Research Interests

Research Statement | Recent Presentations | Interviews | Publications by Area:

Philosophy of Science | Philosophy of Archaeology | Research Ethics | Feminist Philosophy | Equity Issues

Research Statement

Areas of specialization: philosophy of the social and historical sciences; feminist philosophy of science; history and philosophy of archaeology; ethics issues in the social sciences.
Publication abstracts and preprints: available through PhilPapers

As a philosopher of the social, historical sciences I'm committed to philosophical analysis that is grounded in an understanding of the research fields I study, attentive to actual practice, informed by the social/contextual histories of these sciences, and normative in orientation. I’m particularly interested in epistemic issues raised by archaeological practice and by feminist research in the social sciences, and in research ethics issues of accountability to those engaged in and affected by social and historical research. These three areas overlap with and inform one another, reinforcing my appreciation of the need for philosophical analysis of research practice that transgresses traditional boundaries between epistemology and value theory, and between philosophical, historical and social/cultural science studies.

Where the epistemic issues raised by archaeology are concerned, I work on issues to do with evidential reasoning that come into sharp focus when you consider the challenges faced by historical scientists who work with enigmatic trace evidence. The central question here is, most simply, how do historical scientists establish credible claims about the past? Focusing on archaeology I have developed models of evidential reasoning that emphasize strategies of triangulation and the role of background knowledge in an iterative process of stabilizing empirical claims about facts of the record and facts of the past. My current work in this area takes the form of a collaboration with Bob Chapman, a UK-based archaeologist. We recently published an edited volume, Material Evidence: Learning From Archaeological Practice (Routledge 2015), and we have just completed a co-authored monograph, Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology, that will appear in the Bloomsbury series, ‘Debates in Archaeology (in press, 2016). My earlier work along these lines is best represented by the essays that appear in Thinking From Things: Essays in the Philosophy of Archaeology (University of California Press, 2002), and by “Critical Distance,” a contribution to Evidence, Inference and Enquiry (edited by Dawid, Twining, Vasilaki, 2011). An aspect of evidential reasoning in archaeology that particularly interests me is how archaeologists put ‘legacy’ data to work addressing new questions. This the focus of chapters I have contributed to Agnotology (edited by Proctor and Schiebinger, 2008) and How Well do ‘Facts’ Travel? (edited by Howlett and Morgan, 2010), and of an invited lecture at the 2015 CLMPS meeting in Helsinki that will appear in a special issue of Human Values in Science and Technology on ‘Shadow Data’.

The second cluster of issues I work on is animated by the question: what are the implications for norms of justification and objectivity of contextualist challenges to the ideal of ‘value free’ science? I join a growing contingent of philosophers of science who argue that situated interests and non-epistemic values play a role in all aspects of scientific practice but recognize that this does not entail corrosive relativism; these contextual factors are not only or necessarily a source of compromising bias. Pluralists of various stripes, feminist and critical race scholars, and the advocates of community-based collaborative research, argue persuasively that situated knowledge and, indeed, explicitly partisan interests can play an epistemically productive role in scientific inquiry. The challenge, then, is to articulate norms of research practice that specify when and how contextual factors contribute to epistemic goals. I argue that feminist standpoint theory is a valuable resource for meeting this challenge and set out a framework for analysis in the Presidential address I gave at the 2012 meeting of the Pacific Division APA and in “Why Standpoint Matters,” and an earlier paper that appeared in Science and Other Cultures, (edited by Harding and Figuero, 2003). I am developing this account into a monograph, Standpoint Matters, that will be anchored in analysis of several case studies some of which I have explored in earlier publications, for example, in articles on the formation and impact of feminist archaeology (in Doing Archaeology as a Feminist, co-edited with Conkey, 2007; the 2016 Katz Lecture), the feminist method debate (in The Handbook of Feminist Research, edited by Hesse-Biber, 2006), the articulation of a feminist standpoint in ‘chilly climate’ activism (in Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, edited by Grasswick, 2011), and in contributions to Primate Encounters (edited by Strum and Fedigan, 2000), and to Value-Free Science? (co-edited with Kincaid and Dupré, OUP 2007). I anticipate completing Standpoint Matters in the next year.

