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A Plurality of Pluralisms: Collaborative Practice in Archaeology

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Objectivity in Science

Part of the book series: Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science ((BSPS,volume 310))

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The history and contemporary formulations of this “value-free ideal” are usefully explicated by Douglas (2009, 44–66) and by Lacey (2005, 23–27, 59–80), and assessed by contributors to Kincaid et al. (2007), and Machamer and Wolters (2004).

  2. 2.

    In these articles, the first entitled “NAGPRA and the Demon Haunted World,” Clark was particularly concerned with impact of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), signed into law in the U.S. in 1990. For a more detailed account of this analysis of Clark’s critique, see Wylie (2005, 63–65).

  3. 3.

    Koskinen (2011) addresses this aspect of Boghossian’s critique of relativism with attention to ethnographic as well as archaeological examples. She argues that the kinds of statements Boghossian cites as evidence of widespread endorsement of a self-defeating epistemic relativism in the social sciences and humanities are, in fact, more plausibly construed as a much less threatening methodological relativism: a stance that involves withholding epistemic judgment of unfamiliar, apparently irrational beliefs, rather than embracing a “doctrine of equal validity” (Koskinen 2011, 105). I am similarly skeptical of Boghossian’s reading of these claims but make a case here for delineating a spectrum of different degrees and types of pluralism that are taking shape in archaeological practice; I do not believe they are all examples of methodological relativism, but do not pursue this line of argument here.

  4. 4.

    The other targets of his critique are constructivism about facts and about the prospects for rationally explaining the beliefs we hold.

  5. 5.

    Boghossian characterizes this “classic picture of knowledge” as a “broad consensus among philosophers, from Aristotle to the present day, on the nature of the relationship between knowledge and the contingent social circumstances in which it is produced”: that what we “take ourselves to know” is not, in fact, dependent upon the conditions of its production (2006, 19). This “independence of knowledge from contingent social circumstances” turns on three claims: that “many facts about the world are independent of us” (20); that facts can have standing as evidence that justifies belief in the truth of a claim independent “of our social makeup” (21); and that evidence alone can sometimes justify belief – social conditions do not necessarily figure in explanations for true beliefs (21).

  6. 6.

    For one of the most recent and comprehensive discussions of these initiatives and the epistemic contributions of collaborative practice to archaeology, see Atalay (2012). And for a more general account of the ways in which pluralism can benefit science see Chang’s discussion of “Pluralism in Science” (2012, 268–284).

  7. 7.

    For an accessible history of this controversy see Thomas (2000), and for a trenchant assessment of where the debate stands, Watkins (2000). See also contributions on the ethics of repatriation to Young and Brunk (2009) by Youngblood Henderson and by Scarre, and to Scarre and Coningham (2013) by Thompson and by Zimmerman. This summary is based on Wylie (1999, 2005).

  8. 8.

    See also Whitt (1998b, 254–255), and discussion in Nicholas and Wylie (2013, 201).

  9. 9.

    For a more detailed account of these responses, see Nicholas and Wylie (2009, 2013).

  10. 10.

    The second of eight “Principles of Archaeological Ethics” adopted by the Society for American Archaeology in 2009 requires “an acknowledgement of public accountability and a commitment to make every reasonable effort, in good faith, to consult actively with affected group(s), with the goal of establishing a working relationship that can be beneficial to all parties involved” (“Accountability,” SAA 1996).

  11. 11.

    Lowie argues that the only basis for establishing historical truths, and for disentangling them from mythological fiction, is evidence from archaeology and historical linguistics, in which case the purported evidence from oral traditions adds nothing (1915, 598). See Thomas’ discussion of context in which Lowie published this critique. It was a response to the use that two influential archaeologists, Roland B. Dixon and John Lee Swanton, had made of oral tradition as the basis for reconstructing the affiliations between archaeologically identified cultures and contemporary descendants, including the Hidatsa who figure in the second of the two cases I discuss in what follows (2000, 99–101).

  12. 12.

    This is a point Koskinen makes when she observes that, although researchers engaged in community archaeology need to “understand that the Native Americans believe their stories,” it does not follow from this that they “have to believe what the Native Americans believe” (2011, 104). She emphasizes the ways in which Zimmerman and others mark the differences between their own epistemic goals and practices and those of Indigenous communities. I am interested here in examples of collaborative engagement in which these boundaries are productively transgressed.

  13. 13.

    The distinction I draw between “syncretic” and “dynamic” pluralism parallels Chang’s distinction between “tolerant” and “interactive” pluralism (2012, 254, 270–284). I use “interactive” as an adjective here, and specify it below in terms suggested by Collins and Evans’s account of “interactional expertise” (2007).

  14. 14.

    Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchí’s remains were cremated in 2001 and his ashes returned to the area where he lost his life. Analysis of the recovered samples continues, extensive oral history is under way, and the Royal British Columbia Museum is in process of publishing a book that assembles the research results and provides an account of the collaborative research process.

  15. 15.

    For discussion of issues raised by archaeological DNA studies, see Pullman and Nicholas (2011).

  16. 16.

