Ethnographic Analogy: A conversation with Alison Wylie
Thursday, May 22
10:00am – 12:00pm
Michie Bldg, Seminar Room 443
Cultural comparison has clearly come to play an important role in building archaeological theories about social relations, economies, belief systems and so on – theories that can be translated across contexts. This poses fundamental questions about whether or not we can posit types of communities or social phenomena that are characterised by certain principles. While anthropologists compare cultural contexts in order to show up the specific principles underlying the communities they study compared with others, they do not present this as analogy. However, they seldom compare present and past communities. Archaeologists do compare past and present communities, yet only comment on what this adds to our understanding of the past communities. What is the value of combining both inferences based on analogies with cultural comparisons which consider the role of certain practices across many communities disparate in time and space? What are the pitfalls of such approaches? What kinds of social phenomena or practices ought to form the basis for such comparisons? How can such techniques of comparison retain an appreciation of context?
Below are the papers that Prof. Wylie is responding to:
- Darvill, Timothy, Peter Marshall, Mike Parker Pearson, Geoff Wainwright (2012). Stonehenge remodeled. Antiquity 86: 1021–1040.
- Parker Pearson, Mike and Ramilisonisonina (1998).Stonehenge for the ancestor: the stones pass on the message. Antiquity 72/276: 308-324.
- Spriggs, Matthew (2008). Ethnographic parallels and the denial of history. World Archaeology, 40:4, 538-552.
Professor Alison Wylie specializes in the areas of philosophy of the social and historical sciences, specifically archaeology, and feminist philosophy of science. She is interested in how archaeologists establish knowledge claims about the cultural past, and in whether (or in what form) ideals of objectivity can be sustained given feminist arguments for recognizing the central role that contextual values play in the research process. In both cases, she argues, the answers lie in an analysis of evidential reasoning. To explain how evidential constraints operate in archaeology she have developed models of analogical inference, hypothesis testing, and strategies of triangulation and scaffolding that turn on the use of background knowledge. And to explore the epistemic role of standpoint-specific interests and contextual values in the sciences, she is currently engaged in a study of feminist research programs in the social sciences.