Alison Wylie

Person Profile

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Office Building: 
Savery Hall
Office Phone: 
(206) 543-5873
Academic Information
Research Summary: 
The focus of my research is a cluster of philosophical questions about evidential reasoning, ideals of objectivity, and the role of values in science that arise in archaeological practice. Initially this interest was sparked by fieldwork in historical archaeology in Canada and on prehistoric sites in the U.S. southwest and central Mexico in the 1970s and 1980s, at just the time when the New Archaeology was generating intense debate about the scientific status of archaeology. I argued for a pluralistic approach to questions about the goals and practice of archaeology in my dissertation, Positivism and the New Archaeology (1982), and subsequently expanded this line of inquiry in response to the relativist challenges posed by postprocessual critics of the New Archaeology. In Thinking from Things (2002) I develop a model of evidential reasoning designed to capture the strategies of triangulation and the role of diverse bodies of background knowledge by which archaeologists stabilize their interpretations of data as evidence. I have since made the case for reconceptualizing ideals of objectivity in terms that make sense of the ways in which situated interests and values can be a resource in archaeological research. I am currently developing these lines of thinking in projects on feminist standpoint theory and on research ethics.
I teach three archaeology seminars in rotation, as well as directed readings seminars on topics such as "Archaeology and STS (Science & Technology Studies), and a range of courses in Philosophy. Check the "courses" section of my website for links to recent syllabi. ARCHY 508: Histories of Archaeological Theory and Practice (Winter 2013) ARCHY 574/PHIL 574: MetaArchaeology: Philosophy and Archaeology (Fall 2011) ARCHY 469/PHIL 401: Research Ethics in Archaeology: Accountability, Conservation, Stewardship (Fall 2010)
Philosophy of the social and historical sciences; history and philosophy of archaeology; archaeological research ethics; feminist theory and feminist philosophy of science
Selected Publications
Material Evidence: Learning from Archaeological Practice (London: Routledge).
“Interdisciplinary Practice: Archaeology and Philosophy”: in Archaeology in the Making: Conversations Through a Discipline, edited by William Rathje, Michael Shanks, and Christopher Witmore (Routledge), pp. 93-121.
A Plurality of Pluralisms: Collaborative Practice in Archaeology, in Objectivity, edited by Flavia Padovani, Alan Richardson, and Jonathan Tsou (Springer, in press).
“’Do Not Do Unto Others…’: Cultural Misrecognition and the Harms of Appropriation in an Open Source World,” co-authored with George Nicholas: in Appropriating the Past: Philosophical Perspectives on the Practice of Archaeology, edited by Geoffrey Scarre and Robin Coningham (Cambridge University Press), pp. 195-221.
“Feminist Philosophy of Science: Standpoint Matters,” Presidential Address (Pacific Division APA), in Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 86.2: 47- 76.
“Critical Distance: Stabilizing Evidential Claims in Archaeology”: in Evidence, Inference and Enquiry, edited by Philip Dawid, William Twining, and Mimi Vasilaki (Oxford University Press), pp. 371-394.
“Archaeological Facts in Transit: The ‘Eminent Mounds’ of Central North America”, in How Well do ‘Facts’ Travel?: The Dissemination of Reliable Knowledge, edited by Peter Howlett and Mary S. Morgan (Cambridge University Press), pp. 301-322.
“The Appropriation of Archaeological Finds,” co-authored with George Nicholas, in The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation edited by James O. Young and Conrad G. Brunk (Wiley-Blackwell), pp. 11-54.
Thinking From Things: Essays in the Philosophy of Archaeology (Berkeley CA: University of California Press).