Assemblages and scale in archaeology
journal contributionposted on 02.12.2016, 10:42 by Oliver J. T. Harris
The growing interest in assemblages has already opened up a number of important lines of enquiry in archaeology from the morphogenetic capacities of matter through to a rethinking of the concept of community. In this paper I want to explore how assemblages allow us to reconceptualise the critical issue of scale. Archaeologists have vacillated between expending energy on the ‘great processes’ of change like the evolution of humanity, the colonisation of the globe or the origins of agriculture, and focussing on the momentary, fleeting nature of a small-scale ethnographic present. Where archaeologists have attempted to integrate different scales the result has usually been to turn to Annales influenced or time perspectivism-driven approaches and their fixed, linear, and ontologically incompatible layers of history. In contrast, I will use assemblages to examine how we can rethink both the emergence of multiple scales, and their role in history, without reducing the differences of the small-scale to an epiphenomenal outcome of larger events, or treating large-scale historical processes as mere reifications of the ‘real’ on-the-ground stuff of daily life. As we will see, this approach also has consequences for the particular kind of reality we accord to large-scale archaeological categories.