Materiality of Time: Phenomenology and its Place in Archaeology

Posted on January 3, 2020


Every Friday and Wednesday I publish an post on conference presentations I have videoed. Today’s is from the TAG conference:

Session Info:

In the past two decades, phenomenology has enjoyed its use within archaeological theory. This vein of inquiry saw its most fruitful deployment within the archaeology of Neolithic Britain during the mid to late 90s. Yet, since its translation into archaeological practice, the question of time has seldom been addressed within the wider archaeological-phenomenological debate. The concept of time is, however, widely discussed within philosophical phenomenology. Philosophically, it provides a framework for understanding the merits of corporeally ‘being-there’ and the creation of place through human praxis. The marginalisation of time (both modern and ancient perception of it) in archaeological theory is arguably a misinterpretation and distortion of philosophical phenomenology by archaeologists. Time is the axiom which all actions obey, yet the experience of time is subject to our consciousness as well as to our corporeal experience. In a sense, a reassessment of the relevancy of phenomenology and time in archaeology seeks to place human existential experience back into the human past. There shall be two main focuses within the session: The first will be on the link between time and ‘geographical experience,’ which describes the reciprocal process of human-environment interactions; the second will seek to demonstrate the interconnectedness between, what Ricoeur (1985) termed cosmological and phenomenological aspects of time, using archaeology. Overall, the session invites papers which cover at least two of its three aims: 1) To reconcile the concept of time in archaeology with its continental philosophical roots; 2) To re-evaluate and renew dated arguments surrounding phenomenology in archaeology; 3) And to demonstrate the merits of phenomenology in supporting archaeological narratives which consider a broader range of past lived experiences.

Organisers: Donald Crystal (Cardiff University) and Stefan Schmidt (University of Wuppertal)


Materiality of Time and Temporality of Place

Archaeology is only possible because time materializes. But archaeology is not concerned with the traces of time and change in general but with those traces that humans left. In my paper, I want to focus on the conditions through which time manifests. For archaeology, time, space, and place play a fundamental role. Place is the texture of space. Space becomes concrete to us through places and establishes a world in which we live. According to the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the lived body movement is the pivotal element in understanding the body-place-relationship because our body is not in space nor in time, but inhabits space and time. The human subject is always oriented and situated in place, therefore Edward Casey calls it the geographical subject. The primary way in which the geographical subject realizes its active commitment to place is by means of habitation. ‘Habitation’ here includes nomadic life as well as settled dwelling. It is the manner in which we relate to places through our lived bodies. Creating a place means to appropriate space as well as time. In my paper, I will show that the phenomenological origins of geography are at the same time the fundaments for archaeological practice.

Stefan Schmidt (University of Wuppertal)

Postphenomenology and Time

During the past two decades, phenomenology has enjoyed its use within archaeological theory. This vein of inquiry saw its most fruitful deployment within the archaeology of Neolithic Britain during the mid to late 90s. However, I shall argue that archaeological phenomenology is ill equipped and equally ill constructed to deal with the analysis of what Ricoeur called, ‘phenomenological and cosmological time’. The problem originates from the fact that current archaeological phenomenology stems from Heidegger’s own temporally problematic philosophy. In addition, past archaeological phenomenologists have neglected to discuss the wide range of temporal experiences that the body can experience in connection with both the archaeology and the wider landscape. Consequently, I will argue that by using postphenomenology, theoretical archaeologists can capture a broader range of how people experienced time, whilst reflexively being aware of their own temporal predispositions. Postphenomenology acknowledges and includes the Gadamerian and Ricoeurean schools of hermeneutics within its existential analysis of the lifeworld, thus making a more reflexive analysis of time between the analyser and the environment. Within this presentation I shall outline the need for a postphenomenological view of time within archaeology today by applying it to my research of Iron Age dolmens in Bulgaria.

Donald Crystal (Cardiff University)

Hourglass Dawns: The becoming of time as space, contemporary post-phenomenological philosophy and its nemesis of time in the work of Agamben, Nancy and Jameson

Time, since Kant, has troubled Continental philosophy right through to Husserl and past his project of Phenomenology expressed and thus terminated in the works of Heidegger and Derrida who have left traces of messianism, nihilism, and apparitions of ‘timeless’ time. In the aftermath of Derrida, the analysis of time in Continental philosophy has taken two paths which possess political agendas depending on their traditions of thought. Firstly, the first kind of the treatment of time deals with a post-phenomenological approach insomuch as reducing experiences of time to lived existences of things which attempt to deny the possibility of conceiving of a metaphysical account of time outside a purely lived experience. Secondly, the latter approach exists as a form of post-Marxist analysis that critiques the post-phenomenological tradition insomuch as it clings onto a narrative of time that permits a multiplicity of time in homogeneous spaces, but alongside the work of Fredric Jameson, he proposes time has become frozen not in terms of Benjamin’s hypothesis of the Paris Arcades, but that in time becoming frozen, becomes space. Thus, this paper shall take account of contemporary developments in Continental philosophy analysing time in the works of Jean-Luc Nancy, Fredric Jameson, and Giorgio Agamben.

Jack Robert Coopey

Times the Living Make the Dead Live

The concept of Time has often been (over)looked at through the narrow spectrum of processual and positivist approaches to the archaeological science. Researchers are still oblivious to the many vectors and planes of existence that different experiences of Time are being placed on. Furthermore, they are not taking into consideration time’s phenomenological quality, through which it is experienced, lived, and not simply calculated and placed. This represents an in-motion feature of the Living, mutually shaped by each other, in every present lived. Consequently, the directions and strata in which Time can be exposed and addressed are many and not necessarily metaphorical. When several identities, temporalities, and spatial experiences happen to meet at once along the researcher´s personal and professional activity, the resulting ‘image’ of time and temporal frames ranges within the several theoretical backgrounds of the discipline. This paper will delve into the many biases involved in the process of phenomenologically approaching the notion of simultaneous, distinct time experiences for archaeologists and in archaeology, in order to explore how these contribute to shape the construction of different temporalities in the past.

Ana G. San-Martin (Complutense University of Madrid)

Against Instance: Proposing a radical epistemology of times

To deploy a materiality of time, the empirical together with the phenomenological should be reassessed. 1. To reconcile the concept of time in archaeology with its continental philosophical roots Classically, however many variants of time there may be, they are located within time; for example, Ricoeur’s phenomenological time and cosmological time. This proposal states time may also define a world, and different sorts of time define different worlds. Each may not be known to us. If they are unknown, they are lost to us. Archaeology is an evidential means to discover this loss. 2. To re-evaluate and renew dated arguments surrounding phenomenology in archaeology How? In archaeology, empiricism and phenomenology need not oppose one another. However, each must complete the other for archaeologists to discover a loss of time. At least as much as any phenomenology, this requires a radical empirical epistemology of time – hence reference to Feyerabend’s ‘Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge’ (1975).

David Fine


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