Ethical Questions in Post-impeachment Brazil

By Rafael Estrada Mejía (São Paulo State University)

Last year, Brazil was in the world’s spotlight due to political turmoil and to its appeal as a tourism destination giant.  The global media followed with ferocity both former President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment with its accompanying massive protests for and against it, and the 2016 Olympic Games, when for the first time in history, ten refugee athletes from four countries competed together as the Refugee Olympic Team.  The great irony is that, in the same time period, almost sixty thousand people were displaced because of sports mega-events such as the World Cup and the Rio Olympic Games.  This occurred to make space for sports venues, tourism projects and transport, and to improve the international image of the host cities by eliminating slums from areas exposed to visitors and television audiences.

Two main concerns motivated me to write this piece.  The first one is the unrest I felt because, for the most part, the Brazilian elite and middle classes (many of whom are white, intellectuals and university professors) paid no attention to the forced displacements, and later enthusiastically supported the coup d’état against Rousseff.  Although outraged, I was not surprised. This scene is repeated in Brazil’s history. Disdain for democracy is the common denominator of both the coups of 1964 and of 2016.  The difference is that this most recent coup follows the rules of financial capitalism, thus requiring the neoliberalization of the state and making both dictatorial and social welfare regimes anachronistic.   

The second concern has to do with questioning the ethical implications of my own practice as an anthropologist and the role of social scientists at large in today’s political conjuncture. This reflection was fueled by my experiences as a postdoctoral researcher conducting studies of the elite.  I am the only anthropologist in a research team formed by a group of renowned geographers who study the production of urban space in mid-size cities in the states of São Paulo and Paraná.

One of the research lines of the project is the real estate sector and the role of closed condominiums (the Brazilian version of US gated communities) in the context of public space

Operarios (Tarsila do Amaral, 1933)

production. My contribution to the the study of the processes of subjectivation of the emergent Brazilian elites who live in these spaces. I also study how closed condominiums have become one of the most desired living arrangements for all Brazilians. The project aims to overcome the dominant macropolitical framework used to understand closed condominiums to move the focus to a micropolitical approach.  My understanding of these frameworks is based on the French thinkers Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, for whom both macropolitics and micropolitics are inherently political, public and private, and operate simultaneously from small to large levels so the distinction is based on the scale of the components interacting in a network, and not the scale of the network itself.

The Brazilian version of the 1% is not composed of millionaires, but by those who earn more than 30 times the monthly base salary (currently at R/.880 or approximately 244 dollars). The 1% in Brazil are people we see walking down the streets every day. It includes university professors, many of whom chose to live in closed condominiums.  For the record, I am not part of that elite and do not live in in a closed condominium.  But many of the professors I have interviewed for my research are part of this elite; some of them are social scientists and shared with me the belief that our role as researchers should be strictly confined to the analytical space.  These remarks have made me wonder about the role of academics and intellectuals in Brazil.  What are the implications of being progressive, analytic, and critical only within the confines of academic walls, and once the daily labor ends, comfortably returning to an individual paradise inside the walls of the closed condominium?  What are the mechanisms that allow us to ignore the criminalized alterity that the media and institutional powers have constituted and reconstituted? What are the ethical and political challenges of anthropologists and social scientists in the Brazilian context? 

The discipline of anthropology in Brazil tends to look at applied anthropology with disdain. This contrasts with other Latin American countries where there is a seamless flow between anthropological reflection, university life and applied projects.  Except for the committed work of anthropologists with indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent, Brazilian anthropology has tended to be restricted to university life.   

Studying Brazilian elites as an anthropologist and from a micropolitical perspective suggests a framework applicable beyond academia, as a map to navigate this complex world. By looking at the mode of existence of privileged groups who choose to isolate themselves from public life, we see that we cannot be committed and engaged at the macropolitical level, while remaining complacent at the micropolitical level.  We need to find a way to eliminate microfascism from our discourse, our acts, our heart and our pleasures. By microfascism, I mean the desire that individuals have that others follow their own personal rules, which ultimate enable fascism at the state level. This kind of totalitarian view operates in both the public and private spheres.

It is important to suspend common sense or what Brazilian scholar Renato Ortiz calls the “a-critic consensus.”  It is important to stop using the concepts of ethics and morality interchangeably.  Morality deals with a series of external coercive norms, assumed to be universal and based on punishment.  Ethics, on the contrary, deals with a series of facultative rules through which individuals constitute themselves as subjects, problematize their own actions, and create new modes of existence. Brazil is in dire need of ethically committed and engaged scholars.

