Anarchy and Archaeology: Contesting Hierarchy, Power, and Authority in the Past and Today

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

Archaeological conceptions of power, authority, and inequality have been undergoing significant changes in the last few decades, both in terms of how the discipline conducts itself as well as in how archaeologists interpret their study matter. To the level that researchers strive to create more balanced relationships with collaborators, develop openness to alternative ontologies, and investigate the active nature of egalitarian social systems, many in the discipline are turning towards policies, methods, and interpretations that emphasize decentralized leadership and more balanced social relations. This session questions whether the application of Anarchist Theory, a growing field of inquiry with deep historical roots, can be beneficially applied to both the interpretation of past cultures and how archaeologists apply our research within a wider political world. In the past, archaeologists rarely engaged with Anarchist Theory, although aspects of anarchism, such as the concern over alienation from decision-making and the need to constantly combat incipient power centralization, permeate the archaeological literature. Papers within this session will explore the ways in which a more explicit engagement with Anarchist Theory can open new avenues of research, inform novel interpretations, or affect relations with collaborators and other invested parties.

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  • Documents (7)

  • Anarchy, Archaeology, and the Decolonization of Collaborative Heritage (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Edward Gonzalez-Tennant.

    This paper explores the relationship between anarchism, collaborative archaeology, and the decolonization of African diaspora heritage in the US and Caribbean. The heart of anarchism as a political theory articulates a robust criticism of hierarchy, and neatly intersects growing interests in collaborative archaeology and heritage. This represents a crucial intersection as the majority of archaeological projects remains rigidly hierarchical, often resulting in the silencing of local stakeholder...

  • Animate landscapes and the transference of authority: resistance to hierarchy among hunter-gatherers of the Eastern Woodlands (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew Sanger.

    Traditional conceptions of power, hierarchy, and inequity focus on the relations between and among human communities. To a certain extent, objects and places are considered important aspects of human relations, but they are largely framed as inanimate tools wielded by human actors. This prevalent view is threatened by a rich body of research among non-Western societies that shows non-human things, places, and animals are often considered to be powerful beings imbued with agency and efficacy....

  • Fields of Resistance: Reflections on Archaeology and Anarchist Praxis (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Theresa Kintz.

    In this paper I offer personal reflections on my experiences as an anarchist archaeologist. I’ll be addressing how my perspective has shaped my interpretation of material culture and landscape; describe my experiences as a CRM field archaeologist organizing to resist exploitation, lobbying for a more egalitarian profession and recognition of our unique form of archaeological knowledge; analyze the eco-anarchist movement’s appropriation of anthropological and archaeological data and...

  • Hidden Revolutions: Re-examining Transitions in the American Southwest from an Anarchist and Network Perspective (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lewis Borck.

    Globally, archaeologists often talk about cultural change as a dynamic, directional process that leads toward either failure (collapse, reorganization, abandonment, and "stability") or state level societies. This evokes a unilinear evolutionary framework that most admit is flawed. But what if state level societies were not the "pinnacle" of human civilization? What if states represent societal failure instead? From this position, often glossed over historic periods may stand out as lynchpins...

  • On the War Machine (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Severin Fowles.

    This paper takes up the writings of Clastres, Deleuze and Guattari on the core premise that war is a driving sociological principle in societies that have successfully opposed the development of state organization. My first goal is an attempt at clarification: if predatory military exploits are involved in the consolidation of most, if not all, states, what did Clastres mean when, in contrast, he wrote about the centrifugal logic of the war machine in non-state societies? My second goal is to...

  • Potsherds, Paving Stones, and Puppets: Possible Paths for an Anarchist Archaeology (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James Birmingham.

    This presentation will explain three possible strains an anarchist archaeology might pursue. While I will briefly explain how my own work in the related field of material culture studies relates to anarchist scholarship, the focus will be on exploring what an anarchist archaeology might look like. In brief one focuses on the far past or perceived "past" and what we may learn from it; the next on more recent resistance and alternative political forms; and the final on the contemporary anarchist...

  • Questioning the Capitalist Lens: Anarchism as a Critical Theory for Assessing Sociopolitical Dynamics in the Past (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bill Angelbeck.

    Archaeologists can view the societies of the archaeological record through the lens of their contemporary experience. I will explore how archaeologists have viewed past societies in terms of their experience within states based in capitalism. Some identify "rational economic actors" primarily as pursuing individual gain, or others find "aggrandizers" as the active, entrepreneurial agents of change in past societies. These arguments propound the socioeconomic dynamics of capitalist societies...