After Ethics: Ancestral Voices and Post-Disciplinary Worlds in Archaeology
The Ethics of Cultural Heritage
Archaeology is no longer an invasive and androcentric pastime practiced by European dilettantes with shared ‘values.’ But Archaeology remains burdened by imperial, colonial and neo-colonial values that linger and fester. Codified, these values harden into ‘ethics’ with culturally and temporally absolute foundations. However, in earlier Western and other cultures’ thoughts and deeds, ethics are acknowledged as contextual, shifting and negotiated entanglements of intent and practice that often conflict. The word’s derivation from the Greek ēthika philosophia or “moral philosophy” explicitly situates ethics as socially and politically constructed. Archaeology can study ethical formations by employing different timescales ranging from the longue duree to the very short term and by focusing its potent techniques of cultural surveillance on the origin, history and application of ‘ethics’ in diverse cultural, economic, political and temporal contexts. However, archaeologists can also mask these contexts unless they are adequately aware of Archaeology’s history and of their location in a ‘globalised’ world order. Archaeologists must balance personal, situational and institutional ethics with regard to people, objects and places past, present and future – no easy task. For example, is ‘looting’ artefacts to feed one’s family ethical? How is excavation – a destructive technique – ever justified? Is modern Indigenous re-use of artefacts, places and symbols cultural appropriation or cultural continuation? Do objects and landscapes have ‘rights’? Responses to such questions are seldom absolute, but neither need they be debilitatingly relativistic. By adopting global coverage that pairs cutting-edge theory with successful and failed case studies, lacunae surrounding foundational disciplinary concepts like the archaeological ‘record’; ‘stewardship’, ‘multivocality’, as well broader concerns of race, class and gender can be discussed and acted upon - materialising a negotiated best practice for the social sciences in a post-colonial world. Ethical Archaeologies: the politics of social justice would use established and emergent expertise in southern and northern hemispheres to comprehensively and accessibly discuss ethics in the practice of archaeology and related fields such as anthropology, museology, indigenous studies, law, education, heritage management and tourism.