Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology

By Ian Hodder; Scott Hutson | Go to book overview

8
Contextual archaeology

Whatever questions one asks about the human past, even if they are only about technology or economy, frameworks of meaning intervene. After all, one cannot say what the economy of a site was until one has made hypotheses or assumptions about the symbolic meaning of, for example, bone discard. This book has been a search for an adequate answer to the question of how we infer past cultural meanings. In chapter 1, we framed the question of meaning in terms that called attention to two other issues: agency and history. Subsequently, we explored various approaches to meaning, agency and history.

The original task of comparing and contrasting the different approaches in terms of their contributions to these three issues has now been achieved and much of what was sought has been found. Structuralist archaeology contributes to the notion that culture is meaningfully constituted, but only a theory of practice can explain how meanings impact people's lives. New developments in Marxist-influenced archaeology and social theory have led to a more complete discussion of the role of agency in society, and a consideration of embodiment helps us understand how agents experience the world and how they are formed as subjects in the world. Finally, historical studies provide an understanding of how these meanings persist or change over time and how the actions of agents contribute to the transformation or maintenance of long-term structures of meaning.

In the previous chapter, we provided many loose glosses on the word 'meaning'. Meaning came in the form of (1) intellectual, emotional or mystical currents; (2) the 'inside of events'; (3) belief systems; (4) ideology and symbolism; (5) collective representations, and much more. We begin this chapter with a more careful consideration of what is meant by 'meaning'. Then, we move to the question of how archaeologists actually

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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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