The Politics of Experience: Embodiment and Difference in Our Pasts and Present

Session Organiser: Maggie Ronayne & Chris Fowler
(Southampton University)

In archaeological theory, phenomenology has recently enjoyed currency as a way in which we can think about the different relationships between persons and the material world. It has been applied, in particular, to evidence from the Neolithic and Bronze ages where the categories 'experience' and 'performance' have served to focus research on the effects of landscape and architectures on the movements of the 'human' body and the sensory perceptions of persons. Despite the good intentions of much of this work in emphasising different kinds of social relations and social organisation, this application seems to give rise to the production of depoliticised, neutral narratives. That this is the case is the result of an apparent loss of a sense of the historicity/politics of the discourses which inform the discipline of archaeology. It appears to be part of a continuing refusal to recognise our broader situatedness within a series of political and ethical conditions which are questioning what it is to be 'human', what it is to have a particular kind of body and what this might mean for the multiplicity of differences possible in personhood.

This session examines the possibilities of phenomenology in relation to its limits. One of the ways in which these limits are reached lies in the current theorisation of the bodies of gendered and ethnically engendered difference. This appears to be unable to proceed without reference to a universal category of perception in which we all begin by experiencing the same thing because we all have the same biological foundations. Difference is then said to lie in the cultural interpretations of natural facts. It would seem that there remains a need to work through relations of materiality beyond these binaries.

A less obvious but nonetheless vital limit is found in our reference to this same universal in the theorisation of 'experience' and 'performance' in the past. This common body is a category based upon the perceptions assigned to the disembodied rational subject, whose body is 'mere matter' to its interior consciousness. Its exclusions have been well documented by feminists, post-colonial theorists and theorists of cultural difference.

The papers offered are an attempt to bring together various strands of work in the general areas of embodied knowledges and phenomenology, which do not often occur in the same session, in order to make explicit the connections between our interpretations of the past and our present politics. The topics suggested include: embodying the feminine and the post-colonial in archaeological narratives; technoscience and experience in archaeology; writing multiplicity by imagining embodiment through material evidence for the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages; re-imagining the masculist tendency to (a)void the physicality of bodies by theorising different masculine bodies in the past and the present; acknowledging the differing bodily experiences of nationality as a part of disciplinary identity; the different experiences of embodiment in altered states of consciousness in the past and present; the materiality of excavation and its implications for post-processual theorising.


Jayne Gidlow
(University of Southampton)

Prosthetic knowledges: witnessing an archaeological technoscience

Willy Kitchen
(University of Sheffield)

Filling in the spaces when there's no-body at home

Mary Baker
(University of Southampton)

Experience as Inbetweeness

Melanie Giles
(University of Sheffield)

Bodies of the Living, Bodies of the Dead: Towards an archaeology of inhabitation

Chris Fowler
(University of Southampton)

Imagining Different Experiences: Questioning the Solidity of Materiality

Hakan Karlsson
(University of Gothenburg)

Back to the Phenomenon of Phenomenology

Kate Giles
(University of York)

The medieval guildhall and embodiment: social and political identities in late medieval York

Kenneth Brophy
(University of Glasgow)

The Doors of Perception - Phenomenological Approaches to Cursus Monuments

Julian Thomas
(University of Southampton)

Forgetting the Subject

Maggie Ronayne
(University of Southampton)

Relocating Ourselves: Political Archaeologies and Phenomenology

Lesley K McFadyen
(University of Southampton)

Gossiping on people's bodies