National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Fiona Greenland

Affiliation: University of Virginia

Fiona Rose Greenland is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Assistant Professor of Anthropology (by courtesy). She works at the intersection of cultural sociology, comparative and historical sociology, and archaeology. The core issue she investigates is the role of artifactual culture in modern social life. To do this, she uses mixed qualitative methods that attend to individual and group interpretive practices, the nexus of art, money, and meaning, and the historical contingencies of institutional authority over cultural materials. Prof. Greenland has conducted fieldwork in archaeological sites, museums, and antiquities shops in Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation. Recent publications include Ruling Culture: Art Police, Tomb Robbers, and the Rise of Cultural Power in Italy (Chicago, 2021), Cultural Violence and the Destruction of Human Communities (with Fatma Müge Göçek) (Routledge, 2020), “Long-range Continuities in Comparative and Historical Sociology” (Theory & Society, 2020), and “Theory of an Art Market Scandal” (with Amy Whitaker) (American Journal of Cultural Sociology, 2021). Her book Ruling Culture received the 2022 Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book in Culture from the American Sociological Association.


In 2018, the Italian Art Squad announced the conclusion of a four-year investigation into a vast looting network that traversed five European countries. “Operation Demeter” was the largest investigation in the unit’s history. It recovered 20,000 artifacts valued at some 40 million Euros, and resulted in the arrest of 23 people. What did Operation Demeter teach us about the looting and selling of archaeological materials? Today, nearly five years onward, what happened to the people caught in the dragnet, and what has changed – if anything – in the looting landscape? This lecture is aimed at audiences with a general interest in cultural heritage and Roman archaeology, and can be adapted for a more specialized/mixed audience.

Based on the author’s 2021 book, “Ruling Culture” is a 45-minute talk that explains the complicated relationship between tomb robbers (“tombaroli”) and the Italian government. Since 1909, all antiquities are de facto property of the Italian state, and tomb robbing in all forms is illegal. The elite Art Police (Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale) operates a sophisticated investigatory net across the country. Nevertheless, tomb robbing persists. Based on in-depth archival, interview, and observational evidence, “Ruling Culture” argues that tomb robbing is now structurally embedded in the Italian state’s governance of antiquities.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Fiona Greenland (2021), Ruling Culture: Art Police, Tomb Robbers, and the Rise of Cultural Power in Italy. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)

The term “cultural genocide” is often invoked when archaeological materials and sites are destroyed in war zones – including recent conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. But the relationship between cultural destruction and civilian casualties is far from clear. New forms of data are contributing to our understanding of the role of archaeology and other cultural heritage materials in war. This talk will provide a current state-of-theory with evidence from the Syrian war.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

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