What is public about archaeological information work?

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Mon, 04/03/2017 - 10:45

Presentation at the WORK 2017 conference in Åbo, Finland.


In spite of its seeming ephemerality, the development-led branch of archaeology that in the most of the countries in the developed world preceeds any major land development projects, is a significant enterprise with wide societal and economic implications to the society from infrastructural development to tourism, education and cultural industries. The sheer magnitude of the enterprise to preserve our shared cultural record and to increase our knowledge about the human past if far from being marginal. In this context there is a considerable stake how this project is managed and what are the outcomes of archaeological information work i.e. the work of producing new archaeological knowledge. The shift towards new models of managing and deploying development-led archaeology have changed archaeological field research, information production and heritage management throughout the world in an accelerating pace during the last few decades. The organisation of development-led archaeology differs from one country to another, from public driven (e.g. in Norway and Denmark) to hybrid and semi-regulated (e.g. France, Sweden, Finland), and primarily market-based (e.g. the UK, Ireland) approaches. Simultaneously, the rapid development of digital infrastructures and tools for archaeological work have changed radically the premises and realities of archaeological work from field practices to museums, archaeological heritage management, public archaeology and scholarly research.

The aim of this paper is to investigate the contemporary transformation of public work in the changing socio-technical-regulatory environment and the implications of these changes to the public-ness of the work, its informational outcomes and their perceived quality. Development-led archaeology provides an illustrative showcase of the repercussions of social, technical and regulatory changes in the framework of work to its results and the premises of how the public interest (i.e. stake) in a particular branch of work and the information and knowledge it produces are renegotiated in the process. The work builds on the findings of a four year research project on archaeological information work in the digital society in Sweden. Using international comparisons, the analysis shows how different models of organising and regulating archaeological work and its quality and different interpretations of technologies and their meanings have implications to how archaeological information work and information are public, and how the idea of public interest in archaeological information is enacted in the different models of organising the development-led archaeology. Finally, using archaeology as an example, the paper discusses the wider implications of the similar transformations of public information work.

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