difficult to write counterfeit history books. Even the big invasions on the European past weren't, after all, that exciting. For example, Beakers had invaded Britain at least six times but no one knew where the battles took place or how they were fought. So both David and Colin rushed out and bought bright new lab coats. The fresh, crisp whiteness of their new coats gleamed in the sunlight and they burned all their old clothes. It felt good to forget about the past. Unfortunately neither David nor Colin had any laboratories to go in with their new coats. Still, they made the best of the situation and tried to pretend their studies were laboratories. They bought sharp new pencils and masses of graph paper. Soon, like Lew, they were also measuring everything and writing to each other in journals about how satisfied they were to be scientists.
It didn't take long, of course, before everyone wanted to be a scientist. Fred, for example, was out one day in the Hay Hollow Valley, Arizona, wandering about wondering what he could do to be a scientist. Suddenly the solution came to him. It was so simple he wondered why he hadn't thought of it before. Fred decided that he wasn't in the Hay Hollow Valley at all. In fact he was in a natural laboratory. He went wild with excitement and sat down and started constructing sampling designs and collecting lots of data and measuring it. Soon Fred found that in his laboratory he could control space and time. Sometimes he did feel a little like God but this did not worry him unduly. Fred began to think more and more about the manner in which he was controlling space and time in his laboratory and came to the conclusion that everyone should be doing this. Patty Jo, Stephen and Chuck really liked this idea too. They also wanted to control time and space and suggested that if you didn't do this then you couldn't call yourself a scientist. Across the water this made Colin secretly cross (he couldn't talk about it much at the time in public). He knew that he was a scientist even though he hadn't made much effort to strictly control space and time. He had more faith in the system and was a fellow believer with David.
The SYSTEM was quite remarkable. You could fit absolutely everything into it and draw lots of fancy loops. Once you had understood the system you could not only fit everything into it but explain everything as well. David and Colin felt quite content with controlling the system and didn't feel it really necessary to try and control space and time as well. It was so much effort, and, as far as David and Colin could tell, Fred and his friends weren't doing a very good job. Kent told them they were wasting their time. He claimed they'd been watching too many Mickey Mouse cartoons. The truth was that Kent also wanted to control the SYSTEM and he didn't like people controlling all space and time because they might tell him what he had to have in his SYSTEM. He wanted complete control over that. In the end things worked out quite nicely. David had control over the theoretical system, Colin had the Aegean SYSTEM and Kent had the Mesoamerican SYSTEM. Fred also established a SYSTEM in the Hay Hollow valley. It was a bit smaller than the others but that only made it easier to control things.
These systems had been constructed in such a manner that they were incredibly stable. Nothing seemed to be capable of changing them. They were obviously built to last for all time. The SYSTEM really did seem to stop history in its tracks. This was good in a way because the system represented SCIENCE rather than history. However, David and Colin and all the others who had made their own little systems did want to see a bit of change. The system would obviously be a lot better if you could make it move. Various ideas developed. Drastic changes in temperature or environment were one. The most popular way to get the SYSTEM moving was quite simple. You put too many people in it and they made it move. Population pressure became extremely popular in different systems all over the world. Naturally this was a bit hard on the people in the system but as they couldn't talk or see you it was possible to do almost anything to them.
Some people didn't like the system. It was too abstract and complicated. A young person was really required to control it. Eric had spent much of his life as a sheep farmer, and didn't feel up to controlling a system. In fact he did not believe in it. Instead he enjoyed talking about bones. Soon he established a huge room full of bones. Having toyed with the pretentious idea of calling this room a laboratory he decided this type of institutional prop wasn't really necessary and began writing. He knew that he had to stop the system in some way. Bruce had criticised both the system and people controlling space and time before. Nobody had listened to him, while Glyn and Grahame and all the other old archaeologists, as they now became labelled, didn't seem to have much idea of what was going on. Of course they had heard about laboratories and the way you could create systems but they couldn't be bothered to make the effort to understand it all. They really liked to carry on digging and fill up the museums with masses of things to look at. Back to Eric and his bones. Eric had the idea that you could call the bones economy and that this was the most important thing in the world. Eric's economy was a bit limited in scope. It was basically a euphemism for writing about what people were eating. In addition to looking at bones, by walking in little circles around sites you could also find out what people had had for dinner.
Eric didn't want to make his economy stable like the system. He got it moving by ensuring that there were never enough bones to go round. All the people in his economy, because of the lack of bones, were starving and fighting and creating lots of changes. However, whatever they did, whatever technological innovations they introduced, it was simply no good. This was a cruel world when compared with Colin's Aegean system with its magnificent civilisation replete with vines, olives and metals.
About a decade after Lew had first become a scientist, almost everyone, at least in America and Britain, had bought lab coats and were busy developing new technologies to control the past. They were being so objective they had forgotten about people all together, at least those living in the past. However, they were concerned about the impact they were having on other archaeologists in the present. The centres of new archaeological power felt it necessary to measure the influence they were having. Ezra and others started conducting citation surveys to determine just how much impact was being made on the rest of the world!
