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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

Abstract

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.

Project Description
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 discipline.

 

Structure and Thematic Organization of the Proposed Workshop

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 audience.


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.


References

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