Towards virtual typology
journal contributionposted on 14.05.2019, 10:08 by Oliver J. T. Harris
To use category names should be a commitment to tracing the assemblages in which these categories gain a momentary hold (Tsing 2015, p. 29) Anna Beck’s paper is a welcome addition to the growing literature on assemblage theory in archaeology. It represents a detailed attempt to think through the implications of this approach for one of the most important areas of archaeological thought: typology. Building on the work of Chris Fowler (2017) and Gavin Lucas (2012) in particular, archaeologists are beginning to show the potential for linking cutting-edge theory with this most intransigent of archaeological concepts. Beck correctly skewers the way in which standard typological thinking rests upon the notion of an ‘ideal type’, the perfect Trelleborg house in her case, and how this representational, Platonic, mode of thinking, traps archaeologists in a limited and closed interpretive loop. As she rightly argues, a move to assemblage theory can help us make room for more complex and powerful descriptions that celebrate the heterogeneity and vibrancy of the past. This can be a world of shifting and mobile becomings, not static, closed off, and essentialised being. Typologies, as both Beck and Fowler (2017, p. 96) argue, are assemblages too.