Towards an Archaeology of Values in the Roman World: Interdisciplinary Exploration in Theory and Method

Organisers: Karim Mata (University of Chicago) and Sergio González Sanchez (University of Leicester)

All human action and interaction is shaped by motivational values. Social scientists across disciplines have adequately shown how a substantial range of universal values is shared cross-culturally, in both the past and the present. Values have a cognitive, emotional, and behavioral dimension, such that people think, feel, and actualize values. People prioritize and instantiate their values in reflexive and habitual ways. As individually and collectively maintained orientations, values are considered and instantiate in ways both structured and improvisational. Values also inform ideal (‘good life’) constructs that people aspire to realize, including ideas on how best to achieve this. Values regulate individual behavior and social relations, such that social life would not be possible without reference to them. In short, values are everywhere.

It is somewhat surprising, then, that no Archaeology of Values has ever been formulated. To be sure, archaeologists do deal with values, but mostly indirectly and often implicitly. Whenever archaeologists note sociocultural variability, whenever they talk about socio-cultural change in terms of complexification, differentiation, or individualization, they are in fact talking about shifts in value emphases, or they are describing how people choose to realize similar values in different ways. Yet, such efforts rarely involve close engagement with values themselves, their motivational content (e.g. bravery or generosity), structural relation (compatible or conflictual), or socio-historical significance (in terms of adaptive efficacy and developmental impact).

The study of basic human values in theoretically sophisticated and methodologically systematic ways has occupied scholars in other disciplines. Early contributions to values-oriented research by psychologists (Scheler, Spranger), sociologists (Tönnies, Durkheim), and anthropologists (Kluckhohn, Maslow, Dumont) have inspired later social scientists to varying degrees, but this has not encouraged strong or sustained interest in the topic. Only in recent years have some anthropologists (Graeber 2001), historians (MacMullen 2015), and archaeologists (Morris 2015) started looking at human values more attentively, though unavoidably from different perspectives and favoring different approaches; the practice-oriented, culture-historical, and evolutionary approaches of Graeber, MacMullen, and Morris respectively show this divergence succinctly. Notably, none of these recent attempts has shown any interest for formulating a universal values framework such as has been done by social psychologists (Schwartz 2012).

How can Roman archaeologists approach values theoretically and methodologically in our analyses of material culture? With human motivational values having a cross-cultural occurrence and their instantiation being entirely situational, how are we to reconcile the universal with the particular? How should archaeologists deal with the influence of values over the formation of our theories and interpretations, or the reproduction of our professional communities? In what ways can Roman archaeologists contribute to an Archaeology of Values, or to social scientific research on values more generally?

Participants of this session are asked to engage social scientific concepts and insights and apply such knowledge to their analyses of the material record of the Roman world. Among suggested topics of interest are explicit expressions of values found in literary and epigraphic sources; expressions of social norms and cultural ideals in mortuary contexts; the material manifestation of socio-historical transformations that cause shifts in value systems (in terms of individualism-collectivism, egalitarianism-differentiation, conservatism-progressivism, etc.); the use and utility of analytic variables like standardization, diversification, and complexification for examining the values that motivate human behavior in idiosyncratic and patterned ways; the values that motivate Roman archaeologists and their academic and national heritage programs

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