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in risk society: design and long term community
Michael Shanks and Christopher Witmore
August 27 2009
A broad disciplinary crisis was recognized and embraced across the humanities and social sciences from the late 1960s and early 70s. Gouldner notably signaled the coming crisis of Western sociology in his book of 1970; it was associated with a reevaluation of the classics of Durkheim, Weber and Marx, and an assimilation of hermeneutic and phenomenological critiques of social science-based methodologies and theories. Debate has circulated around that confident positivist premise that essentially deterministic processes can account for the complexity of social and cultural life and history.
In anthropology the questions have been about the coherence and scope of a four-field anthropology instituted in the US as cultural, biological and linguistic anthropology, plus archaeology, with challenges from the 1960s to structural functionalist anthropology and then cultural evolution, tied to programs of structuralist, marxist and interpretive anthropologies.
More broadly, we note the rise of critical theory, derived from a strain of western Marxian thinking from Lukács and through the Frankfurt School in the 1920s and 30s, across the humanities and social sciences. After Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge (1936, 1952) and Kuhn’s concept of paradigm (1970), the rise of science studies has endeavored to situate science in its constitutive practices, with the absolute authority of science itself under question. Science has come to be treated as a set of historically located cultural practices in institutions such as the academy, with ramifications through funding agencies, state and corporate policy, down to laboratories, instruments and everyday practices (Biagioli 1999).
In the early 1970s in archaeology, David Clarke (1973) famously highlighted a loss of disciplinary innocence and the emergence a critical self consciousness, an awareness of archaeology as a mature field in the sciences and humanities. This sense of crisis has not dissipated, though there is now a kind of neoliberalist orthodoxy in the academy that acknowledges a market of competing ideas, even while it champions the behaviorist norms of a certain conception of humanity, one taking its essential nature from the natural selection of a market economy (Canaan and Shumar 2008).
At the heart of this disciplinary crisis there regularly appear the following characteristics:
In the debates around research in academic archaeology we still read much of the contrasts between social science and interpretive approaches (however see Rathje, Shanks and Witmore (2010) on the dynamics of archaeology over the last thirty years). Nevertheless, the sense of crisis in the profession of archaeology is now centered upon threats to the material past, the challenges of managing the loss, of mitigating impacts, of policing the looting and the illicit trade in antiquities, of regulating, of recognizing local claims on historical roots, on past legacies, when history may become conflated with heritage. We now look upon an ethics and politics of property, responsibility, threat and stakeholder interests (Brodie and Tubb 2002, Renfrew 2000).
This discourse of threat and loss goes back, of course, to the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries and a modernist sensibility attuned to the decline of tradition, to the broad rise of historical sensibilities, of appreciation of the remains of the past and of other cultures, housed in the new architectures of the museum and increasingly protected by institutions of the nation state (Olsen and Svestad 1994). This modernist historicity, or sense of the historical past, is not simply about the flow of events and personalities, social change, and individual agency, or indeed human mortality in the face of the tide of history. The modern disciplines of history, archaeology and anthropology offered means of holding on to what was changing, of curating the past and of connecting with the future, through visions and narratives of progress, of improvement, or of simply understanding where we had come from (see Thomas 2004).
Though there are these deeper roots, two centuries old, Cultural Resource Management has seen exponential growth since the 1970s. At first the perception of threats to the remains of the past prompted programs of “rescue” and “salvage” archaeology, mostly in the US and UK, with visions of the remains of the past rescued from beneath the developers’ bulldozers. Since then, and aided by various legal and legislative instruments, there has been a shift of emphasis to the management or stewardship of valued sites and artifacts under a sense of ethical responsibility to future generations. This is now a global phenomenon, with prominent recognition coming from the likes of UNESCO and indeed the World Bank, with its acknowledgment of the crucial role of culture in economic development. Of note also is the convergence of concern about cultural as well as natural resources, indeed a convergence that pertinently questions the very distinction.
How are we to understand this trend towards a sense of “crisis”? Clearly, the quickening pace of urban and industrial development over the last 40 years has had a tremendous impact on archaeological remains, prompting the legislative and state interventions. The past itself seems under threat; at the minimum it needs protection. Archaeology, as a mode of appropriation and engagement with the past, is a component of a now global and hegemonic academic culture industry, with comparable curricula and discourse found in every university the world over. The archaeological past of sites, monuments and works housed in museums is at the heart of the tourist industry and features prominently in popular mass media (Clack and Brittain 2007). Archaeology and archaeological awareness is more than ever obviously wrapped up in contemporary (post)modernity.
Bruce Trigger’s lifelong project of writing the history of archaeology as a history of ideas successfully connected the discipline with broad modernist trends in nationalism, imperialism and colonialism (1984, 1989). We can go much further by considering not just ideas but also practices, locales and things (Olsen et al 2011). We suggest that it is useful to treat this sense of crisis as an archaeological manifestation of what is being called “risk society”.
