Engaged Archaeology: Sonya Atalay’s Work at Çatalhöyük

In this post, I wanted to talk a bit about an archaeologist I admire, Sonya Atalay. I saw her speak two weeks ago here at Brown and her work will continue to inspire and problematize my research projects.

Overview and context

Sonya Atalay is currently Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Massachussets, Amherst. Her research interests include community-based research and indigenous archaeology and heritage. Her book Community-Based Archaeology: Research with, by, and for Indigenous and Local Communities (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012) is a pioneering work in the field of engaged archaeology. Atalay’s interest in community-based participatory research (CBPR) draws on her Anishinabe (Ojibwe) heritage. She has worked extensively with American Indian communities, especially in the Midwestern United States. Here I will focus not on this research but rather on Atalay’s work in Çatalhöyük, an archaeological site in southern Turkey.

Çatalhöyük is most famous for the remains of a large, densely packed settlement from around 9000 years ago. The ruins point to a community that was remarkably complicated for its time. The site is particularly important because it testifies to “the evolution of social organization and cultural practices as humans adapted to a sedentary life,” including early forms of religion (to quote from the site’s inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Çatalhöyük was first excavated in 1958, but the current project dates to 1993. This second phase of excavation is based on the principles of post-processual archaeology developed by Ian Hodder, the site’s director. In short, this theoretical movement emphasizes the subjectivity of archaeological interpretations, undermining positivist tendencies and universalist claims. In other words, Çatalhöyük is a natural environment for the implementation of Atalay’s engaged archaeology. Continue reading Engaged Archaeology: Sonya Atalay’s Work at Çatalhöyük

Engaged Scholarship and the “Organic Intellectual”

As a concentrator in Archaeology here at Brown, I am also a member of the Engaged Scholars Program. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the nature of engaged scholarship and my relationship with it. I wanted to summarize and comment on three seemingly disparate strands of engaged scholarship that I’ve recently come across: the more traditional idea of service learning; Antonio Gramsci’s concept of the “organic intellectual”; and Cornel West’s more recent evolution of this idea, as demonstrated through an essay on Martin Luther King, Jr. I end by drawing together these three thinkers and articulating a critique of dominant understandings of engaged scholarship.

Tania Mitchell

This semester,  I am in SOC 0310: Theory and Practice of Engaged Scholarship (with Allen Hance and Lynsey Ford). We’ve been talking a lot about what engaged scholarship means for the program, particularly as an evolution of “service learning.” The traditional idea was that students gain valuable skills and experiences through direct service. More recently, Tania Mitchell has encapsulated a trend away from this idea towards a kind of “critical service-learning,” which emphasizes the importance of critical reflection as a way of addressing structural and systemic issues that underlie the most apparent problems. Brown offers a number of courses that fit within this philosophy, and has recently approved the introduction of a course designation in Community-Based Learning and Research (CBLR). Indeed, I would argue that the idea of service learning (mostly in its critical form) is at the heart of engaged scholarship as the Swearer Center currently understands it. Other definitions abound. For example, as used by New England Resource Center for Higher Education, engaged scholarship focuses on the role of faculty “in a reciprocal partnership with the community, is interdisciplinary, and integrates faculty roles of teaching, research, and service.” This definition (focused on faculty) has greater ambit than the idea of service learning, which is focused on student experience. I feel that this difference points at the crux of the issue with engaged scholarship as it is currently understood — more on this later. Continue reading Engaged Scholarship and the “Organic Intellectual”

Working with Women’s Refugee Care

In Fall 2017, I was fortunate enough to take an engaged course in the French department called L’expérience des réfugiés et immigrés (The Experience of Refugees and Immigrants). This course was developed last summer and offered for the first time this year (see article for more). It combined a survey of Francophone texts by and about migration with an engaged component: working with Women’s Refugee Care (WRC). My French improved because I got the chance to use it in a setting with no safety net: in the community engagement portion of the course, French really was the best means of communication. More importantly, this course was a great opportunity to get involved with a local nonprofit and explore the idea of engaged scholarship (which I’m continuing to do through the Engaged Scholars Program in Archaeology).

My work with Women’s Refugee Care centered on three interviews I did with members of the Congolese refugee community here in Providence. Along with Jeanelle Wheeler, my wonderful colleague, we got to know the community, attending a few gatherings and meeting lots of interesting people. We then arranged interviews with a few of those we met at their homes. After recording the interviews, we translated them into English and then posted them on the WRC blog.

I’m particularly happy with the final result: interviews with Katerina, Aline, and Sylvie. I encourage you to read what they have to say — not just to admire their successes and appreciate the challenges they faced, but to acknowledge them as multifaceted human beings. I also wrote an introduction to the interviews (in French), where I reflect on the entire experience, including obstacles, challenges, and the path we took in presenting them as we did. If you find this interesting or stimulating, I would love to know — just add a comment here or send me an email.1