Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care: A Completed Draft

I’ve spent the last three months toiling over a paper that I’m scheduled to give at the European Archaeological Association meetings in September. I’ve posted parts of it here on the blog and gotten feedback from various folks. My panel is supposed to pre-circulate their papers today, and I do have a draft, but it’s pretty rough around the edges.

But since I’m pre-circulating it anyway, I thought I might as well post it here on my blog too. You can download it here, or go and mark it up using Hypothes.is here

The paper is for a panel on transhumanism, which I probably should have focused on more fully. Instead, I conflated transhumanism with a watered down version of Donna Harraway’s idea of the cyborg and reflected very broadly on the role of technology in shaping how we produce archaeological knowledge. 

The paper ended up being a bit more conservative than I would have liked, but that is probably true both to the “slow” paradigm that I’ve embraced for archaeology and, more obviously, the work of Jacques Ellul and Ivan Illich, which tend toward the explicitly un-progressive. That being said, I think there is a space for reflecting on how epistemologies, ontologies, methodologies, and the organization of disciplinary practice interact, and my paper parallels, perhaps in a not too distant way, some of the recent work being done to reconsider the value of antiquarian practices. Some of these scholars have seen antiquarianism as an avenue for understanding un-modern (and anti-modern) ways of producing archaeological knowledge that are, at least partly, free from the political and social burdens of modernity and colonialism

That being said, I don’t think that I get everything right. For example, I do see the recent interest in shifting the dominant metaphor in archaeology from excavation and revealing to surface survey and assemblage building as a way to integrate a wider and more diverse range of voices into process of archaeological knowledge making. In fact, Shannon Lee Dawdy’s and Olivier Laurent’s works do just that by showing how distinctive views of time, narrative building, values, and relationships contribute to place-making practices at the local level that operate outside disciplinary methods and arguments. At the same time, I see in the kind of assemblage building the potential for greater fragmentation in disciplinary practices which echoes the way in which digital tools create networks of independent devices linked by data broken into discrete fragments. 

In any event, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t get this paper all right, but as always I’ll appreciate any comments that you’re willing to offer. 

 

 

Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care (Part 2)

Over the last three months I’ve been fretting and toiling about a paper that I’m writing for European Archaeological Association meeting in September that is due to pre-circulate on August 1. I promised myself to have a completed draft done by July 15, not so much to fulfill some vague Germanic need to have things done on time, but because I was struggling to wrangle my ideas into something that made sense. I posted the first part of the paper on Monday and here’s the second section. It’s rough and a bit raw (and maybe bad). As always I appreciate both constructive and destructive criticism.

As the organizers of this panel know well, transhumanism offers a way to consider the interplay between technology and performance in society (e.g. Haraway 1984) and, more specifically, in archaeology. It also offers a vague roadmap to anticipate the social and disciplinary implications of new approaches to producing archaeological knowledge. Indeed, for most of the later 20th century archaeologists have embraced methodology and seen knowledge making as an explicit relationship between particular techniques, tools, and situations. In this way, archaeological work does not end at the limits of our bodies, but extends reciprocally through technology, techniques, and social organization to create the hybrid space of archaeological knowledge making.

I like to think of the resulting archaeology is far more superficial in the sense that Rodney Harrison has suggested with the dominant metaphor of excavation giving way to the production of surface assemblages consisting of people, objects, tools, and techniques. For authors like Shannon Lee Dawdy, the awareness of how assemblages produce meaningful pasts involves more than simply dutiful documentation and analysis of archaeological work but also recognizing the relationship between field work, local knowledge, ritual activities, and various pre- and anti-modern ways of locating, narrating, and producing social value for artifacts (Dawdy 2016). For Olivier (2012), this speaks to the chaotic nature of time and memory from which the discipline of archaeological seeks to produce an order, but not the only order possible, useful, or meaningful. In this context, the rather linear practice of stratigraphic excavation with its institutional, disciplinary, and performative underpinnings gives way to the raucous and uneven performance of punk rock music which often eschews expertise, barriers to access, and specialized knowledge. There’s an immediacy to it and an explicitly improvised character to even recorded punk music. To use Illich’s terms, the interaction between tools, performance, methods, and individuals is convivial.

