Punk Archaeology on a Podcast

I’m recording a podcast today for Tristan Boyle’s Archaeology Podcast Network. The plan, from what I gather, is for me to discuss punk archaeology, which should be pretty interesting since I haven’t necessarily thought much about that lately or, better still, some of my ideas of what makes punk archaeology a thing have changed over the past few years.

I apologize to regular readers of this blog who probably could write this post for me, but I think I’ll take the time to write out some of my current thinking about punk archaeology so I can sort through them before we record later today. 

First, when I first thought about punk archaeology, I really was interested in the intersection of DIY and performance in archaeology. Indeed, those interests also inform this blog which from the start sought to put on display how archaeological thinking worked in real time. In other words, I wanted to make visible how the sausage was made. In this way, my blog and punk archaeology more broadly was distinct from a view of public archaeology grounded in practices meant to present facts and interpretations about the past to an uninformed public. Rather than resetting archaeological knowledge within a new set of interpretations and truths, punk archaeology sought to destabilize the entire joint and show how all archaeological knowledge was provisional and shifting and fundamentally contextual. 

Over the past few years, I’ve started to think more about how punk practices inform archaeological labor more broadly. This has manifest itself, in particular, in slow archaeology which sought to consider the impact of industrial practices and digital technology on how we do archaeology in the field and how we organize archaeological practice. In effect, my interest in the way that punk’s interest in process informs a reading of archaeological methods and practices, produced slow archaeology with its questioning of technologically mediated efficiencies and rigors.

Second, punk archaeology set the stage for my interest in open access publishing with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and my work with the literary journal North Dakota QuarterlyLast year, I wrote up a piece that connect some what I am trying to do as a publisher with larger trends in archaeological practices. In short, I’m interested in blurring the lines between field work, interpretation and analysis, and publishing, and in this way, I’m not only returning to the idea that archaeological practice is a kind of performance but also advocating for a stronger connection between “analysis” and “publishing” by breaking down the long-standing barrier between the researcher-writer and publishers. 

One model that has loomed large in my mind is the cooperative and artist owned record labels that gave artists not only greater control over their creative work, but also created opportunities for artists to share the labor of producing and promoting their works. Of course, this model has precedent in the punk movement with its interest in radical politics, collective and cooperative labor, and new ways of presenting work.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve thought a good bit – especially lately – about how much space I take up as a scholar. I think when I started talking about punk archaeology, it was really easy to feel a bit disaffected and marginal in my field. After all, I did survey archaeology, was interested in Late Antiquity, and worked on Cyprus, and these things located me at the margins of my field. 

Of course, this feeling of marginalization is really relative. I’m a tenured, male, white, academic. More than that, I have a presence on the internets via my blog and my social media feed. I have access to publishing opportunities across a wide range of venues from my own press to a literary journal, edited volumes, and high-powered collaborators who not only hear me but also help amplify my voice. In fact, the podcast today is a great example of how I have a platform.

I hope that I’m able to get beyond my own way of thinking and talking about punk archaeology, and archaeology more broadly, and give credit to the thoughtful contributions to punk archaeology by folks like Colleen Morgan and Lorna Richardson and Andrew Reinhard. More than that, I’d like to think about punk archaeology might be a way to think more inclusively in our discipline, but for me this involves practice as much as pronouncements. Over the last few years and indeed the last few weeks, I’ve tried to be more deliberate in thinking about inclusivity, and whether punk archaeology with its emphasis on performance, DIY, and cooperative practices offers one way to make our field better. 

We’ll see how today goes. I hope that I manage to stay out of my own way and talk about the things that I value in our field as part of a larger conversation rather than as pontificating, middle-aged, white, male, tenured academic. 

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