Moriz Hoernes and his network: Transfer of epistemology into and in archaeology, past and present

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

In the late 19th century, neopositivism was the dominant epistemology. Promoted by successful and prominent scientists, their views about how to execute ‘proper scientific inquiries’ influenced the ‘founding fathers’ of Germanophone archaeology; perhaps most obviously so the first Austrian professor and founder of the ‘Viennese School’ of prehistory, Moriz Hoernes. Yet, the ‘early adopters’ in prehistory stripped positivism of much of its (epistemo-) logical foundations and instead transformed it into a method; into what became ‘the method’ of most of Germanophone prehistory ever since. What remained of the epistemology became the ‘prehistoric faith’: that any (prehistory-related) scientific inquiry necessarily proceeds from observation to ‘indisputable knowledge’; that ‘correct’ observations, turned into ‘proper’ definitions by classificatory descriptions, form the (Aristotelian) primary premises from which we proceed using inductive reasoning; the requirement of ‘completeness’ of observations before any ‘methodically sound’ explanation may even only be attempted, let alone can be successful; and the perceived need for scholars to present themselves and be seen as detached, ‘objective’ observers. Once within the discipline, this ‘method’ has been passed on almost entirely uncritically and with hardly any theoretical reflection as the main, the essential ‘skill of the craft’; taught by example, and learnt by repetitive imitation. It has become an ‘indisputable truism’, a part of the archaeological habitus; something that simply is part of normal (or rather ‘normalised’) archaeologists’ behaviour. Both how it is done, and how it is taught, has (apparently) become so ‘obvious’ that any attempt at questioning it has become almost impossible: one is met, at best, with the blank stare of utter incomprehension, or at the worst accused of having failed to understand the most basic fundamentals of how prehistory
ought to be studied.

Keywords

  • prehistory, ARCHAEOLOGY, Epistemology, neopositivism, Method of research, habitus
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNetzwerke der Altertumswissenschaften im 19. Jahrhundert
EditorsKarl R. Krierer, Ina Friedmann
Place of PublicationWien
PublisherPhoibos Verlag
Pages95-109
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9783851611519
ISBN (Print)9783851611502
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2017

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