Disclaimer 1: I don’t know much about punk music (although one of the things that first attracted me to the woman I eventually married was that she wanted to go to a punk concert with two local bands we’d never heard of. We went. One band was younger and worked really hard to be angry. One was older and made playing music look easy.)

Disclaimer 2: I’m not an archaeologist (although I desperately wanted to be one when I was twelve).

So maybe it’s weird for me to write about Punk Archaeology, a collection edited by my friend Bill Caraher. But I assigned it in my graduate research methods class, and we’ll be talking about it Monday.

Our class that day is called “against method.” (I like naming each class to help frame our discussion.) Along with Punk Archaeology, we’re reading a selection from H.-G. Gadamer’s Truth and Method. I picked these readings because the first rejects method on principle, as a way to thumb its nose at authority. (Or at least that’s what it looks like.) The second rejects method — well, social scientific method — on ethical grounds. Social scientists, Gadamer says, reduce acting subjects to mere objects. Their conclusions come with a steep ethical cost, not to mention a loss of interpretive nuance.

As I read through the chapters, though, I realized they’re more alike than I thought. I want to jot down those thoughts now so we can relate these readings to communication in class. After all, my students aren’t there for some navel-gazing, nihilist account of method. They’re there to learn how to write a thesis. I respect that goal. It’s concrete and pragmatic, qualities academics sometimes neglect.

Gadamer is asking how we understand things like works of art that were created in a time other than our own, in languages other than our own. He says we should approach them not as objects but as participants in a conversation, as if they were people. Our encounter should take the structure not of a statement (where we declare what a work of art means) but of a question (where we ask it about the world it depicts).

Punk archaeology, it seems, takes a similar tack. Caraher gives five tentative axioms that begin to define punk archaeology:

1) Punk Archaeology is a reflective mode of organizing archaeological experiences.
2) Punk Archaeology follows certain elements of the Punk aesthetic through the discipline of archaeology.
3) Punk Archaeology reveals a deep commitment to place.
4) Punk Archaeology embraces destruction as a creative process.
5) Punk Archaeology is spontaneous. (pp. 101-2)

I’m interested especially in items 1, 3, and 4, at least for now. Items 1 and 3 reveal a similar orientation to the object of study (excavation sites that hold artifacts) in that they are precisely not objects, but more like subjects taking part in a conversation. Archaeologists as the interpreters of history must play both roles in the conversation — they must speak on behalf of the artifacts, in addition to speaking for themselves. In that, they are no different than Gadamer’s hermeneuts. (I’m too tired to detail this here now, but the way authors of certain chapters express their reflexivity or their sense of place bears this out. I’m sure we’ll talk about this in class.)

I’m interested in item 4 because I think there is something fundamentally destructive about the act of interpreting. To provide one interpretation is to close down other potential interpretations. But this thought is rather ill-formed and will need more reflection.

So here’s how I’ll relate the readings to communication. I’ll ask students how they might approach their objects of study (they’re writing about a range of things, including branding, group dynamics, broadcasting policy, press coverage of gun violence, and so on) as if they were subjects engaging in conversation. I want to know where that conversation will go. At the very least, I want students (1) to recognize what avenues of inquiry (and potential conclusions) their choice of methods closes down, and (2) to be better able to justify their choices in turn.

(N.B. Anyone interested in Punk Archaeology can find a link to the PDF here. It’s free, and I recommend it highly.)