Wenner Gren Workshop 2005
"The Public Meanings of the Archaeological Past:
Sociological Archaeology and Archaeological Ethnography"
Quetzil E. CASTAÑEDA & Christopher N. MATTHEWS, Organizers
Pisté and Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, México.
June 1-5, 2005
OSEA-The Open School of Ethnography
and Anthropology, Institutional Sponsor
The proposed workshop examines the changing role of
archaeology in relation to the rise of heritage concerns, especially
among Indigenous communities, minority groups, and other cultural
collectivities. These new interests have challenged the viability
of inherited archaeological practice as the sole steward of the archaeological
record and heritage. The workshop is organized around two themes:
sociological archaeology and archaeological ethnography. The purpose
of the proposed workshop is to systematically explore these themes
within a questioning of the social roles, political significance and
cultural impact of archaeology. The workshop goals are, one, to elaborate
a programmatic vision of "sociological archaeology" through
a discussion of the diverse sociological dimensions of archaeological
research, and, two, to develop practical models for incorporating
ethnography into archaeology as a means for it to systematically address
and mediate diverse public interests in and claims over archaeological
heritage. The Workshop is designed as a six day event consisting of
parts. The first part, consisting of the first three days, is the
presentation of prepared position papers. The second part, or day
four, is a period of individual and informal small group reflection
on the preceding discussions; this is also a time when participants
can prepare their syntheses, statements, and concluding opinion pieces
for the remainder of the workshop. The third part is a workshop forum
for collective reflection and collaboration organized to create synthesizing
results, produce tangible conclusions, and finalizing outcomes in
preliminary statements. The position papers as well as the formal
discussion of part one and the critical syntheses of part three will
be collected in an edited volume. Additionally, in order to quickly
disseminate the debates and results of the workshop to a larger audience,
the project organizers will edit a specific set of workshop materials
(i.e., transcripts of open discussions, position papers, and/or workshop
presentations), for publication in a prominent archaeology journal.
The tangible results of this workshop will be a diverse set of writings
that will present a viable and pragmatic vision of sociological archaeology
and archaeological ethnography.
Objectives, Context, and Issues of the Proposed Workshop Meeting
In the last thirty years archaeologists have increasingly sought
to understand the significance of the social, political, and ethical
relationships between their science and the various publics that archaeology
serves and addresses (e.g., Gero et al 1983; Hodder 1999; King et
al 1977; LaRoche and Blakey 1997; Meskell 1998; Leone et al 1995;
Lynott and Wylie 2000). These publics extend beyond the academic audiences
of students and other researchers to include private and governmental
funding agencies, the heterogeneous sociocultural collectivities whose
pasts are the object of archaeological study, and the audiences of
news, entertainment, and popular science media. Public archaeology,
as such, emerged as a subfield of archaeology due to the increased
recognition of the connection between archaeology and the diverse
publics with which it works and to whom it communicates, or addresses,
as well as the groups archaeology serves (e.g., Bond and Gilliam 1994;
Jameson 1997; Layton 1989; McDavid 1997; Potter 1994; Watkins et al
2000). The purview and concern of public archaeology for these sociological
responsibilities and relationships has, however, remained marginalized
and pushed into a specialized subfield of archaeology. This workshop
aims to both extend these concerns for the sociological contexts and
conditions of archaeology to the whole field and to locate these issues
at the heart of the conception of what is archaeology.
By attending to these complex social relations and sociological dimensions
(contexts, conditions, responsibilities, and audiences) of archaeological
research, archaeology must necessarily recognize itself as "social
archaeology" and as "sociological science." This phrase
has three meanings. First, the phrasing indicates how a science or
field of study such as archaeology is embedded within specific sociopolitical,
economic and cultural contexts; these contexts both enable and constrain
archaeology in all of its activities and results. Second, the phrasing
implicates that these sociological contexts, that is, the sociocultural
groups and communities that contextualize archaeology, both effect
and are effected by the archaeological research practices and knowledge
production. Third, the phrasing of sociological science further implies
the idea that all of these social facets of being part of the world
are recognized as a legitimate part of science and a proper object
of archaeological investigation. The proposed workshop therefore explores
this problem of how archaeology might become a "sociological
science" in these three senses.
