Left Of Capitalism: Archaeology, Homelessness, and the People's Critique

Part of: Society for Historical Archaeology 2018

Many historical archaeologists now focus their research on resistance towards capitalism. Some even define the discipline as the study of the material history of capitalism, reminding us that many of our sites represent areas of substantial capital investment. From coal mining company towns to textile mills, research is centered around sites of production and those with the capital to create them. As a result, studies infrequently examine the peoples most adversely affected by capital—those who are excluded from it. From the transient laborers who crisscrossed the nation during the Great Depression, to modern day undocumented immigrants, the materiality of these neglected communities is available for analysis. This session will detail alternative methods of persistence used by homeless, transient, and un/under employed communities. In this way, we can stop privileging capital in our research, and start to examine those who live on its edges.

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  • Documents (6)

  • An Archaeology of (Un)Capital: Hobos, The Great Depression, and a Small Pennsylvania Slate Quarrying Town Called Delta (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Daniel Sayers. Justin E. Uehlein.

    Capitalism has always relied on the exploitation of temporary, underpaid laborers. This fact of Capital has never been more clear than during the Great Depression. When faced with joblessness and the loss of their homes, countless persons took to the rails in search of work. These persons found short-term homes in camps near labor centers across the country. Drawing on archaeological, archival, and ethnographic data on a transient laborer camp near Delta, Pennsylvania, we explore the potential...

  • Identifying Transient Sites in the Archaeological Record (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mark Walker.

    A central problem in constructing an archaeology of transient populations is identifying the archaeological signatures of these populations. For example. transient sites look very much like refuse deposits and usually lack a firm historical association. In this paper, I focus on rural transients in California, and, using a sample of previous recorded sites, present preliminary research on distinguishing potential transient sites from other rural deposits. This research does not offer any silver...

  • Machines and the Migrant Under-employed: the production of surplus life and labor in the Anthracite coal fields of Northeast Pennsylvania (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michael P Roller.

    For much of its early history, underground coal mining involved material conditions which encouraged the solidarity and control of its independent skilled workers. Coal operations in the Anthracite region of Northeast Pennsylvania were among the first, however, to mechanize labor processes with steam shovels, waste processing, and other technical means to extract additional surplus profit from their investments. It also served to break the resistance of organized skilled workers. This technical...

  • Making Place in the Capitalocene: The Toxic Legacies of Mill Creek Ravine (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Haeden E. Stewart.

    Recent archaeological work has highlighted how the objects archaeologists study—far from being inert representations of the past—are lively, political, and potent in the present.  This paper proposes that archaeological studies of the industrialized modern world must extend this reflexive turn to questions of ecological harm and pollution.  Drawing from my excavations of an early twentieth-century industrial worker’s camp in Edmonton, Alberta I investigate how the rise of industrial-scale...

  • Unroofed, Uprooted, and Unapologetic: Homelessness in Washington D.C. from 1890-1930 (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Aaron J Howe.

    Homelessness is a historically contingent condition of the Capitalist Mode of Production. Yet, it is often constructed as a contemporary problem arising from individual failures and misfortunes. Historically, homelessness has proven to be a fluid category, defying institutional definitions and mitigative strategies. In this paper, I explore the socio-economic phenomena of homelessness in Washington D.C. from ca. 1890-1930. Public and private institutions dedicated to converting the homeless into...

  • (What’s) Left of the Commodity: Archaeology and the Creative Resuscitation of Spent Goods (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Justin E. Uehlein.

    Hobo jungles and other transient laborer and homelessness related sites present a sustained material critique of Capitalism. These kinds of sites provide insight into the creative strategies people employ to circumvent commodity markets when capital is not available. Whether residual evidence of an intentional statement against an oppressive system, or of a means to persist in the most desperate of situations, the assemblages left behind by people who reside on the fringes of...