Are We There Yet? Archaeology and the Postmodern in the New Millennium


  • Fredrik Fahlander Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University



Neo-materialism, Relational ontologies, Post-structuralism, Grand narratives, Multivocality, Heterogeneity, Relativism


The present text discusses the significance of the post- modern condition in contemporary archaeology. Five themes associated with postmodernism are discussed

(a) the relativization of truth, knowledge, and mean- ing, (b) the fragmentation of the grand narrative, (c) the relation between agency and discourse, (d) plural- ism, multivocality, and heterogeneity, and (e) rhetoric and styles of writing. In contemporary debate it has been suggested that postmodernism is a past phase and that these contested issues have become less im- portant. It is, however, argued here that these are by no means resolved, but rather bypassed by shifting focus to archaeology as a contemporary practice or, in theoretical terms, towards particularistic neo-ma- terialist ontologies.


Download data is not yet available.


Alberti, B. & Bray, T. 2009. Introduction, Animating Archaeology: of subjects, objects and alternative ontologies. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19(3). Pp. 337–343.

Anderson, B. & Harrison, P. 2010. Taking Place. Non-Representational Theories and Geography. Ashgate: Farnham.

Anderson, P. 1998. The Origins of Postmodernity. London: Verso.

Barad, K. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum Physics and the Entangle- ment of Matter and Meaning. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Barthes, R. 1977. The Death of the Author. In: Image. Music. Text. Transl: Stephen Heath. Pp. 142–148. London: Fontana Press.

Berding, H. 2005. Leopold von Ranke. In: Koslowski, P. (Ed.). The Discovery of His- toricity in German Idealism and Historism. Pp. 41–58. Berlin: Springer.

Bhaskar, R. 1979. Philosophy and the Human. Vol. 1: The Possibility of Naturalism. Brighton: Harvester Press.

Bille, M. & Flor Sørensen, T. 2012. Materialitet. En indføring i kultur, identitet og teknologi. Fredriksberg: Samfundlitteratur.

Bintliff, J. & Pearce, M. (Eds). 2011. The Death of Archaeological Theory? Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Bintliff, J. 1991. Post-Modernism. Rhetoric and Scholasticism at TAG: The Current State of British Archaeological Theory. Antiquity 65. Pp. 274–278.

Breisach, E. 2009. On the Future of History. The Postmodernist Challenge and Its Af- termath. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Brown, C. 2005. Postmodernism for Historians. New York: Pearson Education/Longman.

Brown, R. H. 1994. Reconstructing Social Theory after the Postmodern Critique. In: Simons, H. W. & Billig, M. (Eds). After Postmodernism. Reconstructing Ideology Critique. Pp. 12–38. London: Sage.

Brück, Joanna. 2006. Fragmentation, Personhood and the Social Construction of Tech- nology in Middle and Late Bronze Age Britain. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 16:3. Pp. 297–315.

Burström, M. 1998. Mingling With Things. Fennoscandia Archaeologica XV. Pp. 31–33. Collingwood, R. G. 1946. The Idea of History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cutler, A. 2003. The Seashell on the Mountaintop. London: Penguin Books.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. 1988. A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophre- nia. London: Athlone.

Derrida, J. 1986. Glas. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Eagleton, T. 1996. The Illusions of Postmodernism. Oxford: Blackwell. Eagleton, T. 2003. After Theory. New York: Basic Books.

Eagleton, T. 2007. The Meaning of Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Edmonds, M. 1999. Ancestral Geographies of the Neolithic. London: Routledge.

Fahlander, F. 2003. The Materiality of Serial Practice. A Microarchaeology of Burial. Göteborg: Göteborg Universitet.

Fahlander, F. 2008. Differences that Matter. Materialities, Material Culture and So- cial Practice. In: Glørstad, H. & Hedeager, L. (Eds). Six Essays on the Materiality of Society and Culture. Pp. 127–154. Gothenburg: Bricoleur Press.

Fahlander, F. 2012a. Articulating Hybridity. Structurating Situations and Indexical Events in North-European Rock Art. In: Burström, N. M. & Fahlander, F. (Eds). Matters of scale. Processes and Courses of Events in Archaeology and Cultural History. Pp. 53–73. Stockholm: Stockholms Universitet.

