Identity and socio-cultural change

Dr Ralph Häussler

This research strand focuses on the methodologies and theories regarding sociocultural change and identity. Few empires had such an impact on the conquered peoples as did the Roman empire, creating social, economic and cultural changes that erased long-standing differences in social structures, settlement patterns material culture, languages, cults, rituals and identities. This research project therefore focuses above all on the changes between Iron Age and Principate, roughly between the 3rd century B.C. and the 3rd century A.D., investigating aspects like the impact of urbanism, economic change, ideology, social integration, discrimination, taxation, colonial discourses, etc. on people’s identity. Sociocultural change leads us to the realm of sociology and anthropology: how do social structures develop? How are social hierarchies maintained or challenged? How can we identify the actions of the social agent in these processes? Our evidence also allows us to recognise the multiple identities that individuals expressed and publicly displayed. Roman imperialism also generated a process of ethnogenesis among the conquered populations, creating and perpetuating ethnic and territorial identities that would shape people’s identities for centuries to come.

The cluster has a long history of engagement with the wider community. Within this research strand, strategies for impact have focused on public exhibitions of work and increasing audiences for our research outside of academia.  For example, The City of Rome Project has established an annual public lecture series which is hosted on the Lampeter campus (2012, 2013, 2014). The project has also organised successful public exhibitions of materials from the University’s special collection, the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives.

Applications are currently in development for the AHRC and research partners in Europe.

Through the work in this research area the School has active research links and collaborations with researchers and practitioners in:

  • France, notably with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Lattes/Montpellier and Aix-en-Provence.
  • Italy, notably the archaeological “Soprintendenze” in Turin and Milan, the universities of Turin, Pavia, Venice and Rome.

Ralph Häussler 2013. Becoming Roman? Diverging Identities and Experiences in Ancient Northwest Italy. UCL Institue of Archaeology Publications. Left Coast Press.

This book provides a theoretical approach to societal and cultural change, to questions of identity and ethnogenesis. There is a strong focus on the social agent and his/her experiences. Based on Northwest Italy, the question is raised how people adapted to Roman intrusions and structures, how new social networks were created and how this affected the social agent, both elite and subaltern classes.

Ralph Häussler (ed.) 2008. Romanisation et épigraphie. Études interdisciplinaires sur l’acculturation et l’iden­tité dans l’Empire romain, Montagnac(Éditions Monique Mergoil, Archéologie et His­toire Romaine, 17).

This collection of papers discusses issues of identity and sociocultural change across the Roman empire (cf.

“De-constructing ethnic identities: Becoming Roman in Western Cisalpine Gaul?”, in: Andrew Gardner, Edward Herring and Kathrin Lomas(edd.), Creating Ethnicities and Identities in the Roman World. BICS supplement, no 120. London, pp. 35-70. 

The expansion of Rome across Italy, the Mediterranean and beyond entailed encounters with a wide range of people, several of whom had well-established ethnic identities attested in the material or literary record, which can be compared with Roman perceptions. In many cases, however, the ethnicity of peoples conquered by Rome has largely been perceived through the lenses of Roman ethnographic writing and administrative structure. This volume explores both how these kinds of practices were a part of Roman strategies of control, and how people living in particular places internalised them and developed their own senses of belonging to an ethnic community. The formation of such identities seems a vital part of the process of Roman imperialism, and one which runs against the grain of homogenisation implied by traditional narratives of cultural change. Nonetheless, comparisons across the empire may reveal similar kinds of processes of boundary formation and symbolic community-building.