Sunday, 26 November 2017

Ethics, ethics, ethics: Going beyond the digital

It’s our last discussion day next week! How sad. It’s sure to be a good one, though, as we wrap up with thinking about the larger context of all this work and issues to think about.

I admit that I asked for this week. Not because it’s the last one, I swear! But because of the presence of the bone trade online. This article, though 10 years old, is a pretty good piece of journalism on the topic that covers a bit of the historical background and the trade’s colonial roots.

A quick online search can lead you to websites where you can purchase human remains online. Obviously, this becomes an issue in bioarchaeology when anthropologists are thinking about course materials, how this market might influence their fieldwork, or when law enforcement asks an anthropologist to identify a skull found in a garage. It's an old problem that has transformed into a niche market of collecting taboo curios that are increasing in value.

Before class, think about your own work and/or interests in archaeology. How has the internet or digital technologies influenced how you might have to handle excavation, artifacts, curation, or the dissemination of knowledge? What ethical dilemmas do/will you have to consider?

I have two main articles for next week:

The first is by Layla Renshaw writing on her experiences working on mass graves from the Spanish Civil War, available through the Western Libraries.

Renshaw addresses difficult metaphysical, ethical, and political questions about the role of archaeologists in the context of working with the recent dead and living descendants. I am using this article as part of the discussion of ethics. She draws on ANT and the sociology of technology to discuss the idea that “archaeology sparks a public into being.” Her point of view is that archaeologists, even when working in the most politically and emotionally difficult of contexts, can advance public deliberation of issues by becoming active "public intellectuals". (Note: The article starts on page 35)

Secondly, this is an article that I hope will help us wrap up the course with some good discussion and debate:

That links to the whole issue that is publicly available online, which has the theme of “Are We All Archaeologists Now?” The article in question starts on page 255.

You might ask why I am choosing an article written by a musician, but it touches on a lot of issues that we’ve been pondering over the entire course. With digital technologies, information is more accessible and many of us are using these technologies as part of “knowledge mobilization” and engaging different publics. In this digital era, what makes an archaeologist? At what point does someone become an archaeologist? How is the discipline evolving? Who owns knowledge? Should we be gatekeepers, or are we “all archaeologists now”?

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