It is interesting to reflect that only nine years separate David Clarke's paper 'Archaeology: the loss of innocence' and the publication of Symbolic and structural archaeology (Hodder 1982), which may be taken to mark the beginning of a 'post-processual' archaeology. Many of the ideas put forward in that book were being discussed and developed at Cambridge from around 1978. David's paper, and its publication in ANTIQUITY, may be taken as representing the high-water mark of 'new' or processual archaeology in the academy. Almost as soon as the ideas had been presented, and not really very well developed in the practice of doing archaeology, they were under fire and being replaced. Yet David was still attacking 'traditional' archaeology, fighting for his own position in the 1973 paper, and putting forward an agenda for the future of archaeology. It was a manifesto for future work. New Archaeology was then 11 years old and had already achieved a certain hegemony in Anglo-American archaeology, at least among younger academics more interested in ideas than recovering and describing evidence. In 1998 what is labelled 'post-processual' archaeology differs fundamentally from many of the ideas presented in the Hodder volume and it is doubtful whether anyone would still wish to follow David's agenda or advocate early 'post-processual' ideas. The pace of thinking has inexorably heated up. Both David's paper and the Hodder book are now primarily of historical interest in the development of a disciplinary consciousness in which archaeology is becoming increasingly self-reflexive, critically interrogating its intellectual presuppositions, procedures and practices.
David Clarke's work was both visionary and constantly innovative. The ideas put forward in the 'loss of innocence' paper, and in his other publications, were subsequently adopted and adapted by many others. There can be no doubt that he was the most intellectually influential British archaeologist of his generation. One can now react positively or negatively to various aspects of his work but it remains fundamental to any consideration of the development of a disciplinary self-image.
His work was consistently felt as threatening by many 'traditional' archaeologists spawning numerous criticisms that he wrote dry jargon-ridden texts that could be deemed largely irrelevant because they were difficult to understand. He was complicating things too much. In principle archaeology ought to be a simple practice of recovering meaning from the past with the minimum of theory. David's abiding legacy has been to make theory and philosophy, and explication rather than description, the core of the discipline rather than being somehow optional extras. Henceforth archaeology had to be primarily an intellectual practice rather than a set of technologies and methodologies.
It is clear that the stimulation for the ideas that David advocated in the 'loss of innocence' paper, and elsewhere in his work, were not primarily derived from reading the works of other archaeologists, but drawn from outside, principally from his reading of work in the positivist philosophy of science and structural-functionalist anthropology, sociology and geography. It now seems somewhat ironic that he used these ideas to advocate strongly an 'archaeology is archaeology is archaeology' position in which the discipline should develop its own independent theoretical, conceptual and methodological structure tailored to the particularities and peculiarities of archaeological evidence. This theoretical structure was to be applied top-down to inform an understanding of the past. What he did not seem to recognize is that there could be nothing distinctive about archaeological theory when it went beyond a concern with appropriate methodologies excavation, fieldwork and conceptualization of factors affecting the physical survival of archaeological evidence, what he refers to as 'pre' and 'post' depositional and retrieval theory in the 'loss of innocence' paper. He was, in part, reacting against the position put forward by some historically minded 'traditional' archaeologists that archaeology can only really be a technology for extracting evidence from the past. In this it is distinctive. In all other respects, in what Clarke terms general, analytical and interpretive theory, it shares common features with all the other social and historical sciences. The irony here is that the death of archaeology could only result from the conceit of distinctiveness. In this respect David's paper itself betrays a startling innocence. How could an archaeological theory of society or human action be produced that would not simultaneously be a social and anthropological theory? How could the interpretation of meaning in past landscapes or artefacts, architectural forms etc. differ in any radical sense from interpretative work in relation to contemporary materials? Since the actions of persons in the past cannot be observed, and can only be inferred, archaeologists certainly have more difficulty in interpreting things than an anthropologist, but there is a shared general problem of Otherness and cultural distinctiveness. What David's work has, in retrospect, stimulated is the intellectual position that archaeologists should themselves be engaged in the construction of social theories rather than leaving it up to other disciplines and then simply scavenging and applying the ideas to explicate an archaeological data-set. Post David Clarke this parasitism and intellectual laziness is simply no longer acceptable.
