Journal of Archaeological Research

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 299–329 | Cite as

Status and role of formation theory in contemporary archaeological practice

  • Michael J. Shott


Since Binford appropriated the term “middle-range theory,” it has signified the process of reasoning from the extant material record to the cultural past. Merton's sociological concept of middle-range theory is relevant to archaeology, but does not mean what Binford denoted by it. More accurately, Binford's domain should be called “formation theory.” By whatever name used, archaeologists differ greatly in our views of its role and status. Somehow, formation theory has come to be viewed as method but not theory, and as intrinsic to materialism, but irrelevant if not antithetical to other ontologies. Yet it is as critical to the contextual understanding of the past sought by many archaeologists today—a role that, among others, belies formation theory's marginal status in academic practice.

Key Words

middle-range theory assemblage formation material record 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Shott
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Anthropology and CriminologyUniversity of Northern IowaCedar Falls

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