This paper will demonstrate, through recent fieldwork and political engagements in Bristol, UK, the potential for a new kind of political archaeology, not based around supporting political parties or facilitating community engagement as ends in themselves, but around creating new kinds of knowledge that can be used to influence politics and politicians at the highest levels.
INTRODUCTION: BIG P, SMALL p
The phrase ‘archaeology is a political act’ is oft repeated, but as with any such definitive phrase when used in academia each word of it has multiple meanings. For instance ‘is’. Well, it is not always. Archaeology can be a political act and archaeology sometimes is a political act, but this is not a universal truth. Likewise, the word archaeology can be taken different ways itself. There is academic archaeology, private sector archaeology, public archaeology, uses of archaeology in the heritage industry and so on, all intrinsically connected, but each with nuances different enough to render universality meaningless.
In this paper, I wish to put forward the possibility that contemporary forms of archaeological thought and investigation can play a role in redefining the ways in which politicians engage with ordinary people and everyday situations. Rather than limiting themselves to facilitating community engagement or lobbying politicians in relation to heritage legislation, I will suggest that archaeologists can move towards using their unique perspectives on contemporary and historic environments to change the very way in which the connection between archaeology and politics is conceived, using archaeological investigation to understand the nature of contemporary politics and feeding this back into the wider system of policy making instead of merely working within the confines of existing heritage legislation.