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PhD defence

The French-Anglophone divide in lithic research: A plea for pluralism in Palaeolithic archaeology

Thursday 14 March 2019
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


This dissertation takes a fresh epistemological look at the so-called French-Anglophone divide in Palaeolithic archaeology - a much-debated interpretive conflict between two research traditions in stone tool analysis.

I present a brief historical survey of the division and evaluate its relevance, if any, for modern lithic approaches in the field. This in-depth conceptual analysis of selected case studies leads to the conclusion that the two spheres of research are based on incompatible understandings of the world and, consequently, differ in their construction of data, their methodological rationale as well as their theoretical toolkit. As a result, the same body of evidence is often interpreted in a radically different way. 

The investigation also reveals that these stark differences in the logic of research can further be elucidated by deploying American philosopher Stephen C. Pepper's framework of 'world hypotheses'. Following Pepper's contention that Western thought can be broken down into four highly adequate yet conflicting modes of cognition, it is shown that French lithic approaches gravitate towards 'contextualism' and 'organicism', while Anglophone scholars tend to deploy 'formism' and 'mechanism'.

This new apprehension of the French-Anglophone divide strongly promotes a pluralistic view of stone artefact analysis in Palaeolithic archaeology. I therefore content that progress in the field can only be made if we take serious this condition and try to exploit the relative strengths of each of the involved modes of reasoning.


  • Prof. R.H.A. Corbey
  • Prof. M. Soressi


PhD defences are free; you do not have to register.

PhD dissertations

PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally after the defence through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

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