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Archaeology and normalcy: Disciplining a discipline

Joannah L Whitney, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This project explores the social dynamics that lead toward, or filter out, individuals as prospective or practicing archaeologists. There is a growing awareness of, and sensitivity to, the people studied by archaeologists, as well as to the people who "consume" archaeological studies. In contrast, little attention has been paid to the archaeologist him- or herself as a key element in the practice of archaeology. This study uses auto-ethnography and biography to explore the processes that select for the individuals who become archaeologists. The social dynamics involved in this selection process "normalize" the profession by "normalizing" its practitioners. Illuminating the dynamics that create this sense of normalcy exposes the impact these processes have on archaeology and, more broadly, on anthropology. Questioning these dynamics creates the opportunity to expand the practice of archaeology to include more than the perspective of the "normalized", in the same way that allowing the producers of culture to contribute to the study of their material culture and cultural experience adds insight and nuance to our understanding of culture. As the call for a reflexive archaeology is heard and responded to, archaeologists will likely move beyond the normalizing consensus of the present day to one that is explicitly aware of the relationships among those who study the past, those who are studied and the audiences for whom these studies are done. There is demonstrably a much broader diversity in the people who practice archaeology than the discipline admits. In the past two decades there has been a growing interest in, and demand for, allowing the obvious existing diversity in the profession to be recognized, and to be broadened to include experiences and perspectives that have not yet been recognized, articulated, and incorporated in archaeological discourse. This project is an attempt to illustrate how this could be done, to identify some of the social dynamics that impede this agenda, and to sketch some of the contributions such an effort could make in developing archaeology as a discipline that studies the full range of human variation.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Whitney, Joannah L, "Archaeology and normalcy: Disciplining a discipline" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3242116.