University of Leicester
2020vanHeldenDPPhD.pdf (3.18 MB)

To identity and beyond: exploring the limits of the archaeological study of identity

Download (3.18 MB)
posted on 2021-03-17, 10:19 authored by Daniël P. van Helden
The concept of identity has been a focus for scholarly attention in archaeology for the last three decades. This thesis investigates the methodological problems and possibilities of the archaeological applicability of identity.
By exploring the constraints on interpretation and the ways in which other disciplines, notably anthropology and social psychology, investigate the concept the epistemological boundary conditions within which archaeological interpretations of the past in terms of identity are made is sketched. Archaeology’s engagement with ‘identity’ is assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively. A quantitative analysis of the occurrence of the term ‘identity’ in six journals covering the period 1990-2018 provides a (relatively course-grained) sense of the magnitude of the discipline’s commitment of recourses to studying this subject. This quantitative analysis is complemented by a more in-depth, qualitative analysis of nine monographs dedicated to the archaeological study of identity. This analysis provides a good insight into how archaeology attempts to incorporate the concept of identity into longer studies of the past, which is contrasted with two monographs which do not apply identity. The combination of these analyses leads to the conclusion that the archaeological applicability of the concept of identity is more limited than is born out in the volume of archaeological literature that is dedicated to the subject. Fuzzy Set Theory, a mathematical approach to vagueness in categories, is proposed as a way of moving beyond the current focus on ‘identity’, whilst retaining the valuable insights that engagement with the concept has yielded. Fuzzy Set Theory enables rigorous formal analysis of data and concepts where exact boundaries are difficult to pin down exactly. This allows a host of new possibilities, from conceptual advances, through new interpretative tools, to more explicit and efficient data handling. Fuzzy Set Theory has all the potential to greatly improve archaeological investigations.



Penelope Allison; Sarah Tarlow

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Archaeology and Ancient History

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



Usage metrics

    University of Leicester Theses