#EAA2019 sessions on archaeopolitics, authoritarianism and the populist right

Sorted based on the day listed in the preliminary program:

Session 69, org. by Catherine Frieman & Daniela Hofmann, Sept. 5, 8.30 – 10.30:

Populism, Identity Politics and the Archaeology of Europe: Recent election results, debates and demonstrations leave no doubt: populism is back. History and archaeology are increasingly used to bolster such feelings of resentment of the present by apparently providing a vision of a more flattering past. This is the case e.g. for archaeogenetic narratives which can be spun to support claims of indigeneity and racial purity, heritage presentations which stress the most glorious periods of a nation (as defined by a subset of the population) or romantic notions of a lost folk culture and unity in an as yet unthreatened Fortress Europe. Archaeology has always been political and archaeologists are very well aware of these appropriations of their work. Yet, we have been largely reactive rather than proactive. A minority of archaeologists have begun to be more directly involved in documenting the crisis as it unfolds, joining activist groups and organisations, and writing archaeological narratives that provoke rather than pander. Yet, as a field, there is a widespread feeling that we can do more. In this session, we seek contributions which grapple with the interpenetration of populism and European archaeology—in the field, in the classroom, in the museum, on social media or in the legislature. We see this session as an opportunity to develop a proactive stance: How can we avoid the appropriation of our research and react when this happens? How do we choose what to display? Can we use our research to advise policy makers? How can we turn the impact of the media to our advantage? And how do we deal with sites that have a history of misuse or with periods and themes that lend themselves to it? What are the ethics of doing archaeology in an environment of increasingly virulent populist politics?

Conditions of influence: What enables the Scandinavian populist right to impact heritage governance? [mine and & Hølleland‘s paper in this session]: Since the early 2000s a nationalist wind has swept over Scandinavia, enabling its three major right-wing populist parties – the Danish Peoples Party, the Progress Party (Norway) and the Sweden Democrats – to gain influence in state matters. This ought to concern archaeologists and heritage scholars for several reasons. The most obvious is their apparent enthusiasm for heritage, and the privileged position heritage holds in many of their narrowly conceptualized cultural policies. In this paper we seek to move beyond the obvious, however, and address a more fundamental question: What political, bureaucratic and societal conditions need to exist for far-right parties to influence the way heritage is done in liberal democracies? Using Scandinavia as our case area, we propose three such conditions: 1) A repositioning of the ‘Overton window’, i.e. the window that encompasses the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse at a given time. As the window of normality is extended, heritage can be activated in the service of exclusionary ideas such as Scandinavian welfare chauvinism. 2) Gaps left by changes in governance – following New Public Management, mainstreaming of neo-liberal economic policies and measures to reduce bureaucracies – have enabled a marriage between the rhetoric of democratization and structural decentralization, creating an opening for populist right influence. 3) The destabilization of the traditional block-politics in the multiparty systems of Scandinavia, and the prevalence of weaker minority governments, have been crucial for creating spaces wherein heritage policies and budget initiatives can be negotiated. Although some of these conditions are specific to Scandinavia, most can be applied broadly, making them interesting starting points for comparison and debate.

Session 360, org. by Joana Alves, Ana Vale, Helena Barbosa & Leilane Lima, Sept 5, 8:30 – 13:00:

Is Archaeology Practical?: Can archaeology become a place of resistance in terms of becoming-revolutionary and becoming-ethical? 
In 1933, explicitly responding to Hitler’s ‘take-over of power’, Vere Gordon Childe addressed the political reality of his time and asked: “Is Prehistory Practical?” Driven by his own unrest, he wrote that: “in 1933 it can hardly be alleged that Prehistory is a useless study, wholly remote from and irrelevant to practical life” (Childe 1933: 410), and it was by addressing his reality – his actuality – that he pointed to the political and ethical conditions of archaeology’s place in contemporaneity. Thus, the issue raised in “Is Prehistory Practical?” encompasses not only resistance to the present but both the diagnosis of archaeology’s inadequacy when facing its time and the creative prognosis for its actual becoming-other, even if that is uncertain. Whether in 1933 or now, Childe’s question points towards the thought of resistance as a response that is both political and ethical. The thought of resistance resists representation as it is not simply the inverted image of power, and neither embodies a form of non-power, or is radically liberating. Resistance is a mode of existence: becoming-always and already. Resistance is an act of creation: political, ontological, aesthetical and ethical. Therefore, resistance is an inventive practice of new knowledge and meanings yet to come via diversity, multiplicity and the destruction of identity as representation. Resistance is untimely. In this sense, how can we make archaeology practical? How can we respond as present-becoming? How can we make it untimely? We are interested in critically approaching archaeology as a place for practical invention. As an always-experimental process of learning, in which materials from the past are an endless source of knowing and acting upon our historical conditions. We encourage contributions from different theoretical and political perspectives, and distinct chronologies.

Session 355, org. by Emily Hanscam & Matthew Mandich, Sept 7, 8:30 – 10:30:

The Politics of the Roman Past in the 21st Century: There has been a long ongoing conversation about the relationship between the Roman past and contemporary politics in Europe, centered around the debate over Romanisation which began during the mid-90s in the UK. While global politics have changed greatly over the past few decades, and theoretical approaches in Roman archaeology have likewise diversified alongside the postcolonial critique, discussions about the politics of Roman archaeology frequently still revert back to the Romanisation debate. We recognize that the political situation for all archaeology, not just Roman, has grown increasingly complex and nuanced across Europe over the past few years with the rise of nationalism and populism. Furthermore, it would be a mistake to assume that we can make blanket statements about the politics of the Roman past in Europe given the many unique local social contexts. While Romanisation does persist in certain cases, different research traditions and political histories across Europe also bring a diversity to how archaeological research relates to contemporary politics. This session therefore aims to discuss the contemporary political impact of Roman studies across Europe in the 21st century, incorporating as many different regions as possible in this conversation. The aim will be to create a dialogue which both challenges ongoing presumptions about Romanisation and highlights the need for an ongoing critique of the politics of the Roman past. We welcome contributions addressing the politics of Roman archaeology on local, regional, or national scales across Europe.

