Stephanie Koerner (University of Manchester, UK)

Let us not begin at the beginning or even the archive…But rather at the word ‘archive’ – and with the archive of so familiar a word. Archae, we recall, names at once a commencement and the commandment. This name apparently co-ordinates two principles in one: the principle according to nature or history, there where things commence – physical, historical, or ontological principle – but also the principle according to the law, there where men and gods command, there where authority, social order are exercised. In this place from which order is given – nomological principle…There, we said, and in this place. How are we to think of there? And this taking place or this having a place of the archae?…We have there two orders of order: sequential and jussive. From this point on, a series of cleavages will incessantly divide every atom of our lexicon (Derrida 1995:1-2).


What follows will:

1. describe some of the ideas and goals motivating a session organized by Stephanie Koerner and Marek Zvelebil for this year’s meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists in Esslingen, Germany, (http://www.esslingen,de/eaa2001/e-a-a-d.html);

2. outline issues posed in discussions of relations between archaeology and political ideology, and the usefulness of ‘ethnicity’ and ‘ethnic identity’ as conceptual tools; and

3. offer some suggestions concerning archaeology’s relevance to the general critique of the dualist ‘meta-narratives’ that have been predominant in the human sciences and philosophy for over 200 years.

Archaeology and nationalism in historical perspective

It is difficult to find a more controversial subject in the human sciences and philosophy than relationships between archaeology and nationalism. In their introduction to a collection of studies entitled Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archaeology (Kohl and Fawcett eds. 1995:3), the editors note that it might be argued that “there is an almost unavoidable or natural relationship between archaeology and nationalism…and that this relationship is not necessarily corrupt or intrinsically suspect.” But it is clear to these and many other authors that traditional theories about divisions between “a non-political, value free archaeology” and its sociohistorical context do not offer satisfactory approaches (Díaz-Andreu and Champion 1996). Some researchers suggest that we should also explore the sociohistorical preconditions of these theories, and examples of the ways in which they have been manipulated for political purposes.

Kohl and Fawcett (1995) note that blatant manipulation of archaeological materials has long been particular acute in areas of the world experiencing “ethnic wars”. The complexity of the roles played by notions of ‘national’ and ‘ethnic identity’ in problematic nineteenth and twentieth century relationships between archaeology and political conflict is difficult to overstate. There are many examples of projects that were motivated by ideas that archaeological evidence could support claims about ethnic superiority and inferiority. In many cases, ‘culture’ was treated as the most definitive trait of human beings and ‘race’ as the mechanism for its biological transmission. In ideologies that associated claims about ethnic superiority with arguments concerning who is to be included and who is to be excluded from the moral community, these kinds of generalizations have played key roles (for an very influential example, see Rosenberg 1930).

Deeply ethical, and not just academic issues are as stake (cf. Gaitta 2000). The misuse of archaeology has accompanied (and continues to occur alongside) crimes against humanity. Studies of the circumstances which make these kinds of relations between knowledge and power possible are relevant to the wider critique of racist, classist, and sexist paradigms, and concerns to develop alternatives to paradigms structured around traditional science/values dichotomies (see, for examples, Biagioli ed. 1999).

Much additional research is needed on the ways in which ancient conceptions of ‘ethnicity,’ and of a ‘nation’ as a ‘people,’ were opened to new interpretations in the course of the Enlightenment and Romantic movements. In the most influential pre-modern interpretations, a ‘nation’ was a ‘people’ unified by common ancestry and place of origins (‘homeland’); and a set of shared cultural ‘traits’ (history’s ‘present witness’), including language, laws and customs, beliefs, values – i.e., tradition or sensus communis. For late medieval, Renaissance and early modern scholars, the most significant examples were the Hebrews, the Greeks, Chadeans, Sythians, Phoenecians, Egyptians, Romans, and Germani (see, for instance, Valla [1540] 1962; Bacon’s [1561-1626] writings “On the Wisdom of the Ancients” 1963; Giambattista Vico’s [1668-1744] New Science of the Common Nature of the Nations 1984, and, on Newton’s [1642-1727] approach, Manuel 1959). Absent from these ideas (and the social contexts in which they developed) were modern notions of a nation-state and its citizens, and the social circumstances which made their ideological significance possible.

