Here is my contribution to anthropologies, an excellent online collaborative project featuring short contributions regarding various anthropological topics. This month’s prompt was, “What does an archaeological perspective bring to anthropology?” I’m not sure that I answered the question, but judge for yourself:
A couple of weeks ago I attended a brown bag lecture given by Barbara Voss (Stanford) titled Sexual Effects: Postcolonial and Queer Perspectives on the Archaeology of Sexuality. It was an excellent overview of her research on China Camp in San Jose, California, a community that was overwhelmingly male. In her talk she discussed what the materiality of homosociality looks like as well as how we can think about gender and sexuality in the past. Barbara Voss is a prominent voice in the field of archaeology, and her work is interdisciplinary to the core. The talk was well attended, but I didn’t recognize any socio-cultural anthropologists in the audience. This was a fairly typical occurrence, sadly. Even at our more formal gatherings, the Monday evening 290 lectures, the socio-cultural professors and students are completely absent at talks that feature archaeologists.
There are a number of ways one could react to this, and I think I’ve run the gamut at this point. Do They (the capitalization as the beginning of an anti-fraternal sentiment) think that the past (Us) is irrelevant? Do they just not understand archaeology? Do they not feel like we have anything to offer them? Or are they just bowing underneath the substantial burden of both a widening of anthropological purview and a narrowing of in-field specialization? In their introduction to the 2009 Annual Review of Anthropology, Don Brenneis and Peter Ellison succinctly address this point, stating that “The expanding universe of knowledge increases the distance between disciplines of inquiry as the techniques and theories that are developed at the advancing edges of fields become ever more remote from their common roots.” The study of human experience has become so broad that the specializations necessary to make meaningful contributions to research, to carve out your own niche, leave no time for holism.