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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

I'd like to think about the following point raised in class:

Reading Margaret Rodman's article, "Empowering place: multilocality and multivocality," I realized a new perspective on the Boasian problem of "secondary rationalizations," or the "indigenous fantasy" we discussed. Place, according to Rodman, is both anthropologically and socially constructed. In other words, people construct a place before anthropologists, but we construct a place as our object of study. The tension between the two perspectives of place is, I think, what we seek to resolve. As archaeologists, we come with our idea of what the place is we want to learn about. However, the local constructed place may differ greatly from the anthropological place. This leads us to seek multilocality, as sociocultural anthropologists seek multivocality of the place they construct. Casey also touches on this with the discussion of general versus local knowledge of space and place, and how different perceptions are bound by specific places.

Returning to the question, I'll apply a few definitions to landscape in order to address if archaeology is transformative place-making. Knapp and Ashmore take on the issue head on, defining landscape as the "backdrop against which archaeological remains are plotted." This subtly highlights the problem of defining what is "archaeological" versus part of today's cultural landscape. This process is filled with national interests and political quagmires in all parts of the world. So one could argue that by simply defining an archaeological remnant, one has made a place. This is highlighted by the Erbaba example from class, in which archaeologists came and then the space was cut off as "archaeological ruins."

Ingold perhaps sheds more light on the place-making of archaeology - as "we move with the world." Landscape, therefore, is perpetually under construction through constant acts of "dwelling" and interaction between "taskscapes." To me, this makes an argument that archaeology should never have an end goal, as in to make definite claims about past cultural landscapes. The goal should be to add to the conversation (in the Geertzian sense) about how humans move with the world, and what we can learn from past lifeways.

So it could be that place-making in archaeology occurs in several stages as we construct our own taskscapes through survey and fieldwork. Defining the region of study, building a camp and working with local communities, changing vegetation, building roads, excavating areas, restoring architecture, creating tourist attractions, and even putting archaeological remains on maps and Google Earth - all of these actions make the place into something new. I think Ingold (and others) would argue that there was no pristine, untouched, original "archaeological" place to begin with. Someone knew about it, built it, saw it, and made that place before, but we affect and alter places as we pursue our goals.

Posted at Feb 22/2009 10:39PM:
Omur: Excellent piece James. I have one devil's advocate question: when we say "people construct a place before anthropologists, but we construct a place as our object of study", isn't there the unspoken assumption that prior to the arrival of anthropologists, there used to be a "purely traditional" place, which was then disturbed by their impact and transformed into something new? I have a little bit of skepticism towards the possibility of a "pure" place (as you also point out in the last paragraph)- I would say places are always open to influxes of outsiders and contacts with other worlds, no? Isn't place always a hybrid conglomerate of encounters and relationships?