Sorensøn (1996) and others emphasize that in order to understand archaeology’s relations to nationalist political ideologies (and the ideological roles of ‘ethnicity’ [Anderson 1983; Just 1989; Llobera 1989]) one needs to take historical factors into consideration. Sorensøn (1996:27) says that “nationalism’…is a bonding relationship created between the nation-state and the individual aimed at creating a desired sense of belonging, attachment, of being an insider. Through this, individuals become members or citizens…of a nation in such a way that this belonging in principle cross-cuts other social groupings such as gender, class, and ethnicity.” These ‘bonding relations’ are historically contingent. It is a long way indeed from Thomas Hobbes’ (1588-1679) abstract notion of a nation-state and its citizens (the Leviathan [1651] 1978) to nineteenth and twentieth century nation-states (Blumenberg 1983; Elias [1939] 1994; Foucault 1974) . Enlightenment and Romantic (1) ideas about an individual subject and its relation to the object world; (2) theories about human nature, history, knowledge; and (3) new interpretations of ancient notions of a ‘nation’ as a ‘people’ played important roles in the development of modern ideas about nation-states and citizens. But the political efficacy of these ideas cannot be understood apart from the profound sociocultural transformations (of fundamental relations of thought and practice, and of knowledge to power) they became involved with.

There are significant differences between Enlightenment and Romantic interpretations of such concepts as ‘nations,’ ‘peoples,’ ‘ethnic groups,’ ‘culture’, ‘tradition,’ and others which have been involved in relations between archaeology and nationalism. Although a detailed discussion lies beyond the scope of this article, one point can be emphasized. Although the ‘Leviathan’ has taken a great variety of forms, we can discern two general groups in relation to the traits which distinguish two ancient models of political leadership and pedagogy, namely: (1) the ‘rational philosopher king’ and (2) the ‘poet orator chief.’

For our present purposes, I call our attention to the relevance of opposing interpretations of ancient conceptions of ‘nations’ as ‘peoples’ to an appreciation of Trigger’s (1995) argument against restricting studies of nationalism and archaeology to programs structured around notions of ‘ethnic identity’ rooted in Romantic political philosophy. In “Alternative Archaeologies: Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist” (1984), Trigger compares three types of relationships between political ideology and paradigms for research. His comparison makes clear that such relationships have not been restricted to contexts in which archaeology was used to support claims about the historical significance of supposed ancestors of modern ethnic groups/nations. Archaeology has also been associated with colonialist and imperialist meta-narratives concerning European and/or Western culture’s contributions to the expansion of Christian Revelation; the ‘triumph’ of Reason; and the supposed level of ‘social progress’ which had been achieved in the ‘course’ of human history. Claims about cultural (and, oftentimes, racial) superiority figured essentially in these meta-narratives.

Since the 1980s, ‘ethnicity’ has become an increasingly popular conceptual tool in archaeology (as well as in several other human sciences) especially for characterizing the diverse dynamic nature of ‘cultural identities’ (Tonkin et al. 1989; Thomas 1996; Jones 1997; Geertz 2000). This, not only in studies of the modern world, but also of the ancient human past (Shennen ed. 1989; Graves-Brown, Jones, and Gamble eds. 1996). Responses have been diverse, including debates over (1) whether notions of ‘ethnic identity’ and ‘diversity’ are suitable for studies of pre-state or pre-empire societies (or even pre-modern societies); (2) whether relations between archaeology and political ideals and goals are necessarily negative; and (3) what these relations imply for archaeology’s ‘objectivity’. A number of the papers that will be presented in the EAA-2001 session have bearing on these issues.

Despite the diversity of positions on the first point, there seems to be an agreement on the importance of avoiding (indeed of challenging) notions of ‘ethnicity’ which conflate biology, language, and cultural history (Zvelebil 1996). In addition to this difference between early 20th century (in particular 1920-1945) and present day conceptions of ‘ethnicity,’ the former were highly deterministic, emphasizing the impact on human thought and behavior of ideological tradition and customs (oftentimes also of ‘race’, ‘blood and soil’, and other supposed biological transmitters of culture). In contrast, as Wolf (2001:410) pointed out, the recent emphasis on “ethnicity has fastened on the ways in which such groups and entities arise and define themselves as against others also engaged in the process of self definition. There is hardly a study now that does not describe how locals use ‘agency’ to ‘construct themselves’ in relation to power and interest.”

