Field archaeology & sexual harassment

Field archaeology has a sexual harassment problem. Everybody knows this, at least anecdotally; we’ve all seen, experienced, and/or heard about it. It’s especially problematic in a field that is numerically dominated by women but where many of the directorial staff are men. It’s scandalous that this is the case, and it’s scandalous that our institutions seem to be doing nothing about it.

A recent article in American Anthropologist about this problem, “Signaling Safety: Characterizing Fieldwork Experiences and Their Implications for Career Trajectories,” suggests some ways forward. They find that sexual harassment and assault are systemic problems in fieldwork (not specifically, but including, archaeological fieldwork) and that these behaviors hurt women in a variety of ways, including their careers. That’s not surprising. What is useful is their finding that clear rules and consequences are clearly associated with healthier projects. That is to say, on such projects

field directors and researchers participated in explicit conversations, training, or meetings to establish site-specific policies. Senior researchers engaged in implicit modeling of these rules to other field researchers and often made themselves available for discussion. There was also evidence that the rules at these sites were enforced with observable consequences. In one specific example, the sexual harassment of a peer resulted in the perpetrator being asked to leave the fieldsite.

The other major, related, finding was that good projects

were fair and/or egalitarian in execution, living and working conditions were intentional and safe, and directors anticipated problems and created avenues for conversations or reporting. Respondents who described these experiences highlighted the importance of having women in leadership roles at their sites, particularly if the rest of the site leadership valued those women’s roles.

My own experiences tally with these findings, especially when it comes to the project that I co-direct. I wish that this article had come out before we started our project, because it would have changed the way I did some things – I would have been much more explicit about our policies on sexual harassment, for instance – but most of them were things that we did on our project. The negative findings also tally with my experiences and what I’ve heard about bad projects.

The big problem here, from my perspective, is that projects are not held to account by the institutions that regulate archaeological field work. The Archaeological Institute of America’s Code of Professional Standards says that archaeologists shouldn’t harass or discriminate, but that has no teeth. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens requires an application for a field permit to include statements about research questions, methods and techniques, site conservation, a budget, etc. but nowhere is anything said about policies to enforce issues arising from discrimination and harassment. The same is true for the Canadian Institute in Greece. Searches for “harass” and “harassment” on their websites yield nothing about policies about sexual harassment.

This is unsatisfactory, because as many of us know, the worst offenders can be the project directors themselves. It doesn’t help that although women are probably the majority of all field projects, they are severely underrepresented among directorial staff. (And this criticism is true of my own project: men outnumber women on the directorial staff, but virtually all of our supervisors are women and most of our students were).

I don’t think that we can claim, in the face of all the evidence, that this is simply a question of a few bad eggs. This is a systemic problem and it requires a systemic solution.

My suggestion would be that applications for field permits in Greece should be required to include policies that govern discrimination and harassment. If they refuse to include such policies, their request should be denied. Participants need to be made aware of these policies, and that they may report violations to the Director of the American School or the Canadian Institute (and to the relevant fieldwork committees), since we know what happens when such problems are dealt with internally. This is a serious problem, and we need to deal with it seriously.


10 thoughts on “Field archaeology & sexual harassment

    1. nakassis Post author

      My guess would be a combination of (1) outright discrimination and harassment limiting opportunities and driving people out of the field and (2) somewhat more subtle processes whereby “the field” is gendered male and “the lab” is gendered female. Not that those are the only things that are going on, but they were the first two things that came to mind.

      1. Melissa Morison

        Your points are right on, Dimitri. I mentioned these things last summer to our current ASCSA Managing Committee chair, and outlined various concrete suggestions for implementation. I do not know if anything is being done as a result, however. But again, thanks for the post. Every little bit helps.

  1. David Pettegrew

    Really glad to see this post. Archaeology projects have too often occupied frontier zones seemingly beyond institutional concerns or reach, allowing predatory behaviors and harassment to live unchecked. But as academic institutions support these projects, there has to be better accountability. I like your recommendations for specific policies in the permit project — as one small step toward developing a healthier professional environment.

  2. Mike Galaty

    Thanks for this, Dimitri. I am on an AIA sub-committee that is working on this issue directly. Hopefully some good will come of it!

  3. Pingback: Friday Varia and Quick Hits | The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

  4. Beth Alpert Nakhai

    Dimitri, thanks for this very important post. I agree with you. Codes of conduct should make a difference – but until they include reporting mechanisms, and protocols for follow-up and consequences, they will not be as effective as they need to be.

  5. Pingback: Final Project: Preliminary Thoughts – Lucia's Inquiry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s