Archaeology, Ethics And Human Rights

Archaeology, Ethics And Human Rights

Convened By
Claire Smith (Australia), Quetzil Castaneda (Mexico) and Des Kahotea (NZ)

Theme Details
While looting and repatriation are a well established focus of ethical concern in archaeology, other important issues, such as the ethics of interpretation, have been largely overlooked. The ethical practice of archaeology, however, has the potential to touch on wider questions relating to social justice and human rights. This theme explores some of the ways in which ethics in archaeology can be made more socially responsible.


Ethical Archaeology In A Capitalist World

Organized By
Philip Duke (USA) and Yannis Hamilakis (UK)

Session Details
While theoretical developments in archaeology in the last 20 years have re-shaped its interpretative horizons, the socio-political dimensions are considerably less developed. A large body of interesting and worthwhile work has been produced under the broader theme of the archaeology of identity, and there is a growing amount of work on archaeological ethics, but there is still a tendency to examine what these entail for archaeologists and for society in general in a political vacuum. The issue of ethics is often seen as a sub-field of archaeology rather than a politicised concern which should underpin the ontology and epistemology of the discipline as a whole, and invite rethinking of fundamental concepts such as the “stewardship” of the “archaeological record” which is often seen as our key responsibility.

Furthermore, we often forget that the practice of archaeology today is directly linked to late capitalism and to capitalist ideology. While this fact on its own, will not explain the complex ethical and political dilemmas that archaeological work faces today,ignoring it will continue to produce often largely de-politicised, inadequate and ultimately ineffective interventions.

In this session, we argue that the creation of an ethical and responsible archaeology must ultimately excavate and expose the link of archaeology and archaeological practice with the structures of power and with capitalist, colonialist and neo-colonialists, and imperialist ideologies and practices.

We aim at bringing together attempts that work against the prevailing neo-liberal consensus, and towards a politically-aware, ethical and socially responsible archaeology.

Y. Hamilakis (UK)
P. Duke (USA)
B. Boyd (UK)
P. Funari and F. Noelli (Brazil)
M. Hall (SA)
T. Ireland (Australia)
J. Kovacik (UK)
G. Nicholas (Canada)
M. Pluciennik (UK)
M. Ronayne (Ireland)
N. Shepherd (SA)
H. Silverman (USA)
C. Tilley (USA)
A. Wylie (USA)

We anticipate 15 minute presentations, interspersed with the discussant’s comments. The end of the session will comprise a general discussion period.


AM 9-11: Ethics and Responsibility
Introduction, 10 min
Boyd, 15 min each
Discussant: Shanks: 10 min and then discussion.

AM. 11.30-1: Colonialism, nationalism, and indigeny
Bauer et al.
George 15 min. each,
Discussant: Shanks, 10 min
and then discussion.

PM: 4-6: Heritage, Archaeo-tourism, and the media
Hall, 15 min each,
Discussant: Shanks 10 min., followed by discussion, for the session and for the day as a whole.

Philip Duke Ph.D., F.S.A.
Department of Anthropology,
Fort Lewis College,
Durango, CO 81301. U.S.A.
(970) 247-7346
Touring The Past: Archaeology And Tourism In A Capitalist World
Philip Duke (USA) Ethical archaeology in Brazil
Pedro Paolo A. Funari and Francisco Silva Noelli (Brazil)
Situational Ethics: Africa And The Case For Engaged Practice
Martin Hall (South Africa) Excavating Globalisation: Considering Capitalism, Colonialism and an Archaeology of Modernity
Tracy Ireland (Australia)
Joseph Kovacik (UK) Tourism, heritage, and neo-colonialism
Mark Pluciennik (UK)
“When The Hand That Holds The Trowel Is Black”: Disciplinary Practices Of Self-representation In Archaeology And The Question Of “native” Labour.
Nick Shepherd (SA) NO FORMAL TITLE
Alison Wylie (USA)
When Theory, Practice And Policy Collide, Or Why Do Archaeologists Support Cultural Property Claims?
Alexander Bauer, Shanel Lindsay and Stephen Urice (USA) Academic Boycotts and the Politics of Archaeology in Israel and the
Palestinian Territories
Brian Boyd (UK)
Stewardship, The Fetishism Of The “Record” And The Ethical Crisis In Archaeology
Yannis Hamilakis (UK) Seeking the End of Indigenous Archaeology
George Nicholas (Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University-Secwepemc Education Institute, British Columbia, Canada)

