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Alejandro Haber is Titular Professor at the Universidad Nacional de Catamarca and Independent Researcher at the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca, Argentina. He has been researching the theoretical and methodological assumptions of the archaeological discipline from different approaches, including sociology, history and philosophy of archaeology. He is regionally specialized in the South Central Andes, and has conducted research in the same area for decades. He is particularly interested in challenging Western assumptions as codified within the archaeological discipline while developing wider conversations with local and Quechua-Aymara epistemes, within the postcolonial context of frontier expansion.
He is Co-Editor of the Arqueología Suramericana – Arqueologia Sul-Americana, published in South America in Spanish and Portuguese. His recent books include Hacia Una Arqueología de las Arqueologías Sudamericanas (Uniandes, Bogotá, Colombia, 2004) and Domesticidad e Interacción en los Andes Meridionales (Unicauca, Popayán, Colombia, 2008). Recent publications in English language include papers on intercultural archaeology (World Archaeology 39:2, 2007) and (Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19:3, 2009) on animism and post-Western perspectives.
Alejandro F. Haber (Universidad Nacional de Catamarca – Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Catamarca, Argentina)
We can think of a kind of archaeological colonialism in terms of the exportation of metropolitan theories and/or methodologies to peripheral countries/regions. We can also think of colonialism in the way metropolitan academic institutions/archaeologists conduct archaeology in peripheral countries/regions. But even if we manage to stop those kinds of colonial bonds, archaeology would remain being an imperial weapon. Moreover, it can be said that colonialism is not dependant on the overseas provenance of archaeologies and/or theories. Beyond theoretical and methodological variability, it is archaeology itself that happens to recapitulate colonialist relationships; and this seems to be the case even when archaeology is openly and deliberately oriented towards indigenous peoples’ empowerment, social justice, and peace. It seems that theoretical and methodological paradigms and political intentions operate at a surface level, while colonialism is equipped with stronger streams operating below the floor where archaeologists stand. What is there below our feet, making us move in one direction even when we walk in the other? Neither being the theories, nor the methods, or the political intentions and nationality, what is that hidden force that governs the sense of archaeology in the contemporary post-colonial world? My argument is that the hidden force is not hidden at all, but remains unseen because it is too obvious. The disciplinary framework of archaeology itself - that is, its basic subject matter and method - beyond the theoretical and methodological paradigms and the political orientation in which we aim to proceed, or our nationality or whatever, recapitulates coloniality.(1) Without implying that theoretical and methodological debate within archaeological discipline is in vain, I would like to dedicate this piece to write not within, but about the discipline. In short, this will include talking about disciplining, its recapitulation in post-disciplinary contexts, and the implied proposal of un-disciplining archaeology.
Simply written, archaeology is about knowing the past through the study of its material remains. There is a time called ‘past’ that has gone before we came. Something material has remained from it, and even if it has not remained as it then was, something has remained from that original material. Studying those material remains in the inverse trend we can know how those things were in the past, and knowing them we can also know how the past was. How did the past work; which were the forces governing it and the relationships between them; how should we consider the amount and quality of the original material remaining in the remains, and of the past remaining in the material? These are among the many theoretical and methodological specificities that amount to one or another ‘theory’ within the archaeological discipline.(2) The disciplinary framework, that is, the basic set of common understandings about the subject matter and the method, keeps the theoretical debate under the umbrella of the same discipline. It is the common understanding that makes one say that a particular piece of work is archaeology, beyond the increasing variability of ways of doing archaeology. Names and definitions of the subject matter –the ‘archaeological-it’- can change from one ‘theory’ to another (for instance, archaeological record, material culture, archaeological culture, material past, material remains, etc.; or hypothesis testing, interpretation, inference, etc.), but beyond such variability some common sense is kept.
As time has passed, the past is gone; a common representation of the passage of time from past to present to future is the timeline, whose natural manifestation is stratigraphy. We are in the present separated from the past by a measurable distance on the timeline. Part of the matter that existed in the past remained till the present, hence the ‘material remains’. Studying those material remains we (the practitioners of the discipline) can know the past from when they remain. These are the obvious common basic principles of the discipline, and they sound obvious to a disciplinary audience because it is a cultural (naturalized) language. What I would like to do in this instance is to develop an external gaze on such disciplinary language.
