Key PagesColin Porter |
Changes [Mar 26, 2010]CV
Actor-Network Theory and Post-Phenomenology in Application:
An Archaeography of Early American Gravestones
Philosophers ruminate about a priori understandings of the nature of the world. This often doesn't seem of much use in archaeology. After all, archaeologists are only equipped to talk about the way the world is present to us; we deal with the outcomes of people-thing relations, like it or not. And it doesn't take long to realize that out there, "in the wild," a priori philosophy only takes you so far. But likewise, the cultural-historical approach adopted by many non-anthropological material cultural specialists is equally stale, lacking the vitality that comes from considering things as static objects. Archaeologists, perhaps more than other social scientists, are privileged in the sense that they can use of any theoretical position without fear of being something that they are not. The key is to be critical and to steer clear of becoming a "third rate philosopher," as Kent Flannery has warned.
In the course of this project, I realized that too much has been made of Heidegger and too little made of Merleau-Ponty. But this divide, in my opinion, has been reached only because Heidegger's "thing theory" has been carried to its useful conclusion in archaeological application. I have no doubt that his metaphysics will remain in vogue within the field of philosophy because his Fourfold is just so abstract, yet seemingly attainable, that it demands respect. But I see the pursuit of Heideggerian metaphysics as offering limited returns for archaeology. We might do well to take the lessons learned--good ones!--and steal away into the night, as the saying goes. After all, we do not seek uncertainty about the way things are, but a a positive understanding. Nevertheless, we must remain vigilant about pursuing things as they may be.
Posted at Oct 27/2007 12:09PM:
chris witmore: Hi Colin. This is developing in interesting ways. I like the questions and, as you know, the emphasis on relational and site-specific understandings of gravestones. I am looking forward to following how you develop this through the architecture of the wiki.