Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gender and Feminism in Archaeology

Left: Female Factory entrance gates; photo courtesy of SAG. J.K. Houison Collection SAG5/6149:
Below right: Parramatta Female Factory, c. 1872; photo courtesy of Society of Australian Genealogists:

Between 1803 and 1874, over 74,000 British convicts were transported to the Van Diemen's Land Penal Colony in Australia. Approximately 12,000 of these convicts were women, who served time in the Female Factory system based upon the severity of their assigned "Crime Class." In this system, women were 'reformed' through prayer and mandatory labor, namely sewing, laundry, and cooking. These women the were able to join the "Hiring Class," and awaited transfer to pastoral communities, where they could complete their sentences as domestic servants. (Casella, 2000)

Excavations and historical research of the Ross Female Factory in the early 90's revealed a black-market in which illicit commodities were 'traded'-- including material goods and sexual activities. The sexual acts preformed were both heterosexual and homosexual, although these categories were not acknowledged by the female felons, many who viewed sex acts as a tradable good, nor by the administrators of the Convict Department, who considered all female sexual activity as deviant. Through this trafficking, the convicts recast their social identities in terms of power and class, but did so outside of the normative binary of male-female gender roles. (Casella, 2000)

Gender in archaeology is a comparatively recent development, and has been influenced by a variety of ideologies-- from the second- and third-wave feminists to African-American feminists to queer studies. Notions such as gender's inseparability from class and ethnicity/race, how gender functions in a given society, and the relationship between gender and material culture have especially come into focus over the past two decades. The result of these new paradigms in archaeology is an increased awareness of the ways in which assemblages are viewed, moving beyond the search for positive or negative evidence for ‘the presence of women.’ Instead, many archaeologists are deconstructing the gender-site associations that have been propagated until recently.

Casella, E.C. 2000. "'Doing Trade': A Sexual Economy of Nineteenth-Century Australian Female Convict Prisons. World Archaeology (32:2), pp.200-221.

Questions to consider:

1. Following Vermeer (2009), if we consider gender as a structuring principle through multiple levels of society, how does gender interface with class at the Ross Female Factory? Social identity? Ethnicity?

Furthermore, based on previous discussion of panopticon architecture, how might we see some of these articulations manifest in the archaeology of prisons?

2. Given the longstanding association of females with the private, domestic, passive sphere and the association of males with the public, political, active sphere how might one use archaeological evidence to argue against this ideology that projects a binary and stable view of gender? What are some ways we might see re-appropriation of gender ideology in the record? What are the shortcomings of accepting the household as a single functional unit?

3. How does the tendency of modern hesitation of archaeologists to embrace feminist political theory reflect the issues associated with transparency and objectivity that we have discussed previously? Does engaging in 'feminist archaeology' suffer from politicization or does it benefit from it?

Friday, February 18, 2011

What Would Marx Say?

The Chrysler 200 has arrived. Imported from Detroit.

How many different signifiers of class can you spot?

Underhistories of Capitalism

'Mount Firestone' tire fire that burned for 4 months at a landfill in Everett, Washington, 1984

“ I see us hurtling through the dark.

I tell Viktor there is a curious connection between weapons and waste. I don’t know exactly what. He smiles and puts his feet up on the bench, something of a gargoyle squat. He says maybe one is the mystical twin of the other. He likes this idea. He says waste is the devil twin. Because waste is the secret history, the underhistory, the way archaeologists dig out the history of early cultures, every sort of bone heap and broken tool, literally horn under the ground.

All those decades, he says, when we thought about weapons all the time and never thought about the dark multiplying byproduct.

“And in this case,” I say. “In our case, in our age. What we excrete comes back to consume us.”

We don’t dig it up, he says. We try to bury it. But maybe this is not enough. That’s why we have this idea. Kill the devil. And he smiles from his steeple perch. The fusion of two streams of history, weapons and waste. We destroy contaminated nuclear waste by means of nuclear explosions.

I cross the body of the aircraft to get my cap refilled.

“It is only obvious,” he says.

Don Delillo, Underworld (pp. 791)

The frontier is where overflow of every kind is deposited, the rightful domain of superfluous social material of all kinds. Violent conflict is often rife there at the limits of society. In the early 20th century, labor disputes in swiftly expanding industries often turned bloody.