My arguments for a slow archaeology shares an interest in conviviality when it seeks to privilege unstructured or less structured engagements with the countryside, embodied field practices like illustrating and note taking by hand, and avoiding the fragmentation of archaeological information into smaller bit of “data.” On the one hand, I remain optimistic that such views of the use of digital technology in archaeology are likely to be superseded as scholars continue to unpack the complex relationship between archaeologists and technology. The transhuman archaeologist is much more likely to recognize the interplay between ourselves and the various digital ”cognitive artifacts” that expand our ability to think about, recognize, or produce archaeological objects (Huggett 2017).

On the other hand, a transhuman archaeology will also transform the social organization of archaeological practice. Digital technology, for example, whatever its integrative potential, relies, in part, on the industrialist and Taylorist approach of dividing complex tasks into rather more simple ones as a step toward aggregating the results of these tasks into completed products. While the linearity of the assembly line may appear outmoded in our digitally networked world, its efficiency speaks to a common goal of fragmenting work as a way to mitigate differences in experience and expertise. Various crowd-sourced research projects (e.g. Sarah Parcak work) have shown how digital tools have produced non-linear approaches to complex archaeological problems. Whatever the value of this kind of archaeological work it is hard not to see it as a kind of digital approach to industrial logic, and as a result, and bringing a distinct form of deskilling (or at very least “reskilling“) to certain kinds of archaeological work.

I recognize that by following the logic of Ellul, Illich, and other anti-modernists, I am predisposed my to worry about the use of remote, structured or simplified recording digital recording interfaces, the ease of point-and-click data manipulation, or the use of software to synthesize unstructured data such as generated by digital photography into 3D structure-from-motion images (Morgan and Knight 2017). I do, however, think that the adoption of digital tools and the understanding of digital technologies at both a conceptual and applied level is not merely exchanging one set of skills for another (pace Roosevelt et al.), but also simplifying (and deskilling) certain elements of archaeological work.

Shifting from an assembly line model to a digital model that allows for more dynamic (and remote) access to data production and analysis will transform the organization of archaeological work. The coincidence between an approach to archaeological grounded in assemblages of individuals, objects, places, and pasts, and the democratizing character of digital practices demonstrates allows us to accommodate, but also replace certain kinds of specialists with a computer algorithm or commercial software. The incorporation of algorithms, software, digital tools, and new techniques into archaeological practice brings with them their distinctive logic of practice to field work and analysis.

Jacques Ellul’s work stressed how efficiency and specialization are bound up in the fuzzy concept of technique which he locates as the driving force behind human decision making. For Ellul, technique is modern desire to work efficiently as an end unto itself. Archaeology, on the one hand, as a discipline that emerged, at least in part, alongside industrial practices has always privileged efficiency in organization, documentation, and work. This is not to say that individual archaeologists only and always privileged efficiency, of course, but the very concept of specialization in approaches, methods, procedures, and experiences represents a kind of technique that has played a historically significant role in the production of archaeological knowledge. Practices that marked an individuals specialized skills from carefully maintained notebooks of the trench supervisor or the intricate illustrations of the architect today represent some of the very fields that digital practices propose to refine and improve.

As people like Eric Kansa have noted, the impulse to use digital tools to produce more efficient data collection, as an example, anticipated the recent fascination with “Big Data” well in advance of the consistent demonstration of its results (Kansa 2017; Bevan 20xx). This is not to say that big data will not lead to important breakthroughs in our field, but to suggest that the efficiency possible in digital data collection, analysis, and dissemination, has outpaced our ability to draw significant conclusions. As Roosevelt and others cleverly quipped, digitization is an alternative to destruction in the context of field practices, but this presupposes that this data can produce meaningful interpretation.

Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care

Over the last three months I’ve been fretting and toiling about a paper that I’m writing for European Archaeological Association meeting in September that is due to pre-circulate on August 1. I promised myself to have a completed draft done by July 15, not so much to fulfill some vague Germanic need to have things done on time, but because I was struggling to wrangle my ideas into something that made sense.

