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The Location of Theory

Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) 2010

Friday, April 30th to Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
Brown University, Providence, RI

Plenary Session: The Location of Theory: A Discussion with Homi Bhabha

with Alejandro F. Haber, Yannis Hamilakis, and Uzma Z. Rizvi. Moderated by Nick Shepherd

Friday, April 30th
6:00 pm
MacMillan Hall, Room 117
(167 Thayer Street) (See map on Visiting Brown page)

Moderator and Chair of the Panel:

  • Nick Shepherd, Associate Professor in the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.


(To read each discussant's statement prior to the conference, click on their name.)

  • Alejandro F. Haber, Titular Professor at the School of Archaeology, National University at Catamarca, and Independent Researcher of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research, San Fernando del Valle, Catamarca, Argentina.
  • Yannis Hamilakis, Reader in Archaeology at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.
  • Uzma Z. Rizvi, Assistant Professor in Anthropology & Urban Studies at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, United States.


  • Homi K. Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities and Director of the Humanities Center at Harvard University, Cambridge MA, United States.


Our discussants have been asked to produce a 1000-2000 word statement in response to the theme of the "Location of Theory". These statements will be posted on this wiki page about a month prior to the TAG Meetings, and will be presented briefly by each discussant during the plenary session. Professor Homi Bhabha will present a response to the three statements, followed by a panel discussion among all speakers of the plenary, to be moderated by Professor Nick Shepherd.

Theme for the Plenary Session: Location of Theory

The TAG 2010 meeting at Brown University will open to debate the supposed universal applicability of Archaeological Theory (in the singular), given the emergent reaction and critique from scholars from various localities in the world which have long been generating diverse archaeological practices and theories (in the plural).

Given archaeology's long history and intimate entanglements with imperialist, colonialist and even racist discourses, archaeological practice and theory have always been deeply political as an agent of change in the global scale and within histories of places. In the last few decades, archaeologists and archaeological theorists have been increasingly engaged with tracing the genealogies of the discipline in colonial modernity and reflecting on its powerfully political status in the postcolonial world (e.g. Hamilakis and Duke 2007; Liebmann and Rizvi 2008).

Archaeological theory itself, with its theories of the center (such as processualism and postprocessualism) arguably has a globalizing tendency to control the political economy of knowledge production. The theoretical paradigms of the disciplinary metropoles have "landed", been reinterpreted and hybridized in various regions of the world. They are integrated into locally-situated debates and regionally specific contexts of archaeological practice and theory-making. But then gradually emerging are questions such as, what kinds of debates and theory-making have taken place in response to local priorities, interests, pressures? How do these situate themselves in relation to metropolitan theory: as resistant forms (forms of counter-theory), or as conversations with it?

Archaeological Theory of the center has tended to think of itself as timeless and placeless, a kind of meta-level activity: it posits a homogenization of archaeology, a kind of world archaeology while perhaps implicitly or subtly annihilating territories of difference, silencing place-based expressions. This is itself a characteristic of colonial modernity, as it has long been recognized. Therefore archaeological theory in a way acts like modernity itself in its project of "eating up" locally situated forms of the discipline, subjecting them to a single rationality. Do we think of this as part of a necessary “disciplining” of archaeology, bringing locally-situated forms of archaeology under the sign of a single, dominant genealogy? Or do we think of this differently, as part of a political economy of knowledge production, and a struggle around knowledge and representation? How do we begin to think of theory itself as being located in particular contexts and histories of practice? Is it possible to think of a "vernacular cosmopolitanism" in archaeological practice? (Bhabha 2004)

It is hoped that this debate at TAG 2010's Plenary and Sub-plenary sessions will provoke new reflections on the political economy of knowledge production in archaeology in the context of rethinking coloniality and modernity. While exposing globalizing theories of the center and its macro-political regimes, the meeting will serve as a platform to reflect upon "hybrid modernities" and place-specific archaeologies as constructive avenues for the future of the discipline. If disciplinary models of center and periphery tend to replicate colonial geographies and power geometries: how do we begin to theorise our diversity of experience as archaeologists without resorting either to notions of colonial difference or nativist essentialism? The involvement of archaeologists in the micro-politics of various localities they work in can offer valuable insights into situated fieldwork practices, while attempts to see the emergent impact of located archaeologies on central disciplinary discourses are encouraged. As Escobar recently put it: "this implies setting place-based and regional processes into conversation with the ever-changing dynamics of capital and culture at many levels... a complex, historically and spatially grounded experience that is negotiated and enacted at every site and region of the world" (Escobar 2008: 1).


Banerjee-Dube, Ishita (ed.); 2006. Unbecoming modern: colonialism, modernity, colonial modernities. Berghahn Books.

Bhabha, Homi K., 2004. The location of culture. London; New York: Routledge.

Escobar, Arturo; 2008. Territories of difference: place, movements, life, redes. Durham: Duke University Press.

Hamilakis, Yannis and Philip Duke (eds.); 2007. Archaeology and capitalism: from ethics to politics. Left Coast Press: Walnut Creek, CA.

Liebmann, Matthew and Uzma Z. Rizvi (eds.); 2008. Archaeology and the postcolonial critique. Lanham: Altamira Press.

Meskell, Lynn (ed.); 2009. Cosmopolitan archaeologies. Duke University Press.