Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Archaeology of Care: Refugee Crisis in Greece

Bill Caraher posted a challenge back in September. An Archaeology of Care generated a flurry of conversations mostly off-line on how the archaeological community might respond to the refugee crisis in Greece. Archaeologists of the contemporary world have provided the theoretical and methodological framework for action. Caraher's challenge was even more pronounced among his collaborators of the North Dakota Man Camp Project. For the last four years, we have been surveying itinerant camps associated with the oil boom (see Bakken Goes Boom publication here)

Incidentally, many of the Man Camp collaborators work in Greece and Caraher's challenge was the following. How do we take the methodology from studying encampments of prosperity to studying encampments of suffering? We haven't answered the question, but we all know. It is going to be impossible to go to Greece this summer and not tackle this challenge. My fieldwork in Deserted Greek Villages tackles a related phenomenon, when masses of Greeks migrated to the US after the 1893 economic crisis. Refugees and refugee management is central to the history of my foreign school, the American School of Classical Studies, who in 1932 excavated the Athenian Agora because of refugee encampment (above) -- see Nikki Sakka, "The Excavation of the Ancient Agora of Athens: The Politics of Commissioning and Managing the Project," Yannis Hamilakis, etc.

Over the last six months, Bill Caraher, Richard Rothaus, and I have been initiating a number of conversations with as many people as possible to figure this one out. Our first conversations was with cultural anthropologists with deep roots in the study of asylums in Greece. The Modern Greek Studies Association has been an incredible forum for these conversations, particularly in the 2015 conference in Atlanta. Under the leadership of Despina Lalaki, the MGSA drafted a selection of volunteer organizations and made it part of our official website. The MGSA Occasional Papers (edited by Neni Panourgia) has also been an important platform of discussion, see Katerina Stefatos, Dimitris Papadopoulos, and Chloe Howe Haralambous, "Notes From The Border: Refugee Lives and Necropolitics In The Aegean, August-November 2015" (MGSA Occasional Papers 8), Heath Cabot, "The Banality of Solidarity" (MGSA Occasional Papers 7), and Theo Rakopoulos, "Solidarity, Ethnography, and the De-instituting of Dissent" (MGSA Occasional Papers 6). Heath Cabot's book, On the Doorsteps of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece is an important starting point.

What makes the refugee crisis academically exceptional is that the Island of Lesbos houses Greece's only department of cultural anthropology (here) and has already produced critical scholarship. Katerina Rozakou's research is crucial here. This semester, I am using The Biopolitics of Hospitality in Greece: Humanitarianism and the Management of Refugees in an International Studies course. So, Bill and I spoke with Katerina in the Fall to get a better sense of what the fieldwork possibilities might be. Katerina sobered us up. The number of NGOs that have gathered in Lesbos is staggering, and this was before Susan Sarandon, Weiwei, or Angelina Jolie arrived. Bill and I had hoped that there might be a research team already on-the-ground collecting ethnographic data onto which we could attach and supplement material culture or landscape documentation.

Six months after Bill's initial call for an archaeology of care, we have not formulated a clear plan. What has emerged from these conversations, however, are a few ideas of how to tackle the refugee crisis even in a preliminary way. Below are some specific strategies.


The goals of this project would be to record the material imprint of this historical event of great magnitude. We have a bunch of research questions formulated by the historiography on camps more generally (e.g. Charlie Hayley, Camps: A Guide to 21st Century Spaces) and our fieldwork in ND Man Camps specifically. Our collaborator Richard Rothaus has participated in archaeological relief work in Turkey (after the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, see here) and is helping us formulate short-term strategies. Our primary goal is to document a social process through physical documentation. We come to the project without a hypothesis but an urgency to capture material realities for future analysis.


As in the case of the itinerant worker camps in North Dakota, the refugee camps are temporary. Once the crisis abates, these sites will return to oblivion. But they would have captured the material imprint of their refugee biography. The long-term perspective is one of committing to returning to the sites after the populations have departed. The refugee camps are off limits now, unless we find a way to participate through a relief organization. If we plan to return post-abandonment, our goal for the archaeology of occupation is to establish a datum. We can accept that our role now might even be counter-productive, standing in the way of relief organizations.

In just the last six months, the number of formal and informal sites has been increasing in great numbers. As archaeologists of the contemporary past, we can assemble the data as it comes, whether from news coverage, or from on-ground experiences of volunteers. We are intrigued by the plethora of video coverage as part of the new landscape of activism and the possibility of using those videos as documents of physical reality. The inventory will help strategize on how to proceed with micro-analysis, mapping, and direct observation.

3.  MAP

We take inspiration from remote sensing as an important mapping tool in contemporary archaeology. This methodology has been used in the archeology of Guantanamo Bay (see, Adrian Meyers) and more recently in documenting cultural heritage destruction in Syria and Iraq. High resolution satellite imagery and other geo-spatial data can make the mapping of refugee sites possible without stepping foot on Greece.


Even without a coherent method of data collection, it is possible to streamline some ground rules on how to prospect on the ground. The collection of this kind of data will have to be collaborative. Could it be a set of guidelines, or scripts that we can follow consistently? What is the role of video or photography?


By its very precarious nature, this kind of data collection can only be managed collaboratively. None of us has the budget, time, or access to prospect everyone of Greece's sites. Using a model of collaborative data collection, possibly online, we can slowly build a significant body of data. It has become clear to me that many of the traditional summer programs in Greece are beginning to reorient their curriculum around the crisis. College Year in Athens has already formalized their response with a class on The Global Governance of Migration: Emerging Responses to Irregular Migration. I already know half a dozen of fellow academics who are volunteering their Spring Break and have gone to Greece to volunteer. September 2016 will be a very important month, as we all return from varying experiences of ad hoc investigation. That might be the time of formulating. 

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States