Thursday, 27 February 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: It's not just snobbism

UK metal detectorist Steve Broom is a rare bird, he's in senior management, so unlike the majority of his fellows, has the nous to be able to analyse an argument properly and articulate his own opinion. He's all for working together to understand a common past, a laudable aim I support entirely. His take on the "Maidstone A20 Trashed Grave Scandal" (comment 26 February 2014 13:12) is entirely, therefore, predictable:
What's important here is that people learn from this... You are right, the hole and pictures don't look good. Lets get over that and start talking about how it could have been done differently so that when the next significant find is made the detecting community can put this learning into practice and prove that it truly has been handled "responsibly".
I am glad of those scare quotes. As I have pointed out repeatedly, I think his approach (which is that of the Archaeological Establishment and all the rest - embodied in the PAS) is based on false premises. It somehow imagines that we are dealing with a bunch of blokes who are essentially like ourselves. But are they? The evidence we see from their own interactions among each other and with us suggests a different picture ('Normal People and Intelligent Discussion', Tuesday, 4 February 2014). The approach that we can "talk about it" assumes that there is a possibility to talk about this openly and frankly. Experience shows that, with all the best will in the world, it quite simply is not (just take a look at this comments thread for just one example). Without that, there is no possibility of the detecting community learning something from an exchange of views and thus no way to "put this learning into practice".

It seems to me that constant urging to "start" using a "liaison/partnership" model is totally missing the point. In the UK, we have already had sixteen years (more in Kent) doing precisely that. The PAS has (should have been) been banging its head against a brick wall "talking about how it can be done differently" all that time to all those thousands of finders they claim to have been talking to.

The trouble is that it seems, from everything one observes, that in actual fact the capacity for the average UK detectorist to understand any of this rocket-science type stuff is pretty limited. It stands to reason that "the UK detecting community" cannot put any "learning into practice" if it is basically, for certain reasons having an origin outside the hobby, unable to learn anything at all. I would point out that this perhaps should be phrased the other way round, I do not believe that it is detecting that causes these problems, I would rather say there is a tendency for detecting in the UK to attract a certain group of people.  PAS characterised them in social terms by postcode data, Minister Lammy saw them as including a lot of people "challenged by formal education". 

I am forever being criticised for sharing my observation that many of the people you come across on the UK detecting forums etc. are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, and many cannot even operate Basic English. My critics think it is an irrelevance and it is mean-spirited of me to note this. I do however, because for me it is is a fundamental fact which is the biggest stumbling block in the current "they can be educated/they can learn" model which is applied across the board in the UK. Many of the people the PAS are dealing with, or want to deal with, demonstrably cannot be educated, cannot learn. They're adults, have been right through school, but somehow we see time and time again in what they write and say, came out with basic skills missing. Low standards of literacy on such a scale in a certain group mean something, they do not happen by accident.

This is a problem which the PAS will not tell you about. But I bet it causes them all sorts of problems in their outreach. But shhhhhhh.... So if many of the "partners" cannot learn, they will not, so where does that put us? Shrug shoulders and turn away? Or advocate considering another approach? How long can we ignore the question, and pretend the problem simply does not exist?

Vignette:  Some people, with problems of their own, prefer confrontation to self-reflection.


Steven Broom said...

Hi Paul...

I don't think that there is any benefit in questioning the intellect and intelligence levels of metal detectorist's. People of all walks of life take up detecting and it is unfair to generalise. Since starting my blog, I have seen some disgraceful behaviour, language and attitudes displayed on blogs and forums in relation to metal detecting (from both sides). I can only speak for what I am trying to do....and that is lead by example...Hopefully some might follow.

Paul Barford said...

There is no benefit in pretending that they are ALL what some of them clearly are NOT. Ignoring any problem is no way to deal with it.

Some "might" follow and that no doubt is ground for warm fuzzy feelings towards those that do, but then that is merely a passive approach and they are not the ones causing the problems.

What to do about those who are? Ignore them? Ignore that there IS a problem? Or should we be honest about its source before we can work out what to do about it?

heritageaction said...

Steve, I'm afraid I DO think pointing out that although some detectorists are obviously intelligent and educated, the activity DOES attract the other sort in considerable numbers. Portable antiquities policy has to bear that in mind to be effective.

Let's face it, without the latter group there'd be no problem. It wasn't brain surgeons who took home all the gold sovereigns from Twinstead and it wasn't 40 rocket scientists who stood by in Kent without a word of caution while national heritage was wrecked and it's not people with a modicum of understanding of civic responsibility who don't report finds in their thousands.

Lots of smart detectorists admit in private they despair of many of their colleagues so why must it not be mentioned by others?

Bravo if you wish to be an exemplar but don't expect a huge response. Britain has spent many millions proving that most detectorists cannot be persuaded or educated. IMO that should be admitted and sanctions applied to ensure they DO behave, like happens in every other walk of life. Kent was, to all intents and purposes, a heritage crime. What's wrong with formalising it? If it had been things would have been better, they'd have a. left it alone and b. protected it overnight and everyone would have been better off. The fact it didn't happen like that WAS due to stupidity and lack of sanctions. Bet you can't disagree.

James Warr said...

I think the real problem here, Paul, is that these 'Un-edcuated oiks' are doing more to preserve history than yourself, or any other archeologist.

That must really, really sting.

Judging by your bitterness, it obviously does. I'd recommend you buy a Detector as quickly as possible, and save some history. Hopefully, you can then feel like you've actually achieved something concerning history in your life.

I'm sure you won't, though. You'll just read more books, and bitch on the internet, whilst the 'Un-educated oiks' do the work for you.

Well done, Paul.

(How many rare and beautiful Saxon finds have you made in your career, Paul?)

Paul Barford said...

Well, let's see what can one say about that? No, words fail me. I give up.

What does someone like this imagine is meant by "preserving history"?

"I'm sure you won't, though. You'll just read more books..."
Yes sad man that I am, I'll just keep reading those books and papers, writing a few, editing a few and wondering why my head keeps getting filled with these ideas and words.

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