Discussion and Debate: Ethics, Politics, and Engagement

Julie Hollowell (Indiana University); Alex Herrera (University of the Andes)


From its very beginnings, archaeology has been entangled in ethical dilemmas, fraught as it has been with nationalism, the expansion of capitalism, scientism, expert authority and Otherness at multiple scales of time and place. The ethically precarious position of archaeology has become ever more apparent as questions of accountability and social justice are raised by archaeologists and social scientists, as well as by those affected by archaeology.

WAC’s Committee on Ethics is sponsoring this theme at WAC7, to be composed of sessions on a broad range of ethics related topics—whether these are issues confronting archaeology as a discipline, experienced by those affected by archaeology, emerging within WAC as an organization. We encourage sessions that explore new or critical perspectives on the ethics of particular archaeological practices, problems of professionalism, or issues related to interpretation, access to data, or the democratization of archaeology, as a discipline, profession or craft.

Session topics may focus on relationships between archaeology and knowledge production or archaeology and transnational corporations; the ethics of CRM, cultural tourism, or underwater archaeology; the disjuncture between “world heritage” and local benefits; or connections between archaeology, human rights, social movements, and/or alternative political and economic models. What ethical issues are raised when we act as advocates for others? What does an archaeology that takes social justice as a core value look like? We are also interested in topics related to WAC as an organization—its role, structure, and claims of representation or advocacy.  We welcome contributions to this theme in diverse and interactive formats.


Archaeology of Capitalism: Insights from the Margins

Dante A. Angelo (University of Tarapacá, Chile); Flora Vilches (University of Chile, Chile); Felipe Gaitan-Ammann, (University of Columbia, USA)


Capitalism is a well-defined theme in archaeological studies, especially in that small but fruitful niche called historical archaeology; contributions to understand its outset and dynamics have led archaeologists to assess different issues: from those related to the violence of the colonial structures, the failing outcomes of modernity (González-Ruibal 2006) and the awry results of the installment of its institutions (Casella and Fowler 2005), as well as the connections forged by modern capitalism (Beaudry and Symonds 2011). Most of these contributions are the result of archaeological work in former colonies of these imperial centers still prevalent by the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, commonly assumed to be the emanating core of capitalism. Fewer, however, are those contributions that hail from marginal countries, particularly although not exclusively South American ones where independence from colonial powers came in the early 1800s. This session aims to discuss capitalism as a multiphase and multidirectional process by emphasizing the different means through which capitalism has become the prevalent/dominant structuring force of our contemporary world. Can archaeology provide alternative narratives to counter, and therefore de-naturalize, the big scheme that has allowed the malleability of capitalist discourse to remain alive and kicking?


Heritage as a common: a novel perspective on the entanglements of culture and economy

Pablo Alonso González (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom); Reinhard Bernbeck (Freie University, Germany);Johana Caterina Mantilla Oliveros (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia)


The commons has emerged in recent years as an exciting arena for the rethinking of multiple problematic ownership situations around the globe and thus, of an exit from the simplistic dichotomy of “private” vs. “public” property. In the form of laws, the latter categories have wrought poverty and suffering on a globalized capitalist world. The commons can take multiple forms, from pre-industrial remnants in rural Europe to claims by indigenous communities against Western corporate attempts to appropriate bio-knowledge in South America. Our symposium will discuss its implications in the field of heritage and archaeology. We encourage participants from around the world to share their ideas in theoretical and empirical papers on connections between archaeology, heritage and property relations on questions such as:

  • Could the commons provide a way out of problematic issues of ownership and the public/private dichotomy?
  • What is its potential in the fight against the commodification of heritage?
  • How can the notion of a “shared” heritage be mobilized by local communities to implement politics of redistribution and rethinking of ownership against an alienated “world heritage” that frames itself as globally “shared” common heritage of humanity?
  • What are consequences of heritage as a commons for identity politics?


Ancient knowledges, new epistemes. Political and subaltern archaeologies strategies of decolonization from South to South (Latin America, Africa and Middle East)

Miguel A. Aguilar, (Universidad de los Andes); Wilhelm Londono, (Universidad del Magdalena)


Is there a difference between the epistemology of archaeology in Latin America, Africa and Middle East compared with elsewhere? This is a question that has guided an invisible archaeological practice of many subaltern archaeologists and indigenous movements found in the middle – between the western cultural triumph in their newly seized and colonized territories. The Native Indian peoples then became a stranger in their own homelands in a colonized world, and also an obstacle to imperial objectives from Europe and North America, who encouraged the formation of nation-states from the former Spanish colonies to form new host markets and exploitable sources of commodities. Local knowledges were suppressed and exterminated, sometimes prohibited under penalty of punishment. Surveillance prevails over the subjugated Other. Valid knowledge is just what is legitimized by colonial institutions (from universities to the states themselves).

