Projects: The Reflective Turn Forum

The ROOTS Reflective Turn Forum is a reflective, theoretical venue, aiming at the incorporation of an explicit philosophy of archaeology and philosophy of science orientation in interdisciplinary research conducted within ROOTS. The Reflective Turn Forum addresses epistemological questions pertaining to past as well as present archaeological theory and its operationalisation in research.

The application of the ‘reflective turn’ approach enables ROOTS to create an epistemological and interpretative research dialogue within ROOTS that embraces the manifold theoretical and practical approaches pursued in the ROOTS subclusters and in individual ROOTS projects. A core aim is the identification of connectivities between past, present, and future socio-environmental challenges and ways of dealing with them.Reflective Turn Forum

Projects withing the Reflective Turn Forum include:

The Epistemological Ladder in Archaeology

Researcher: Prof. Dr. Konrad Ott

At any given moment, a multitude of theories are in use in the broad spectrum of archaeological research. We can see different layers of theory as being nested within a continuum. Generally, theories can fly at different altitudes, but not all aircrafts fly at the same altitude. Flying high or low is, as such, neither better nor worse, but different. In biology, a theory within population ecology flies at a different altitude than the general theory of evolution. This also holds true for archaeology. Aversion against theory in archaeology often stems from the impression of archaeologists that there is too large a distance between the archaeological record and some ÒsatelliteÓ altitude of general theories stemming from the remote stratosphere of social theory formation. Another aspect of this impression states that there are unwarranted ÒjumpsÓ from some empirical data to general theories – and vice versa. This impression, however, should not have the final say about the roles of different theories in archaeology.
Obviously, the concept of theory has many meanings. Building on the metaphor of altitude, we see a continuum of theory formation in archaeology. This array can be organized as different layers or levels of theory formation, leading to a kind of an epistemological ladder. A layer model gives a static picture of theoretical altitudes, while a dynamic perspective would explain, why and how theories can ÒreachÓ specific different altitudes and how layers can come into contact. What is needed, then, would be a fleshed-out, meta-theoretical, hierarchical layer model of theories within archaeology. We argue that such a model would serve archaeology far more than a naive dismissal of theory. Most archaeologists would agree that theory in archaeology is either implicit or explicit, but never absent. The pitfalls of implicit and uncontrolled theorising are more severe than the thorny, but explicit debates about concepts, hypotheses, models, middle-range theories, formation theories and the like. The present project is intended to form an epistemological ladder-model of theorising in archaeology.

The Capability Approach in Archaeology

Researcher: Dr. V.P.J. Arponen
The Capability Approach refers to the work of the philosopher and economist Amartya Sen. According to his view, the Capability Approach is the value theoretical claim that the understanding of a range of phenomenon from justice to inequality requires the examination of the distribution of capabilities to do and be (rather than to have or possess). This value theoretical contrast, and research interpretations made in their light, have wide-ranging consequences for our understanding and explanation of the past, present, and future. For some years now, the Capability Approach has been making its first inroads into archaeology, pioneered in part through the collaboration of archaeologists and philosophers at Kiel University (see Arponen et al. 2016; The present project continues the development of archaeological operationalisations of the Capability Approach, including various theoretical discourses pertaining, among others, to distinctions between heterachy and hierarchy, self-interest and co-operation, and collectivism and elitism.

Theory of Evolution

Researcher: Dr. V.P.J. Arponen
The evolution theory constitutes one of the strongest and longest-lasting influences in archaeology and anthropology. Here, the Darwinian individualistic, egoistic, and game theoretical paradigm that focuses on the acquisition and use of favorable attributes – translating in archaeology variously in concepts such as social evolution, but also as aggrandizing behaviour, elitism, and social stratification – can be argued to be in the process of gradually giving way to a synthetic paradigm. The project aims at enquiring deeper into the synthetic paradigm and its appearance in archaeology. Yet, arguably central to the synthetic paradigm is the idea of supplementing the concept of cultural evolutionary cultivation and passing on of favorable attributes with a concept of evolutionary advantage through increasing symbiotic coupling and co-operation. Such ideas will be diversely related back to some re-emerging structural and functionalist approaches, to the concept of modes of production, and in the archaeology of inequality to the notion of co-operation.

Gardens and Gartenbau over Time: Human-Environment-Relations and the Anthropocene

PhD Project by Dana Zentgraf
This PhD project focuses on gardening practices and their impact on human social and cultural development. Focusing on selected time periods and places, it aims to identify significant gardening ideas and methods for human development in the chosen contexts. This, in turn, can add valuable perspectives to a re-evaluation of the human-nature-relation for the Anthropocene.
Gardens, in their material expression, rank among the most essential places for intensive human labour. Gardening entails constant work within the natural environment to create and maintain a balance between human design and “wilderness”. As such, gardens are dynamic organic phenomena that need constant care and permanent attachment to be successful. Hence, it is not surprising that gardens played (and still play) an important role in many societies and are well represented in textual and pictorial sources. With their powerful influence on human life, gardens rose from the prosaic level of serving as produce gardens to become places expressing different cultural layers, including aesthetics, knowledge, and intellectual inspiration, while simultaneously embodying symbolic value. The work invested in and the products gained from gardens shaped human cultural and physical life: Theoretical and practical knowledge about plants, animals, seasonal change as well as processing and storage of the products were gathered, transmitted and developed. Gardening influenced foresighted planning according to resources and needs. Within this, methods of recycling, fertilisation, waste disposal and composting became necessary. Gardens function as an intersection where culture in the form of, for example, tools, techniques, education, or religious thought meets physical labour, medical plants, weather changes and other environmental aspects.
This project implements results from historical and archaeological works on gardens and gardening practices in the framework of a historical materialistic understanding of human development within the environment. The investigation aims to show the influence of different kinds of gardening practices on human cultures and to analyse them in light of Anthropocenic issues.
Dana Zentgraf The garden as a cultivated area combines living plants, their ecological environment and elements of infrastructure. Snapshot from an allotment garden (Schrebergarten) in Kiel (photo: Mirja Zentgraf 2020).


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions