It’s Time for a Stronger Commitment with Our International Colleagues

Leila Rodriguez Associate Professor of Anthropology

University of Cincinnati

The American Anthropological Association lists knowledge dissemination as one of its guiding ethical principles. In particular, it discourages withholding findings from research participants. But anthropologists who conduct fieldwork internationally have three additional and related ethical obligations: to participate in the academic conferences of the countries and regions in which they conduct research, to publish their findings in the academic journals of those countries and regions, and to cite the scholarship of local anthropologists. Failure to do so results in the continued colonization of knowledge and imposition of Western theory and epistemology as the true representation of social reality.

Why do so many U.S. anthropologists fail to fulfill these responsibilities? Diminishing funds in U.S. universities force academics to choose in which conferences to participate, and those closer to home may be more affordable. While funding is a legitimate concern, it is not an excuse for not publishing in local journals or knowing and citing local scholars. There is growing recognition about the importance of this kind of international academic engagement. The Wenner-Gren Foundation, for example, offers an Engaged Anthropology Grant for its grantees to return to their research site and share results with the community in which the research was conducted or the academic community in the country or region of research.

Increasingly strict tenure requirements often value U.S. conferences and journals more highly. The decreasing availability of tenured positions further pressures academics to focus their energy only on activities that will be most valued in tenure evaluations. Still, academic propriety is not reason enough to disregard ethical responsibilities. Most top universities list internationalization as an important value and departments have leeway in determining their tenure requirements: we can make a case for valuing the kind of international academic engagement I propose. More importantly, an occasional international presentation or publication, and the citation of international scholars in U.S.-based publications will not make excessive demands on the time nor diminish the rest of the scholarly output of researchers.

Some anthropologists may simply be unaware of the academic community in the countries in which they work. While problematic in itself, this is perhaps the most easily resolved. The World Council of Anthropological Associations lists almost 50 national and regional anthropological associations. Many others are missing from the list, and can be found using a quick Google search: Anthropology Southern Africa, Central American Anthropology Network, Latin American Biological Anthropology Association, to name a few. Technology further enables us to locate the existence of international anthropology journals. For example, Redalyc and Latindex provide a directory and catalog of most academic journals in Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal.

Many anthropologists contribute to local communities and share their work with research subjects in other ways. Those efforts are absolutely necessary. Recently, a Chilean colleague lamented that local anthropologists’ access to some Mapuche communities has

been hindered by negative views of the discipline, a fact they attribute in large part to primarily U.S. and European graduate students not sharing their findings and publications with their Mapuche research participants. While sharing information with research subjects is crucial, it is not enough. The three tasks that I propose are aimed at something else that directly involves academic communities: they are necessary steps in the decolonization of knowledge.

My call to decolonize knowledge is by no means new. Anthropologists have been calling for it for several decades, and the publications on the topic are numerous and impossible to summarize here. Twenty years ago Mexican anthropologist Esteban Krotz (1997) remarked that “[i]t is ironic that the establishment within the North Atlantic civilization of an ever more prosperous and successful scientific discipline, dedicated particularly to cultural diversity, has come hand in hand with a strong and sustained tendency of the same civilization to silence that diversity.” The predominance of English language in academia contributes to that silencing, but it is not the sole culprit. To quote Harrison (2012) “there is a problematic tendency for southern anthropologists to be treated as high-level informants or over-qualified fieldwork assistants […] at best local anthropologists are relegated to the role of minor-stream scholars, rather than being regarded as significant sources of theoretically-nuanced mainstream knowledge.” This sentiment was echoed by a Central American colleague who complained that in some instances local archaeologists, who collected the assemblages or published reports with raw data that are analyzed by U.S. archaeologists, are at best cited in the bibliography with no real consideration of their contributions and perspectives. Countries like Costa Rica and Guatemala have enacted laws that require foreign archaeologists to collaborate with, hire or otherwise involve local scholars in their work. Cultural anthropologists are not subjected to the same requirements.

It is unlikely that any U.S. anthropologist today will admit to placing little value on international colleagues and their theory making. Elsewhere, anthropologists have called for the revision of anthropological curricula to include more diverse and so-called peripheral scholarship (see further readings list below). Moving forward on this issue, however, requires more steps, and I propose this one: include in the AAA’s Principles of Professional Responsibility the commitment to share knowledge with –and incorporate the knowledge of – local anthropologists by the three means I outlined above: participate in the academic conferences of the countries and regions in which they conduct research, publish findings in the academic journals of those countries and regions, and cite the scholarship of anthropologists from those countries and regions. Addressing these responsibilities in the ethics statement advances the narrative about decolonizing anthropological knowledge as an issue of ethics, or a “reexamination of one’s own taken for granted moral stances, respect and consideration for other cultural traditions of morality, and reflection on how to resolve the juxtaposition of sometimes disparate moral discourses” (Black 2016). Engagement with international scholars IS an ethical issue. As a scholarly community and as a professional association, we have the choice to continue to suppress local scholarship, or to learn it, spread it, critique it, and value it as much as U.S. scholarship.

References Cited:

Black, Steven P. 2016. Ethics, Anthropology and Adjudication. Available at:

Harrison, Faye V. 2012. Dismantling Anthropology’s Domestic and International Peripheries. World Anthropologies Network 6:87-110

Krotz, Esteban. 1997. Anthropologies of the South. Their Rise, Their Silencing, Their Characteristics. Critique of Anthropology 17(3)237-251

Further Reading:

Appadurai, Arjun. 1986. Theory in Anthropology: Center and Periphery. Comparative Studies in Society and History 28(2)356-361

Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. 2012. Theory from the South or, How Euro-America is Evolving toward Africa. London: Paradigm Publishers

Connell, Raewyn. 2007. Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge:Polity

Dominguez, Virginia. 1994. A Taste for the “Other”: Intellectual Complicity in Racialized Practices. Current Anthropology 35(4)333-348

Harrison, Faye (Ed.) 2010. Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further toward an Anthropology for Liberation. 3rd edition. Arlington: American Anthropological Association

Mignolo, Walter. 2007. Introduction. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3)155-167

Mignolo, Walter. 2011. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham: Duke UP.

Ntarangwi, Mwenda, David Mills and Mustafa Babiker (Eds). 2006. African Anthropologies: History, Critique and Practice. Dakar:CODESRIA-Zed Books

Ortiz, Renato. 2006. Social Sciences and the English Language. Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais 2(SE)0-0

Quijano, Aníbal. 2000. Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Nepantla: Views from South 1(3)533-580

Ribeiro, Gustavo Lins and Arturo Escobar (Eds). 2006. World Anthropologies: Disciplinary Transformations within Systems of Power. Oxford:Berg

Said, Edward. 1981. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies. 2nd edition. London: Zed Books

Wolf, Eric. 1999. Anthropology among the Powers. Social anthropology 7(2)121-134

Joining Someone Else’s Research Project? Check Their Ethics Protocol!

Posted confidentially on the author’s behalf by the ethics blog editors

This post is a reflection on the role that IRBs and other institutional gatekeepers can play in protecting informants and researchers from unethical actions committed in the course of large research projects. It tells the (highly condensed) true story of a team project focused on helping refugees resettled in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, a project with such progressive, socially ambitious goals attracted researchers from several subfields of anthropology, including a couple of graduate students from the department where the project was hosted. A recently arrived refugee worked as a research assistant on the project to liaison with the refugee population.