Session Time
Day Wednesday Date 25th June
Time 9am-1pm & 4-6pm Room Hannan 106

Archaeology, Human Agency And Human Rights: Views On The Privatization Of Ethics And The Globalisation Of Indifference

Organized By
Andrew Gardner (UK) and Stephanie Koerner (UK)

Session Details
Dr. Andrew Gardner
Institute of Archaeology
University College London
31-34 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PY,
Telephone: +44 (0)2076794720

Dr. Stephanie Koerner
School of Art History and Archaeology
University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester M13 9PL
Telephone: +44 (0)161 275 0300
Fax: +44 (0)161 275 3331

The last decade has seen considerable growth of interest in the concept of ‘agency’ in archaeology (e.g., Dobres and Robb 2000). Despite the diversity of the recent literature motivated by this interest, two general bodies of theory appear to have been especially influential. One might be summarized under the expression, the ‘critique of meta-narratives’ (e.g., Adorno 1974; Foucault 1980; Lyotard 1984; Bourdieu 1990), and the other centres on the terms, ‘globalisation and multi-culturalism’ (e.g., Harvey 1989; Giddens 1990). Notably less attention has been given to the implications for archaeological treatments of human agency of changes which are taking place in international human rights law, and wider public discussion of human rights (cf. Wilson ed., 1997; Cowan, Dembour, Wilson eds, 2001). Likewise notable are tensions between some of the most influential archaeological responses to the ‘critique of meta-narratives’, and the lack of attention given to the implications of these tensions for archaeology’s relevance to wider human rights debates.
Two of the themes on which the most influential responses to the critique of meta-narratives in archaeology centre may have particular bearing on these issues. One is the critique of notions of a human self (subject) that is prior to its embodied and material preconditions (c.f., Foucault 1980; Bourdieu 1990). The other is the concern to focus attention on the discrepant experiences of human agents (e.g., Said 1993; Miller ed., 1995; Gero 2000). The former theme challenges approaches to the intentionality of human behavior, which have been structured around a supposed gap between the ‘mental states’ of individual subjects and an object world ‘out there’. The latter implies a complex range of questions, including: How might we best reconceptualise intentionality, and human capacities to act voluntarily (or to ‘behave otherwise’) (cf. Barnes 2000)? What makes it possible for human agents to act against existing socio-historical constraints, and to transform the circumstances from which these arise? Can human experiences of discrepancies between how things are and how things ought to be make a difference not just particular events, but in conjunctures that reconfigure the longue durée? (cf. Koerner 2002). New ways to address the issues posed by these themes may be highly relevant to the development of more satisfactory archaeological methods. They also may initiate discussion of the ways in which archaeology has been influenced by legal and public discourse on human rights, and of the contributions that archaeology might be able to make to these debates.
One of the aims of this session is to examine the impacts on recent archaeological treatments of ‘agency’ of not only (a) ‘the critique of meta-narratives’ and models of (b) ‘globalisation and multi-culturalism’, but also (c) cross-disciplinary and public discussions of human rights. The session will include papers on approaches to human agency that seek to go beyond the dualist categories on which the traditional meta-narratives concerning human nature, history, knowledge and law hinge (including such dichotomies as, universalism-relativism, subject-object, mind-body, individual-society, western-non-western, science-values, and epistemology-ontology). It seeks also to include case studies, which may have bearing upon a better understanding of “the ongoing globalisation of human rights” (cf. Wilson 1997: 3). This means the inclusion of case studies of past “human life-worlds” (cf. Husserl ([1936] 1970)). Such goals would seem to follow from Richard Wilson’s argument that: “The intellectual efforts of those seeking to develop a framework for understanding the social life of rights would be better directed not towards foreclosing their ontological status, but instead by exploring their meaning and use. What is needed are more detailed studies of human rights according to the actions and intentions of social actors, within wider historical constraints of institutionalised power” (Wilson 1997: 3-4).


