Roughly contemporaneous with the publication of Lewis Binford's In Pursuit of the Past is Ian Hodder's Reading the Past. Although he asks some of the same questions, Hodder's work has a rather different thrust. Across nine chapters he argues that there is no tool, independent of the questions, mind, situations and concerns that we bring, that will allow us to stand outside of ourselves and measure the past. He argues that we can be wrong about the past, but that no tool will allow us to be right "forevermore" about the past. "The data - theory relationship is conceived and manipulated within cultural and historical contexts." (18)
Hodder critiques the systems approach to archaeology (Chapter 2). "There is a poverty to systemic arguments which do not allow us to explain specific cultural variability. A great amount is left unaccounted for." Individual choice in areas such as style is also left unexplained. Furthermore, systems theories have difficulty accounting for change, tending best to illustrate what is already there, and not why or how a society might alter. Hodder favors the structuralist approach (Chapter 3). Structuralism takes archaeologists to "another level of analysis. We are no longer bound to the quantification of presences, but we are also drawn to the interpretation of absences. The system is no longer all that there is-- there are also structures through which it takes its form." (55) Marxist archaeology offers a better accounting for individual functions and production, as well as a sharper focus on power relations. (Chapter 4) The "historical" view of archaeology --that is, a consideration of long secular social trends, the mentalite of a group, and individual events -- offers different slices of an underlying structure. But how can an archaeologist forefront materialist concerns while seeking for the spirit of a group and an age? Collingwood's work is selected for praise. Rejecting teological or totalizing theories, Collingwood figured culture as "a cause and an effect, a stimulus as well as a residuum." (97) Culture is a recursive flow between action and agent. Collingwood favors "one-off" explanations of subjective intent (103).
Chapter 6 describes the Ilchamus women's decoration of milk calabashes (Kenya, the Baringo district). Hodder argues that the milk calabash, a cultural nexus of action, meaning and change, simply cannot be accounted for by systems thinking,and he uses his analysis of this artifact to illustrate the weaknesses of ethnoarchaeology and Middle Range Theory. Of all the containers made by the Ilchamus, only milk containers for children are highly decorated, and only women do the decorating. Each child has several of his or her own calabashes. Hodder examines the social meanings of milk, of children, of the act of decorating, of the preferred aesthetics of the group, of decorations and patterns exclusively "owned" by women, of the changes in village settlement patterns, of the new roles for women inside and outside of the home, and of the economic system that has turned calabashes into possible tourist items.
Segue and more thinking
"there can be no universal cultural relationship between statics and dynamics, because historically contextual structuring principles intervene. Thus the notion that Middle Range theory is distinctive because it involves independent theory which can be used to test other theories is false. The cultural processes which form the archaeological record are not independent of our general understanding of culture and society." (120)
Hodder's key metaphor, in Chapter 7, is the text. He argues that
the most plausible way to look at an archaeological site is to see it as
a text, or even a palimpsest, with many layered readings.
More on Ch.7's arguments. Quote.
In a nod (and I think it is a nod) to the 1980s, he covers feminist,
indigenous and working class views of his discipline in Chapter 8.
(I've read at least five books in the last year with that added second
edition chapter on feminism.)