This new orientation has bearing upon debates over whether relations between archaeology and nationalist political ideals are necessarily negative. Trigger says that they do not need not be, and cites as an example nineteenth and early twentieth century culture-historical paradigms. According to Trigger (1995:269), “[n]ationalism had a positive effect on archaeology insomuch as it encouraged archaeologists to trace spatial variations in the archaeological record more systematically than they had done previously. Such variations had generally been ignored by unilinear evolutionists.” More broadly, Trigger (1995:277) argues for an appreciation of the diversity of forms relations between political interests and archaeology have taken, noting that “nationalism, by promoting groups identity has played many different roles during the last 250 years.”

The main impact of nationalism has been to influence the questions about the past that archaeologists are prepared to ask or not ask and the amount of evidence that is required to sustain a particular position. On the positive side, nationalist archaeology has stimulated asking questions about local cultural configurations and ethnicity that evolutionary and colonially oriented archaeologists did not consider worthwhile. On the negative side, it has encouraged the misinterpretation of archaeological data for political purposes and ignoring equally important aspects of human history. While it is possible to identify some of the conditions that are favorable to the development of nationalist archaeology, the relations between archaeology and nationalism are complex and unpredictable (Trigger 1995:212).

One of the issues posed is that of the usefulness of combining ideas about ‘ethnicity’ with discourse concerning ‘agency’ and construal of ‘group identity’. This, for example, in order to throw light on aspects of the past which have been obscured (or ‘rendered invisible’) by both strongly materialist (‘neo-evolutionary’) and idealist (culture history) paradigms. While many researchers find this combination productive, others have reservations. For example, Wolf (2001), felt that a key problem is that it is

unduly volunteristic, like a ‘little engine that could’ of American children’s literature – the little locomotive that can accomplish feats of strength through the application of willpower. To quote an older anthropologist, ‘men make their own history, but they do not make it in they please.’ There is too much talk about agency and resistance and too little talk about how groups mobilize, shape and reshape cultural repertoires and are shaped by them in turn; how groups shape and reshape their self images to elicit participation and commitment and are themselves shaped by these representations; how groups mobilize and deploy resources but do not do this ‘just as they please,’ either in the course of mobilization or in the wake of the effects they so create (Wolf 2001:411).
Wolf’s comment raises, in my view, interesting questions: (1) Can we expect to find promising solutions to problems created by one set of predominant 20th century dualist paradigms among the key conceptual tools of their opposites? (2) Does combining in the name of a new lexical gestalt what were hitherto antithetical vocabularies force studies to remain (one way to put this is) ‘on the surface’ of the discourse and subject matter? (3) Would our studies be more useful if they challenged the premisses on which these vocabularies hinge? Trigger’s observation is instructive.

European thought has been dominated for over 200 years by a pervasive dichotomy between rationalism, universalism and positivism on the one hand and romanticism, particularism (or ‘alterity’), and idealism on the other. The first of the philosophical packages was initially associated with French liberalism, the second with German reaction [Dumont 1991]. Both ethnic nationalism and post-modernism (which is the essence of post-processualism) are products of the romantic side of the polarity” (Trigger 1995:263).
At the very least, Trigger’s comment is useful for understanding why initial discussions of archaeology and nationalist political ideologies led so often to interminable disputes over opposing positions on ‘objectivity.’ They also suggest points of articulation between discussions of archaeology and nationalism and the widening range of issues posed by the critique of dualist meta-narratives which have been predominant in the human sciences and philosophy for well over 200 years. In the discussion period of the EAA-2001 session we will consider this subject in light of (1) the ways in which dualist epistemologies and essentialist ontologies obscure the diversity not just of past, but also present day ways of life and future conditions of possibility; (2) the question of how to best re-conceptualize objectivity in light of implausible divisions between science and values; (3) the bearing current perspectives on unity and disunity models of science may have upon archaeology and nationalism debates; (4) archaeology’s relevance to the challenges facing attempts to carry forward promising constructive implications of the critique of meta-narratives.

Alternatives to subject/object, science/values, epistemology/ontology dichotomies

During the second half of the twentieth century western intellectual culture began to undergo very fundamental change. An wide range of factors have been involved, including sociohistorical and ecological developments motivating public debates over such themes as globalization, multiculturalism, sustainable development – as well as our discussions of archaeology and nationalism. Throughout the human sciences and philosophy there is much interest in examining (or deconstructing) the epistemological and ontological premisses (meta-narratives, metaphysical principles) underpinning the modern notion of a transcendental, timeless, and placeless human nature (Subject) which functioned for many scholars as a universally valid foundation for understanding all human thought and behavior (cf. Descartes [1596-1650] 1995). These concerns have powerful ethical and sociopolitical implications. They challenge claims about the existence of an a-historical standpoint from which it is possible to make ‘objective’ judgements about reason, knowledge, appropriate action, and what is definitive (the essence) of being human.