As an anthropologist hired in as a postdoc to work on the project, I began to feel that some things were “off” when I observed that the refugee who worked for the project was never invited to the team meetings or given a key to the office. After getting to know the person working in this role, I learned that s/he was being paid hourly, barely above minimum wage, and had no health insurance or benefits of any kind. Soon, the uncomfortable feeling of finding myself working for a project that was “all talk and no show” turned into something much worse when researchers on the team were asked by the project director to do things that we felt were serious violations of anthropological ethics. Highly sensitive personal data were being collected, handled, and stored in the most careless way. Informed consent was barely an afterthought. During the months I worked for the project, I witnessed how disrespectfully the project director treated the one refugee employed on the project. In the employee’s own words, s/he felt better and freer at the refugee camp than working for this project! I also noticed that the observations we had made were manipulated at community events and professional meetings. The project director once admitted knowing that the project was “way out of compliance”. But all that seemed to matter to the director was that we appeared to be making progress so the grant could be renewed.

While I worried about the unprofessional and unethical ways in which we were being pushed to conduct research, I also feared being fired. Like others working on the project, my contract was “at will,” and everyone who expressed the slightest difference of opinion to the project director was threatened with being let go. To complicate things even further, the project was being conducted at the same institution where the project director had received their PhD, which made me, as a relative newcomer, wonder if such practices were supported (if not fostered) by that department. Hence I had to ask myself: who can I report to in this institution that will not automatically disregard my testimony?

My first instinct was to take these matters directly to the project’s advisory board. I was extremely lucky to get guidance from my mentors at my alma mater, whom I asked for help. They advised me not to go to the advisory board, as they may have had conflicting interests (for example, the project director’s dissertation advisor was a member of that board). So I contacted the university’s office of research compliance and IRB instead. Upon reviewing the documentation presented, the compliance director and the IRB immediately opened an investigation on the project. After interviewing several team members, the IRB decided to shut down the project until further notice. In addition to the problematic way in which the research was being carried out, I learned that no researchers (other than the project director) were even mentioned in the IRB protocol; hence none of us were technically authorized to be doing this research in the first place. In retrospect, I am shocked at how naive I was, not asking to see copies of the IRB protocol before starting to work on the project. A few months later our contracts were up. Needless to say, the grant was not renewed.

In this situation, the refugees we were working with were vulnerable, but so were the researchers, who found themselves with their backs against the wall: doing research the project director’s way, or “the highway.” What I would like to underscore is that it was the IRB and the university’s research compliance office, not the anthropology department, who were the ones to tell the project director that research could not be conducted in that way. By suspending the project and seizing all the data collected by the team, the IRB not only effectively protected participants’ rights, it also protected the researchers from being pushed to engage in unethical practices. Ironically, it also protected us from having to publish the data that we had collected. As bad as it is for a postdoc not having any publications to show for a year’s work—especially while on the job market—it is better than publishing something that would later have to be retracted.

We sometimes think of anthropologists as sympathetic saints who know more than their IRBs about “research with human subjects” and who would not, by the very nature of their professional commitments, violate the rights of participants in their research. But the fact is that such violations have happened in the past and continue to happen today. It is good and necessary, if at times tedious, to have to show someone that our work complies with federal regulations and the ethical guidelines those regulations aim to implement. Finally, a word of caution to anthropologists moving into postdoctoral positions: never embark on a project without first checking with the project director about their approach to research ethics. Ask to see the ethics protocol. It may be an awkward thing to ask at the time, but it is better than finding out later that you are implicated in an unethical project that renders all your professional efforts totally worthless.

Where We Draw the Lines: Weighing Commitments to Community and Heritage

Steve Kosiba
University of Alabama


The AAA Statement of Ethics asks anthropologists to “do no harm,” an injunction that is deceptively simple. After all, anthropologists can rarely foresee or influence the potential consequences and unintentional impacts of their research. The AAA’s injunction therefore introduces thorny issues pertaining to the long-term effects of data—the maps, village boundaries, and ethnographic interpretations—that emerge from anthropological research. We could ask: Who defines harm, both immediate and potential? And perhaps more importantly, how might we recognize the ways our data and our work can cause harm to the collaborators or communities with whom we work?


