Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Archaeology Division
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Materiality
Secondary Theme: The Political
The emergence of contemporary archaeology as a distinct subfield has sparked change in the archaeological imagination. Recent work in contemporary archaeology has offered important insights regarding the material qualities of contemporary social and political concerns (e.g. De León 2015; Kiddey 2017). This session, however, asks contemporary archaeologists to reflect on places that would typically invite historical analysis owing to their substantial material traces of prolonged human occupation – “old places”. Can contemporary archaeology, as a reflexive practice, shed new light on the materiality of places that have conventionally been left to historical interpretation? How does the contemporary use of old things and places challenge neoliberal logics of preservation, development, management, or claims-making? From this approach, can contemporary archaeology offer a useful critique of mainstream archaeological and heritage work, the majority of which is conducted in concert with development projects (Hutchings and LaSalle 2015)?
A secondary objective of the session is to explore the parameters of what contemporary archaeology is and could be. Contemporary archaeology challenges archaeologists to de-naturalize the dichotomy between past and present, and to instead think of material assemblages as constituted at once by historical and contemporary processes. Acknowledging that archaeology produces pasts in the present, and thus is also a practice of future-making (Harrison et al 2014), practitioners focus their analytic attention on the contemporary dimensions of archaeological work. What do we hope to contribute to these future-making projects? How are the material traces of the past caught up in contemporary projects? How can archaeologists re-orient methods traditionally used to study the past towards understanding the present and transforming the future (Dawdy 2016)?
The papers in this session come from across the discipline, including from critical archaeological traditions that have long engaged with the contemporary as part of their wider praxis, such as Indigenous and Black Feminist archaeologies. Authors combine ethnographic methods with material culture analysis, whether that be of objects, architecture, or cultural landscapes to address the interrelatedness of past and present materiality.