The term “risk society”, associated with the pioneering thinking of Ulrich Beck (1992) and Anthony Giddens (1991), is shorthand to describe escalating shifts in modernity centered upon concern with manufactured risks and threats. Giddens emphasizes changes that involve an end of tradition, in the sense of the past no longer being guarantor of contemporary security, in the sense that individuals are increasingly held responsible for their own security in a world experienced as more and more subject to risks to self, family and community. Sloterdijk (2009a) and Serres (1995) flag up growing senses of threat to global humanity's very habitat and survival—atmosphere, food and sustenance, water and housing. We are no longer simply subject to fate and nature, but the cumulative effect of certain behaviors, policies and values is having deleterious effect on the stability of our human cultural ecology. Considerable attention is given to the implication of individuals, institutions and corporations in changes that seem to threaten the very core of human being: the engineering of genetic change, environmental change, the instabilities of a global monetary economy, international security in the face of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. And the loss of the past, associated with changes in the way history itself is conceived and experienced.
It is most useful to locate archaeology in such analysis because it helps us understand the changes in archaeology over the last few decades and to evaluate our options, as professionals, academics, stakeholders and coinhabitants of Earth.
Connecting archaeology with an analysis of risk society locates archaeology primarily outside the academy; we suggest that changes in archaeological thought are a fundamental component of contemporary memory practices that have a particular manifestation in the academy and its discourses. Consider the growth of garbology and the archaeology of the contemporary past, stretching archaeological interests in directions inconceivable, or at best marginal, a few decades ago. Consider how there is a new shape to the scope of archaeological inquiry, with the crucial relevance of long term archaeological process to the understanding of climate change, human interventions in the environment, to the development of state and empire, to communication, travel and mobility (what Giddens (1984, chapter 4 and 5) subsumes under his term time-space distanciation). We are beginning to see some bold broad-brush thinking in archaeology and cognate fields again (see Redman 2001, Tainter 1990, Diamond 2005 on the aforementioned topics) where our counter measures need to be equal in scope to the perceived risks threatening humanity. Archaeologists have never had to work harder to understand the past in the present.
We will outline the characteristics of this extended field of archaeological practice and sensibility as a component of risk society.
Thirty years ago, when one of us was starting out in an archaeological career in the academy, there simply was no scope or agenda for questioning the value-freedom of (social) science, for debating the politics of the archaeological past, for treating pasts forged in the present in association with cultural struggles for genuine local identity in an increasingly globalist and neoliberal world. Quite appropriately, archaeology and CRM were embedded in long-standing agendas to establish a coherent time-space systematics for both the management of endangered sites and finds as well as for academic research, and to harness the power of quantitative social science for modeling social change. They were, and still largely are, part of a broad modernist program instituted in the early nineteenth century and typically involving abstract expert systems that permit disembedded comparison and calculation across indefinite time and space.
The development from the eighteenth century of such large scale abstract systems of knowledge acquisition and management related to the monitoring and direction of everyday life has been amply explored by the likes of Foucault. Focused on everything from medicine to criminology, economy and environment, state directed and coordinated through bureaucracies, markets and all kinds of research agencies, including the academy, colossal resources have been given over to surveillance, measurement and analysis with the aim of regulation and control. The building of these knowledge-based systems has involved the development of instruments and techniques of observation and measurement such as cartography and photography, standards and infrastructures that facilitate comparison and analysis, statistics operating upon databases, as well as institutions and management structures that allow the translation of observation into data into information into policy into execution—witness a control society (Deleuze 2002).
If all of human life and experience is in principle calculable and subject to knowledge, that we might understand better the likely outcomes of particular actions, attention is thrown onto the future because some sort of assessment of likely risks can be made for virtually all habits and activities. These abstract and comparative knowledge systems throw suspicion on traditional answers and precepts in favor of research and analysis oriented on the future and implying assessment of threats and opportunities, hence the notion of risk is central in a society which is taking leave of the past, of traditional ways of doing things, and which is opening itself up to a problematic future.
This is part of the wholesale reorientation of temporality so central to modernity and which, of course, encompasses the likes of cultural resource management and archaeology. Great voids in the antiquity of humankind came with the challenges to senses of history based upon religious teaching, biblical chronologies and Graeco-Roman historiography. Archaeology has worked so successfully over two centuries to populate the past with sites and artifacts in a global time-space systematics of timelines and distribution maps rooted in universally applicable systems of classification and categorization. While this inventory of archaeological remains has become the foundation and instrument of the management of the past in ministries of culture and planning departments the world over, it has nevertheless, indeed necessarily, come with a growing awareness of threats both to the remains of the past and to the possibility of creating any kind of meaningful knowledge of what happened in history, if access to sources is overly restricted, if contextual information is lost or never acquired.
Here we experience a new kind of threat or risk to the past itself as well as to the potentiality and richness of pasts in the future, based upon new modern dynamics of presence (of the remains of the past) and absence (of past lives themselves as well as future memories and histories). The past is conspicuously not a datum, but subject to contemporary interests and concerns, infused now with the interests of knowledge and also with erosive threatening interests. Just as the natural environment is now seen as a thoroughly socialized and institutionalized habitat, a hybrid that includes threats, culpability, and responsibility on the part of humanity to care and curate, so too the past is a matter of concern, a matter of foresight, another risk environment affecting whole populations’ needs and desires for history, heritage, memory.
The paradox or contradiction is that the control that knowledge affords, for example, in managing the impact of development or of the trade in illicit antiquities on the possibility of a past in the future, comes at the cost of a sense of security. It is not just that the past is threatened; senses of personal and community identity are threatened. The growth of these systems of calculation and control is intimately connected with growing political, social, cultural and indeed ontological insecurity.
