• Tiffany C. Cain

Against the "Workmen Model"



I was honored to give the second lecture in the John T. Ho Distinguished Lecture Series in Diverse Anthropological Inquiry, hosted by the Department of Anthropology at Florida State University.


In the talk, I engaged writings on the potential to decolonize archaeology that have gradually gained traction over the past two decades as indigenous, black, and variously postcolonial scholars have insisted on the discipline’s engagement with its own complicities in the advancement of colonialist and racist ideals. I argued that one of the impediments to realizing a decolonized archaeology is the discipline’s relationship (and ongoing commitment) to cheap and hierarchically organized labor. On the one hand, archaeology can provide much needed economic opportunities in communities where capital flows are often limited. On the other hand, the equitable partnerships advocates of a decolonial praxis propose often remain entangled in the politics of unequal access to educational and financial resources that drive archaeological research. What often goes unrealized is that in addition to archaeology’s “workmen” labor model being exploitative, it perpetuates epistemic injustice—that is it unfairly discriminates against particular kinds of people in their capacities as knowers and knowledge producers. Archaeology’s “workmen”, many of whom have years or sometimes decades of archaeological research experience, nonetheless remain uncredentialed and are thus viewed as less credible knowers of archaeological history in their respective work areas. I took this persistent problem as an entry point to a more encompassing conversation about the mechanisms of injustice that continue to stymie archaeology’s effectiveness as both a science and a potentially liberatory heritage practice. Utlimately, I asked: how might we mobilize collaborative research practices to upend the workmen model and where else might we still have significant room for improvement?


The event, held on Zoom on October 27th, 2020, was sponsored by the Dean's Office of FSU's College of Arts and Sciences, the President's Council on Diversity and Inclusion, and the FSU Department of Anthropology.

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Contact: tiffany.fryer[at]princeton.edu

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