Airing Political Contexts
WAC in Washington was a dramatic departure from the way American archaeology is run through the meetings of the Society for American
Archaeology and the Society for Historical Archaeology, where there is
virtually never a discussion of politics closely juxtaposed to the
substance of archaeology. Throughout virtually all of WAC-5 there was a
constant consideration of local politics, people, agendas, and needs for
archaeology. The explicit consideration of minorities, exploitation,
indigenous peoples, workers and wage earners as inherent in archaeology
was a great relief to me as someone who routinely uses Marxist
explanations for archaeological materials. WAC was a refreshing
environment and a rewarding one when it comes to considering the local
political environment for science and scholarship.
It was also nice to have it in Washington at the very time when the
U.S. Supreme Court made its two decisions showing that the current U.S.
government is not entirely reactionary. Although most attendees at WAC-5
were not aware of them immediately, the Supreme Court's decisions on
affirmative action and the privacy due consensual sexual relations among
adults was a welcome relief in the context of the consideration of
cancelling WAC-5 in the U.S. as a way of protesting the U.S. war in Iraq.
WAC-5 is all about considering politics in archaeology. Although I had
helped to organise WAC-1 and WAC-3, I had never attended WAC itself
before, having pulled out because I disagreed with the attempt at
inserting political action into the actual way that WAC itself was
administered. WAC is strong because it allows, even insists on, the
consideration of political contexts. This is uniquely important, even
though I disagree on the effectiveness of using WAC itself as an
organisation to effect national policies.
Last, it was great to have WAC-5 on the campus of the Catholic
University of America. The Congress participants could see this
little-known campus which has housed a vibrant Department of
Anthropology in Washington for many decades. WAC-5 has helped to place
CUA on the map. I was also proud to show off Washington, D.C. in the bus
tour of the archaeology of Dumbarton Oaks, Mount Vernon, and Annapolis.
Mark Leone, Maryland, USA
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