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Yannis Hamilakis is Reader in Archaeology at the University of Southampton, UK. He has been researching and writing on the politics of the past, on the links between archaeology and modernity in general, and archaeology and nationalism in particular, on the ethics of archaeological practice, on the consuming body, and on senses and bodily memory (including the bodily and mnemonic work of photography). His regional specialization is prehistoric Greece, but many of his projects are multi-temporal. For the last three years he has been conducting archaeological ethnography on the island of Poros in Greece, an effort that attempts to produce a new meeting ground for archaeology and socio-cultural anthropology and for researchers and "local" people, where materiality and temporality are the key parametres. His next field project involves excavation of and archaeological ethnography around a Neolithic site in central Greece.
His recent publications include: The Nation and Its Ruins: Archaeology, Antiquity, and National Imagination in Greece (Oxford UP, 2007), Archaeology and Capitalism: From Ethics to Politics (co-editor, Left Coast Press, 2007), Archaeological Ethnographies (co-editor, Maney Publishing, Public Archaeology 8, 2009), and "'The War on Terror' and the Military-Archaeology Complex: Iraq, Ethics, and Neo-Colonialism", Archaeologies, 5(1), 2009).
Are We Postcolonial Yet? Tales from the Battlefield
Yannis Hamilakis (University of Southampton)
As I sat down to write these lines, on the 1st of March 2010, immigrant organisations across Europe were staging an unusual protest: they had declared the 1st of March as a ‘day without immigrants’; as the day when they would go on strike, but also abstain from any spending and purchasing activity. In a climate of growing xenophobia and racism, ranging from the official pronouncements and calls for a Fortress Europe to persistent, often violent attacks against immigrants by vigilante groups and self-fashioned militias, these organisations staged an imaginative and, as it turned out, successful protest (inspired by a similar protest by Latinos in the USA, in 2006): they had decided to become invisible for a day, so that they could be seen and noticed. They chose to withdraw themselves voluntarily from the European stage for one day, so that the immediate financial effects of their potential forced removal, advocated by some, become real: the loss of their hard and underpaid labour and their consuming power, which sustain European economies.
Theirs is a cosmopolitanism that rarely registers in the radars of archaeological theory, if at all. Theirs is a battle that does not seem to find much support in the proceedings of community and public archaeology. Worse, for dominant discourses and practices, archaeological or other, they do not even seem to qualify as members of the “community”, and the “public”. Their presence in the public discourse seems to register only as “bare lives” (Agamben 1998), and as statistics: their percentage in relation to the “indigenous” population; the need, according to some, for quotas; and more tragically, the numbers of corpses found in an air-tight lorry at Calais, or retrieved from the unforgiving waters of the Mediterranean, floating between the North African shores and Lampedusa. It is even doubtful whether it will be possible for the archaeologists of the future to recollect the fragments of their lives. Ironically, the concept of indigenous archaeologies, one of our greatest achievements in the current efforts for the decolonisation of the discipline, can in this case turn against them, especially in the hands of the UK’s British National Party or Italy’s Lega Nord.
Meanwhile, we archaeological theoreticians have endlessly debated ethics, but most of us are wary of politics, which we tend to see as a “bad” thing, as sometime done to us archaeologists by others. We have devised ethical codes for our organisations, taught the courses, filled in the forms and ticked the boxes, sent our graduate students to the SAA Ethics Bowl to excel in answering its challenging quiz. So are we post-colonial yet? And if not, why? The World Archaeological Congress after all is no longer a fringe organisation. Emerged in 1980s out of the anti-apartheid struggle, it can now sit side by side with the SAAs (Society for American Archaeology) and AIAs (Archaeological Institute of America) of this world, and its conferences are attended by thousands of professional archaeologists, many with their own business, ready for global action. Yet, out of nowhere, come some moments that shatter our self-congratulating consensus, fragment our reassuring feelings and certainties, that, yes, archaeology has become reflexive, critical, theoretically sophisticated, and ethically self-aware. Take, for example, a moment of a June afternoon, in a small seminar room located in a Dublin campus, during the 6th World Archaeological Congress (2008), where a small group of us are debating the sponsorship deals of the organisation; and reflect on the reactions of a group of indigenous representatives from South America, upon hearing that this very meeting, perhaps even their own participation in this global gathering of archaeologists with a social consciousness, have been sponsored by Rio Tinto: the mining corporation with which they are engaging in a long battle over land rights and exploitation of natural resources (cf. Haber 2009). Or a second moment, in a meeting of the same organisation, at a large lecture hall in Washington D.C., in June 2003, only a few months after the invasion of Iraq. At the podium, the UK-based CEO of the organisation, admitting in public that in the months prior to the invasion he provided advice and professional expertise to the British Ministry of Defense (acting no doubt in good faith, but working in secrecy) on which archaeological sites should be spared in the coming invasion (cf. Stone 2009; Hamilakis 2009). And a third moment, perhaps in this case an on-going moment, lasting for the past fifteen years or so. Archaeologists and anthropologists practicing the most sophisticated methodologies in the excavation of a world-famous site, striving genuinely to address public interest by various communities and groups, funded all along by oil corporations with dismal environmental and human rights records, or pharmaceutical companies that did not hesitate to take the newly elected post-apartheid South African government to courts, to protect their profits (cf. Hamilakis 1999).