Studying the elites is indeed a way to combat inequality in a country considered among the most unequal in the world.  However, this is certainly not enough.  It is essential to overcome the paralysis that sometimes accompanies the social sciences, to go beyond the academic sphere and reach a truly ethical dimension. It is essential to demonstrate acts of resistance in our lives, and to oppose all the established forms of fascism to impede that more be erected. As Brazilian scholar Suely Rolnik once said, “It is time for micropolitics to guide us!”

Rage and Despair, in Response to Trump’s Executive Orders

By Marnie Thomson

I share this Facebook post with the permission of Berhanu Gurach, an Ethiopian refugee who lives in Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania. He posted this six days after Trump signed his first executive order banning citizens of specific Muslim countries and all refugees entry to the U.S.

Berhanu’s post represents the despair of refugees who endure in UN camps, clinging to the hopes of resettlement in the U.S. It expresses the dismay of those for whom promises of resettlement have now been reneged. His picture captures his raw emotion in the immediate wake of the first ban. Berhanu posted this before the first stay, and the ban had taken effect immediately, even in remote refugee camps like Nyarugusu.

During this time, refugees from Nyarugusu camp began asking me questions. “Why does Trump hate us?” “Why did Obama like us?” “What about the 30,000 that the U.S. promised to take from Tanzania?” “What is going to happen to us now?” Refugees who had already been resettled in the U.S. also had questions. “How does this order affect those of us who are already here?” “Will Trump issue an order about us?” The one question that refugees in the camp and those already in the US both asked me was: “What can we do?”

This is the ethical question I have been asking myself too. It stems from a place of dismay and distress. As Bianca Williams contends, emotion shapes not only how we embrace and understand social theory but also how we anthropologists position ourselves as allies and take action.

After the first Muslim/immigration ban, many anthropologists also took to social media.

Some joined the airport protests or started contributing to the ACLU and other organizations. The AAA called for the immediate reversal of the executive order. AES endorsed the AAA stance and contributed additional points in their own statement against the order. APLA/PoLAR issued a three-part response to the ban called Speaking Justice to Power. Six of us spoke out as anthropologists. In our classrooms, we spoke with our students about the implications of the ban. 

Do anthropological ethics need to change in this new Trump era? In many ways, no. As Ruth Benedict said, anthropology’s purpose is to make the world safe for human differences. Yet as we work against racism, xenophobia, nationalism, white supremacy, and many other social injustices, we also need to take seriously anthropology’s complicity in creating today’s political landscape. In the special issue of American Ethnologist on the 2016 Brexit referendum and Trump election, Yarimar Bonilla and Jonathan Rosa urge anthropologists to unsettle our field, including recognizing the ways in which this political moment is not exceptional, but rather is consistent with both domestic and global political currents.

As part of unsettling anthropology, we need to ask: how should our ethical engagements change? How should they stay the same?

In a time where public anthropology may no longer suffice, Carole McGranahan suggests we take cues from the National Park Service and other governmental institutions and consider what going rogue would mean for anthropology. In her words, “Public anthropology is to be engaged. It is to communicate anthropological knowledge in a way that will be useful. Rogue anthropology is to be enraged. It is to communicate anthropological knowledge in a way that will disrupt, stop, resist, refuse.”

Rage, as Glen Couthard shows in Red Skins, White Masks, fuels the communal fire of resistance. By refusing and resisting Trump’s first immigration ban and seeking to disrupt and stop it, the anthropological responses mentioned above are the makings of a rogue or an enraged anthropology. What else might collective outrage mean for anthropology? Anthropologists should continue along the lines of producing swifter responses to more urgent matters. Anthropologists are well-positioned to respond quickly and incisively thanks to our longitudinal research, or what can at times seem like the field’s “unbearable slowness.” Our sustained commitments to specific communities also means that we can maintain the momentum of going rogue.

The federal court has overturned both of Trump’s executive orders. In some ways, however, the bans are still working. For example, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has not been back to Tanzania since Trump signed the first order on January 27. This means that no new cases can be approved for resettlement in the U.S. Moreover, refugee resettlement quotas have historically been determined by executive order so there is no telling what that means for the future of refugee entry to the U.S.