The northwest frontier village of Everett, Washington was officially established as a town in 1890 by the giant Weyerhaeuser timber concern. Gradually, men who had moved west and were desperate for work came to find employment in the booming timber industry. Everett was a classic ‘company town’ with prices on everything from food, gas, electricity, wharfage and land—even graveyards. Soon conflict over working conditions and wages erupted between the workers and the managers of the swiftly consolidating business interests operating in Everett. It was a classic confrontation between striking workers demanding ambiguous change and a business establishment intransigently defending the status quo. On November 5, 1916 over 200 armed and deputized vigilantes in the employ of local authorities met a marching workers rally at the docks. The vigilantes opened fire, killing 18 and wounding perhaps 50 more. Such class conflicts were a common feature of westward expansion of the United States. Yet these disputes are almost always left out of the national narrative.

Funeral of Felix Baran, one of many striking workers killed in the Everett Massacre of 1916. Everett, Washington, 1916

Today Everett is an industrial town of roughly 90,000 people; its landscape dominated by the enormous factory where Boeing assembles 747 jets for military and commercial customers.Everett is also a major transport hub for solid waste in Washington State. Unsightly primary industries as well as landfills, the critical beginning and terminal stages of the production cycle, are pushed to the margins, out of sight, and largely out of our consciousness.Contradictions, cognitive dissonance, and conflict are features of the frontier.

Mythmaking, then, can be seen as an attempt to smooth over these conflicts.

"How the West Was Won" - MGM 1962

Everywhere it seems the logic of capitalism inscribes its manifesto on the landscape. The conduits of industrial production, consumption and disposal constrain and guide the movement and distribution of materials, products, waste, people, and all the heterogeneous inputs and outputs of the great machine we call production. In this vein, it is the imperative to explore and exploit new natural resources which historically has most often impelled people to the spaces at the very edge of society—the so-called frontier. With an eye to critique, social scientists, anthropologists and archaeologists have often re-branded this space 'the margin'. And it's often the marginalia of human activity that is of greatest interest to modern archaeology.

Clear cut forest tract. Northwest Washington State, near Everette.

The frontier is (by nature) the leading edge of rapid social change, where the engine of production and of hegemony is at its most dynamic. The machine of capitalism is forever adapting to new environments in order to lay its incipient writ. Also in this space is where the ennobling mythology of a society takes shape. The settling of the west is one of the most enduring myths of this kind. Despite the fact that the story of “how the west was won” has sustained very heavy criticism in the last few decades, it is a surprisingly persistent part of our culture.

Questions for Discussion:

11.. What is different about the social order at the frontiers? How can we think of this?

2. 2. How is the mythology of the frontier different from sociological concept of the margin?

3. 3. To what degree are economic forces separate from historical ones? And can archaeologists uncover the economic forces behind social change?

4. 4. Why is capitalism a topic that is often left out of historical discourse?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Archaeology and Modernity

Colonialism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was a process through which the elements of modernity—including consumerism, subjugation to a central authority, and rationalized ethnic, racial, and gender hierarchies—were negotiated between European and non-European people.” (Delle 88)

Modernity and colonialism are two entangled facets of archaeology. Colonialism was a reality in the histories of Americas; it marked fracture in the lives of indigenous people, and the introduction of new racial or ethnic hierarchies. How useful is the idea of ‘modernity’ to understand these varied encounters?

In the Southwest US, the Pueblo Indians encountered Spanish colonialism and attempts to assimilate them to Spanish identities. Arguably Pueblo peoples experienced several different visions of modernity, but all are based on the expectation of assimilation or erasure. Beginning with the explorations into New Mexico, colonial officials and missionaries sought to destroy the religion of Pueblo Indians and fundamentally restructure their way of life. This was carried out through raids on kivas (a circular chamber built into the ground and used for religious rites ), destruction of ritual paraphernalia, and punishment for practitioners. The “encomienda” system created a reserve of manual labor for the colonists while also acting as a way to rework Indian cultural identity to be consistent with Spanish goals and expectations.

In contrast, in the 19th and early 20th centuries U.S. Indian service officials focused on remaking Pueblo identities through their children. “The forced enrollment of Indian children in boarding schools at considerable distances from the reservations was designed to break Indian youth away from their traditional culture” (Dozier 446-447). At these schools, children were harshly punished for speaking languages other than English. This is an example of the measures undergone to force an American image of modernity. The boarding schools of the early 20th century have now been closed, a failed attempt at lingual, nominal and cultural assimilation remain as modern ruins which continue to resonate. Here are two articles in which one can clearly see the American view of modernity and the process through which it is done, as well as the aftermath of such thinking.

Photo: A Kiva's ladder, by L. Chippeaux

Discussion Questions:

  • How is term modernity meaningful for the people? How do we define modernity? Is there a difference between modern, modernity and modernism?
  • How is "modernity" viewed in postcolonial and historical archaeologies? Are there different modernities or is it all the same process?
  • What are some of the implications or associated tensions of framing colonial encounters in terms of modernity?
  • Would you concur with Cobb and Loren's statement that modernity and contemporary colonialism are not isomorphic?
  • How does society view the ruins of modernity? What implications do these ruins have on society?

