Evaluating the efficacy of fieldwork codes of conduct

Seeking your feedback on the impact of codes of conduct in enabling courageous responses to harm and harassment…

Teaching and Learning in Archaeology 25th March 2020It’s International Women’s Day today and the moment seems appropriate to seek your advice in relation to matters of prevention of, protection from, and institutional action around, harm and harassment in field-based projects.

Several years ago, after a series of challenging experiences overseeing fieldwork teams on local and international projects, I drafted a code of conduct – or Six Fieldwork Expectations – to use with my collaborators. The Expectations were inspired by various other contemporary initiatives (e.g., Dig Ventures’ Learning Agreement), and focus on creating respectful, safe, secure and non-threatening working and living environments for all project contributors.

Since publishing the Fieldwork Expectations document, it has been adapted and elaborated by different individuals, institutions and projects in various parts of the world. Some have instigated evaluations of its effectiveness through surveys and other assessment methods. These data are critical, especially as I’ve been asked several times about what proof I have that codes of conduct make a difference to safety and dignity in the field.

Seeking your help to evaluate effects

Right now I’m gathering and collating this evidence to present in a variety of contexts over the next six months (data anonymised, as requested by all contributors so far). I will discuss at least four case studies of the Code of Conduct in action in different projects/institutions, and I am keen to solicit further data from those who’ve used the Six Fieldwork Expectations document or created their own specific codes of conduct. 

My interest is in speaking empirically about the efficacy of these codes of conduct. What do I mean by ‘efficacy’?

I have been looking recently into how an organisation or project responds ‘courageously’ to instances of harm and harassment. Per Jennifer Freyd, this includes: 

  • sensitively reacting to victim disclosures
  • being accountable and apologising
  • encouraging whistleblowing
  • educating your leaders
  • being transparent about policies
  • self-reflecting and self-evaluating

I’m thus seeking evidence of successes and failures in applying codes of conduct, especially data that testify to whether such codes actually enable or otherwise hinder ‘courageous’ behaviours.

Adapting the code of conduct to enable courageous responses

Like most people I know who have adapted the Fieldwork Expectations document, my own teams have changed it over time and buttressed it with different support mechanisms. For instance, inspired by an amazing scholar who approached me a couple of years ago about her experiences, my teams now take turns reading parts of the code aloud before a project begins in an effort to create a common bond between the group. We’ve also created a simplified version of the code to use with collaborators whose language and reading needs mean that speaking aloud the key ideas and providing common verbal acknowledgements are more meaningful than reading then signing the document.

I also know from my own applications of the code that it can be

  1. overly wordy and too intellectualised
  2. needs translation and adaptation for different contexts
  3. is only meaningful when supported by other initiatives to encourage openness and education
  4. is currently not very effective in relation to minimising harm through social media, especially use of WhatsApp or FB Messenger among team members

I would be very grateful for your help in identifying case studies where empirical evaluation of the Fieldwork Expectations document has been undertaken. If you could spread the word or contact me directly with information, I’ll be incredibly appreciative.

I’ll be presenting my preliminary findings first in Manchester (see poster above), hosted by the incredible Hannah Cobb. But if you are not in a position to travel, I’ll keep you posted as I continue to gather evidence. All feedback and data are very much appreciated!

Who exactly is a ‘real’ archaeologist?

Me at BSR
Loitering around the imposing facade of the British School at Rome (photo by me)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of the archaeological professional. This has been prompted both by my own efforts to navigate the unwieldy world of academia, and by an article that I finally finished for the Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology (Springer) on ‘Professionalisation: The Consolidation of Archaeology as an “Expert” Knowledge.’ Last week, I organised an event at the Society of Antiquaries of London in memory of the prehistorian John Davies Evans (1925-2011), a man who perhaps perfectly encapsulates the fact that an archaeologist is a multifaceted character—not easily defined by one single skillset or aptitude (look here to find video and slide coverage of the event, including me chairing it).  Evans was a researcher, an excavator, a photographer, a teacher; but he arguably spent the majority of his career in an office: working as an administrator at the helm of some of the most prominent archaeological organisations in the world.

This week I’ve been in Rome poking through the archives of the British School at Rome where a series of similarly diverse individuals have come together over the past 100+ years (since its foundation in 1901) in the constitution of archaeological expertise (among other forms of knowledge).  These individuals include everyone from artists to photographers to field surveyors, historians, conservators, and architects.  What the School cultivates is scholarship via human exchange and interface which, to be honest, is really the means by which the best research always evolves: in interaction with people whose different thoughts/acts on the world make you, in turn, think/act differently.

