by Jamie Arjona, Elizabeth Watts Malouchos, and Meghan Buchanan
In 1979, Audre Lorde gave a speech titled, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” after being invited to serve as a discussant at a conference. Speaking to a largely white feminist audience, she said the following (1984: 110):
“It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminist and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable.”
In many ways, Lorde’s critique feels as urgent as it did in 1979. Her work presents a poignant intervention in a politics of assimilation. What this means is that we – white feminists, queer organizations, liberal academics, etc. – often fight for institutional recognition and inclusion rather than substantively chipping away at the institutional architecture itself. Colonial tools will never dismantle patriarchy.
Lorde’s transformative vision motivates our take on a question being addressed by a broader community of bloggers. This month, Doug’s Archaeology invited archaeologists from around the web to weigh in on the grand challenges facing the discipline for The Grand Challenges of Archaeology: A Blogging Carnival. A number of colleagues have been sharing their personal #blogarch thoughts and reflections about prevalent issues for archaeology today.
So far, we’ve seen some insightful posts tackling a range of themes from public policy and climate change to perspectives on conflict studies and archaeology of the Anthropocene. To join in on these thoughtful commentaries, we asked ourselves to imagine the most pressing challenges we confront in our professional lives. Coming from such diverse temporal and topical specialties, we could run through the specific interests that motivate us – Indigenous sovereignty, queer histories, warfare, religion, citizenship, racialization, etc. But what unites us, is our collective experiences of archaeology. So, rather than present some grand challenges facing our archaeology, we’re challenging ourselves, along with friends and allies, to dismantle archaeology itself.
Centering Marginalized Perspectives
The call to action for this year’s Society for Historical Archaeology asked archaeologists to consider “The Past and Future of Historical Archaeology”. During the plenary session, Cheryl LaRoche took a moment to thoughtfully reflect on the current state of archaeology. Looking into an all-too-familiar crowd of predominantly white faces, she asked the audience to read the room and expose archaeology for what it really is – a hegemonically white space.
For archaeologists of color, this institutional whiteness only becomes more pronounced in places like the Society for American Archaeology annual meetings or regional conferences. Unfortunately, archaeology’s prevalent race, gender, and sexual diversity problems too often become a soapbox for inclusion and diversity. In other words, we become content with asking ourselves how to make archaeology more diverse, rather than implementing change. As this post by Black Girl Dangerous blogger Mia McKenzie put it, we need to stop asking how we can better “include” women of color or other marginalized voices and start centering their work, experiences, and insight. We have to stop erasing the contributions of scholars of color, feminists, queers, and disabled communities and start making them central to archaeological practice.
• Citation Matters
So, it’s great that you love Bourdieu and it’s perfectly fine if you had a revelatory experience reading Deleuze. Maybe you’re writing a CRM report or a manuscript on Middle Woodland ceramics that requires you to cite research from the 1960’s conducted by a bunch of topless men in jean shorts. But, if 9 of your 10 most-cited authors are white men, maybe there’s a problem. If Deleuze is your chosen route toward uncovering the nuances of classic Mayan ballcourts, maybe you’re erasing Indigenous theorists. Centering theorists like Fannon, Lorde, Deloria, Moraga, and Anzaldúa matters. And, if you don’t know any of these authors by their last names, maybe that’s a reflection of colonialism itself.
• Conference Panels
This one’s pretty simple. All white/male/cis/straight panels shouldn’t still be happening. For example, a quick read through this 2015 SEAC Horizons and Traditions Newsletter demonstrates the paucity of women and persons of color serving as disscusants, organizers, and leaders in the Southeastern Archaeology Conference (as well as places like the Society for American Archaeology). Although these trends are changing, we’re still far from a place of substantive transformation. So, the next time a panel is being organized, think about whose work you’re centering and who you’ve invited to participate.
Ethics and Safety
Recent surveys about sexual harassment and assault have stimulated cross-disciplinary efforts to ameliorate a number of systemic abuses lingering within scientific communities. Within archaeology, alarming evidence of pervasive gender disparities highlights a need to expand our ethical responsibilities to create a safer disciplinary environment. Wage gaps, publication biases, and employment asymmetries elucidate the prevalence of gender discrimination.
But, these surveys are only the beginning. We can’t resign ourselves to being content with self-awareness and self-policing. We need to transform survey results into implementation strategies and, as we do so, we need to be conscious of intersecting vectors of oppression that affect minority communities. We need to learn as much from survey gaps as we do from the results. Where are the surveys addressing the obstacles facing racial and ethnic minorities in the field? What happens when gender identities don’t fit into boxes labeled “male” or “female”?
• Field Safety
A recent study conducted by Clancy et al. (2013) highlights the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in field settings. While largely based on self-reporting in surveys, the rates of unwanted sexual contact were startling, impelling a number of institutions to develop new statements and amendments to codes of ethics regarding standards of behavior in field and laboratory settings (see the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the Register of Professional Archaeologists , and the National Science Foundation. The Southeastern Archaeology Conference has hosted panels sponsored by the Student Affairs Committee at the 2014 and 2015 annual meetings to discuss sexual harassment, assault, and gender discrimination in the discipline. Much of the 2015 panel discussion centered around creating safe field spaces through the implementation of Title IX training for supervisors and students alike. Part of implementing these practices requires archaeologists to examine and challenge typical field practices including field housing arrangements. As Binary Opposition blogger Sarah M. Bess pointed out here, the traditional practice of assigning housing based on assumed gender and sexual identities can disenfranchise LGBTQI participants and create exclusionary, stressful, and hostile living and working environments. According to Blackmore et al. (2016:22), archaeologists, “whether we are in positions of power or not, need to seriously consider how our assumptions and subsequent decisions impact our students, colleagues, and employees”.
• Gendered Professional Spaces
Another productive aspect of the 2015 SEAC panel discussed transforming institutional and professional atmospheres (conferences laboratories, classrooms, etc.) to build safe, inclusive, and accessible spaces. This requires us to be self-reflective, critically deconstruct the places where we practice, teach, and disseminate archaeology as privileged spaces, and to recognize and challenge the white, gendered, and heteronormative status quo.
• Descendant communities/ public engagement
Amidst a number of pressing topics in archaeology today, collaboration with descendant communities and public engagement often seem like an afterthought. While historical archaeologists tend to prioritize collaboration, it hasn’t become part of the fabric of disciplinary practice. If we are to do the kind of heavily lifting and dismantling that Lorde challenges, collaboration and engagement have to go beyond site tours and annual public events. As Sonya Atalay’s (2014) guide for doing community-based and collaborative research points out, this kind of ethical commitment can be difficult, yet highly rewarding. In order to truly chip away at our institutional architecture built upon the lives and histories of indigenous and marginalized communities, community-based and participatory approaches to archaeology are pivotal.
2014 Engaging Archaeology: Positivism, Objectivity, and Rigor in Activist Archaeology. In Transforming Archaeology: Activist Practices and Prospects edited by Atalay, Sonya, Lee Rains Clauss, Randall H. McGuire, and John R. Welch, pp. 45-60.
Blackmore, Chelsea, Leslie Drane, Richard Baldwin, and David Ellis
2016 Queering Fieldwork: Difference and Identity in Archaeological Practice. The SAA Archaeological Record 16(1): 18-23.
Clancy, Kathryn B. H., Robin G. Nelson, Julienne N. Rutherford, and Katie Hinde 2014 Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102172. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102172
1984. Sister Outsider: Essays and speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press.