The security threat which individuals face is, at base, a threat to their very identity because of the ways in which these abstract systems of knowledge work. When who you are, including your history, is no longer given by traditional institutions and cultures, but is constantly at risk, if who and what you are is subject to changing expert research, the challenge to individuals is to constantly construct and reconstruct their own identity. The growing absence of traditional sources of authority in answering who we are accompanies a growing emphasis upon the individual to take responsibility for self and decisions, to monitor their self, to self-reflect and to assert their own agency, exercise discipline in being who they are. This responsibility is, of course, full of risk, and the possibility of asserting individual agency is seriously circumscribed by horizontal and vertical divisions in society.
Neoliberal thinking upholds the principle of the individual taking responsibility for their choices in a rational market based upon contractual relationships. Its orthodoxy since the 1980s in political science and governance throws into doubt the role of the state, of institutions and corporate bodies in being able to promote such a principle in the context of a society as divided and rooted as ever in class inequalities. This again exacerbates senses of risk, threat and insecurity.
Abstract systems of knowledge are meant to operate everywhere and to allow comparative assessment and judgment to be made. They are global in reach, lifting patterns out of local contexts and simultaneously reaching into our most intimate depths. Distant happenings, wars, environmental damage, the decisions of faceless investment bankers thousands of miles away, ozone depletion over the Antarctic can have profound influence on events close-by, in our everyday lives, and on the intimacies of the self. This is a folding of time and space, shifting time-space distanciation, as the times and places of social and cultural life, the zones or locales that give sense and identity to experience, constantly shift.
And worse. Any authority that science may claim is based upon its skeptical and questioning attitude; this has now been turned against science itself. Risk assessment demands an assessment of knowledge claims: are we to believe, for example, those who deny the evidence for a human origin to global warming? Is the threat to global heritage as serious as some would lead us to believe? Scientists have not only been wrong in the past, but culpably wrong. Science is conspicuously now an ethical field where we find no easy answers, in spite of the expansion of systems of information management, analysis and interpretation.
This new moral economy of assessment of culpability and blame involves a distinctively forensic attitude. At a scene of crime anything might be evidence in the search for coherent account, in the attribution of blame, in the pursuit of the guilty. How are we to know where to look? And anywhere might be a scene of crime: threat is ubiquitous. Forensics is best based upon reason and careful work upon evidence, drawing upon general principles, but we should also recall that the field is a legal one of inquiry and advocacy, case-based and so specific or situated, dealing in human motivation and desire, as well as matters of right and wrong, good and evil. The burden of proofs demands we open up every step of the process to close public scrutiny.
A positive side to this indeterminacy has been the development of sciences of complexity. It is no longer feasible to treat the human habitat as one of discrete systems and determinable parts such as material culture and natural environment, animal and plant species, lithosphere and troposphere. Instead we need to deal with distributed and underdetermined processes which meld human and machine, nature and culture, challenging all those Cartesian dualisms at the heart of much modernist thinking.
One particular implication of archaeology in risk society is that, as part of the pervasive construction of risk objects, it is a system of practice and knowledge, a discourse of dealings with otherness, alterity, the abject (Shanks 1992, 2010). We refer to the potential anxiety elicited in dealing with other cultures and times that present questions of difference, challenges to establish understanding, to translate and establish common ground. The centrality of entropic processes in archaeology, decay and loss, the erosion of order and form, makes this dealing with otherness particularly sharp and challenging. It is not just that an archaeologist may raise questions of historical and cultural continuity in their research, asking “is this the way we were?”; but the rot and ruin, the debris of humanity in the decaying garbage heap that is history, may mean that we may never know, that no sense may ever be established. The ruin and loss may even tend to nausea, an aspect of the abject: the loss of the past may be sickening; mortal flesh rots; and, without a past, we may never know who we were. This struggle in the face of perpetual perishing is a distinctively archaeological dimension to contemporary threats to ontological security.
Organizations like the World Archaeological Congress have raised awareness of the ethical implications of archaeological research and of the impact of globalization, particularly in relation to non-Western pasts, histories and cultures. The proliferation of disembodied knowledge has involved a counter tendency that emphasizes local knowledge, situated in the way described above in connection with the forensic “case”, but also meaning knowledge associated with a particular standpoint, and/or held by stakeholders, those with a specific and motivated interest in a case. Issues of “indigeneity” are prominent in these agendas that focus on the relation between the global and the local and embrace the need to re-embed knowledge. We note a new premium on what interpretive anthropologists and sociologists call “local knowledge”.
It is because of the threats facing humanity, because of the potentially catastrophic risks, that it becomes urgently necessary to clarify or even rethink our relationships to the past and inevitably, therefore, what archaeology has to offer.
These changes in our historicity and senses of time and temporality, this orientation on the future, yet growing attachment to the past mediated through our actions now to recover, curate and conserve, the patent elision of materiality and immateriality with the development of digital archives makes of archaeology a critical component of new and contemporary memory practices.