References for the Post:

Barker, George C. “Some Functions of Catholic Processions in Pueblo and Yaqui Culture Change.”American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 60, No. 3, Jun., 1958: pp. 449-455. JSTOR. Feb 8 2011.

Bear, Charla. "American Boarding Schools Haunt Many" NPR. 23 May 2008. 9 Feb 2011.

Delle, J.A. 2008. An Archaeology of Modernity in Colonial Jamaica. Archaeologies 4(1):87-109

Official Report of the Nineteenth Annual Conference of Charities and Correction (1892), 46–59. Reprinted in Richard H. Pratt, “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian” 1880–1900(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), 260–271. 9 Feb. 2011. .

Prince, Bradford L. Spanish Mission Churches of New Mexico. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Torch Press, 1915.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Post-Colonial Archaeologies

Trying to achieve a grand theory or practice of post-colonial archaeology seems na├»ve. The range of experiences of persons both in Core and Peripheral nations seems too varied and disorganized. If one were to pick one central problem to archaeology’s roots in the colonial project, it would be the continuation of the Western nations as core areas of theoretical and methodological production (Pagan-Jimenez, 201; Haber & Gnecco 394; Leone, 159). This in effect continues the peripheral status of Third World as reliant on the First World; in a sense, it remains places which export “raw” archaeological material and imports “finished products” of archaeological interpretation: “Australia never had its own theory and probably never will. Everything worthwhile comes from America of England” (Haber and Gneco, 394). As such, there remains a hegemony of archaeological information, an intellectual capital from which archaeologists of the Third World often feel excluded. In this way, it is possible that archaeology done by Western academics effectively prolongs the subject’s colonial overtones of excluding native voices and opinions in the search of “pure” science as a “world heritage.”

A shift in archaeological approach from one of feigned scientific objectivism to one of local community involvement, specifically in the inclusion of native archaeologists to the mainstream has been readily suggested by many archaeologists in our readings (Haber and Gnecco, 400; Pagan-Jimenez, 209; Leone, 166). However, such efforts and suggestions are as broad and disorganized as the theme of post-colonialism itself in archaeology. Pagan-Jimenez has suggested an alternative take on the post-colonial narrative. He suggests that a globalization of archaeological approaches might not be as helpful as one that embraces the regional rather than the global. In “Is All Archaeology At Present a Postcolonial One?” Jimenez argues that the colonial experience differed in South America than that of Africa, where a unique dynamic of an internal center (government oligarchy) and periphery (indigenous people) existed. South American archaeologists began with ideologies which had their origins in the West (Marxism being the obvious example), but quickly positioned itself to exploring the unique facets of Latin American experience: “Not a second was wasted in using archaeology as a weapon to vindicate and liberate the oppressed Latin American classes”(Jimenez, 207). Though Jimenez maintains that these explorations have “not received acceptance as expected,” the fact remains clear that current local archaeological theory is wholly Latin American, and not merely an import of Western thought.

The fact that Latin American archaeology has found its identity in its focus on the disenfranchised members of its society correlates very interestingly with Mark Leone’s assertions in “Making Historical Archaeology Postcolonial. ” Leone argues that archaeology must relinquish fictitious objectivity and be a “voice to the voiceless.” He also reacts quite strongly against the notion that emotions get in the way of science and must be neutralized; interest should be made productive and lead to a greater science of transparency. Leone references Quetzil Castaneda, a Mexican archaeologist who argues that anthropology/archaeology itself has changed the way ex-colonial nationals view their own cultural integrity and identity. Whereas archaeology has the potential of giving the Third World its own agency in forming its own ideas of its heritage, it also has the unfortunate potential of imposing a colonial frame of culture that denies any participation of the “native.” This is why it is important for archaeologists to arrive at a system of greater integration of global voices: “The locus of such a transformation needs to be the post-colony, or it needs to come from Indigenous minorities in the North” (Haber and Gnecco, 399).

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you agree with Mark Leone’s assertion that objectivity should be abandoned as a pretense in archaeology in favor of transparency of impassioned motives (Leone, 163)?

2. How would you argue with Haber and Gnecco that the limits of academic archaeology on the level of nature and desemination of research is self-imposed (Haber & Gnecco, 40)? Is there any way for Western archaeologist to conduct research in Third World countries without colonial baggage?

3. Do you agree with Pagan-Jimenez’s suggestion that archaeologists should stop promoting the past as public heritage in favor of a more regional approach? What would be the consequences of such a choice to the field of archaeology (Pagan-Jimenez, 405)?