The issues posed have become the focus of much debate throughout the human sciences and philosophy. Unfortunately, until quite recently, little attention was given to constructive implications. Discussion has been recurrently locked into polemical disputes over absolutism versus relativism, foundationalism versus fragmentationism. The situation has begun to change – giving rise to the numerous recent publications structured around the idea of ‘going beyond’ meta-narratives, and polemical debates over objectivism and relativism. An important factor has been awareness of the assumptions and consequences these positions share in common. For over two centuries, the predominant paradigms for human sciences and philosophy have been structured around a series of dualist categories, including those of subject/object, nature/culture, philosophy/history, symbol/function, individual/social system, science/values, epistemology/ontology, Western/Non-Western. Some of these terms are of great antiquity. But the ways in which they are defined today differ in fundamental respects from the ways in which they were interpreted, for example, in antiquity, the Middle Ages, Renaissance and in early modern times. Today’s most influential definitions are rooted in Enlightenment and Romantic ideal views of the Scientific Revolution and Birth of Modernity. For over two centuries, the dichotomies on which these meta-narratives are based have figured essentially in the ways in which many human scientists and philosophers conceptualize contrasts between (1) human and physical sciences; (2) opposing theories about human nature, history, and knowledge; and (3) between modern Western culture and both its premodern past and all so called ‘Other’ cultures. The most influential nineteenth and twentieth century paradigms for archaeological research have hinged on Enlightenment and Romantic interpretations of these narratives and dichotomies. Opposing theories about human nature, history, and the conditions of archaeological knowledge (the nature of the archaeological ‘record’) play key roles in nationalist, colonialist, and imperialist archaeologies. Not surprisingly, programs structured around “rationalism, universalism and positivism” and on “romanticism, particularism,…and idealism” (Trigger 1984) have had comparable consequences.

Another factor has been the development of new perspectives on the opposition between unity and fragmentationist models of science (Galison and Stump 1994). Current studies indicate that it is not possible to articulate strongly fragmentationist positions without a metaphysical conception of unity (Elkana 1978; Dupré 1993). Importantly, the notion that these are the only available positions is being called into question (Bernstein 1983, Wylie 1994; Longino 1990, 1998; McGuire and Tushanska 2001). Positivism and relativism take contrasting perspectives on one model of the task of a philosophically salient science, and corresponding perspectives on science and values. There have long been alternatives. In Cosmopolis. The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (1990:192), Stephen Toulmin explains that the history of western intellectual culture has seen a series of oscillations between at least two very different agendas. In one, the task is to explain all subjects in as general abstract terms as possible. Critical to this agenda is the division of epistemology from ontology, and the idea of an essential ontological distinction between science and values. This view is shared by strongly objectivist and fragmentationist positions. Major differences among the former follow from contrasting theories about how this task is to be realized, while the latter deny that it can be realized and disagree on reasons why not. In addition, the former insist that the objectivity of science hinges on its separation from values and social interests, while the later claim that science is nothing but these all the way down.

In the alternative agenda, the task of a philosophically salient science is to develop methods and interpretive principles which are as general as is appropriate to the nature of the subject matter studied (Toulmin 1990:192). This challenges notions of an a-historical scientific unity and essentialist divisions between science and values. But it does not claim that no socially constituted and historically contingent unifying patterns exist. These patterns develop in relation to the subjects being investigated, which have (as Bohr 1963 put it) a concrete phenomenal reality (Bohr 1963a:117; 1963b:59-60; Barad 1999). This approach makes no absolutist claims about whether the study of such phenomenal realities can or cannot be divided ontologically from social values and interests. Within a community of practitioners it is possible to reach a consensus about criteria for making such distinctions. The approach grants that making such distinctions involves values, but emphasizes the epistemological, cognitive and ethical advantages of accepting this instead of denying it on the basis of metaphysical ideal models of objectivity (cf. Koerner and Gassón 2000; Koerner forthcoming).

It is worthwhile to emphasize that this approach involves not only alternative theories of knowledge to those on which opposing positivist and fragmentationist positions depend (epistemologies structured around such dualist dichotomies as those listed above). It abandons at one and the same time essentialist ontologies and the epistemology/ontology, and science/values dichotomies on which metaphysics hinges. At least since Descartes [1596-1650], all dualist epistemologies depart from the Subject/Object opposition, and then by occupying one of the two sides (and using the above noted dichotomies) enquire into the nature, limits and validity of the other.

As McGuire and Tushanska (2001) have shown, all dualist ontologies stretch between the timeless permanence of Parmenidean Being and the pure flux of Heraclitus. Within this scheme, the problem is of course that of explaining change; and one way in which Aristotle approached the problem was in terms of the question: If something can be said to change, what is the essence of that something? There are three possible answers: (1) the unchanging aspect; (2) the changing aspect; and (3) both, that is the interaction of changing and unchanging aspects (cf. van der Leeuw 1992). In traditions based on the first of the two above mentioned perspectives on the task of a philosophically salient science (a view Aristotle appears in many of his works to have shared) the focus must be on the first of these answers and, indeed, the later two should be reducible to it.

Ontologies concern being (what is) and within the universalizing perspective on the task of science we are considering, the task of ontology is to provide answers to such questions as: “What items exist?,” “What are the essences or underlying substances that make these items what they are?,” “What distinguishes these items from one another?” “What are the timeless substances which distinguish different categories or types of items?” (McGuire and Tushanska 2001). In essentialist (or substance) ontologies items are bearers (instantiations) of pre-existing timeless substances. In this view, history is an especially problematic imperfection. It is a form of change that takes place only at the level of perception, not at the level of what things are essentially at all times.

Metaphysics (or meta-narratives) is one of the consequences of this mode of reasoning, since the search for essences requires the analytic purification of entities by abstraction and idealization. That is, they must be deprived of all factual and empirical properties (facticity) considered unnecessary from the metaphysical point of view. Aristotle’s models of form/matter and four causes are examples, as are Descartes’ division between the mind (a thinking thing) of the subject and all of the rest the object world (an extended thing) and model, cogito ergo sum.

By contrast with all this, the view that the task of a philosophically salient science is to account for things in as general terms as is appropriate to the subject at hand can do without the divisions between epistemology and ontology which impede the development of dynamic relational ontologies. Such an ontology is important to Bohr’s (1963a, 1963b) conception of concrete phenomenal realities; and would seem to be relevant to the issues posed by Wolf (2001) and Trigger (1995) in passages from their work quoted above. It would seem likewise relevant to the broader critique of the ways in which dualist meta-narrative obscure (render invisible) the diversity of humanity. In the lights of a dynamic relational ontology, McGuire and Tushanska explain:

being cannot be considered in a substantialist matter, as a substance, as a sum of given (empirical) features, structures, or relations – even if they are not treated statically but as dialectically related. Being is constituted in the course of being, existing, and our understanding [interpretation] of it is itself an act of being. From this standpoint, ‘to be’ does not mean to be ‘this particular thing’ or ‘to belong to a given category”; ‘to be’ means ‘to act upon’ and ‘to be acted upon,’ or ‘to constitute oneself/itself’ and ‘to be constituted.’ Being cannot be separated from acting and from becoming this or that in the course of acting. Any entity is constituted by its ways of being, and the latter are established in the course of its ongoing activity (McGuire and Tuschanska 2001:96).

This perspective on the task of a philosophically salient science (together with its epistemological and ontological implications) is likely to be relevant to the challenges facing attempts to carry forward some of the promising implications of the critique of meta-narratives. It also relates to archaeology’s relevance to these attempts. I need to add a point here. Some comparisons can be made between the dynamic relational ontological framework I begin to outline here and the philosophical approaches put forward by, for example, Martin Heidegger ([1926] 1962). However, instead of being structured around the “Being” (Dasein) and “finitude” dichotomy, the framework I am arguing for gives, for instance, (1) the diversity of forms taken by sociability of human agency, (2) the roles of material culture in the constitution of the thought-practice, knowledge-power relations (which make the self-constitution of agency possible), and (3) the historicity of ecologies, technologies and embodied skills and disciplines, and certainly of human and nonhuman communities key ontological roles (cf. Heidegger 1977).

Along with abandoning the division between epistemology and ontology on which metaphysics (and traditional relations between human sciences and philosophy) hinge, the proposed relational ontology emphasizes not a received philosophy, but the philosophical significance of human sciences – in particular, of archaeology.