So here’s my a draft of my overly long introduction to the paper. Feedback is, as always, welcome:

My paper today is yet another effort to come to terms with my anxiety about the emergence of a transhuman, digital archaeology. To be clear from the start, I consider myself a bit of a digital archaeology and a digital native. I can’t remember, for example, living in a house without a computer and my role on archaeological projects has always involved data management and GIS. Over the last few years, I’ve also started an open access press, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, that privileges digital downloads over print and has featured a number of open access books that critically examine digital practices in archaeology.

My interest today is a speculative and theoretical and instead of focusing on the immediate context of field practices, I’d like to think about technology in archaeology in a more historical and expansive way. This will, of course, make many of my generalizations easy enough to dismiss with examples for actual field practices or implementation. These to me are reasons for optimism and perhaps reflect the advanced state of critical engagement with the way that digital tools are shaping the discipline. At the same time, I do think that long trajectory of digital practices in archaeology (and in our transhuman culture) remains unclear as folks like Jeremey Huggett have recognized (Huggett, Reilly, Lock 2018).

My small part in this conversation, which I shamelessly plug in the title of this paper, involved publishing a collection of reflections on ”punk archaeology” (Caraher et al. 2014) and, more recently, a couple of short articles that use the popular ”slow movement“ as an imperfect, but nevertheless accessible and useful lens for critically engaging digital archaeology (Caraher 2015, 2016) . Punk archaeology offered a view of archaeology grounded in radical and performative inclusivity, and slow archaeology considered the implications of a particular strand of scholarship that celebrated the increases in efficiency, accuracy, and precision associated with digital field practices. While both efforts have received substantive and thoughtful critiques that have demonstrated the limits to these analogies (archaeology is LIKE punk or LIKE the slow movement; see Richardson 2016; Graham 2017), I still hope that they offer some useful perspectives on the relationship between how archaeology produces the past in the present and how this shapes the organization of our discipline. It is the intersection of epistemological (and ontological) concerns and professional and disciplinary concerns that has heightened my sense of anxiety concerning archaeology’s digital future.

Some of this anxiety almost certainly comes from my growing interest in the works Ivan Illich and Jacques Ellul, mid-century Christian anarchists, who wrote critically on the rise of modern institutions and technology. Without over simplifying and eliding their different perspectives, both men saw the shift toward modern practices as profoundly disruptive to traditional values and a sense of community.

Ellul’s is perhaps the more problematic for considering archaeological practice. He suggests that the rise of rationality and technology, which he summarizes in the term “technique” after 1750 severed the careful attention of the individual from work itself (Ellul 1964). In its place emerged ”technique” which had its own abstract logic that was closely tied to the need for efficiency. Thus, in Ellul’s writing, emergence of technique in the place of individual care marked the decline in human autonomy as individual choices in how to work gave way to the inescapably logic of efficiency as the organizing principle structuring all human relations and relationships between humans and their tools. As Jennifer Alexander noted in her historical study of efficiency, “efficiency remains an iconic mantra in the high-tech industries,” and I’d argue efficiency remains a key consideration for how archaeology is organized and uses tools (Alexander 2008). In fact, a recent conference and publication dedicated to digital tools in field work, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future, was laced with the discussions of efficiency and terms like workflow. Among the most widely cited and read articles from Journal of Field Archaeology is Christopher Roosevelt’s (and team) thorough presentation of the digital workflow from their project in southwest Turkey.

Ivan Illich shared many of Ellul’s concerns and proposed that modernity, technology, and the state disrupted the conviviality that existed in the premodern world and among premodern societies (Illich 1975). For Illich, conviviality represented the opposite of modern productivity (with its interest in speed and efficiency) and emphasized the free, unstructured, and creative interaction between individuals and between individuals and their environment. For Illich, like Ellul, the use of technology does not result in a society more free, but one that is increasingly bereft of the conditions that allow for creativity as the need for efficiency and speed create a kind of dominant logic in practice. (One can see in this tension, for example, the curiosity driven and open-ended nature of basic science in contrast to the narrower more practically focused work of applied science (Pickering 1995).)