The topic of crafting disciplinary expertise is one that is close to my heart, primarily because of the number of times that I have been teased for “not being a real archaeologist.” I’ve reflected on this issue elsewhere (see here) and I’ve never really understood what people mean when they say this, because I haven’t yet seen the rulebook where “real archaeology” has been universally defined and accepted.

I think these people are just acting on the fact that I’m easily riled up (it’s true!), but such comments are made so frequently that I think them deserving of interrogation.  I assume that their origin relates to the issue of excavation and working with stone tools—i.e., that because I no longer excavate or study stone tools (although I’ve done both, and indeed, I’ve held jobs as a collections specialist processing stone and other archaeological artefacts, as well as a zooarchaeology lab assistant processing animal bones), I therefore don’t count as an archaeologist.  When I circulated an advert for an excellent project that I’m excited to contribute to – Archaeologists Anonymous – (and, yes, I’ve purposefully chosen not to stand anonymous!), someone I don’t know made a comment that they were too busy to participate because they were off doing “real archaeology.”  What I understood this to mean was that they were busy with a commercial archaeological job that was demanding, constricted and relentless (not entirely dissimilar to my own academic archaeology job, I would suggest).  However, what I couldn’t follow was why it was necessary to disparage involvement in the project based on an assertion that it wasn’t legitimate archaeology.

The nature of ArchAnon is just that – to open up discussion and debate about the field of practice.  So I want to extend that debate here by reflecting on where this idea of a ‘legitimate’ kind of archaeology comes from and in whose interest it is maintained because (1) I don’t believe it is productive for the discipline; (2) there is no evidence that a ‘real’ archaeology has ever or will ever exist; and (3) I think it potentially destructive to the field to endorse a cramped and confining view of the profession.

If we look back at the history of the discipline there’s good evidence to suggest that the concept of a professional archaeologist never really took hold until the 1960s-70s.  Around the world, university training programmes for archaeology didn’t emerge until about the turn of the 20th century, and throughout the first half of that century, many of those who enrolled on such programmes tended to go on to curatorial positions.  It was in museums and learned society organisations where much of the early classification and conceptual work that now underpins archaeology came about; and it was at meetings, via publication, and in exhibition spaces (local and international) that the circulation of such work made it accessible on a wider and wider scale.  There is little evidence to suggest that excavation is the defining feature of the discipline (for example, see Lucas 2001); rather, what ties together all those people over recorded history (going back at least 4000 years) interested in old human things is not digging in the ground, but collecting objects or working with collected materials.  Indeed, it is collecting practices that seem to have driven excavating and surveying activities, and these practices were never limited to stone tools, but began with efforts to gather all-encompassing cabinet-of-curiosities-type assemblages, and slowly narrowed to focus on all configurations of human material remnants and representations (e.g., images) of such remnants.

At no point has there ever been a single form of archaeological practice – indeed, this is the nature of professionalisation itself: it is ever-evolving, as is the expertise from which it grows.  And it is such open-endedness that arguably makes the discipline sustainable.  Presumably those who refer to ‘real archaeology’ do so as a form of boundary patrol – something that is also fundamental to profession-building and the demarcation of specialist knowledge.  But what archaeology offers – as it has always offered – is a diversity in method and thinking that gives its students transferable skills related to assessing human circumstances in the past, present and future (see Schofield 2012 for discussion of such skills). This diversity makes the discipline far more relevant to the world than some constrained body of practices that have never (across the entire history of antiquarian studies) actually characterised our work.

We need to challenge the idea that there is some “real archaeologist” out there to which we must all conform. We need to do this not only because the idea is, in fact, baseless, but because it works to restrict the nature of what’s possible via our practice.

On that note, I’ve got a case study coming out in my colleagues’ forthcoming volume Visual Research: A Concise Introduction to Thinking Visually. Please check it out!  My article on archaeology’s professionalisation will be published sometime in the next few months, so you can read more about the development of the discipline there…

LUCAS, G. 2001. Critical approaches to fieldwork: contemporary and historical archaeological practice. London: Routledge.

SCHOFIELD, J. 2012. The best degree? Current Archaeology 270: 48-49.