A proposal for the next debate

I’ve had such good response to the post I wrote on the #instruarch debate at TAG (here) that I think I should lay out what I think would work to get real debate. Who knows, it may spark to post here more frequently.

A lot of people have come back to me with further thoughts about the debate we just had “This house believes that archaeology should NOT be instrumentalised.” (though no one has come back to me in favour of the motion yet :)). With next year’s TAG theme being Diversity I hope there will be a lot of different engagements with communities of all sorts. In particular the suggestion that sessions discussing people ‘outside archaeology’ should include people speaking from that position. That would need funding as you can’t expect people to speak for free when they get no career advancement from it. A few people have suggested we can crowd fund such a session and I hope that we can make that happen.

But I think that archaeologists need to practice debating important issues within the profession/discipline as well. There are far too many assumed consensuses that need to be examined properly. Not so that we can reach an agreed position, but so that we can explore the diversity of our understanding.

Another frequent comment was about the format. There need to be fewer formal speakers and more discussion from the floor. Speakers need to sit at the front throughout so that questions can go to them. The session needs to be shorter so that people don’t get so tired.

So I propose to organise for next years TAG a debate on the following model. Although it sounds very formal, it can be very entertaining and it ensures that many voices are hear and the debate moves forward.

  • The session will be half day. The chair (or Speaker of the House) will monitor time strictly. No speaker will be allowed to speak more than 30 seconds over their agreed time.
  • There will be four formal speakers – two for the motion and two against and one chairperson (or Speaker of the House). The speakers for each side will have prepared together before the debate and while they may make independent arguments, they should support each other. The four speakers will be speaking sincerely – they will not be Devil’s Advocates.
  • The first speaker for the motion will open the debate with a 15 minute speech in which the main terms of the motion will be defined. Other speakers will follow these definitions unless they explicitly challenge them. The first speaker will also make a substantive argument for the motion. This will, of course, be supported with evidence from their research and experience in archaeology, and can use slides, but it will not be primarily based on case studies.
  • The first speaker against the motion will speak for 15 minutes directly after the above. If this speech does not challenge the definitions in the first speech, those definitions stand for the debate. Again, while evidence can and should be brought to bear, the speech should be based in argument and should directly refute the first speech.
  • The debate will then be opened to the floor.
    • Speeches from the floor will be addressed through the Speaker of the House who will moderate their sequence.
    • Speakers will signal their desire to speak by holding up a coloured card: green, in favour; red, against; white, cross benches (either speaking to find points of agreement or querying whether the motion is really a valid topic for debate).
    • Speakers from the floor are welcome to prepare points beforehand, and bring evidence (though not slides), but they should be prepared to follow the definitions presented.
    • No speech from the floor will be more than 5 minutes, the Speaker of the House may cut a speech short if she or he deems it time wasting or inappropriate.
    • The Speaker of the House may invite a speech from the same participant more than once, but follow on speeches or discussion between speakers will not be entertained.
  • Speeches from the floor will continue until tea break
  • After Tea Break, the Speaker of the House will give a 10 minute summary of the debate thus far.
  • This will be followed by a 10 minute speech from the second speaker in favour of the motion.
  • Once again, the debate will be opened to the floor.
  • At the end of the session the second formal speaker against the motion will speak for 15 minutes followed by a 5 minute rebuttal by the first speaker in favour of the motion (the speaker who opened the debate)
  • After these speeches, the house will divide using the coloured cards as described above.

The standard of behaviour should *significantly* exceed that in the House of Commons. The Speaker of the House will ask anyone to leave that engages in:

  • Ad Hominen remarks of any sort
  • language or argument that excludes or belittles anyone based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation or age.

The motion I propose for debate is “This House believes that Archaeological Resources are finite, and non renewable”

Anyone who would like to speak for or against the motion, or indeed to act as Speaker of the House, please do get in touch


11 thoughts on “A proposal for the next debate

  1. “This House believes that Archaeological Resources are finite, and non renewable”…. but that’s a fact, not a debating point isn’t it?

  2. The motion I propose for debate is “This House believes that Archaeological Resources are finite, and non renewable”

    I doubt anyone will argue against that motion.

    Perhaps the discipline has not as yet fully thought its reasons for wanting to engage? For example the question “Does archaeology as a discipline need to justify its existence?” (of TAG S17-1) implies that nobody has actually thought about it.

    This may become increasingly important: For example, one related competing policy area is sustainability and climate change risks. Some effects of heritage policy can be shown to both negatively impact on the economy and also to impact on our ability to prevent global warming and oil depletion issues. The ‘tourism benefit’ of heritage could be used to show that it has some balancing contribution to the economy, however a lot of heritage related policy could be stripped away without affecting tourism too adversely.

