4.4 The Social Person

Although the modern individual has sometimes been characterised as an atomised individual in contrast to ‘pre-modern’ conceptualisations of the self (e.g. Thomas 2002, Fowler 2002, 2004), in fact even in modernity people are formed relationally.  Thus it is to the relationships of people with their families, friends, neighbours, masters, servants and governments that research must look to see how people are made.  It is also important to consider how a person can form and experience different kinds of self and identity in different contexts.  A soldier, for example, has a military self (see ScARF Case Study: Warfare and the making of the modern person), but how does this relate to the other ways in which that soldier is known and constituted as a person, through relationships of family, for instance?

People in the modern past were members of communities and of households and the changing relationships through which these social entities were formed can be revealed and interpreted through archaeological research. In rural contexts, for instance, research has explored the emergence of capitalist farming and a concomitant individualisation of the person through changes in daily routines and practices and it has studied resistance to the individualisation of life. Included here is work on changes to architecture, settlement and landscape associated with 18th/19th-century Agricultural Improvement (e.g. Dalglish 2001, 2003), work on the implications for society, materiality and practice of the Highland Clearances and the creation of crofting (e.g. Lelong 2000; Symonds 1999a, 1999b, 1999c, 2000). and work on the archaeology of illicit whisky distilling, interpreted as a practice through which community relationships were maintained in the face of the individualisation promoted by rural Improvement (Given 2004, Ch.8).

Some work has begun to explore the longer-term ‘genealogy’ of these classically 18th/19th-century developments, looking at the emergence of the modern rural estate in the 16th and 17th centuries and related changes in landuse and shifting relationships between individuals and groups. Relevant work here includes research on castles in their landscape context Dalglish (2005a) and inter-disciplinary studies in environmental history (e.g. Davies and Watson 2007).  Inter-disciplinary work has great potential for the development of a solid and complex understanding of the dynamic nature of self and community in the modern Scottish countryside  (Dalglish 2009). This potential relates to the ability of integrated collaborative research (archaeology, history, historical ecology, other disciplines) to create a rich and nuanced understanding of quotidian routines and the interaction of people and their material surroundings (see ‘People and Landscape’ below).

Our understanding of questions surrounding individualisation, resistance to individualisation and the perpetuation or creation of alternative modern modes of personhood has also been advanced by artefact studies. Some would see the introduction of mass produced goods as heralding the erosion of traditional ways of life and the demise of community (e.g. Emery 2000).  But while mass-produced ceramics have been tied to the creation of new, individualised eating habits, some work has challenged this meta-narrative, arguing that people adopted new factory-made wares in varied, meaningful and active ways, maintaining or transforming established (corporate) modes of dining rather than replacing them  (e.g. Barker 2005).  Alongside the introduction of mass-produced ceramics, the continuation and further development of local craft traditions can be interpreted as relating to the perpetuation of particular cooking and dining practices  (e.g. crogan pottery in the west: Cheape 1993).

Architecture has been fundamental to the creation and manipulation of persons and social relationships in the modern period. Institutional places – schools, prisons, asylums, hospitals, poor houses and the like – can be taken as one example. Places of social control are discussed in chapter 7 (People and Places) but it is worth noting here that the relationship between institutions and their inhabitants was reciprocal – institutional buildings were created by people but also shaped the people who inhabited them (Markus 1982, 1993).

From the Reformation, the Kirk saw itself as having a role in establishing a godly community which meant that the concern for maintaining social order and decency was not confined to the irregular administration of the Lord’s Supper. Individuals’ behavior was accounted for before the kirk sessions, which were often composed of people in positions of local authority and government within the community. Furthermore their concern for matters such as illegitimacy raised questions of sexual morality but also could have financial implications within the community.

Social control maintained by the religious authorities was manifest in material, spatial and architectural arrangements designed to enforce conformity and punish deviance. Kirk sessions could demand public demonstrations of repentance with the guilty individuals being required to appear before the congregation at services sitting on the stool of repentance. Examples of these survive such as in the parish church of St Andrews but other instances these have been lost in the refurbishment of church interiors. The Kirk sessions also used other instruments such as branks or scold’s bridles to punish those found guilty of blasphemy, scolding and slander. Jougs were another form of parochial punishment. Examples of these instruments of punishment and others such as the sackcloth and discipline stool can be found in the National Museums of Scotland collections, and have been the subject of recent study by Morgana McCabe (University of Glasgow) An archaeological exploration of the relationship between emotion and material culture, this research shows how these discipline artefacts acted not only or even expressly upon the punished body, but upon the victim as an embodied, emotional being and on the wider community, through a culture of shame.