The SYSTEM has helped to create a timeless world. Young Ian showed archaeologists various ways in which they could control space. One basic idea was to change settlements from being place in which people actually lived and instead call them spatial nodes and connect up huge regression lines between them. The statistics were amazing: page after page of symbols. So long as you could do this meaning didn't really seem to matter. Of course, Fred and his friends had tried to control space before but their work wasn't really all that practical because they had controlled space by compressing it into laws which everyone had to obey. lan's space was a bit more flexible and could easily be manipulated. Regressions, like everything else, fitted very nicely indeed in the system.
Despite the fact that he was a scientist Lew got tired of measuring things people had made and constructing equations. It became increasingly clear to him that people, either in the past or in the present, just didn't go together with science and he decided to eliminate them altogether by creating a science of bones. Lew really enjoyed working out which dog ate which bone. He came obsessed with his new science but many other people began to forget about him. Michael had a similar idea and similarly rejected the idea that people had much to do with the past. What really mattered were the activities of earthworms, wood-rotting fungi, and various other types of animals and microbes in the present. You could sometimes, perhaps, talk about people too in a rather limited way provided you confined yourself to measuring the distance between hearths, making an inventory of the individual timbers used to construct a hut, or working out statistically whether they were more likely to lose a drawing pin than a 40-ton lorry.
Others felt there was still a need to maintain real people in the picture in some way at least. Michael J., Tim, and others saw people in the past as business executives who were always out to minimise their risks and maximise their profits. You sat in your cave in the Stone Age, with bone calculator ready to hand, and worked out utility indices for hide, meat, antler, weight, protein content, etc. of various species of animal and then set out to eat them with the minimum amount of effort. The most successful entrepreneurs survived and the rest were eliminated from the prehistoric market. This was a realisation that OPTIMISATION and EFFICIENCY have always been the order of the day. The past mirrored the present so faithfully it seemed almost pointless to investigate it at all. You already knew what was going on!
Just about the same time as Lew had created his new science of bones and the entrepreneurs were moving into the Palaeolithic, Colin moved south from a very cold place. The heat probably went to his head a bit. One day while basking in the sunshine, he discovered an absolutely huge equation. It was so vast that you could get lost in it and almost nobody could understand it. That was good! Colin immediately wondered how he could fit the new equation into the system. The only way that this was possible was to create lots of catastrophes. The poor people in his SYSTEM simply didn't know when they were going to be hit next. Bruce later claimed this only illustrated Colin's pessimism in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis.
By the late 1970s the new framework was getting a bit tarnished. There were quite a few different perspectives around. Some archaeologists were grappling with the problem of overpopulation in the past, others were wondering exactly how many calories had been expended to build a tomb or flake an axe. Others diversified to analyse such things as the spatial distribution of cow pats in a field or measuring exactly how many times in a year a dog might knock over a pot in a street corner in Peru. SCIENCE had now spread to Scandinavia, Australia, and many other parts of the world but all the excitement had gone and some were beginning to question exactly where and to what purpose all this was leading.
In Britain some fresh developments took place. Having just completed his ninety-fifth analysis of Iron Age bone combs in Wessex, not to mention all the spatial autocorrelation studies and manipulations of the rank size statistic along with computer simulations of the length/breadth indices of flint points, Ian decided that he just couldn't take it any more. I He realised that all this science just wasn't getting him any further in understanding anything and it was deadly tedious anyway. Having moved to Cambridge he and his students went French, as had Mike, John and Barbara in London somewhat earlier. Ian imported the symbol and the structure. These were used to bomb the SYSTEM, LAWS, the ECONOMY t and everything else that had preceded them. Mike R. imported and disseminated modes OF production, contradiction and the world SYSTEM which subsumed every other SYSTEM which had previously been built. Colin's Aegean system was dwarfed in comparison with the sheer scale of this!
The SYMBOL and the structure were particularly slippery and difficult to grasp. Enveloping most of life they were constantly changing from place to place and time to time. They never seemed to have quite the same meaning twice which had definite advantages according to the type of argument you wanted to make. Tombs kept turning into houses, houses into women and women into pots. Europe and the rest of the world was full of such transformations. For Mike R. and the others in London, contradictions were rife, everybody was contradicting and exploiting everybody else; individual against individual, lineage against lineage. This picture of the past was almost as dismal as that found in Eric's ECONOMY. The world was in a perpetual state of implosion, prestige goods spread to Europe from Melanesia and West Africa and contradictions with kin-based lineage systems were no sooner dissipated than they were replaced by others in Crow-Omaha-type kin groupings. CENTRES AND peripheries kept on changing and were soon spread by Kristian from south-west Germany up into the far reaches of northern Scandinavia. Eventually you began to realise that your toilet was on the periphery of your bath.
All these new concepts were just insufficient for Chris, Danny and Mike S., who wanted to incorporate many of them and include many others. SYMBOL, STRUCTURE, TRANSFORMATION, CONTRADICTION were maintained and ideology, STRUCTURATION, POLYSEMY vigorously promoted. Any interpretation of the past now became particularly difficult. POWER was everywhere investing everything down to the last flint flake and you could no longer be certain whether the flake was representing or distorting what went on in the past. This was in addition to the usual meaning shifts that could be expected every so often. After a while Mike and Chris realised that archaeology was simply a bourgeois plot subtly manipulated to control the workers. What was needed was a revolutionary movement that would do away with it once and for all. The arena of the class struggle was to be transferred from the factories and the streets to the interpretation of 5000-year-old pot shards!
What ever will happen next? We can probably expect a psycho-analysis of the Bronze Age, a deconstructive analysis that will finally rid us of the Mousterian, a radical feminist struggle against male domination in the linear pottery culture and various other interventions such as a growing archaeology readers' and WRITERS' liberation MOVEMENT...'
At this point, sadly, the text peters out into a confused cacophony of words and statements in which an attempt appears to have been made to question the epistemological and ontological status of the 'history' by conducting some form of self-reflexive discursive analysis. Certain stains on the document suggest that the author must have turned to drink.
One obvious moral of this little history of archaeological modernity, if I interpret it correctly, is that the past is a construction, socially produced, something done here and now, in the present. The implications of this need to be closely examined but they by no means imply a pernicious form of relativism in which 'anything goes' and every statement made about the past is equal to any other. It is quite clear from the history of archaeology that anything does not go. The past resists our constructions, its empirical materiality has to be respected. At the same time it is necessary to realise that there is no firm bedrock or foundation to which we can anchor our statements about the past, no criteria of validity absolutely independent of the practices of the archaeologist. The task is to come to terms with a materialist position in which it is realised that any (serious) archaeological practice involves minimally a triple dialectical relation: between the materiality of the past, the materiality of the present, and the materiality of the process of constructing discourses, writing texts. Each age, of course, can believe that it has managed to capture the meaning of a segment of the past but if we look in a broader historical perspective the singular meaning becomes transformed into a plurality of different meanings. The archaeological record is not so much a historical as an anthropological fact. Meaning is multiple not because of an error on the part of the archaeologist but because the past is open, something which by virtue of its very social and historical constitution contains different meanings.
The study of the past is a materialist practice in which it becomes necessary to take sides in any discussion, to take a stand, to fight for what we believe in. And this does not mean therefore that we ignore evidence or simply manipulate it to suit our purposes. Archaeology inevitably forms part and parcel of a battle over words and their meanings. To realise this is to understand the insertion of the archaeologist within a modernist identity space in which he or she makes rather than finds knowledges. We decide between different versions of the past not just by evaluating discourses and the arguments made in them. We also evaluate the way in which the argument relates to material symbols: evidence. The evaluation of arguments and evidence means that we can accept some arguments as valid and reject others. But there are no absolute ground rules for this process. It all depends on the case in hand. If we abandon such a position for one in which all statements are simply totally reducible to a certain individual, social group, time or place then there would seem to be no point whatsoever in doing research. But to think that we can place any 5, 10 or 1000-year universal guarantees on our statements as embodying certainty is completely ludicrous - an idealist fantasy.
One way of understanding why archaeologists work and write as they do is to examine the social relations in which discursive production is embedded. Another related strategy is to analyse those discourses themselves in detail. I will refer to discourse as something that comes between langue and parole: situated speaking and writing in actual language use in which groups or classes of users are differentially related to langue and do not participate in it equally. Pecheux (1982) has underlined the fact that speaking and writing are not only instruments of communication (as in an idealised sender/receiver of message scenario) but also of non-communication. In particular linguistic communities' discourse is related to power-knowledge-truth strategies and is connected to struggles and divisions in society. It is readily apparent that discourse is to be related to processes of domination and resistance particularly in class-divided societies such as capitalism. Those who cannot speak the 'right' language as fostered in educational systems become subordinate to those who can. Discourse is not only bound up in a general way with divisions of labour but quite specifically with different social institutions and academic 'disciplines'. These create specific sites of communication which establish the place and role of the sender and receiver of messages and determine what kinds of message may be deemed appropriate and those to be outlawed and banished. Saussure's langue/parole distinction is both highly general and abstract, an idealisation. Discourse we might say is the specific material site in which the relationship between language and speech actually gets played out. Theoretical linguistics cannot deal adequately with the realisation of language in the world. Discourse analysis on the other hand, is a manner of approaching language use as a materialist practice embodying power and ideology. Another way of thinking about this is to understand that when we move from the morphology of the sentence and syntax to meaning we leave behind a langue to which ideally everyone bears an equivalent relation to consider the material site of the enunciation. A sentence is not just a collection of linguistic signs to be understood in their difference. The meaning in it is a predicative act in which something is relayed to someone in the here and now.
The meaning of the sentence takes on a material character according to the wider discursive formation (arena of writing/speaking) in which it is situated so that the same sentence and the same words can take on different meanings in relation to their social conditions of enunciation and reception. Meaning is not neutral but relates to institutions, groups and struggles. Althusser has remarked that:
It is this general position that I want to amplify in relation to archaeological discourses - that words and sentences use matter, that they are a site of struggle, and that the words and sentences may be utilised in radically different ways to further different ends. It is possible to distinguish between discourses in dominance which lay claim to a universal significance and importance through manipulating words and sentences in a particular manner and discourses in resistance. The latter attempt to undermine the status of the dominant discourse in order to open out new possibilities for truth and knowledge systematically denied in dominant discursive forms which always attempt to make themselves appear as certainties: self-evident, beyond questioning, in the true.