Session no. 171, org. by Thomas Meier, Staša Babić & Ilona Bausch, Sept. 7, 8.30 – 16.00:

Critical Ideas – Reflexive Archaeologies: In our eyes over the last decades archaeology turned into a rather a-political mode and lost sight of questions of power, inequality and exclusion. Also sessions at the EAA have more and more turned into the empiricist and positivist branch of the archaeological discourse. We are convinced that this development is a fundamental threat to the discipline of archaeology. With an (assumed?) loss of political aspiration it turns irrelevant for society and becomes prone to abuse by groups from the political fringes. With this session we want to counter this development and revive the experimental societal playground the EAA has been in its early years.
For this session we invite papers presenting novel approaches, interpretations and theories – also at an early stage of development – which question, counter and negate the disciplinary mainstream, provoke questions and contradictions and – most of all – raise controversial questions of power, politics and society. The ideas of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, the critical theory of the Frankfurter Schule or Hayden White may form one, but surely not the sole source for rethinking the potential social/political charge of the discipline. There are no limits to region or period and papers on novel interpretations of past societies are as welcome as critical investigations in the conduct and discourse of the discipline. But we definitely require a firm theoretical stand and a considerable level of reflexive criticism!

Populist heritage politics and the powerful irrelevance of archaeology [my paper in this session in this session]: In the grand scheme of things, archaeology is politically trivial. We can bemoan misappropriations of narratives and sites at conference after conference, but archaeology will probably never be high on any political party’s or governments agenda. We can initiate hundreds of inclusive community projects, but archaeology is never going to shift the tides of political opinion. It is dangerous to admit this. As funding for culture and the humanities is waning and advocates scramble to motivate the relevance of archaeology – either by jumping on the scientistic bandwagon, by couching it in the cultural industry frame, or by stressing its positive emotive and edifying effects in times of crisis – recognizing the irrelevance of archaeology is like adding insult to injury. Still, this is where we must start if we seek to position archaeology in the political: because it is in its irrelevance the power lies. In this talk I explore how the triviality of archaeology can make it useful as a condition for the mobilization of heritage in nationalist-populist politics. Using examples from parliament proceedings and proposals by populist-nationalist parties in Europe, I suggest that by endorsing archaeology as a good-will project and as representing the “right” kind of heritage, parties can reinforce their arguments about European societies being caught in a ‘cultural struggle’, and fuel what Arjun Appadurai has called ‘predatory identities’. When used as a building block of cultural policy, this irrelevance can become a gateway to power. Since cultural policy is often less guarded by establishment parties than other policy fields, it can be a roundabout way to reach real targets like immigration policy. Finally, I address the tacit compliance of archaeologists and heritage professionals in situations when the political message is right (more money for archaeology!) but the sender is wrong.

Roundtable 324, org. by Rui Gomes Coelho & Francesco Iacono, Sept 7. 16.30 – 18.30:

Politics of Heritage and New Authoritarianisms: In recent years, Europe has been going through significant social changes that simultaneously affect and are the result of struggles about memory and political identity. Whereas post-WW2 peace was founded on an anti-fascist consensus, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the vanishing of the former Eastern bloc shifted European political consensus towards capitalist-oriented liberal democracy. This shift was crucial for the political and institutional rearrangements that took place during the integration of former socialist countries within the European Union, and for North-South relations across the Mediterranean basin. However, both the anti-fascist and liberal consensus were rooted in the emancipatory politics inherited from the Enlightenment. Since 2010, the continent has been witnessing the rise of new forms of authoritarianism built on reactionary politics. These new authoritarianisms reject the emancipatory program of liberal democracy, while still relying on its electoral mechanisms and market economy for social legitimacy. Recent consequences of this reactionary shift include a humanitarian crisis at its borders and the return of colonial nostalgia, as well as the reshaping of nationalist movements across Europe. In this session we ask: How are these transformations affecting the understanding and management of cultural heritage? What is impact of the practice of archaeology, preservation studies and other disciplines on new authoritarianisms? Are archaeologists and cultural heritage experts contributing to generate a rhetoric of “crisis”? How can we intervene in the present context?

Veysel Apaydin, University College London, UK
Flaminia Bartolini, University of Cambridge, UK
Jean-Paul Demoule, University of Paris I, France
Elif Denel, American Research Institute in Turkey
Rui Gomes Coelho, Rutgers University, USA
Francesco Iacono, University of Bologna, Italy
Sanja Horvatinčić, Institute of Art History, Croatia
Kristian Kristiansen, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Elisabeth Niklasson, Stanford University, USA
Nora Shalaby, Free University of Berlin, Germany
Lena Stefanou, Hellenic Open University, Greece

Some sessions also approach archaeopolitics, but from a different direction. See for instance:

Session 74: De-colonisation at EAA 25 Years on: the Social-economic Contribution of Cultural Heritage Conservation

Session 343: Heritage, Culture, Ideology and Archeological Aesthetics during Dictatorial Regimes in Europe and America

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