The complex cultural and social concept of authority and expertise is, within the context of archaeology as much as anywhere else, central to the assignment of intellectual authority through expertise to an entity or person (Bevan 2012, 2). The literature regarding the definition of what constitutes expertise is vast and varied, and encompasses skills, processes, decision-making or knowledge (Glaser and Chi 1988; Hartelius 2011). The concept of expertise and authority is ineradicably linked to the development of the process of professionalisation within occupations, which has been analysed systematically within the sociological literature since the 1930s (Jacobs and Bosanac 2006). Opportunities for collaborative relationships with public audiences who are interested in archaeology are not always taken on board within the archaeological profession, and the impact of the professional/amateur split on the discipline of archaeology is further emphasised by membership of professional organisations such as the Institute for Archaeologists or the Society of Antiquaries, possession of advanced degrees in archaeological subjects, and expert understanding of archaeological protocols, policies and procedures. One of the roles of the professional archaeologist is to construct, interrogate and interpret the past through the evidence of material culture. The subsequent interpretations are made through epistemic dependence (Blais 1987, 369), the application of rigorous scientific techniques, the execution of carefully constructed methodologies and an intimate understanding of the rules and procedures of archaeological practice (Rassool 2010, 83). We can see, then, that the role of the professional, expert archaeologist undertaking public archaeology is to facilitate public access to archaeological information, using their archaeological skills and subject-specific knowledge — a two-way interaction that involves trust on behalf of the public and, within the discipline, public deference to the archaeologist's accumulated knowledge base and skill-set, the public performance of the professional's archaeological experience, and the public acceptance of institutional affiliation as an embodiment of that expertise (Pruitt 2011; Rassool 2010). As Hodder argues:
"Subordinate groups who wish to be involved in archaeological interpretation need to be provided with the means and mechanisms for interacting with the archaeological past in different ways. This is not a matter of popularising the past, but of transforming the relations of production of archaeological knowledge into more democratic structures." (Hodder 1992, 186)
The archaeological and historical narratives created by archaeologists and historians, whether independently or through co-creation and a multi-vocal stance, cannot be extricated from the diverse contemporary and historical social, political and economic contexts in which archaeology is practised. The creation of a historical narrative is an intrinsically political act, and become "tools of social control" (Kojan 2008, 77). Most professional, practising archaeologists are elite, trained practitioners, fundamentally involved in the creation and commodification of their professional hegemony (Pyburn 2009, 167). According to Waterton (2010, 113) it is heritage organisations who decide who, when and how members of the public can access the education and knowledge required to appreciate the expert's self-defined common understanding of heritage issues. Although, as Baxter (2012, 193) rightly critiques, this is difficult to see in practical terms within the heritage policy-making process that governs the work of most regional and national heritage agencies which are "now focused on the management of change within the built environment and land use planning systems".
The practice of archaeology in areas of political, ethnic or economic dispute, such as Israel, Nepal or Bolivia, is part of the performance of government policy, power or subordination; brokerage of knowledge between expert and non-expert; recognition of forgotten histories, or the public negation of subaltern heritage (Kojan 2008). The creation and maintenance of a professional monopoly over a "specialist body of knowledge and skills" allows authoritative control over knowledge that is both controlled by policy, publicly beneficial and seen to be in the hands of the most adept curators and performers of these expert skills and knowledge (Soffer 1982, 801). It is through the development of a public appreciation for their education, knowledge, expertise and authority over many years that the professional archaeologist will find a supportive audience for the presentation of their expert knowledge.
" … how [can we] comfortably embrace an acceptance of (not necessarily agreement with) the existence of multiple reactions … to the fruits of professional archaeological research …"
The central question for this article is whether or not the impact of Internet technologies as a communication medium for archaeology can override or challenge these "traditional models of expertise by disrupting established information routines and cultivating multiperspectivalism" (Pfister 2011, 218). I would argue that, despite being able to access archaeological information in ever-increasing quantities, especially with the advent of access to online material through Internet technologies, and a growing amount of archaeological data freely available to download, this empowerment will always derive from a subordinate relationship between the public and the professional archaeologist.
The role of the gatekeeper to archaeological information is privileged, supported in the UK financially by a variety of policies, stakeholders, statutory bodies and regulations, and grant funding, as well as public money and public confidence and value that draws authoritative strength from the public perception of its stability and longevity (Bevan 2012, 3). As Kojan (2008, 70) has noted, there are many stakeholders in any society who have diverse understandings of the past as it exists in the contemporary social world, and acknowledging that these multitudes of experiences and opinions about the past exist and are valid for those people, has to become a key component of the practice of public archaeology. There will always be subtly contested understandings of the past at archaeological sites and monuments, which may arise from a wide variety of sources; orally transmitted knowledge and histories; legends and mythologies; religious and spiritual associations; disputed ownership or subaltern and hidden heritage. Fisher and Adair (2011, 50) state that "many people can have a valid response to and perspective on any subject, and that a rich and meaningful conversation can emerge by linking those that do have true expertise with those alternative perspectives and new voices".
Understandings of perspective, agency, personal meaning, and individual experience and community concerns are vital tools for the establishment of an equitable public archaeology. These multiple understandings of the past and the actions of humans in the past, and the reactions to these in the present will always exist "regardless of how archaeologists or any other party feel about it" (Kojan 2008, 75). Yet, how relevant the concept of multi-vocality is to the UK archaeology audience remains difficult to gauge. Certainly, the UK has to acknowledge its historic role as a former Empire, a former colonial power, and one with a tangible class structure. As a result there is a diversity of population, and diverse experiences of interactions with the past. The discussions of British identities within popular media and academic archaeology and history are, as Johnson (2008, 45) argues "implicit and inflected rather than overtly stated" and linked politically and culturally to concerns relating to contemporary issues of multi-culturalism and social inclusion. The kinds of relationships we, as professional archaeologists, want to foster between archaeological material culture and data, and the narratives of subaltern heritage, local archaeologies, the wider public understanding of the past in the present, through national narratives and, more subtly, the populist public interest in the more obscure and mysterious aspects of archaeology, must be considered.
As Trigger wrote (1984, 369), we need to seek to understand how archaeologists behave not just as 'individuals but as researchers working within the context of social and political groups'. The fundamental issue, in my opinion, is the need for an acknowledgement within the profession that multiple interpretations of historic and archaeological information may occur. The associated problem is rather more methodological — in terms of how to comfortably embrace an acceptance of (not necessarily agreement with) the existence of multiple reactions to experiences of landscape, the urban environment or material culture in museum displays, alternative spiritual or folklore beliefs, or even multi-vocality, as a reaction to the fruits of professional archaeological research — rather than an issue of expecting the public to wholeheartedly embrace the correct expert archaeological interpretation.
Internet Archaeology is an open access journal. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.
Internet Archaeology content is preserved for the long term with the Archaeology Data Service. Help sustain and support open access publication by donating to our Open Access Archaeology Fund.
File last updated: Tue Nov 25 2014