Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 May 2007
It is now 25 years since Symbolic and Structural Archaeology (henceforth SSA) was first published in 1982. Why run a review feature upon a book this old? Clearly not to let readers know about its now-familiar contents. One justification is historical. Very few works have had such an effect — in archaeology, the nearest parallel comes with works such as Binford and Binford's New Perspectives in Archaeology in 1968, which laid the basis for an entire agenda of New Archaeology. Like Binford and Binford's book, SSA marked a transformation of archaeology as much as, or more than, it actually transformed the field itself. It signalled the coming of age of a coherent cohort of young, energetic scholars with a strongly defined new agenda. It breached taken-for-granted limits with bold, even flagrant ambition; it consciously invoked new intellectual frames. As much as any particular publishing event can punctuate the scholarly process with the intimation of a new direction, the publication of SSA did so.
And yet, a review feature on the book would perhaps not be entirely justified as purely a historical retrospective. It is clear from the trajectory of theoretical publication in Britain (and to some extent America) over the last decades, from the content of archaeological theory courses in universities, and the vocabulary bounced around at conferences such as TAG and the SAAs, that the agenda of SSA — often termed ‘post-processualism’ — has become the dominant voice in mainstream archaeological theory. The challenger has become the establishment; the once-unthinkable has become normal science. There are many other theoretical voices, of course, but even self-proclaimed alternative movements show signs of having absorbed, osmotically, much of the theoretical agenda set by post-processualism, even if their answers differ.
Twenty-five is a human generation, and perhaps the closest approach to eternity in the rapidly fermenting world of theory; the current generation of students (future colleagues, really) will have known no other paradigm. Hence, we have asked our contributors not only to comment retrospectively upon the book itself, but also prospectively, on how well its agenda has weathered the years, on what roads remain untaken, and upon where they think the future might lie.