Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Postcolonizing

In the article "Making Historical Archaeology Postcolonial," Mark Leone discusses a way in which historical archaeology may be useful as a means to combat colonial rhetorics and establish new knowledge for dealing with identity and the cultural self. First to discuss postcolonial, let's first consider what even is colonialism? As discussed in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another." So presumably, if we are to discuss any archaeology as postcolonial, we are assuming an archaeological practice void of one entity subjugated to another. Is this possible? Leone seems to believe so.

He positions historical archaeology as a discipline of remembrance:
"No one thinks the forgotten are forgotten by clerical error. They are forgotten because they were said to be dangerous, inconvenient, numerous, aggressive, controlled land or resources that others wanted, or were the laborers whom others sought. One basis for historical archaeology is the correction of injustice and behind that is the anger that such an injustice has existed and continues."
This notion is problematic because it assumes that the historical archaeology merely remembers, rather than likewise forgetting him/herself. The choice of studying a particular entity by another, is that any different than a colonial mindset? Can the act of studying another be a-colonial? For example, he purposes historical archaeology as an occurrence of "giving voice to the voiceless." However, is this any different than Said's problematization of Orientalism as an effort by one body controlling the rhetoric of another? Yes, the archaeologist may be sympathetic to that external entity, but nonetheless by 'giving voice' to it, it seems a precarious notion to consider one as postcolonial when doing so. 

Archaeology is rather a means of acknowledging and coming to terms with a past, but the issue at hand is which one? The exploitation of the past by archaeologists is a purely capitalizing effort to relate the present to it, thusly reconfiguring the past in present terms. The past is a commodity: 
"Because it is essential that people feel and rationally articulate the tie between who they are and exactly why they are here now, in the condition they find themselves touched by, people seek constant exposure to legitimizing, textured, figured, and refigured pasts."
People use pasts. The past is subjugated by present actions, considerations, regards, and selective remembering and forgetting. It is paradoxical to then assume the act of remembering as postcolonial, or reconfiguring the past to reveal what was otherwise left forgotten. To place the discipline in such terms is just as much a colonizing effort as it was before archaeology became postcolonial. Leone concludes: 
"...self-knowledge can be raised to a level of consciousness by exhibiting material culture in organized settings, which may help produce meanings not hitherto available to those who could use them, both ourselves and others."
But can we ever know the self, especially when that 'self' is not an individual person, but a collection of people. There will always be a selective act of inclusion when describing the selfness of a culture, nationality, any group of people more than one. Perhaps if archaeology were to be truly postcolonial, one would have to acknowledge that any examination under the discipline of Archaeology is inherently an act of colonization. 

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