Tuesday, August 27, 2013

0198 – The complexity of enclosing

Around here Prehistoric enclosing is sometimes considered an easy issue. Maybe because it is approached as a Prehistoric matter of obvious and literal meaning. However, not just prehistoric issues aren't easy and obvious, but also enclosing is a complex sociological attitude.

Enclosing is a decision that can respond to many different social and psychological reasons. Therefore, Sociology and Social Psychology cam help archaeology (if archaeologists let them).

A good example of this is the work of Tim Insoll (professor of the University of Manchester), that has been studying shrine contexts in Africa. I attend to one of his talks in Oxford and it became clear to me that there is a lot of matter in this kind of work that can be useful for the research of Prehistoric enclosures (maybe that is why he was invited to talk in a meeting dedicated to Prehistoric enclosures).

The shrine is a sort of memorial, monument or grave structure that encloses something, being to protect or conceal what is inside or to protect what is outside (from what is inside). In his studies in Africa, Insoll deal with a lot of different forms of enclosing: material ones, symbolic ones; evident or just suggested; completely involving the object or space, or just demark it. Sometimes those shines were made to protect what was inside, sometimes it was precisely the opposite.
An example of a modern shrine: the statue of the Portuguese physician Sousa Martins that lived in the second half of the XIX century (located in Campo dos Mártires da Pátria, Lisbon). By his work he was venerated by his patients and it became a legend and a saint for the public, that until the present pray for his intervention in times of need of medical assistance. The statue is now a shrine, involved by hundreds of plaques that thank his “miracles”. The plaques involve him, protect and generate a internal space of holiness.

Those examples tell us that we need to have a solid theoretical background about the phenomena of enclosing to approach enclosures, since the issue is not an easy one. Enclosing is a sociological and psychological problem. It is an attempt to control and conform, not the world, but the world as it is expressed by some ideas. They are built to prevent, to protect, to differentiate, to separate, to hierarchize, to impose pathways, to impose visibilities, to represent ideologies, to spatially materialize social and political structures, to communicate.  The reasons for enclosing may be quite diversified and may respond to several different motivations.

There is a lot to learn in the social and psychological phenomena of shrining that can be helpful to researches that deal with prehistoric enclosures.
Detail of the shrine of plaques in Sousa Martins statue.

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