You are now leaving the archaeological sector. Proceed at your own risk

Some years ago I conducted research that can be described as an ethnography of archaeological practice (at the Monte Polizzo project in Sicily). More recently, I have moved on to research about archaeology’s meaning in contemporary popular culture which I consider as one manifestation of the fast developing field of contemporary archaeologies – although in the context of this workshop it may as well be called an archaeological ethnography (see From Stonehenge to Las Vegas, 2005; Archaeology is a brand!, 2007; Contemporary Archaeologies, edited with A. Piccini, 2008).

Ever since I read anthropology at University (as one of two subsidiary subjects, parallel to archaeology), I felt particularly drawn to qualitative methodologies of ethnography (mainly participant observation, textual analysis, and extended interviews). I have worked qualitatively in a number of projects since then, initially investigating the contemporary meanings of prehistoric monuments and later focussing more on archaeology as a cultural phenomenon of our time. In methodological terms I have found that the best way to proceed is by drawing on my own gained experience and by applying intuitive ad hoc judgments in relation to my specific aims and ambitions in each specific project. I do not believe in strictly formalised methodologies in this field, and have never felt that my methods were somehow deficient or ineffective.

The only problem I have ever encountered is that one colleague has recently been questioning my expertise and thus in a way my academic “right” to conduct such studies, given that my disciplinary home is archaeology (see Antiquity, June 2008). His main motivation seems to be that he profoundly disagreed with the results of my study. For this colleague, methods are not so much tools that allow researchers to open-up certain issues and questions but kinds of behaviour for which you must have a permit. I suggest that this attitude is still rather common in academia, where many scholars guard their disciplinary boundaries and associated funding possibilities closely – irrespective of which fields they are actually studying. In the end, I felt that the smartest response I could give to that colleague I mentioned was to emphasise that I was indeed qualified in anthropology, thus adopting the same kind of logic. Cross-disciplinary research is still considered by many as entering foreign territory without permission and pleading guilty to it might be widely perceived as academic suicide. We are thus left with a problem that is not so much to do with methodologies as such but with the socio-politics of academia.


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