REMARKS ON THE DISCOURSE OF A PSEUDOSCIENCE
I will introduce the position just mentioned by considering three pieces of relatively recent archaeological discourse (Binford 1983, chapter 6; 1987;
Schiffer 1988). Let us start by asking a simple question: What do you do if you want to convince someone of the validity of your own position and crush all those who disagree? A general characteristic of discourses in dominance is that considering their position as self-evidently true they have no real need to argue for it. In their 'rationality' they thus display their irrational nature. A typical discursive strategy employed by Binford and Schiffer is to use emotive and value-charged 'keywords' such as science and objectivity - and use them over and over again and/or employ them strategically as a substitute for logical argumentation. We all know that in the west to be scientific is consistently equated with the 'good'. Any one who heeds not the ways of science immediately runs into the danger of being labelled reactionary, regressive and 'relativist'. Now, of course, there are many different definitions of science, objectivity and scientific activity as a process linking subjects to objects in various ways. In a very real sense these words are vacuous: empty of any specific content. The content only becomes moulded through their discursive employment. Here I do not wish to 'fill up' these words but to think that it may be rather more interesting to examine their conditions of use in the texts under discussion, remembering that words not only have a certain exchange value as communication but situated symbolic and referential significance going beyond themselves.
Binford's article (1983, 45-55) is eleven pages long. On these pages 'science/scientific' occurs on 58 separate occasions and 'objective/ objectivity' a further 20 times. This gives a quite remarkable mean figure of 5.3 references to science on every page and 1.8 to objectivity. In another paper (Binford 1987) 'science/scientific' appear 52 times (mean: 4 times/page). Clearly the hope must be that if you repeat a value-loaded word and use it to advance your own position someone may be foolish enough to believe you in the end. Simple repetition, or perhaps incantation, lies at the heart of Binford's discursive strategy. Science functions as a juggler's ball. The word science in Binford's text is unnecessary to any of the points he wants to make but it still has to be there. When we watch the balls of the juggler we become mesmerised. Only if he or she drops one will we regain consciousness of our surroundings, of context, life going on around the event. And for Binford, the word science is exactly analogous to the juggler's ball. Divested of any social context it accrues a thing-like quality. Science isn't about people but an entity one throws into the text in order to valorise anything and everything you want to say or do. All very convenient.
Refreshingly enough, in Schiffer's 18-page text (1988) the word 'science/scientific' occurs on a mere 20 occasions. The textual distribution of this magical word is not however uniform. There are three mentions in the introductory pages, another three in the concluding sections, thus establishing a certain symmetry, while in the bulk of the text the word is absent. 'Science' thus sets the scene and concludes the exposition. The word clusters an additional twelve times in just five paragraphs. These are parts of the text in which Schiffer attacks work that he claims is 'relativist' (1988, 467-9; cf. Binford 1987, 402). Nowhere, of course, does Schiffer explain the meaning of this 'thing' science. It is no doubt simply assumed that we all know what it is: a commonsense category of goodness and value.
In Binford's and Schiffer's texts science is a category consistently employed as a substitute for thought. When you have this 'thing' on your side arguments are hardly required and, indeed, Schiffer criticises the attempt by Michael Shanks and myself (1987) to 'discredit other theories, using a variety of strategies including ponderous argument' (1988, 468). However, as Schiffer's text makes clear, if you enlist 'science' this relieves you from the troublesome burden of argumentation altogether, 'ponderous' or otherwise. Mere mention of the word is enough to annihilate the opposition. Binford's and Schiffer's thing called science functions in just the same way as religious dogma. One is either a believer and thus 'saved' or doomed to the fires of hell.
A battle over words - Binford's and Schiffer's 'science' is my ideology. Their texts embody a refusal to acknowledge themselves as anything other than neutral, impartial, universal, value-free which they patently cannot be and are not. They are advancing an ideology, which naturally refuses to acknowledge itself as such and masquerades as truth. Science for them is a term which bears no relation to the real world of people working, living, relating, writing:
In science, of science, by science, for science; let's all climb aboard. Once upon a time 'objective' used to refer to processes of rational argumentation, now it is to be reduced to an empiricist administrative procedure of describing facts and objects. Science with its thing-like qualities functions in the texts discussed as power: those who possess it have power on their side. The dispossessed - the opposition - are to be crushed. This 'science' is to be utilised to foster relations of dominance. As Schiffer makes clear, to possess this thing has a number of definite advantages: 'society rewards those who address its significant problems with employment opportunities, grants, prizes, prestige' (1988, 468). No doubt those who criticise the social order cannot expect any of these 'rewards'. Indeed a failure of so called 'neo-Marxists' according to Schiffer is that they simply do not recognise 'the inevitability of social stratification in complex societies' (1988, 468). Schiffer confesses that he is 'distressed by the prospect that some investigators wishing to use archaeology as a means to further unspecified political ends, will subvert the scientific process' (1988, 469). Wouldn't that mean no grants, prizes or prestige?
We all know that capitalist society rewards those who duly conform to its values and expectations and don't rock the boat and can be thankful to Schiffer for reminding us of this basic fact of life. In Britain, faithful industrialists who contribute to Conservative Party funds can confidently expect a knighthood. In the States those who work not just in a Department of Anthropology but in a 'laboratory of traditional technology' (Schiffer 1988, 461) can hope that the funds will flow freely i even if the 'scientific' statements made such as: 'Wood also is altered by weathering, a synergistic process involving both water and sunlight' (1988, 473) and social theory can be 'tentatively divided' into two domains: hunter gatherers and complex societies (1988, 465) do appear to be just a little banal.
