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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Why Feminism Matters to Archeology: Alison Wylie Delivers Feminism & Classics Keynote May 19

Artwork of eye and Venus de Medici

Alison Wylie’s upcoming Katz Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities promises a compelling evening in its own right — and also serves as the opening keynote for the conference Feminism & Classics 7: Visions, May 19-22 at the University of Washington.

Entitled “What Knowers Know Well: Why Feminism Matters to Archaeology,” Wylie’s address will probe neglected questions about women, gender, and sexuality that have been on the archaeological agenda since the late 1980s.

Alison Wylie“Gender-inclusive archaeology has transformed what we know about the past,” said Wylie, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Washington and at Durham University, UK. “But some of its strongest advocates deny that they are engaged in feminist scholarship or influenced by feminist politics.”

Wylie questions the conviction that research is only credible if it is “value free” and argues that the critical insights of feminism are a crucial resource for empirical research in any field. She makes the case for rethinking ideals of objectivity in terms that counter epistemic injustice and mobilize the situated interests and experience of diverse knowers.

The Katz lecture, 7 pm on Thursday, May 19, in Kane Hall 120, is free and open to the public.

The lecture also frames the seventh quadrennial Feminism & Classics conference, which explores the multiple interconnections among the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and the study of feminism, women, and gender. The conference gathers a diverse group of scholars with interests in Greek and Roman antiquity as well as gender and sexuality studies, cultural history, and anthropology to discuss new research, directions for the future, feminist pedagogy, and professional issues affecting women and other minorities.

This year’s theme, Visions, links into many vibrant current concerns within classical scholarship and the humanities. It encompasses looking with fresh eyes (whether literal or metaphorical); the representation of antiquity in visual media of all kinds; the cultural implications of eyes and the gaze; new ways of visualizing the past (e.g. by digital reconstruction); the various points of view on antiquity offered by students, scholars, teachers, and the public; the epistemological status of visual evidence; and the metaphorical and metaphysical visions of theory (from the Greek theoria, "gazing").

Feminism & Classics is organized by Ruby Blondell, Deborah Kamen, Sarah Levin-Richardson, and Kathryn Topper of the UW Department of Classics. It is sponsored by the Simpson Center for the Humanities and the Department of Classics, with additional support from the Loeb Classical Library Foundation.

Find more information about Feminism & Classics 7.

More about Alison Wylie:

Alison Wylie is Professor of Philosophy and Anthropology at the University of Washington and Professor of Philosophy at Durham University, UK. Her abiding interest as a philosopher of science is in questions about how we know what we know (or think we know), especially as these arise in archaeological practice and in feminist social science. In both contexts, a flashpoint for internal debate has been a cluster of epistemic claims that many see as profoundly destabilizing: that what counts as evidence is inescapably an interpretive construct, and that social and contextual values play a role in all aspects of inquiry. Wylie argues that polarized reactions to constructionist and relativist challenges miss the point; we need to start with the messy realities of inquiry and consider how situated knowers do their best work.

In Thinking from Things (2002) Wylie develops an account of how archaeologists mobilize robust evidential constraints despite the enigmatic nature of their trace evidence using strategies of triangulation, bootstrapping, and scaffolding. These themes are further developed in two projects with archaeologist Bob Chapman, Material Evidence (2015) and Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology (in press). In recent essays on standpoint theory and the epistemic advantages of community-based collaborative practice, she articulates a conception of objectivity as a procedural ideal, best realized when research communities actively cultivate a diversity of experience, angles of vision, skills and insight. These include her 2012 Presidential Address to the American Philosophical Association Pacific Division, recent keynote lectures on “Epistemic Diversity” (2013), and a contribution to Objectivity in Science, “A Plurality of Pluralisms: Collaborative Practice in Archaeology” (2015). Wylie also works on issues of accountability to research subjects and stakeholders, with a particular focus on ideals of stewardship in archaeology.

Update - Watch the lecture:

Read more about the Katz Lecture series.