Monday, 5 October 2009

Social Archaeology and the Decline of Modernism

image: anthropologist Edwin Ardener (1927-1987)

The abstracts for the plenary session that will open the 2009 Theoretical Archaeology Group conference (TAG 2009), to be held at the University of Durham this December, have now been published. The full abstracts for the session, which takes place from 4pm to 6.45pm on Thursday 17 December, are here

The theme for the 2009 plenary session is
The Death of Theory?. The session abstract, and my own paper abstract - 'Social Archaeology and the Decline of Modernism' - are below:

Session Abstract

In the last decade archaeological theory has passed from being dominated by grand theories (processual, post-processual, interpretative), to experience a fragmentation of approaches. This has left theory in small, easily consumed chunks, to be selected on a pick-and-mix basis. Some have even argued that archaeological theory is terminally ill, perhaps even already dead. In view of this situation in this plenary session the panelists will discuss whether this trend towards the break-up of the grand theories is inevitable, and if this is the only way that archaeologists can consume theory. Panelists will also deliberate if this is a healthy move, and if this description of the process archaeological theory is going through is indeed an accurate perception of the theoretical development of our discipline. Speakers will discuss these issues in relation to their own areas of specialism.The panelists are Marga Diaz-Andreu, Kate Giles, Dan Hicks, Richard Hingley and Lynn Meskell, and the debate will be presented by and chaired by John Chapman.

Social Archaeology and the Decline of Modernism - Dan Hicks

The emergence of the idea of 'social archaeology' has over the past four decades been bound up with the rise of the idea of 'archaeological theory' - from Colin Renfrew's inaugural lecture at Southampton university in 1973, through the Blackwell 'Social Archaeology' series, to the Journal of Social Archaeology. By archaeological theory, we have usually come to mean particular forms of social theory as applied to archaeological materials. Using Edwin Ardener's classic 1985 essay 'Social Anthropology and the Decline of Modernism' as a point of departure, this paper seeks historically to situate the recent and contemporary disciplinary influence of the idea of 'social archaeology', and its effects. In doing so, it will provide one perspective on the contemporary interdisciplinary relevance of the idea of archaeological theory.


Ardener, E. 1985. Social Anthropology and the Decline of Modernism. In J. Overing (ed.) Reason and Morality. London: Tavistock. pp. 47-70. [reprinted in E. Ardener
The Voice of Prophecy 1987)

More details on TAG 2009

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