Archaeology and education in South Africa : towards a People's Archaeology

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The topic of this dissertation developed out of the 1980s era of resistance to Apartheid. At that time, mass-campaigns produced the concept of People's Education, which challenged established State-structures. People's Education was based on participatory democracy and drew on communities' knowledge rather than state-sanctioned knowledge. The concept of People's Archaeology is a product of that time-period. It focuses on involving communities in the practice of archaeology, beyond the stage of consultation. Within the forthcoming election process, Black communities are to be empowered politically and this empowerment has, in other countries seen an accompanying growth in concerns about identity, cultural property and ownership. I argue that identity politics will be crucial in the future South African society and that archaeology will play an important role in this debate. The discipline faces transformation in the coming decade and education will be critical in this change. In this dissertation I contend that past attempts at popular education in archaeology have had very limited success. Archaeology still remains a discipline unknown to the majority of South Africans. This dissertation explores the reasons for the limited success of these attempts by critically examining the structure of the discipline in South Africa, and the perception that it creates to the public. It also goes further by exploring an alternative to these efforts at popular education through the use of principles and methods developed in People's Education. This project takes the debate about People's Archaeology beyond theory and attempts to implement some of the ideas through two projects, one dealing with an excavation, the other focusing on the production of a popular resource. I explore the pitfalls and benefits of these projects and make recommendations concerning the future of the discipline.

Bibliography: pages 167-177.

Accompanied by: Faizal's journey : discovering the past through objects.