Professor Alison Wylie delivered the 2013 JohnMulvaney Lecture on Wednesday 20 March in the Manning Clark Centre.
Reliance on analogy, especially ethnographic analogy, is as contentious in archaeology as it is ubiquitous, and it is once again the centre of sharp controversy about disciplinary ambitions, epistemic identity, and norms of credible practice. What basis can there be, ask contemporary critics of analogy-gone-wrong, for projecting Malagasy cultural meanings onto Stonehenge, or Big Man models of colonial era leadership in Melanesia onto the European Neolithic?
These figure as negative object lessons that are understood to demonstrate, yet again, the “vulnerability of analogy,” raising anew the question of whether the hope for an analogy-free archaeology, a defining commitment of the New Archaeology, can ever be realized. Professor Wylie does not see this as a counsel of epistemic despair or warrant for speculation. Rather than indicting analogical inference as a whole, recent critiques illustrate a number of strategies for making judicious use of analogical inference which converge, at key points, on philosophical analyses of productive analogical reasoning in fields as diverse physics and chemistry, evolutionary biology and genetics.
Professor Alison Wylie is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Washington. She gained her first degree in Philosophy and Sociology at Mount Allison University, going on to postgraduate studies at the State University of New York and Oxford, where she gained her doctorate. She was awarded the Presidential Award from the Society for American Archaeology in 1995 and appointed Distinguished Lecturer by the American Anthropological Association in 2008. Alison’s main research interests lie in the philosophy of the social and historical sciences, and feminist philosophy of science.