The Technopolitics of Ancient Infrastructures

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

Technopolitics rejects any essential division between technological phenomena and political phenomena as subjects for analysis. Realizing political goals is always a technological problem and vice versa. Traditionally, however, archaeology has tended to separate out the investigation of ancient politics from ancient technologies, and so it is this divide that this session seeks to challenge. And while infrastructure frequently does appear in narratives of ancient states – its analysis is often overdetermined by the abstract political goals and ideological frameworks for which it is a “vehicle”. Yet, the politics of any infrastructural project is far from exhausted in the initial moment of its design and construction. Infrastructure can endure for centuries, during which time it can undergo degradation, re-appropriation, renovation or collapse. Studying such phenomena requires a deep engagement with the material and technological fundaments of all infrastructure, fully integrated with, rather than artificially extracted from, its political context. Papers are therefore sought which will engage with past infrastructural projects from a broadly technopolitical perspective – and so seek to undo the long-running relegation of technological problems to a space outside the realm of politics within archaeological theory.

Other Keywords
PoliticsandesMaterialityPowerMayaAgricultureMaterial CultureIconographyTheoryCommunity

Geographic Keywords
South AmericaMesoamericaSouth AsiaAFRICANorth America - Midwest

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-9 of 9)

  • Documents (9)

  • Harappan urbanites: Standardization, ratios and subjectivity (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Uzma Rizvi.

    Hallmarks of the third millennium BCE Harappan civilization include baked bricks, weights and measures, and water wells, which index centralized control, civic management and urban planning. In this study, I aim to locate the Harappan in a Harappan urban environment. I will consider the ways in which the use of space, design, and architecture may inform the constructions of self. Furthermore, I will interrogate the ancient urban form by considering ratios and standardization as a means to...

  • Human-object relationships in Classic Maya contexts: Object technologies, political participants, and cultural infrastructures (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sarah Jackson.

    This paper examines the foundational cultural infrastructure provided by seemingly quotidian objects in Classic Maya (ca. AD 250-900) contexts. These materials (things like ceramic vessels, stone benches, and mirrors) carry out prosaic tasks (e.g., containing, supporting, reflecting), but also higher-order relational work, taking on roles as non-human "persons," and as partners in social relationships. In this paper, I focus on these human-object relationships in order to recast our view of...

  • Infra-structuration of Imperial Power in Ancient Ankgor and the Andes (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stephen Berquist. Edward Swenson.

    A comparison of the agricultural reclamation projects and religious architectural programs of the Chimú, Inka, and Angkorian empires will serve to demonstrate that statecraft was an inherently technological pursuit in ancient societies. Supra-local political regimes were literally built by and through infrastructure that reconfigured different communities of practice. An important objective of the paper is to demonstrate that an analysis of the materials, temporalities, and technologies...

  • The Infrastructure of Community: Agricultural intensification and the development of corporate groups at Hualcayán, Peru (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rebecca Bria.

    This paper examines how the construction of agricultural infrastructure was essential to the constitution of a new kind of community in the highland Andes after the collapse of the regional Chavín religion (500/200 BC). It presents recent excavation data from Hualcayán—a long occupied ceremonial center in Ancash, Peru—to discuss how local people reorganized their community when they abandoned a central Chavín mound and built segregated structures for agricultural production, such as terraces,...

  • Inter-site Causeways as Political Infrastructure in the Northern Maya Lowlands (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Scott Hutson.

    In the Maya lowlands, several polities oversaw the construction of long causeways that connected regional centers with smaller settlements. As infrastructure, such causeways have been shown to facilitate exchange of basic goods between people at different sites. Archaeologists also view these causeways as political statements that materialize the extent of a polity and emphasize hierarchical relations between settlements on the causeway. Recent research along the 18km long causeway between Uci...

  • : "My only equal [as sovereign of this land] is rice": The "technology" of rice production politically deployed and ideologically appropriated in early Merina "states" of central Madagascar. (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Victor Raharijaona. Susan Kus.

    Over past centuries the landscape of the central highlands of Madagascar has been dramatically transformed. Draining, diking and terracing have created vast expanses of irrigated rice fields where forests once stood. The employ of this transformative technology depended on collective social labor; unsurprisingly the dikes that rendered the land productive also served in the political organization and unification of territory and populations. Yet, the destruction of these dikes was also a ploy...

  • Pilgrimage Centers, Infrastructure, and Cahokian Politics (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Benjamin Skousen.

    Archaeological and historical evidence suggests that pilgrimage centers were vital to the infrastructure, politics, and religions of cities and civilizations throughout the ancient world. The pre-Columbian city of Cahokia was no different. In this paper, I argue that the Emerald site, a major pilgrimage center east of Cahokia, was integral to the formation of a new political-religious order circa A.D. 1050. Ceramic, architectural, and botanical data show that large groups periodically gathered...

  • The Techno-politics of Water and Iron: Resource Materialities in South Indian (Pre)History (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Peter Johansen. Andrew Bauer.

    Water management and iron production were two socio-material practices deeply entangled with the politics of emerging social distinctions during the South Indian Iron Age. Beginning with small well-distributed modified rock pools and systematically dispersed iron-smithing facilities, Iron Age social actors laid specific claims to the materials, places and technologies of water management and iron production. This created and maintained a constellation of social differences and affiliations....

  • Theorizing Infrastructure (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Darryl Wilkinson.

    Accounts of ancient infrastructure are very common. Almost every archaeologist who deals with complex polities regularly encounters infrastructure in some form - including roads, irrigation canals, bridges, harbors, aqueducts, recording systems and forts - just to name a few of the most common varieties. That said, the concept is rarely explicitly theorized or defined within the discipline - and is usually identified on the basis of "we know it when we see it". In contrast, this paper seeks to...