    So legislation such as that described by Dean may eventually require the archaeological establishment to engage using a language that the outside world understands. But this engagement would be by stepping into the territory of others as they start to take over aspects previously reserved to archaeology.

    By comparison, if ‘outsiders’ think that there is no need to engage, it may be difficult to get quality advocates to attend: A discipline that doesn’t know the purpose of its existence doesn’t really count as an adversary so its remaining territory doesn’t need to be intruded upon.

      • So far, most people getting in touch have been against, challenge may be in getting supporters it seems. Will you speak in favour?

        No.. not me. I’m afraid that I’m not even sure what the motion means. The phrases ‘finite and non-renewable’ are usually applied to arguments for reducing consumption (eg to prevent carbon and/or minerals depletion). But almost anything can be shown to be finite and non-renewable, so the phrase may perhaps mean something different in archaeological circles.

        For example, oil is useful to the general population. Some useful metals are close to being difficult to extract economically. Some type of useful food supply are being depleted. To be a resource, the object of discussion usually has to be useful.

        The phrase may describe something that is useful to archaeologists. But if the discipline isn’t able to define what onward purpose is served by the discipline, then it would be very difficult for an outsider to make a contribution to the motion.

      • Well archaeologists tend to use it because they want to avoid ‘consumption’ of archaeological sites by their destruction in advance of development. Currently it is seen by some as a truism – on the grounds that we can’t go back and build more Greek temples (for example). However, as you point out the resource is only valuable in relation to its use (though not necessarily consumption or destruction) so many people are looking at the question differently now.

        I wouldn’t see this topic as ideal for ‘outsiders’ but then, as I say I think a debate may not be the best format for trying to open a wider discussion. I hope you’ll come along and contribute to another session.

        thanks for your thoughts here though, useful

  3. I think indeed we talked something along these lines, with two speakers on each side. I wonder if this format would help bring nuances and complex points across, however. Otherwise it may just be a battlefield of one-liners. I mean, how do we get to define subjective positions on how we define terms…

    • Good point, I hope that some of the subtlety would be provided by the speeches from the floor. I expect it would partly be down to the quality of the speakers as ever, worth considering

  4. “Are you volunteering to speak in favour? It would be great.”
    Thanks. A bit old now, wish you’d asked me ten years ago.

    Incidentally, I don’t really see how people could avoid the “finite and non-renewable” truism by citing that “the resource is only valuable in relation to its use” as archaeology is actually an abstract resource, knowledge, and who would suggest any of it will be “no use” forever and therefore fine to destroy?

    As for “Does archaeology as a discipline need to justify its existence?” on one level, yes, if the archaeologists are being paid by the public and on another level yes, because even if they’re ladies and gents of independent means they’re messing with the public’s history and need to do so with the public’s blessing and in a way that maximises the knowledge their messing encounters.

    I was interested by this: “But if the discipline isn’t able to define what onward purpose is served by the discipline, then it would be very difficult for an outsider to make a contribution to the motion.” This outsider is happy to define the onward purpose served by the discipline! It is to extract and curate knowledge on behalf of the owners. Of course, only a bit can be saved so maybe archaeology owes the owners an explanation of the criteria they use in deciding which history they save and which they don’t?

    • This outsider is happy to define the onward purpose served by the discipline! It is to extract and curate knowledge on behalf of the owners.

      There is a vast amount of knowledge about all sorts of subjects and a growing bank of that resides on the internet.

      Some people have a great interest in knowledge that others think is useless. For instance there are legions of fans for certain types of computer game. Knowledge is prized in these specialised communities, but nobody would suggest that people outside those communities should significantly subsidize those specialised lifestyle choices.

      The same could be said of archaeology. Unless there is a benefit to the whole community, something that does not rely on the leisure interests of a minority, it is difficult for ‘outsiders’ to have any great motivation to contribute to that minority interest.

      As far as I can tell, the ‘non professionals’ interested in archaeology appear to think that a benefit might be found in knowing what early peoples were doing/thinking. The ‘professional’ archaeologists appear to be more interested in knowing more about objects, though it is not entirely clear why. Either way, if a potential for onward benefit is known to exist, it is very badly defined by the discipline. And where the potential for benefit/detriment to society is badly defined (or does not exist), it is not unreasonable for society to devote little or no resources to that activity.

      Other disciplines know exactly what their value to society is. For example, police, lawyers, engineers, soldiers, garbage collectors, or even the famed ‘B Ship’ hairstylists and telephone sanitizers described by Douglas Adams, will be able to easily provide an answer as to what detriment to society would occur if they did not exist.

      If archaeology wants public support, it is not at all unreasonable for it to have to justify its existence in terms of its value/benefit to society.

  5. Pingback: This house believes that archaeological resources are not finite and are renewable | Heritage for Transformation

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