ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

Space, place, architecture: a major meeting point between social anthropology and archaeology?
Location Wills G25
Date and Time 7th April, 2009 at 09:15


Stella Souvatzi (Open University of Cyprus)
Demetra Papaconstantinou (Benaki Museum)
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel explores whether space and architecture can provide a framework for an effective interaction between social anthropology and archaeology, and whether, despite their different methodologies, the two disciplines can complement each other towards a fuller understanding of human societies.

Long Abstract

The study of space and architecture is increasingly recognised as fundamental in social archaeological and anthropological analysis, whether generally, as an integral part of any cultural, social or ideological aspect of life, or specifically, in terms of the spatial dimension of social action, groups and practices and the materialisation of social relationships. This panel aims to explore whether space can provide a meaningful framework for an effective interaction between anthropology and archaeology. Can it serve as a common conceptual and analytical means for an inter-disciplinary approach to social organisation? What are the contrasts and complementarities between the two disciplines on this subject? Do their different methodologies really separate their respective considerations of human societies, past and present, or should they rather be seen as complementing each other in practice and as potentially leading to a fuller understanding of social life? In short, is there any obvious reason why the long-held barriers between social anthropology and archaeology should be maintained, or is it time to start breaking them down? We will warmly welcome papers by both anthropologists and archaeologists that tease out answers through consideration of different scales of space and through a variety of key issues, including houses, households, kinship, gender, identity, socialisation and social reproduction, symbolic representation, and any other social category that falls within the subject of space. We are interested primarily in papers that will bring out and discuss views and disciplinary and inter-disciplinary experiences in studying the above topics rather than in case-studies themselves.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Addressing the neglect of architecture: an exploration of what an interdisciplinary approach to architecture might reveal about the processes of building and dwelling

Author: Rachel Harkness (University of Edinburgh)


This paper explores anthropology's relationship with architecture and argues that the former has, to date, largely neglected the study of the process of architecture. Building and dwelling, the experience of architecture, and the sensory and temporal aspects of our built environment and their construction and maintenance, have all gone relatively unexplored despite their centrality in social life and in the relationship between persons and their environments. I argue that with its sights turned less towards the symbolic interpretation of given architectural forms and their correlation with kinship structures and social organization, anthropology might have much more to contribute to a study of architecture. Archaeology may already have embraced the subject of the process of building from its own disciplinary perspectives, as it is perhaps oriented towards the processual by way of its particular emphases on the temporal and the material. This possibility shall be discussed in order to ascertain what an interdisciplinary approach to space, place and architecture - bringing anthropology and archaeology together - might look like.

Human spaces - the built environment as a social landscape

Author: Christopher TenWolde (Helsinki University of Art and Design)


Nowhere are the possible rewards of an inclusive approach to archaeology and anthropology more evident than in the study of our built environment. The remarkable experiment that mankind has undertaken in creating an artificial environment adaptive to our needs cannot be understood solely as either a material or social phenomenon, but rather as a single process in which these elements have been inextricably interwoven over millennia. As such, neither archaeology, rooted in the study of past material remains, nor anthropology, rooted in the study of living social systems, can provide us with a comprehensive understanding of this complex relationship; a middle way must be found. Furthermore, the fact that this process is a continuing one, and that modern urbanization is reshaping both our physical and social landscapes on a scale that has redefined cultural identities and imperiled our relationship with the natural environment, makes the understanding of its historical scope more than an academic challenge - it presents us with an opportunity and indeed a responsibility to reach beyond our respective disciplines and educate the wider public. The merging of archaeology and anthropology in the study of the built environment is thus not only a theoretical necessity, but also a practical path forward. In Helsinki, a small step has been taken to address these concerns with the creation of the Human Spaces curriculum, in which urban culture is studied through a combination of traditional archaeological case studies, broad anthropological interpretations, and alternative approaches such as environmental art theory.

The production of space: Henri Lefebvre and the potential of his work on space for archaeology

Author: Athena Hadji (Open University of Cyprus)


The paper aims at an introduction of the work of French philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) to archaeology. A critical assessment of the work of Henri Lefebvre on space is proposed, with regard to its potential contribution to an anthropologically oriented archaeological exploration of spatial issues. Despite the fact that archaeologists and anthropologists have long been familiar with the work of French theorists, such as Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault, whose ideas have inspired archaeological explorations and utilized in a particularly productive way, the work of Lefebvre remains to a great extent terra incognita for archaeologists and anthropologists. Contrary to this, architecture and urban studies acknowledge this potential and especially since the 1990s there has been rising interest in Lefebvre's work and his ideas on space.

His seminal work The Production of Space is presented here and its basic tenets on the social production of spatial relationships are outlined. Of particular interest for an anthropologically oriented archaeology among Lefebvre's ideas of space are the following: the distinction between absolute and relative, i.e. lived, space; the distinction between spaces that include and spaces of exclusion; the abolishment of the fallacy of the neutrality of space; the necessarily spatial background to social relations and relations of production. According to Lefebvre, space is the basic tenet upon which all social interaction is founded. Space is constantly produced and re-produced by humans as social beings, and, in turn, it constantly shapes and re-shapes their life practices.