Archaeology, we suggest, has an extended historiographical scope, a much broader scope than history (consider Foucault's use of the terms archaeology (1972, 1973) and genealogy (1980, 1986)), encompassing the mundane and the material, with archaeology as the tangible mediation of past and present, of people and their cultural fabric, of the tacit, indeed the ineffable. Archaeology offers rich resources for building alternatives in a risk society, reframing matters of common and pressing human concern. Indeed because, in the era of future orientation and short term thinking, nothing is guaranteed memory, archaeology’s work on the material remains of the past provides a route to the vital insertion of pasts into the present.
We have three propositions:
We suggest that archaeology be thought as a genealogical field. This is to distinguish it from the varieties of historiography that involve the writing of historical narrative or construction of analytical models. Genealogy recognizes that we would not be here but for the past, but also that there is no necessary coherent narrative that leads from past to present, or a neat unitary model to which the past may be fitted. In genealogy there are affiliations and radical discontinuities, a primacy of contingencies in an underdramatized past, characterized by complex, mundane and inglorious origins, contingent and indeterminate flows and turns, no great or grand stories to the history of humankind. Fundamentally this is to question the modernist celebration of progress, that there is progression to history, even in the notion of a greater well-being to humankind now as contrasted with the past. Instead of narrative and progress or development, archaeology as genealogy highlights distribution and complexity - topologies and foldings, flows and eddies. Liquid history; weather-bound.
Take the example of optics. More specifically, consider any lens in everyday life — a pair of eyeglasses, a digital camera, or even the small video lens in a computer. We readily recognize how each lens is made of glass or some other transparent material. We also understand how each has either one or two curved surfaces which deflect rays of light in a consistent manner. Beyond this basic description of a lens we often fail to appreciate the trials and tribulations that went into the making of these things.
As things, each of these lenses gathers achievements distant in both space and time, such that they are nonetheless simultaneously aggregated in the lens itself (Webmoor and Witmore 2008). In other words, folded into each lens are designers, engineers, optical tables, mathematical calculations, opticians, experiments in refraction, glassmakers, silica, kilns, pyrotechnological skill, and so forth. The mathematical calculations translated into the curvature of the lens can be traced to the labors of Kepler and al-Haytham, to the optical tables of Hero of Alexandria and to the geometry of Thales (Authier 1995). A sociotechnical genealogy of the glass in each lens is marked by events, incremental shifts, where transactions between humans, silica, fire, ovens, and other things made of silica (techniques) in Egypt, the Near East or Venice are translated into things which either establish a foothold and persist, or are lost to Lethe. Mention should even be made of potential connections with Chinese glass and optics as exemplified in the labors of astronomer Shen Kua (Zielinski 2006:84).
There are several subsidiary theses associated with this repudiation of modernist progress. For archaeology we question the oft-held premise that the discipline of archaeology grew out of a pre-disciplinary tradition of antiquarian thought. Instead we note continuities of concern with the manifestation and documentation of the past, of sites, locales, monuments and portable artifacts in the present. We are still yet antiquarians.
In an assertion again that we have never been modern, the past is always contemporary with us, presenting opportunities of investigation, of reworking and reuse. So long as we hold to the ill-founded notion of the unswerving march of progress, the idea that the past holds alternatives to the present will be regarded as reactionary and backward, as regression. When such seemingly “reverse” movements are no longer regarded as the antithesis to a modernist image of progression, the past can once again be regarded as a locus of insight and innovation. Engaging with the past and pooling up a reservoir of alternatives is the key to securing our global future. Archaeology has never been more relevant than in a risk society. In other words, the seemingly out-of-date, the obsolete, the discarded, can once again become futuristic. Examples of such “reversals” are not new; indeed, they are pervasive. Consider two vignettes from the roots of the modern, industrial era.
Exposed to the onslaught of the English Channel south of Plymouth, the Eddystone Rocks had hosted two different lighthouses before John Smeaton (who would later describe himself as a ‘civil engineer’, the first to do so) was commissioned by the President of the Royal Society to design a third in 1756. Smeaton’s lighthouse would continue to do work for 122 years, outlasting the previous two combined by 75 years (they had lasted 5 and 47 years respectively). Unlike his predecessors, Smeaton experimented with various mortars to produce a “hydraulic lime”, a form of mortar that set even under the onslaught of the unruly sea in the English Channel. In the course of this development, no myth of Homo Faber myth will do — no form was imposed on shapeless matter (Ingold 2009). For without the presence of Roman cement, without the texts of Vitruvius, Smeaton would have been limited to the limes of Britain and not privy to the properties of pozzolana (Rankin 1916, 749; Smeaton 1793). The fact that such associations intervened in Smeaton’s case is captured in the label subsequently given to hydraulic lime, “Roman cement”.
Such polychronic exchanges abound. Ralph Wood’s design of the Tanfield bridge in the industrial north east of England (also known as the Causey arch, the oldest standing railroad bridge in the world) was most probably suggested by the remains of Roman arches so prevalent in this region (Greene 1990, 42). This instance of co-present exchange between an ancient and an industrial arch may seem incidental and trivial; they are quickly overlooked when we conceive of the process of design, design as the imposition of form upon matter—the Homo faber myth again. No entity can ever entirely contain another in this way (Harman 2009, 30); it is the negotiation between them that may lead to new translations, foldings, aggregates and assemblages in a percolating temporality.
In "The Shock of the Old" David Edgerton (2007) has documented how some of the most touted technological innovations of the twentieth century, for example in the aero-space industries, have actually been costly failures, little adopted. In contrast, major changes have been associated with mundane unheralded technologies, like corrugated iron, often well-known and old, given new use and purpose in modernity.