Ways ahead

We will return to this subject shortly in order to focus attention on its implications for understanding diversity among the forms relations between nationalism and archaeology have taken, and might take in the future. First let us consider the ways in which the presently-discussed approach to the task of a philosophically-salient science relates to arguments put forward by Alison Wylie in a paper entitled, “A Proliferation of New Archaeologies: Beyond Objectivism and Relativism” (1994). Wylie (1994:22) is an influential feminist critic of traditional positivist philosophies, but in this paper she focuses on the consequences of strongly social constructivist arguments that since ‘facts’ are socially determined, all claims about the past are equally speculative, and so, “it would seem, are any of the criteria of adequacy or grounds that might be used to judge competing knowledge claims.” These arguments hinge upon the fragmentationist models of science outlined above and, in the view they offer, all claims about the past are equally valid. Within this view, for instance, the claims about the past made by (to use Trigger’s 1984 terms) nationalist, imperialist, and colonist paradigms are no less valid than any alternative interpretation we might try to develop. Wylie says that one of the problematic consequences is that they prevent us from acknowledging that

theoretical commitments do not monolithically control both the interpretation of archaeological data as evidence and the generation of reconstructive hypotheses which these data might be expected to test. In any given reconstructive-evaluative argument, it will be necessary to exploit a range of different independent sources to accomplish these diverse tasks. It is the independence of sources, and therefore the constituent arguments about evidential significance, which ensures that the strands of the resulting cables are not just mutually reinforcing but are also, and crucially, mutually constraining (Wylie 1994:25).

Wylie’s work draws insights from Richard Bernstein’s book Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (1983). The ideas most relevant to our present concerns come from Carl Sanders Peirce. Bernstein writes:

The philosopher who most carefully and penetratingly distinguishes epistemological skepticism from human fallibilism is Charles Sanders Pierce. Pierce criticized the picture of scientific reasoning that represents it as linear movement from premisses to conclusions or from individual facts to generalizations. In its place, Pierce proposed an approach that emphasized the multiple strands and diverse types of evidence, data, hunches and arguments used to support a scientific hypothesis or theory. Any one of these strands may be weak in itself and insufficient to support the proposed theory. But collectively they provide a stronger warrant for rational belief than any single line of argument–like a strong cable that is made up of many weak strands. This shift in characterization of scientific argumentation related to Peirce’s emphasis on the community of inquirers. For it is only in and through such a critical community that one can adequately test the collective strength of multiple argumentation (Berstein 1983:69).
Pierce’s (1931-1935, 1958) work figures importantly in the history of alternatives to universalizing conceptions of the task of a philosophically salient science, and has direct bearing upon concerns to go beyond positivist and relativist archaeologies. Instead of appealing to metaphysical divisions of science from values, he offers a framework for investigating the concrete historical conditions under which a community of inquirers might come to a consensus about criteria for drawing such distinctions. Of course this consensus involves values, as does Pierce’s framework for illuminating their conditions of possibility. In so doing his work brings light to the cognitive and ethical advantages of abandoning the traditional science/values dichotomy (and the division between epistemology and ontology on which it depends). It points to the need of change in relations between human sciences, philosophy, and social affairs, and the relevance to the problem of the philosophical significance of human sciences.

Let us return to the suggestion that archaeology may be have critical bearing upon challenges facing attempts to pursue some of the most promising implications of the critique of meta-narratives. One of the problematic areas of anomaly in the literature on archaeology and nationalism is that which has emerged out of how ill-equipped we are to relate the specifics of the subject to the ways in which we talk about the world we live in today. Among the factors contributing to the problem are the following: The roles we considered earlier played by dualist categories in the ways in which predominant paradigms for the human sciences and philosophy characterize contrasts between (1.1) human and physical sciences (interpretation and explanation); (1.2) opposing theories about human nature and history (relating to models of the ‘philosopher king’ or the ‘poet orator’); (1.3) theories of knowledge (cf. Trigger [1995:263] “rationalism, universalism and positivism” versus “romanticism, particularism,…and idealism”); and (1.4) between modern Western culture and all pre-modern Western and ‘Other’ cultures. (2) Another factor is the role played by the science/values dichotomy in the ways in which we talk about archaeology/nationalism. (3) And third, there are the ways in which discourse on archaeology and nationalism incorporates vocabularies traditionally associated with the supposed problem (debated since Plato and again in this century since Weber [1946]) that successive attempts to purge politics of myth – and philosophy of Idols (as Bacon put it) – have failed. Since earliest antiquity this supposed problem has figured centrally in debate between ‘ancients and the moderns’ (Funkenstein 1996). It figured centrally in debates between early Renaissance humanists and exponents of traditional Scholastic metaphysics, Reformationists and Counter Reformationists, and the modernists and anti-modernists of the Enlightenment and Romantic movements. During the nineteenth century and twentieth it has been both blamed and applauded (depending on sides of the rationalism versus romanticism yardstick) for the failure of the world to become ‘disenchanted.’ It is not altogether surprising that we find some of the most polemical debates over competing late twentieth century paradigms for archaeological research expressed in this idiom.