Archaeology, of course, has always been a hybrid discipline with certain aspects of practice grounded in the world of craft and others in the world of industrial (and increasingly post-industrial) practice. Michael Shanks and others have shown that archaeology, “has never been modern” or at least entirely modern as it integrates industrial and pre-industrial practices (Shanks and Maguire 1995; Shanks 2012). Recent efforts to champion the use of digital tools within archaeology have tended, however, at least on the practical level, to celebrate their ability to improve the aspects of archaeological work that tend not to align with industrial paradigms such interpretative description, scientific illustration, and the careful study of excavated artifacts. This suggests to me that the quest to improve efficiency in archaeological practice extends equally to modern and pre-modern practices in the discipline.

Illich’s and Ellul’s critiques of technology fit only awkwardly with much recent scholarship, of course. Efficiency itself has become increasingly regarded as a problematic term deeply embedded in practice and the coincidence of human and material agency (e.g. Shove 2017). Bruno Latour and others have demonstrated that any effort to unpack the complexity of energy in any system — social, mechanical, environmental, et c. — requires abstract acts of purification that define and separate energy and effects from their complex network of entangled relationships and practices (Latour 1993; Shove 2017, 7-8). This work, on the one hand, echos recent studies of both ancient and modern technology that have challenged tradition views of agency and argued that objects and individuals co-create the world. This greater attention to the interaction between individuals and objects has provided a compelling theoretical framework for understanding the interplay of technology, tools, objects, and agency in the construction of archaeological knowledge.

On the other hand, this work has only just begun, I suspect, to inform the thriving conversation on the impact of digital tools on the organization of archaeological practice (although see Pickering 1995; Taylor et al. 2018), the nature of archaeological skills and expertise, and issues of archaeological preservation and publication (Huggett 2017). In fact, changing views of agency in the world have created new views of ethics in archaeological practice as well as in the social organization of discipline (e.g. Dawdy 2016). Perhaps this entangled view of the world gives the work of Illich and Ellul new relevance for archaeologist concerned with the social issue of disciplinary practice across the field.

Two Abstracts for the European Association of Archaeologists Annual Meeting

My morning today was filled with finish abstracts from the EAA annual meeting. Since I can submit two and was kindly asked to contribute to two panels, I put together two abstracts that look to similar topics. These abstracts are pretty raw and the ideas should be both familiar to readers of this blog, but also slightly rougher and more incomplete. I’m thinking of them as prompts for me to develop as much as abstracts that summarize completed thoughts.

The first abstract is for Colleen Morgan, Catherine Frieman, and Marta Diaz-Guardamino Uribe’s panel titled “Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies”. I blogged about it here.

Here’s the abstract:

Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care

Recent research has emphasized the significant impact that digital technology is having on archaeological practice. Over the last decade, my work has tried to come to terms with post and transhuman archaeology. First, I proposed a “punk archaeology,” which looked to rawness and immediacy of punk rock music as a model for a disruptive interest in the performance of archaeological work. Later, I became intrigued by the popular “slow foods” movement as well as in the work of diverse scholars on the rapidly accelerating pace of modernity as a model for a “slow archaeology” that sought to trace both the rhetoric surrounding and practice of digital technology in field practice. Recent work by Eric Kansa and Ömür Harmanşah have pushed me to recognize that slow archaeology may well offer a solid foundation for critiquing the growing influence of neoliberal expectations in the use of digital tools in archaeological work.

This paper draws on field experiences doing intensive pedestrian survey in the Mediterranean and the archaeology of the contemporary world in North Dakota to consider how digital tools mediate and transform not only archaeological information in the field, but also the experience of fieldwork. Critical reflections on these processes have shaped an archaeology of care that considers more than the efficiency, accuracy, and convenience of digital tools and analysis, and, instead, shifts the focus how the archaeologist and these tools creates a meaningful space of archaeological practice. Archaeology of care foregrounds the constitution of the archaeological field team, interaction between archaeologists and communities during field work, the location of archaeological analysis, and the experience of archaeological knowledge making to expand our sensitivity to the ways that digital technology is transforming our discipline.

~

The second abstract is for Rebecca Seifried and Tuna Kalayci’s panel and titled “”The “Geospatial Turn”: Critical Approaches to Geospatial Technologies in Archaeological Research.” I’ve blogged about it here.

And, here’s my abstract:

Slow Spaces: Big Data, Small Data, and the Human Scale

Fernando Braudel famously demonstrated in The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, that historical data analyzed at various scales are not necessarily comparable or commensurate. In other words, history written at the chronological and spatial scale of the longue durée need not inform history written at the scale of the individual or event. On the one hand, this appears to be a common sense conclusion and corresponds well to our experience of purchasing suggestions produced by algorithm, the music choices of Pandora, or any number of predictive models that falter when ground-truthed.

On the other hand, archaeologists regularly seek to work between scales as they both collect information in the field in a tremendously granular and detailed way and seek to use so-called “big data” to understand lived experiences. To make data collected at the small scale commensurate with both data and research questions articulated at a larger scale invariably involves standardization practices that obscure the agency of the individual archaeologist. In this way, our sense of scale in argument influences, in some ways, the limits of agency in practice.

My paper today will briefly explore the intersection of slow archaeology and space in archaeology. Slow archaeology offers a critical approach to digital practices in field archaeology and emphasizes the irregular and unstructured nature of archaeological knowledge generated through experience. These slow spaces represent a distinct form of archaeological knowledge making because of their incommensurability with the spaces of big data. These are not space that can or should be reconciled with the conventional approaches of spatial analysis.

Slow Archaeology, Punk Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care

Over the last week or two, I’ve been trying to figure out a paper for a panel at the European Association of Archaeologists annual meeting in Barcelona in September. The panel is titled “Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies” and the abstract looks for papers that: 

“… evaluate the growing paradigm of digital archaeology from an ontological point of view, showcase the ways digital technologies are being applied in archaeological practice—in the field/lab/studio/classroom—in order to critically engage with the range of questions about past people and worlds into which digital media give us new insights and avenues of approach.”

It’ll be a good panel and the folks proposing it are both cutting edge and super smart.

Obviously, this is something that deeply interests me, but it also has demoralized me in some ways. Whenever I read the latest paper on the use of digital tools, technologies, and practices in the field, I feel a bit anxiety. The language geared toward efficiency, accuracy, precision, and seamlessness in archaeological work doesn’t make me happy and to think that the archaeology of the future will be better, that the knowledge that we produce will be better, that the discipline that defines us will be better, and that the society that we inhabit will be better. I don’t like the feeling that – to paraphrase any number of recent dystopian science-fiction plots: “humanity is a bug” and technology is the solution.

Slow Archaeology, Punk Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care.

I’m not sure that humanity is a problem to solve and challenge to overcome and somewhat is begging to be enhanced, augmented, or virtualized. I actually like just normal reality. I don’t really want to click here to save everything. I’m not comfortable with the idea that symmetrical archaeology requires symmetrical practice, and I don’t enjoy the realization that the varied abilities of humans are affordances that constrain the functioning of tools.

I’m not saying that we don’t all need a little BLOCKCHAIN in our lives or that I haven’t adapted to the keyboard on my space-grey MacBook Pro. I mean, I wear and Apple Watch and it has nudged me to exercise more regularly. I used a drone to map a hilltop fortification this summer in probably 20% of the time that even a bad conventional survey map would take. I now stream cricket, the NBA, television shows, movies, and most importantly for me, music. Running my high-resolution, streamed music through a vacuum tube amplifier that drives full-range, paper drivers makes me feel a little better, but only because it obscures how deeply embedded I am in the internet of things. I mean, I think my dogs are real. I’m pretty sure. I’ve asked them repeatedly if they dream of electric squirrels. The bigger, yellow dog, just tilts his head.

