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A Phenomenological Approach

A Phenomenological Approach

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Published by Rubén García

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Published by: Rubén García on Mar 04, 2013
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A PHENOMENOLOGICAL APPROACH TO LEARNINGARCHAEOLOGICAL THEORY
Imogen E. E. Wood
Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter Exeter, EX4 4QE, UK
Abstract
It has been suggested that to realize the ‘new era’ of theoretical archaeology, a critical focus on how it is taught, to a new generation of archaeologists is required. The unwitting archaeology student isseemingly burdened with this responsibility by the collective need inacademia to meet this challenge. Therefore, the way in whichtheoretical archaeology is introduced to students in higher education isof great relevance. The majority of universities prefer an historical structured approach that presents a chronological narrative portraying individual epochs. This infers a past tense giving the impression that theinterpretive archaeologies are static facts within immovable boundariesand not the active concepts they should be. How then can we expect students to gain a personal stance and contribute towards dialoguescapable of producing a new era of theory? This paper suggests a practical teaching methodology that could foster an environmencapable of unleashing a long awaited revolution! The methodology isintended to foster an environment conducive to innovative perspectivesin interpretive archaeology. It is suggested here that a dialectical humanist approach towards enabling an understanding of theoretical archaeology through collaborative learning could be a valid and  productive approach. Archaeological theory has been defined by higher education guidelines as being informed by self-reflection. Therefore, atruly relational pedagogy that incorporates self-reflection enabling a process of self-guided enquiry through discursive methods should beattempted if archaeological theory is to be comprehended.
Introduction
The need for dialogue on ‘new’ directions in archaeological theory has been a growingconcern since it entered the twenty-first century. The immediate climate of dialogueexemplified in conferences titles such as the ‘The Death of Archaeological Theory?’(Bintliff & Pearce 2006) perhaps supports this idea, as do comments in papers such as‘Does archaeological theory exist?’ (Johnson 2006b:130). On attending an apparentpost-mortem to find out if theory was indeed dead, the speakers kept returning to theconclusion that the responsibility should fall on the new generation of archaeologists.Perhaps because that is how it was done in their generation, there was a distinctfeeling amongst postgraduates of “well get on with it”. As a result, most of us shrank inour seats.Returning to Matthew Johnson’s proposition, he suggested that to realise the‘new era’ of theoretical archaeology, a critical focus on how it is taught to a new
 
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generation of archaeologists is required (2006a:170). A review of whether itsdissemination is successfully encouraging this aim is then needed, as the unwittingarchaeology student is seemingly burdened with this responsibility by the collectiveneed in academia to meet this challenge.Therefore, the way in which theoretical archaeology is introduced toarchaeology students is of great relevance. There is an implicit undercurrent inarchaeological departments of anticipation for this new era. It has been suggested bysome that students are being crushed by personal stances, or dominant theories, andasks for diversity and synthesis to arrive at an evaluation stage through challengingdebates and its application in the field. How then should archaeological theory beintroduced and taught to undergraduates? This paper suggests a practical teachingmethodology that could foster an environment capable of instigating a long awaitedrevolution!The development of archaeological theory has been attributed to scholasticrevolution as a result of students questioning how archaeological material was beinginterpreted. Michael Shanks at TAG 2008 described the passion that he andChristopher Tilley experienced when they realised that things had to change, and itwas obvious to them where the inspiration should come from (TAG 2008 ‘Taking a leaf out of Shanks and Tilley’s book’). He felt that his academic environment at the timewas not exploring the full range of potential interpretive tools available within the socialsciences, and that any attempt was frowned upon by his superiors (TAG 2008). It isperhaps true that whilst the environment at Cambridge may seem overwhelminglyelitist, on a more intimate level, it can be an inclusive positive environment. Thisexemplifies the point that a broader overview often impacts on a student’s concept of asubject, even if the intention is quite the opposite.On finishing his qualification, he set out excited about archaeology, not just bythe subject he had studied, but also by the new archaeological theory emerging fromhis contemporaries. One could suggest that if it was not for the complacency he hadexperienced in academia, he may not have been so driven towards conceptualrevolution. It was his determination to push against the established interpretive frontthat motivated and inspired them both to write two of the most influential books incontemporary theory (Shanks & Tilley 1987a, 1987b).In my own experience as an undergraduate, I remember my first lecture givenby Matthew Johnson for the core module ‘Advanced Method and Theory’ and beingtold the ‘who’s who’ of past and present archaeological theoreticians. After two hoursof hearing about conceptual archaeological revolutions; words I had never heard of, or could pronounce, (including the names of the theoreticians), an open academic floor was presented upon which we were encouraged to make our mark. The overt intentionof the module was to open up archaeological theory, encouraging the class to ‘makeup their own minds’ and take the academic initiative. I came away from the lecturefeeling empowered and ready to take on the challenge, conversely, I gained theimpression that my contemporaries felt a little intimidated. It was gratifying to think thatwe had been offered the floor, but it seemed to be on the top of Everest and the journey would take more than a judicious use of a thesaurus and some philosophy journals.Unfortunately, this resulted in some level of confusion and perceived academicelitism amongst the students which created a general dislike to the module, and mostgave up engaging with the core themes before they began. The confusion wasexacerbated when my contemporaries and I started reading in an attempt to findexamples from the varied viewpoints of culture-historical, processual and post-processual archaeology. We were immediately confronted by references tostructuralism, agency, cognitive-processualism, hermeneutics, phenomenology andsemiotics. It became clear that this was not just a part of archaeology but a paralleluniverse within it, worthy of its own degree. It has since become apparent that this is a
 
