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Cornaline de l’Inde

Valentine Roux


Valentine Roux

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1I returned to Cambay in December 1998. Fifty percent of the workshops had ceased all activity... In a certain way, their disappearance was to be expected. Nonetheless, how could we not be concerned about having neglected to collect certain data that were no longer available? During preceding field seasons, our position had been resolutely “non-Maussian”: we had no ambition to study the total social fact; on the contrary, we planned to analyze technical practices independently of the ethnological complexity in which they are embedded. This implied first defining the particularities of these practices in terms of resources and constraints. Thus limited to the characteristics of elementary operations, our object of study did not include the socio-cultural system responsible for their organization. Are we now to regret these decisions?

2Considering the objectives of our work, it was difficult to imagine any other perspective. Indeed, as soon as our goal became the construction of ethno-archaeological propositions, meaning transcultural regularities applicable to archaeological data in the form of rules of influence, how could we consider the cultural specificity of Cambay as our object of study? By cultural specificity, I mean the representations specific to Indian society that structure the ensemble of their system of production. If we took this specificity into account, proposing rules of inference applicable to archaeology would have inevitably resulted in “culturally marked” propositions, in other words propositions whose terms would have been specific to Indian society. By definition, these propositions would not be applicable to the archaeology of the Harappan world, for which the ethnological specificity is unknown.

3It may be argued that it is difficult to characterize a technique independently of the cultural context in which it is practiced. Indeed, according to the approach currently dominating the ethnology of techniques, the representational system of a cultural group determines all technical options (Lemonnier 1993). Without entering into a complex debate opposing “functionalists” and “culturalists”, and without denying the importance of sociocultural representations in technical choices, I would simply say that it seems to me more justified, from a methodological point of view, to analyze as distinct entities the transcultural properties of technical practices (skills, efficiency, intrinsic potential for evolution), the environment (geographic and physicochemical constraints of the raw material), and the intentions of the artisan that derive from the cultural representations of the group. Only through this type of effort does it become possible to analyze the importance of each of these domains – technical, environmental, cultural – in the technical choices. We can then consider them as facts resulting from a complex interaction among these domains. Concerning the conditions under which these choices emerge, they are defined by the context in which they develop. At Cambay, the objective of our research was to define the “universal” characteristics of the technical practices related to the fabrication of hard-stone beads in order to be able to interpret archaeological beads in terms of technical processes and skills, and the techno-system. The study of Harappan beads reveals that the Harappan techno-system witnesses the emergence of new practices, as shown by the appearance of the “classic Harappan” beads. There then follow hypotheses concerning the function of the beads and the process of urbanization underlying their appearance. These hypotheses bring into operation terms specific to the cultural worlds of Indus and Mesopotamia, where Indus beads have been found.

4Even if this work ends at the level of plausible hypotheses, it is nonetheless constituted of an ensemble of well-founded propositions, arising from rules of inference that are empirically verifiable in the ethnographic domain. These rules of inference were constructed according to the principles of several established disciplines (mechanics, psychology, economics), given a multidisciplinary approach.

5Having come this far, it became possible to model the various constructions proposed according to logicist schemes (Gardin 1979, 1991; Gardin et al. 1981). These schemes consist of declarations of the operations that permit one to go from initial data to final interpretative propositions. Their objective is to reveal the well-founded and well-formed aspects of our interpretative propositions, while at the same time responding to the practical problems generated by our current modes of publication (Gardin 1998a). This type of schematization presents clear advantages when compared to the narrative mode of presentation, which tends to weaken the scientific intent of our own research in the following ways:

  1. The coherence of the different chapters constituting the actualist reference base is not always explicit, meaning that their articulation with the archaeological interpretation is not necessarily “visible”. It is the linearity of the narration itself that masks the progressive ascent in the pyramid of archaeological inferences (as a function of the references utilized), in particular owing to the large quantity of data that are combined differently according to the subject treated. It is thus not clearly apparent how the recognition of technical practices is a preliminary step in their characterization in terms of skills and techno-economic organization, nor that these three steps progressively reveal an image of the organization of production and function of Indus beads.
  2. The rules of inference that permit the transfer of ethno-archaeological propositions to archaeological data are not formulated as if p then q propositions, which, in my opinion prevents us from using them as “recipes”. This point is particularly important since only an explicit formulation allows us to avoid the traditional rhetoric that most often attaches an interpretive discourse to archaeological data without reference to the foundation allowing the transfer of actualist attributes, and as a consequence, without a clear, formal distinction between “founded” propositions and “plausible” propositions. It is important to remember that all interpretation forcibly relies on knowledge exterior to archaeology, and thus that the foundation of the archaeological proposition depends on the foundation of the former. In our work, the absence of the formulation of if p then q type propositions is due essentially to the narrative style of presentation, which leads to a more diffuse discourse. This is apparent in the “discussion” sections, which are reserved for the interpretation of the results obtained.
  3. The scientific knowledge of a system is developed through analysis of the different elements of which it is composed. In our case, these are the elements that characterize the technical practices. This decomposition of the system in order to attain knowledge is not clearly apparent in a “globalizing” narrative that integrates the distinct elements, though without clearly isolating them.
  4. Finally, the narrative mode of expression leads to rhetorical effects that can easily mask weaknesses in reasoning. These rhetorical effects include commentaries on quantified data tables that appear to be “solid”. From this perspective, these effects do not facilitate criticism.

6The advantages of schematization are not only epistemological, however. They are also practical, bringing us directly back to the problems of our modes of publication. As stressed by J.-C. Gardin (1998a), we are flooded with scientific publications that we do not have time to read. It follows that we practice a very particular reading style: rapid consultation of the principal results. Yet our publications are not written to be consulted, but to be read. As a result, they are ill adapted to such consultation. In the case of the present work, it is clear that the narrative presentation does not facilitate this type of consultation, either. For example, the set of quantified data, presented in the form of tables and figures, is described in a narrative form in order to reveal, in a well-argued manner, results that are then formulated into final propositions. This results in “heavy” reading, which is already difficult given the very “technical” nature of demonstrations that rely on disciplines exterior to archaeology. According to some, one solution for lightening the writing style would have been to completely eliminate descriptions of the quantified data and to present only the results themselves. This practice is apparently common in the hard sciences. For the human sciences, however, it does not seem possible to abandon the traditional discursive practices from one day to the next. For this, a methodological consensus within the scientific community would have been necessary, and this is still far from being the case.

7The advantage of logicist schematization is that it advances a solution to these problems of consultation since it presents only inferential operations, which have been stripped of all rhetoric. At the same time, logicist schemes expressed on paper have the disadvantage of proposing a new mode of reading while maintaining the “codes” of linear text, often leading to difficult presentations. These “codes” correspond to the constraints of presenting, in a linear order, a succession of a) constructions that are embedded in each other at various levels of the final construction; b) paraphrases that permit one to unpack the content of initial and intermediary propositions, without being able to evoke these simultaneously.

8From the above problems arose the idea of schematizing our entire work on a multimedia support. This was seen as an editorial innovation that could allow greater reading facility. The resulting cd-rom is found in the back cover of the book. It was produced in collaboration with Philippe Blasco, a journalist and editorial director of the magazine Globe-Mémoire. This project is ambitious in that it constitutes a new form of publication whose interests are at the same time epistemological, practical and editorial.

9Epistemological interest. First of all, this cd-rom is not meant as a complement to the book serving to popularize the results (with photos and films as the principal documents), nor as a source of rapid, interactive consultation of the databases, nor as a means of storing them, nor as a simulation of the data by means of an operational algorithm. Rather, we see this cd-rom above all as a new mode of scientific publication whose principles of presentation are based on the concept of logicism and which will serve two primary objectives: a) to reveal the foundations of scientific constructions, and; b) to simultaneously allow various levels of consultation of the data utilized. These principles integrate the epistemological exigencies of logicist schematization and the particularities of publication on cd-rom. Indeed, given the difficulty, or discomfort, of reading linear text on a computer screen, cd-rom publication is not well adapted to the narrative mode of presentation, i.e. narrative texts that cannot be schematized. On the other hand, schematization permits to take advantage of the “consultative” mode of reading which is proper to multimedia publication. This remarkable convergence of editorial constraints and logicist principles leads us to imagine that, in the future, schematization may be adopted by multimedia as a principle of scientific publication. It follows that these principles could lead to a distinction between those studies that can be modelled and those that cannot. Those that cannot, will remain resolutely within the narrative domain, to be read on paper. That will be the case for example, of ethno-archaeological narratives, which function as a source of hypotheses, but which do not, however, correspond to scientific constructs.