Most recently Latour has attempted to broach a range of issues of even greater scale in Pandora’s Hope, Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (2000). It suffices, for our purposes here, to focus on his key argument in earlier works. Latour (1993:56) says that we could address many of the problems summarized under the expression of the ‘Great Divide’ differently if we realized that “we never were modern” – we never met the standards of dualist meta-narratives – nobody ever has. We could address problems in new ways if we discovered that no society – and especially not our own – lives in a world,

in which Nature can be separated from Society and pure phenomena can be disembedded from the things in themselves. All nature-cultures are similar in that they simultaneously construct humans, divinities, and non-humans [‘actants’]. None of them lives in a world of signs or symbols arbitrarily imposed onto an external Nature known to us alone (Latour 1993:106). None of them – and especially not our own – lives in a world…in which Nature can be separated from Society and pure phenomena can be disembedded from the things in themselves (Latour 1993:56)…. All of them sort out what bears signs and what will not. If there is one thing we do, it is surely that we construct both our human collectivities and the nonhumans that surround them. In constituting their collectivities, some societies mobilize ancestors, lions, fixed stars and the coagulated blood of sacrifice; in ours, we mobilize genetics, zoology, cosmology, and hematology (Latour 1993:106)…. The fact that one society needs ancestors and fixed stars, while another one, more eccentric, needs genes and quasars, relates to the dimensions of the collective to be held together. The relation of modern scientific knowledge and power does not differ in that by dividing Nature from Society it has at last escaped the influences of the latter, but in that it has demanded increased numbers of nature-culture hybrids to recompose its social networks and extend their scale (Latour 1993:9).

One of the remarkable things about our discussions of nationalism and archeology is how poorly equipped we are to focus on the ‘material culture’ at issue. Another remarkable thing is how ill-suited our vocabularies are for characterizing differences between the roles of material culture in strikingly different historical contexts. What vocabularies do we have available for characterizing differences between the roles material culture plays under very circumstances in terms of the sorts of thought/practice, knowledge/power (cf. Foucault 1990) relations which constitute human beings’ conditions of possibility. The problem has significant consequences. It impedes our ability to specify differences between the roles of material culture in Neolithic Europe and in, say, modern fascist nation-states. It impedes our ability to distinguish between the roles of material culture in contexts in which (1) nationalist archaeology “has stimulated asking questions about local cultural configurations and ethnicity that evolutionary and colonially oriented archaeologists did not consider worthwhile” and (2) in which nationalist archaeology “has encouraged the misinterpretation of archaeological data for political purposes” (cf. Trigger 1995:212). The problem would seem highly relevant to arguments that archaeology’s relation to nationalism takes many forms.

Let us look at an analogous issue in social anthropology in order to appreciate something of the scope of the difficulty before turning to the question of how it is perpetuated by the two main ways in which the archaeological ‘record’ has been conceptualized (cf. Patrik 1985; Barrett 1994). Today there is much discussion of ‘globalization and multi-culturalism,’ and a number of issues posed relate to our considerations of the critique of meta-narratives (see, for instance, Anderson 1983; Geertz 2000). In a collection of studies entitled Worlds Apart. Modernity Through the Prism of the Local (Miller ed. 1995), two contrasting approaches to are represented, which compare interestingly with issues in the literature on archaeology and nationalism. These are the approaches of Jonathan Friedman (1992) and Kajsa Ekholm and Friedman (1995) and of Richard Wilk (1995). Wilk explains that

[i]n several important papers, Jonathan Friedman has discussed a variety of ways that local cultural systems have interacted with hegemonic Western modernism in a ‘global arena of potential identity formation’ [1992:832]. He equates hegemony and homogeneity, and sees the recent increase in the number and vitality of local cultural phenomena as a product of the breakdown of that pervasive powerful modernism. The master narrative is passing, and so are the subaltern dialogues with which it was engaged (Wilk 1995:118).
Friedman’s approach relates to Trigger’s (1995:212) argument that “nationalist archaeology has stimulated asking questions about local cultural configurations…that evolutionary and colonially oriented archaeologists did not consider worthwhile.”

