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Philosophy Speakers: Alison Wylie (Washington/Durham): "How Archaeological Evidence Bites Back: Putting Old Data to Work in New Ways"

Date & Time:
March 18, 2016 | 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Social Sciences Tower, Room 1253

About the Talk

A passion for things has taken hold in the social sciences and humanities in the form of an enthusiasm for the capacity of material evidence to bear witness to dimensions of social, cultural life that are otherwise inaccessible. As Daston puts it, the bony materiality’ of physical traces of human action sustains a certain epistemic optimism but, at the same time, she reports considerable ambivalence about their status as evidence. To make sense of how trace evidence constrains interpretative inference despite being, itself, a heavily interpreted construct I consider three strategies by which archaeologists elicit new evidence from old data. The first two – secondary retrieval and recontextualization – are a matter of reconfiguring the scaffolding that underpins evidential reasoning. The third turns on redeploying old data in the context of computational models that make possible the experimental simulation of the cultural systems and contexts under study.  

About the Speaker

Alison Wylie is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Washington (Seattle) and Durham University (UK).  She works on philosophical issues raised by archaeological practice and by feminist research in the social sciences. In both contexts a flashpoint for internal debate has been the challenge posed by constructionist and contextualist claims: that what counts as evidence is inescapably an interpretive construct, and that social, and that contextual values play a role in all aspects of inquiry. Wylie argues that polarized reactions to these claims obscure more than they illuminate; there’s much of philosophical interest to be learned about how situated knowers do their best work if we start with the messy realities of actual research practice. She focuses on questions about ideals of objectivity, the role of contextual values in research practice, models of evidential reasoning, and issues of accountability to research subjects and other stakeholders. Wylie is co-editor of Material Evidence (2015) and Value-free Science? (2007), author of Thinking from Things (2002), and contributor to collections on topics such as Objectivity in Science (2015), Evidence, Inference and Enquiry (2011), How Well do 'Facts' Travel? (2010), and Agnotology (2008). She recently completed terms as editor of Hypatia and President of the APA (Pacific Division).

Wylie's Websites:

Wylie at University of Washington

Wylie at Durham University

Wylie's Personal web page

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