This week I've been working on a review for the European Journal of Archaeology on the Y. Hamilakis and A. Anagnostopoulos' edited volume, Archaeological Ethnographies (London 2009). The papers in the volume derive from a workshop on Poros in 2008 and focus on the intersection of archaeology and anthropological ethnography. The papers were almost all cases studies and these alternated between examples from Greece and those from World Archaeology. In general, the papers with foci outside of Greece demonstrated a greater methodological and, perhaps, theoretical sophistication, but there were numerous, clear points of dialogue between all the scholars at the workshop. It would be hard to imagine a similar dialogue between a representative sampling of scholars working within the traditional disciplinary limits of Greek archaeology and those conducting archaeological fieldwork or theory outside the Mediterranean basin.
The interplay between scholars offering perspectives from World Archaeology and those writing from a Greek perspective is stimulating and, in general, constructive. But this juxtaposition leaves little room to contrast the contexts from which these case-studies emerged. While superficially, it is clear that this alternation of context reveals the different vocabularies, intellectual traditions, and conditions of work across the world. On the other hand, this alternation avoid problematizing evidence that many of the World Archaeologists worked in places, in conditions, and on sites where they encountered radically alienated groups who were largely deprived of intellectual and physical control over the archaeological remains of their past and struggled to deploy them as a means to secure political authority in the present. For example, Colwell-Chanthaphonh’s study of the term Anasazi among the Native Americans in the southwest revealed that the words for past cultures remain layered with numerous subtexts capable of alienating and disenfranchising in the present.
In Greece, the power relationship between archaeologists and local residents is far more subtle and less visibly contested as the overwhelming power of Greece’s national identity saturates archaeological remains with patriotic significance. As Stroulia and Sutton, Forbes, and Deltsou show, the persistent and sometimes overwhelming din of archaeological nationalism belies the local conflicts, attitudes, and practices on the local level. Ethnographic practices holds out the potential to capture these dissonant attitudes toward archaeological sites and archaeologists in their communities. Sutton and Stroulia argue, for example, that the site of Nemea despite its presence on the informed tourist’s itinerary has little meaning to the residents of the Nemea Valley today. Forbes reveals that Arvanites farmers on the Methana Peninsula find little in Classical antiquity to celebrate and associate the past mainly with hardships. At the site of Sikyon, Deltsou demonstrates how official archaeological policy differed from local attitudes toward the local site. Near Kozani in Macedonia, looting practices also reveal the tension between, on the one hand, official expectations and the law, and, on the other hand, a wide array of indigenous archaeological practices that have been generally classified as looting and criminalized or subjected to extreme ethical censure. Hamilakis and Anagnostopoulos demonstrated from their experiences at the sanctuary of Kalaureia that the lines between archaeologist, local resident, and ethnographer can produce shifting hybrid identities and resist easy recourse to essential categories or positions.
The value of these conclusions are less in the specifics – after all it is unremarkable that Greeks or any groups have diverse attitudes toward the practice and product of archaeology – and more in value of ethnography as a tool to cross barriers between social groups, to articulate alternative histories, to undermine lingering colonial or even racist perspectives embedded in the practices of exploring the past, and toproblematize archaeology’s epistemological roots in modernity. Despite these ambitious goals, most of the case studies presented in this volume at least initially situate the archaeologist or ethnographer in a position of power in relation to the local resident, and this is particularly clear in the case studies from World Archaeology. Ethnography then becomes a strategy that bridges the gap between the authority rooted in modern archaeological practice with its claims to universality and localized, indigenous strategies of imparting meaning in past material culture. While few would argue that the anthropological turn in archaeological practice has contributed to a more dynamic, politically aware, and "sensuous" discipline, in Greece the focus of the ethnographic relationship between outsider archaeologist and the alienated local overlook the relationship between the outsider archaeologist and the state's ability to articulate power on the local level, for example, or the archaeologist and the myriad mediating institutions (foreign schools, academic institutions, disciplinary bodies, scholarly discourses) that influence archaeological practice.
In other words, there is no doubt that archaeologists may productively employ ethnography reveal and ameliorate asymmetrical power relationships between the outsider-academic and the local. Ethnography can also function more broadly to document and articulate the relationship between the archaeologist and the various mechanisms of power that influence his or her work. See for example A. Loukaki's Living Ruins, Value Conflicts and my blog post here. Archaeologists are never in complete control over their research, how it is communicated, and their relationship with the local community. "Locals" (for lack of a better word) often exploit their relationship with both foreign and Greek archaeologists for their own benefit. The state -- through both the Central Archaeological Council and as manifest in its local representatives in ephorias -- answers to its own logic, political concerns, and networks of power. As often as archaeologists appear to be outsiders to alienated local residents, they are also alienated themselves from the various networks of relations and strategical concerns of local residents and national (not to mention disciplinary) politics and power structures. Ethnography may enable an archaeologist to be complicit in liberating and informing local knowledge, but it could also function, in practical terms, as a counterweight to the manipulative strategies employed on all levels and to the lack of transparency within archaeology as a discipline. The deeply embedded position of archaeology within all manner of political, intellectual, and institutional networks makes it an appealing subject for ethnographic scrutiny and perhaps archaeology and ethnography will find even more opportunities to speak truth to power in these contexts.