The debate on archaeological authority and the nature of public participation in both the production and consumption of culture can be summarised by two questions. Firstly, is traditional expertise obsolete in the era of participatory technologies? Secondly, how do professional archaeologists and archaeological organisations exercise their archaeological expertise in an online context? This article will examine the issues of authority, organisational reputation, ownership and trust within archaeological organisations in the UK, which relate to the practice of public archaeology through the use of digital technologies. It will explore how these issues are addressed from within these organisations using data gathered for my doctoral research.
I will argue that archaeological organisations in the UK have transferred their institutional authority to the digital realm successfully, and that there is little evidence that archaeologists are threatened by the existence of alternative voices online, or by the opportunities for sharing multiple perspectives on the past that are provided by participatory media. I will demonstrate that the impact of social media is less about public engagement, and more about public broadcast. What we can see in archaeological communications is the performance of openness to debate and discussion, which is more immediately relevant to public archaeology practice in the UK than the concepts of multiple voices and the co-creation of archaeological data, projects or debate. I will argue that professional archaeology remains trapped in an epistemic loop of 'top-down' public archaeology, even with the augmentation of participatory media and greater opportunities for democratic participation in creating and sharing information about the past online.
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