Fahlander, F. 2012b. Articulating Stone. The Material Practice of Petroglyphing. In: Back Danielsson, I.-M., Fahlander, F. & Sjöstrand, Y. (Eds). Encountering Im- agery. Materialities, Perceptions, Relations. Pp. 97–116. Stockholm: Stockholms Universitet.

Flannery, K. V. 2006. On the Resilience of Anthropological Archaeology. Annual Re- view of Anthropology. No. 35. Pp. 1–13.

Fletcher, R. 2004. The Hammering of Society. Non-Correspondence and Modernity. In: Schofield, J., Johnson, G. W. & Beck, C. M. (Eds). Matériel Culture. The Archaeol- ogy of Twentieth-Century Conflict. Pp. 303–311. London: Routledge.

Foucault, M. 1980. Power. Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972– 1977. New York: Pantheon.

Gheorghiu, D. 2012. Metaphors and Allegories as Augmented Reality. The Use of Art to Evoke Material and Immaterial Subjects. In: Back Danielsson, I.-M., Fahlander, F. & Sjöstrand, Y. (Eds). Encountering Imagery. Materialities, Perceptions, Rela- tions. Pp. 177–185. Stockholm: Stockholms Universitet.

González-Ruibal, A. 2008. Time to Destroy. An Archaeology of Supermodernity. Cur- rent Anthropology 49(2). Pp. 247–279.

Gosden, C. & Kirsano, K. 2006. Timescales. In: Lock, G. & Leigh Molyneaux, B. (Eds). Confronting Scale in Archaeology. Issues of Theory and Practice. Pp. 27–38. New York: Springer.

Habu, J., Fawcett, C. P. & Matsunaga, J. M. (Eds). 2008. Evaluating Multiple Nar- ratives. Beyond Nationalist. Colonialist. Imperialist Archaeologies. New York: Springer.

Hamilakis, Y. 1999. La Trahison des Archéologues? Archaeological Practice as Intel- lectual Activity in Postmodernity. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 12(1). Pp. 60–79.

Hamilakis, Y. and Duke, P. (Eds). 2007. Archaeology and Capitalism. From Ethics to Politics. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Hamilakis, Y., Anagnostopoulos, A. & Ifantidis, F. 2009. Postcards from the Edge of Time. Archaeology, Photography, Archaeological Ethnography (A Photo-Essay). Public Archaeology. Archaeological Ethnographies 8(2–3). Pp. 283–309.

Harman, G. 2009. Prince of Networks. Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. Melbourne: P. N. Ashton and C. U. Rafferty.

Harman, G. 2011. The Quadruple Object. Winchester: Zero.

Harrison, R. & Schofield, J. 2010. After Modernity. Archaeological Approaches to the Contemporary Past. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harvey, D. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell.

Harvey, D. 2006. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hassan, I. H. 1995. Rumors of Change. Essays of Five Decades. London: Routledge. Hekman, S. J. 2010. The Material of Knowledge: Feminist Disclosures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Henare, A., Holbraad, M. & Wastell, S. 2007. Introduction. Thinking through Things. In: Henare, A., Holbraad, M. & Wastell, S. (Eds). Thinking through Things. Theo- rising Artefacts Ethnographically. Pp. 1–31. London: Routledge.

Hodder, I. 1987. Reading the Past. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hodder, I. 1990. Archaeology and the Post-Modern. Anthropology Today 6(5). Pp. 13–15.

Hodder, I. 1991. Postprocessual Archaeology and the Current Debate. In: Preucel, R. W. (Ed.). Processual and Postprocessual Archaeologies. Multiple Ways of Knowing the Past. Pp. 30–41. Carbondale: Center for Archaeological Investigations, South- ern Illinois Univ. at Carbondale.

Hodder, I. 1992. Theory and Practice in Archaeology. Routledge: New York. Hodder, I. 1997. Relativising Relativism, Archaeological Dialogues 4. Pp. 192–194. Hodder, I. 1999. The Archaeological Process. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hodder, I. 2003. Archaeology Beyond Dialogue. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Hodder, I. 2012a. Introduction. In: Hodder, I. (Ed.). Archaeological Theory Today (Rev. and updated ed.). Pp. 1–14. Cambridge: Polity.

Hodder, I. 2012b. Entangled. An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things. Malden. MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Holtorf, C. 2000–2008. Monumental Past. The Life-histories of Megalithic Monu- ments in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany). Electronic monograph. Univer- sity of Toronto: Centre for Instructional Technology Development. [Available at] <>.