Furthermore, where does this leave refugee hosting states and aid organizations? In Tanzania, for example, an entire aid apparatus has been built around resettlement in Nyarugusu camp during the past three years. The Tanzanian government, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and its partnering organizations are now trying to figure out what to do with the infrastructure, funds, and staff they had designated for U.S. resettlement purposes.

Even overturned, the Muslim ban/immigration ban reverberates. Certainly, there are other communities of refugees, immigrants, and Muslims, as well as humanitarian organizations and state governments feeling its effects. This is not to mention the other executive orders and policy changes of the new administration. Anthropologists take their cues from the reactions of affected communities. Ethics, emotions, anthropology, and action are all entangled.

Just yesterday, another Nyarugusu resident messaged me to ask about the status of Trump’s order on refugees. He wanted all the details. I explained that a few days earlier I had corresponded with a UNHCR representative in Tanzania, who said that they were still waiting to hear if interviews for resettlement in the U.S. will resume. He was disillusioned to learn that there had been no new developments. As Renato Rosaldo has taught us, rage seethes with devastation and loss. This occurs even as emotional subjugation accompanies political subjugation, as Frantz Fanon has illustrated. Refugees’ disappointment, the UNHCR representative’s dismay, Berhanu’s despair: this is how we stay engaged and enraged. We stay tuned in—emotionally, ethically, anthropologically, and actively.

Ethical Responsibility in the Face of the Incoming Administration

By Kurt E. Dongoske

For most people, the beginning of a new year offers a renewed sense of hope, happiness, and prosperity for the future. For me, as the Zuni Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and an archaeologist working in cultural resource management in the Southwest for 40 years, the dawning of 2017 brought anxiety; anxiety born out of a feeling of foreboding that our future, the future of our careers in cultural resource management, and the future of our environment are in imminent danger. Normally, I’m a pretty optimistic fellow, but the results of the recent presidential election left me feeling more than pessimistic. My sense of foreboding is based, in part, on the campaign platform of the President-elect in which he promised to diminish or abolish regulations, underscored by his anti-science, anti-climate change and fact denying rhetoric. Moreover, his recent announcements of identified individuals for key administrative positions heighten my apprehension.

Once the President-elect is in office, I fully expect an executive and legislative branch assault on all environmental and historic preservation legislation and regulation that industry currently views as being unnecessary impediments to so-called ‘development.’ The incoming administration most likely will move quickly to effectively promote and encourage gas, oil, and coal extraction on federal lands and couple this with a move toward seriously reducing compliance with environmental protection legislation and strong arm tactics to any push back by environmental or professional organizations.

Closer to home, I anticipate that the incoming administration will act to fundamentally undermine the preservation community’s commitment to protect, preserve, and interpret historical properties and cultural resources. Now more than ever, as the natural resource extraction industry is afforded unique privileging by the federal government, archaeological sites, sacred sites, traditional cultural properties and landscapes may be threatened with destruction without the current appropriate consideration or treatment. Efforts by the new administration to exempt categories of development projects from Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review, including reforming NEPA and the Section 106 process (e.g., diminishing or exempting compliance for privileged projects), will have a deleterious effect on cultural resource management.

But it is not just archaeological sites, historic properties, places, landscapes and the environment that will be threatened. The Republican Congress may entertain bills that seek to change what types of research are funded under the National Science Foundation (NSF). Republicans have already introduced legislation to remove archaeology, anthropology, and other social sciences research from NSF funding. If the attempts to eliminate NSF funding for these fields of research are successful, it will have a profound impact on academic-based anthropological and archaeological research for professors, graduate students, and the communities with which they work. This will cause negative reverberations throughout the academy and, even more importantly, historically and geographically marginalized communities that rely on the academy to make their voice, concerns, and struggles more public and responsible entities more accountable.

While the new Republican held Congress is anticipated to work toward diminishing environmental and historic preservation regulations, they may concomitantly attempt to curtail federally required Tribal consultation by reversing previous Executive Orders on tribal consultation. Should this occur, it will have a profoundly negative effect on the ability of Tribal Nations to put forth meaningful and effective voices in the protection of their places of sacred and traditional cultural importance. One need only look at the Dakota Access Pipeline, the resistance by the Standing Rock Sioux and the militarized response by the oil industry as an example of what may be in store for Native people. The “other”-izing of immigrant Mexicans and Muslims by the President-elect can be anticipated to extend to Native Americans as a form of delegitimizing and dismissing their claims of primacy of association to the landscape and to natural and cultural resources. If all of this occurs, not only will archaeological sites, traditional cultural properties and landscapes be threatened, if not completely disregarded, but also it will result in the violation of basic human rights for Native Americans to express a meaningful voice in the protection of their sacred places, cultural identities and living heritage.

