Ideology and Symbolic Approaches in Archaeology

This course critically examines the development of thought in archaeology that goes beyond a materialist interpretation of culture. An underlying premise of this course is that the normative characterizations of New Archaeology about idealist interpretations were both naive and infused with positive orthodoxy. Rather than label theoretical postures, this course will question how we can develop a more synthetic archaeological science that incorporates concern for culture, or the influence of ideas on material culture patterning and on culture change.

Over the last two decades attempts to incorporate the affect of ideas have often been portrayed in reactionary terms and considered outmoded. Ironically, such responses are contrary to the conventional notion that archaeology is anthropology. Post-processual approaches in archaeology continued to be passed off as extreme relativism. If we are to develop an anthropological and humanistic science, however, then we must sponsor inquiry that seeks to establish parameters for germane and important idealist explanations, explanations that need not and should not exclude compatible and systematically related materialist explanations. Our foremost task is to see how and in what context we can affirm a connection between the ideological superstructure and material culture, patiently working through methodologies that clearly demonstrate the ties between archaeological evidence and the domain of symbolic thought and expression.

In this course we will explore the question of causality from the material base of infrastructure to ideology or the superstructure. Recent thinking by anthropologists and Marxists scholars help us to understand the role of mind and culture as a mediator between environment /modes of production and political, economic, and social structures.

It is undeniable that spatial arrangements of material culture are sometimes expressive of the symbolic concerns in culture that are linked to economic and political life. We seek to develop new ways in which we can link patterned symbolic meaning, patterned environmental attributes and material culture to arrive at a methodology in archaeology that creates a synthetic and scientific history.