Beginnings and Endings

Over spring break, I took time away from high priority writing to recharge my batteries a bit, but much like a college student who puts $10 of gas in their car and counts the days to the next paycheck, I feel like I’ve probably have a put a bit too little into the tank for the amount I need to drive, but we’ll see!!

This morning, I’ve been putting the final touches on a chapter that I really like in my long simmering book project. It starts with a discussion of ruin porn (that is photographs of ruined industrial and urban landscapes) and considers how the ambiguity of urban spaces and ruins created places ideally suited both for protests and for archaeology’s distinctive ability to explore diverse historical and contemporary contexts. To be honest, parts of the chapter are a mess, but I feel like it’s a GOOD mess. You can read an earlier draft of the chapter here (PDF).

Here’s the chapter’s lede (for my use of ledes, go here):

The orderly arrangement of workforce housing camps offers one pole in our experience of the Bakken oil patch. Their tidy and controlled appearance reflected the aspirations for the orderly extraction of oil from sometimes unruly and reticent Bakken formation. As the archaeology of camps and campuses have shown in other contexts, the contrast between the evident order of the spaces and their use over time both reveals the persistence of certain orderly aspects of these sites. The arrange of concrete slabs in Slab City, for example, organizes the arrangement of the contemporary squatter community and, the Nevada Peace Camp developed in a more organized way, in part, owing to its proximity to the very military installation that the camp sought to protest. At the same time, the outward order of campus and camp did more to obscure than the eliminate the more dynamic, adaptive, and subversive signs of regular use, as the consistent appearance of alcohol bottles in excavations of dry campuses reveals.

The next chapter considers contemporary industrial landscapes and their ruins. From our vantage point in the Bakken oil patch of Western North Dakota, we can recognize how the character of the 21st-century oil boom depended upon the distinctive nature of the Middle Bakken oil deposits, the technologies of drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and the half-century of extractive industrial development in the region. While this book will unpack the complexities of the contemporary Bakken boom in the next chapter, this chapter will trace how landscapes defined by extraction, industrial production, and urbanism present distinctive opportunities to critique the expectations of capitalism and modern aspirations for production and consumption. Scenes of protest set against the overstated claims of economic development as well as the haunting specters of abandonment and decay trace the uneven rewards of capitalism and the blurry boundaries between the human and natural worlds.  

Here’s the conclusion:

This sprawling chapter extends from the gritty representations of ruin porn to the rhizomatic networks of flows that pool and eddy around protest sites and coalesce in the material form of the contemporary city. The complexities of the contemporary city and industrial ruins provide a backdrop for protests against racial, economic, and environmental injustice precisely because these places resist easy categorization and remain open for transgressive and transformational forms of expression. The emphasis on flows that are constitutive of urban landscapes parallels our recognition that things, whether media objects, discarded consumer goods, or newly acquired devices, represent the momentary coalescing of global networks with their wide range of social, political, and economic contexts. The ability of archaeology to unpack these diverse contexts allows us to understand the implications of ruins as spaces that cultivate transgressive acts, understand the limits of our ontological categories of human and nature, and reflect on foreclosed future and the contingency of capital. The final chapter of this book will finally reach the Bakken oil patch where in the second decade of the 21st century many keys flows constituent of American society came together in a dynamic and precarious archaeological landscape.

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