Response

By Johnson, Matthew | Antiquity, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Response


Johnson, Matthew, Antiquity


First let me thank Professor Leo Klein for his kind comments on my work, and for his review of Archaeological Theory: An Introduction. His comments are thoughtful and serious, even where I disagree profoundly, though his account of the book is in many respects a misleading one. I will respond only to a few aspects of Klejn's arguments.

Both the definitions of theory cited by Klejn (Binford and Chang) are positivist ones. There is nothing wrong with this, but if Klejn and I agree that any objective introduction to theory must acknowledge both positivist and non-positivist approaches, it follows that neither definition is satisfactory as an initial statement. To agree with Klejn's implicit definition of theory would be to rule post-positivist approaches immediately out of court, hardly a balanced or objective position for an account of theory to take. I do not reject positivist definitions as Klejn claims, but rather give them as one possible definition out of several (Johnson 1999: 176). My hesitation in offering a tight, packaged definition of theory is shared by others: Renfrew & Bahn's Archaeology: The Key Concepts (2005), for example, does not list 'theory' as a discrete topic.

Klejn and I hold different views of what students need. He views it as threatening that students be encouraged to make their own choice between different theoretical positions: I view it as essential. As a teacher, it is my responsibility to encourage rather than shut down debate. Klejn's position seems to me to be directly contradictory to the role and responsibilities of science, particularly if one believes that science could or should have a reflexive and critical role. The reasons why many students dislike theory are complex. At the heart of student impatience with theory, I suggest, is a Romantic view: feel the mud on your boots and the wind on your face and you just know (discussed in Johnson forthcoming). Klein cites my account of how, as a student, I came to see that such a position was not tenable. It is disingenuous to construe this as a rejection of the importance of empirical research.

We also hold different views of the relationship between theory and epistemology. Klejn misreads my position: what I wrote, after a discussion including reference to Wylie, Brumfiel, Trigger, Kohl and others, was that epistemology was 'essential' though it was boring (p. 185). Klejn's account offers little clue that I endorse a realist or weak social constructivist position. I am not and have never been a relativist. Epistemology is clearly an essential part of theory, but I sense that Klein wishes to make epistemology and theory coterminous. There are other issues in theory, most obviously social theory and the relationship between politics and archaeology.

My statement that 'Klejn ... does not seem to have read the literature' was unduly acerbic. However, it was made in agreement with Tim Murray that much of the reasoning to be found in Klein 1993 had a nineteenth century feel to it. For example, remarks like 'I am sorry for [the Aborigines], and I would like to see them bear the benefits and trials of European civilisation ... as a researcher, however, I am absolutely indifferent to what aborigines may think about my approach to their culture', do appear out of touch, and fully deserve the robust response Murray gives (Klejn 1993: 510; Murray 1995: 292). …

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