The well-known adage that "archaeology that must be anthropology"
which was originally coined by Willey and Philips (1958) can be extended
and turned around to offer a guiding assumption and thesis to be explored
by the workshop: One way for archaeology to realize its potential
as a social and sociological science is through an appropriation and
incorporation of aspects of cultural anthropology, specifically with
the way this field has developed a sociological consciousness and
investigation of its historical impact in the world. Specifically,
the proposed workshop has as its primary objective the exploration
of the thesis that archaeology can and must develop within itself
diverse forms of "ethnography" as a fundamental means to
become a "sociological science." The proposed research seminar
therefore has the goal of establishing the basis of an "archaeological
ethnography" - that is, an ethnography that serves archaeology
in developing itself as a science that attends to its diverse publics
and to the sociological dimensions of the creation, interpretation,
and dissemination of archaeological pasts.
The idea for this workshop is timely. It arrives at a point in history
when diverse Indigenous communities, minority groups, and other cultural
collectivities have increasingly sought greater control of their own
identity, forms of belonging, and the scientific knowledges by which
their identities and belongings are sociologically legitimated. These
groups have lost control of their heritage-past to both the encompassing
nation-states that transform their past into national patrimony and
to the archaeological sciences that transform the past into the patrimony,
not only of nations, but of a global humanity or civilization. As
a crucial part of their own struggle to establish social legitimacy,
autonomy, and self-determination in the contemporary world, these
cultural communities have contested the claims of archaeology and
related anthropological sciences to control and regulate the fate
of their material and intangible heritage. The proposed workshop is
to a great extent a response to this heritage movement, that is to
this dramatic rise in claims of ownership and rights of descent made
on the past by stake-holding cultural groups and subnational (as well
as transnational) communities throughout the world.
The heritage movement - that is, this world-wide protest by different
religious, Indigenous, ethnic, social, and gender communities against
the scientific appropriation of their material and intangible cultural
past - has been dismissed by many in academia as illegitimate "fringe"
issues that lay outside the real historical concerns of true science.
This rejection is based on the idea that proper and legitimate science
only serves the most encompassing human collectivity of global civilization
or the world humanity. In contrast, there is the recognition, to which
an ever increasing number of scholars subscribe, that archaeology
must consciously situate its science in the complex sociological contexts
of divergent interests, publics, conflicts and dilemmas to therefore
become more ethically responsible and more responsive to the different
stakeholders involved in any given research.
The urgent question for archaeologists, then, is how to respond to
these changing conditions of research. One path for finding solution
to these political conflicts and ethical dilemmas is through an appeal
to a more accurate, objective, and veridical science. Another path,
the one chosen by the workshop for exploration, is to re-envision
archaeology as a sociological science as already discussed. Specifically,
the workshop agenda proposes a constructive solution to be debated,
developed, and concretized in a programmatic vision. This potential,
if nonetheless partial solution, is the idea that an "autochthonous"
ethnography formulated within archaeology can address many of these
issues and problems that confront archaeology and archaeologists.
This ethnography would not simply be a "social consciousness"
of archaeology, nor a means of acquiescence to minority claims over
heritage. Rather, the potential of an archaeological ethnography is
that it may provide methodological tools and dynamics for, one, mediating
archaeology's relation to diverse and sometime antagonized stakeholders
and, two, investigating the real-world ways in which archaeology is
constrained, enabled by and effects the sociocultural life worlds
in which it exists.
The Question of "Sociological Archaeology"
The proposed workshop on the possibilities of a sociological archaeology
entails two broad sets of thematic problems. These two are defined
by the concepts of the "publics of archaeology" and "archaeological
ethnography," both of which intersect in the question of the
meaning of the past. First, archaeological publics are the diverse
agents with which archaeology works or collaborates, which it serves,
and to whom it addresses its findings. A thesis to explore in the
workshop is that these collaborators, funding agencies, and audiences
define the sociological field of interaction and thereby condition
the possibility, structure the limits, and actualize the potential
of archaeology as a science committed to producing relevant knowledge
and responsible understandings of the past. Premised on this assumption,
the workshop explores these heterogeneous and intersecting publics
in terms of how they work, how they articulate to each other, and
how they operate in different combinations in the production of archaeology.
This framing of archaeology raises specific issues that participants
address: How can archaeological research projects incorporate subject
communities whose past is being studied into the research process,
from the production of data to the interpretation of the record and
the dissemination of findings? How are archaeologists to navigate
contesting claims of ownership, including their own and those of other
archaeologists, over, not only the archaeological record, but legitimate
explanation and the rights to publicize both data and interpretations?