As anthropologists and archaeologists, we should be deeply troubled with the President-elect’s past and current turgidity toward dismantling or decreasing legislation that provides for the consideration and protection of clean air, clean water, and healthy ecosystems. We have a professional ethical responsibility to work collaboratively and effectively to advocate for and protect the archaeological and cultural resources record and to speak out and work against any and all efforts that threaten these important places. Moreover, as anthropologists we have a profound ethical responsibility to advocate on behalf of indigenous people when they are being disenfranchised from a regulatory process that has been altered to privilege oil, gas, and coal extraction efforts on their ancestral lands.

The American Anthropological Association (AAA), the Society for American Archaeology, and the Register of Professional Archaeologists all have ethical principals or codes of conduct that define our responsibilities to the archaeological record. For example, the Society for American Archaeology’s ethical principle No. 1 calls upon all members of the Society to be "both caretakers of and advocates for the archaeological record for the benefit of all people," and "to use the specialized knowledge they gain to promote public understanding and support for its long-term preservation." Recently, the Society for American Archaeology’s Board of Directors issued direction to the membership (Our Ethical Principles, Our Actions: Member Responsibilities in a Time of Change) in response to what is viewed as a pending time of change. They added the following directions to the membership regarding ethical principle No. 1:

As members, we will therefore oppose any initiatives to weaken the present legal protections of archaeological sites and materials, be these through legislative process, rewriting of agency regulations, or other means. Moreover, our stewardship responsibilities require that we support and defend initiatives aimed at mitigating the impacts on cultural heritage of accelerating climate disruptions.

The AAA’s code of ethics speaks to our professional responsibilities to support and defend the rights of indigenous peoples and this is important for us, as anthropologists, to never forget and always act on. The AAA represents all anthropologists and archaeologists working in the United States and our collective economic viability and our ability to secure federal funding for academic research and cultural resource management projects will be under assault. It seems to me that every archaeological, anthropological, historic preservation and environmental professional organization has a dog in this fight and must be willing to speak out and lobby against any efforts to abolish or decrease environmental protection and historic preservation legislation.

As members of professional organizations we should encourage and support our organizations to establish strong lobbying coalitions with fellow environmental organizations in order to actively and effectively thwart any legislative or executive efforts to weaken current legal protections for the environment and historic properties, places, and landscapes. As individuals, I encourage each and every one of us to act locally, at the state level and nationally by contacting your congressional representatives and senators and expressing your concerns regarding the movement to rollback regulations, for those regulations not only help protect our collective cultural heritage and a healthy environment for generations to come, but are the backbone of providing appropriate consideration for and attention to various places that are central for the identity and ongoing traditional practices and benefits of countless indigenous and traditional communities.

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.


Hoffman Report Comments

Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban

The Hoffman Report is an independent investigation of actions by members of the American Psychological Association (APA) who collaborated with and profited from their direct involvement in ‘intensive interrogation’ at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The report was initiated and funded by the APA in response to critics within the profession who had complained about this unethical and unprofessional application of Psychology by APA leaders and members. A workshop organized by key critics and activists within the APA who are keen to develop protocols for going forward, will take place September 18-20 at Boston University. As the only anthropologist asked to join this workshop Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban has been asked to post the Hoffman Report on the AAA Ethics Blog seeking comments from anthropologists in advance of the meeting. The AAA is seen as a positive example for its two proactive commissions (CEAUSSIC I and II) that explored and took clear positions on anthropologists’ engagement with defense, security and intelligence agencies.

Steward the Past and Avoid Harm?

Charles Golden
Brandeis University

Andrew Scherer
Brown University

The ethical guidelines of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) call archaeologists to stewardship, and exhort us to serve as “both caretakers of and advocates for the archaeological record for the benefit of all people.” To act for the benefit of “all people” is, however, easier said than done and our efforts to steward the past can have complex implications for the communities where we work. The AAA Statement on Ethics acknowledges these difficulties, enjoining us to do no harm, to act honestly, to obtain necessary permissions, and to weigh competing ethical obligations recognizing that “defining what constitutes an affected community is a dynamic and necessary process.” What happens, though, when our role as stewards conflicts with the beliefs and interests of local stakeholders?  How are we to operate when local stakeholders have competing visions for the use of the land and its resources, or when local communities with their own claims over the past do not recognize the authority of the national or local government?