What also causes me anxiety is that technology is also a problem to solve. Perfect music forever has become high resolution audio has become high definition audio has become vinyl spinning on turntables. The portable digital document in portable document format has become obsolete in the age of linked, machine readable data. Text mining offers ways to strip meaning from the tangled clutter of language or to strip language from the page or mine meaning from the ore of style or something. Mountains of text are now laid low, but the slag heaps of un-mineable documents threaten to bury the town. The codex discarded on a riverbank becomes an object rather than a source.

In fact, everything is an object now. We catalogue objects, collect objects, objects become database objects, objects orient toward ontologies. Things fall into line or create lines or become lines or push us to fall into line. Sometimes, I feel like I just can’t deal with it all.

And all the while, the churning hum of technology of data of objects pushes us people – symmetrically – to become data too. Uberfication. Archeology isn’t about the past. It’s not about people. It’s not about societies or buildings or art or identity or even the archaeologist. It is about data. Archaeology is a data problem to be solved. Uber is really a data analysis company. So is archaeology these days. 

To be clear, I’m part of the problem. I use the word workflow, I’ve talked about data, I’ve thought about blockchain (but not really), and I’ve even considered efficiency and inefficiency as metrics to evaluate practice. Even if I admit that good practices are inefficient, the friction in the system contributes energy to creativity. Industrial and post-industrial metaphors saturate my prose and introduce seams to the smooth contours of experienced reality.

Maybe it makes sense. After all, books have pages. Archaeology is a discipline born from industrial practices. Schliemann was an industrialist. The tools of the industrial and the post-industrial revolution – the railway, the assembly line, specialization, the manager, the spreadsheet, the database – have coevolved (and it been compounded by the university). It’s hardly surprising that archaeology is post-industrial these days and data driven. 

Even craft and slow and punk these days stands apart more and more as a response or a reaction. Craft beer isn’t less manufactured somehow and mechanical watches use silicon balance springs and were designed in AutoCad and 3D printed. Vacuum tube amplifiers have integrated circuits to balance the tubes.  Vinyl records are produced from digital masters. Craft and slow are an affect. There is no outside the digital.

Anyway, I’m spiraling now. I’m going to give a paper in September and it’s going to try to say some of these things in a way that embodies my very human anxiety. Digitally mediated anxiety. Craft anxiety. Intentionally imperfect to remind us that perfect data forever used to not be a thing.

Voices of the Bakken (and some other cool stuff)

Last weekend, the night before the Eagles punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, a group of us got together to talk punk rock in the Trump era at Ojata Records in Grand Forks.

IMG 1735

As part of that event, I put together a little grab bag of music, books, and documents donated by punk rockers, interested fellow travelers, and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Thanks to Andrew Reinhard, Chris Matthews and Quiz Show, June Panic, Brian Schill, Bret Weber, and everyone else who made this possible and contributed something fun to the little handout.

Here’s a link to that packet.

IMG 1733

The part of this little packet that excites me the most is the first little glimpse of a huge project brewing at The Digital Press: Bret Weber’s Voices of the Bakken. Over the half-decade life of the North Dakota Man Camp Project, Bret Weber and his colleagues have interviewed dozens of people in the Bakken. The plan has been to publish all of these interviews with commentary. At present, we’re offer a sample of six of them to give a taste of the range and character of the interviews. 

Here’s a link to that book.

Weber Voices of the Bakken Cover

Punks on Trump

Next week, I’m going to hang out with some pretty fun guys and talk about punk rock in the  Trump era at Ojata Record in Grand Forks. The event is partly to celebrate the publication of Brian Schill’s new book, This Year’s Work in the Punk Bookshelf, Or, Lusty Scripts (Indiana University Press, 2017), which we chatted about over on the North Dakota Quarterly page in November and the book that Bret Weber and I wrote, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (NDSU Press 2017). 

There will be bands: June Panic and the Semaphores and Mistaken Thieves.

There’s a free book: Punk Archaeology (The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota 2014).

Here’s a link to the Facebook event page. The press release is below the flyer.

