The World Archaeological Congress (WAC) was founded in 1986 as a global forum for anyone interested in making archaeology relevant to the wider community and to promote international academic interaction across the gap in archaeological practice and theorisation between developed and less developed countries. Global social archaeologies reflects its origin at WAC, for it is authored by the current (Koji Mizoguchi) and immediate past (Claire Smith) presidents of the organisation. Their goal in this book is to present a representative array of WAC's theoretical, methodological, areal and political concerns.
Global social archaeologies comprises an introduction to orient readers, followed by eight substantive chapters and then a very brief conclusion about the relationship of social archaeology to social justice and human rights (Chapter 9). Although there are no defined sections organising the chapters, the volume is essentially structured so that the theoretical underpinning comes first (Chapters 1–3), with the following chapters, while still theoretically informed, taking a more problem-oriented approach. These subsequent chapters (4–8) showcase a WAC perspective on issues such as: memory and monuments (Chapter 4); archaeology and nation-building (Chapter 5); Indigenous archaeology (Chapter 6); archaeology's relevance to contemporary world problems (Chapter 7); and doing engaged archaeology (Chapter 8).
Chapter 1 lays out the argument that archaeology is a social practice. Chapter 2 provides a selective history of the changing approaches favoured by archaeologists working at different times (particularly in the second half of the twentieth century). Chapter 3 focuses on Giddens, material agency, phenomenology and posthumanism, which together lead to a chapter summary that restates the nature and purview of social archaeology. What distinguishes social archaeology is the archaeologist's conscious reference to and use of “traces of past social practices” (p. 23).
Chapter 4 (‘Materiality, memory and monuments’) is tremendously current at this very moment of widespread conflict over statues and memorials. The authors' comparative discussion of these monuments in places such as the USA, Latvia, Australia and Germany, for example, is strongly theorised, and I expect this chapter to be much used and cited.
Mizoguchi's deep experience in Japan is reflected in the treatment, in Chapter 5, of the Kofun tumuli, and this parallels Smith's long-term fieldwork with Australian Aboriginal communities, presented in Chapter 6. This chapter expands the discussion of Indigenous archaeology from Australia to the wider global context—there are 370 million Indigenous people in the world with a presence on every continent. Its breadth of coverage, clear emphasis on ethics and co-creation, and cogent choice of ethnographic examples means that this chapter should also be readily adopted for classroom use.
Chapter 7 presents the emergent field of contemporary archaeology with a particularly informative characterisation of its practice and subject matter as ‘Archaeologies of contemporary worlds’. The authors trace the rise and evolution of this focus, showing how it may be applied to any domain of lived experience. This chapter reads as a foundational text.
The ‘Emergence of engaged archaeology’ in Chapter 8 moves the volume even more deliberately into the advocacy role of social archaeology. Here the emphasis is on long-term relationships with communities “to directly address the social, economic, and political challenges that they face” (p. 239). I would offer the caution that despite the best intentions, archaeologists typically are not trained in development work, and we may lack the background knowledge, expertise and experience to co-effect the desired outcomes. Nor should social archaeologists be working alone professionally in these high stakes engagements.
The book is further enriched by interspersed ‘boxes’ written by archaeologists from around the global WACsphere. These are listed in their own table of contents and constitute multiple voices speaking to the principal foci in Chapters 1–8. Mizoguchi's study of the Kofun tumuli in Japan, for example, is paralleled by Sandra López Varela's comparative commentary on archaeology and nation-building in Mexico and Natalia Shirakova's comparative commentary on archaeology and nation-building in Russia. In each chapter, two or three authors from widely different geographic and intellectual backgrounds offer their regional perspectives in succinct essays in these ‘boxes’.
Mizoguchi and Smith persuasively present the argument that archaeology is a social practice with an essentially political purpose in today's global world. They exhort archaeologists to recognise and act upon colonisation, ethics, human rights, structural violence, cultural property, intellectual property and social justice—among other issues. They argue that archaeologists are responsible for their own practice of archaeology—archaeologists have agency in determining the character of their field through the choices they make about what to study, with whom to engage, towards what goal and with what anticipated community impact and broader outcomes. Global social archaeologies is an important contribution to the field that its authors have been active in defining.