If there are multiple publics that claim contesting ownerships, authority,
or historical relationship to the past that is being studied, to which
groups must archaeologists be held responsible and according to what
criteria? These and other questions that are investigated in the workshop
derive from the crucial problem of the "meaning of the past."
This problem not only entails questions such as: how does the past
come to have meaning? to whom does this past and its meaning "belong"?
But also: for whom is this meaning "meaningful" and for
whom is it not? With these questions the workshop explores the sociological
bases for mediating, if not resolving, these conflicts in "the
meaning of the past" as it is relates to and produces archaeology.
Second, the shift from a public archaeology to a fully sociological
archaeology depends upon the recognition that archaeology, including
the knowledge it produces, is not simply embedded within, but constituted
by, complex social, political, and economic relationships. This "self-consciousness"
however is not in itself sufficient: What is also necessary is the
development of methods, concepts, and analyses for developing this
understanding into both a systematic knowledge and into a corresponding
series of practices, criteria, and procedures that incorporate and
make use of this systematic knowledge. The workshop debates and elaborates
the idea that an "archaeological ethnography" can provide
useful answers to this perceived disciplinary need.
The Question of "Archaeological Ethnography"
This proposed ethnography can and does take many forms. Several models
of how ethnography functions within or near archaeology already exist
and these will be put in a comparative framework and debated. The
first model of ethnography in archaeology is one in which ethnographers,
who are formally connected to a research project, conduct fieldwork
on the local and regional meanings of the past; and, the results are
incorporated in any number of ways by the archaeologists into the
archaeological interpretation of the past and/or the dissemination
of interpretations (e.g., Bartu 2000; Breglia 2003; McDavid 1997).
The second model is that of the independent ethnographer who conducts
a study of archaeology within the emergent field of "the anthropology
of science" via a focused investigation of one or more specific
archaeological projects, specific bodies of knowledge and interpretation,
and/or the politics of archaeological institutions, practices, and
discourses (e.g., Castañeda 1996; El-Haj 2001; Gero and Root
1996; Handler and Gable 1997; Herzfeld, 1991; Matthews, 2001). The
first two models involve ethnographers doing ethnography in explicit
ways according to scientific criteria of sociocultural anthropology.
The third model is an "invisible" model "in embryo"
in that it is the ethnography that every archaeologist actualizes
in the form of an "applied practice" in his and her navigation
of the diverse publics of archaeology (e.g., Leone et al 1987; Potter
1994; Pyburn and Wilk 2000). It is "invisible" in part because
it is archaeologists "doing" ethnography. It is "in
embryo" because it is an unfulfilled and incomplete ethnography
that is methodologically haphazard and analytically unsystematicized;
in other words, this piecemeal and individuated knowledge does not
accumulate into a shared, published, and scientific understanding
of archaeology as a social science embedded within its sociological
contexts and publics. No doubt archaeologists could produce such systematic
ethnographic analyses without ethnographers, if time permitted them;
as well, ethnographers would not attain the same results as archaeologists.
However ethnographers incorporated into archaeology in these three
and additional ways that are elaborated in the seminar would re-figure
the conception and practice of archaeology as a science critically
engaged with its sociological foundations.
To focus on how to create a "sociological archaeology"
through the development of an "archaeological ethnography,"
the proposed workshop would focus on the publics of archaeology, generally,
and the articulation of specific publics to particular archaeological
projects and pasts. Archaeological ethnography, through a variety
of different forms and kinds of field research, would therefore address
the problem of the meaning of the archaeological past and provide
archaeology an additional and explicit means of mediating, articulating,
and understanding its publics. In turn, this will contribute frameworks
for archaeology to assume more thorough and reasoned ethical, social,
and political responsibilities. The intellectual goal of the workshop
is to explore these issues and debate the ways in which these ideas
can be most productively elaborated and actualized in research practices.
Significance of the Project to Anthropology &
International Heritage Issues
The tendency of anthropological subdisciplines to factionalize along
the 20th-century divide of scientific and humanistic anthropologies
has resulted in an estrangement between sociocultural anthropology
and archaeology. The proposed workshop seeks not to "resolve"
or reconcile but to exploit and put to use these different philosophical
and methodological approaches within a unified investigation of the
meaning of the past. While archaeology is indeed defined by this problem
of the meaning of the past, the exploration of how to make use of
ethnography within the study of archaeological research problems reformulates
archeological practice within an integrated approach that a) links
past and present within multiple intersecting publics and b) investigates
the social contexts, conditions, and dynamics of the archaeological
enterprise. The development of an archaeological ethnography that
focuses its investigations on how archaeology works with, serves,
and communicates to its diverse publics, would allow archaeology to
more fully develop as a sociological science. The workshop, which
aims to chart the possible nature, terrain, and agenda of such a conception
of archaeology, offers a significant contribution to the practice
of anthropological archaeology by mapping problems in and solutions
to the social, ethical, and political dilemmas that engage the field.
