DGUF Conference 2016 - Experiencing politics in Berlin

I did not expect such a good weather in Berlin. With a full program from Thursday to Sunday, I had limited time to see Berlin, so right after checking in at the hotel I run out for a walk. I usually see politics everywhere, but Berlin was overwhelming; the struggle between Communism and Capitalism is still more than evident anywhere you look.

Curry at the Wall, Berlin

I wanted to open the post with this photo, because it is, in a way, a perfect introduction to my thoughts on the conference. You can only see the sausage and a bit of a balloon right where the wall was, not that long ago. Of course, Coca Cola is there and the bear holds victoriously his sausage as a trophy. Communism is over and we are all so happy about it that the new planning of the city embraced Capitalism in a way few cities have done. Meanwhile, in Checkpoint Charlie, a couple of guys in army uniforms take photos with happy tourists that just entered the USA quarter. I cannot pay my public transport ticket with a MasterCard or a 50€ bill in the machines. Well, fine.

You already know my reviews are not very traditional. When it comes to book reviews I try to be focused, because they give me the book and I kind of owe them. But now I do this for pleasure and the risk to underdescribe the event is high. However, although this seems to be disconnected, I really think it has a lot to do with one of the topics that was not well-represented in the debates of the conference (let's start with the bad stuff): IDEOLOGY. Why? Because the conference was about Politics, Power, etc.

Are we still afraid to discuss where we stand? I was shocked with some of the comments about DGUF membership and its history. They basically boycotted conservative academics to start a different kind of society, radical (and lefty). Still today, in 2016, many people are not very keen to say in public they are members... out of fear. Well, let's face it: ideology is everywhere, also here. I use Zizek's toilets talk as an example. Germany: metaphysics and poetry. Now changing to the French approach...

If I recall well, we ended up talking about two main issues: communities and policy making. If you want to find out more about the talks, just check the Twitter feed for #DGUF2016 and some of the videos in the Bergische Historiker Youtube channel. Soon, DGUF will make available a summary of the debates, that were probably the best feature of the whole conference, taking place after every couple of talks.

During a debate at DGUF2016
Recycling at DGUF2016

And the recycled coffee cups... I loved them.

Anyway, back to the topic, I think we are still in a transition from traditional archaeology to new ways of understanding our position in the world. DGUF is probably a great example, from the Tübingen Thesis to this conference and probably the ones to come.

At this point, I need to thank the organisers and Sophie for keeping us posted with the language, as many presentations were in German and I overestimated my understanding of the language. In some way we biased the debates with the external approach to German problems, but maybe that was interesting and it definitely opened my eyes in many ways (example: huge gender gap in German archaeology vs. small gender gap in Spanish archaeology). Maybe this is why ideology was not directly faced in this conference. It was not the time yet...

If I could make a short summary of the conference, I would say that Germany finally addressed many issues that were still caged by traditional archaeology, and that is extremely important. Topics went from "prekariat" and how bad archaeology is for living outside academia, to the implications of power (in terms of research and policy) for the management of archaeology. Within this background, communities where present all the time. Their role in the general picture was one of the issues raised by McGimsey in Public Archeology and is still one of the great challenges for archaeology in Europe and anywhere else. Legislation is probably one of the main components for understanding how things are, although Academia has mostly done what they wanted and management is not 100% dependent on it. But legislation is not always in our hands and this is the case for many countries where archaeology's link to society has been historically weak (in terms of active participation from either side).
A good introduction (as it was) to the whole topic, addressed during the conference, is Diane Schrezler's talk:

One of the issues I spotted was a neocolonial approach (not necessarily conscious) within archaeological practice coming from the UK. Don't get me wrong. I share most of the aims, but it often looks like anything coming from the UK is great and should be adopted, while we keep on underestimating our own values and avoid looking for innovative solutions. I am sorry, but the community archaeology approach of the UK does not seem to work in most of the world. However, it works fairly well bad there. This is power and politics too. A critical approach to these practices is needed, as things are not as good as they sound and, anyway, we cannot apply them freely in our own countries. 

That said, there were some valuable discussions and examples from local participants, and knowing what else we can find abroad is always interesting.
But I don't want to be very long... I prefer that you read the outcomes when they come out and maybe watch the videos too. One of the great aspects of technology is that we can 'be' almost anywhere with a click. 

I would like to make some final points clear with my conclusions of the conference:
1. Archaeology is not the best working environment and we do not know how to solve this problem (or do we?).
2. Power relations in (and out of) archaeology are present and undermine the development of the discipline.
3. We need to embrace politics and, once we actually do it, be open to ideologies.
4. The role of communities is still an issue to be addressed and the Faro Convention is not that good or clear about it.
5. We need new formats of communication in order to be effective at all levels.

BRAVO to DGUF for a great conference... You might be small, but you are doing great things that will change the world of German Archaeology.

Jaime Almansa Sánchez


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