In Melanesia the phenomenon of the 'Big Man' is well known. The big man is one who has acquired power and prestige. According to Sahlins (1963) the decisive factor in the building of personal renown is the ability to amass wealth and redistribute it with an astutely calculated generosity. The big man and the power he possesses represent a specific institutional reaction to a specific type of society: a response in an acephalous system to the temporary need for supralocal political power in some circumstances such as warfare, exchange and political ceremonies. Analogies to 'Big Man' type systems can readily be found in academia in which prestige is to be related to citations of one's work. The worst thing that can happen is to be ignored. This is clearly uppermost in Schiffer's mind as he references his work no less than 66 times or about four times a page. There is hardly a paragraph in which his own name does not crop up somewhere. Schiffer's science does seem to be a bit on the narcissistic side. Occasionally judicious reference is made, in limited measure, to the works of others but in the references we duly find Schiffer's work in a ratio of 16:1 to that of almost everybody else. His nearest self-created competitor turns out to be Binford (16, 8). Despite this Binford's works are only referenced 14 times in the text in a few paragraphs, a figure dwarfed by Schiffer's total and continuous 'presence'.
The nature of the prestige-power game being played out is transparently obvious. It betrays precisely the sense of personal insecurity as that found in Cambridge inaugural lectures in archaeology in which the speakers insert themselves into genealogies of previous professors and make reference to the antiquity and importance of the institutional post of which they are incumbent (Tilley 1989). As Sahlins' own account makes clear 'big men' who continually need to reaffirm their own status, and in this case, need to use magical keywords as props for their arguments are, in effect, weak men.
THE PRODUCTION OF MEANING
Moving on from discussion of these rather blatant, and by no means exceptional, examples of the manifestation of power in archaeological discourse I want to discuss the nature of writing and the manner in which it mediates between past and present in a more general way. My concern is the manner in which meaning becomes grafted onto the past. The inscription of artefacts, their attributes, context and associations into a textual medium is something that requires problematisation. Any writing of material culture is transformative. There is a gap between words and things. Writing is not, and cannot be, a transparent medium for expression and analysis. The associations made between artefacts and their context occur as much in the linguistic medium of the text as they do in that which the text may attempt to describe or discuss. Studying material culture then inevitably means a process in which artefacts become transcribed. The end product is both something and something less than the raw materials worked upon. It is this 'something' that requires understanding. The text is neither a direct expression of reality, nor is it divorced from it. Concomitantly meaning in the text is dual. It is to be found both in the text's organisation and syntax and in relation to the text of the world. These two aspects of meaning cannot be separated out, they inhere in each other and help to constitute each other.
The artefact in the text is always a discursive object. This theoretically and conceptually produced object is formed by a process of language acting on the world. No description is 'pure', nor can any description be 'total'. Listing the attributes of a house, an axe, a pot or a grave does not allow one to arrive back at these things. The textual embodiment of material culture is always partial, a reduction of complexity. It also goes substantially beyond the pot etc., because it transports it into an entirely different medium, a medium which then sets to work on it. This means that I or you never deal with the artefact or more generally the past or the present in-itself and for-itself. Knowledge and understanding comes through a linguistic, textual medium. The necessity to place things into texts is simultaneously a violence done to those things and a productive and creative exercise. Writing material culture is producing material culture.
Now, this linguistic production of material culture has to be taken very seriously indeed for the meaning of material culture is created in the text. It does not reside outside the text. From the very beginning to the very end meaning resides in what the text does to the non-textual on which it operates. Meaning always remains internal to the text, its language use, and the reader's response to it. Meaning does not reside externally over and above this relation except insofar as discourse has wider effects in the world in helping us to interpret, understand and intervene in it. But it needs to be recognised that all activity is always already an interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation.
Meaning can be understood as a form of materiality, a production rather than an abstraction (something which just occurs within thought). Every material object that is studied becomes constituted as an object of discourse. What this means is that objects only become objects in discourse. Such a position does not deny that a pot or rock carving exists outside thought but that they could constitute themselves in a particular manner without discourse.
WRITING IN A NEW WAY
You and I must write material culture and we must write the past and the present. It follows that part of the creation of an alternative past and an understanding of material culture will, of necessity, be to write it in a different way than is at present the case. You and I need to experiment in the production of new types of writing, of textual inscription. What might these fresh forms of writing be? Four areas might be tried. First we can experiment with organisation of the text itself - the manner in which we inscribe words and statements on to a page. Second we can attempt to break the types of power relation set up between the writer and the reader in texts as constituted at present by attempting to write 'producer' as opposed to 'consumer' texts. Third we can self-reflexively examine ourselves, our subjectivity as writers in the texts that we produce. Fourth:
the archaeologist is not the humble servant of the artefact who must always bow in deference, to it. Growing awareness of the conventions governing discourse will lead to the development of a way of writing/challenging the boundaries between a text claiming to be an analysis of the artefact and thus remaining an appendage to it, with no further interest, and a text that has a value in its own right as a text, a literary production.