Building, dwelling and 'associations that matter': reconsidering domestic space in the Early Bronze Age mainland Greece

Author: Olympia Peperaki (Greek Ministry of Culture)


The spatial manifestation of domestic relationships has long captured the interest of archaeology and anthropology. Especially for archaeology, the enduring physical remains of domestic life have guaranteed the very feasibility of its study even in the remote prehistory.

That this analysis has proved to be far less straightforward than originally thought is perhaps indicated by the substantial literature spawned by the study of domestic relationships. As the complexity and variability brought forward by anthropological research has seemed to invalidate the simple correlation of the domestic group with a spatial equivalent, then how are we to study archaeologically the spatial dimensions of domestic life?

Acknowledging this problem more as a product of the type of questions asked of the material and of the theoretical background of these questions, this paper attempts to re-orientate analysis of domestic space. Synthesizing anthropological insights, attention is drawn to the processes whereby particular collective forms of life are established as valid (legitimate) and significant frameworks of relationships -as 'associations that matter'. In this sense, the production and reproduction of particular configurations of space become integral to the very sense of groupness implicit in most approaches to the domestic.

The insights afforded by this shift of emphasis are discussed with reference to the Early Bronze Age mainland Greece. Addressing anew the profusion and complexity of domestic architecture, this analysis will hopefully begin to bring to the forefront the ways in which various interventions in the built environment helped to sustain over the period specific notions of 'domesticity'.

Dwelling spaces. Some remarks on the prehistoric architecture of the 3rd Millennium BC in the Iberian Peninsula

Author: Ana Vale (University of Porto)


This paper aims to explore the intersections across archaeology and anthropology, art and architecture, theory and practice and past and present, through the discussion of some key issues in the study of prehistoric architecture like: movement (the construction of space and places through movement, exploring: paths, entrances, liminal places, edges, frontiers, physical limits, walking or seeing); architectonic plans (permanence, fluidity, creativity, repetition); social bonds (in communities without writing what is the role of the elaboration of places?); collective identities (constructed through the construction?); gendered representations of places, and strategies of past visualization (can we see the past? Recording methods and scales of representation of space and time). By exploring the concept of dwelling (after Tim Ingold and Vítor Oliveira Jorge) in the study of prehistoric architecture, can anthropology and archaeology, as well as architecture and art, draw together their questions and scale of research, and deconstruct the traditional interpretation of a construction as a set of things based upon binary thought?

Negotiating spatial geographies: interdisciplinary approaches to the city

Author: Ellen Adams (King's College London)


While distinct disciplines have different methodologies, certain themes ultimately run throughout the humanities. Traditionally, 'space' might be primarily ascribed to the discipline of geography, but more recently geographers have also explored the relationship between space and time, as they come together in 'place' and 'temporality'. Conventional archaeological approaches focus on the categorization of data and spatial distribution maps, with recent attempts at phenomenological approaches. The shared interests between geography and archaeology converge particularly well on the scale of the city, settlements of a scale able to support specialized professions, and frequently with bounded distinctions between ritual and secular, public and private.

In contrast, the traditional scale of analysis in anthropology has been on social units much smaller than cities (although the blurring of the boundary between anthropology and sociology is changing this). This suggests that research divisions fall as much on the basis of scale of analysis as disciplinary training.

Late Bronze Age Crete and Cyprus are drawn upon as complex prehistoric case studies with rich comparative data. Such contrasts may help us explore the wide-ranging potential of inter-disciplinary approaches. This paper argues that, while space and architecture is undoubtedly an area where anthropology and archaeology fruitfully overlap, we should not neglect to explore the contribution of other disciplines in addition. There is the danger that an over-emphasis in the value of anthropological influence in archaeology might inadvertently close off other fruitful avenues of inquiry: anthropological archaeology and theoretical archaeology are not synonymous.

Space, place and architecture in the identity of the ancient Greek colonial world: archaeological realities and anthropological answers

Author: Lieve Donnellan (Ghent University)


The paper discusses from an archaeological point of view the transformation of space and the creation of identity in the Greek colonial world (Sicily, 8th - 5th century B.C.). The past 2-3 decennia classical archaeologists contemplated the meanings of transformations in territories, public space and architecture (e.g. frontier sanctuaries, formal burial space: MORRIS, I., 1987, Burial and ancient society, Cambridge; DE POLIGNAC, F., 1984, La naissance de la cité grecque, Paris). These processes have been related to the organization of the Greek society in her specific form known as "the polis". In the Greek colonial world transformations are seen as expressions of colonial identity (recently: MARCONI, C., 2007, Temple decoration and cultural identity in the Archaic Greek world, Cambridge). The paper discusses the way in which colonists create a colonial polis society, changing the territory in a process of transformation of "space into place". Architecture, not only as a physical entity, but also as sculptural program, is used for the appropriation of space. At the same time this transformed space expresses and creates colonial society and her identity. This materialization of past society is investigated in 3 Greek colonies in eastern Sicily: Naxos, Leontini and Catane. These 3 colonies have been founded at the end of the 8th century B.C. by the city of Chalkis (on Euboia). Although these 3 colonial cities share their origins, they had a very different appearance. Specific processes of identity creation and bonds of alliances were at work to re-shape earlier, less uniform, origins and organization.

