Some thoughts on the 20th European Association of Archaeologists Conference in Istanbul

A bit more than a week ago, the 20th EuropeanAssociation of Archaeologists Conference in Istanbul finished. Being an anniversary meeting, I think expectations have been quite high. Even the organisers chose to present the event as gathering "participation from more than 76 countries...more than 2500 Accepted submissions...2014 Istanbul meeting of the EAA will be esteemed as the most extensive archaeology meeting held in Europe since 1979 UISPP congress".

In what follows I will share some of my thoughts and impressions of the event, based on my personal experience and participation in several sessions (i.e. on archaeological theory, public archaeology, inter-disciplinary and funerary archaeology).

Image: European Association of Archaeologists, 2014 

For me, the most important thing that was brought into view during the 3 days of academic events was that this was more a congress of European/world archaeologies than of a European archaeology. Basically, diverse research traditions with their own agendas/questions and relevant topics have been gathered under the heading of a European conference. Of course, this is normal up to some point, but when these perspectives are too different, then no real dialogue can take place.

As became clear in discussions with some other colleagues, as well as from the sessions’ presentations, one could observe a definite distinction between the Anglo-Saxon approaches and the Eastern European/Balkan/Mediterranean perspectives when it comes to identifying the challenges and required actions for contemporary archaeology. Of course, one should not make generalisations, but what remains is the fact that the currently developing countries, the post-socialist or the ones for which capitalism is not a traditional way of life, face completely different struggles, and hence have different needs than some of the western countries, among which we can list large scale projects of modernisation, major cuts, a bias towards positivist takes on science, etc. Therefore, regarding one of the most relevant issues which came up in the discussions, the future of archaeology, one could easily see a difference between a desire for a more politically/socially engaged discipline and projects focused on small-scale case studies, within the limits of a traditional academic endeavour. Unfortunately, usually these issues are not made explicit. What might be needed is a deeper dialogue among professionals coming from different backgrounds and the desire to find common ground[1].

On a different note, the debate was also hindered by some organisational aspects, something that is by no means specific to this conference in particular: there is always the issue of roundtable sessions; these sessions that should be dedicated to dialogue par excellence, often fail because they are not really round tables (literally). What usually happens in conferences is that the set-up of the room is still the traditional one (podium versus chairs), which leads to a clear-cut distinction between the speaker(s) and the audience and does not help the dialogue. After all, being archaeologists, we should realise the importance and relevance of the organisation of the material culture around us.

Lastly, some other thoughts: 

·    There are some interesting transnational projects out there, some of which  are looking for participants too, so it might be a good idea to create a platform at the conference to list them and bring them to the attention of more people.
·    It might be a good idea to avoid overlapping similar-topic sessions (the potentially interested participants had to choose where to go/run between sessions).
·    Posters: I am sure there have been some great posters but, due to the tight schedule, it was at times hard to go and manage to find them, so it might be a good idea to host them in the same spaces where the relevant sessions take place.

In short, Istanbul was great, and there are some very dynamic research projects throughout Europe. I was very happy to discover the work of some of my colleagues and the meeting venue was the best I have ever seen regarding the recreational areas (e.g. an inner courtyard, balconies with views over Bosphorus, etc.). Thus, following the suggestion I was given - that any conference (and its review) needs a touch of humour to be complete - I end my thoughts with some conference-inspired tunes:

[1] Moreover, organising regional discussion forums might be a welcome addition, given the shared values and challenges.

Alexandra Ion


S Carter said…
Did any session deal with the impacts of Economic Recession on heritage and archaeology across the varied practitioners: community, voluntary, research funders, academic orgs, state/lottery, philanthropic? If not, wouldnt this make a fantastic round-table?
Dear S Carter,
Actually this is a topic that has been around several sessions since 2008. Specially those regarding the Committee of Professional Associations in Archaeology and the ACE and DISCO projects. Moreover, many other papers had comments on the topic along several sessions.
Call for sessions is open for next year in Glasgow, and it would certainly make a great rt.

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