We now want to sketch a new context for memory practices like archaeology: to signal the contemporary and digital basis of the changes, we call this new condition “Archive 3.0” and it involves the reanimation of storehouses of experience and cultural works. As Sloterdijk (2009b) would have it, from now on, curation must accompany technical science.
Most generally, archives are the storerooms of humanity, what has come down to the present. An archive is a place where records are kept, a record so preserved. Archives are an architecture of access to the remains of the past. The verb is to place or store (in an archive); archival practices are the principles of how archives are organized and how they work.
The prefix “arche” (found in archive and architecture and archaeology) is Greek for beginning, origin, foundation, source, first principle, first place of power, authority, sovereignty. It represents a starting point or founding act in both an ontological sense ("this is whence it began") and a nomological sense ("this is whence it derives its authority"). Archaeology’s “archaia” are old things, where “things”, to bear witness and carry meaning, are inseparable from their context, from their find-spot, their connections with other things. Archives are material artifacts and systems all about narratives of origin, identity and belonging, and the politics of ownership, organization, access and use. To recognize how we begin in the midst of things is to acknowledge the primacy of the archaeological.
We see ourselves moving into a new phase in the history of archives. We don’t have the space to give a full outline of our proposition; a caricature holds the changes as follows.
Archive 1.0 refers to bureaucracy in the early state, the temple and palace archives and storerooms, with inscription as an instrument of management and the redistribution of goods. With Archive 2.0 comes the mechanization and digitization of archival databases under an aim of fast, easy and open access based upon efficient dendritic hierarchical classification and retrieval. From the early nineteenth century Archive 2.0 is associated also with statistical analysis performed upon data.
Archive 3.0, coming in the last two decades, brings a reemphasis on personal affective engagement with cultural memory. Rather than static depositories, we see archives increasingly as active engagements with the past, animated archives, where the holdings of museums, libraries, galleries and public collections are opened up to personalized use, where curation and information management increasingly aim to tailor services to different needs and desires. This shift is visible in the efforts made by museums to capture visitor interest by assuming less of them and providing more in the way of supporting information and narrative, as well as by recruiting attractive media affect, literally replacing the static vitrine with a media-rich experience. There is a new focus here on interface, but not solely as a human factor of ergonomics or of behavioral efficiency and conceptual transparency: interface has become an issue now of richness of engagement.
But there is much more. At the heart of the shift to Archive 3.0 is a complete turn in the conception and design of information based upon digitization. Databases have, until recently, required clear conceptualization and hierarchical structure to facilitate efficient access and retrieval. Powerful electronic processing and cheap digital data storage have all but eliminated the need for data directories or look-up tables based upon clear metadata standards; quick and efficient searching of free-form data is now commonplace. While the traditional library required careful and expert recording of book metadata (author, date, title, keywords) according to a standardized system such as Dewey Decimal, Google Books offers customized searching through the complete texts of its holdings of several million works, with the results freely available for individual reuse.
At the heart of such vast digital mediation is fungibility. Digitization allows the gathering of moving image, still image, music, text, 3d design, database, geological survey, graphic detail, architectural plan, virtual walk-through etc, into a single environment. These may be infinitely manipulated and re-mobilized without loss in that space. The eventual output as video, photograph, CD ROM, DVD, paper based printed text, web page, broadcast, archival database, live event, exhibition, site specific installation, 3D model, building etc, is only weakly constrained by limiting factors inherent to the "originals" being reworked.
Numerous attributes of digital practice—cutting, pasting, undoing, reformatting, layering, mixing, and so on—belong to an arena in which design decisions have become ubiquitous and even the simplest of tasks can take on a speculative, investigative, critical, and/or creative character. And this character, in turn, is inflected by the new associative and collaborative opportunities, the novel ways of moving ideas, communications, and culture around, provided by digital networks. Potentially this raises issues about differences of power and influence between center and periphery, between the urban and the rural, traditionally privileged and newly empowered classes. There is enhanced potential for small-scale and locally-based artisanal and pre-, post- or non-industrial modes of operation. Digitally mediated culture may imply a re-negotiation of the relationship between the global and the local, the physical and the virtual. The "virtual", as an ever-expanding experiential, cognitive, and socio-cultural domain, moves alongside or into competition with the physical environment and, as is already the case in certain subcultures, mixed reality experiences become not the exception, but the rule.
To this volatile and still somewhat inchoate mix must be added what is perhaps best described as the digitally enabled de-territorialization of data. Vast amounts of cultural, social, and other information, valuable or not, organized or random, information that was once mined exclusively either by restricted circles of specialists or by eccentric data dumpster divers, has become widely available thanks to efforts extending from Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive to Project Gutenberg to the digital repositories of the world's great libraries, gathered in the likes of Google Books, to an archipelago of private undertakings. The ongoing efforts of a variety of interests to treat such information as private property and to restrict its circulation find themselves regularly thwarted by the sheer ubiquity of means to promote their uncontrolled circulation and proliferation. Wikipedia, the collaborative encyclopedia-for-all, and news blogging similarly challenge proprietorial attitudes towards information. The battle intensifies the closer one gets to contemporary cultural production, but it encompasses the entire cultural field, from prehistoric relics in the possession of the world's most venerable museums to yesterday's detergent advertisement. Whatever its outcome, there can be little doubt that this process of de-territorialization will continue.