Adorno, T. 1974. Minima Moraia: Reflections from a Damaged Life, trans. by E. F. N. Jephcott. London: Verso.
Barnes, B. 2000. Understanding Agency: Social Theory and Responsible Action. London: SAGE Publications.
Bourdieu, P. 1990. The Logic of Practice, trans. by R. Nice. London: Polity Press.
Cowan, J.K., Dembour, M.-B., and Wilson, R. A. (eds) 2001. Culture and Rights: Anthropological Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dobres, M. A. and Robb, J. (eds) 2000. Agency in Archaeology. London: Routledge.
Foucault, M. 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, trans. by L. Marshall, J. Mepham, and K. Soper, C. Gordon (ed). New York: Pantheon Books.
Giddens, A. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Gero, J. 2000. Troubled Travels in Agency and Feminism. In M. A. Dobres and J. Robb (eds), Agency in Archaeology. London: Routledge, 34-39.
Harvey, D. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Husserl, E. [1936] 1970. The Crisis of European Science and Transcendent Phenomenology, trans. by D. Carr. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press.
Koerner, S. 2002. Globalisation, Multi-culturalism and the Prism of the Local. A Session in the 2002 Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, 24-29 September, 2002, Thessaloniki. World Archaeological Bulletin 17.
Miller, D. (ed) 1995. Worlds Apart: Modernity through the Prism of the Local. London: Routledge.
Lyotard, J.F. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. by G. Bennington and B. Massumai. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Said, E. 1993. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto and Wardus.
Wilson, R. A. 1997. Human Rights, Culture and Context: an introduction. In R.A. Wilson (ed) Human Rights, Culture and Context. London: Pluto Press. 1-27.

Introduction: Views Beyond The Privatization Of Ethics And The Globalization Of Indifference
Stephanie Koerner (Manchester, UK) and Andrew Gardner (London, UK)
Agency in Agriculture: Terminator Genes and the Demise of Domestication
Bill Sillar (London, UK)
Gewirth: Objective Morality And Subjective Interpretation
Sam Hardy (Sheffield, UK) Still to come
Julian Thomas (Manchester, UK)
Still To Come
Jonathan Walz

Session Time
Day Sunday Date 22nd June
Time 4-6pm Room Pryzbyla 351

Ethics In Action: Fieldwork, Archaeological Interpretations And Public Disseminations

Organized By
Marvin Cohodas (Canada) and Claire Smith (Australia)

Session Details
Marvin Cohodas
University of British Columbia

Claire Smith
Department of Archaeology
Flinders University
Adelaide, SA, 5001. Australia.

Regarding the ethic of prioritizing Indigenous rights in archaeology, the greatest advances have been achieved through the ethics of negotiation with local communities affected by archaeological fieldwork projects. Equal advances have not yet characterized the ethics of archaeological interpretation, an important aspect of archaeological activity that relates the local community to a globalized communications network through the popular consumption of archaeological knowledge. These media have cultivated in their consumers an insatiable desire for sensationalized, reductive and stereotyped representations of ancient societies that both reflect and impact negatively on their descendant communities. Indigenous activists wonder how archaeologists could ignore “the repercussion of their studies on current indigenous societies” (Nilo Cayuqueo and Laura Soriano).

Ethics of interpretation have thus foundered on a division between academic and popular literature. Some archaeologists argue that presentation of distorted interpretations to the popular media is ethical because it helps acquire funding for fieldwork that will bring cash into the communities providing the excavation labour and ultimately enable them to generate tourist dollars. However, Indigenous activists argue that these are short term gains which in the long run impair the achievement political goals and weaken these communities’ ability to make their own choices about how the past should serve the present.

This session invites presentations that debate the ethics and politics of archaeological interpretations presented to the general public as well as the academic community, or that argue for alternative strategies which might fulfill Indigenous goals of shattering colonial stereotypes and advancing their struggles for self determination (Victor Montejo). It also asks how archaeologists might be made the heroes of a new adventure—one takes the promotion of Indigenous rights as its challenge.

Proposed Format:
Abbreviated positions or arguments briefly presented by participants at the beginning of the session (summarizing their web-posted papers), followed by discussion among participants and/or with the audience.

Range of Participants
Three groups of participants have been invited:

1. Indigenous Critics of Archaeological Interpretation
2. Non-Indigenous Critics of Archaeological Interpretation
3. Non-Indigenous Defenders of Archaeological Interpretation
A New Heroics Of Archaeology
Marvin Cohodas (University of British Columbia) Self-Reflexivity and Archaeologists as “Other”
Avexnim Cojtí Ren (Simon Fraser University)
Ethics In Interpretation: An Australian Perspective
Lyn Leader-Elliott (Cultural Tourism, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia) We just have to show you: discussing Indigenous perspectives on research ethics
Peter Manaburu, Jimmy Wesan (Arnhem Land), Claire Smith and Andrew Warner (Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia)

Session Time
Day Monday Date 23rd June
Time 9-11AM Room Pryzbyla 351