Using ethnographic methods to articulate community-based conceptions of heritage management and explore intellectual property issues in archaeology

How can ethnographic methods help communities articulate and enact their own conceptions of heritage management? A recently funded international research project that we have been co-developing provides a unique opportunity to explore this and related questions.  The project, “Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage: Theory, Practice, Policy, Ethics,” will fund case study research incorporating community-based participatory ethnographic methods to explore the how, where and why of intellectual property issues emerging, primarily in archaeological contexts, the means by which they are being addressed or resolved, and the broader implications of these issues and concerns. We have found some enlightening examples of the use of ethnography to “get at” or articulate local or customary laws and principles of archaeological heritage management. One such study, already completed (to which Nicholas contributed), was done in collaboration with the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group, a First Nations Group in British Columbia (Canada) that intends to use the results as a foundation for their own negotiations and collaborations with archaeologists and the state, as well as a basis for new heritage legislation. Other examples we have gathered, which we hope this recently-funded seven-year project will assist with, include Aboriginal and other descendant communities who are being asked to co-manage and/or assist in the interpretation of archaeological sites but who first feel the need to clarify the terms of their engagement, consult with elders and other community members, so as to make decisions based on a better understanding of the consequences involved in releasing various kinds of cultural knowledge into the public domain. These situations call for community-based participatory ethnographic methods that engender non-colonialist research paradigms, which place more control over the design, process, products, and interpretation of “archaeology” in the hands of those at the source. Archaeologists desperately need more examples of community-based conceptions of heritage management from all over the world so as to expand the awareness of diverse ways to approach what they (and the state) have termed “archaeological resources.” Ethnography can thus be employed to look at the intellectual properties that these so-called resources have for other peoples and the complex issues of control that surround both the intellectual and material aspects of archaeology.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s