Research Statement

Areas of specialization: philosophy of the social and historical sciences; feminist philosophy of science; history and philosophy of archaeology; research ethics; science and technology studies.

Publication abstracts and preprints: available through PhilPapers or Dropbox.

As a philosopher of the social and historical sciences I’m committed to philosophical analysis that is grounded in an understanding of research practice in the fields I study, 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 issues of accountability to those 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 questions about 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: 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 most recent work in this area arises from a collaboration with Bob Chapman, a UK-based archaeologist. We’ve published an edited volume, Material Evidence: Learning From Archaeological Practice (Routledge 2015), and a co-authored monograph, Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology (Bloomsbury 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 article entitled, “How Archaeological Evidence Bites Back” that appeared in a special issue of Values in Science and Technology on “Data Shadows” (2017).

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 recognize that situated interests and non-epistemic values play a role in all aspects of scientific practice but I argue that this does not entail corrosive relativism; 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 make a compelling case 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 find feminist standpoint theory to be a valuable resource for meeting this challenge and set out a framework for standpoint-informed analysis in my 2012 APA (Pacific Division) Presidential address, “Why Standpoint Matters,” and in 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, anchored in analysis of several case studies that I have explored in articles on, for example, the formation and impact of feminist archaeology (in Doing Archaeology as a Feminist, co-edited with Conkey, 2007; my 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 articles comparing feminist research programs in the social and life sciences that appear in Primate Encounters (edited by Strum and Fedigan, 2000), and in Value-Free Science? (co-edited with Kincaid and Dupré, OUP 2007). I anticipate completing a book manuscript, Standpoint Matters, in the next year.

In connection with my third area of interest – 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 that were adopted by the SAA in 1996. I assess this ethic in “The Promise and Perils of an Ethic of Stewardship,” a contribution to Embedding Ethics (edited by Meskell and Pells, 2005), and I have since served as an advisor to the SAA Ethics Committee that is currently 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 recently joined a UBC-funded research cluster led by Andrew Martindale on “Indigenous/Science: Partnerships in the Exploration of History and Environments”; I see this as the growing edge of my research going forward.