These are words you might encounter if you read archaeological writing about Mesoamerica — or anywhere else for that matter. Since the meanings aren’t transparent, I asked a friend at Cornell for clarification. His answer follows.


  • Processual: Binford, Colin Renfrew, Flannery in Mesoamerica, and compatriots. All about making global statements about human behavior derived from middle-range theory (ethnoarchaeological rules) combined with “knowable” data about the past (environment, tools, diet). Largely focused on making archaeology a science, and on making statements about the ways in which culture is all a human adaptation to the environment. Came up with some good methods, but largely dehumanizing and Eurocentric theory.
  • Postprocessual: Ian Hodder, Shanks, Tilley, compatriots. I can’t think of anyone in Mesoamerica. Comes at archaeology from a variety of perspectives (e.g. Marxist, feminist, cognitive) and all about how processual theory ignores most of human existence and thought. Also disagrees with the progressivist and environmentally deterministic aspects of processualism, and focuses instead on things like agency and choice and labor and all that culture stuff that isn’t directlyrelated to the environment. Some folks have gone all the way to “there is no truth,” but mostly people are just arguing that the past can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on your cultural context,the questions you ask, the data you recover, your methods, etc.
  • Emic: Words natural to the actor. So when I make cookies, I describe the process to myself as “stirring.” In contrast to etic, which islanguage natural to the observer, which might be stuff like “whip until nearly stiff.” In anthropology, largely used to differentiate the “native” view (as in, the view native to the actor) and the “observer” view, as in the view alien to the actor. So an etic ethnography would use structuring terms unfamilar to, and not necessarily meaningful to, the people it described. (Like the way dudes used to go out and describe hunter-gatherer groups as, like, partially matrilocal but with descriptive kinship terminology only.)