“But are they non-places or are they just particular sorts of places?” – Barbra Bender, 2001
For my primary source blog, I decided to look at the archaeology of pathways. I believe pathways play an important role in the dispersion of people and bridges culture and fits into a larger understanding of people and space and place. I would like to focus on the specific social theory of phenomenology and its role in understanding the archaeology of landscape. I believe the application of phenomenology allows for a deeper understanding of the human condition and perspective that goes beyond an economic, political and ritualistic interpretation of the past.
Definition and History
Phenomenology can be defined as the study of the structure of human experience and consciousness (Johnson 2012). I would like to start this section with a quote by J. Andrew Darling, “they [pathways] are different, because unlike buildings which act as containers, trail systems define social space that is external to them”. (Darling 2009, 64). This is the fascinating and unique aspect of studying paths, which connect various separate points on a landscape. Evidently, this creates literal avenues for identity, economic, social, and political understanding in archaeology. Phenomenology is a philosophical approach meant to consider the human experience, it is the relationship between being and being-in-the-world (Tilley 1994). It is Merleau-Ponty who states that the human body provides a fundamental medium between thought and the space it occupies (Tilley, 1994). This medium can experience space in a variety of ways, Tilley (1994) outlines five different types of space. First, there is somatic space, which involves the human body and its kinetic relation to space, such as walking. The second type of space is perceptual space, which is the relative egocentric experience of space, often involving emotional attachments. The third category is existential space, which is experienced through process in a space. Examples of such process are shared social memories of occurrences such as mythic or ritualistic characteristics of a space. The fourth is architecture space which is a tangible and deliberate production of space. Finally, cognitive space is essentially the reflection of the experience of a being in their space. Through the amalgamation of these categories, a full experience of space and a range of interpretations can begin to form.
I believe that phenomenology alone cannot fully describe the experience of space, and while an important component of research, benefits from the accompaniment of structuration theory. The addition of structuration allows for a deeper understanding of the processes behind the perception and experience of space, such as how they are formed and maintained. This is essential for a holistic and structured (pun intended) understanding of the use and purpose of space and place.
How Phenomenology and Pathways Add to the Larger Discussion of Space and Place
To start, I offer this quote by Christopher Tilley as a stepping stone into the discussion of pathways and phenomenology; “a strong text is one that is kept open, and read many times” (Tilley 1994, 30). Here, Tilley compares a pathway to a piece of writing, suggesting that a well used path emerges from a shared network of movement among bodies. By following paths, a shard (social) memory is created. Paths are essential mediums for routing and maintain social relations (Tilley 1994). Tilley elaborates on the greater functions of paths in the archaeology of space and place with three points. First, paths create a structured homology between/among the points. It is a visible connection which illuminates links between features of the landscape. Second, following paths allows archaeologists to understand the points along the path in sequential order. Which brings me to the third point which is that paths structure experience of the point they link and provide a sense of linearity between them. By walking a path one can gain insight to those who created the path. Of course there are many features within the land that have changed since then, yet it is still modes for understanding of a larger site context within the landscape.
There is debate as to whether trails are considered places (refer to the quote by Bender) but as Snead (2010) states, trails and pathways are active engagements of the land, that are returned too time and time again. He explains this further with his research on the Parajito, where tail networks link communities. Trail networks are so heavily relied on they are in fact given names, he specifically mentions the Sandia Mesa Trail network, which have been used over generations. This palimpsest quality is demonstrated by its deep cut into the land. The reoccurring use shaped the experiences of the individuals who walked them, which allowed for shared social memory, as well as maintained relations between communities over long periods of time. Here is where I believe structuration theory can provide further details on the somatic occupation of space.
The cognitive perception of phenomenology can be better explained in an example from Barbra Bender (2001), who shares a story of a young black boy passing between segregated neighbourhoods. During his journey he feels scared because of the disapproving stares he gets from the white neighbours. It only when he sees his father, and smalls his cigar and finally rests upon his lap that the boy is at ease. This story highlights that through his passage between the neighbourhood, his experience is defined by the existential world, which is brief and impermanent. There is no material item which could convey this carnal sense based passing of the body to archaeologists. The point here is that the experience of this passage would be unknown without a phenomenological consideration.
