Tuesday 29 July 2014

Collectors' Methodologies (1): John Hooker's Celtic "Cables"

Collectors of dugup antiquities incessantly tell us that we should not "ban" (sic) collecting of dug up antiquities because collectors are really all scholars studying what they collect for all they are worth, and thus creating history, history which they say heritage professionals will never be able to duplicate (see coin collector Thomas Albert's writings on that topic for an example of the genre). Or you can take Canadian collector John Hooker. Like Mr Albert, Mr Hooker fancies himself as some kind of polymathic post-modernist genius able to see through the fog more clearly than his intellectual inferiors, academic archaeologists in particular (except the ones he name-drops because they seem to agree with him). He is bent on instructing us all on how archaeology should and should not be done, what jolly useful things 'Celtic coins' are in understanding life, the universe and everything (especially those attributed to the Coriosolites which he's studied lots of drawings of), and how nobody understands 'the La Tène religion of the Celtic elite' as well as he does. He claims at every opportunity not only to be superior intellectually to the rest of us hoi polloi, but to have applied a superior 'methodology' to that of logical chains of argument, the cable (a 'stuff different threads in the same bundle and twist it around'?) methodology. But then these cables for him have a independent existence: "The many strands of this cable weave in and out and over a vast time period in many places". I've already said that this is what von Daniken was doing, but Hooker's having none of that:
There will be detractors who are too lazy to do the research, or who have some personal grudge about my other activities ― aficionados of the yellow journalism which has crawled out of the woodwork and onto the Internet in recent years, and who use such unethical methods to influence even dimmer politicians, for reasons best known to themselves or perhaps their therapists ― but we will leave them to chew their cud, and I will be back tomorrow to give examples of  Megalithic petroglyphs and how they tie into later mythologies. 
Hmmm. So for Mr Hooker, a 'cable' methodology is one where he presents his bundle of things that might be 'evidence' and expects others to do the research to make sense of it, and if they are too 'lazy' to follow his pointers, then they have only themselves to blame that they do not understand what a genius he is. That is 100% the Von Daniken approach. [I can only assume that by the transatlantic term "yellow journalism" he means bloggers, I leave it up to my readers to decide which blogs actually fall into that category. Of course the "or perhaps their therapists" is not an example of such "yellow journalism", is it?]

What is clear however is that Hooker has not actually understood what these 'cables' he writes about are  and where they come from. In his rejoinder to John Howland, John Hooker writes:
Barford [...]  disagrees, very strongly, but without explanation or example of the cable reasoning put forward by the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, modified by Richard Bernstein and applied to archaeology by Alison Wylie.
What Alison Wylie does with this is another matter, Hooker imagines he is being very pragmatic and post modern by applying what he calls "cable reasoning" (elsewhere: "this Peirce/Bernstein/Wylie [...] "cable" method of building a strong case for their theories"). This is all very odd, because he actually cites a relevant passage of   Richard J. Bernstein's 'Beyond objectivism and relativism: science, hermeneutics, and praxis' in an earlier post of his. If he'd actually understood the passage in its context (has Hooker read the book, or just found a convenient fragment on the Internet?) he'd see that he is barking up the wrong tree entirely. Peirce was writing about the epistemological notions of Cartesian philosophy, and the cable analogy describes the existing mode of scientific theory building. It is not a "method", still less one proposed as an alternative method by Peirce or Bernstein. Let us also note something that Hooker omits, the strands of the cable described by Bernstein constrain as well as reinforce each other.

Are the only people sceptical of Mr Hooker's reasoning really "people with a personal grudge" because he's a collector? I would say this type of moaning is the usual tactic of playing the victim beloved by this chip-on-the-shoulder milieu. In any case, he never got around to actually presenting anything conclusive about those "megalithic (sic) roots" in the following text. Indeed the notion of how things "tie into" was not defined and is not one of the subjects ever explored in any archaeology course I've ever attended. It's probably a term from a von Daniken book.

There is a general lack here of any precise definition of the theoretical framework within which we are to see the presentation of these "looks like" comparisons. True some names were dropped but nothing concrete. I guess we are expected to "do our research on that" too and then guess what it is Hooker is trying to do. Hooker is however very dismissive about explicit method and theory. He writes:
I don't know if we can blame Karl Popper for the prevalence of "theory-ladenness" in British and American archaeology, or those archaeologists for imagining that archaeology is science. The problem is mostly moot in German archaeology...
We can leave aside the jab at German archaeology, which is by no means theory-free these days, and the somewhat atavistic view of the status of archaeology Hooker prefers (I've pointed this out before, but - coiney that he is - he prefers to ignore current facts in favour of his old stereotypes. He avoids going into detail by saying "Anyway, much philosophical discussion about these matters is beyond the scope of this series". Well, not it is not actually, because this is all to do with the validity of the Von-Daniken "make a bundle of loose facts and similarities and let others make the connections" method which Hooker employs in his wanderings around and around the topic of the series, all the time failing to get to grips with it. In answer to his question, theory came into European archaeology well before Karl Popper. Popper's writings were applied to one stage of the theoretical development of the discipline, and still have relevance. We might look to the falsification of some of the identifications Hooker offers by closer contextual analysis than Hooker offers - preferring instead bundles of "looks likes".

We could ignore this pseudo-intellectual claptrap but for one reason. We are constantly told that we should leave the no-questions-asked trade in dugup antiquities alone because if we attempt to curb the amount of fresh material of unknown sources on the market, we will somehow damage the ability of collectors to do their "research". Here we have set out a perfect example of this 'research' and can examine it closely. Mr Hooker is unusual in the collecting world, in that he can spell, use apostrophes and write more than eight full sentences in a row. Many cannot do any of these things.We may compare the 'look like' methodology here with the assertions of coiney writers like dealer Dave Welsh with his romantic "hoards at the edges of battlefields" theory and the "wide circulation outside Egypt of the local coinage" accounts used politically (in connection with the MOUs), and we can start to build up a more general picture of the characteristics and potential (or lack of it) of the sort of research  done by collectors.

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