Archaeological Approaches to Cultural Identity (One World by S. J. Shennan

By S. J. Shennan

Examines the severe implications of cultural id from numerous views. Questions the character and boundaries of archaeological wisdom of the prior and the connection of fabric tradition to cultural id.

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1982, p. 228). However, such ‘primary theory’ is insufficient to account for everything that goes on in the world, and all cultures have developed what Horton calls ‘secondary theory’ in an attempt to transcend it. Such ‘secondary theory’ varies greatly from culture to culture, although it often involves postulating the action of hidden entities and processes, whether these be particles and currents or gods and spirits. On Horton’s view the reason why some societies postulate particles and others spirits is nothing to do with differences in rationality between the cultures concerned, but rather with the fact that ‘in different technological, economic and social settings, the “logic of the situation” dictates the use of different intellectual means to achieve the same ends’ (ibid.

Friedman 1988). Regional groups have emerged in the nation-states of Europe questioning the legitimacy of the states to which they belong and asserting their own special identity; as in the 19th century, the past has become an arena for the establishment of that authentic identity. In the developing world too, similar issues have arisen, often in a starker form, because there the process of nation-building within the boundaries left by the European colonists is still actively continuing. The old white-dominated colonies, such as Australia, Canada and the USA, have also been faced with similar issues, often related to claims on the mineral or other resources of particular areas, which have depended on evidence concerning the identity of the occupiers of the area in the past.

On the contrary (Geary 1983, p. 16): Early medieval ethnicity should be viewed as a subjective process by which individuals and groups identified themselves or others within specific situations and for specific purposes. One concludes that ethnicity did not exist as an objective category but rather as a subjective and malleable category by which various preexisting likenesses could be manipulated symbolically to mold an identity and a community. Hill’s chapter (Ch. 16), in the third part of this book, dealing with the very different case of changing ethnic identities among Native Americans in the eastern USA over the past 200 years, leads to similar conclusions, as, of course, do a number of the contributions to Earth’s (1969a) well-known book on ethnic groups and boundaries.

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