Quick Theory Guide

This is an in-process guide produced by students for students detailing anthropological and archaeological theoretical approaches. Excerpted from Robert Pruecel’s The Postprocessual Condition, which can be found in the Journal of Archaeological Research, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1995.


Analytical-seeks to provide explanations of systematic relationships in terms of cause and effect.

Hermeneutic-provides an understanding of the meaning of an event from the actor’s point of view.

Critical-seeks to expose past and present ideological structures for the purposes of emancipation. Examines how institutions of modern capitalism came into being, how they reproduce themselves, and how they affect anthropological interpretation.

Textual/Contextual-identifies the significance of the individual as a social actor actively negotiating his/her position within society.

Neo-Marxist-merges elements of deconstruction with a focus on power relations.



Analytical Neo-Marxism/Structural Marxism-model of structural causality and ideology. Belief that divergent development of pathways of social evolution brought about by dominant relations of production.

Hermeneutics Neo-Marxism-

Critical Neo-Marxism-critique of ideology and systematically distorted communication. Belief that the empirical sciences could only be superseded by a contextual reinterpretation of their results with a goal of exposing underlying ideology. Not preoccupied with verification, instead, concerned with tracing particular historical conditions that give rise to the present forms in order that they may be transcended.

Analytical Post-structuralism-

Hermeneutic Post-structuralism-attempts to recover structures of meaning related to both the intentions and practice of past actors. It is geared towards producing understanding-as-knowledge rather than knowledge-as-understanding. It utilizes textual metaphor for reading the archaeological record. This approach requires translation of meaning from one interpretive context to another in a dialectical process.

Critical Post-structuralism-turns away from knowing the past on its own terms, and towards the ways in which the past is constructed in the present. Original meanings are inaccessible  because of the polysemic nature of material culture.

Analytical Feminism-regards our current knowledge of the past as biased due to sexism and androcentrism within the field and seeks to rectify this by putting women back in prehistory.

Hermeneutics Feminism-

Critical Feminism-


Historical Processualism-

Cultural Ecology-


Third Wave Feminism-


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