7.3 Archaeology, archaeological specialties and fractal divisions

It has been presumed so far that archaeology is a single discipline of academic practice that can be examined as a whole. Most definitions of archaeology follow this same presumption when they describe it as a discipline with the study of humans and human societies in the past through the recovery and analysis of their material remains as its central research problem. This single discipline archaeology might then be subdivided into subfields based on factors such as the age or the type of remains examined, or the presence or absence of written sources. Archaeological subfields have, therefore, included prehistoric archaeology, historical archaeology, classical archaeology, underwater/maritime archaeology, industrial archaeology, and virtual archaeology. The maps presented here provide another way of identifying possible divisions or subfields of archaeology from the 'bottom-up' by revealing who communicates with whom and looking for breaks in networks of communication.

The first thing to notice is that there are no clear breaks in the network of authors. In this sense, despite the enormous range of materials and periods that might be the subject of archaeological research, the resulting outputs produced by individuals remain identifiable as archaeological within the discipline, and there are no clear grounds on which to suggest that these different subdisciplinary networks in archaeology might fragment more permanently, as was predicted for anthropology (Choi 1988a). While there are no breaks, however, there are small groups of authors (not whole clusters) who are distinct. This includes a number of authors producing outputs related to the study of archaeological materials (Edwards, Freestone, Tite) or to the archaeology of the bible (Finkelstein) or to the early hominins (Bunn, Capaldo, Dominguez-Rodrigo). Finally, there exist small clusters of authors (Cluster 19 – Archaeology of Neolithic and Bronze Age societies in the Near East – Goring-Morris, Kuijt) who communicate more frequently among themselves than with others, yet are placed centrally in the map of authors. It would be useful to explore these divergent groups through time to see whether this represents the beginning of a split into distinct and separate disciplinary specialties in archaeology.

In the network map of authors presented in Figure 4, VOSviewer has differentiated distinct clusters of authors who have been cited together in research documents. If we put these clusters to one side for the moment and take an overview of the network map of authors, the pattern of placing of author names appears to identify broader axes of difference than has been identified in the clustering process. In contrast to a simple distinction that is sometimes drawn between archaeological writing that is either practical, or theoretical or scientific in focus, the network map of authors reveals the existence of a set of principles of fission that exist within any group of archaeologists no matter how they are clustered. Looking at the network map as a whole, the most obvious axis, running roughly approximately left to right, separates those authors writing about long-term, species-wide (evolutionary) change at one end from those writing about short-term, individual or social changes at the other end. So cluster 1 (the cluster of Palaeoanthropologists) is mapped at the opposite end of this axis to those writing from the perspective of Marxist-inspired ideas of power and domination. Interestingly, within the separate clusters this same axis of difference seems to be visible, so among the cluster of palaeoanthropological authors, Gamble, Clottes, Leroi-Gourhan, Schlanger and Roux are placed markedly to the right of their identified cluster, reflecting their position as bridging nodes evident in their citation in documents related to individual agency and material culture (Sinclair, in prep. d). The same distinction in time and social scale can also be seen within the arrangement of authors in clusters 3, 8 and 9 where authors whose writing emphasises interpretation at the individual scale are mapped as bridging nodes to the right of those whose writings emphasise broader social change/social processes (compare Renfrew and Leone for example). At approximately right-angles to this axis, there would appear to be another axis that separates archaeological authors writing about archaeology at a 'molecular', microscopic or artefact level on the upper-right side (Freestone, Henderson, Evershed) compared to those with an interest in the system - ecological and/or social - in the lower left side of the map.

These broad axes of differentiation in the network map of authors suggest that in archaeology there might be something similar to the process of fractal divisions identified by Andrew Abbott for the discipline of sociology. In his discussion of the intellectual developments in sociology through time, Abbott (2001, 5-33) identifies a constant recursive division of the discipline into subfields of sociology on the basis of a distinction between, for example, qualitative or quantitative approaches in methodology, or between a focus on culture or social structural forms of analysis, or between synchronic or historical forms of explanation. At each level of analysis, Abbott argues that it is possible to subdivide sociological writings according to whether they emphasise a quantitative or qualitative approach, or cultural or social structural factors, and so forth. These constant distinctions lead Abbott to conclude that sociology as a discipline, irrespective of the writings of its individual members, follows a process of fractal division: at each level or subsequent time horizon, every group of sociologists can be subdivided according to a set of common and constant distinctions like those described above. The network map of authors in archaeology suggests that a similar process of fractal division might exist in this discipline. In archaeology, fractal differences can exist because researchers can approach the interpretation of the archaeological record of any period, area or material from the perspective of a focus on general processes on the one hand through to a focus on an instance, or event perhaps, to be intensely described and interpreted; in another case an archaeological researcher might concentrate on the whole person or organism or system in contrast to a part or sample thereof; and in another case between interpretations that emphasise regular processes to those that emphasise individual actions, and so forth. As archaeological specialists, it is this potential for fractal distinction that separates and unites us as authors within our single discipline and its subfields as much as any distinct set of remains or periods to be explored. Future work will explore how these fractal divisions work through time in the development of thematic clusters and the placing of authors.


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