Developing Anarchist Archaeologies

Durham University are holding their 31st Theoretical Archaeology Group annual meeting between Thursday December 17th and Saturday December 19th 2009.  One paper will be on “Developing Anarchist Archaeologies”.  HAD will follow up on any interesting outcomes.


This session explores the interpretation of past social dynamics within the framework of the political philosophy of anarchism. Stemming from Paul Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchism, anarchist theory has featured at times prominently as a critique of positivist and functionalist frameworks in archaeology, highlighting the need for multi-vocality and contextual approaches. Although not entirely unrelated to this heritage, this session focusses instead on how anarchism can be deployed to understand specific archaeological contexts and how such analysis can feed not only feed into the current theoretical discourse in archaeology and anthropology, but also how this can help to develop a social theory of anarchism.

An anarchist social theory holds that there is no directionality to history and that societies’ desire to prevent or overcome various forms of domination and hierarchy provides a framework in which to understand socio-cultural change and stability. Critiquing the social evolutionary notion that competition drives economic, social and cultural innovation – also contained within capitalist perspectives on past economics – a social theory of anarchism highlights peoples’ capacities for co-operation, voluntary association, intentionality, and the importance of political imagination. As such, it can provide an alternative perspective on key issues in archaeological theory, such as adaptation, the emergence of social complexity and theories of state formation and collapse. Amongst other, we encourage submissions which explore instances of the development of co-operative social movements and which challenge assumptions about the inevitability of the formation of hierarchies in human societies.

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