I left a response to that interesting piece on ‘The Public’ by @Jessikart. I’ve reproduced it below. Join the conversation!
“I really enjoyed your post. The issue you raise is central to all attempts of groups of people to connect with people who aren’t them. I’ll start off widely then come to archaeology in my response!
“I was once at an academic workshop on ‘public engagement’ with science where one of the participants snuck back into the room during a coffee break and wrote ‘Sod The Public!’ on the board. She meant, as you do, that the discussion was unhelpfully focusing on an anonymous mass rather than groups of individual people. The sentiment is absolutely right and I think anyone who goes down that route is unlikely to create anything of much importance and, as you point out, can end up insulting people. My PhD was based around investigating the connections between people and ‘public art’, so I’m well aware of how much people hate being told what to do and what to like. The fact that the vast majority of big money ‘public art’ pieces are ignored post-installation while the more relevant, informal stuff that people tend to identify with is driven underground (and called ‘illegal’) speaks volumes.
“With the PublicArchaeology2015 project, of which I think you’re aware, we are, despite the name, addressing just the point you raise. The project is based around the assertion that public archaeology must at least allow the possibility for non-archaeologists to do archaeology, without archaeological supervision (to avoid angering colleagues, I’ll point out that archaeology takes many forms and I’m not talking about digging holes in things willy nilly). The project will see six archaeologists and six non-archaeologists creating their own archaeology projects centred on engaging people other than themselves with archaeological themes. Each will do it differently and we will see twelve very different takes on what ‘public’ ‘archaeology’ and ‘engagement’ mean over the year. One thing we won’t be doing is bringing it all together with any unified conclusions. Each bit of engagement will be left to stand for itself, having either worked or not. In that sense, the public of each mini-project will be the individual humans who take part in it and in some cases the project will have no (formally defined) archaeologists directly involved at all. I think it is moving things in an interesting and useful direction and I hope you have time to give your opinion over the course of the year.
“Just to address the wider perspective again, you ask “Do we have Public Historians? Public Gardeners? Public Geographers? Public Chemists?” I think we do and I think parts of each of those disciplines discuss ‘the public’ in exactly the unhelpful way you identify, they just don’t do it in the open and what we see, despite the absence of the p-word in their output, is their assumption of what we want or need to see. Public Archaeology, for all its flaws is, I think, generally reflexive and open to debate.
“Hope that makes sense! I look forward to continuing the discussion and am glad to have made contact.
“James Dixon (@James__Dixon)”