10Practical interest. Next, since we abandon the linear mode of presentation in order to allow consultation of the ensemble of data, results and interpretations will be attainable as rapidly or exhaustively as desired by the reader, without obscuring the clarity of the scientific foundations. Indeed, the vision of the scientific construction offered by multimedia is at the same time synthetic and analytical. It is synthetic in that the schematization of the general construction immediately expresses the data utilized in this construction, the rules of inference that were applied to the data, and the resulting interpretations. It is analytical in that the absence of linearity allows the reader easily to switch back and forth between interpretations and the references on which they are founded, and at the same time, to consult the foundations of these references at various levels. Consultation can be either exhaustive and didactic in nature, when the whole set of data (expressed as a series of arguments) is examined, or it can be partial, while still expressing the essential results in the form of propositions. In my opinion, this potential for differential consultation is one of the clear advantages of multimedia publication over publication on paper: it can facilitate a new mode of reading, while conserving certain presentation criteria, which, in this medium, do not in any way hinder consultation of the scientific project.

11Editorial interest. Finally, cd-rom publication should allow us to reduce considerably the number of pages required for the publication of research. Moreover, publication on cd-rom may provide an incentive for the translation of scientific publications into different languages, since it will no longer require the translation of long narratives, but of brief propositions, which can be achieved at a much more reasonable cost.

12It remains to be noted that the present work was not modelled in its entirety, and that the contents of certain sections are accessible only in the paper version. These sections are of various types:

  1. Information that is not utilized in any of the constructions presented in the book. This consists of data that trace the history of the city of Cambay, where the carnelian beads were produced, the evolution of the various markets that developed during past centuries, and the symbolic value of the carnelian beads in a few large cultural regions. These data are contextual in nature, providing a framework for the study, but are in no way integrated into the different studies (information included in chapter 1).
  2. Methodological considerations that are more or less exhaustively discussed (e.g. the epistemological position expressed in the introduction, the presentation of the activity analysis).
  3. Theoretical concepts used to explain the phenomena studied. These are found in particular in the chapter on skills, concerning the different explanations given for the phenomenon of action, and in the chapter, “Interprétation archéologique”, concerning the explanations given for the processes of the emergence of the State. These concepts, or explanatory hypotheses, are found either at the beginning of the chapters, in the section, “Cadre théorique”, or at the end of the chapters in the “discussion” sections.

13These various sections were not modelled for the following reasons:

  1. The transcribed information does not intervene in the proposed constructions, it is not the object of demonstration. Rather, it refers to a narrative consisting of propositions demonstrated or evoked in other works, and which, in this way, had, or will have, their place in a scientific construction that is not treated in the present work. Its presentation in a narrative form published in the paper version is nonetheless justified given its potential pertinence for evoking the “symbolico-socio-economic” phenomenon of which the beads may be a part.
  2. The presentation of methodological considerations may be necessary when they concern a new method such as activity analysis, which is an analytical tool that is not yet well known within the archaeological community. Alternatively, the epistemological considerations on which the ethno-archaeological studies are based can be explicitly understood through consultation of the cd-rom. They can thus be reduced, in the paper version, to a presentation of the structure of the work and its main objectives.
  3. Finally, we return to the theoretical concepts evoked to explain the phenomena studied. These concepts correspond to what J.-C. Gardin called le balayage du champ des possibles (scanning the field of possibilities) (Gardin 1998b). They refer to the theoretical debates in which the results of the modelled scientific constructions are implied. These theoretical debates are not included in the modelled texts because they were not the object of scientific construction. If that had been the case, they would have been schematized. An example would be the form published in the paper version is (Francfort et al. 1989) that was used in an attempt to model the different hypotheses concerning the emergence of the State. Nevertheless, the absence of schematization of these theoretical debates does not prevent their publication in narrative form in the paper version, since this entails presenting them without necessarily analyzing their foundations.

14These issues give rise to the idea of future publications of schematizations on cd-rom, accompanied by their narrative versions on paper. In terms of quantity, these would correspond to a tenth of our current texts.

15In a certain manner, this is what we present in the English version of the present work: the cd-rom may be consulted in two languages, French and English, while the book includes the English translation of the introduction and epilogue, as well as a summary of each chapter. By consulting the cd-rom and the book, an English reader should be able to comprehend the totality of the scientific project.

16Is schematization on multimedia a new publication alternative? Internet journals pose this question directly, and I would be tempted to respond affirmatively, in spite of some who express a strong reticence about the logicist program.

17March 27, 1999

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2000

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