This session aims to debate central themes in Marxist Archaeology (power, class, ideology & being). In particular, it seeks to assess whether Marxism's ontological and epistemological approaches can transcend post-processual relativism and produce a more purposeful, robust, and socially engaged form of theoretical pluralism in archaeology.
This session aims to assess whether Marxian ontological and epistemic positions might allow archaeologists to turn their potentially debilitating relativism into a more purposeful form of theoretical pluralism. Marxism has a celebrated influence in archaeological analyses of the politics of the past; discussions about social identity and class; relativism and multi-vocality; and the relationships between theory/data, material culture/action, archaeologist/society. Contributions to the session may reflect core themes in Marxist archaeology such as explicitly emancipatory approaches to research, the analysis of political interests and scientific knowledge, inequality, authority and anarchy, or socio-cultural evolution. Alternately, papers may consider the practical application of Marxian concepts, such as the domestic mode of production or surplus value, to archaeological settings.
In particular, the session hopes to explore from a Marxian perspective the claim that post-processualism's radical relativism 1) risks 'reconstructing a past in our own image' (Insoll 2007: 9), 2) slides archaeology further towards idealism (Barrett and Ko 2009), and 3) creates an environment where archaeology lacks the ability to judge competing knowledge claims and hence challenge hegemonic social conditions (McGuire 2008). The session locates itself in the interstitial space between objectivism/relativism, idealism/materialism, explanation/emancipation and emphasizes the interrelationships (both complementary and contradictory) that linked production, social organization, power and ideology in the past. It thus showcases the ways that Marxian analyses transcend the conceptual boundaries created during the processual/post-processual debate.