Looking at the discipline from outside, it appears that its methodological definition of the subject matter (knowing the past through material remains) implies a divide between the knower (us, the archaeologists) and the knowable past, and a transcendence of the divide through archaeological method (a way for obtaining knowledge). Within the archaeological discipline (within that game of language), my relationship with the archaeological-it (the past and the remains) is an epistemological one, and not ontological.(3) Thus, the disciplinary pretension is that my relationship with the archaeological - it affects myself as knower, not as being. Within that language, a metaphysical gap separates the knower and the known beings as different orders of being. And once the disciplinary language turns into the accepted language, the gap can be bridged only by an asymmetrical knowledge relationship. The contribution of the discipline to coloniality is the disciplinary objectification of a former divide: the colonial difference between knower/colonizer and known/colonized. Built-in colonial subjectivities, are thus objectified in the disciplinary framework. In this way, the hard wiring of coloniality is reproduced in the modern disciplinary representations of (pre-colonial) history and of the correct ways of dealing with its remains.
The idea of material remains, that is, something that remained in its materiality, implies that it has not remained in a non-material quality, or that what has remained not being material is not conducive to knowledge (the normal relationship) about the past. Thus, the past can only be known and dealt with through its materiality, i. e., excluding its non-materiality. At the same time, the material remains from the past can only be mediated by the search of knowledge. The definition of material remains excludes other-than-material remains from the past: descent and memory. Kinship and memory are built in the disciplinary metaphysics as apart from the relationship of the discipline to its ‘it’. If they exist, they are non-disciplinary relationships. To be related to the past by kinship and/or memory is not something that can happen to me in my capacity as archaeologist (neither as a disciplined individual).
Kinship and memory are fundamental kinds of relationships within a capitalist society. They make it possible the transfer of property from one generation to the next one, transforming capitalist relationships (property of capital) into class relationships. Within capitalism, through kinship and memory —the immaterial remains from the past— the relationship to the past is not just a relationship of knowledge; it affects the being of the individuals and collectives. But across the archaeological metaphysical gap, the disciplined relationship with the past and its remains is only mediated by knowledge via the archaeological method. This explains how the disciplinary framework recapitulates the colonial difference: the condition of possibility of the discipline is the exclusion of immaterial remains from the licit (normal) relationship. It can only exist on the basis of the exclusion of its other.(4)
The discipline constructs its other as the pre-disciplinary phase, variedly called speculative, beginnings, lay, folk, etc.; ‘pre-disciplinary’ is understood by the discipline as a period in time superseded by the arrival of the discipline. Persistent others are usually considered looters or huaqueros, and thus excluded and punished, as abnormal or subnormal. The discipline represents it own history as a progressive line from ignorance to knowledge, wiring in its own genealogy the reproduction of colonial difference and epistemic violence, and at the same time naturalizing its own understanding of history. To write in the past tense about the past that is its subject matter is the main role of archaeology within coloniality (historic preterizing), and this is possible when Other’s approaches to the same ‘subject matter’ are themselves written in past tense (epistemic preterizing).
Although in material terms it can be said that the discipline is a thing (literature, language, laws, etc.). The performative aspect of the discipline —that is, in a pragmatist perspective— implies seeing disciplining as a continued force towards the discipline. Disciplining happens also before the institutionalization of the discipline and in post-disciplinary contexts. It can be said that the major accomplishment of the discipline has been to transform its own language (preterization) in the hegemonic relationship to the ‘archaeological-it’, thus disciplining the way society deals with the past and its remains. The disciplinary metaphysics were socialized in law, in international treaties, in school, in media, etc., since a disciplining process that began in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It can be said that it is the hegemonic relationship to the past in international relationships and in the majority of the national cultures since the last decades.(5)
New challenges for disciplinary archaeology were posed by post-colonial contexts. These consist in the renewed expansion of market-place relationships, including the expansions over new or abandoned geographical areas for the exploitation of resources (by capital investment), the building of infrastructure for expanded capitalism (energy and goods transportation), and the development of new ‘immaterial’ goods mainly in tourism area. Within those contexts, the discipline is transformed in ways where knowledge is not any more an end in itself, but part of administrative procedures or commodities development oriented towards capitalist expansion. At the same time, the political and cultural empowerment of indigenous peoples and social movements implied new scenarios where the disciplinary monologue was not possible any more. The discipline accommodated itself for dealing with these postcolonial contexts: CRM, heritage tourism, and indigenous archaeology developed as subfields of intervention. Transcending the knowledge-search relationships, archaeology dialogues with other values (development, social justice, peace) that beside knowledge govern post-disciplinary archaeology, as can be called the transformation of archaeology in order to be able to participate in post-colonial contexts.
Disciplinary metaphysics are put into dialogue with capital investment prospects, engineering strategies, and indigenous politics. Post-disciplinary archaeology is flexible enough to accommodate itself to different scenarios, and the extraordinary diversity of fields of intervention as can be seen in any of the major national, multinational or international archaeological forums is a measure of its flexibility of contexts of intervention (and not only theoretical variability). What remains from archaeological discipline is its metaphysical framework (the very condition of possibility of post-disciplinary archaeology).
Archaeology sets the game of language that frames the dialogues with other forces (for instance, ancestors, gods, territory). CRM (6) is an example. It is about measuring a project’s effects on archaeological remains, and quantifying costs and priorities for its conservation. The disciplinary idea of archaeological remains is recapitulated (with the aforementioned implications for the reproduction of the disciplinary metaphysics). But also the archaeological idea of time and history as lineal is reproduced: by its inclusion within an administrative procedure oriented towards the implementation of a capitalist development project, it implicitly assumes the inevitability of capitalist development, as governed by the progression of time.
Indigenous archaeology is another field where archaeological metaphysics are usually (but not always) recapitulated. Entering into a dialogue with indigenous communities usually means the development of asymmetrical relationships (archaeologists teaching locals, locals participating in the archaeological team, archaeologists helping indigenous, indigenous transforming themselves into archaeologists, etc.). What is usually not challenged is the archaeological episteme, its very foundations: the materiality of archaeological finds, its quality as media for knowing the past.(7)
In post-disciplinary archaeology the theoretical focus is displaced from epistemology to ethics, and issues of ‘good practice’ are put to the fore. As epistemology was the framing of theory within disciplinary archaeology, it is the turn of ethics to frame theory within post-disciplinary archaeology. But theory stops when the frames are reached. The metaphysics of difference are thus recapitulated, including the recapitulation of the colonial difference within hegemonic relationships.
The recapitulation of coloniality has little to do with political and or ethical intentions of individuals conducting archaeology. Even when a horizontal dialogue is searched, that dialogue is already framed in one particular language (a game of language) assumed to be the natural language that describes the world (the hegemonic position). To undermine the hegemonic place from where archaeology disciplines the relationships with the past and its remains implies listening and learning from subaltern relationships to the past and its remains, moving the home address of writing, and developing positions for un-disciplining archaeology from its disciplinary metaphysics.
Un-disciplining archaeology is not a new theoretical trend to be followed, but a mandatory task within a decolonial project. In this sense, it is a part of a political project. A project of life, of good life. Time, materiality, and otherness are the three main areas for un-disciplining archaeology. Instead of the basic assumptions of archaeological discipline, un-disciplining archaeology implies un-rooting its ontology and epistemology from coloniality. In this sense, time is not a lineal dimension that simply elapses while some event is occurring, but a place weaved by relationships of care. Materiality is not in opposition to spirituality, neither in ontological nor in epistemological terms, but an existential grounding, a home address. And otherness is not a stable category for classifying peoples, times and territories, but the conditioning of regimes of care. Acknowledging the local flavor of these statements, it has to be said that given that un-disciplining archaeology involves local conversations it always retains a local grounding. Notwithstanding, the shared oppositional vocation, in the sense of a departure from Western ontology and the role of archaeological discipline within it, can be considered a common ground that is fed by networking locales and experiences.
