Post Liberal Public Archaeology at the EAA 2017

The last year has seen two extraordinary political events: the UK voting to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as next President of the USA. These are not isolated events and took place before a backdrop of a seeming wider rise of the right across Europe, from rightward shifts of previously left and centrist parties to unabashed Nazis. Accompanying this has been a lot of liberal commentary on the idea that something has gone badly wrong, something we don’t like has happened and something must be done. Archaeology and archaeologists, working between people and the material world, have a role to play in understanding and interpreting these changing times and communicating that understanding to other people in ways that help them engage as they see fit.

But there are plenty of people who are not surprised by what has happened; people who locate the origins of the current situation not by months or years, but by tens of generations; people who see the hand-wringing of the white middle class and ask where we were every other time. In short, people who tell us that those of us who have the idea that inclusivity, intersectionality and education are key to making a better world through public archaeology at the heart of our practice are failing badly.

This session seeks to define the new public archaeology of these post-liberal times. Our starting positions for discussion are the recognitions that:

  • public archaeology is a pursuit of the educated, liberal middle class;
  • those who fall into that category must acknowledge that their project has so far failed;
  • marginalized, minority and oppressed groups must provide the shape of public archaeology if it is to make a difference in the modern world;
  • when certain groups are deemed ‘hard to reach’, it is because we have failed to reach them and develop mutually agreeable practices;
  • there is an urgent need for change for the sake of global humanity.

The conversation will begin at EAA with the people who are there and will continue until it includes the people who are not.

James Dixon & Lorna-Jane Richardson as part of the EAA Working Party on Public Archaeology


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