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Authority and Community: Reflections on archaeological practice at Heslington East, York

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JournalThe Historic Environment: Policy & Practice
DatePublished - Oct 2013
Issue number2
Volume4
Pages (from-to)139-155
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article describes the successes and limitations of our community work during archaeological investigations at Heslington East in York, and draws out some of the wider lessons of this engagement. The successes involved wider participation in the archaeological process by a number of different groups, including often marginalised ones such as homeless people. It not only generated greater understanding of the historical depth of their locality, but delivered important wider skill sets in problem-solving approaches and team working.

However, it also showed the conflicts that can develop in such contexts. These relate, in our case, to the fact that the university was institutionally committed to local engagement but was also the (often unwelcome) developer of a green space already used by that community for its own purposes. More generally, tensions result from a government strategy of emphasising citizenship and localism to tackle the current economic recession, participation in which can result in tokenism rather than real empowerment of local communities. We conclude that archaeology, as socially-embedded practice, must recognise these deeper contexts and, hopefully, do more to transcend their limitations if ‘community archaeology’ is to deliver fully on its promises.

    Research areas

  • York, Community archaeology , conflict, engagement, participation, governance

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