How can we be post-colonial, when we may have read and digested Orientalism, and used it profitably in some of our writings, but continue to ignore Said’s other important reflections on the dangers of professionalized scholarship, a scholarship that fails to interrogate the structures of authority it is implicated in (1994)? And is this not what some of us have done, when we call ourselves “stewards” of the archaeological “record” (which we have produced, out of the fragments of the material past), and have declared as our ultimate duty to rescue the antiquities of Iraq (which “antiquities”? And in whose name?), when the whole country, its material past and its immaterial future, were being obliterated? And is this not what we have done when, in the name of setting up a sophisticated project and advancing archaeological thinking, we strike deals with corporations targeted by global, environmental and social grass-roots campaigns and movements, corporations which may see in the conservation credentials and scholarly nature of archaeology an excellent opportunity for an image make-over?
And how can we claim to be producing post-colonial archaeological thinking and practice, when we fail to interrogate the colonial effects of the political economy and geography of archaeology? When, for example, we strike alliances with UK and USA-based publishers to bring out “Global” Readers or Handbooks in Archaeology or Archaeological Theory, where almost all or most key editors and contributors are based in western universities, mostly the UK and USA, and occasionally Australia? Are we not enacting thus a key colonial fantasy, a claim of panopticism, which had been played out countless times in the past, be it in the 19th century World Fairs and Exhibitions, or in the most recent claims of certain museums, such as the Met, the British Museum and the Louvre, that they represent the “Universal Museum”, and they are thus entitled to narrate the story of the whole of humanity? Neil McGregor, the current director of the BM, and a leading advocate of the “Universal Museum” idea would declare in The Guardian (1994): “The whole world in our hands”.
As in all colonial ideologies, the neo-colonialism or perhaps the crypto-colonialism of certain strands of archaeological thinking today enacts simultaneously strategies of territorialisation and temporalisation: sustained engagement with certain places can be linked to primordialist ties and essentialist claims, nationalist or other, on the part of the scholar; but it may also be indicative of a long-term commitment to a place and all its people, past and present, things and objects, sentient and non-sentient beings that belong to that place. The desire to continue speaking about that place can be thus seen as an act of advocacy, and as a belief that the knowledge and understanding that can be derived from such a long-term, sustained, and fully embodied immersion into a place can produce profound insights, with far reaching implications. But for such insights to be appreciated, in order for them to maintain their potency, they will have to be communicated in the local’s own terms and idiom. “Translation” is hard work, difficult, unsettling, Anglo-American publishers don’t like it, but at the end, is immensely rewarding. Now, from the point of view of some metropolitan, theoretician-synthesisers, scholars who express such tendencies are parochial, they cannot be at the forefront of archaeological thinking because they lack the “global view”. Moreover, they belong to that place and that place alone, and some of them are thus called upon, occasionally, in a rather tokenist manner, to fill in gaps, to provide local information and expertise, which can be then synthesised by the metropolitan theoretician who will furnish the new insights. The local scholar belongs to the place of her expertise, he/she is safely territorialized elsewhere, and often temporalised as allochronous (Fabian 1983) and parochial (still living in the era of “new archaeology” or worse, that of “cultural history”), much like some of the immigrants who arrive on the shores of Europe: after all, according to some media discourses, people of Afghanistan, at least up to 2001, used to live in the “Bronze Age”. The metropolitan theoretician, on the other hand, has the whole world in her hands, he can, and should, change regularly field sites, located in different countries, with no need to worry about border and immigration controls, only for the odd “nationalist” archaeologist. She or he holds the means for both global theoretical purview and surveillance, and for global performances and spectacles of theoretical pre-eminence.