Such questions often trouble archaeologists, who typically must weigh competing obligations to living communities, cultural heritage institutions, and academia (see AAA Ethics Principle 3; Bria and Cruzado 2015; Silverman 2011). When conducting fieldwork, archaeologists frequently find themselves in tense conversations, informing farmers that their fields contain important ruins. In countries such as Peru or Mexico, this information is not just terminological. It implies a shift in value that can cause harm. By recording cultural remains on field forms, archaeologists draw “sites” on lands of semi-autonomous collectives (comunidades campesinas in Peru or ejidos in Mexico), then submit these maps to national institutions, such as a Ministry of Culture. In doing so, archaeologists convert the land and its attributes to cartographic representations, whereby places become coordinates and distributions of pottery sherds become polygons. Federal institutions use these representations to reclassify select sites as national cultural patrimony, a designation that converts landholdings into a general register of value (“heritage”), but divests communities of land (see also McCoy 2011).



Image 1: The ruins of Huanacauri before our 2014 excavations, Cusco in the background. 

This conversion from community landholding to national heritage, and its implications, became clear to me during my 2014 archaeological and ethnographic fieldwork at Huanacauri, an important Inca temple atop a peak that towers above the former Inca imperial capital of Cusco, Peru. Huanacauri is both a sacred mountain and a small temple complex (one-hectare), both of which have long been essential to Inca and Andean religious beliefs. According to legend, one of the first Incas became a god at Huanacauri. The Incas built a temple on the mountain’s summit where, in ceremonies held during the height of Inca rule, young boys became elites and emperors affirmed their sovereignty. Today, both farmers from Cusco and travelers seeking “mystical” experiences leave offerings for the mountain in hopes of gaining its favor and drawing on its power. Our archaeological and ethnographic research sought to uncover evidence of Inca ritual practices at Huanacauri. We collaborated with both the Peruvian Ministry of Culture (MC) and Kircas, a village of indigenous farmers (campesinos) who live below the peak.



Image 2: Huanacauri, a temple and mountain that embodied Inca imperial power, now Peruvian national cultural patrimony.

All of these parties—our research team, the MC, and the people of Kircas—were interested in protecting the ruins at Huanacauri. But the MC and Kircas simply could not agree on what the site was. The Peruvian government has established that the site lies within Kircas community land and the District of San Sebastián, Cusco. Kircas community members have protected the site from looters, and defined their community boundary by creating stacks of stones (mojones) above the ruins. But in 2007, the MC proposed a national patrimony site boundary within the community’s land, and suggested that the campesinos could not build, dig, or plant within the boundary. To draw the boundary, the MC registered archaeological features with GPS units, and marked a 2.11 square kilometer polygon around the 1ha of temple ruins (this boundary is still the subject of negotiation, hence I do not provide a map because such data might be implicated in a legal dispute). Importantly, the MC referred to anthropological research, which suggests that the Inca temple of Huanacauri was an extensive “sacred landscape” comprising the temple and environmental features such as springs, ravines, or boulders. The people of Kircas questioned how the MC could draw such an expansive boundary, divesting them of community lands to protect terrain without visible ruins. What is more, they stated that protecting the ruins did not preclude their use of adjacent land, which they and their forbears had long modified by digging small water reservoirs with retention walls. This kind of disagreement is not uncommon in Peru. Indeed, a similar negotiation occurred during the process of delimiting the Inca monumental site of Sacsayhuaman, above Cusco.



Image 3: Oblique aerial photograph showing the peak and ruins of Huanacauri and the village of Kircas. The proposed site delimitation would include much of the land between the peak and the village, as well as adjoining lands. The city of Cusco is visible in the upper right hand corner.


