Engaging anthropology and archaeology: theory, practice and publics
Katy Fox (Aberdeen University)
Caroline Gatt (University of Aberdeen)
Victoria Rooms G12
Start time:
8 April, 2009 at 9:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short abstract:

We welcome papers that evaluate the different engagements Anthropology and Archaeology have had with different publics so far, focusing especially on the theoretical impediments that may exist to these and the creative strategies one could resort to for achieving public engagements in practice.

Long abstract:

Anthropology and Archaeology engage non-academic audiences differently. While Archaeology has gained public visibility through educational engagements in TV programmes, children's books and the heritage industry, Anthropology's engagements with publics have been marked by ambivalence. Apropos, a recent ESRC benchmark report noted the 'invisibility' of Anthropology in public policy as anthropologists do not readily identify themselves through their discipline. Noting this absence prominent anthropologists (e.g. Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Thomas Hylland Eriksen) have called for a more publicly engaged anthropology.

Anthropology had more public presence in the past (e.g. Malinowski and Mead) and still has in some regional contexts today (Norway, North America). Yet recent public identifications of Anthropology in the UK (BBC2's Tribe) have been glossed as not being 'properly anthropological' or remain confined to the ethnographic museum. Conversely, the public profile of Archaeology may encourage monolithic understandings of 'the past', and may fail to communicate epistemologically fundamental debates (e.g. local inhabitants' interpretations of archaeological remains).

We thus ask how anthropologists and archaeologists could engage with non-academic publics without compromising theoretical subtlety and political sensitivity. Is the fear of loss of 'depth' by pedagogical reductionism and strategic communication an exit strategy from serious public engagements? Do certain theoretical frameworks constitute an impediment for Anthropology and Archaeology's public engagement on certain issues? What possible avenues can archaeologists and anthropologists take to engage different publics? The panel calls for papers that address these and related questions and that provide practical examples of how engagements could and have been achieved in specific contexts