Critique of Archaeological Reason
5. Excerpts and summaries

Ian Hodder

Laerke Recht - November 2016


See also excerpts for Hodder and Hutson

Extended summary of 2003 Archaeology beyond Dialogue

     In addition to the introduction and conclusion, the book is divided into four parts. The first part examines archaeology and archaeological engagement with the 'public' in its increasingly globalised aspects. The second part focusses on Hodder's reflexive and social archaeology. Part three looks at these approaches within broader theoretical trends in archaeology. Finally, the fourth part consists of examples or case studies where Hodder has applied his theoretical approach to aspects of sites in Anatolia and the UK.
     Hodder introduces the issues that he will take up in the succeeding chapters, including the notion of multivocality and its implications in archaeology, reflexivity, moral responsibility and the role of archaeologists, the importance of dialogue, archaeology vs anthropology and the low value of field archaeologists.
Part I
Ch. 2. The Past as Passion and Play
      Archaeologists increasingly engage with the public and a range of 'stakeholders' relevant to the site they are working on. Here, Hodder examines engagement with two types of stakeholders at Çatalhöyük: commercial interests (as represented especially by some of the sponsors of the project) and traditional Islam (as represented e.g. by local politicians). Whereas previously, a divide could be seen - in a sense was created - between Europe and the Near East, with Europe being more 'civilised'. This is for example seen in the writings of Gordon Childe. Hodder now rather identifies the tensions as being between local and global, and these are reflected in the two groups. The archaeologist negotiates the many stakeholder interests but this does not mean not taking a stance.

Ch. 3. Who to Listen To?
      Essay on how engagement with the 'local community' takes place at Çatalhöyük. Hodder is very aware that academic discourse itself can be an impediment to dialogue with groups whose 'discourse', interests and questions are radically different from those of the archaeologist. He also identifies a problem in involving local people in the actual excavations, since lack of appropriate training prevents many from field work, although other tasks can be performed. Instead, local people can bring a different kind of specialised knowledge provided through their life style. It is important, however, to not equal this knowledge and 'traditional' way of life with direct descent of the ancient people living at the site.
Part II
Ch. 4. "Always Momentary, Fluid, and Flexible"
      Hodder explains some of what "reflexive" excavation entails at Çatalhöyük. The main premise of reflexive archaeology is the non-separation of objective fact and interpretation. Since there is no such thing as objective data (all excavation includes some kind of interpretation - the knowledge an archaeologist brings to a dig already constitutes an aspect of how he/she will excavate), it is better to be as aware and open about it as possible. Hodder identifies four aspects of the methodology: reflexive, relational/contextual, interactive and multivocal.

Ch. 5. Whose Rationality?
      In a response to critiques of the reflexive methodology, Hodder argues that rationality itself is contextual and social. The rationality of academic archaeology may not be the same as that of other interest groups. Another criticism, which is recognised by Hodder, is that many of the new technologies used may alienate and exclude certain groups - thus ending up with the opposite of the intended dialogical effect.

Ch. 6. Archaeological Practice as Intellectual Activity
      This is another response to criticism of Hodder's approach; he agrees that archaeologists have moral responsibilites and need to take a stand. He also defends his acceptance of certain sponsors who are sometimes involved in activities of questionable ethics (e.g. Shell) by arguing that without them he could make no contribution at all. However, this does not mean that he would accept any sponsor whatsoever. An important aim for Hodder is to "demonstrate that cultural heritage can make a difference" (p. 50).

Ch. 7. Social Practice, Method and Some Problems of Field Archaeology
(with Åsa Berggren)
      This paper is about the role of the excavator and use of unskilled labour in field archaeology. Although the excavator is the one doing the actual digging, this activity is greatly devalued. The use of workmen and unskilled labour is extremely common in excavation, and historically, excavation methods have been designed to accommodate this (including Wheeler's "boxes" with sections functioning as 'checks' on the work done). If Hodder's notion of interpretation at the trowel's edge is accepted, this situation is problematic (let alone considering ethical aspects). The moment of excavation could be argued to be the most important one, and therefore requires trained personnel; all the more so since we cannot 'repeat the experiment'. The paper also includes discussion about engagement with local communities and the practical implementations of reflexive archaeology, including implications for authorship.
Part III
Ch. 8. The "Social" in Archaeological Theory
      In a survey of recent archaeological theory, Hodder shows how the social is considered and central to almost all aspects of archaeology. However, he does not think it has received enough attention even in most recent theoretical contributions. In particular, he discusses the aspects of agency, materiality, phenomenology, hermeneutics, semiotics, cognition and text as metaphor. Hodder believes that it is in the socialness of everything that archaeology can make a contribution to other disciplines.

Ch. 9. Agency and Individuals in Long-Term Processes
      Another look at the concept of agency in archaeology and a call for attention to the individual, especially individual narratives (not restricted to individual humans, but also also be e.g. objects or whole houses). Archaeology tends to focus on the long-term, but small-scale events and individuals are also important. They play a role of themselves, but can also be indicative and reflective of the long-term. To some extent, agency addresses this aspects, but Hodder thinks that even here the individual is often lost. He argues for the possibility of individual narratives in at least some instances. A few examples of such narratives are offered.

