A Working Paper: Contingency, Periphery, and Late Capitalism in the Bakken Man Camps

This week has been split between three projects: I revised a paper for the Bakken Goes Boom book on the North Dakota Man Camp Project, I’ve started working on an article for a volume of Internet Archaeology on archaeology and blogging, and I wrapped up a working draft of an article on 7th and 8th century Cyprus.


I’m pretty appreciative of the noon panels organized by the University of North Dakota’s Writers’ Conference. They give me a neatly packaged escape from the persistent glow of the computer screen.

Since I’ve been pounding the good out of the keyboard lately, my post today will be short. The following paper is an evolving draft and it captures my most recent thoughts on the archaeology of workforce housing in the Bakken boom. I’m becoming more and more interested in the archaeology of Late Capitalism. I think this has grown out of conversations with Bret Weber, Sebastian Braun, and Kostis Kourelis, and with a little bit of luck, I’ll have more to say about this (and another evocative case-study to announce) next week. 

For now, I have been thinking a good bit about Talal Asad’s 1992 essay “Conscripts of Western Civilization” in which he locates the possibilities available to the post-colonial subject within the discourse of modern nationalism. In other words, the modern, national discourse even shapes the strategies for resistance available to the disposed, restive, or politically marginal. Late capitalism, particularly the transnational kind manifest in the Bakken, marks a departure from Asad’s thoughts as it undermines the territoriality of the nation, the moral cohesion of modernity, and obscures the structure and movement of capital. In this context, workforce housing, particular as embodied by the postmodern “non-places” central to the organization of labor in the Bakken, presents a distinct challenge to the kind of developmental regionalism that characterized the expansion of modern, national capitalism. One can easily expand this critique to core and periphery in the Bakken and the absence of true cores and true peripheries in the world of transnational capital. To put this another way (and a way that fits with the repackaged, nationalist rhetoric that portrays work in the Bakken oil fields as a patriotic contribution to national energy independence), the workforce in the Bakken are “conscripts of post-nationalism”.

Enjoy and, as always, feedback is appreciated.


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