A Brief History of TAG

Article excerpt


The Theoretical Archaeological Group (henceforth TAG) is now 31 years old--the best age anyone can ask for--just after the long years of hard work to win recognition and before the mid-life crisis. It is also the best rime to look back and assess the pitfalls and peaks, the obstacles and stimuli encountered during the rise to maturity. This analogy between TAG and an archaeological career is not mere rhetoric; it is also a way of explaining why such a prestigious and popular event has attracted so little historical analysis (Fleming & Johnson 1990). This apparent indifference concurs with the uncomfortable truth that 'archaeologists ... [do not have] the necessary tools to confront the history of their own discipline' (Diaz-Andreu 2007: 1). Perhaps we are reluctant to indulge in diagnosis, since TAG is still very much alive and kicking. Another explanation lies in the very format of TAG--an informal event, open to everyone without the inhibitions of assessment.

TAG's sole activity is an annual conference held in December. There are at least three ways to examine its development over the years. The first, and probably the most interesting, is the compilation of oral histories. Such an approach is already in progress by Pamela Jane Smith of the University of Cambridge, but, as Smith agrees, because of its subjectivity, it will always require verification and cross-checks. The second approach involves detailed discussions of speakers, sessions and trends, similar to the way people have commented on TAG (if selectively) in the few reviews that have appeared in print (e.g. Chippindale 1990; Bintliff 1991). A third approach, adopted here, is to analyse the speakers represented and the topics chosen in the hope of teasing out some trends. Only a pilot study has been undertaken so far, but the results show sufficient promise to draw some general conclusions about the development of TAG and to outline further research avenues for anyone attracted to the history of archaeological thought.

The results focus on three major areas: the development of themes over the years, gender balance among speakers and the participation of foreign speakers. It is appreciated that this is only a beginning. Although Antiquity hosts the notices of the conferences (http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/tag/index.html), a major obstacle to the inquiry proved to be the lack of a fuller archive, which meant that certain parameters had to be omitted: for example, quality control (were sessions ever refused, and if so, why?), the ratio between conference speakers and conference attendees, the change in status of participants (e.g. from postgraduate to professors), the ratio of full-time academic staff to students and the ratio of academic to non-academic participants. Also remaining as avenues for further research is the breaking down of big themes such as 'social change' into sub-themes, such as 'gender studies', or identifying under 'General Theory', more specific areas, such as Marxism.

The creation of a database

All 31 TAG programmes have now been retrieved (see Table 1), with three exceptions: the pre-TAGs in1977 and 1978 and the 1981 meeting. The textual information in the 28 programmes was transformed into an Excel spreadsheet database by year, containing the title of the sessions, the names of the organisers, chairs, discussants and speakers, their gender, professional affiliation and nationality. The institutions represented by the speakers were also included if such information was available. After the initial analysis, it became clear that the number of papers did not necessarily correspond to the number of speakers: in 2001, for example, 42 of the speakers presented more than 1 paper and 8 speakers presented 3 papers. For the purposes of the current study, it was felt that the number of people actually giving one or more presentations was more important than the number of times a speaker appears in front of an audience. …