Undoing and Redoing Archaeological Practice: Archaeology as technique across prehistory, history, and the contemporary

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

Archaeologies of the contemporary have begun to rethink and repurpose the tools (material, methodological, and epistemological) of archaeological practice, in order to study the contemporary moment, responding to a variety of new theoretical and political commitments. Similarly, a motley crew of 'social archaeologists' (for lack of a better term), working in a wide variety of prehistoric and historic contexts, have been exploring their dissatisfactions with traditional archaeological methodologies (and their attendant epistemologies) and the constraints they place on our understandings of the past (and present). The purpose of this session is to open a conversation between these groups, centered on understanding how archaeological methodologies function as techniques (in the Foucauldian sense) that anchor and participate in the production of certain forms of knowledge. It welcomes contributions that explore the histories and genealogies of archaeological techniques and knowledges, re-think archaeological methodologies through their use in answering questions about the contemporary moment or the past, and/or consider the multiple, complicated temporalities and geographies that can be produced through archaeological practices. The hope is that this session will provoke conversations that transgress the boundaries of the contemporary and the past in fruitful ways, critically interrogating archaeology as a powerful technique of knowledge production.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-6 of 6)

  • Documents (6)

  • Crossing the Line (Part I): Making taphonomy work for social practices in prehistory (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Hannah Chazin.

    This paper is the first part of a two-part exploration of the use of taphonomy as an archaeological technique across prehistoric archaeology and the archaeology of the contemporary. Parts I and II are a dialogue, through which both authors have re-approached their own work on taphonomy as an archaeological method and analytic. Part I is an exploration of how approaching taphonomy as history opens up the possibility of exploring the political ramifications of pastoral practices. The...

  • Crossing the Line (Part II): Taphonomies of toxicity in Contemporary Archaeology (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Haeden Stewart.

    This paper is the second part of a two-part dialogue on the use of taphonomy as an archaeological technique in both prehistoric archaeology and the archaeology of the contemporary. Part II explores how using the concept of taphonomy to study the accumulation of harmful toxins in the environment and in the human body opens up new avenues of study for an archaeology of human-environment interactions in the contemporary nuclear and industrial age. Intimately tied to the waste of human activity,...

  • Excavating Slow Violence Across the Modern/Premodern Divide (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Amanda Logan.

    Archaeology as a technique allows us to make visible processes of "slow violence" (Nixon 2011) that unfold over time, providing a critical temporal dimension to understanding how and why modern inequalities come to be. In this paper I attempt to reconcile why "prehistory" matters to understanding structural violence in recent times. While archaeologists of the contemporary and recent past have long used archaeology to make visible the experiences of structural violence among subaltern groups,...

  • Identity Performance and Material Culture: Exploring the Limits of Archaeological Inquiry Into Social Group Identity with a Massive Assemblage of Bar-Associated Trash from Urban America (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Anthony Graesch. Timothy Hartshorn.

    Social identity is an elusive subject of inquiry in the archaeological past. Even in the contemporary, we know that expressions of identities are temporary and relational as well as an outcome of socially performative assertions, contestations, and negotiations. Nevertheless, the reconstruction of social identities is a driving aspiration of all archaeological inquiry at one level or another. This paper highlights a multi-year project that explores how discontinuous variation in socially...

  • Power and Nature: A Contemporary Archaeology of Yosemite National Park (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Chenoweth.

    Parks are the creation of established power structures, and are themselves statements about power over nature. Visitors to these parks, however, negotiate these structures in their own ways. Often, historical archaeological analysis focuses on power struggles: domination and resistance between classes, races, genders, etc. This paper analyzes how some of the tools of these more traditional archaeological analyses apply to the present. A contemporary archaeology of litter in Yosemite has explored...

  • Prosthetic Angels: Empirical Anxiety and Rationalizing Vision in Archaeology (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kathryn Franklin.

    Working from tensions within historical and landscape archaeology, this paper examines the stress expressed by the question: "how can we know what happened in the past if we weren’t there?" This query shapes much of the analytical framework within archaeology and underlies anxious discussions of archaeology’s status as a ‘real’ science. At the heart of both this anxiety of "how do we know" and the ways in which we cope with it methodologically are assumptions about what facts are and how (or...