Social Identities


Introduction to Archaeology

Archaeology utilizes material culture to form a picture of a society. One area of archaeological interest is the role of social identity in the organization and functioning of societies. Social Identity has multiple facets. Identity can consist of several inter-acting, sometimes competing elements. These include status and class identities, ethnic identities, and gender identities. Many archaeologists believe these sorts of identities are important elements in the organization and structuring of a society and therefore are important to understand. The following exercises and discussions should give you some insights into how we spot these identities and how complex they are.

Status and Class Identities

Although there are some differences between status and class, the emphasis here is on how we spot differences in wealth, power, and differential access to resources critical for life. It might be helpful to think about what kinds of things would indicate differences in wealth, power and control of resources in our society. For example, are cars just cars? Are homes just homes? Is clothing just clothing? Are all neighborhoods equal? Are all cemeteries and all graves just places they put you when you die? After answering these questions for yourself note the following distributions of goods in the communties pictured below. What do these distributions of goods suggest for the societies involved?

Two distributions

Ethnic Identities

Under this heading I am not refering to some sort of biological ethnicity. I dont believe that actually exists, although biological similarities or dissimilarities may periodically be used as an organizing principal. Rather, I am refering to self-identification with an ethnicity. This emphasizes the fact that people can, and frequently do, exchange one ethnicity for another. Material Culture is often used as a means by which one conveys identification with one or another competing ethnicity. Note the examples given below from relatively contemporary societies. Do these objects suggest ethnic identification? Various anthropologists have suggested these symbols are not simply one dimensional. They are seen as negotiable. Are the symbols below simply statements of ethnic identity or do they have multiple meanings

Go to Ethnic Pages

Gender Identities

Gender is not another term for biological differences for male and female. Gender roles refer to what behaviors are assigned to various groups within a society. While a society may use male or female biological traits to divide those tasks., i.e. they are "assigned" either to males or females, the tasks vary from society to society and therefore the tasks (or roles) are not biological. People in a society have to be taught their roles. Material Culture plays a big role in that education. Go to the Gender identity page and answer the questions found there.

Gender Identity Page

Return to An 210 Syllabus

Return to Zagarell's Archaeology Page

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