The phenomenological study of architectural spaces: an anthropological account of archaeological remains

Author: Clarissa Rahmeier (University College London)


Through a phenomenological analysis of the domestic architecture of a 19th-century estancia (cattle ranch) in South Brazil, this paper explores the links and juxtapositions of archaeology and anthropology in material culture studies. Integrating these two disciplines, phenomenology provides an anthropological account of archaeological remains by means of sensorial experience and ethnographic research, connecting past and present through a tool that we all share - the body. Integrating concepts and methodologies from archaeology and anthropology, phenomenology suggests that the bodily experience among the material remains of past societies is the way through which participant observation is exercised. Therefore being there and exploring the architecture of the place through the body provides a possibility of assessing social identities, since the bodily interaction with the materiality in the present can suggest how the social rules objectified in the architectural forms were embodied by people in the past. Rather than situating phenomenology within either anthropological or archaeological studies, this paper discuss how both disciplines are intertwined in the phenomenological approach to space, place and architecture.

Settlement plan and cultural change in the Western Himalayas

Author: Peter Andrews (University of Bristol)


Sazin is one of the fertile lateral valleys south of the Indus in the extreme Western Himalayas, inhabited by Shin, a Dardic people. The present settlement, in the centre of the terraced valley floor, is fortified on a roughly square plan, and organised in a series of courtyards and alleyways. Above the valley on a spur to the west are the ruins of a settlement organised on a concentric oval plan. The Sazinis regard this as their earlier settlement antedating their conversion to Islam, apparently in the 18th century. Its form can be understood in relation to a sole example still in use, in the next valley to the east, Harban, built around a steep hilltop. The present village of Sazin is clearly related in form to its social organisation in terms of named factions and family descent, and also the segregation of women. It also implies a different relation to the surrounding terraced fields and agricultural work. The advantage of Sazin as a case study is that, alone among these valleys, it is occupied by a single village, even if modern accretions are now obscuring the original plan.

The study of domestic spaces in contemporary Botswana: inter-disciplinary experiences of teaching and learning

Authors: Stefania Merlo (University of Botswana)
Mompoloki Rodgers (University of Botswana)
Malebogo Seone (University of Botswana)


This paper discusses the challenges and successes of teaching and learning the interdisciplinary space of social anthropology and archaeology in the context of the study of contemporary domestic architecture in Botswana. It has long been acknowledged that the separation of archaeology and anthropology is undesirable. Examples on how to practically combine the two disciplines during and after fieldwork have been rare, in particular in the realms of contemporary archaeology. As a consequence, the teaching, learning and delivery of research in this context remain a challenge.

Aspects of tradition, modernization, migration and change and their reflections on the construction and use of domestic spaces in contemporary Botswana are the topics explored in three BA dissertations at the University of Botswana. Teaching and learning how to relate to local communities, extrapolate multiple histories, create biographies of objects and spaces from a variety of sources, negotiate disciplinary terminology at an academic level has been at the core of our shared experience. Albeit the challenges are numerous, the use of interdisciplinary approaches add the essential context to discuss contested issues of African past and present.

Asmara: architecture, memory and the making of a nation

Author: Caterina Borelli (Anonymous Productions)


Asmara - capital of Eritrea - is recognized as an architectural gem. In this film Asmarinos from different walks of life, guide us through the streets of their city and bring us to places of their choice. In doing so, and by talking about 'their own' Asmara, each person locates personal memories in public spaces investing the urban environment with individual meanings. Through their narrations the country's history comes to life.

This film demonstrates how an individual's narration reveals people's capacity to look at past events and repossess them as part of a collective history. A building that represents Italian fascism from a European perspective, has acquired a collective function that empties it of its colonial symbolism for Asmarinos. This process of building meaning into the existing environment from a kaleidoscope of historical memories is fundamental to understanding the way societies define themselves and their heritage. In this way, we see that the importance of a building, a place or a site is defined by the relationship people have had to it and not necessarily by the meaning these places are built or meant to represent. This demonstrates the way that historical or archaeological heritage is constructed as much from people assigning spaces with meaning as from the meaning those spaces were built or perceived to have from an external point of view. This perspective is important to approaching questions of heritage and the significance of place or space to local populations, in the fields of anthropology and archaeology.