Dissertation Abstracts

The archeological operation. A sociohistorical perspective of a discipline faced with developments in automatics and mathematics. France, Spain, Italy, in the second half of the 20th century

Author: Sébastien Plutniak, sebastien.plutniak@ehess.fr
Department: sociology
University: École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), France
Supervisor: Michel Grossetti
Year of completion: 2017
Language of dissertation: French

Keywords: computing , history of archaeology , network analysis , sequence analysis
Areas of Research: Science and Technology , Professional Groups , Logic and Methodology


During the second half of the 20th century, attempts were made to operationally redefine various social activities, including those related to science, the military, administration and industry. These attempts were aided by scientific and technical innovations developed in the Second World War, and subsequently by the increase in use of automation in various domains. This Ph.D. thesis addresses these attempts from a sociohistorical perspective, focusing on the specific case of archaeology. During this period, the domain of archaeology underwent a process of disciplinarisation and professionalisation. The same occurred in applied mathematics and then computer science: this thesis focuses on the relationships between these three domains. In France, during the 1950's and 1960's, there were significant methodological and conceptual innovations. Their subsequent scientific recognition, was, however, relatively minor. In archaeology, innovations related to applied mathematics and automatics did not lead to the emergence of an archaeological speciality based on computation. This situation was in striking contrast to what happened in other scientific domains and in archaeology in other countries, where new theoretical and methodological Anglophone definitions in ‘New Archaeology’ were spreading worldwide. This thesis explores three collective attempts to redefine the conceptual and methodological basis of archaeology, led by Georges Laplace, Jean-Claude Gardin and Jean Lesage, across France, Spain and Italy. These cases are completed by other people who had significant careers in both engineering and archaeology. In general, this thesis studies a scientific activity by investigating the cognitive and social aspects of peoples’ methodological contributions. Three models of the relationships between experts in a scientific domain and experts in an applied science (here mathematics and computing) are empirically identified and described. The effects of introducing mathematical and automation procedures on the division of labour and the distribution of recognition are analysed. The success or failure of the methodological propositions are discussed with reference to several factors and models of scientific innovation. This thesis generates new information on the development of rescue and preventive archaeology and on the use of digital technologies in human sciences. The analysis draws on 82 interviews, 23 archives and several bibliometric datasets (extracted from pre-existing databases or constructed for the purpose of this research). Mirroring the archaeological propositions under study, this research also intends to illustrate the possible use of computing and formalised procedures in social sciences. The documentation and demonstrative principles underlying this work, implemented by using Wiki, the methods of literate programming and reproducible research, are themselves analysed.