bluefluff's blue fluff

Friday, April 14, 2006


Stumbled across this one by accident this afternoon while studying the theory of intranet development (as you do). That belongs over on my H806 blog, but the rather dry article I was working on had used the term "processual" in relation to looking at intranet development as a process rather than a one-off event. I'd never met the word before & dashed off to Google to see how common a piece of jargon it was. I was slightly startled to find 3 million hits, but even more startled to see the top hits all related to archaeology.

It seems the world's archaeologists are divided into two camps: processualists & postprocessualists. The first group (predominant in the USA) see archaeology in scientific, objective terms & locate it in their universities alongside anthropology. The second group (predominant in Europe) see archaeology in humanistic, subjective terms & locate it in their universities alongside history. The "post" is derived partly from their alignment with postmodern theory, with its emphasis on the relative & provisional nature of "truth".

One point in particular in the Wikipedia article on postprocessual archaeology struck me:
Postprocessual archaeologists state that personal biases inevitably affect the very questions archaeologists ask and direct them to the conclusions they are predisposed to believe.
While this may sound as [sic] a vague theoretical idea, it has definite consequences in the actual practice of archaeological fieldwork. In order to collect data and analyse it, the archaeologist must first decide which questions they want to ask.

This was exactly the approach taken in my last-but-one OU course, Homer: Poetry and Society, a lovely mixture of literature & archaeology. I wondered why there was such an obsession with "framing the questions". It was perfectly understandable at a common sense level, but I had no idea it was a diluted version of a Big Academic Debate.

Nice little spot of serendipity there :-)


  • At 15 April, 2006 00:23, Blogger kat said…

    In order to collect data and analyse it, the archaeologist must first decide which questions they want to ask.

    But what if they don't come up with the right questions or miss something vital? Isn't the stuff they collect likely to introduce additional questions? ( Unknown unknowns and all that :-))

    Isn't archaeology both scientific and historical? Sorry, I'm probably missing something here, Bluefluff, but I would have thought it was best to look at it from both points of view and then find the things in common or the things that fit together.

    "postprocessualism" Gosh! That's a very big word. It isn't in my dictionary - It told me to look it up on the web.

  • At 15 April, 2006 01:01, Blogger Bluefluff said…

    Well, yes - it's grossly simplified. But a matter, I think, of deciding where you stand to do your looking at both sides. When it comes to academic funding, too, there have to be decisions about where a particular discipline 'belongs'.

    The archaeology we studied on A295 was carried out by multinational interdiciplinary teams anyway.

    Yes, a big word, & not one to attempt in polite company after a drink or two :-)


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