Ch. 10. An Archaeology of the Four-Field Approach
      Hodder here discusses the situation in the USA, where archaeology is traditionally considered one of four sub-fields of archaeology. He argues that archaeology should be a discipline in itself, but points to the possibility of inter-disciplinary engagement based on 'themes' or interests.
Part IV
Ch. 11. The Domus: Some Problems Reconsidered
      Case study from Çatalhöyük on the house and long-term practices. The discussion takes an architectural analysis of the houses at the site as a starting point to examine the creation of history, memory, agency and a possible dichotomy between inside and outside.

Ch. 12. The Wet and the Dry
      Case study from the British site of Haddendam. Hodder here examines long-term change and continuity in the relation between the site and the encroaching wet area.

Ch. 13. British Prehistory
      This paper is both a review of M. Edmonds' book Ancestral Geographies of the Neolithic: Landscapes, Monuments and Memories (London, Routledge) and a critique of the phenomenological method as it has been implemented in British archaeology. While positive about many aspects of the book and the phenomenological approach, Hodder argues that they tend to assume familiarity and ability to speak for past persons. This kind of 'speaking for' would not be possible in e.g. North American archaeology, where such an attempt would be considered insensitive.

Ch. 14. Daily Practice and Social Memory at Çatalhöyük
(with Craig Cessford)
      In this case study of houses at the site, Hodder and Cessford use the previously discussed notions of the domus and embodiment to show how individual events (micro-scale, including analysis of microarfects less than 1 mm) play an important role in the long-term (macro-scale). The creation of memory and the social are again at the forefront of the argument.

Ch. 15. The Lady and the Seed
      Case study of how one very small figurine can lead to a variety of thoughts and conclusions, even on the grand archaeological enigma of the so-called "Neolithic Revolution" and the importance of the wild vs. agriculture in Neolithic societies.
Ch. 16. Setting Ethical Agendas at Archaeological Sites
      This is a reprint of Hodder 2002.
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Excerpts from 2003 Archaeology beyond Dialogue

interpretation p. 32      For Barker, recording is always an interpretation; a section of profile drawing records what the excavator sees rather than simply what is there.
     So, for Barker interpretation is prior to or at least imbedded within recording and axcavation.
p. 73
     In practice, archaeology is not for the most part an experimental science. Rather, it is a historical science that works not by testing theories against data but by fitting lots of different types of data together as best it can in order to make a coherent story. This emphasis on fitting rather than testing is at the heart of the hermeneutic approach. [...] In the hermeneutic approach it is recognized that the researcher comes to the data with much prior knowledge and prejudgments.
p. 74
     [Material culture as text] puts the emphasis on the reader - on the notion that meaning does not reside in the object itself, but in the way that the reader makes sense of that object. The "reader" is here both the past social actor and the present archaeologist. The reading metaphor foreground the fact that different people will read the same data differently, a tendency for which there is much historical evidence. The reading metaphor refers to interpretation and thus links us to hermeneutics as discusses above.
text and semiotics
p. 75
     But there are also difficulties with the text metaphor when applied to material culture. In some important ways, material culture is not like a written text. Perhaps most significantly, the relationship between a word and its signified is normally arbitrary; but this is seldom the case with material culture.
dialogue and multivocality p. 2       This book accepts that the contemporary global contexts of archaeology demands a whittling away of the centrality of "the academy" and an involvement in greater dialogue and participation, not as a "dumbing down," but as a real engagement with multiple perspectives. But the book also tries to move on to a consideration of what the implications of adopting such a position are. It is argued that dialogue and collaboration and multivocality on their own are not enough. Many discussions of dialogue assume that we just carry on as normal but add a bit of collaboration - add collaboration and stir. Rather, changes are needed in the ways in which we work as archaeologists.
p. 4
     The dangers in such a dialogue are perhaps most severe when they are linked to notions of regional identity, as when prehistory is enlisted in the support of claims regarding the "essential" nature of being German, or of being European or American. It is precisely the historical awareness of such misuses that motivates current moves towards transparency and dialogue.
p. 11      "The past matters," but to different people in different ways.
negotiating interests
p. 20
     It could be argued that at least some of what I have written here might offend the groups involved in an ongoing archaeological and heritage project. I have taken the decision to say some things here because I believe that the issues are important and that our experience at Çatalhöyük might help to draw attention to the need for debate about the role of archaeology in a Near East which is involved in processes of globalization. I have not said other things here because of the need to respect the perspectives of some of the groups and individuals involved. As noted above, I cannot predict the outcome of this intervention in what is a complex process. But I do assert the need to monitor the results of statements and to engage actively from a particular standpoint.
local knowledge
p. 26
     I have tried to focus on the material properties of ovens, hearths, bricks, and so on. The local specialized knowledge in these areas does not need to be seen as traditional or prehistoric, as a hangover from the past. Rather it is a form of modern knowledge that can engage with our own knowledge - another form of specialization. [...] They bring a form of specialized knowledge that the professional archaeologists simply do not have.
ethics and the archaeologist p. 46      But I want to emphasize that the supposed separation of ethics from any level of archaeological enquiry is not only an incorrect description of archaeological practice but is also dangerous.
p. 49      I agree with the image of archaeologists as intellectuals who use specialist knowledge to take an active stance in the social and political fields. They have a privileged position in relation to this production and dissemination, and a special responsibility regarding the uses and abuses of that knowledge in society.
p. 50      If we simply confronted all the structures of power, as Hamilakis at times verges on proposing, then there would be no power with which to confront power. The only possibility open to us intellectuals is to engage in a process of negotiation, debate, and critique, both within and against the structures that empower us.
defining archaeology p. 2      I would argue that while several decades ago many archaeologists would have defined their discipline as "the study of the past through its material remains," or some such phrase dealing only with the scientific study of the past, today many more would accept a definition that included the present - such as "a mode of enquiry into the relationship between people and their material pasts."
vs. anthropology
p. 93
     ... I have not been part of a tradition in which anthropology has some form of natural right to define archaeology.
materiality and agency p. 3      In general terms there is increasing conviction in archaeology that past and present are constructed in relation to each other in a dialectical fashion. [...] Archaeologists have increasingly begun to explore the ways in which monuments and artifacts are caught up in identity formation and in the construction of memories.
p. 77      To say material culture is active is thus to argue that material objects are given meaning within agency. Material objects are part of the stocks of knowledge that provide the context for action. They are manipulated as part of intentional strategies (to hide, mask, legitimate, disrupt, and so on). And they endure, often resulting in unintended consequences long after individual actions - they spread agency over time.
lack of individual
p. 84
     Another reason for the early emphasis on the individual was to foreground indeterminacy. Rather than large-scale systems and processes in which individuals were caught and determined, the theoretical focus on the individual underlined the idea that human beings were able to monitor the effects of their actions and act in novel, creative ways. So again, it was not a matter of identifying individual agents but of emphasizing at a theoretical level the move away from behavioral and deterministic perspectives.
reflexive archaeology p. 5      In archaeology, on the other hand, the move beyond dialogue involves changes in the way archaeologists work (Ludlow Collective 2001). In particular, field methods are implicated. Such moves have come to be termed reflexive in both anthropology and archaeology. Reflexivity here refers to both collaboration and critique.
p. 6      [R]eflexivity as used here refers to a recognition of "positionality" - that one's position or standpoint affects one's perspective (Rosaldo 2000) - and thus reflexivity involves recognizing the value of multiple positions, and multivocality. It also involves a critique of one's own taken-for-granted assumptions, not as an egocentric display, but as an historical enquiry into the foundations of one's claims to knowledge.
p. 36
     While flexibility and the erosion of the notion of fixed objective categories can perhaps be engendered by these means, placing large amounts of information into a database in a way that allows efficient retrieval and comparison will always require considerable codification and fixity.
pp. 43-44
     [New technologies] have the power to transform our lives, to create a true "end of history." But these same technologies can be used, not to promote universality, but to guard against the erasure of history. The new information technologies can be used to promote difference, and it is for this reason that I suggest their use to encourage reflxivity, relationality, interactivity, and multivocality.
p. 58      One definition of reflexive archaeology is that it is an approach that tries to provide systematic opportunities for field archaeologists to engage in narrative construction and to provide critique of those narratives in relation to data and social context. The approach also tries to make the process of interpretation visible to help archaeologists as well as nonarchaeologists reflect on how archaeological knowledge is produced.
p. 63
     As already noted, codified documentation in archaeology is central to the construction of archives that can be used and compared (Larsson 2000). Codification remains an essential part of a reflexive approach. But what is also needed is an enveloping of the codified records in a reflexive context so that people can later understand how interpretations were arrived at and reuse the archive by relating it to the agenda according to which it was constructed. The finds can be reinterpreted through an understanding of that original agenda. Since archaeology involves destruction, the best way to allow later re-evaluation and debate is to record the process by which the data was produced. [...] For example, databases can be tagged with a history that describes changes made through time.
the excavator p. 25      Excavation and recording at Çatalhöyük are difficult. Even professional archaeologists find it difficult. In my view, excavation should be carried out by trained professionals. No members of the local community have gained sufficient training to be involved in excavation and research, although they have been trained to carry out less skilled tasks such as sieving, residue sorting, flotation, etc.
     I confess that I am uncomfortable about this; but I do not see an alternative. There are other communities to protect, and in my view professional excavators comprise one such community that does a job that should be properly paid and recognized.
p. 53      In our view some of the problems in contract archaeology today in Europe and the United States are the culmination of a long-term trend in which the practice of excavation is seen as low skilled, capable of being carried out by low-paid workers, volunteers, prison inmates, or the unemployed.
p. 56      The fact that the more archaeological knowledge one had, the further from the actual excavation one was placed in the hierarchy, was considered problematic by some. The result was that the actual digging was performed by the ones with the least archaeological knowledge, and the least capability of seeing the "potential meaning in a wider context" (Musson 1974:82).
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