The Interdisciplinary Archaeology Workshop is pleased to present:
“The Life Assemblage?: Preliminary Thoughts on the Politics of Pastoralism”
PhD Candidate, Anthropology
Thursday, February 20, 2014
4:30 p.m., Haskell Hall 315
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Abstract: For many years, the idea of assemblages has been integral to zooarchaeological analysis, providing a way of tracing the impacts of human behavior and taphonomic processes through time. However, I suggest that the integration of domesticated animals – in particular herd animals – into human societies creates the possibility of, and the need for, particular acts of assembling of people, animals, and landscapes. The mixing of species, sexes, and ages in herds; practices of sharing and/or loaning animals; the distribution of labor around the herds; and the coordination of movements of groups of animals and humans all suggest ways in which herds themselves represent processes or loci for acts of assembling. Similarly, the foods derived from animals also play a role in acts of assembling involved in commensality. Feasts (as well as other less marked forms of consumption) are sites or moments of assembly – of people, food, and other materials.
This discussion starts by exploring taphonomy as a historically contingent (and not merely uniformitarian) process. In doing so, the logics of incompleteness and contingency fundamental to taphonomic analyses in zooarchaeology can be extended into the “life assemblage” itself. I argue that the political stakes of assemblings are two-fold. First, they produce the background of everyday, unremarkable practices of production, consumption and exchange. Second, assembling is also key to producing material, semiotic narratives of how things (and people) should be, that is, the production of discourses of power. I draw on zooarchaeological analysis of faunal remains from pastoralists societies in the Late Bronze Age South Caucasus as a case study. I suggest how analyzing pastoralism as acts of assembling – acts that produce both structures of practices and forms of meaning – can productively address the simultaneously economic and political stakes of the organization of pastoralist life.