chapter  1
36 Pages

Theory in the Pacific, and the Pacific in theory

ByTim Thomas

Historically, European encounters with Pacific landscapes and people have had a lasting impact on metropolitan ideas. In archaeology and other human sciences island geographies have provided clarity for the refinement and testing of theory, with their boundedness and diversity being touted as explanatory aids, facilitating the study of population relationships and influencing theories of race, social and cultural evolution, political organisation and human–environment relations. In this introduction to the book, I discuss how the development of theory and encounters with place interact, and how we can understand this relationship. Rather than advocate for either the establishment of diverse regional archaeological traditions or the development of a globally unified theoretical framework, I argue that theorising involves reciprocal comparison between circulating ideas and local materials, and so is always a synthetic product that arises from diverse contexts of investigation and comparison. I then turn to a historical overview of the establishment of the Pacific as an arena for theoretical development in archaeology as a branch of the human sciences. My focus is on how European theories of the Pacific defined the key research questions taken up by archaeologists and shaped an enduring role for the region in global archaeological discourse.