Accepted Paper:

Normative analytical frameworks and studies of identified skeletal collections: some considerations  

Authors:

Rachel Watkins (American University)
Jennifer Muller (Ithaca College)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines some normative temporal, spatial and ethnoracial frameworks to which identified skeletal populations are subjected. We argue that these normative frameworks undermine critical, humanistic approaches to studying human biology that, for instance, consider repatriation and reburial a standard part of the research process.

Paper long abstract:

Critical approaches to the study of human biology are built upon the premise that science is inextricably tied to social practice and should therefore be a vehicle for social and intellectual change. Social theory now plays an important role in the growth of the discipline into a more critical and humanistic science. Studies of identified human skeletal collections are playing an increasingly prominent role in the integration of social theory into skeletal biology studies.

The recognition of science as a social practice has guided the interrogation of researchers' subject positions more so than examining the research methodologies and questions used in skeletal biology studies as social constructs. As such, this paper examines normative temporal, spatial and ethnoracial frameworks to which identified skeletal populations are subjected.

Drawing upon our ongoing research on the W. Montague Cobb human skeletal collection, we demonstrate how these normativities undermine critical and humanistic approaches to studying human biology. For instance, we address how the continued privileging of normal population distributions obscure the social, political and historical moments reflected in non-random distributions within and between identified skeletal collections. We also consider how these frameworks impact the standard integration of repatriation and reburial into research designs.

Panel LD26
Identified skeletal collections: the testing ground of anthropology?