On the nature of theoretical archaeology and archaeological theory
In this paper I want to make some general comments on the state of archaeological theory today. I argue that a full answer to the question ‘does archaeological theory exist?’ must be simultaneously ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Yes, there is, demonstrably, a discourse called archaeological theory, with concrete structures such as individuals and schools of thought more or less substantively engaged with it; no, in that the claims for a distinctive way of thinking about the world in theoretical terms specific to archaeology, to which most or even the largest group of archaeologists would willingly or knowingly subscribe, are over-stated. In particular there is a lack of correspondence between theoretical backgrounds and affiliations that are overtly cited by archaeologists, on the one hand, and, on the other, the deeper underlying assumptions and traditions that structure their work and condition its acceptance. These underlying traditions stretch from field habits to underlying paradigms or discourses. I will explore this latter point with reference to the manner in which agency theory and phenomenology have been developed in archaeology. My conclusion suggests some elements of a way forward for archaeological theory; it is striking that many of these elements have been addressed in recent issues of Archaeological dialogues.(Published Online October 11 2006)
Key Words: archaeological theory; theoretical archaeology; agency; phenomenology.