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Race and Practice in Archaeological Interpretation

Race and Practice in Archaeological Interpretation

Charles E. Orser
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Race and Practice in Archaeological Interpretation
    Book Description:

    Scholars who investigate race-a label based upon real or perceived physical differences-realize that they face a formidable task. The concept has been contested and condoned, debated and denied throughout modern history. Presented with the full understanding of the complexity of the issue, Race and Practice in Archaeological Interpretation concentrates on the archaeological analysis of race and how race is determined in the archaeological record. Most archaeologists, even those dealing with recent history, have usually avoided the subject of race, yet Charles E. Orser, Jr., contends that its study and its implications are extremely important for the science of archaeology. Drawing upon his considerable experience as an archaeologist, and using a combination of practice theory as interpreted by Pierre Bourdieu and spatial theory as presented by Henri Lefebvre, Orser argues for an explicit archaeology of race and its interpretation. The author reviews past archaeological usages of race, including a case study from early nineteenth-century Ireland, and explores the way race was used to form ideas about the Mound Builders, the Celts, and Atlantis. He concludes with a proposal that historical archaeology-cast as modern-world archaeology-should take the lead in the archaeological analysis of race because its purview is the recent past, that period during which our conceptions of race developed.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0325-7
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Problematizing Race in Archaeology
    (pp. 1-38)

    During a journey through Ireland in 1835, French traveler Gustave de Beaumont, who had recently returned to Europe after an extended sojourn in the United States, experienced a startling revelation. Prior to visiting Ireland, he had believed that the living conditions he had observed among the dispossessed Native Americans and enslaved Africans in the United States represented the deepest deprivations human beings could suffer. But when visiting the Irish countryside, de Beaumont was so astonished by what he saw that he was forced to rethink his perceptions. He was compelled to conclude that the conditions faced by the lower orders...

  6. Chapter 2 The Prehistory of Race and Archaeological Interpretation, Part I: Inventing Race for Archaeology
    (pp. 39-74)

    When considering an archaeological interpretation of race, it is instructive to retreat from the present and delve into archaeology’s past. A withdrawal into archaeological history accomplishes two important tasks. First, it provides a perspective on the development of archaeological thought as it pertains to race and racialization, and second, it helps to bring into sharper focus the need for a new program of research.

    The use of the word “prehistory” in the title of this and the next chapter deserves some comment. As applied here, the term is not meant to indicate a “time before history” or “history before writing.”...

  7. Chapter 3 The Prehistory of Race and Archaeological Interpretation, Part II: Ethnicity over Race
    (pp. 75-111)

    Archaeologists have been interested in documenting the relationship between human variability and the material expressions of daily life ever since they realized that artifacts from the past could be visualized as more than historical documents. As an anthropological-historical approach gained acceptance in archaeology, greater numbers of the field’s practitioners were compelled to attempt “to draw ethnographical conclusions from archaeological data” (Childe 1926: 200). As shown in the previous chapter, the convention of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries usually dictated that “race” was the frame of reference of most pioneering social archaeologists. By the 1960s, however, professional archaeologists had...

  8. Chapter 4 Archaeological Interpretation and the Practice of Race
    (pp. 112-157)

    The previous chapters demonstrate that archaeologists have long experience handling the concept of race, even though their understandings of this important social variable have changed over time. Many late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century archaeologists were inspired by the period’s neophyte physical anthropologists, and so they tended to envision race as a biological objectivity with concrete, readily identifiable characteristics. Archaeologists, following the progressive intellectual leads of later anthropologists and sociologists, soon discovered that their conceptions of race were required to become increasingly sophisticated to have credibility and interpretive power within general social science. With the increased anthropologization of archaeology in the...

  9. Chapter 5 Materiality in the Practice of Race
    (pp. 158-195)

    The construction of past habitus, field, and capital for specific sociohistoric formations constitutes only half of the archaeological project. If social archaeologists cease their research with the modeling the social structure, no matter how complex the model may be, they are acting as historical sociologists and not archaeologists, even though the creation of the model is a necessary archaeological step. Archaeologists must be especially sensitive to and adept at developing insights that can be used to connect the actions that occurred within past social fields to the material symbolizations of those actions. Archaeologists are of course properly respected for employing...

  10. Chapter 6 A Case Study of Archaeology and the Practice of Race from Early Nineteenth-Century Ireland
    (pp. 196-246)

    The previous chapters have outlined one perspective that may be employed in the archaeological analysis of historic racialization. The chapters are intended to present overviews of the history of the archaeological analysis of race and to provide a coherent framework for conducting an archaeological interpretation of race that is both theoretically rigorous and practically possible. I have specifically identified Bourdieu’s practice theory, linked with Lefebvre’s understanding of the production of social space, as one approach toward providing an archaeological analysis of race.

    The preceding chapters make it clear that the focus of attention here is the modern world. As such,...

  11. Chapter 7 Race, Practice, and Archaeology
    (pp. 247-254)

    The archaeological application of practice theory is only at the experimental stage. The novelty of this approach, especially as it pertains to the study of race—a topic that has yet to achieve prominence among archaeologists—mandates that this book must be viewed as an initial foray into a difficult and multifaceted realm of inquiry. Future archaeologists who opt to use practice theory to interpret past racialization—as well as other topics of concern to social archaeology—will undoubtedly deepen its application within the discipline. Archaeologists have the double-edged advantage of understanding the multivalent capacities of material culture in past...

  12. References Cited
    (pp. 255-298)
  13. Index
    (pp. 299-307)