notes notes notes

Conkey, Margaret W. and Joan M. Gero. 1997. “Programme to Practice: Gender and Feminism in Archaeology.” Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol.26, pp.411-437.

Programme to Practice:Gender and Feminism in Archaeology

Margaret W Conkey, Joan M Gero

Focus: Research understood from a feminist standpoint. Analyzes perspectives on gender that relate specifically to theoretical standpoints. has inquiry into the topic opened or narrowed? And addresses centrality of feminist thought (feminist science critiques in particular) to “notions of archaeology as a science, to archaeological problem-solving, to fieldwork and data collection, and to teaching and the presentation of archaeological issues”

            Women have showed up in prehistoric sites/political/economic activies around             the world, sometimes places previously thought not

  • There isn’t a shared orientation, single methodology, or common theory of data in studying the topic of gender- there are obstacles that inhibit full study of gender research … as it was a relatively new topic of focus (still is) in late 20th century
  • Del Valle (1993) suggests that, “the genealogies of gendered anthropology are markedly Anglo-Saxon, linked to a new imperialist archaeology.”

The Gender Genre:

  • Prehistory researchers turn to gender studies to address issues-they are motivated by rejection of the “equations of human behavior with the behavior of men”- reason for turning to gendered archaeology is to identify women’s behavior, practice, roles
    • Study has found female labor in broad spectrum of activities originally considered exclusively male domains (I.E paleoindian encampments, Paleolithic cave art, maya animal husbandry, pre-colombian moche mortuary rituals)
    • Women buried in prestigious burial sites, challenged previous thought on socially stratified societies
    • Process of “finding women”- literally, looking for them in areas we thought they wouldn’t be…for ex- in production sequences of flaked stone tools thought to be a males job- “found” women in organization of quarrying activities.
    • HOWEVER- the literature says differently, placing men and women in gendered social positions.
    • Research has revealed surprising results (not really but the author thinks so) that there is a range of roles/strength of scholarship seen in women throughout the world, “sometimes as the hidden spouse but also often as a passionate but publically invisible contributor”

Theoretically Anchored Positions:

  • Gender as sociobiological strategy-gender framed in the culturally mediated means that sex groups seek to maximize their reproductive fitness by adding to the gene pool for future generations.
  • 2 unambiguously dichotomous sexes- m/f whos sexual characteristics are assumed universal. Male (fertilize many eggs) female (sing ovulation events and physically bear children- lactation-menstruation-biological strength)
    • it is because of these differences they are assigned gender specific roles and activities
  1. Knight- cultural implications of convergent female menstruation and simultaneous ovulation of proximate women
  2. Hayden- associates well est sex differences such as- “hormonally related aggression levels with broadly observed gender preferences for particular tasks”
  3. Costin- gender difference represents major general means for the different sexes to act to appeal as proper marriage mates and parents to mates children

-Gender as Social Construction

            – concept that gender and sex are constructed and not biological

            – construction of WHO we are sexually and how we should act- deeply embedded in             historical, sociocultural, ideological, and material contexts

Origins of gender?- point to socially constructed. States, “above all, the idea of gender as a social construction mandates that archaeologists interrogate their starting assumptions when setting out to do an archaeology of gender

Gender as an evolutionary process-

            -egalitarian relations of foraging peoples are written in nonhierarchical gender             relations- INCREASE level of sociocultural ranking of stratification –increase in             gender hierarchy

            -so, for evolutionists, the male dominance seen today in societies- totally normal.

