Archaeology and Culture:
Power and Process
Rita P. Wright
The concept of culture has a long and privileged history in anthropology. In archaeology, much as in the other subfields, we have grappled with its definition, and some have questioned its usefulness. Articulation of material evidence and its association with patterns has given way to an increasing awareness of both similarities and differences within societies and to research programs designed to disentangle dominant ideologies from more local knowledge.
This chapter begins with a brief discussion of the history of the culture concept in archaeology. Although it is not my purpose to provide a comprehensive review of the culture concept, I do demonstrate similarities and differences between the concept’s uses and abuses in archaeology and the wider field of anthropology. The remainder of the chapter consists of examples from feminist archaeology and from studies of social boundaries and technologies that have recently been undertaken by archaeologists. These studies show that even when archaeologists have not directly confronted the culture concept, archaeological scholarship has unfolded in such a way that the concept’s usefulness has been implicitly accepted. In that sense, the identification of cultural patterns is a means, not an end (Kohl 1993: 17).
Archaeologists deal with many scales of analysis, and the examples I offer demonstrate how the use of the culture concept can provide a basis from which to articulate patterns in material culture at different scales. An example on the microscale is based on textual evidence from southern Mesopotamia in the third millennium B.C.E. It provides a glimpse into how feminist archaeologists have engaged with the culture concept. A second example, this time at the macroscale, examines