32402f04 - Introduction to Archaeology: Class 4...

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Introduction to Archaeology: Class 4 Archaeological -isms and the nature of the world Copyright Bruce Owen 2002 Archaeologists, like all anthropologists and other humans, have various different general ways of thinking about the world something like the "scientific" versus "humanistic" approaches we looked at last time these are not testable theories in themselves, but rather ways that people look at the world you can't show that one approach is right or wrong although you can find that some approaches are more productive than others in terms of generating research projects, hypotheses, and interesting conclusions these broad approaches establish the concepts that we use to build theories about past and present societies so these general approaches, as well as the more specific theories that archaeologists develop within them, comprise "high-level" theory as Thomas says, this high-level theory is not specific to archaeology they form the underlying assumptions of all anthropology, other social sciences, and maybe even all human thought although some fields might use slightly different terms to describe them Thomas rightly focuses on the two most prevailing general approaches Cultural materialism Postmodern interpretivism We could also add others, for example what might be called "cultural evolutionism" I'll comment on that later… Cultural materialism (a widespread subset of a general intellectual climate called "modernism") in this view, the only valid explanations are those that can be tested explanations that involve people's emotions, beliefs, myths, etc. are considered unsatisfying because they can't be checked examples of such unsatisfying explanations: "The men paint their boats rather than leaving them plain because they find the colors aesthetically pleasing", or "because they believe colorful boats are more masculine", etc. different observers could make up different explanations based on such factors, and there would be no way to really determine which (if any) was right if you are studying live people, you could ask them, but they might not have thought about it they might not be able to explain it they might shade the truth for various reasons they might say "that is just the way we do it" they might not have even considered that there was an alternative instead, valid materialist explanations must be based on material, testable factors for example: "The men paint their boats because the colors attract fish and they catch more" this could be empirically tested
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Introduction to Archaeology F 2002 / Owen: Archaeological -isms and the nature of the world p. 2 requiring testability automatically limits explanations to factors that are directly or indirectly observable - that is, that are material moreover, these material explanations are more "real" than the ideas that the people themselves might use to explain their actions the men in the example might really think that they paint their boats because it looks better but if an outside observer finds that painted boats average a slightly larger catch, even if
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This note was uploaded on 03/02/2012 for the course ANTHRO 324 taught by Professor Bruceowen during the Fall '02 term at Sonoma.

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32402f04 - Introduction to Archaeology: Class 4...

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