In concluding, and in addressing directly the theme and the question of this plenary session, I suggest that some of the most profound and often the most poignant and efficacious archaeological thinking is produced, to evoke Walter Benjamin, at the “moments of danger” (1992: 247), the moments of the often inevitable and at times necessary confrontations and clashes. We live in an on-going state of emergency: economic, social-political, environmental. But as Homi Bhabha has noted in his introduction to the 1986 English edition of Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, “the state of emergency is also always a state of emergence” (1986: xi). For such an emergence to happen, however, the state of emergency will need to be seen and felt as such, not as fear and submission, as conservative rhetoric would want us to experience it, but as enabling power that throws the clashes and confrontations into sharp relief, and allows them to play themselves out. From the genealogical clashes between the singular and authoritative colonial-cum-national, modernist 19th century archaeology on the one hand, and the pre-modern, plural and diverse archaeologies on that other, that is the vernacular discourses and practices involving things from another time (cf. Hamilakis 2008), to other contemporary clashes: be they the clash between the colonialism of some strands of archaeological thinking and practice, and the resistance by diverse groups of scholars, writing in many languages and declaring their localism as a sign of identification and as a badge of honour; or the more profound and multi-faceted clash between the logic of capital and the logic of community, which as Partha Chatterjee has noted (1993: 234-239), lies at the heart of our era, still the era of national imagination (Hamilakis 2007a). I have talked elsewhere about the need to trace the close connection between modernist professional archaeology and the emergence of capitalism, and explored the ease with which things and objects morph into commodities in both domains (2007b). Professionalised archaeology is so tightly linked to the logic of capital, be it in academia and our largely instrumentalist teaching, in the CRM sector, or in the field in general, that the clashes over labour, exploitation, and work conditions, are almost forgotten, that the logic of the market sets the limits of our horizon, and that even the community, in our “community archaeology” endeavours, rings hollow. Academic and scholarly spaces are been increasingly colonised not only by the logic of capital but also by the logic of militarization, a logic that modernist archaeology, due to its history and its mode of imagination, is particularly susceptible to. And finally, the clash over representations and evocations of the material past, and the clash between a uni-temporal, still largely cultural evolutionist story, a story of gradual progress and “civilisation” (the highest point of which is neoliberal capitalism), and a multi-temporal perception and embodiment of materiality. This perception and logic rejects all academic and popular versions of cultural evolutionism, and keeps emphasising that things could have been otherwise. More importantly, however, it recognises, after Bergson (1991), that duration is the fundamental property of materiality, that time can be alternatively construed as co-existence rather than succession, and that materiality, through sensory and embodied engagement, has the ability to re-enact different times simultaneously (cf. Hamilakis and Labanyi 2008). The multiple, affective, alter-modern archaeologies of our time which can emerge from these clashes will inevitably be constituted as cultural mnemonic practices, enacting multiple simultaneous times; they will be characterised by a political ethic, being in a constant dialogue with other, non-professional archaeologies; and will be at the same time aware of the potentially colonial and crypto-colonial effects of their own thinking and action.
Agamben, G. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Benjamin, W. 1992. Illuminations. London: Fontana.
Bergson, H. 1991 Matter and Memory. New York: Zone Books.
Bhabha, H. 1986. Forward: Remembering Fanon: Self, psyche and the colonial condition. In Fanon, F. Black Skin, White Masks, London: Pluto Press. Pp. vii-xxvi.
Chatterjee, P. 1993. The Nation and its Fragments. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Fabian, J. 1983. Time and the Other. New York: Columbia University Press.
Haber, A. 2009. Localising the global: a framework for discussing WAC’s problems and promise. Present Pasts 1 [link]
*Hamilakis, Y. 1999. La trahison des archéologues? Archaeological practice as intellectual activity in postmodernity. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 12 (1): 60-79
Hamilakis, Y. 2007a. The Nation and its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology, and National Imagination in Greece. Oxford: OUP.
*Hamilakis, Y. 2007b. From ethics to politics. In Hamilakis, Y. and Duke, P. (eds) Archaeology and Capitalism: From Ethics to Politics. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, pp. 15-40.
*Hamilakis, Y. 2008. Decolonizing Greek archaeology: indigenous archaeologies, modernist archaeology, and the post-colonial critique. In Plantzos, D. and Damaskos, D. (eds), A Singular Antiquity. Athens: The Benaki Museum, pp. 273-284.
*Hamilakis, Y. 2009. The ‘war on terror’ and the military archaeology complex: Iraq, ethics, and neo-colonialism. Archaeologies 5(1): 39-65
*Hamilakis, Y. and Labanyi, J. 2008. Time, materiality, and the work of memory: introduction. History and Memory 20(2): 5-17.
McGregor, N. 2004. The whole world in our hands. The Guardian, 24 July 2004.
Said, E. 1994 Representations of the Intellectual. New York: Pantheon Books.
Stone, P. 2009. Protecting cultural heritage in times of conflict: lessons from Iraq. Archaeologies 5(1): 32-38.
*: These articles can be downloaded as pdf files at: http://www.soton.ac.uk/archaeology/profiles/hamilakis.html