Holtorf, C. 2005. Beyond Crusades: How (not) to Engage With Alternative Archaeolo- gies. World Archaeology 37:4. Pp. 544–551.

Huyssen, A. 1987. After the Great Divide. Modernism. Mass Culture. Postmodern- ism. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press

Ingold, T. 2003. From the Perception of Archaeology to the Anthropology of Percep- tion. An Interview With Tim Ingold (By Andrew Jones). Journal of Social Archae- ology 3. Pp. 5–22.

Ingold, T. 2007. Lines. A Brief History, London: Routledge.

Ingold, T. 2012: Toward an Ecology of Materials. Annual Review of Anthropology 41. Pp. 427–442.

Jameson, F. 1984. Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. New Left Review 146. Pp. 59–92.

Jameson, F. 2005. Archaeologies of the Future. London: Verso.

Johnson, M. 2006a. On the Nature of Theoretical Archaeology and Archaeological Theory. Archaeological Dialogues 13 (2). Pp. 117–132.

Johnson, M. 2006b. Reply (to Leo Klejn’s review: Neither Archaeology nor Theory: A Critique of Johnson). Antiquity 80. Pp. 442–443.

Jones, A. 2004. Archaeometry and Materiality. Materials-based Analysis in Theory and Practice. Archaeometry 46. Pp. 327–338.

Jones, A. 2005. Lives in Fragments? Personhood and the European Neolithic. Journal of Social Archaeology 5. Pp. 193–224.

Jones, A. 2006. Animated Images. Images, Agency and Landscape in Kilmartin, Ar- gyll. Journal of Material Culture 11 (1/2). Pp. 211–226.

Karlsson, H. 2008. Ekornavallen. Mellan mångtydighet. demokrati och etnografi. Lindome: Bricoleur Press.

Knapp, A. B. 1996. Archaeology without Gravity? Postmodernism and the Past. Jour- nal of Archaeological Method and Theory 3. Pp. 127–158.

Knapp, B. & van Dommelen, P. 2008. Past Practices. Rethinking Individuals and Agents in Archaeology. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 18(1). Pp. 15–34.

Lampeter Archaeology Workshop. 1997. Relativism, Objectivity and the Politics of the Past. Archaeological Dialogues 4. Pp. 164–184.

Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: University Press.

Lévi-Strauss, C. 1966. The Savage Mind. London: University of Chicago Press. Lyotard, J.-F. 1984. The Post-Modern Condition. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Lyotard, J.-F. 1991. The Inhuman. Reflection on Time. Cambridge: Polity Press. Magnússon, S. G. 2003. The Singularization of History. Social History and Microhistory Within the Postmodern State of Knowledge. Journal of Social History 36(3). Pp. 701–735.

Maurstad, A. 2012. Cod, Curtains, Planes and Experts. Relational Materialities in the Museum. Journal of Material Culture 17(2). Pp. 173–189.

Mercier, P. 1966. Histoire de l’anthropologie. Paris: Presses universitaries de France. Mol, A. 2002. The Body Multiple. Ontology in Medical Practice. Durham: Duke University Press.

Mouzelis, N. P. 2008. Modern and Postmodern Social Theorizing. Bridging the Di- vide, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nicholson, L. & Seidman, S. 1996. Introduction. In: Nicholson, L. & Seidman, S. (Eds). Social Postmodernism. Beyond Identity Politics. Pp. 1–35. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Normark, J. 2010. Involutions of Materiality. Operationalizing a Neo-materialist Perpective through the Causeways of Ichmul and Yo’okop, Mexico. Journal of Ar- chaeological Method and Theory 17(2). Pp. 132–173.

Olsen, B. 2006. Scenes from a Troubled Engagement. Post-structuralism and Material Culture Studies. In: Tilley, C., Keane, W., Kuechler, S., Rowlands, M. & Spyer, P. (Eds). Handbook of Material Culture. Pp. 85–103. London:

Olsen, B. 2010. In Defense of Things. Archaeology and the Ontology of Objects. Lan- ham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

Pollard, J. 2005. The Art of Decay and the Transformation of Substance. In: Renfrew, C., Gosden, C. & DeMarrais, E. (Eds). Substance, Memory and Display. Archae- ology and Art. Pp. 47–62. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs.

Schwandt, T. A. 1994. Constructivist. Interpretivist Approaches to Human Inquiry. In: Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds). Handbook of Qualitative Research. Pp. 118–137. London: Sage.