We suggest that these distinctive features of contemporary digital culture create an expanded and intensified "poetic" space; for archaeology, this space is that of the “design” of the past and memory. Anyone with a personal computer may author, appropriate, share, rework, and publish works in this new political economy of media. The facility offered by digital technologies to exchange, locally rework and remix is the basis for the conflicts over intellectual and cultural property, over matters of creativity, authenticity and ownership of both the means of cultural production as well as its goods. The social and collaborative media of Web 2.0 add to the collaborative possibilities of such remix or re-association.
At the heart of Archive 3.0 are new mixed realities (digital and analog) or prosthetic architectures for the production and sharing of archival resources. The past circulates in ways that it never has. So the implications of Archive 3.0 encompass some crucial components of contemporary memory practices:
We pick up a key point, in this nexus that runs through many of the concerns raised by archaeology in a risk society; it concerns authority and agency. In Archive 3.0 we see not just recirculation of the past, but the collaborative co-production of the past. We will elaborate this point below. Here we simply mention some political and ethical issues. What some see as a democratization of information, or at least the opening up of digital databases on the world wide web, intersects with senses of threat to the past as more people realize the ability to collect and contribute to their own and to community pasts, in their own online photo albums, through online genealogy searches, while also being alerted to events such as the looting of the Baghdad Museum, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, or the bombing of historical monuments in the former Yugoslavia. Peer to peer sharing of music and movies raises the same questions:
In this cultural politics of the constant recirculation of the past, we suggest that archaeology has a distinctive role to play in offering awareness of precisely the possibility of a return of the past in a new guise, creatively remixed and offering innovative views, concerns reframed through connection with the remains of the past.
Consider the pressing concern of sustainable food production. The way we grow our food is connected to several crises in the US and beyond: health, energy and ecology. Health, because most chronic diseases can be linked to diet. Energy, because agriculture and food processing accounts for a significant percentage of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States (a recent U.N. study estimated rearing livestock produced more greenhouse gas emissions than driving cars (Steinfeld et.al 2006)). Ecology, because high levels of nitrate from industrial agriculture, whether with chemical fertilizers liberally deployed on Iowa farms or with bird cities along the Chesapeake, these industrial sites are creating large dead zones in the oceans.
Drawing attention to these crises, Michael Pollan describes living off the modern industrial food system as akin to “eating oil and spewing green house gases” (2008). Add up all the pesticides and fertilizers, all the petrol required for farm machinery and long-distance transportation, not to mention all the energy that goes into food processing and contemporary industrial farming. Pollan estimates that it requires 10 calories of fossil fuels to generate 1 calorie of food energy. The message is that soft solutions in the form of cheap calories come with hard consequences.
While this scheme is unsustainably costly, it is, for better or worse, given weight and support by a vast infrastructural, sociotechnical network. Traveling west along Interstate 40 from the east coast of the United States, one may note the regionalization of US agriculture. Polyculture farms, formerly a common backdrop in North Carolina and Tennessee have been replaced by tree farms, suburbs and industrial parks. As one moves into Arkansas and Oklahoma huge livestock and monoculture farms become more prevalent. The town grain elevator, set up to move soybeans or corn only, becomes a recurrent feature.
Pollan’s answers to the crisis are centered on a shift back to polyculture farms which practice careful crop rotation on a solar energy base—of course, with the help of government investment. These are excellent and necessary measures. Still, without addressing the broader question of the shape of sustainable societies over the very long term, these solutions might be compared to stopping a full-speed freight train on but a few meters of track (Serres 1995).
It is not the case that archaeological history will be able to find easy answers in the way of a gardenworld economy such as Pollan’s. But archaeology does have much to say about early farming and its changes with state management and through into feudalism and beyond that lends considerable nuance and sophistication to any discussion of alternatives to monocultural agribusiness. This is that reservoir of alternatives to which we have alluded.
Perpetual perishing is a universal principle. Through entropy, life, information, and relations drain away. Bequeathed to future generations are radically transformed, heavily fragmented, and partial remains of what was. But we should not think of entropy primarily as a uniform process. Entropy is relational; that is, entropy is replete with utterly specific occasions and events. Entropy does not flow evenly everywhere. Given the right conditions, the right set of relations, ephemera, that would have otherwise wasted sometime ago, may pool in places. At a cave in Armenia, Areni-1, extreme aridity, consistent temperature and a hardened carbonate crust have conspired to perpetuate dried prunes, grape husks, cloth, rope, reeds, wood, and even a child’s brain, all ephemeral details of the Chalcolithic some 6000 years ago (Areshian 2009). In entropy’s flow toward a uniform distribution of energy there are spiral eddies, countercurrents and reverse fluxes that maintain more or less coherent forms of what was, even though they may be subject to radical sea-change. Entropy’s flow is turbulent and percolating, bringing together different times and separating what once was connected. This, in spatial terms, is a topological folding, just as a landscape, through inhabitation and entropy, comprises a mélange of pasts, presents and future aspirations: an ancient hillfort by a neglected coppice by a new barn storing genetically modified seed.