When we initiated the project at Huanacauri, our research team thought that we should maintain neutrality regarding the site boundary in order to maintain ideal collaborative relationships with both parties. Then, the president of Kircas approached me about the issue. He wanted a map. More precisely, he wanted to know how to read and explain a map. I realized that, though we archaeologists often seek neutrality in such situations, our actions and their consequences not only favor one side in these disagreements, but also reproduce power asymmetries between federal institutions and farming communities. This is because our data are largely restricted to academic and institutional spaces and audiences. Moreover, these data are rarely translatable to the people with whom we work. Without access to such data and the knowledge to read them, the people of Kircas had no means to argue against the MC’s definition of a “sacred landscape.” They could not voice their disagreement in the same language as the MC—a cartographic language of contours, coordinates, and quadrants. In conversations with the community, our team realized that our work had to not only map, and share maps, but also teach the process of mapping.

As other blog posts here have suggested, it is often difficult for archaeologists to draw a line that neatly separates community and federal claims to cultural heritage, largely because these definitions pivot on different understandings of “harm.” Here, I shifted focus from the issue of defining harm to the problem of drawing lines—the very literal consequences of drawing lines (as well as coordinates and polygons) on maps. In producing maps, we create data that will outlast current federal regulations and community interests. These data might support claims to land, and do harm, in ways that we cannot currently imagine. We may not be able to prevent this potential harm. But our work requires responsible data dissemination (see AAA Ethics Principle 5), which means that we should seek to share, translate, and teach the process by which we construct knowledge. By doing this, we can help to position a range of actors—local communities, federal institutions, archaeologists—on the same playing field.

Bria, R.E. and E.K. Cruzado Carranza. 2015. Co-creative approaches to heritage preservation and community development at Hualcayán, Ancash, Peru. Advances in Archaeological Practice 3(3): 208-222.

McCoy, E. 2011. Disputed worlds: Performances of heritage in Cusco’s tourism economy. Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities 3(3): 419-425.

Silverman, H. 2011. Contested cultural heritage: A selective historiography. In Contested Cultural Heritage, H. Silverman (ed.), pp. 1-49. New York: Springer.


Do androids dream of ethical leaps?


by Alison Atkin and Dave Errickson


Is it okay to share photos of skeletons on social media? How do we ensure osteological methods remain reliable as they become increasingly digital? Do we need to regulate the availability of digital reproductions of human remains?


Individuals who work with human remains, from archaeologists to museum curators, have long been aware of the many ethical considerations that come with their work. In order to assist them in making decisions in their daily work, whether performing skeletal analysis or developing a new public exhibition, numerous professional bodies (e.g. BABAO, AAPA) have developed guidelines and policies to ensure best practice.


However, due to the evolving and expanding disciplines it has become increasingly common to find yourself faced with a situation that is not covered in these documents; with the increased adoption of digital techniques, a gap has developed through which many digital issues have been falling. In response to these situations, many researchers have attempted to interpret and apply current standard guidelines for physical remains to digital media (e.g. blogs, social media, online videos, 3D documentation and printing). Furthermore, they’ve also reached out to peers and colleagues for advice, which has lead onto wider conversations about the lack of guidance in this digital age of osteology.


There are a large number of people who have the same issues, the same questions, and the same conversations. This realisation lead to the matter being raised at the annual conference for the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology in September 2015 by Alison Atkin in a presentation titled, ‘Digging the Digital Dead: Discussing Best Practice for Future(istic) Osteoarchaeology’. The aim of the presentation was to gather all of the momentum into one effort and establish a working group. With the support of conference delegates (including those attending digitally as well) we (Atkin and Errickson) have created the first step to address these issues by starting a mailing-list: DIGITALOSTEO


The current aim of the mailing-list is to gather common themes, ahead of a workshop, so that we can better advise amendments to existing guidelines and policies. In two weeks the group has gathered support with more than 75 members joining from a range of specialist disciplines and has thus so far generated discussion on a range of perspectives through shared examples. In addition the working group has started to collect together a range of concerns pertaining to ethical considerations in digital osteology.
While the working group is in its early stages, it is clear that as a discipline we have seen the need to address the ethical considerations of our digital work. We as a group would urge and welcome others to join us in this process (no matter what your osteological context is), to share your experiences and help us consider your views and concerns in this early process.