    Collins and Evans describe “contributory expertise” as the cognitive and embodied skill, and socialization into a community of expert practitioners, that puts members in a position to contribute to the production and ratification of specialist knowledge (2007, 24–27). Interactional experts have communicative competence; they have “expertise in the language of a specialism, [without] expertise in its practice” (28). And “meta-experts” have a level of understanding that puts them in a position to adjudicate expertise in fields in which they are not themselves contributory or interactional experts.

  17. 17.

    In calling into question this long-held disciplinary norm defining what counts as evidence, Thomas considers a number of examples of Native American oral traditions that converge upon, correct, and extend historical reconstructions based on archaeological and geological evidence going back as far as the late Pleistocene (2000, 244–253). What these examples show is that oral traditions cannot be rejected out of hand as inherently untrustworthy and entirely without evidential value. This is not, however, to endorse the equally strong counter-claim that they are a privileged source of evidence; as Echo-Hawk argues, they require discerning assessment and interpretation, as does any source of evidence. He makes this point explicitly in a sharply critical review of Mason (2006) where he rejects the presumption that oral tradition must be endorsed or rejected in categorical terms (2008, 124).

  18. 18.

    For comparison with European oral traditions, see Carruthers’ account of medieval “memory culture”: the now neglected “arts of memory”; the modes and uses of trained memory, and the “recollection devices” that can give oral traditions considerable stability (2008). I thank Conor Mayo-Wilson for this reference.

  19. 19.

    This last requires a sensitivity to distinctions of the kind Sperber has drawn between different propositional attitudes and strengths of commitment, with respect to different types of factual and representational belief (1982, 166–177). Koskinen draws on Sperber to make the case that, in fact, Zimmerman’s brief for a “different kind of science” is best understood, not as “a mixing of different epistemic practices,” but as a juxtaposition of propositions that convey quite different kinds of ethical and epistemic commitment (2011, 102–103). I concur that these distinct purposes should be recognized, but find them much more deeply and productively intertwined than Koskinen allows. See Chang on the complexities of pluralist “co-optation” (2008, 281–282).

  20. 20.

    Indeed, Boghossian’s rebuttal to Rorty’s treatment of the Bellarmine case makes this explicit. He rejects the suggestion that the scientific world view in terms of which we now understand the confrontation between Bellarmine and Galileo was in process of formation; there must be “system-independent fact[s]” of justification to which our evidential standards (those that now settle the question for us) approximate (2006, 69).

  21. 21.

    Or, as Chang might describe it, these examples lie along a spectrum that runs from a minimalist “tolerant” pluralism to various forms of robustly “interactive” pluralism that involve cross-fertilization of various kinds between traditions (2012, 254).

  22. 22.

    On Chang’s scheme, the first of these two “interactive” types of pluralism is an instance of what he describes as “co-optation” (2012, 281), and the second is similar to the more pro-pluralism-friendly forms of “integration” he discusses (2012, 279–280).

  23. 23.

    Zimmerman has been an outspoken internal critic of archaeologists who have refused engagement with Native Americans, and was an early advocate within archaeology of Indigenous archaeology (e.g., 1989).

  24. 24.

    These four social-cognitive norms require the following: that there be public venues for criticism which ensure that dissent can be voiced; that criticism gets uptake; that the standards by which theories, hypotheses, evidential claims are evaluated are publicly recognized and are themselves open to critical assessment; and that research “communities… be characterized by equality of intellectual authority” (2002, 131). The rational for this suite of practices is that an epistemic community must maintain conditions of critical adjudication that secure the possibility of “transformative criticism” (1990, 73–74).

  25. 25.

    In The Fate of Knowledge Longino does emphasize that “a diversity of perspectives is necessary for vigorous and epistemically effective critical discourse” (2002, 131), so the research community has an obligation to ensure that alternative views are “developed enough to be a source of criticism and new perspectives” (132). More recently, she has argued that, to counter the risk that idiosyncratic assumptions may dominate a research community, it may be important to “require openness to criticism both from within and from outside the community” (2004, 134). She notes, however, that communities with the resources to “demonstrate the non-self-evidence of shared assumptions or to provide new critical perspectives may be too distant, spatially or temporally, for contact” (134). I argue here that it should be a priority, in some contexts at least, to seek out interlocutors who can bring external, critical perspectives to bear on the knowledge claims and norms of justification that define a research community’s practice.

  26. 26.

    This account of standpoint theory summarizes an argument for reconceptualizing its central tenets that I originally proposed in Wylie (2003) and have since developed in Wylie (2012).

  27. 27.

    I draw here on Fricker’s distinction, in Epistemic Injustice, between forms of testimonial injustice which involve the misrecognition of epistemic credibility, and hermeneutical injustice in which a lack of conceptual resources in the dominant culture may preclude uptake of critical or dissident perspectives (2007).

  28. 28.

    I emphasize that what I posit here is not automatic epistemic privilege but contingent epistemic advantage that (may) accrue to a structurally location and standpoint on knowledge production (Wylie 2012, 62).

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Acknowledgements

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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Wylie, A. (2015). A Plurality of Pluralisms: Collaborative Practice in Archaeology. In: Padovani, F., Richardson, A., Tsou, J. (eds) Objectivity in Science. Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science, vol 310. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-14349-1_10

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