The employment of archaeological texts, 'scientific' or otherwise, dealing with any region or data set takes place at present exclusively in terms of a linear narrative structure bearing an uncanny resemblance to a detective story. In the introduction we are presented with the problem to be solved. Putative clues are then unfolded and discussed, with the reader left in suspense until the tension is broken in the conclusion and the real meaning of the evidence is revealed. The hold of such nineteenth-century historicism over archaeological discourse is very powerful indeed. A 'counterfeit' history occurs in the very structure of archaeological writing. This lends itself perfectly to the discussion of grand themes such as the emergence of 'civilisation', the origins of agriculture, the beginnings of metal technology, the expansion of trading networks, the 'development' of European society and the rest of them. An obsession with origins in
1 Linear narrative
2 Parallel texts
3 Circular texts returning to the point from which they start
4 Spiral text
5 Linear narrative with inbuilt 'spiral' mediation
6 The 'aphoristic' text - stopping and starting off on a new theme
7 The 'tangential' text
Figure 5.1 Alternative writing structures for producing the past
archaeology is an effect rather than a cause of such a narrative structure aiming essentially to smooth time, to paste over the cracks, to fit everything into a coherent whole. A linear narrative form is by no means a 'natural' procedure and there are many alternatives: circular texts, spiral texts, double texts set side by side commenting on data from different angles, texts that take one point of departure and then explore others at a tangent returning periodically to the initial theme and then transforming it and exploring it in different directions (Figure 5.1). Other possibilities are the type of aphoristic writing employed to particular effect by Benjamin (1979) and Adorno (1978). Exploring these ways of structuring a text we would not only be writing the past in a new way: it would be a qualitatively different past. It would also mean that we would have to think a lot more carefully about the very process of writing that past, entailing a rejection of the naive presupposition that words are just a resource, instruments we use.
A related strategy will be to create texts that attempt actively to involve the reader in the process of meaning creation. What is required is a new practice of writing that involves the reader. Within archaeology, at least one virtual hegemony reigns based on what I shall term an empiricist theory of reading and writing. According to this theory, never explicitly stated but always constituting an absent presence in the text, writing is a mere medium in which the non-discursive, the ideas or mental conceptions of the individual, become realised. Alternatively it is regarded as the manner in which knowledge of the real (archaeological data) are set down and recorded. Discourse becomes reduced to either a record of the thought patterns of the thinker or as the manner in which the real may be reproduced in the text. Differing methodologies produce differing realities. Reading becomes a kind of activity as obvious and automatic as drinking or sleeping. Furthermore writing must conform to prescribed but usually specified standards encompassing non-personal involvement. Rhetoric and polemic are to be outlawed (Binford 1983, 45). The text should involve clipped speech and ideally be as clear, precise, parsimonious and unambiguous as inhumanly possible. Nuances, word plays, poetics are to be frowned upon as frivolous. Such tactics reveal a lack of discipline to which anyone who wishes to be regarded seriously must guard against. Conformism - no surprises - is the order of the day. Language must ideally be reduced to the most banal level.
Benjamin notes that 'the typical work of modern scholarship is intended to be read as a catalogue' and he goes on to ask: 'But when shall we actually write books like catalogues?' (1979, 63). When indeed. Empiricist notions of writing effectively outlaw discourse both as a problem and as an object of study. The text becomes almost auto-intelligible and its author is always the final arbiter with regard to its meaning. Archaeology books written in such a fashion become read simply as a means for the reader to extract information, useful concepts, modes of analysis or ideas which the reader 'collects up' to be deployed elsewhere: in examinations of his or her text. Alternatively expositions, summaries and commentaries may be given on the works of others based on such a reading. This normally passes for what is termed 'education'. Common to both this archaeological education and the processes involved in concept extraction and redeployment is the notion that the text or texts can be carved up in such a manner that the statements, positions and concepts employed can be effectively separated out from the conditions of their production: the discursive modalities which create them and in terms of which they are intelligible. But texts embody powers. Words are not just words; their meanings alter according to the discourses in which they are inserted and the effects of these discourses on the reader.
At present when you or I read a text - let it be clear that this text is a typical example - our role is to consume. Naturally we are taught to be
critical consumers and this is regarded as a virtue: be suspicious of what he says! But nevertheless our relation to the text is one of distanciation. We try to construct a meaning in the text: to interpret it in various ways. Our interpretation may, of course, differ somewhat from the author's intentions but the best reading is often thought to be one that is able to reconstruct those intentions. We are firmly placed in the role of a consumer because of the internal closures which the writing of the text itself creates. An 'open' text is an alternative. It would be a text in which the author systematically attempts not to close the text down, to produce a spurious coherency but leaves gaps and fissures for the reader to fill in, threads and strands to follow up. The reader becomes no longer a passive consumer of knowledge or whatever but through his or her reading of the text helps actively to create knowledge, the text's meaning. A 'producer' text as opposed to a 'consumer' text invites the reader to participate, to join in as part of the process. It is only our present education system and sheer laziness that demands that everything should be provided to us on a plate; that we should expect to read a book like eating steak and chips in a restaurant.
