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

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

111.4

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.

DOI: 10.3764/AJA.111.4.693