Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


15 May 2010

Placing social interaction: an integrative approach to analyzing past built environments

Kevin D. Fisher Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28.4 (December 2009): 439-457.


A growing recognition of the vital role that built space plays in social reproduction has created a need for analytical methods and interpretive frameworks with which to investigate this relationship in archaeological datasets. I address this by developing an integrative approach that emphasizes the role of the built environment as the context for interactions through which social structures are created, transformed and reproduced. This approach uses access analysis to examine how buildings structure patterns of movement and encounter that allow social actors to engage in or avoid particular forms of interaction. With its focus on the topological properties of built space, however, access analysis does not take adequate account of a building’s symbolic aspects, especially architectural characteristics and furnishings that social actors mobilize in the creation of meaningful contexts for interaction. I therefore integrate access analysis with an examination of how built environments encode meanings and nonverbally communicate them to inhabitants and visitors, potentially influencing their actions and interactions. The integrative approach allows determination of probable contexts for various types of social interactions during which social identities could be displayed, negotiated and reified. I conclude by demonstrating the potential of this approach with an analysis of the monumental Ashlar Building from the Late Bronze Age (c. 1650-1100 BC) site of Enkomi, Cyprus.


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