Marxist archaeology

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Vere Gordon Childe (1892—1957) prehistorian and labour theorist


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An approach to archaeological interpretation and explanation that draws on the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to explore materialist models of social change and the central questions of social relations. Understanding who has power and how that power is exercised are seen as vital elements in explaining social change. Marxists regard each human society as defined and shaped by its ‘mode of production’, which comprises both the ‘forces of production’ (i.e. science, technology, and all other human and natural resources), and the ‘relations of production’ (i.e. the ways in which people relate to one another in order to facilitate the production and distribution of goods). Social organization and change are seen in terms of conflicts between segments of society: for example, those based on class, sex, or age. Among western archaeologists one of the first to draw heavily on Marxist theory was Gordon Childe, who emphasized the forces of production as being fundamental influences on prehistoric economies, societies, and ideologies. In many of his early works he effectively challenged the fascist German‐based views of prehistory current at the time.

Subjects: Archaeology.

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