World Archaeological Congress


Newsletter: Volume 27 April 2009

Contributions to the next WAC Newsletter due 18th May 2009

Archaeologists Without Borders Workshop

Report on the website of the World Archaeological Congress

Archaeologies of Art Podcast Series Launched!

Call for WAC members to nominate Indigenous people

World Archaeological Congress honors Larry Zimmerman

Dr Andree Rosenfeld

Recommendation on ERA Draft Quality Ranking

WAC-6 Media Releases

WAC-6 Closing Ceremony Speech

Portuguese WAC-6 Media Releases

German WAC-6 Media Releases

Spanish WAC-6 Media Releases

Turkish WAC-6 Media Releases

Czech. WAC-6 Media Release on Iran



Cultural Heritage, Social Justice and Ethical Globalisation - A World Archaeological Congress Symposium

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Symposium Rationale

The degree to which archaeology should engage with social justice principles was central to the furor that surrounded the establishment of the World Archaeological Congress. Since then, questions of social justice and ethical globalisation have been at the core of a number of high profile debates in archaeology: the rights of nations to obtain repatriation of their cultural patrimony vs the utility of ‘universal’ museums; Indigenous control over cultural and intellectual property vs scientific rights to knowledge; academic freedom vs the censorship of abhorrent views. Beyond such well-publicized debates are emerging areas of discussion, such the role of archaeologists in situations of armed conflict (is it possible to reconcile an anti-war position with archaeological involvement in war), the relationships between archaeologists and natural resource companies (is working for a mining company ‘selling out’), or what constitutes an appropriate source of funding (is it ethical to accept funding from a collector). 

In today’s interconnected world, research agendas are being developed increasingly according to global agendas. This trend is emerging in archaeology and related disciplines, partly due to the increased travel opportunities available to people from economically advantaged countries, but also as a response to government incentives.  For example, in Spain, two years of out-of-country research experience is now a pre-requisite for appointment to a permanent university post. In the USA, international collaborations account for more than one third of articles across all of science. However, while globalisation is changing how much scholarly knowledge is produced and disseminated, the costs and benefits are not being distributed equally. For many people globalization has been experienced as greater exposure to new and unpredictable forces, the threat of economic and social disruption, and a loss of control over their cultural heritage.

Knowledge transmission has become a critical factor in technological, social and economic development. This is an issue that concerns many economically disadvantaged countries: in August 2004 Argentina and Brazil proposed that the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) create a “Development Agenda” that included a proposal for a treaty on access to knowledge and technology. As it developed the aim of such as treaty was be to “protect and enhance access to knowledge, and to facilitate the transfer of technology to developing countries” ( However, this view that the internet should be used to more effectively provide access to knowledge needs to recognize the potential threats and challenges, especially in terms of the intellectual property rights of Indigenous peoples, as well as the envisaged benefits. 

So far, we have taken two main approaches: through directly addressing issues relating to social justice and ethical globalisation (repatriation, nationalism, and so forth) and through case studies that are grounded in, and shaped by, an approach that actively engages with the various communities with whom archaeologists intersect. The fundamental question is one of ethical orientation, and involves ‘who’ we choose to engage with (the stake-holders we identify), ‘why’ we choose to engage with them (the intersection of our social and political agendas with our research program), ‘how’ we manage the engagement (a question of power), and even ‘where’ the engagement is undertaken (another question of power). 

There are important questions at a more general level, as well: Should institutions of higher education be taking a more active role in addressing the ethical challenges of globalisation?  If so, what changes should we be seeking within our institutions? What methods and strategies should we employ to engender the changes we seek in government policies? How can we use the potential of a global world to address social justice issues and work towards a more ethical globalisation?

This symposium will consider the shape that might be taken by an archaeology that engages more directly with social justice and ethical globalization issues. Drawing on case studies and theoretical developments in countries as diverse as Nigeria, Poland, Ireland, South Africa, Cameroon, Spain, the US, Australia and Argentina, this public symposium will critically examine such issues, with an eye to the development of World Archaeological Congress policy.