Agency, Structure and the Neo-Liberal Turn

Author(s): David Whitley

Year: 2017


Recent theoretical over-emphasis on human agency and denial of the significance of socio-cultural structure presents a radical challenge to a century of research. It implies that Durkheim, Boas, Weber, etc., are irrelevant, and that long-standing structures of inequality (e.g., of gender or race) somehow do not exist or are not important. Examination of recent human-agency studies illustrates that, instead of studying human agency as action, interpretations are based on the kinds of structures whose existence is denied, meanwhile neither addressing nor resolving the analytical problems raised by this approach originally identified by Giddens, nor accommodating our current understanding of human cognition, including embodiment. Worse, the assumptions about human life mirror those promoted by Neo-Liberal political-economic theory, introduced by Reagan and Thatcher, which portrays any kind of governmental (i.e., structural) control as necessarily deleterious, in favor of the supremacy of near-uncontrolled individual rights. This demonstrates that non-critical archaeology theory can have pernicious even if unintended consequences, in this case supporting the Neo-Conservative ideology which has become the worldview of the west. Natural models, as durable analogical and metaphorical sources for belief and symbolic systems, are argued to be useful sources for archaeological research on religion.

Cite this Record

Agency, Structure and the Neo-Liberal Turn. David Whitley. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430605)


Agency Culture Theory

Geographic Keywords
North America - California

Spatial Coverage

min long: -125.464; min lat: 32.101 ; max long: -114.214; max lat: 42.033 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15485