Shanks, M. & Tilley, C. 1987. Social Theory and Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shanks, M. & Tilley, C. 1992. Re-Constructing Archaeology. Theory and Practice (second edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shanks, M. & Webmoor, T. 2010. A Political Economy of Visual Media in Archaeology. In: Bonde, S. & Houston, S. (Eds). Re-presenting the Past. Archaeology through Image and Text. Pp. 87–110. Providence, RI: Brown University Press.

Shanks, M. 1992. Experiencing the Past. On the Character of Archaeology. London: Routledge.

Shanks, M. 1998. The Life of an Artifact in an Interpretive Archaeology. Fennoscan- dia Archaeologica XV. Pp. 15–30.

Sherratt, A. 1995. Reviving the Grand Narrative. Archaeology and Long-Term Change. Journal of European Archaeology 3(1). Pp. 1–32.

Sjöstrand, Y. 2008. Efter postmodernismen. Dagens Nyheter. [Published 22 July 2008]. Sokal, A. D. 1998. What the Social Text Affair Does and Does Not Prove. In: Koertge, N. (Ed.). House Built on Sand. Exposing Postmodernist Myths About Science. Pp. 9–21. New York: Oxford University Press.

Solli, B. 2011. Some Reflections on Heritage and Archaeology in the Anthropocene. Norwegian Archaeological Review 44(1). Pp. 40–88.

Spivak, G. C. 1988. Can the Subaltern Speak? In: Nelson, C. & Grossberg, L. (Eds). Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Pp. 271–313. Houndmills: Macmil- lan Education.

Thomas, J. 1995. Where Are We Now? Archaeological Theory in the 1990s. In: Ucko, P. J. (Ed.). Theory in Archaeology. A World Perspective. Pp. 343–362. London: Routledge.

Thomas, J. 2001. The Polarities of Post-Processual Archaeology. In: Thomas, J. (Ed.). Interpretive Archaeology. A Reader. Pp. 1–18. London & New York: Leicester University Press.

Thomas, J. 2004. Archaeology and Modernity. London: Routledge.

Tilley, C. 1990. On Modernity and Archaeological Discourse. In: Bapty, I. & Yates, T. (Eds). Archaeology after Structuralism. Pp. 128–152. London: Routledge.

Toth, J. 2010. The Passing of Postmodernism. A Spectroanalysis of the Contemporary. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Trigger, B. G. 1989a. A History of Archaeological Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Trigger, B. G. 1989b. Hyperrelativism, Responsibility, and the Social Sciences. Cana- dian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 26. Pp. 776–797.

Urban, P. A. & Schortman, E. 2012. Archaeological Theory in Practice. Walnut Creek. Calif.: Left Coast Press.

Viveiros de Castro, E. 2004. Exchanging Perspectives: The Transformation of Objects into Subjects in Amerindian Ontologies. Common Knowledge 10(3). Pp. 463–484.

Wallace, S. 2011. Contradictions of Archaeological Theory. Engaging Critical Real- ism and Archaeological Theory. Abingdon: Routledge.

Webmoor, T. & Witmore, C. L. 2008. Things Are Us! A Commentary on Human-Things Relations under the Banner of a ‘Social’ Archaeology. Norwegian Archaeological Review 41(1). Pp. 53–70.

Webmoor, T. 2007. What About ‘One More Turn After the Social’ in Archaeological Reasoning? Taking Things Seriously. World Archaeology 39:4. Pp. 546–562.

Wylie, A. 2007. Gender Politics and Science in Archaeology. In: Insoll, T. (Ed.). The Archaeology of Identities. Pp. 97–118. London: Routledge.

Yoffee, N. & Sherratt, A. 1993. Introduction. The Sources of Archaeological Theory. In: Yoffee, N. & Sherratt, A. (Eds). Archaeological Theory. Who Sets the Agenda? Pp. 1–9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Young, I. M. 1994. Gender as Seriality. Thinking about Women as a Social Collective. Signs. Journal of Women in Culture and Society 19(3). Pp. 713–738.

Žižek, S. 1989. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso.




How to Cite

Fahlander, F. (2012) “Are We There Yet? Archaeology and the Postmodern in the New Millennium”, Current Swedish Archaeology, 20(1), pp. 109–129. doi: 10.37718/CSA.2012.11.



Research Articles