Wilk’s perspective differs from Friedman’s. Wilk agrees that the nature of cultural hegemony is changing. But he does not believe that it is disappearing, or that the consequences of change are either homogenization or fragmentation. Wilk argues that

[th]e new global cultural system promotes difference instead of suppressing it, but differences of a particular kind. Its hegemony is not of content but of form…. Another way to say this is that while different cultures continue to be quite distinct and varied, they are becoming different in very uniform ways. The dimensions across which they vary are becoming more limited, and therefore mutually intelligible. In this way the societies competing for global economic and cultural dominance build their hegemony not through direct imposition, but by presenting universal categories and standards by which cultural differences can be defined (Wilk 1995:119).

The implications of contrasts between Friedman and Wilk’s points of view for evaluating the current state of the research on archaeology and nationalism are significant. It would seem that focusing on material culture (in the sense implied by Latour [1993] above) would have advantages not only for evaluating Wilk and Friedman’s arguments, but also contrasting positions in the literature on archaeology and nationalism, which have been motivated by concerns with globalization and multi-culturalism. But our considerations indicate why it is open to question whether the dichotomies on which Friedman and Wilk’s arguments hinge will offer much help (universalism versus fragmentationism, form versus content). We face similar difficulties when we try to distinguish the roles of material culture in very different sociohistorical contexts on the basis of dualist paradigms for the conditions of archaeological knowledge.

This is harsh. But it is worth putting this way in order to appreciate the ways in which these kinds of problems are perpetuated by the two main ways in which the nature of the so called archaeological ‘record’ has been conceptualized. Linda Patrik, in a paper entitled, “Is There an Archaeological Record?” (1985) proposes two models for characterizing treatments of archaeological evidence as a ‘record.’ In the first, the evidence is treated as a fossilized material imprint of past events – as if a direct relationship exited between patterns observed in the record today and events in the past. In her second model, the archaeological record is treated as a ‘text’. While the former approach has motivated ideas that the ‘record’ documents the operations of past social systems, the latter has underpinned the idea that this ‘text’ documents the operations of past symbolic systems (‘collective representations’). The notion of the ‘individual’ has been introduced into both approaches, but not with much change in results (Barrett 1994; Koerner and Gassón 2000). Now the ‘individual’ functions as a node through which social systems or collective representations operate. Neither approach is likely to offer much help in evaluating Friedman and Wilk’s arguments, or in addressing the challenges facing attempts to explore multiculturalism and globalization from the perspectives offered by the diversity of forms archaeology’s relation to nationalism have taken.

At the beginning of this article we considered the recent emphasis on the historical contingency of notions of ‘nationalism’ and ‘ethnic identity,’ and of relations between archaeology and nationalism. This emphasis relates to the growing interest in the variety of forms relations between archaeology and politics have taken. In recent perspectives, we are not likely to find archaeology being manipulated in service of nationalist ideologies if modern notions of nation-states and citizens are absent. So too we will not find associations of nationalist archaeologies with crimes against humanity in the absence of the kinds of relations between knowledge and power which make such associations possible. I have attempted in this article to integrate a variety of themes in order to illustrate something of the range of issues posed by current discussion of archaeology, nationalism, and ethnicity. A framework for addressing problems created by science/values, epistemology/ontology, and related dichotomies has been sketched, which must be filled in with more detail elsewhere. It is hoped that this alternative to these meta-narratives can contribute to understanding in new ways the diversity of roles played by so-called ‘material culture’ in the articulation of thought/practice, power/knowledge relations. This might give us fresh perspectives on the political roles of archaeology, and on archeology’s relevance to the broader critique of meta-narratives. Marek Zvelebil and I are very much looking forward to hearing the papers which will be presented in the EAA-2001 session, and their discussion by Professor John Bintliff, Professor Jarl Nordbladh and other people who plan to attend. We are beginning work on a volume consisting of these and other relevant papers, and your comments and suggestions are most welcome.


Warm thanks to Ian Lilley for inviting this article and our correspondences. Great debts to friends, colleagues, and collaborators – John Barrett, Bruno Latour, Ted McGuire and Barbara Tushanska – and those whose writings fills these pages.


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