For my primary source blog post I will examine the concept of phenomenology, with a mention of the applications of GIS and phenomenology. We got a brief introduction in week 7 to phenomenology from the articles by Tuan, Basso, and Robin, but I will not be focusing on these publications. Rather I will dive into a discussion on how archeologists are using GIS and phenomenology in conjunction.
Definition and History of Phenomenology
Before discussing the GIS applications, it is important to define what phenomenology is. Phenomenology is the understanding and descriptions of things as they are experienced by a subject (Barrett & Ko 2009: 276). When observing landscapes one must be consciously aware of what is surrounding the landscape and consolidate this into possible meanings of the past (Barrett & Ko 2009: 276). Phenomenology has its roots in philosophy, specifically from the works of German philosophers of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merlau-Ponty during the early-mid 20th century (Smith 2003). Phenomenology relates back to the idea of phenomenon, as how things appear and how we sense/experience them (Smith 2003). Husserl sets out two notions in regards to phenomenology, the first being the notion of being in the world, and the second is the perception of the body (Smith 2003).
Phenomenology meets the world of archeology with Christopher Tilley’s 1994 publication Phenomenology of Landscape Paths, Places and Monuments. Archeologists had a growing interest in looking at issues such as symbolism, meaning, and human subjectivity (Johnson 2012: 270). It was known that humans, material culture, and landscape were all constituted, and looking at how archeologists could engage with the meanings was of interest (Johnson 2012: 270). Tilley explains that in order to understand the archeological record it is vital to have an understanding of human contact with both material culture and the landscape they inhabit (Tilley 1994: 11). He also discusses the idea of “Being-in-the-world”, which stems from the ideas proposed by Husserl (Tilley 1994: 12). The concept of phenomenology requires the archeologist to use themselves as the “medium of engagement” with the world through what Tilley discussed as of “Being-in-the-world” (Tilley 1994: 12). It is through this experience that a greater understanding of the archaeological record can be obtained
Phenomenology and GIS – Connections to Class
GIS (Geographical Information Systems) is a mapping tool that allows for the visualization of landscape features such as changing elevations, geometric properties of the land, and several other morphological features (Pellitero 2011: 57). These features are easily generated via a computer program as they are all quantitative, the issue lies within documenting qualitative aspects of a landscape (Pellitero 2011: 57). Although controversial and somewhat problematic, GIS is being incorporated into developing a phemenological experience of landscapes (Pellitero 2011: 66). Pellitero explains how the use of GIS allows the archeologists to map complex landscapes and interpret the visual experience (Pellitero 2011: 66).
Gillings writes extensively on applications of GIS and phenomenology. Phemenological thought can be used in anthropology and archeology to bridge the gap between other disciplines. However, issues have arisen between those with that utilize spatial technologies, such as GIS, and those who focus on more theoretical practice, such as landscape phenomenologists (Gillings 2012: 603). Gillings mentions the use of affordance, which he describes as being a useful framework for looking into the past (Gillings 2012: 604). In the context of Gillings work, affordance it the relationship between an environment and an animal (including humans), and how the environment enables actions for the animal (Gillings 2012: 603). Gillings uses the concepts of affordance to further strengthen the use of phenomenology and GIS in the archeological setting (Gillings 2012: 604).
The idea of phenomenology and GIS can be linked to ideas of historical ecology discussed in class. As seen, Gilling’s mention of the concept of affordance and its relations with the environment and humans. Historical ecology notes the significance of humans and the environment being inherently connected. Graves McEwan and Millican makes several points with her discussion of “middle ground” (Graves McEwan & Millican 2012: 491). The middle ground is an approach that considers both the qualitative (phenomenology) and quantitative (GIS) in landscape archeology (Graves McEwan & Millican 2012: 492). By taking this approach, it can lead to insightful and holistic discussion about the landscape (Graves McEwan & Millican 2012: 492). Understanding that humans (and animals) are mutually constituted with the environment, allows for GIS and phenomenology to be applied.
Gillings references the work of Llobera, who used integrated affordance into the discussion of landscapes to interpret prehistoric ditches (Gillings 2012: 604). The project utilized GIS to further develop an explain hypotheses. As an example of why GIS is useful when studying the phenomenology of landscapes, is the development of gradient viewsheds (a viewshed being a geographic area such as a lake that is visible) (Gillings 2012: 604). By generating this information, it allows for a greater depth of understanding of the landscape being studied, thus adding to the core phenomenological thought of interpreting the physical space (Gillings 2012: 604).
Phenomenology in an archeological setting has been criticized for avoiding some of the core concepts and technicalities of the philosophy, and simply is used to label an approach to looking at landscapes (Barrett & Ko 2009: 276). Specifically, Barrett mentions how phenomenology uses historical generalizations to make assumptions and conclusions of a particular landscape. Essentially, ignoring the foundation of processual archeology (Barrett & Ko 2009: 276)
One of the major critiques of using GIS in a phenomenological setting is that it can be used to replace the human perception and experience which is vital to phenomenology. As Heidegger stresses the core of phenomenology is at an understanding of what it means to be in the world. The concept of “being in the world” was discussed in length in lecture, and how human experience is mediated through the body not through language or collected data. Therefore, it is clear the hesitations some scholars may have towards incorporation of GIS. Gillings combats these criticisms by using GIS to explore the affordances of landscapes and to still go out an experience the landscapes (Gillings 2012: 605). GIS cannot be used independent of actually experiencing the landscape (Gillings 2012: 605).
Stewart Eve raises questions to the legitimacy of phemenological approaches in archeology both with and without the use of GIS. He labels phenomenology as a “loaded term”, as he describes it as being too general and subjective (Eve 2012: 584). In regards to its ties to GIS, the issue remains that true phemenological practice cannot be undertaken. GIS is completed within a computer lab, not on the landscape, thus altering the perceptions and interpretations the archeologist will make (Eve 2012: 586). This was an issue teased out in class in regards to the body and the experience.
Since the initial interest in phenomenology in archaeology with Tilley’s work in the 1990s, it has developed and evolved over time, one of these developments is the use of GIS. Although highly contested, the incorporation of archeological GIS practices has been proven useful. Its use is seen in what Gidden’s explains in regards to affordance, to the visual interpretation Pellierto discusses. It is important to stress that these computer systems cannot be used to replace human landscape interaction, rather it adds to the experience.
Barrett, J. C., & Ko, I. (2009). A phenomenology of landscape A crisis in British landscape archaeology?. Journal of social archaeology, 9(3), 275-294.
Eve, S. (2012). Augmenting phenomenology: using augmented reality to aid archaeological phenomenology in the landscape. Journal of archaeological method and theory, 19(4), 582-600.
Gillings, M. (2012). Landscape phenomenology, GIS and the role of affordance. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 19(4), 601-611.
Johnson, M. H. (2012). Phenomenological Approaches in Landscape Archaeology*. Annual review of anthropology, 41, 269-284.
McEwan, D. G., & Millican, K. (2012). In search of the middle ground: quantitative spatial techniques and experiential theory in archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 19(4), 491-494.
Pellitero, A. M. (2011). The phenomenological experience of the visual landscape. Research in Urbanism Series, 2(1), 57-71.
Tilley, C. (1994). A phenomenology of landscape: places, paths, and monuments (p. 10). Oxford: Berg.
Smith, D. W. (2003). Phenomenology. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/phenomenology/