It is worth pointing out that the notions of both 'consumer' and 'producer' texts are ideal types, neither of which bears any relationship to any text already produced or likely to be produced. It is a matter of degree. With the texts that we have in hand in archaeology at present we can write into them many effects and meanings of which the authors were completely unaware and these remain valid. The meaning of the text once disseminated goes entirely beyond what the author may or may not have intended. We are not to be restricted by the constraints the author would put on the appropriation of his or her text. To write, as Barthes states somewhere, is not to give someone else the last word. So in one sense we always produce the meaning of the texts we read. The reader is always active in a limited sense but let us not say that such an activity is not exactly 'invited' by archaeology books and articles. From the author's point of view the more the'reader uncritically consumes the better. The textual strategy is one in which as many textual cracks as possible are to be filled in by a smooth consoling narrative. The writer tries in vain to foreclose the entry of the reader. Rather than just saying with Barthes that 'the birth of the reader must be at the death of the author' (Barthes 1977, 48) we could hope, in the future, for both to co-operate in the production of the text's meaning. To use an analogy, the author would create a sketch in pencil for the reader to paint the final portrait.
Examining ourselves: what are we doing and why? In writing we need to be constantly vigilant and self-reflexive to ask: do I really want to state that and why? What are the implications: personal, political, institutional? What are the powers at work here? Whom am I trying to convince and for what end? Schiffer - to his credit - has more or less given us his reasons: prestige, grants and prizes. Mine? A constant struggle against power and authority structures, a 'scientific' closing down of the past. It involves an attempt to open the past to the present, to productively fuse the two together; to create a socially and politically relevant past, to invite the readers in; to help create pasts which are meaningful to them. This doesn't mean I reject science, which I conceive as a dialectical process fusing past and present, subject and object; nor does it mean I think a thousand incompatible archaeologies should bloom. It means dialogue and discussion, taking sides in an argument: constant criticism, objection, construction and reconstruction in accordance with a thoroughly materialist position. The materiality of the past's relation with the present does not simply reside in its artefactual traces but also in the material relation of men and women today with these traces, a position which makes a mockery of a simplistic and traditional polarisation of objectivity and subjectivity.
The type of archaeological writing I am advocating will undoubtably be difficult. I am pessimistic whether in the present circumstances it is even possible. We can be sure that because it diffuses an authoritarian relation with the past it will be decried by many, probably most especially publishers, for fear that it might not sell. But the past is not up for sale; most innovations have been feared and have to be struggled for and we'll just have to forget about prestige, grants and sparkling prizes!
TOWARDS A SCIENCE OF THE TEXT
Before we can even begin to write along the lines I have suggested it is necessary to leam how to read. Unless we have a thorough understanding of the nature of contemporary archaeological discourses we are likely, whether we like it or not, simply to reproduce them. In order to understand what archaeologists write, and how, a new theory of reading is required. The object of this will be to facilitate a greater degree of criticism, debate and self-reflexivity. As a counter position to the empiricist theory of reading that was outlined above I want to make some remarks designed to promote an alternative theory of reading involving five main elements:
1. The joke principle;
2. The presence/absence principle;
3. The rarity principle;
4. The power/knowledge principle;
5. The restriction principle.
Reading, rather than being regarded as an attempt to elaborate the text's self-knowledge, should be seen as a process of establishing a decisive rupture between the reader and the text. The first principle of reading should be an attempt (which will always fail to a certain degree) to bracket-off the self from what is being read, a creation of distance. Paradoxically, in order to understand and take it seriously, it needs to be provisionally regarded as complete nonsense or at the very least something that should not be taken seriously. In order to effect this the text read can be taken as a joke. The first thing we do to the text is to laugh at its claims to say anything serious or meaningful about the world. Analytical Archaeology is a Disney cartoon.
The second principle is that what is of primary importance in the text is just as much that left unwritten as that written: the gaps, silences, the spaces and meanings between the lines. Here it is important to ask two related questions of the text: (i) why do certain statements, concepts and words etc. occur? (ii) Why do these statements, concepts and words occur rather than others? These questions orientate us towards an analysis of what fixes the content of the text both in terms of manifest presences and in terms of absences. To know the text is not to 'translate' it but to rewrite it using its substantive form as raw material for this purpose. This is not so much an attempt at a hermeneutic recovery of original meaning by discovering that which is buried in the depths but more a form of critical production which makes the text's silences speak. This process, after Althusser (1977) and Macherey (1978), we call a symptomatic reading. We learn to read the text like a psychoanalyst reading a patient's mind from slips of the tongue. This does not involve a re-doubling of the text which an empiricist reading would inevitably give but the production of a new textual object establishing fresh knowledge in some respects discontinuous with the text itself. Such a reading regards the text as being constituted by an entire network of internal and external discursive relations and what defines the text in its singularity is not so much that which is in it but that which is not. If this were not the case the text would, of course, be wholly independent of anything and everything else and concomitantly either unreadable or incomprehensible. The text is a distinctive production only by virtue of its differences from, and relations to, other texts. The text is 'hollowed' by the absent presence of other texts to which it is related and against which it constructs itself. Macherey, citing Nietzsche, reminds us to ask the hinterfrage question of the text:
It implies as much in its non-said as its said that the meanings of the text are to be revealed through the said: 'diverting attention is to show without being seen, to prevent what is visible being seen' (Macherey 1978, 88). It is necessary to regard the text as a constant dialectic between presences and absences to neither of which does the reader grant any necessary priority. Concomitantly, writing and reading cannot remain separate. To read a text adequately is to rewrite it, to fill in those absences found in the text's margins and the spaces between the lines and the words. A science of the text does not leave it where it is but transforms it.