An interesting example of enthogeography comes from Darling (2009) and his research on the recitation of the Oriole Song which is the singing of certain songs along certain points of the landscape. This exemplifies a point Darling made where he stated that travel is a geographical and social phenomenon which is tied to shared cognitive perceptions. As Tilley (2010) states, paths are experience from a point of view. In this case, it is the being of the body in a social space which allowed for the recitation of song along the path of travel. It is through these songs that spiritual journeys are enacted, which I believe is an example of Erickson (2009) final point on pathways and their symbolic meaning to a culture. Which is fitting as Darling makes the point of how shared cognitive mapping is a medium for a shared experience and its maintenance, which enters the realm of structuration.
To further demonstrate the fundamental importance of the relationship between pathways and a broader archaeological context I would like to comment on this quote by Tim Ingold; “the human experience unfolds not in places, but along paths” (Ingold 2001, 148). In regards to nomadic people, Ingold refers to them as “inhabitants” rather than “locals”. For these populations, pathways are their primary experience of life is not restricted by a single place, rather defined the constant movement between them. I found this to be such an interesting concept, as throughout the semester we have spoken about the importance of space and place and the impact the landscape has when it exerts its agency upon its inhabitants. For nomads, it is all the paths they have taken, and all the paths they will continue to take, which creates their sense of place. Maybe it is just my western-centric cartographic understanding of place, but I am truly fascinated by the notion of movement through the landscape, as a primary source of place for people.
A phenomenological approach is high debatable. In fact, my first encounter with the theory was on a dig where a supervising archaeologist absolutely tore into the idea. It has left a bad taste in my mouth ever since. However, seeing how it can be used adjacent with other theoretical approaches, I understand it’s value, while heeding its limitations. The most well known contest for phenomenology is Andrew Fleming’s work on Megaliths. Johnson (2012) nicely summarizes his main critiques whilst contributing a number of his own. From my understanding the lack of evidential rigor is Fleming’s primary concern. In regards to pathways, this can be applied to the obvious fact that what is there now was once not, and what was once there, is now not. By this I mean there were clearly features of the land that may have influenced the decision of a path to be made that left no remnants for archaeologists to find. In addition, previous pathways could have been incredibly useful for a population, but were built over to the point where archaeologists could no longer theorize their use. One of Johnson’s critique of phenomenology is that these experienced are only representative of a single demography: able-bodied males, most likely adults. This is obviously a bias, as the landscape was clearly not solely experienced by this population. As mentioned with the Bender (2001) article, the experience is specific to ethnicity. This relates to Johnson’s second point; the incomplete nature of this theory. It is here where I have to disagree with Johnson, who criticizes interdependent models because they have been “highly rejected in the past” (Johnson 2012, 179). I believe this adds to the holistic quality of the work, supplementing areas where theoretical frameworks such as structuration cannot accurately interpret alone.
In this post I have demonstrated how one category of landscape can be placed within a larger site context with the aid of theory. I explore the role of phenomenology which I believe can be linked to structuration as they share their interests of the mundane while attempting to recreate the perception and embodiment of the land. I believe this highlights the fundamental point in this course, that is the importance of situating research in theory to fully understand and connect data. Using a phenomenological approach to the study of pathways allows for a deeper understanding of trade routes, dispersal, and inter-community relationships. It recognizes the how and why pathways were chosen; such as less resistance, symbolic meaning of the chosen path, as we saw in the example of the Oriole people. I have also considered the limitations to the use of phenomenology in archaeology but have explained that the use of phenomenology is not inherently flawed if carefully approached.
2001 Landscapes on-the-move. Journal of Social Archaeology,1(1), 75-89.
- Megaliths and post-modernism: the case of Wales. Antiquity 79:921–32
2011 Being alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description. Taylor & Francis.
Johnson, M. H.
2012 Phenomenological Approaches in Landscape Archaeology*. Annual review of anthropology, 41, 269-284.
Snead, J. E., Erickson, C. L., & Darling, J. A. (Eds.).
2011 Landscapes of movement: trails, paths, and roads in anthropological perspective (Vol. 1). University of Pennsylvania Press.
1994 A phenomenology of landscape: places, paths, and monuments (p. 10). Oxford: Berg.
2010 Interpreting Landscapes: Geologies, Topographies, Identities; Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology 3 (Vol. 3). Left Coast Press.