PunksOnTrump

Local authors and bands to talk “Punk in the Trump Era”

GRAND FORKS—On Saturday, January 20, 2018, a handful of current and former UND faculty will occupy the stage to discuss “Punk in the Trump Era” at Ojata Records in Grand Forks. 

Representing the fields of history, music, archaeology, social work, and cultural studies, Bill Caraher, Chris Gable, and Brian Schill will hold an open conversation about what, if anything, punk subculture contributes to contemporary political discourse in the United States today, especially with an eye toward the current American President.

“For all its dissonance and noise, punk rock music has always offered some salient commentary on contemporary politics,” Caraher says. “With the world seemingly more and more chaotic and dissonant all the time, today seems like a readymade opportunity for those who think about punk seriously to stoke this conversation.”

According to Schill, the panel very much expects audience participation in the free, public event, which will be moderated by UND Social Work professor and Grand Forks City councilperson Bret Weber.

“While the politics of punk are often stereotyped as left-leaning, they’re often much more ambiguous,” adds Schill, who performed in punk clubs across the country with a variety of bands in the late-1990s and early-2000s. “Some punk bands have joined the so-called resistance movement, but there are a lot of Trump supporters among those who also identify as ‘punk,’ including former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten and the punkier members of the alt-right.”

The event doubles as a book release party of sorts as each of the faculty are promoting recent scholarship they’ve produced on (post)punk, politics, and North Dakota:

·       Caraher is co-author of The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (NDSU Press, 2017) and published the title Punk Archaeology (The DigitalPress@UND) in 2014

·       Weber is Caraher’s The Bakken co-author and has studied the social impact of North Dakota’s oil boom

·       Gable is the author of The Words and Music of Sting (Praeger, 2008) and The Words and Music of Sheryl Crow (Praeger, 2016)

·       Schill is the author of the literary history of punk and postpunk music, This Year’s Work in the Punk Bookshelf, Or, Lusty Scripts (Indiana University Press, 2017)

The panel will serve as the opening act for performances by two local punk/indie bands: June Panic and the Semaphores and Mistaken Thieves.

The event, sponsored by Ojata Records (aka Dogmahal) and agricouture.org, begins around 7 p.m.

###

Brian James Schill
Founder, agricouture.org
agricoutures@gmail.com

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.

Another One for The Punk [Archaeology] Bookshelf

I finally got a chance to finish reading Brian James Schill’s This Years Work in the Punk Bookshelf, or, Lusty Scripts (2017). It is a vital component to any collection of recent punk rock literature and holds its own next to Zach Furness’s Punkademics, Beer’s Punk Sociology, and, even (modestly of course), Punk Archaeology.

Unlike those books which tend to deal more with the performative aspects of the punk movement, their radical politics, DIY aesthetic, or their general ambivalence toward convention, Schill’s book considers the intellectual roots of punk rocks and reconstructs a punk bookshelf filled with the works of Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Dostoevsky, Henry Miller, Genet, and Philip K. Dick. While, I won’t do too much of a review here, because I’m interviewing him for a longer piece over at North Dakota Quarterly that’ll appear next week, I wanted to draw some attention to this book, especially among my punk archaeology friends.

One of the key things that I learned from Schill’s careful reading of punk lyrics and punk literature – from the genuine literary outputs of Richard Hell and Exene Cervenka to the myriad interviews in often ephemeral punk and music zines of the day, is the tremendous ambivalence in punk. For every moment of Dionysian fervor on stage, there’s an equal moment of contemplative reflection on genuinely challenging texts that fueled their transgression. The careful reading of Marx and the frequent commitment to radical politics belied their sometimes bourgeois upbringing and tastes in literature. Their rejection of convention often did not extend to their rejection of education with numerous punks going on to receive graduate degrees. Schill’s work explores and attempts in many ways to resolve this tension and to demonstrate certain broad patterns in punk bookshelf that both elucidate and run counter to the prevailing view of punk as an anti-intellectual movement.

