ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

If anthropologists had digs
Location Wills 3.32
Date and Time 9th April, 2009 at 09:30


James Leach (CNRS)
Dawn Nafus (Intel)
Thomas Yarrow (Durham University)
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Short Abstract

Anthropology has traditionally been a single investigator affair, while archaeology thrives on many co-ordinated small scale data collecting projects. For anthropology, are there questions that are better answered using many co-ordinated, smaller efforts? What are the potentials and constraints?

Long Abstract

Anthropology has traditionally been a single investigator, single fieldsite affair. While there are occasional collaborations and participation in interdisciplinary projects, on the whole we still do not make it a habit of working in large teams, or solicit resource levels that would support them. On the other hand, archaeology thrives on many co-ordinated small scale data collecting projects: no single dig is ever enough. For anthropology, are there questions that are better answered using analogously multiple, smaller efforts? For example, Susan Leigh Starr begins her famous early study of infrastructure by lamenting that she is but one person in the face of intricate layers of technical arrangements and diverse human interventions in the system. Clearly there are issues of contextualisation to consider, of breadth/depth, and of integration. Do we need to hold on to the single investigator model of knowledge production as the core to anthropological methodology? Are there new areas of enquiry that might open up with some methodological experimentation? What are the potentials, and what are the issues we would need to consider?

This panel proposes to hold a conversation between anthropologists and archaeologists on the issue of what is there about archaeological practice that anthropologists might adopt and adapt? We also wish to address the epistemological issues that arise when putting together a context out of multiple sites, the practical issues of what might constitute an anthropological 'dig', and how the politics of knowledge production and career paths might be best negotiated.

Chair: James Leach
Discussant: Robin Osborne

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.



Author: James Leach (CNRS)


Where does coherence arise from in anthropological, as opposed to archaeological, accounts? Is one more focused on reporting a coherence that seems to exist prior to analysis – more a matter of discovery than authorship? Different kinds of material and evidence seem to naturally suggest a different position for the analyst, for their interpretation, and for their authorship. If anthropology’s model of data demands authorial authority in a way not established as a requirement by the practices of a more scientific leaning discipline, would we need to suspend such assumptions to make use of multi-person research teams?

Digging outside the academy

Author: Dawn Nafus (Intel)


Every year, far more anthropology PhDs are produced than academic posts, and as a result an increasing share of anthropological work takes place outside the academy. Anthropologists working in industry have a different set of constraints and possibilities than do our university-based colleagues. These surface tensions in traditional ways of working, but also open up interesting methodological possibilities. Multi-party collaboration, for one, is a requirement. This is a "mode two" model of knowledge production , to use the frame from New Production of Knowledge, where partnerships proliferate and might themselves be the outcome. Similarly, when one works in the context of a multinational corporation, the idea of multi-sited ethnography takes on additional urgency, placing strain on professional identities and notions of regional expertise.

This paper will reflect on the methodological challenges and opportunities associated with a recent project on what we are calling "consumerisation processes." The research question is to examine what kind of work notions of "the consumer" does in shaping technological infrastructures and systems of relationships between technology firms, national governments and multilateral institutions. In the course of launching such a project we have had extensive debates about the merits or drawbacks of sending a large amount of students out into fieldsites to do perform smaller pieces of research--a model very different from researcher-research assistant relationship. Such debates reveal broader issues of authorship, contextualisation and collaboration at stake for both archaeology and anthropology.

Interpretive artefacts: what can anthropologists learn from archaeologists about social relations in the field?

Author: Thomas Yarrow (Durham University)


By contrast to anthropology, where the image of the lone fieldworker continues to exert a powerful influence, archaeological fieldwork enjoins a collection of people in the production of a common interpretive artefact - 'the site'. This paper explores the different forms that archaeological and anthropological relations take in the context of fieldwork, and looks at the different ways in which these are used in the enactment of a distinction between subject and object. Within anthropology recent critiques of conventional Malinowskian fieldwork have opened out the subjectivity of the anthropologist to his or her subjects of enquiry, but rarely to other anthropologists. In archaeological fieldwork, by contrast, a variety of people with different forms of knowledge, specialism and experience negotiate collectively agreed upon forms of 'data'. Excavations are therefore collaborative in ways that are rare in ethnographic fieldwork. This paper argues that whilst archaeological fieldwork does not provide any neat 'model' from which anthropologists can borrow, an understanding of the role of social relations in the mediation of multiple subjectivities does suggest how anthropological fieldwork might become more collaborative without sacrificing a commitment to a reflexive and integrated understanding of the social relations of others.