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Questioning Theory: Is There a Gender of Theory in Archaeology?

Abstract

This paper raises questions about the practice of theory in anthropological archaeology. Particular attention is given to questions surrounding the gender of theory: what genders are more heralded in the theoretical spotlights and how the subject position of doing theory is gendered. An analysis of the contents of four Readers of Archaeological Theory shows the problematic selection and thus representation of women’s theoretical contributions, including their effective ghettoization in gender and feminist archaeology. Insights from how feminists have been grappling with theory are considered, and archaeologists are urged to confront the ways in which “doing theory” is/is not valued and how it is differentially valued, and to discuss the place and uses of theory more explicitly and critically.

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Acknowledgements

Many have contributed to the nascent ideas being expressed in this paper, and I owe an enormous debt to the School of American Research, for its support of the Advanced Seminar (April 1998) where some of these ideas were first tried out, and to all the participants: Leora Auslander, Liz Brumfiel, Cheryl Claassen, Joan Gero, Rosemary Joyce, Stephanie Moser, Janet Spector, and co-convener, Alison Wylie. Additional gratitude is for the fine and inspirational work of Cathy Lutz. Randy McGuire has organized several sessions at professional meetings where these and related ideas could be aired for discussion and critique. I am deeply thankful for the excellent comments of Madonna Moss, Ann Pyburn and several anonymous reviewers, as well as those of JAMT editor, Jim Skibo. I regret that I could not do justice to two important sets of materials. On the one hand, there has been inspirational discussion among feminists over the past 35 years regarding theory. On the other hand,much that has been discussed regarding theory by many and varied scholars in archaeology could not be cited or included. Several colleagues or students assisted with the preparation of materials stemming from the SAR Seminar and in preparing these papers for the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, whose editors have been exceptionally supportive. We all are particularly grateful to Laura Scheiber, Rentia Ouzman, Kathleen Sterling and Darren Modzelewski. Many thanks to Lynn Gale (Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences) for the Theory Reader graphs.

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Correspondence to Margaret W. Conkey.

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Conkey, M.W. Questioning Theory: Is There a Gender of Theory in Archaeology?. J Archaeol Method Theory 14, 285–310 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-007-9039-z

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Keywords

  • Theory
  • Gender
  • Feminism
  • Archaeological practice