Archaeological Approaches to Subjectification

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

This symposium explores archaeological approaches to subjectification: the practices whereby people recognize authority and recognize themselves as subjects to authority. Archaeology can offer a novel perspective on subjectification because it is uniquely positioned to document the places and things (and their attendant practices) that, over time, manifest claims to identity, underline social boundaries, or undermine a political regime's claim to authority. But even though places and things are mainstays of the archaeological analytic, few archaeologists examine the roles that these materials have played in practices of subjectification. Papers in this symposium draw on recent archaeological data to discuss the contexts in which places and things, in both ancient and modern worlds, became powerful vectors of subjectification that authorized a person's actions, positioned people within social hierarchies, or defined what it means to be a kind of person. These papers contribute an archaeological perspective to contemporary theories that describe subjectification as a continual process by which social differences between authorities and subjects are created, reproduced, or fractured in particular settings and circumstances. The symposium therefore provides theoretical and methodological insights into how archaeologists might understand the political processes, everyday practices, and moments of crisis during which objects shape subjects.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-13 of 13)

  • Documents (13)

  • The Archaeology of First Generation Japanese American Men at an Idaho WWII Internment Camp (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stacey Camp.

    Amidst wartime xenophobia, the United States government unjustly imprisoned over 120,100 individuals of Japanese heritage during World War II. Despite being housed in dreary, tar-papered military barracks at sites that ranged from former racetracks to prisons, Japanese internees transformed their inhospitable living conditions into places that embodied some semblance of home and Japanese culture. These transformations were material in nature; internees creatively modified and consumed...

  • Blocks, Bricks, and Material Practices of Inter-Subjectification at La Venta, Mexico (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Susan Gillespie.

    La Venta, the Middle Formative Olmec capital, is famous for its unique structured deposits composed of thousands of serpentine blocks. The discovery of these "massive offerings" along with caches of fine jade artifacts was taken as evidence of a powerful ruling class who controlled this wealth and commanded the labor of countless commoners to bring the serpentine to La Venta, shape it into standardized forms, and bury it in a ritual precinct. This paper challenges that conventional...

  • Defining and divining the healthy body: materialities of body and wellness in the 18th century Spanish New World (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Diana Loren.

    This paper explores the intersections of health, religion, race, and dress; how theories of disease and illness in the eighteenth century intersected with Spanish imperial understandings regarding race and dress of colonizer and colonized and culturally-distinct medicinal practices for treating physical and spiritual sicknesses. Colonial empires reshaped and redefined colonial bodies: physical and spiritual care, social and sexual interactions, and dress and language were just a few of the...

  • Drinking power: Moche tombs as sites of subjectification (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mary Weismantel.

    In the ethnohistoric record of the Andes, the bodies of the dead feature as key material objects through which living rulers claimed power over people and territory, especially irrigated land. This was true for the highland Inka, and also for coastal societies such as Chimu. In the archaeological record for earlier societies such as Moche, we see evidence for a similar complex of practices involving tombs, entombed bodies, and associated artifacts and offerings. These mortuary assemblages were...

  • The Earthly Production of Fleshy Subjects in the South-Central Andes (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Janusek.

    A specific range of human subjects, or fully socialized, moral persons- rigorously categorized according to age, sex, kinship, and so forth -are, of course, the most critical ‘things’ that any society seeks to produce. I investigate the production of prehispanic human subjects in the Lake Titicaca Basin of the South American Andes. To understand the emergence of the Middle Horizon center of Tiwanaku at around AD 500, I investigate the deployment of innovative spatial, material, and...

  • Gardens and Forking Paths: A Genealogy of Landscape and Subject Formation in the Zaña Valley, Peru (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Parker VanValkenburgh.

    Recent archaeological research has called attention to the performative dimensions of imperial built environments, shedding new light on how regimes and subjects emerge (and persist) in acts of place-making, urban planning, and monumental construction. However, our focus on clarifying the semiotics of imperial architecture has drawn attention away from longer-term process of subjectification and elided the role that landscapes play within them. The study of landscapes in Peru's Zaña valley...

  • Killing Time, Becoming Inca: Subject Creation and Monument Construction in Ancient Cuzco (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Steve Kosiba.

    The Incas built the largest indigenous empire in the Americas, and though they lacked a written history, they were keen to tell Spanish scribes how they assembled their domain. Inca nobles explained that their ancestors vanquished anyone who dared challenge Inca claims to authority. Like the boasts of other conquerors, these stories cast only particular people as the subjects of history and the cultivators of "civilization." But they also conceal another side of Inca history: For, it was...

  • The Negotiation of Political Subjectivity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Melissa Rosenzweig.

    Thinking of political subjectification as the processes by which individuals recognize themselves as subjects to authority, this paper pursues the negotiation of this subjectivity for people living within the purview of the ancient Neo-Assyrian empire. Negotiation resides between the poles of subjugation and resistance to authority, and constitutes the ways in which people participate in defining the contours of their socio-political positions. In the provinces of Upper Mesopotamia in the...

  • Religious Subjects and Gendered Transformations at the Native American City of Cahokia (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Melissa Baltus. Sarah Baires. Timothy Pauketat.

    Though processes of subjectification are continuously ongoing, there are moments when powers coalesce in particular persons, places, or objects and bring about pervasive transformations. We explore these moments through gendered divisions of key religious spaces, objects, and practices at the Native American city of Cahokia and other early Mississippian places. Through cosmological oppositions, these spaces, objects and practices both created balance and fomented politico-religious...

  • The spirit of Wye House (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mark Leone.

    The role of the supernatural in establishing subjectivity is well understood in Marxist terms, particularly through Althusser and Zizek. There are two parallel, complementary religions at Wye House near Easton, Maryland in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Through archaeology, African and African American religions and their role in the cosmos, people's lives, and the maintenance of heritage is becoming well understood through African and African American material remains. The...

  • Subjectification and the Archaeology of Violence: The 19th century Anti-Chinese Movement in San Jose, California (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Barbara Voss.

    Communal violence is often central to subjectification and the process of creating and sustaining social difference. Preliminary results of archival studies and archaeological research trace the relationship between violence and subject formation among participants of the anti-Chinese movement in 19th century San Jose, which enacted campaigns of harassment and direct violence against Chinese immigrant and Chinese American residents of the city. What material practices and social performances...

  • Water, Hospitality and Difference in Everyday Life (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mark Hauser.

    Water and the making of authority has generally been viewed as a basic metabolic need whose capture and distribution provides a nexus through which power flows. The household becomes place of water consumption where subjectification was achieved in other domains and subsequently inscribed into the container. In this paper I take a slightly different approach. Specifically I ask the question, at what point does water become a convenience and how does its status as a convenience inflect both...

  • What’s an (Archaeological) Peasant? Notes on Rural Subjectivities in Atlantic Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Francois Richard.

    This paper explores rural communities’ historical relationships to state authority in the Siin province (Senegal). I engage with classic literature to examine how the concept of ‘peasant’ might be relevant to archaeological realities in Senegal’s countryside during the Atlantic era, and how it might helpful to think about political identity among social actors chronically understudied (and under-documented) in the African past. I am interested in the term as one way to conceptualize the...