A Plurality of Pluralisms: Collaborative Practice in Archaeology

  • Alison WylieEmail author
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science book series (BSPS, volume 310)


Innovative modes of collaboration between archaeologists and Indigenous communities are taking shape in a great many contexts, in the process transforming conventional research practice. While critics object that these partnerships cannot but compromise the objectivity of archaeological science, many of the archaeologists involved argue that their research is substantially enriched by them. I counter objections raised by internal critics and crystalized in philosophical terms by Boghossian, disentangling several different kinds of pluralism evident in these projects and offering an analysis of why they are epistemically productive when they succeed. My central thesis is that they illustrate the virtues of epistemic inclusion central to proceduralist accounts of objectivity, but I draw on the resources of feminist standpoint theory to motivate the extension of these social-cognitive norms beyond the confines of the scientific community.


Archaeology Community-based collaborative research (CBPR) Expertise Norms of justification Oral history Pluralism Procedural objectivity Social/cognitive norms Standpoint theory 



I thank Sheila Greer for her generous reading of several drafts, and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations for their enormous generosity. I am also deeply grateful to the archaeological colleagues whose hard-won experience with collaborative practice has inspired my thinking about its epistemic value and its potential. In particular, I thank George Nicholas, Sonya Atalay, and all the participants in the iPinCH project (Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage).

I also thank the many colleagues in philosophy and in archaeology who have given me invaluable feedback on this paper in various stages of its development. Initially these were the panelists in a session on pluralism at the June 2010 conference on “Objectivity in Science” at UBC who motivated me to write it, and participants at that meeting who pressed me hard on the broader implications of the archaeological examples I was considering. Subsequent versions of this paper have benefited from astute and sometimes intensely vigorous discussion over the last 3 years in a number of contexts: in 2011, at a workshop on “Discovery in the Social Sciences” at the University of Leuven, meetings of the Society for the Philosophy of Science in Practice at the University of Exeter and of the Summer Institute in American Philosophy at University of Oregon, the Rotman Institute at Western University, Northwestern University, and the CUNY Graduate Center; in 2012 the University of Nebraska (Cedric Evans Lecture), the University of Kentucky (AGSA Lecture), the Institute for Advanced Study at Durham University, King’s College London and the University of Leicester; and in 2013, Denison University (Titus Hepp Lecture), the European Philosophy of Science Association (Springer Lecture), the InterAmerican Philosophy Society in Salvador (Brazil), and the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science. I particularly thank my hosts at the Australian National University for making two separate visits to Australia possible in Spring 2013 and 2014; I got wonderful feedback from colleagues in the ANU Schools of Philosophy and of Archaeology, and at the University of Queensland, and at Sydney University.

A much compressed discussion of the Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchí case and of its philosophical implications appears in Philosophy of Social Science: A New Introduction, edited by Nancy Cartwright and Eleonora Montuschi (2014).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Philosophy and AnthropologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyDurham UniversityDurhamUK

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