In connection with the third area of interest mentioned – research ethics – I am developing models of accountable, reciprocal, and collaborative research practice that integrate epistemic analysis with value theory. I first engaged these issues as co-chair of a committee on “Ethics for Archaeology” convened by the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in the early 1990s; the outcome was a set of ethics principles for archaeological practice anchored in ideals of responsible stewardship principles that were adopted by the SAA in 1996. I assess this ethic of stewardship in a contribution to Embedding Ethics (edited by Meskell and Pells, 2005), “The Promise and Perils of an Ethic of Stewardship,” and have recently been invited to serve as an advisor to an SAA ethics committee that has been charged with reviewing and updating the Principles. My primary interest in the last decade has been issues of accountability to descent communities and a range of other stakeholders. This work is represented by two articles co-authored with George Nicholas on the ethics and politics of cultural appropriation: “Archaeological Finds” (in The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation edited by Young and Brunk, 2009), and “Do Not Do Unto Others” (in Appropriating the Past edited by Scarre and Coningham, 2012). It is also the focus of an analysis of the epistemic rationale for collaborative practice that originated in "Legacies of Collaboration," the 2008 Patty Jo Watson Distinguished Lecture (Archaeology Division, American Anthropological Association), and has resulted in two recent articles: “Community-Based Collaborative Archaeology,” in Philosophy of Social Science, (edited by Cartwright and Montuschi, 2014), and “A Plurality of Pluralisms,” in Objectivity in Science (edited by Padovani, Richardson and Tsou, 2015). I see this as the growing edge of my research going forward.

Recent Presentations (selected)

  • “What Knowers Know Well: Standpoint Theory and Gender Archaeology”: 2016 Katz Distinguished Lecture, University of Washington (May 19); New Enlightenment Lecture, University of Edinburgh (December 2015); Instituto de Estudos Avançados, Universidad de São Paulo (October 2013).
  • “How Archaeological Evidence Bites Back: Putting Old Data to Work in New Ways”:Philosophy, UC-Davis (April 2016); Philosophy, University of Calgary (March 2016); History and Philosophy of science, Cambridge University (October 2015); originally developed for conference on Dark Data (Exeter, December 2014).
  • “Scaffolding and Bootstrapping: How Archaeological Evidence Bites Back”: CLMPS 2015 Invited Speaker (Helsinki, August 2015); 2015 Res Philosophica Lecture (St. Louis University, March 2015); Rock, Bone and Ruin, conference keynote address (Sydney University, May 2014).
  • “Archaeological Data and Databases”: ERC workshop, What is Data-intensive Science? (Exeter, December 2014).
  • “Collaborative Stewardship: Appropriation by Another Name?”: Ethics and Aesthetics of Archaeology, conference keynote lecture (Durham University, November 2014).
  • “A Sustainable Epistemology: The Challenges of Collaboration Across Disciplines and Communities”: plenary panel, Resilience and Sustainability: What We Are Learning from the Maya and Other Ancient Cultures? (University of Minnesota, November 2013).
  • "Standpoint Matters: Transformative Criticism in Archaeology" Interamerican Philosophical Society, plenary lecture (Salvador, Brazil, October 2013).
  • "Epistemic Diversity: The Advantages of Collaborative Practice": 2013 Springer Lecture, European Philosophy of Science Association (Helsinki, August 2013).
  • “Collateral Evidence: Ethnographic Analogy Revisited”: 2013 Mulvaney Lecture (Australian National University, March 2013); 2013 British Society for the Philosophy of Science, plenary lecture (University of Exeter, July 2013); Department of Anthropology, University of Queensland (May 2014).
  • “Negotiating the Past: Collaborative Practice in Archaeology”: School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University (March 2013); Institute for Historical Research, King’s College London (November 2012)
  • “Feminist Philosophy of Science: Standpoint Matters”: 2012 Presidential Address, Pacific Division APA (Seattle, April 2012).