Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology

By Ian Hodder; Scott Hutson | Go to book overview

2
Processual and systems approaches

In chapter 1 the question was posed: how do we infer cultural meanings in material remains from the past? In this and the following chapters various approaches to achieving this end will be discussed. The search is for an approach that takes adequate account of agency in an historical and cultural context.

It is necessary first to make a distinction between two broad classes of approach followed by archaeologists, which we shall term materialist and idealist. We shall see later that these terms have numerous senses within different schools of thought; for the moment we wish to give them provisional but precise meanings.

For Kohl (1981, p. 89) materialism 'accords greater causal weight to a society's behaviour than to its thoughts, reflections, or justifications for its behaviour'. This kind of materialism is considered 'vulgar' because thoughts, reflections and justifications – the 'superstructure' – are said to be wholly determined by the productive economic behaviour that forms the 'base' of society. In the materialist scheme, productive capacity and behaviour is influenced only by technology and environmental limitations (see chapter 4 for other forms of materialism). This definition needs to be extended to include the nature of inference within materialist approaches. In this book we mean by materialist approaches those that infer cultural meanings from the relationships between people and their environment. Within such a framework the ideas in people's minds can be predicted from their economy, technology, social and material production. Given a way of organizing matter and energy, an appropriate ideological framework can be predicted.

By idealist we mean any approach which accepts that there is some component of human action which is not predictable from a material base, but which comes from the human mind or from culture in some sense. In chapter 1, we referred to

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Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the First Edition xi
  • Preface to the Second Edition xv
  • Preface to the Third Edition xvii
  • 1: The Problem 1
  • 2: Processual and Systems Approaches 20
  • 3: Structuralist, Post-Structuralist and Semiotic Archaeologies 45
  • 4: Marxism and Ideology 75
  • 5: Agency and Practice 90
  • 6: Embodied Archaeology 106
  • 7: Archaeology and History 125
  • 8: Contextual Archaeology 156
  • 9: Post-Processual Archaeology 206
  • 10: Conclusion: Archaeology as Archaeology 236
  • Bibliography 248
  • Index 284
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