The ultimate purpose of the workshop is to design a new frame for
dialogue within archaeological and between archaeology and its multiple,
diverse publics. While ethnography more than archaeology has engaged
the critical responses to its research practices that have been offered
by subject communities, archaeology has also begun to redirect its
agenda toward a more responsible relationship to its publics. Archaeology,
whether practiced in the USA-national form of a subfield of anthropology
or as a separate disciplinary endeavor in other nations, will benefit
from a careful inter-sub-disciplinary examination of how critical
and dialogical ethnographic methods may be linked with archaeological
research programs that focus on the meaning of the past. The socially
engaged dialogue envisioned in a sociological archaeology and archaeological
ethnography renews the importance of anthropology for the diverse
publics it serves by adding social relevance and responsibility to
the meanings of the social and cultural life it investigates.
The proposed ideas of an "archaeological ethnography" and
a "sociological archaeology" are relatively "new"
solutions to urgent and current problems in the conduct of archaeology.
Many archaeologists have in dispersed and limited ways turned to ethnography
in the context of particular research projects. This is evident in
the emergence of Indigenous archaeologies in the USA and the formation
of the World Archaeological Congress. In turn, there is a tradition
of Latin American "social archaeology" (Benavides 2001;
Oyuela-Cayeco et al. 1997; Patterson 1994; Lumbreras 1981), but this
has remained relatively unknown outside of a minority network of Latin
American archaeologists. These forays into the areas conceptualized
by the proposed workshop and their results have remained dispersed
and inadequately disseminated. The workshop therefore provides an
important opportunity to extend these discussions to a broader, international
audience of concerned archaeologists. One result will be an opening
of discussion and debate, not only among the international participants,
but among them and their colleagues in their home countries and institutions.
One tangible goal of the proposed workshop is to develop a programmatic
vision that would be able provide a conceptual framework for further
development of and linkages between these dispersed practices. The
Bellagio Center Workshop is an ideal format for the intensive and
sustained exploration and synthesis of these issues for it brings
together scholars working in different research areas, subfields,
and national contexts who would otherwise remain out of communication
with each other. In turn, the proposed workshop is ideal for , with
its historic role in facilitating international dialogue on issues
of broad and immediate concern for anthropologists and policy makers,
in that it offers significant work that re-envisions the nature of
archaeology via its relationship to the publics and stakeholders that
archaeology should necessarily serve as a sociologically oriented
Structure and Thematic Organization of the Proposed
The proposed workshop is structured in three parts. The first part
follows the "conference" style presentation of prepared
position papers, with pre-arranged commentary by fellow participants.
These part also entails open discussion of the papers and commentaries.
The second part involves a brief interim period of individual reflection
and informal, small group discussion. This element has been incorporated
into the workshop project in order to make the most appropriate use
of the intellectual and natural ambience of the workshop facilities.
The third part is a workshop forum in which all participants come
together for the purposes of summarizing findings, defining conclusions,
proposing critical synthesis of ideas, and concretizing results. This
workshop forum aims at toward the collaborative production of a programmatic
vision of sociological archaeology and archaeological ethnography.
The following details the participants, the proposed location, the
substance and organization of the first and third parts, and the expected
results of the workshop.
Projected Outcomes and Goals
1. The publication goals of the workshop is defined by two projects.
First, the position papers and formal commentaries will be prepared
in an edited volume. Second, the materials that derive from the in-situ
workshop forum will be collected and revised for publication. Some
of this material may go in the book noted above, but the majority
of this material will be edited for rapid publication in a special
issue of a premier archaeological journal that has a broad international
2. The proposed workshop participates in the on-going transformation
of the inherited paradigm of archaeology science. The publication
of workshop results will significantly contribute by offering practical
models and visions of research. The workshop therefore promises to
be a landmark contribution to the immediate future of archaeology
by shaping, guiding, and finding a common framework for the on-going
debates and discussions on heritage and its publics that concern archaeology
everywhere in the world.
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