WAC-9 had been twice delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic; it was originally scheduled for summer 2020, then summer 2021, before finally being delivered in hybrid form in 2022. There were approximately 350 delegates at the conference, with a truly global range of participants. At any given time, there were eight simultaneous sessions running.
We saw the organisation of an Ethics Bowl as a good way to raise RPA’s international visibility and to promote the Register to new audiences.
The session was accepted on to the conference programme, as the “WAC Archaeological Ethics Bowl“. RPA agreed that the two other members of RPA’s Ethics Committee, Katie Chiou and Danny Perez, who organised the successful Ethics Bowl at SAA 2022 in Chicago, would attend WAC-9 in addition to Kenneth Aitchison to organise, promote and manage the WAC Ethics Bowl.
The session was allocated to the Congress Centre’s Board room, rather than one of the lecture theatres, and was timetabled for a whole day on Thursday 7th, the third day of the Congress. This room could accommodate a maximum of 15 people, and so it was decided that we could not stage a competitive Ethics Bowl, but rather an Ethics Debate in the style of an event RPA ran at AAA 2021 conference, where delegates discussed the issues presented in a series of cases, but did not present arguments and counterarguments to be judged
Eight cases from previous SAA Ethics Bowls were selected that we could use as discussion cases in the session, and after arriving at WAC, in the days before the session we actively encouraged people to attend and contribute – we had printed business cards with the details and handed many out.
The session ran successfully, over the course of a full day. Delegates were free to join the session as they saw fit (moving in from, or out to other sessions at breaks through the day).
We led discussion of seven cases, with between 45 minutes and an hour spent on each. For each case, discussion was preceded by presentations of RPA and RPA’s objectives in terms of ethics, of what ethics bowls and debates in archaeology are, and an explanation of how each case would be run. The case was read out, colleagues in the room also had paper copies, and a small number of online contributors followed the discussion.
For each case, between six and ten WAC delegates contributed to the discussion, with a total of approaching 20 colleagues attending in total. Representatives from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, China, Korea, UK, US, India, Australia, Canada, Germany, Bulgaria and Lebanon all contributed in the room across the day.
Discussion was remarkably free-flowing, with participants confidently presenting a wide range of well-considered different perspectives, experiences and opinions on each case study. Every attendee was able to actively contribute, and throughout discussion remained cordial and open – at one point, after hearing the case, one participant exclaimed ‘that was me!’ – they had been in a very similar situation, and felt able to discuss just how that had affected them and how they had dealt with it. Another delegate shared their feeling that it was a safe place to express their opinions in front of strangers, which they had not expected to be able to do at a high-profile academic conference.
At competitive Ethics Bowls, we have found that the student teams tend to focus on Codes and Standards as canonical articles of faith, and all arguments are presented in terms of these, with an intention of presenting a solution (all cases set out a scenario that a fictional individual is in, and all end with – ‘what should that individual do?’); here at WAC, we found that the discussion was much more exploratory, considering the situations in much more detail without paying as much attention to presenting a neat ‘resolution’.
The conversation was remarkably energising, and didn’t flag – which left the three organisers simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted when the session ended.
Many people expressed interest in finding out more about RPA, and Claire Smith, the former President of WAC, attended one of the cases and told us that she was really impressed and that this was definitely the sort of thing WAC should be supporting. She encouraged us to propose a publication about Ethics Bowls to the WAC One World Archaeology series.
A couple of the doctoral students who attended the Ethics Bowl told us that this session was the best part of their attendance at WAC-9.
We feel that the session was a considerable success. RPA made a very positive impact at the WAC Congress, and on WAC Officers past and present, and we should ensure that this relationship is maintained and that momentum is not lost.