Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Student Spotlights: Towards a Decentered Archaeology

Dominic is the second of our graduate student highlights and researches collaborative practice, technology, and the decentering of authority in museums and archaeology.

Dominic Walker
PhD candidate in Archaeology and Anthropology
University of Cambridge, UK

Working Thesis Title: “Towards a Decentered Archaeology: Disciplinary Expertise and Public Engagement in the Contemporary Archaeology Museum”

My research contributes to the ongoing debates about the theory and practice of collaboration in archaeological heritage studies. One of the major outcomes of these debates is the recognition of the expert knowledge which various extra-archaeological communities can contribute, another being the recognition of the ethical need to involve extra-archaeological communities in archaeological heritage management.

Museums have been at the forefront of attempts to decentre the authority of disciplines like archaeology by: initiating collaborative projects with specific communities; introducing reflexive, self-critical curatorial voices in physical exhibitions; and adopting digital technologies (participatory web platforms more recently) to engage and collaborate with online publics. However, the actual impact that these developments have on the authority of archaeology, and the notion of the archaeological ‘expert’, remains under-analyzed.

In my doctoral thesis I am particularly focusing upon museums’ use of internet technologies. With reference to collaborative theory, I will attempt to determine the extent to which museums have truly decentered their authority through the use of these technologies. I am asking questions like: Which communities are empowered? Are long-term, equitable benefits offered for both the museum and the public? For which collections is it necessary to seek multiple sources of expertise? And, more fundamentally, what should be the role of the archaeology expert?

Ultimately, my thesis will determine how effectively museums, and the archaeological discipline more broadly, have re-aligned their authority to allow other communities to act on an equal footing. In the process of doing so I will also attempt to define what a 'decentered archaeology' should look like in the offline and online arenas in which the public encounters archaeology.

More information about my research can be found on my website,, and I tweet as @dmncwlkr.

No comments: