As a cultural resource management archaeologist, I always hated hearing the following suggestion; “I know what. Let’s schedule a meeting.” Most of the time this came from my clients because most of the other CRMers I knew hated them as much as I do.
In CRM, the number of meetings we attend is dwarfed by the quantity our clients have to put up with. Perhaps that’s because we don’t have as much time to waste as the firms and organizations operated by a demographic I like to call “The Email People.” You know who I mean; those whose entire career and workday centers around writing, forwarding, and cataloging emails. They produce very little other than gigabytes of poorly written technical gibberish and Cover-Your-A$$ CCs. When they’re not doing emails, The Email People are busy scheduling and attending meetings.
I am convinced that 90% of all meetings are the brainchild of The Email People in their quest to justify their jobs. Which brings me to the topic of this post—the rapid rise in the number of bullsh*t jobs in the United States. And, the way many of our clients think CRM archaeologists are part of this rise in employment manure.
What exactly is a Bullsh*t job?
Good question. I just talked about how The Email People hold many of the BS jobs that exist in our society but who does and does not have a BS job is all a matter of perspective. We all know there are more mid-level managers than necessary. But it’s not just supervisors. “Service” industry employment is expanding across the Western World and a large quantity of these jobs technically qualify as BS. You’re probably aware of how most workers feel about this. Ever seen Office Space?
Economists and anthropologists are aware of this expansion in BS jobs. Between 1910 and 2000, professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers tripled—growing from a quarter to three quarters of total employment in the United States. The rise of employees that do not actually produce anything—not even a CRM technical report, project proposal, or shovel probe—seems like a contradiction in how economics is supposed to work. Machines were supposed to make businesses more efficient, which was supposed to free us from manual labor and allow us to pursue more useful pursuits. This has not happened. Instead, many of us have bullsh*t jobs—positions where nothing is produced, no problems are solved; nevertheless, it takes 60 hours a week for us to do these jobs.
Anthropologist David Graeber has researched the rise of BS jobs and has divided them into five neat categories. Just to make things interesting, I’ve added commentary on the prevalence of CRMers that fit into these categories:
Here are the five categories of BS jobs according to David Graeber:
1) Flunkies: Folks whose job is to make someone else look good. Managers need people to manage. Many of their employees fall into this category. “If you don’t have anybody sitting at their desk, you’re not a real executive.”
PREVALENCE IN CRM: Low. We don’t have the money to hire people just to make our supervisors look good.
2) Goons: People who have jobs because there are similar positions at other companies. Graeber places telemarketers, corporate lawyers, and armies in this category. “If nobody had an army, we wouldn’t need armies.”
PREVALENCE IN CRM: Moderate. I guess safety officers, lab directors, project managers, the folks in marketing, and crew chiefs fall in this category; but, the difference in CRM is that these people also do other things. Project managers and PIs are usually doing the marketing. The safety officer and lab director are also crew chiefs. Crew chiefs do the work of field techs who do the actual labor and, sometimes, contribute to technical reports. Either CRM has super goons or doesn’t have them at all. You decide.
3) Duct Tapers: There to fix a problem that does not need to exist. “If you have a leaky roof, rather than hire a roofer you just put a bucket under the leak and pay somebody to empty the water every half hour.”
PREVALENCE IN CRM: Low. Again, we don’t have the money to hire duct tapers. Usually, we just keep working with poorly operating organizational systems for decades until the company gets sold to a more efficient company.
4) Box Tickers: “People who are there to allow an organization to say they’re doing something that they’re not really doing.” Graeber uses the example of a person who worked at a care home and had the job of interviewing residents about what type of entertainment they’d like to have. This person collected all the data and tabulated it but the company never launched any of the recommended initiatives.
PREVALENCE IN CRM: Moderate. There are some of these folks but not nearly as many as in government or larger corporations. Safety officers come to mind because CRM companies have to comply with their clients’ safety programs but many CRM companies scoff at occupational hygiene (see my thread about health and safety in CRM to see how I feel about this).
Of course, our clients tend to think the entire CRM industry is Box Tickers. This is the origins of their sentiment that CRM is BS. But, our recommendations are more likely to be heeded than that of a true Box Ticker.
5) Taskmasters: “People who are there to either supervise people who don’t need supervising or make up new bullsh*t jobs.”
PREVALENCE IN CRM: High, especially in larger companies. There is a need to supervise new hires and inexperienced CRMers but why do companies have positions like “Head of the Historic Department”? Or, “CFOs” that don’t actually know about business, or “Regional Managers”? What is a Regional Manager in CRM doing? The same thing as an office manager but for fewer individuals? Or, are they doing even less? If you have a business plan and organizational research goals, why do you need a mid-level manager whose job is to tell subordinates how to execute things that have been clearly be articulated by an office’s manager or the company’s CEO? Why do you need three bosses editing your report contribution? Four people weighing in via an email chain about changing the header on a figure? Do we really need this?
Graeber explains that the number of jobs in the “service” sector have exploded since 1990 and the number of hours we work has risen despite the efficiency that comes along with increased automation and technology. Our concept of work has shifted because most production now focuses on maintaining ever-growing organizational structures. Work no longer means producing a product.
Our concept of employment has also changed. People are seeking a job rather than to contribute to society. They’re looking for someone to pay them to do something, rather than doing something worthwhile and getting paid for their efforts. This has always been with us but it used to be contingent upon creating a product.
You are free to disagree with my commentary or Graeber’s typology, but never forget: many of our clients feel like our entire industry is BS. Indeed, you could use Graeber’s typology to demonstrate the uselessness of the entire endeavor of cultural resource management. However, there is one thing that prevents CRM from being entirely BS: The fact that we have the potential to make a contribution to the common good.
Our racket is helping people orient themselves in the world
As practiced across the nation, the CRMer as a box-checking minion is why so many of our clients think our industry is bullsh*t. The fact our clients belong to The Email People demographic is why we think their jobs are BS. There is truth to both of these perspectives; however, when done well, cultural resource management, historic preservation, and heritage conservation helps create community assets that continue giving back to local communities long after our work is done. Just like a new high-speed rail line can help a city prosper, reduce CO2 emissions, and ease traffic commutes, the archaeological studies conducted in anticipation of that rail line’s construction helps us learn about the past. This knowledge can be used to help local communities better know themselves.
Archaeological knowledge is important for the elucidation of heritage. Heritage is central to placemaking. Place contributes to authenticity, which is something people around the world are searching for.
In this tumultuous time, human beings are searching for something authentic that can help ground their lives. That’s what “Make America Great,” “Yes, We Can,” “The Silent Majority,” and all political jingoism feeds upon—the fact that so many people feel like they have lost their bearing in life. Many of us feel lost. We feel like our values are gone. We feel like the meaning of life has changed. Politicians are capitalizing on this feeling. Unfortunately, we may have given politicians too much agency over our lives.
Archaeology has the potential to help connect communities to their past. This connection complicates political narratives and has the potential to overcome past injustice. It makes it harder for politicians and companies to brainwash us because we know where our roots belong.
Community-based participatory archaeology allows local residents an opportunity to contribute to archaeological research. Networked heritage can help communities articulate their distinctiveness; tell us what makes them unique and authentic. Community based work like this is not easy but it can be rewarding. Cultural resource management has the potential to contribute to both of these strategies.
It is this potential to contribute to something greater, something that could improve somebody’s community, that prevents CRM archaeology from becoming a bullsh*t job. Our work is part of something bigger. Don’t let The Email People take this away from you.
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