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typical view amongst archaeology undergraduates in departments across the country,suggesting that archaeology
is
theory with material culture in it.The majority of my class rushed to buy Matthew Johnson’s book‘Archaeological theory, an introduction’ (Johnson 1999), which I believe sold outswiftly. It was heralded as ‘the theory bible’, if not for the glossary alone, and the proudowners felt comforted in the knowledge that now it would all make sense. The bookhas succeeded in making archaeological theory more accessible and manageablethan the lengthy process of reading each sentence of ‘Reconstructing Archaeology’three times. It is now seen by many as a textbook perhaps due to the relative absenceof books that can perform the same function. This has made it Blackwell publishing’smost regularly bought book and a request for a second edition has been made. This isperhaps due to the rhetoric of ‘make your own mind up’ and being written in acontinuous flow using accessible language. It has thus become a de facto orthodoxy.Johnson has said that “this was not the conscious intention of myself as the author,but it has happened to a degree nevertheless” (Johnson peers com). The unconsciousmental relocation of ‘An introduction’ in the title as being primary, and not itsspecifically situated suffix by the author, typifies its conceptual location in the minds of the readers.On speaking to undergraduates today it is clearly regarded with greatreverence and heavily relied upon. However, not all students are as complimentary;the Facebook internet group entitled “I fucking HATE Archaeological Theory” with thefront cover of ‘Archaeological Theory, An introduction’ as its emblem, seems to goagainst this consensus. The reason for this group’s strong views can be attributed tothe way their archaeological theory module was being taught. The founder of the sitesaid that, “if your going to read to us from a book then why do we have to be inlecture?” The general opinion that the lecturer was reading from Matthew Johnson’sbook and a perceived lack of enthusiasm in its presentation, seems to have aprofound effect on their empathy with the subject matter. Interestingly, the tone of theentries changed dramatically when a new member of staff was given the module,resulting in exceedingly positive reviews and leading to the abandonment of theFacebook group site.The internet forum Facebook presents an interesting range of views fromundergraduates upon the topic of archaeological theory and its contributors, andprovides an unorthodox insight not likely to appear on a module feedback form. At oneinstitution, an archaeological theory module had a dedicated a Facebook discussiongroup, set up by undergraduates during their revision period to pool their thoughts andconclusions whilst reading. This group was a success and enabled students to feelinvolved in the material they were reading through informal discursive channels,something which the seminars and group discussions in class had not effectivelyachieved. Archaeological theory is often dreaded by students due to its bad reputation asbeing an impossible module to tackle and the necessary breadth of reading required.This is not an opinion restricted to the UK, theory modules are equally dreaded bystudents in America, Kris Hirst comments that “the class which is do-or-die, which isused to weed out the non-serious student, which is a tough, tough, tough course, is Archaeological Theory” (archaeology.about.com/mbiopage). An interesting Americanapproach to the problem, adopted by some universities, is the inclusion of a semi-fictional novel to the reading list called ‘Death by theory’ written by Prof. AdrianPraetzellis from Sonoma State University (Praetzellis 2000). A tale of murder, mysteryand unusual artefacts is interwoven with the main conceptual viewpoints inarchaeological theory; setting them within a familiar context, and with characters thatempathise with how confusing theory can be (Praetzellis 2000). The main character Dr. Hannah Green and her undergraduate nephew provide an inclusive text whichguides the student through the subject. This has proved a success with American

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