Archaeology involves lived relations with these nodes and flows through folded temporality, immediately material and intangible (in the implication of all that went into the life of the past, the past’s absent presence). Archaeologists work with what remains of what once was above all to explicate, that is to unfold, in the sense just implied. But this work, it should be emphasized, is occasioned by a very particular orientation.
Archaeology’s work on what remains of what was may appear sometimes as a discovery or unveiling of a past become hidden. But the percolation of entropy defines archaeology as a field of practices encapsulated by the notion of unforgetting. Unforgetting is not merely the unveiling of a hidden aspect of what was; unforgetting is a risky, continuous, and laborious struggle against entropy. Unforgetting is not only to toil against forgetting; it is to circulate, articulate, crucially to reconnect neglected aspects of what was in order to enrich the present and potentially avert risk in the future. We suggest that there need be more to unforgetting than translating what remains of the past into forms that circulate. In risk society archaeology begins with issues of how the things of the past are caught up within relations today; it then tentatively and cautiously designs stories of what the past was like; archaeology can feed such episodes of unforgetting into reservoirs of alternatives that enable us to think outside the box on matters of common and pressing human concern, as we just tried to illustrate. We have also already mentioned how long-term archaeological thinking is being applied to big questions such as societal stability, environmental change and sustainable living.
But if unforgetting may fill reservoirs that give what has passed renewed presence, how are we to maximise their potential to help creative reframing, and to ensure longevity? How are we to ensure those pasts are open, flexible, malleable, should future generations deem it necessary to deploy them to other ends? This is a classic question of the archive, and one that has been partly addressed in definitions of good archaeological archival practice and publication of, for example, fieldwork. We add to these professional recommendations two characteristics of unforgetting, of archival practices that promise the maintenance of dynamic forging of pasts in the present and for the future, of memory as lived transactions.
The first characteristic is substantial empirical detail that is free from narrative overdetermination. Archaeologists have always delivered catalogs of collections and assemblages that exceed analytical and interpretive efforts to reduce them to coherence, particularly narrative coherence. Consider here Henry Gee’s arguments (2002) for evolutionary cladistics in deep time that do not admit narrative treatment. We encourage a celebration of the fascination of collage and assemblage that goes beyond and subverts narrative. This is something very evident in modernist and contemporary art (see, for example, Belknap (2004) on the list in modernist literature, Merewether’s edited collection (2006) on the archive in contemporary art). To maintain this empirical richness we should not shy away from indeterminacy and ambiguity (consider Shanks 2004), mess and complexity. Connected with an appreciation of the complexity of the human habitat, we should embrace the multiple ontology of things (Shanks 1999; Olsen et al 2011).
We suggest an expansion of this classic component of the archaeological project by connecting it with our other characteristic of rich memory practices in the effective archive.
This second characteristic concerns the tacit and the ineffable. Much of our experience and knowledge is tacit, that is, unvoiced, and most is ineffable, that is, irreducible to words alone. We are all aware of the power of sensory and involuntary memory, the way a smell or sound can unexpectedly evoke so powerfully a complete past experience. We suggest that it is not only possible, but crucial to the future of the archive to document our archaeological work and finds in ways that encompass the tacit and ineffable. Antiquaries and archaeologists have always been early adopters of new media technologies in order to capture the qualities sites and artifacts, in the illustrated book, the map, the photograph, the spreadsheet, the electronic database, the 3D CAD reconstruction. We suggest an extension of this to explicitly document the qualities of archaeological experience, the qualities of the human habitat through history. The challenge is not a trivial one of making more videos of an excavation, to be filed away in order that we might experience the site again some day. The circulation that is at the core of unforgetting, the need to constantly reconnect, suggests that we fully acknowledge that any definition of even something as apparently self-evident as a potsherd requires connecting that thing to the milieu from which it has emerged (the terms context and matrix apply here too, though they already carry heavy archaeological connotation). No signal makes sense unless it is decoded as part of a semiotic system, and, we emphasize, except as it is distinguished from background noise. We notice things only as they stand out against the mundane, the everyday, the unexceptional, what is normally overlooked and left tacit, even unrecorded and discarded in archaeology. This noise of history is what makes it live, even as it belongs with an underdramatized history, one that is instead mundane and ambient, rather than constituted by a few familiar historical characters and plots or narratological paradigms (consider Hayden White (1973) on history and Shanks and Tilley (1987) on archaeology; examples of experiment can be found in Stanford University’s Metamedia Lab – http://metamedia.stanford.edu). Ambient noise is the source of ambiguity, of an alternate view, of a challenge to the conventional decoding or account (see Serres (1985) on noise and multiplicity).
As an example of a long-term matter in the qualities of the human habitat, consider light pollution. The circadian rhythms of light and dark, day and night, the tones of which were fine tuned over the course of countless millennia. Since the nineteenth century they have been altered by the proliferation of artificial light. High exposure to light at night has been linked to accelerated tumor growth in women with breast cancer (Chepesiuk 2009). Sea turtles, disoriented by nearby lights, fail to find their way to the sea, and every year in the US alone millions of migratory birds die from collisions with skyscrapers, thrown off course by their bewildering luminosity (Rich and Longcore 2005). In the face of new risks brought on by light pollution, we are now faced with a situation where legion lighting systems must be redesigned to reclaim what was once plainly given (Sloterdijk 2009). Every new technology modifies subsequent relations with the world and, as Marshall McLuhan put it, “the message of the electric light was total change” (1994, 52). Light pollution has lead directly to the explication of the formerly taken-for-granted, very long term relations which now need to be conserved and protected. Matters of archaeological concern and endeavor, formerly understood differently or not in the least, enter the fold.
