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Against reactionary populism: towards a new public archaeology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2018

Alfredo González-Ruibal
Institute of Heritage Sciences (Incipit), Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Avenida de Vigo s/n, 15705 Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Pablo Alonso González*
Instituto de Productos Naturales y Agrobiología (IPNA), Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Avenida Astrofisico Francisco Sánchez, 3, 38206 San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Spain
Felipe Criado-Boado
Institute of Heritage Sciences (Incipit), Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Avenida de Vigo s/n, 15705 Santiago de Compostela, Spain
*Author for correspondence (Email:


From Brazil to the United Kingdom, 2016 was a critical year in global politics. Heritage, ethics and the way that archaeologists relate to the public were and will all be affected, and it is time to reflect critically on the phenomenon of ‘reactionary populism’ and how it affects the practice and theory of archaeology. ‘Reactionary populism’ can be defined as a political form that is anti-liberal in terms of identity politics (e.g. multiculturalism, abortion rights, minority rights, religious freedom), but liberal in economic policies. It is characterised by nationalism, racism and anti-intellectualism, and as Judith Butler states in a recent interview, it wants “to restore an earlier state of society, driven by nostalgia or a perceived loss of privilege” (Soloveitchik 2016). Our intention here is to argue that the liberal, multi-vocal model of the social sciences and the humanities is no longer a viable option. Instead, we ask our colleagues to embrace an archaeology that is ready to intervene in wider public debates not limited to issues of heritage or of local relevance, is not afraid of defending its expert knowledge in the public arena, and is committed to reflective, critical teaching.

Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2018 

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