Labor and Plurality: Excavating the Political Economy of Identity

Part of: Society for Historical Archaeology 2014

Historical archaeology is celebrated as a means to recover history’s under-represented people, and many base their contributions on our ability to give voice to the poor and the marginal. This worthy endeavor nevertheless rests on a soft foundation. To speak about the unspoken, archaeologists rely on an ability to work from spaces and sites that isolate marginal communities, so that the recovered archaeological remains can be confidently attributed to them. In exchange for this clarity, archaeologists tend to ignore other spaces and sites, and thus leave the diverse record of marginal people incomplete. We also lose an ability to observe direct interactions across the lines of race, class, and gender at the very intimate scales of site and home. Papers in this session employ labor relations as a means to construct alternative approaches to understanding the way identities emerge and develop through the productive processes of work, exchange, and debt.

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  • Documents (10)

  • Changing Systems of Labor and the (Re)Production of Identity (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bradley Phillippi.

    Space and society are mutually constituting. The organization of space creates and reproduces a system of relations in both production and labor power. Conversely, revolutionizing a dominant system of labor and the relations that sustained it anticipates the reconfiguring of the fabric and meaning of space. A notable example is separating the spheres of work and home under industrial capitalism. This paper reveals the implications of labor relations on changing perceptions of race by...

  • Consuming Marginality: Archaeologies of Identity and Post-Segregation Authenticity (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Paul Mullins.

    A distinctive feature of contemporary life is that most people seem to perceive themselves in the midst of an antagonistic world that denies their identities: that is, nearly everybody feels marginalized. This sense of broad marginality profoundly shapes archaeologies of identity, particularly along and across color lines. The paper examines African America as a powerful metaphor that can expose facile notions of marginality even as African America is persistently invoked as a symbol of...

  • Labor, settlement, and race: Investigating ‘Plural’ Sites in Eastern Long Island, NY (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christopher Matthews. Allison Manfra McGovern. Emily Button Kambic.

    The making of communities is often treated as a quasi-natural process in which people of similar backgrounds and heritage or people living in close proximity form meaningful and mutual ties. Missing from this approach is an appreciation of the ties that bind people to others that are beyond their own control. Especially in contexts of inequality, communities form around shared interests in perpetuating, dismantling, or simply surviving the disproportionate distribution of resources. This paper...

  • Laboring under an illusion: steps to align method with theory in the archaeology of race (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Anna Agbe-Davies.

    Powerful forces turn our attention to the problem of identity. A rich body of thought’ developed by archaeologists and others’ points the way toward dynamic understandings of who humans are, yet archaeology struggles to be more than a handmaiden. Arguably, the problem is one of method rather than theory: what counts as data; how we categorize things; what our problems are. This paper examines labor relations in the early Virginia colony via locally-made clay tobacco pipes. These artifacts,...

  • Markers of Difference or Makers of Difference?: Approaches to Atypical Practices on Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Sites (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kurt Jordan.

    Documentary and archaeological evidence suggests that there was significant diversity within Postcolumbian Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) communities living in what is today New York State during the 1600-1779 period. Previous scholars have emphasized atypical burial practices, skeletal evidence, architectural techniques, and ceramic styles, usually seeing these divergent practices as evidence for the presence of outsiders. While Haudenosaunee groups certainly incorporated significant numbers of...

  • Modernity and Community Change in Lattimer No. 2: the American 20th Century seen through the archaeology of a Pennsylvania Anthracite shanty town (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michael Roller.

    The shanty town of Lattimer No. 2, in the Anthracite Coal Region of Northeast Pennsylvania, began as an ephemeral settlement of new immigrant workers. Italian families coming to the US between about 1880 and 1900 created a community on the periphery of a company town. The 20th century brought changes in identities, wrought in material ways. Giorgio Agamben proposes that the dominant paradigm of modernist biopolitics is that of ‘the camp’, a paradoxical space in which individuals exist within ‘a...

  • Pluralism and Labor in Overseas Chinese Railroad Camps (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Molenda.

    How do issues of labor and pluralism show up in communities from non-Western backgrounds? How is archaeological interpretation transformed when pluralism is built into, and articulated in, the dominant intellectual traditions of the people being studied? And how can archaeological investigations take into account labor in its varied relations with sociality and emotionality?In this paper I describe how Overseas Chinese laborers along the first transcontinental railroad were drawn into capitalist...

  • Reconnecting liminal spaces of labor in the northeast (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Craig Cipolla. Katherine Hayes.

    This paper experiments with multi-sited analysis as a means of exploring connections and intersections between various generations of marginalized groups living and working across the colonial and U.S. Northeast from the colonial era through the 19th century. This approach challenges and complicates stereotypes of primordial race and poverty by establishing links between liminal spaces of labor that drew together diverse groups, rather than treating them as isolated and implicitly anomalous. We...

  • Techniques of Power and Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Roby. Maria Theresia Starzmann.

    Historical archaeologists have devoted considerable attention to the need to produce knowledge that is not only academically relevant but also meaningful to the disempowered. While laudable in the abstract, such work largely falls short of emancipatory political praxis. We locate this failure in the fundamentally conservative nature of the discipline: a conservative archaeology comforts the powerful by reinforcing the class-based prerogative of interpretation (Deutungsmacht). In response to this...

  • Tied to Land, Still at Sea: 19th century African American Whalers and Households in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jenna Wallace Coplin.

    By 1838, Cold Spring Harbor was home to a thriving whaling business. Operating nine vessels, including the largest to sail from Long Island, the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company owned docks, repair and processing units and supported a variety of industries to outfit and provision ships. Local households responded at an infrastructural level as families weighed profit sharing and wage labor against required agricultural tasks necessary for self-sufficiency in the local economy. However, whaling...