            -appearance of patriarchy is linked to the emergence of the state/its admission of             controlling power relationships/power differentials

Gynecentric theory- matriarchic period in history that was eventually overturned by males because they were dissatisfied w natural order/balance

-“the scrutiny of “gender” as part of the evolutionary transformations in the human past can and have yielded important new understandings of the transformations themselves


Gender as Political Economy-View promoted vigorously by feminist sociocultural anthropologist Micaela di Leonardo-

            -her five key points in feminist culture and political economy approach

  1. Favors radical rejection of social evolutionism. Argues that “feminist anthropologists cannot locate the key to male dominance over women in small-scale societies”
  2. The rejection of essentialism
  3. The potent role of social constructionism
  4. Recognition of the emeddedness of gender in other social divisions
  5. Imperative analysis of all forms of social inequality and the recognition of the “multiple layers of context through which we perceive cultural inequalitites”

Brumfiel- argues political economy is not equivalent to the more traditionally subsistence economy approach bc former recognizes role of: human agency, politics, negotiations—in econ action/decisions 

            -there is no single womens role but many different strategies that tribute can be             paid in form of womens labor

            -her study is a reminder of against tendency to homogenize/essentialize


Gender as agency- “acts” that social identities are produced and constantly in production. Gendered subjects=produced not born

            -importance btw tension btw structure and agency and “the agency of subordinated and marginalized persons to contest meanings and engage in praxis in their social worlds”

-gender- if taken to come about through goal-oriented action/performances of a person or group, this opens door to reassessments of everything-technology to sculptural choices to simple artifacts


Gender as Performance- how people exhibit themselves in action and appearance

            -Butler- “argues that gender is constuted as set of acts that produce the effect or appearance of a coherent substance, and that it works and derives its compelling force from the fact that people themselves mistake the gender acts they perform for the essence, coming to believe that such acts are genuine, inescapable moments of self-actualization” —-(…GOOD) performances generative and dissimulating


Brumfiel- argues that the analysis of social change- challenged by ecosystem approaches as used in archaeology- such as insistence upon whole pop’s and adaptive behavioral systems as types of analysis’ that, “obscure the visibility of gender, class, and faction in the prehistoric past.”

            -some of the past can be explained through gender, class, and faction, not from             the ecosystem perspective

– there is enormous resistance to archaeological theorizing of gender- Roberts argues, “theorizing gender will continue to be extrinsic to archaeology”. Defining the term itself has been difficult.

  • She distinguishes 2 threads in her use of gender as a category in arch.: they have dif impacts on practice and results of arch. The archaeology of gender moves towards synthesis . Believes it must be a fully theorized concept, not another analytical variable.
  • 2 features in contemporary arch: a- is necessarily interpretive and must come to terms w “other than common-sense explanations of human action” b- recognition that archaeology faces issues in developing precice uncerstanding

Feminist resources are now seen as important in understanding archaeological knowledge and the sociology of the field

            -feminist literature- debates about nature of mankind- essentialism, inequality and power relationships, social categorization, political economy, rationality and ways of knowing, ideology, meaning and symbol making, materiality and agency.

-feminists debate over the “degree of revision versus rejection that would be required in today science to make feminist friendly those versions of objectivity that exist presently in the service of hierarchical and positivist orderings of what is to count as knowledge”


Feminism and science critiques butt heads, and feminist critiques have developed points beneficial in interrogating archaeological practice-

  1. feminists recognize that politics/substantive product of knowledge- inseparable
  2. argued that rationality is a mythical conflation that never obtains in actual scientific practice and represents a metapolitics of power relation
  3. “feminist thinking has argued for and been associated w a cognitive style that favors intimate knowledge and nuanced understandings of data over categorical thinking”
  4. Feminist thinking- shared commitment to challenging status quo/welcoming possibility of change

Three concerns that should be involved in remaking of arch as transformatory enterprise:

  1. Feminist practice might strive to increase the visibility of human agency in knowledge production to become more conscious of/ making more public how we define the past and what choices are made in defining it
  2. We should organize archaeological field projects in less hierarchical fashions, avoiding the situation of a single unchallengeable authority who makes all the choices
  3.  Feminist practice- needs to “find ways to value the indeterminate, the nuanced, and the specific in new narrative and historical cognitive frames rather than always circumscribing scientific models and categorical data”

How to do archaeology differently, how to do it better?

            – we realize that our thinking/practices have been confined by “androcentric” and             many other “taken for granteds” . an archaeology that uses feminist theory to its advantage is self-transformational and communal







About myykallbee

Student in anthropology, I absolutely love culture, history, and people!
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