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The Emperor's New Clothes? The Utility of Identity in Roman Archaeology

Martin Pitts
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 111, No. 4 (Oct., 2007), pp. 693-713
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40025269
Page Count: 21
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The Emperor's New Clothes? The Utility of Identity in Roman Archaeology
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Abstract

This paper discusses the concept of identity as an increasingly central research theme in Anglo-American Roman archaeology. The first part provides an overview and critique of the issue in recent academic discourse, highlighting some potential theoretical and methodological problems. I argue that, if pursued uncritically, there is a danger that approaches to identity are reducible to the search for diversity for diversity's sake, and even worse, that identity is simply read off from archaeological remains in a culture-historical fashion. In the second part, I use two case studies to outline a new approach to the construction of narratives of identity that emphasizes the constitution of identity through dynamic social practices instead of a direct one-to-one relationship between identity and static material culture. I contend that identity is best investigated through methodologies specifically designed to elucidate aspects of social practice through archaeological evidence rather than simply identify variability in material culture.

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