For a little over a decade we have faced these issues while leading a regional research project focused on the political world of the Precolumbian Maya in the Usumacinta River valley, which today forms much of the border between Guatemala and Mexico.  In Guatemala we work in the Sierra del Lacandón National Park (SLNP), where the renowned Classic Maya capital of Piedras Negras is located.  Park managers work closely with the well-established agricultural cooperatives around the borders of the SLNP to achieve a balance between environmental and economic sustainability.  The park is, however, frequently at risk from “invasores,” illicit settlers who occupy parkland without legal permission.  These illicit settlers loot archaeological sites and clear forest without proper fire controls, destroying the cropland and natural resources of legal communities.  They also create security risks for park rangers and researchers, some of whom they have attacked and held captive.  Such actions have frequently impinged on our ability to mount effective investigations and thwarted the conservation efforts of park authorities.

The larger political and economic situation in Guatemala means that while some invasores are connected to ranching or narco-trafficking interests, some are merely people in search of land to support the basic needs of their families.   As archaeologists involved in the conservation of the cultural resources of the park, we find ourselves working in the public domain as advocates for park authorities who seek peaceful, legal means for the relocation of these illicit communities to areas outside the park.   In so doing, we are acting from the position that while some economic harm may come from the relocation of these families, there is a greater good in protecting the cultural and natural resources of the park in the interests of the people of Guatemala and especially those licit communities that ring the park and legally take advantage of its resources.  Many of these communities have existed for decades and suffered heavily in Guatemala’s civil war.  They depend on a healthy ecosystem to practice sustainable use of the forest and look to the possibility of eco- and archaeo-tourism development in the longer-term.

On the Mexican side of the river there is a very different economic and political environment. Towns of private landowners are interspersed with communities that hold land as inalienable communal property.  Both private and communal landowners are often reluctant to permit archaeological work.  Some refuse us entry out of the fear of government expropriation of their property.  Others simply want nothing to do with the central government; as archaeologists with permits held from that government we are viewed as its agents.  Some people know that archaeological work would impinge on what they view as their own perfectly legitimate efforts to mine ancient architecture for building materials for modern homes.  For others, there is a desire to see immediate, often unrealistic, economic gain that we are unwilling to falsely promise.  While field research can offer short-term economic benefits from employment, archaeological projects are typically not long-term development projects and archaeologists are not well-trained in development. We do our best, however, to work with communities on local museums, touristic development, or other efforts initiated by the community.

Despite these challenges our work has moved forward in large part thanks to a few local interlocutors.  These long-term collaborations have helped us develop relationships of trust in the communities where we work and opened doors for further research.  Patience and dialogue have been fundamental.   When prevented from documenting a site we have chosen not to leverage the legal recourse available to us from national authorities that might permit us access. Any short-term gain would simply come at the cost of eroding local trust in the long-term.

Ultimately we find ourselves balancing the necessities of research against the diverse interests of the communities in which we work. Our ideal research goal in both Guatemala and Mexico would be full-coverage survey. In reality we must accept a more patchwork outcome that reflects our contemporary entanglements. That we consider the needs and interests of local communities and have been unable to document some sites has been indirectly attacked in national grant applications.   At least one reviewer has lambasted our approach as “drive-by archaeology.”  We would ask what such a reviewer imagines are the rights and responsibilities of an archaeologist?

Archaeologists must accept that we are frequently arrogating to ourselves the right to decide what past, and present, should be stewarded and what the least harmful course of action may be.   We must do our best to engage all local stake-holders in stewardship, though some may refuse such engagement.  We must accept that there are times we cannot, and perhaps should not, protect the cultural patrimony that we hold dear.  We must also accept that despite our best intentions we may not be able to protect that patrimony without doing harm of some sort to local communities, and we must weigh this against the benefits for other stake-holders.   Finally, it is an ethical imperative that we do a better job of preparing our students – the next generation of archaeologists – to wrestle with such conundrums, to acknowledge the ambiguities and perhaps be yet better and less harmful stewards than we ourselves sometimes are.