This session seeks to address the trauma of repression and directly confront the inclusion of non-Western orders within the social and natural order of European museums. The aim is to propose different practices in archaeology and politics from Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, which must differ from Western traditional epistemology – and even establish a dialogue among them.


Archaeologies of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – debating the ethics and politics of ethnicity and indigeneity in archaeology and heritage discourse

Anna Karlstrom (University of Queensland, Australia), Charlotta Hillerdal (University of Aberdeen, UK), and Carl-Gösta Ojala (Uppsala University, Sweden)


Indigenous archaeology is suggested as a decolonising practice, used as a tool to deconstruct western method and theory. However, when indigenous archaeology and heritage are debated there is often a lack of critical analyses of underlying definitions and concepts and the ethics of using these more or less taken-for-granted categories. The aim of this session is therefore to explore, analyse and challenge the concept of indigeneity in relation to heritage and archaeology, considering how it is defined and used in different contexts in different parts of the world.
Concepts of ethnicity and indigeneity are relational, and can be seen as positions, marking difference and power in political reality as well as theoretical debate. Consequently, these concepts not only include those who could be categorised as indigenous, but also those who categorise. Such a conceptualisation might force interpretation into a dichotomised discourse where a well-defined ‘them’ is contrasted against a normative ‘us’. The postcolonial deconstruction thus runs the risk of re-establishing colonial structures, albeit under new captions. We welcome papers debating the challenges and possibilities of the concept of indigeneity, from different perspectives, experiences and standpoints, attempting to re-interpret and redefine it as a theoretically, ethically and politically viable concept.


CRM, Ethics and the Professionalisation of Archaeology

Maria H Schoeman, (Wits University, South Africa); Natalie Swanepoel, (University of South Africa)


CRM archaeology has increasingly come to play an important role in the suite of impact assessment and mitigation measures that are carried out ahead of and in the wake of development projects. In national contexts where the status of the CRM archaeologist as an independent professional is not well established, archaeologists may feel that they are not able to challenge the views of their employers or governments by advocating “no-go” areas or changes to development plans. This is often to the detriment of local communities whose knowledge of and wishes pertaining to their cultural heritage are not always reflected in the Heritage sections of Environmental Impact Assessments. This is especially the case in developing nations where the destruction of archaeological remains and intangible landscape heritage is advocated as “necessary” for the economic benefit of the region or country, but can also occur in developed nations where archaeological firms are forced to compete and lower standards in order to meet the demands of capital for lower prices. This session explores the myriad ethical complexities that pertain in CRM archaeology, as it straddles the divide between meeting the demands of business and/or government, and conserving the past for local communities and nations.


Roundtable discussion on ethics at WAC-7 and beyond

Alexander Herrera (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia); Julie Hollowell (Independant researcher)


This session, sponsored by the Committee on Ethics, is reserved for open discussions of significant ethics-related issues that have emerged during or as part of WAC-7. For this reason, it is purposefully scheduled near the end of the Congress, prior to the final plenary session. Please attend this session if you have topics to bring to the attention of the WAC Committee on Ethics.


How does collaboration among archaeological organizations benefit archaeologists and the discipline?

Ben S. Thomas, (Archaeological Institute of America, United States of America); Claire Smith, (Flinders University, Australia)


This forum will explore the idea of collaboration among archaeological organizations in an effort to determine how cooperative efforts can benefit archaeologists and the discipline. The numerous archaeological organizations around the world act more or less independently of each other. Collaborations could unify disparate voices, increase efficiencies, eliminate redundancies, and build capacity. But what do archaeologists want from these archaeological organizations? How can the efforts of these institutions benefit archaeologists? During this session representatives from many of the world’s major archaeological organizations will be at hand to hear directly from archaeologists. Identifying the needs will provide the opportunity for the organizations to design and implement effective programs that adequately address the issues. Some of the topics to be considered include activities and actions that are common to all groups, such as public outreach and engagement, raising awareness and the profile of the discipline, promoting ethical and professional behavior, and responding to crises in the field.


Activist archaeology: connecting the academic with the personal

Sara L. Gonzalez, (Carleton College, United States of America); Darren Modzelewski, (UC Berkeley Law, United States of America)


This session invites scholars to consider the ways in which personal biography, activism, and archaeological research intersect in your academic and personal life. As academics we are often depicted as creators of objective knowledge whose private lives are isolated from our academic ones. This image is deeply unsatisfying as it creates a forced separation between the academic and the personal, thus limiting the potential of our archaeological praxis. In fact, our personal histories and politics should not be left outside our office doors. These commitments, in fact, can provide new inspirations for our research methods and pedagogy, as well as direct directs our own engagements within the academy, our workplaces, and departments. This other work, whether it be developing new curricula, fostering departmental or disciplinary diversity, or mentoring students is as important as the work that we conduct in the field. It is from these endeavors, this institutional activism, that we can make positive contributions to our universities and communities by changing mainstream practices.

We welcome participants to consider the ways in which their own political and social activism impacts the kinds and quality of research, mentorship, and institutional activism that they do.