Why is it that, given that there are an almost infinite number of aspects of material culture patterning to be discussed, only a limited of statements tends to be made by archaeologists, disseminated in various ways, and repeated? We can begin to analyse discursive practices within archaeology as sets of rule-governed statements in a relation to dispersion in texts. These rules, not discursively available to the writer, may be held to partly account for the said and that left unsaid. In analysing the rarity pervading archaeological discourse we will be concerned with the underlying regularities governing the dispersion of statements, concepts and words in texts, and their effect on readers: those archaeological 'treasures' carefully preserved to be re-laid from one text to the next and the empty deserts surrounding them. We will find that twenty different books on the European Iron Age, beneath the shifting content of the sentences, are all the same book defined in their mutual repetition and scarcity. This, it should be pointed out, is not a concern with the psychology of individual authors but an attempt to understand how discourse 'takes over' so that the names added to the texts become, in effect, interchangeable. To analyse texts in this manner is, as Foucault puts it, to:
Beneath the sprouting of archaeological books on the Iron Age, or any other topic, we are likely to find the same underlying generative rhizome sending up shoots at various points in time and space but all characterised by the same lack.
Powers and desires secrete texts, mould them, frame them, invest them. Foucault has taught us that power and knowledge cannot be separated out into discrete areas. Equally, they do not collapse into each other. It is a mistake simply to equate knowledge with power which would make one or other term redundant. The point is that they form part of each other while maintaining their identity. In other words, power and knowledge are in dialectical relation and neither can exist without the other. Together powers and knowledges constitute truths. The linkage power-knowledge-truth allows us to investigate the politics of truth involved in making and accepting statements. Here we inquire into the social and political implications of producing one textual account of material culture rather than another. In other words, what are the linkages between a text and its social context of production? We have to try and analyse the relationship between archaeological knowledges and power, both within academia and without. We have to understand the manner in which archaeology creates its own discursive objects - never the only possible ones - and the manner in which these are framed and worked upon in texts.
Archaeological discourses need to be situated within the micropolitics of power in the academy. One obvious way to' do this is to look at the networking of references in texts in terms of the individual and institutional influence and power and various tropes of writing and critique employed. These powers go considerably beyond the texts themselves. Studies need to be conducted of who gets employed and how and who does not, who gets grants and how and who does not, who gets published and how and who does not, who has praise heaped upon them and how and who does not, what gets read and what does not, why some debates are conducted and others are not. All these and others are not issues of secondary importance. They are of some considerable interest in assessing the manner in which the archaeological police force operates. Gero (1985) and others, from a feminist perspective, are producing valuable work along some of these lines.
What are the limits? What is held to differentiate between a serious discursive act worthy of comment, repetition, quotation, etc. and something considered threatening enough to be banished from public speech, and why? Think about what you would like to write and yet know you dare not set down on paper. By exploring the social and political 'unconscious' of archaeology it may be possible to analyse the way in which prohibitions are systematically placed on what 'proper' archaeological discourse is supposed to be about. Choices are always made as to what to study and why to study it. In effect the archaeological record only exists within the spaces of the discourses which have purported to describe it. A positive outcome of analysing contemporary archaeological discourse will be to open out fresh choices, new discursive objects.
Contemporary empiricist discourses place the study of material culture into a brittle crystalline structure which it is vital to shatter in order to open up fresh meanings, new ways of seeing, fresh truths. A renewed focus on material culture and its study threatens today to dissolve the discursive boundaries that archaeology has erected around itself and this is both productive of new discourses and new knowledges. Even the most cursory comparison of archaeology with other disciplines such as anthropology or sociology reveals an astonishing conservatism, a fright at the very name of politics. This is perhaps not so surprising. Traditionally only the very wealthy have been able to afford the luxury of a life devoted to the pursuit of the past. In Britain the Prince of Wales studied archaeology. We would hardly have expected him to study sociology.
Today little is served, apart from traditional power and authority structures, by retaining the disciplinary label 'archaeology'. Fresh insights can be expected from striking away prohibitions with regard to what it is right and proper to study (usually the older the better) and develop a focus around the materiality of social practices, whether in the past and the present, in our society or others. It is important to abandon a simplistic focus on an absolute distinction between truth and falsity in analysing texts and the statements made in them. Rather we ask: why these statements rather than others and what interests do they serve? Who has the right to make these statements and what powers are embedded in them? What is being left unsaid? How is our attention being diverted and to what end?
Archaeology is not so much about reading the signs of the past but a process of writing these signs into the present. Correct stories of the past are dependent on a politics of truth linked to the present because all interpretation is a contemporary act. Interpretation is always active. There is no single meaning to be textually recreated in an analysis of a set of artefacts since meanings are always to be linked to the practices producing them, whether of prehistoric artisan or contemporary archaeologist. The production and analysis of discourse is a willed act of struggle for and against the production of particular types of statements. The analysis of archaeological discourse is not an academic game, a new fancy icing. It has a deeply serious intent which must be derived, I think, from learning how to laugh, dispelling academic pomposity and a sense of self-importance. We need to be irreverent not only to work we may not like and respect but also to ourselves. The intent is to effect a liberation from the prohibitions placed on discourse at present. And that is why it is worth undertaking. A few aphorisms:
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