Just as most of David's ideas were drawn from reading texts outside the discipline of archaeology, the same is the case for 'post-processual' works. Neither 'new' archaeology, or what has happened since, could ever have been possible without reading outside the discipline. The lesson (hardly novel) must be that reading only archaeology is bad for disciplinary health and promotes stagnation. This has some rather profound implications for teaching and learning: why, typically, should only archaeological texts take pride of place on undergraduate reading-lists? Why is teaching so much bound up with promoting disciplinary allegiance and asserting distinctiveness? Why are courses in archaeological institutions labelled as being archaeological theory, rather than social theory? Why should archaeologists think they can learn more from each other in their conferences, seminars, workshops, lectures and publications rather than by talking with outsiders (so-called inter-disciplinary interactions being the exception rather than the norm)? Is this anything much more than a kind of ancestor- and hero-worship (this consideration of a paper by David Clarke being a typical example of the genre), and part of a struggle for resources between competing disciplines in universities with artificial boundaries? Leaving to one side the politics and pragmatism inevitably required for the disciplinary survival of archaeology, is it any longer intellectually necessary, or sufficient, for us to be disciplined? David Clarke's work began a trend that has rapidly accelerated since, in that what is, or is not, archaeology is now no longer very clear. We have a proliferation of sub-disciplinary labels: contemporary archaeology or modern material-culture studies, prehistoric archaeology, historical archaeology, colonial and post-colonial archaeology, anthropological archaeology, cognitive archaeology, landscape archaeology, gender archaeology etc. We also have a proliferation of theoretical approaches: empiricist, positivist, mathematical, structuralist, symbolic, hermeneutic, Marxist, phenomenological etc. Every archaeologist now works, to a greater or lesser extent, through the medium of a discipline whose hallmark is fragmentation rather than coherence, disunity rather than unity. This was the inevitable result of David Clarke's attempt to expand disciplinary consciousness and dispel innocence. The trend will inevitably continue in an expansion of the conceptual and material objects of archaeological discourse and inquiry.
In the same year that the 'loss of innocence' paper was published Edmund Leach (1973) argued, in a collection of papers edited by Colin Renfrew, that 'new' archaeology was about 20 years out of date. Here, then, was a rather sad and depressing time-warp in which a discipline was reinventing for itself the theoretical wheels of a long-since discredited positivism and functionalism in anthropology. The paper was. of course, a somewhat overstated polemic, in that anthropology had hardly divested itself of this legacy. For example, the cultural ecology approach of Vayda, Rappoport and others was very influential at the time, and had a direct influence on David Clarke's writings.
In hindsight it is clear how selectively and narrowly Clarke and others borrowed and transformed ideas from a wider anthropological, sociological and philosophical literature. Only a narrow Anglo-American branch of the logical positivist philosophy of science was utilized. A radically different and alternative 'Continental' philosophy concerned with human action, meaning and intentionality was not considered. Why were the anthropological works of Levi-Strauss, Geertz, Turner, Douglas and the growing body of work in structural-Marxist sociology and anthropology (all available in the late 1960s and early 1970s and providing major sources of stimulation for a post-processual archaeology) ignored? What of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory? What of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty? Their works, of course, did not fit into the required totalizing and authoritarian vision (for Clarke, ideally, all archaeologists should share in a single philosophical, methodological and interpretative structure) of what social science was supposed to be all about: too interpretative, too political, too subjective, too disturbing, too uncertain: in short, all too human. Clarke's utter, and ultimately irrational, idealism in which the social and material conditions of the production of knowledge became ignored strangely became curiously presented as a form of rationalist objective materialism in his work. The vision of a scientific new archaeology that he presented could only be promoted out of innocence of anything that might conflict with such a perspective. Tim contemporary proliferation and pluralism of archaeology in terms of what is studied, and the theoretical approaches taken, have resulted in a situation in which Leach's accusation that the discipline was profoundly naive in relation to wider sets of ideas outside its own limited parameters and interests, is now no longer possible to make. David Clarke replaced the innocence of traditional archaeology with a different kind of innocence. The claim at the beginning of the 'loss of innocence' paper is that 'new' archaeology had ushered in an era of critical self-consciousness, as opposed to a prior phase of mere self-consciousness. It had not. David's achievement was to make the discipline more self-conscious than ever before. In doing so he created the conditions in which a Pandora's box of theories and ideas could be opened, leading to the achievement of what he wanted: a modern, dynamic, constantly questioning, self-reflexive discipline. Pluralism, fragmentation and self-reflection, a critical and questioning attitude, a permanent end of innocence, are part and parcel of a post-modern world in which we can no longer afford to take anything for granted. A 'post-modern' archaeology in 1998 is a truly contemporary discourse in a manner in which Clarke's vision of a 'new' archaeology could never be. It is both informed by, and can make a positive contribution to, wider debates in the social anti historical sciences about the meaning and significance of social relations, material forms, social reproduction and social transformation. A loss of innocence is dependent on the end of disciplinary isolation and, in this sense, archaeology no longer continues to exist.
HODDER, I. (ed). 1982. Symbolic and structural archaeology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
LEACH, E. 1973. Concluding address. in C. Renfrew (ed.), The explanation of culture change: 761-71. London: Duckworth.…