It is now twenty years since the issue of tradition was explicitly addressed in a session at TAG. How far has our understanding developed in the intervening period?
Our view is that while cultural and social traditions are continually evoked in archaeological writings, explicit theorisation of the concept is surprisingly scarce. One reason for this is that tradition is often simply used as a placeholder for concepts that have fallen into question. Thus we might talk about 'material traditions' instead of 'cultures', or about 'traditional societies' as a means of side-stepping crude forms of social evolutionism. Yet in both cases, 'tradition' is reduced to a neutral term, which carries little interpretive force. Equally, within the social sciences at large, tradition has been treated with some ambivalence, perhaps because of its centrality to some forms of conservative thought. Although it was fundamental to aspects of practice theory in the 1970s and 1980s, tradition has faded a little from anthropological and sociological concern in the past two decades, possibly as a result of the complementary rise of interest in social memory and materiality. In this session we seek to promote a focused discussion of the following issues: • How has the notion of tradition been conceptualised within the human sciences? • What is the relationship between cultural tradition and the crafting of material things? • How does the 'style' of artefacts relate to cultural tradition? • Does cultural tradition provide the basis for a critique of accepted models of cultural transmission? • How useful is the notion of 'traditional societies'? Is tradition more significant in some social settings than others?