An attention to the qualities of things involves signal-noise relationships, distinguishing figure from ground, an attention to quiddity and haecceity, the what-ness and this-ness of things, to appropriate those technical philosophical terms for our purposes here. As we have indicated, this is not new to archaeology; we note with encouragement the growing acceptance of, for example, anthropologies of the senses (Stoller 1990; Jones and MacGregor 2002), of notions like ancient soundscapes, of the performative and embodied character of human practice past and present that demands rich and nuanced appreciation and representation (Pearson and Shanks 2001; Hamilakis, Tarlow and Pluciennik 2001). The media and tools are ready to hand: curators and museologists, for example, have long worked with the theatricality of the museum in designing rich modes of embodied engagement involving visualization, diorama, reenactment, annotation (labeling and interpretive text), multiple interfaces, new archival architectures.
New digital media, with their ubiquity and the fungibility noted above, offer multimedia authoring environments that can complement well this quest for rich documentation and explication as well as the recirculation of work that we suggest should lie at the core of an animated archive. The deterritorialization of information and ease of editing and reuse of digital work, also noted above, has prompted debates about a “creative commons”, movements to challenge restrictive copyright and establish a richer public domain of cultural creativity rooted in the reworking or remixing of past works (Lessig 2002 and 2005). Certainly a major feature of recent developments in digital networking, including Web 2.0, involves participatory, peer-to-peer and social software, large scale content management and collaborative authoring environments such as blogs and wikis, or modular systems such as Drupal. This could be treated as a third characteristic of unforgetting: collaboration.
What kind of work is archaeology, this work on what remains, this unforgetting, this explication of the deep genealogies of humanity?
Elsewhere we have suggested that archaeology may profitably be seen as craft (Shanks 1992, McGuire and Shanks 1996). The likes of Sennet (2008), Brown (2009) and Latour (2003), have recently written about craft and design in the context of late modernity and we find support a good deal of what they propose. We suggest that a view of archaeology as craft is even more apposite when associated with notions of design practice and thinking. To conceive archaeology as design and craft encompasses much of the argument we have made in this paper.
Craft implies embodied knowledges applied with an intense awareness, acquired through iterative engagement with materials and making, of the qualities of materials. Design we define broadly as a field of integration, of pulling together whatever is necessary to attend to a problem needing solution, of application of diverse fields of skill and expertise, (typically engineering, psychology, materials science, anthropology) with the interests, needs or desires of an individual or group, of management of this process of making. It is also a field of rhetoric, where arguments are made for a particular solution, where what is designed is frequently an implicit argument for the good life. Though “Design” has been conspicuously associated with charismatic designers and sometimes quite grand design philosophies, the actual processes of design thinking and practice are much more mundane. The terms raise all the right questions about modern(ist) attitudes towards materials, labor and artifacts, including those concerning agency and alienation, our involvement with the world of goods today, the role that archaeologists share in designing the past. As craft and design, archaeological agency is founded upon engagements with the past, and with others who share such an interest. Both craft and design imply local attention, working in a humble way in a process that will deliver an artifact, but an open process of constant and iterative improvement (we have elsewhere elaborated this point with reference to “agile management”: Shanks 2007).
There is a crucial epistemological point. To conceive archaeology as craft and design frees the archaeologist from striving primarily to achieve an epistemological correspondence between their representations and accounts and the past. Craft and design involve a very different kind of accuracy that nevertheless is founded upon detailed empirics, expertise and knowledge. It is an accuracy that usually involves constantly putting out and sharing trials, seeking feedback and listening to others, rather than striving for a final and definitive account.
When he wrote his theses “On the Concept of History” in a threatened Paris of 1940, Walter Benjamin was certainly experiencing a profound sense of crisis and danger, one that eventually led to his attempt to flee to the United States and then suicide when it appeared he would not be able to cross the Spanish border. The theses convey in Benjamin’s prescient and hybrid imagery of Jewish mysticism and Marxism a good deal of what we have attempted to elaborate in this paper. At the heart is a historiographical temporality of actuality - the conjunction, in a moment of crisis, of past and present, with a view to changing the future. This is Jetztzeit, now-time, a conjunctural moment when the continuum of history is blown apart, when we take a stand against empty homogenous time in constructing a unique relationship now with the past. So Thesis VI opens: “Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it the way it really was. It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger” (2003, page 391), when “the true image of the past flits by” (Thesis V, 2003, page 390) - when historical truth depends upon the work of connection we are calling unforgetting. Historical articulation of this kind requires constant work, because the line of least resistance is for the past to be assimilated into familiar and comforting stories of progress: “every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it” (2003, page 391), that is working to forget the power of the past to prompt reflection and action to redeem erstwhile hopes that threaten to be lost in a tide of so-called progress. It is in this context that Geoffrey Bowker, in his book on memory practices in the sciences, cites Yosef Yerushalmi, who wonders whether “the antonym of ‘forgetting’ is not ‘remembering,’ but justice” (2005, page 25).
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