The Archaeology of Plural and Changing Identities

pp 33-51

“Either, or, Neither Nor”:Resisting the Production of Gender, Race and Class Dichotomies in the Pre-Colonial Period

  • Lynette RussellAffiliated withAustralian Indigenous Studies, Monash University

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The desire to categorise the past into black and white; European invader and Aboriginal owner; men andwomen, is a feature of Australian archaeological discourse. In this paper I suggest that such binarisms fail to recognise the emergence of new social formations and their material culture correlates that are much greater than the sum of their constituent elements. Using early nineteenth century Kangaroo Island, in Southern Australia, as my case study, I argue that it is virtually impossible to tease apart Kangaroo Island society into its constituent racial, gender and class elements. Furthermore I suggest that such attempts to breakdown the society into its preformation constituents of Aboriginal and European ignores the reality that within a very short time of arriving on the island this relatively new social entity would have undergone substantial change. Concurrent with this transition I suggest that the identities of the social agentswould have been likewise in flux. Unlike the dichotomous categories of resistance or accommodation repetitiously used in archaeology, the material culture (and indeed the people) of Kangaroo Island at this time and place resists the essentialising categories of race—Aboriginal or European and for that matter male and female. If we were to use the traditional paradigms for assessing the archaeology of Kangaroo Island we might be moved to suggest that the stone tools found around the sealers' camps were made by Aboriginal women resisting their servitude and maintaining their cultural traditions. This is the subtext of many of the archaeological interpretations. Indeed very little exploration is given to alternate views as most archaeologists have assumed (unproblematically) that the women were responsible for manufacture (and probable use) of the stone and glass scrapers which are found at these sites. In this paper I explore alternative explanatory models, which draw, in particular, on the theoretical work of Jacque Derrida and Michel de Certeau, and offer a new means for breaking free of the constraints of simplistic binarisms and a past that is described in terms of either/or.