Marxist archaeology

Marxist archaeology is an archaeological theory that interprets archaeological information within the framework of Marxism. Although neither Karl Marx nor Friedrich Engels described how archaeology could be understood in a Marxist conception of history, it was developed by archaeologists in the Soviet Union during the early twentieth century. Becoming the dominant archaeological theory in that country, it was subsequently adopted by archaeologists in other nations, particularly the United Kingdom, where it was propagated by influential archaeologist V. Gordon Childe. With the rise of post-processual archaeology in the 1980s and 1990s, forms of Marxist archaeology were once more popularised amongst the archaeological community.

Marxist archaeology has been characterised as having "generally adopted a materialist base and a processual approach whilst emphasising the historical-developmental context of archaeological data."[clarification needed][1] The theory argues that past societies should be examined through Marxist analysis, thereby having a materialistic basis. It holds that societal change comes about through class struggle, and while it may have once held that human societies progress through a series of stages, from primitive communism through slavery, feudalism and then capitalism, it is typically critical of such evolutionary typology today.

Marxist archaeologists in general believe that the bipolarism that exists between the processual and post-processual debates is an opposition inherent within knowledge production and is in accord with a dialectical understanding of the world. Many Marxist archaeologists believe that it is this polarism within the anthropological discipline (and all academic disciplines) that fuels the questions that spur progress in archaeological theory and knowledge. This constant interfacing and conflict between the extremes of the two heuristic playing grounds (subjective vs. objective) is believed to result in a continuous reconstruction of the past by scholars (McGuire 1992, 2008).