Accepted Paper:

The practical and epistemological challenge of contract archaeology in Chile  


Mary Leighton (University of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

Using an example from Chile, I discuss how anxieties surrounding the contrast between academic and contract archaeology reveal inherent concerns about archaeology's epistemological foundations.

Paper long abstract:

My research into different practices of North and South American archaeologists working in Chile and Bolivia starts with the understanding that there are indeed many archaeologies. Using an example from Chile, I explore how boundaries within archaeology, and the debates they generate, work to "think through" epistemological anxieties that remain at the heart of archaeology as a field science.

In the last decade, arqueología impacto (contract archaeology) in Chile has rapidly grown as an alternative field of employment to the limited networks of academic archaeology. At the same time, radical shifts in the university system are transforming the career paths of the growing number of graduates. Both the new educational qualifications and the alternate networks of impacto are challenging traditional definitions of professional archaeological expertise. The understanding of what it means to be an archaeologist - and as a result, what it means to create archaeological knowledge - is undergoing a transformation.

Debates surrounding the Colegio de Arqueólogos, an organisation recently created by some of these young archaeologists, have brought into focus the perceived disparity between impacto and academic archaeologies. While the traditional Sociedad Chilena de Arqueología concerns itself only with scholarship, the Colegio proposes to be the outspoken public voice of the archaeological profession in Chilean society, while also campaigning for better working conditions for all archaeologists. In this paper, I will explore how the debates over the Colegio and impacto are ultimately tied to anxieties about the epistemological foundations of archaeology, in Chile and beyond.

Panel S14
Drawing epistemological lines in the sand