Science, Stratigraphy and the Deep Sequence: Excavation vs Regional Survey and the Question of Gendered Practice in Archeology

By Moser, Stephanie | Antiquity, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Science, Stratigraphy and the Deep Sequence: Excavation vs Regional Survey and the Question of Gendered Practice in Archeology


Moser, Stephanie, Antiquity


When, over 30 years ago, scholars started seriously to dismantle the idea that science was a pursuit unaffected by social and political values, they opened up a huge field of investigation. When, over 20 years ago, feminist scholars started to contribute to these debates, they added a completely new dimension to the understanding and critique of knowledge construction. The critical contribution that feminist researchers have since made to science studies, and indeed all fields of study, is to demonstrate the fundamental connection between the social context of research and the nature of knowledge production. While many traditions of scholarship have challenged positivist approaches to research, feminist traditions of critical analysis are characterized by a different motivation; they have been driven by a concern with practice and the relationship between the make-up of disciplinary communities and the types of research that they engage in. Feminist perspectives are also making an impact in archaeology, where they are challenging the authority of the prevailing and singular discourse of masculine science, and demonstrating how the practice of archaeology is intimately connected to the products of our research.

Feminist archaeology and the social context of research

As distinct from most of the studies in the history, philosophy and socio-politics of archaeology, feminist critiques, like indigenous critiques, stem from the concern to address current political issues facing practising archaeologists (see Pinsky & Wylie 1995). Beyond identifying androcentric bias in archaeology and defining gender as an archaeological topic (e.g. Arnold et al. 1988; Claassen 1992; Conkey 1992; Conkey & Spector 1984; Conkey & Williams 1991; duCros & Smith 1993; Gero & Conkey 1991; Spector 1993; Walde & Willows 1991; Wylie 1992; forthcoming), practitioners have examined the status of women in the discipline and the gendered nature of archaeological practice (e.g. Gero 1983; 1985; 1988; in press; Kramer & Stark 1988; Morris 1991; Webster & Burton 1992; Wildesen 1980). The results of the critical studies of androcentrism as reflected in the questions, methods and interpretations of archaeology, and of the status of women or equity research, have raised the question of how these two areas are related. Above all, research on sex/gender in archaeology points to the importance of the social context of the discipline. The fundamental role played by social context was highlighted by people such as Alison Wylie (1991a), who demonstrated how socio-political factors were crucial to the emergence of gender in archaeology, and Marsha Hanen & Jane Kelley (1992: 197), who argued that inquiry into the rising interest in gender studies in archaeology 'must consider both sociological and epistemological issues'. The work of Joan Gero on the connection between sex/gender and archaeological research has been critical in laying the foundations for this field of investigation. Gero, who explored the implications of stereotyped professional roles for male and female archaeologists for the reconstruction of the past, showed how it is necessary to understand the significance of the division of labour in archaeological work, the hierarchies that exist and the ways in which these are represented in archaeological production. Since the publication of her studies, recent work on gender and archaeology has started to pay far more attention to the social context of archaeology and the role sex/gender plays in this (e.g. Balme & Beck 1995; Bradley & Dahl 1994; Hammel et al. 1993; Nelson et al. 1994; Webb & Frankel 1995). Such studies have gone beyond the concern to establish that archaeology is a social and political enterprise; rather they accept that it is, and have proceeded to explore the specific circumstances and conditions under which knowledge reflects cultural and sex/gender difference. More particularly, the literature on the status of women in archaeology documents clear patterns of workplace segregation, where women have been shown to engage in different kinds of work. …

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