More Punk Archaeology

I was pretty excited to read the most recent issue of World Archaeology dedicated to “Counter Archaeologies.” I blogged about Lorna-Jane Richardson’s intriguing article on punk archaeology this past summer, and while I guess my critique of it rubbed some folks the wrong way, I still think her article moved the conversation forward in important ways. And it was incredibly gratifying to see scholars engage the work I did with Kostis Kourelis and Andrew Reinhard a few years ago serious. (Download Punk Archaeology from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota here or buy a copy here!)

This past weekend, I read John Schofield’s introduction to the volume, “‘Deviants, punks and Pink Fairies’: counter- archaeologies for unreasonable people.” He approaches punk and counter archaeology in a deeply personal way. He located his own interest in counter or even punk archaeology in his experiences in the field in the 1970s and 1980s. Like many of us, he found the tension between the socially conservative character of archaeology as a discipline (and particularly as a practice) and its progressive goals jarring. The tendency to privilege the traditional forms of knowledge making, namely excavation, and periods of study, namely the preindustrial past, limited the scope and influence of archaeology as a discipline. Schofield found himself drawn to landscape practices, to marginal and understudied regions, and ultimately to the modern period which often fell well outside the archaeologist’s gaze. For Schofield, this has as much to do with his own resistance to authority and reluctance to be told what to do as any grandiose intellectual goals. I found this admission refreshing, perhaps because it describes my own attraction to punk archaeology. The more people pushed me to do conventional archaeological or historical work, the more I felt the need to do things and think about things differently. (And it should be clear that just thinking about things in a different way is not the same thing as actually producing new knowledge or contributing to the discipline…)

Schofield then goes on to propose a few principles of punk archaeology practice grounding in C. O’Hara’s Philosophy of Punk (1995) and D. Beer’s Punk Sociology (2014). For these scholars and, indeed, Schofield, punk practice opposed conformity, embraced the DIY, and – perhaps most importantly – valued individual freedom and responsibility.

This last point struck home for me. Recently, I’ve returned to thinking a bit about anarchism (and my recent book, The Bakken: [An archae]ology of an industrial landscape (2017) offers a little play on words that hints at some of my thinking) both as a way to undermine certain structural barriers that seem to limit how archaeology functions both in practice and in the broader area of method. While I’m not entirely sure that I have the ability or energy to reconcile the tendency for archaeological knowledge to be generalized, structural, and diachronic with the individualized character that defines some aspect of anarchic thinking, I do find appeals to undermine traditional practices and our increasingly bureaucratized (and Taylorist) approach to archaeological knowledge making provocative and potentially useful. At the same time, I’d like to think that my interest in archaeology of the contemporary world emphasizes the differences and disjunction between a world created by rules, convention, and expectations, and a world created by myriad individual decisions and practices. I look forward to reading Stuart Rathbone’s article in the same volume “Anarchist literature and the development of anarchist counter-archaeologies.”

Extending this view of the past to our work as archaeologists seems to be a key component of a punk archaeology and perhaps finds a useful, in unintentional, parallel with our concept of an “archaeology of care.” Of course, it would be profoundly un-punk for us to simply replace the orthodoxy of conventional archaeological practice with a model grounded in a different set of expectations and replace one conformity with another. And perhaps that’s the most appealing thing about Schofield’s introduction. By locating his understanding of counter archaeology in his own practices and in an intellectual tradition, he allows us to recognize the personal and the collective and disciplinary in punk practice and allows it to be “a thing” without having to conform to any one set of rules.

One last thing, it was a drag to see that a volume on counter archaeology did so little to engage with the fact that academic publishing not only promotes certain kinds of conformity of practice (both good and bad), but also limits access to our work. In recent years, private companies who seek to monetize the impact of our ideas and work, and this volume of World Archaeology is no exception. We can do better than this.

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