Adrian Currie

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Adrian Currie

United Kingdom

Adrian Currie / Univesity of Exeter (UK) is a senior lecturer in philosophy in the University of Exeter’s department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology. He is primarily interested in how scientists successfully generate knowledge in tricky circumstances: where evidence is thin on the ground, targets are highly complex and obstinate, and our knowledge is limited. This has led him to examine the historical sciences – geology, palaeontology and archaeology – and to argue that the messy, opportunistic (‘methodologically omnivorous’) and disunified nature of these sciences often underwrites their success. His interest in knowledge-production has also led him to think about the natures of, and relationships between, scientific tools such as experiments, models and observations, as well as in comparative methods in biology. He also has an interest in how we organize scientific communities, particularly regarding scientific creativity.

Lecture 1: Methodological Omnivory & Archaeological Success

In this lecture, students will be introduced to a set of views regarding method in the historical sciences. Philosophers of the historical sciences often ask whether sciences like paleontology and archaeology differ from other sciences methodologically. Carol Cleland, for instance, has argued that we can divide prototypical experimental science from prototypical historical science: for her, both approaches are legitimate responses to different challenges in generation knowledge. Others—Derek Turner for instance—disagree: Turner claims that although these are legitimate sciences, experimental sciences can be considered more successful than historical sciences. Adrian Currie has argued that it is the lack of a specific method that underwrites the success of the historical sciences: they are opportunistic, creative and ‘methodologically omnivorous’. Students will navigate these philosophical views together, asking whether their own experiences of archaeological reasoning support or undermine the philosophical views they encounter.


Carol Cleland’s Methodological and Epistemic Differences between Historical Science and Experimental Science.

Forber & Griffith’s “Historical Reconstruction: Gaining Epistemic Access to the Deep Past”

Derek Turner’s Beyond Detective Work: Empirical Testing in Paleontology

Alison Wylie’s “Rethinking Unity as a “Working Hypothesis” for Philosophy: How Archaeologists Exploit the Disunities of Science”

Chapter 6 of Adrian Currie’s Rock, Bone & Ruin

Lecture 2: Archaeological Materials & Archaeological Reasoning

Robert Chapman and Alison Wylie place special emphasis on the material, archaeological record “as a ‘network of resistances to theoretical appropriation’ that routinely destabilizes settled assumptions, redirects inquiry and expands interpretive horizons in directions no one had anticipated” (Chapman & Wylie 2016, 6). That is, despite the apparent subjectivity of interpretation, the extent to which archaeological hypotheses and theories could be ruled by our own interests, archaeological objects are capable of disrupting our ideas, and surprising us in productive ways. In this lecture, we’ll ask what it is about archaeological materiality, and what it is about how archaeologists interact with those objects, that enables such productive work. This will involve both examining ‘the paradox of material evidence’, as Chapman and Wylie call it, and also considering how the embodied know-how that archaeologists gain (through experimental archaeology, for instance) might aid—or hinder!—interpretation. Students will be encouraged to reflect upon their own experiences in archaeological research and pedagogy to explore the relationship between archaeological ideas and archaeological objects.


Introduction of Chapman & Wylie’s “Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology”

Chapter 2 of Chapman & Wylie: “Archaeological Fieldwork: Scaffolding in Practice”

Sabina Leonelli’s “The Time of Data: Timescales of Data Use in the Life Sciences”

Caitlin Wylie’s “Overcoming the underdetermination of specimens”

Adrian Currie’s “Speculation Made Material: Experimental Archaeology & Maker’s Knowledge”