The book is very much an exploration of punk as a field of literary expression that is only gently tethered to social, economic, cultural or political life of the day, the grind of the music industry, or even the musicality of punk in general. But this is not a bad thing, necessarily, because it shows that however much punks were sellouts, products of their era, poor or untrained or just uninteresting musicians, or posers, they were well-read, thoughtful, and reflective. In a word, no matter how much their music seemed and sounded derivative, uncontrolled, and angry, they were not superficial and in their own way they sought to be genuine.

When Kostis Kourelis and I started talking about punk archaeology, we began with the simple question of why so many archaeologists found something significant in punk rock music. Pursuing that across a blog and a book, we argued that it was the DIY aesthetic, the critique of convention, or even the explicitly performative character of archaeological work that drew us to punk. We didn’t say as much about the intellectual side of punk rock. Maybe we recognized the Marxist, collectivist character of the Mekons, the presence of entropy and destruction in the work of the Velvet Underground or Iggy Pop, or the focus on materiality in Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and other cyberpunk authors, but we certainly didn’t dig as deeply (see what I did there?) into the intellectual roots of punk rock to find cross currents with archaeological work (or at least I didn’t). Even the allusions to Freud that Schill excavates from numerous punk songs passed through the collective sieves of our punk archaeological imaginations.  

Schill’s book brings the intellectual aspects of punk rock into a greater focus, and in that way deserves a place on the punk [archaeology] bookshelf. Stay tuned for a conversation with the author over at the North Dakota Quarterly page next week!

Bricolage and Performance

I was intrigued by Katy Soar and Paul-François Tremlett’s recent contribution to the World Archaeology issue on counter-archaeologies. They examine the material culture and space of the Occupy Democracy demonstration in London in 2014 and the “Disobedient Objects” exhibit in the Victoria and Albert Museum during the same year. 

For the authors “protest objects” represent both embody Lévi-Strauss’s concept of bricolage to describe the opportunistic re-use of everyday objects as objects supporting protest. Tents, camp chairs, banners, tarps, and other objects drawn from everyday life become protest objects when situated in relation to both political spaces (in this case, the Parliament) and amid a particular set of performative gestures. The protesters used these objects to perform their critique of democracy (or whatever). The police and “heritage wardens” tasked with keeping the area around Parliament “authentically heritigistical” (or something of that sort) performed their critique of the demonstration by removing and destroying these objects. In short, the relationship between the diverse assemblage of objects associated with the Occupy Democracy protests in London and a range of performative gestures create meaning.

The nearly contemporary exhibit of “disobedient objects” at the Victoria and Albert transformed these same objects into artifacts of the protest. Severed from the immediacy of performance, the objects nevertheless served to evoke the spirit of the Occupy movement by standing in for the absent performative relationships that gave them meaning. At the same time, the exhibit succeeded in “othering” these objects by locating them within the foreign performative confines of the experience of the museum. For the authors, this exhibit transformed the tradition of museum display at the Victoria and Albert from one based on the formal qualities of an artifact to one based on its use. The museum offered a hybridized perspective that relied on the utter banality of the “disobedient objects” to highlight meaning generated through their performative context.

This move by the museum (and this article) to re-contextualize these disobedient objects in a way that allows for their investigation and interrogation reminds me a good bit of what I was trying to do with my tourist guide to the Bakken. The modern space of the museum, the academic article, and the tourist guide provides a performative context for objects that both re-presents some aspect of their original performance as well as opening up those relationships for examination. To my mind, this move is fundamental to modernity and echoes, for example, our ability to both be part of “nature” and to isolate it for study.  

The banality of the objects used by the demonstrators and their transformation to protests objects and then, through re-exibition at a museum to disobedient objects, likewise informed my ongoing study of everyday objects used in construction of temporary domestic space in the Bakken. Shipping pallets, cable spools, camping chairs, gas grills, scrap wood, and generators contribute to everyday life in the Bakken through a network of performative relationships and other objects. By locating the research – as tourist – within this network of relationships (that in some ways define dwelling), we acknowledge the artifice of our gaze as part of the world that defines and recognizes these objects.