Practices relating to the disciplining of the self and of the body were not confined to those who were considered to have transgressed moral and social norms. As discussed in chapter 2 (Reformations), one of the key processes of this period is the creation of a capitalist self. The influence of capitalism on the formation of a particular kind of self has been argued by to produce a highly disciplined way of organising one’s material culture and regulating one’s actions in the world (Johnson 1996). This involves both the imposition of discipline by holders of power and also, crucially, internalised self-discipline. Being a ‘disciplined’ individual requires certain knowledgeable behaviours and a high degree of regulation in social and bodily conduct.

In archaeological and material culture terms, one way in which the engagement of capitalist selves in practical action is evident is in the widespread modern concern for telling the time, seen in the appearance of sundials, clocks and bells that regulate time and labour. Sundials and clocks (see note below) are technologies for measuring time and, you might say, creating time. The contexts in which they occur provide information on where, when and why it became important to measure time in a systematic, regular and precise fashion. The need to control and quantify labour, to arrange meetings and to co-ordinate travel all affected this (the advent of rail travel indeed led to the universal adoption of Greenwich Mean Time throughout Britain, replacing the local times that differed by a few minutes).

A highly regulated world view with a preference for order, symmetry, replication, linearity and control is evident in material practices in what James Deetz, with reference to colonial America, has famously described as ‘the Georgian world view’. This is produced through, among other things, symmetrical buildings of a neo-classical style; ordered and geometric landscapes and cityscapes; a preference for white and glassy finishes over earth-toned ones; a repudiation of nature and the natural; individual but replicable ‘sets’ of material culture such as table settings, etc.

One other aspect of the person in the world of capitalism is the person as a commodity, a material good – the paramount example of which is enslavement and the trade in people as slaves. Slaves were present in Scotland (see the ScARF case study ‘Searching for Scipio‘) and the practice of bonded labour for life, applied by law to colliers and saltworkers in the 16th-17th centuries, did not amount to slavery but was close in its attitude towards the person (Whatley 1987). Scots were involved in the slave trade and in the ownership and working of slaves on colonial plantations, and a key element of the commercial wealth of Scotland from the 17th century onwards was derived from slave-produced commodities like sugar and tobacco.

The archaeology of crime and punishment is of interest not just in relation to the matter of the effects on the person of institutional architecture, noted above, but in archaeology of the disciplined and punished body. Older forms of bodily punishment were public and violent, including pillories, gallows and post-mortem punishments such as gibbets and public dissections. Later, bodily punishment took the form of prison discipline enacted through the building, or sequestrated corporal or capital punishment in prison yards. The places of public punishment sometimes yield archaeological evidence, such as the burials of executed criminals at Stirling Tolbooth.

And if the person must be understood by understanding their social relationships with other human beings, so too must we research relationships between people and animals. What does the archaeological evidence tell us about how specific animals were humanised and dehumanised across time? The inequality between working animals and working people in the early twentieth century reflects somewhat disturbing views on society’s perceived value of life. In 1921, there was greater legislative protection for pit ponies than for the miners working with them. Meals, rest periods and protective eyewear were compulsory for the animals, largely due to economic drivers, and mine workers neglecting these responsibilities risked losing their wages and their jobs. One might also consider the impact of changing from small scale animal husbandry and slaughter to large scale butchery in abattoirs and sale of meat divorced from its animal origins. How does this change human-animal relationships?

On sundials see Thomas Ross and David MacGibbon’s five-volume work The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland; an article by Ross in PSAS in 1890; Andrew Somerville’s revisitation to the subject in PSAS in 1985; on Scottish clockmaking see John Smith 1975 (1921) Old Scottish Clockmakers 1453-1850; Felix Hudson’s Scottish Clockmakers: a brief History up to 1900; Mich Dareau’s 500 years of Scottish Clockmaking; Donald Whyte 1005 Clockmakers and Watchmakers of Scotland.

See also the ScARF Case Studies: Modern Time and Warfare and the making of the modern person

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