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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

Author(s): Timothy Hartshorn ; Anthony Graesch

Year: 2015

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Summary

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 performed identities might be visible in assemblages of consumer goods discarded near bars on an American urban landscape. We focus our analysis on over 41,000 artifacts, most of which are discarded cigarettes collected in a mere 32 days of fieldwork. The cigarette - perhaps the most ubiquitous and tolerated form of trash in urban settings - is ideally suited to the study owing to the fact that it is produced and marketed as an object to be incorporated into socially performed identity expressions. Combining the methodological rigor of scientific archaeological sampling and data collection with ethnographic and sensory anthropological techniques, we consider how reconstructions of past social group identities may be impaired by traditional archaeological methods as well as by the modest sizes and spatial limits of more typical datasets.

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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. Anthony Graesch, Timothy Hartshorn. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395537)


Keywords


Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America