Anatomizing the discipline (8) and networking localities against global discourses are both important tasks within the project of un-disciplining archaeology. These are not academic tasks to be done in isolation, but conversations to develop in the borderlands. The conversation about the hegemonic place of archaeological discourse helps localizing archaeological metaphysics. It may produce a move towards local epistemes (considering conversations with local theories of history, ontologies, and regimes of care; and accepting the instability implied in being-in those conversations). In that case, it may be necessary to develop writings that afford moving their home address to post-Western border regions of thinking and writing, in a language other than the (hegemonic) game, and writing their move. Instead of searching for greater objectivity, it is about expanding subjectivity across former gaps, weaving relationships with history through memory, descent and care. In conversation with popular cultures, indigenous peoples, and social movements, it implies identifying challenges to coloniality-constituted securities of the self. Changing global discourses -as the discipline itself- by networked pluralities of local conversations appears to claim for new kind of forums and discourses.
The border, not the discipline, is the place for un-disciplining archaeological theory. The border is the objective territory of colonial friction, and also the subjective territory of colonial difference. Language is constituted in hegemony, and at the same time it is reproduced and subverted in the border. It is sometimes the territory of sterile hybridizing, but it is generally the place for fertile mixture; sometimes of black/white opposition, but generally of weaving relationships; sometimes of oppositional resistance and other times of subversion from within. The border is the place of creation, of care, and of productive death. In the border, theory is not a place from where to know the world, but an unstable place where the world is lived and created. Theory in the border is not just about knowing, but about life. Thus it is not enclosed in the academy but in conversation among inhabitants, dwellers. Theory is in the varied, subversively intense, and expressive ways (music, dance, literature, poetry, etc.), and in the conversations (in alphabetic writing or otherwise) about that intensity. Theory is about the world (that includes the object of archaeology, but within a set of networks other than the disciplinary one, where memory and kinship have as much importance as materiality), and on the world (being both part of the conversation and about the conversation). Theory in the border is not Western, not as a pretension of originality, but as departure from the West as a political and cultural platform.
Many more people than I could mention here have influenced this piece of writing. I have learnt about disciplinary archaeology from Catamarca people, and about archaeology in post-colonial contexts from the anti-mining and indigenous movements in Catamarca and other places in South America. Being involved in conversations both with Cristóbal Gnecco and Nick Shepherd also benefits me. Ömür Harmansah kindly reviewed the text for English language. Excesses are mine. This text was written in Universidad del Cauca, Popayán, Colombia, with the aid of a Research Fellowhip from CONICET, Argentina.
1) Within post-colonial South American theory (self-named as coloniality/modernity program) this is related to what has been called ‘coloniality’, which implies at least three inter-related dimensions (see Walter Mignolo’s El desprendimiento. Pensamiento crítico y giro descolonial, in “Interculturalidad, descolonización del estado y del conocimiento”, Catherine Walsh, Alvaro García Linera and Walter Mignolo. Ediciones del Signo. Buenos Aires. 2006): coloniality of power implies the recapitulation of colonialism beyond formal colonial political bonds; coloniality of being entails the operation of people in former colonial countries both as colonized and as colonizers; coloniality of knowledge includes the colonial genealogy and present colonial operation of academic disciplines.
2) I acknowledge the importance of this discussion, but because I believe that focusing the discussion on the ‘theories’ that variedly ‘fill in’ the content of the discipline ends leaving no scrutinized the disciplinary ‘container’, in this paper I will prefer to focus myself on the disciplinary framework. It is in this methodological sense that I place myself externally to the discipline.
3) An epistemologically mediated ontological relationship.
4) ‘Epistemic violence’, according to Santiago Castro-Gómez (In his Ciencias Sociales y violencia epistémica y el problema de la «invención del otro »”, In: Edgardo Lander (Editor): La colonialidad del saber: eurocentrismo y ciencias sociales. Perspectivas latinoamericanas, Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Sociales (FACES_UCV) and Instituto Internacional de la UNESCO para la Educación Superior en América Latina y el caribe (IESALC), Caracas, 2000, pp. 201-223.
5) Maybe the onset of the UNESCO’s Heritage of Humanity program in 1972 can be considered as a landmark in this trend.
6) And its equivalent designations.
7) I acknowledge, nevertheless, the great importance of indigenous archaeology for an un-disciplining project, when it prompts consequent challenges to the disciplinary metaphysics.
8) I borrow this expression from Nick Shepherd (pers. comm.).