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Emotion reified. Lessons from the archaeology of ritual

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 November 2010

Extract

Harris and Sørensen's critique of the archaeological inattention to emotion and their recognition of the material mediation of affect bring to the fore perennial epistemological problems defining the broader archaeological enterprise. The immediate citation of the long-discredited Hawkesian ladder of inference challenges the assumption that past emotional states are unrecoverable from archaeological contexts, just as an earlier generation of archaeologists rejected processual theory that meaning, conceptual schemas and symbolism fell beyond the pale of scientific inference. Of course, Hawkes was not a materialist in the strict sense of the term, and he recognized that value systems transcended the epiphenomenal and played a vital role in structuring social practice and shaping historical process. It was his contention, however, that conceptual and symbolic schemes and their role in social reproduction were simply too complex to be read satisfactorily from material remains (Hawkes 1954; see Fogelin 2008, 129–30). He wrote that ‘there is nothing in North American ecology . . . to compel either Iroquois institutions . . . or the constitution of the United States’ (Hawkes 1954, 163). To be sure, Hawkes probably would not have denied that moved to move is intrinsic to the human condition and that affective dispositions were a force in individual experiences and the collective fortunes and self-representations of past communities. At the same time, he probably gave little consideration to the dialectical interdependence of the material world and emotion, a relationship that has captured the imagination of recent scholars. Hawkes would no doubt have scoffed at the notion that emotion as ontological problem, cultural construct or variable of social interaction is amenable to archaeological interpretation.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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