On discourse and materiality : personhood in the Neolithic of the Isle of Man
This research project takes a fresh look at the Neolithic archaeology of the Isle of Man, using that material to evaluate a number of themes in contemporary archaeology. The theme of personhood in prehistory is most central to the study. This project discusses the prevalent interpretative schemes which archaeologists use to understand prehistoric people, prehistoric bodies, and prehistoric social relationships. As such it joins with a number of current themes in archaeological interpretation, most notably; the role ofphenomenology in inferring past experience; the use of ethnographic analogy in understanding past and present ideas and experiences of the person and body; the impact of modernity in forming current ideas of the person (particularly the impact on archaeological thought); and the relationship between the material world, social activity and discourse, both in modernity and in prehistory. Two main types of theory are employed in this project. Both are geared towards understanding social relationships and the way that personhood is generated through activity. The first theory is a theory of performativity, adapted from the work of Judith Butler. The second is a relational approach to personhood, following the work of Marilyn Strathern and other social and cultural anthropologists. These approaches offer a critical basis for the re-consideration of past and present bodies, and past and present relations of personhood. They also provide the basis for reinterpreting past material culture, architecture and landscapes. The project situates archaeology as a product of different modern discourses, and argues that these have shaped the interpretation of past discourses. It sets out to deconstruct those present discourses, and re-evaluate the role of conflicting experiences of the self and world in the present. In this approach concepts of archaeological units; the house; the culture; the individual; the family; are all open to question. They are considered as types of metonym which condition archaeological interpretation. By refuting the authority of these metonyms, and by illustrating how they have become sedimented in archaeological discourse (specifically for the Neolithic on the Isle of Man), the project explores the possibilities for more context-specific interpretations. Finally, this thesis offers some new interpretations of Neolithic activity on the Isle of Man, interpretations which focus more on the social production of self and world than on capturing the 'meaning' of the past. These interpretations are not totalising, but partial, and seek to explore the possibility of conflict and subversion in Neolithic activities.