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Four Articles and a Book

I’ve been writing and reading intermittently over the last month trying to get a basic draft of my introduction done on an unrealistic schedule and with delusional expectations on its quality. Who writes the introduction first anyway? Fools, that’s who.

One nice thing is that I’ve had a chance to read some new stuff and go back and read some old stuff. Here are five things that I’ve read lately:

An Archaeology of the Contemporary Era by Alfredo González-Ruibal. This new book is brilliant and provocative and considers both contemporaneity as a framework to understand the very recent past and the longer arc of modernity. The topical chapters are rich with case studies and demonstrate the genuinely global scope of the archaeology of the recent past. They also support a political agenda that will be familiar to anyone who knows González-Ruibal’s other writings. Apparently the book was originally sub-titled “the age of destruction” and the archaeological critique of neoliberalism and capitalism is prominent and compelling throughout.

Colleen Morgan and Daniel Eddisford’s brand new “Single Context Archaeology as Anarchist Praxis,” in the newest Journal of Contemporary Archaeology is among those articles that I wish I had written (or at very least READ) two or three years ago. They argue that single context archaeology, far from being the neoliberal culmination of uberified (uberized?) archaeology where every archaeologist is their own boss as long as they keep on time, on task, and within the standards set by management (and the all-seeing, all-knowing discipline) and more an expression of anarchist praxis bringing together aspects of craft, Bakunin’s articulation of authority within anarchism, and years of practical experience. It’s good and thought provoking and important.

Paul Mullin’s “Imagining Conformity: Consumption and Homogeneity in the Postwar African American Suburbs,” which appeared last year in Historical Archaeology (2017). is a remarkably vivid discussion African American suburbanization in Indianapolis in the postwar period. It is based on the careful study of existing evidence – largely from published sources and oral history – for African American suburbs and consumer culture. Because of various policies at the local and national level, suburbs in the 1940s experienced strict racially segregation. In the end, he argues that African Americans did not see their move to the suburbs as an expression of black resistance or as a way to challenge white privilege. In fact, they behaved in much the same way as their white counterparts in white suburbs. The expectation that they should aspire to suburban homeownership and conform to certain standards of display and behavior that constituted a kind of “quiet homogeneity rather than expressive individuality.” In other words, African American suburbs demonstrated the same elements of conformity that characterized white suburbs.

For various reasons, I re-read Shannon Lee Dawdy’s “Clockpunk Anthropology and
the Ruins of Modernity” which was published in Current Anthropology in 2010. This is an article that I read as soon as it appeared. It appealed to my interest in punk archaeology and juxtaposition of different times within the clock punk or steampunk genre of science fiction writing. Reading it again after a few years was an uncanny business and resulted in me underlining everything. The most interesting observations, however, are similar to those in both González-Ruibal’s book and Dawdy’s book Patina. An archaeology of the modern world involves recognizing the past in the present and the deeply anti-modern currents present in our contemporary world. The presence and celebration of urban ruins, for example, and the pressure to erase them or designated them as blighted, demonstrates the ongoing tension between aspirations toward progress and social projects that exist outside of capitalism and modernity. 

Finally, just this week, I discovered Dan Hicks’ monumental chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies (2010), “The Material-Cultural Turn: Event and Effect.” It’s sweeping, it is exhaustive (if a bit dated now), and it’s really smart. More than that, it includes over 100 pages of bibliography and appears to cite every major work in material culture studies, historical archaeology, and archaeology of the contemporary world. I haven’t had the document closed on my laptop since I grabbed it from a couple of weeks ago. If you want to know where the material turn came from, this is the place to go.  

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