Friday May 19th,  2017 Afternoon Sessions - 1:30pm-5pm


Session: "Being Present, Getting on Together: Re-Opening Foreclosed Futures and Making Life in Ruins.”


Session Organizers:


Lee Bloch, University of Virginia.


Macario Garcia, University of Virginia


ABSTRACT: How do old and durable materialities draw people into the present as a space for attending to historical trauma? Who and what animates ruined worlds supposedly devoid of life and foreclosed of futurity? Contemporary public anxieties about toxicity, disaster, and climate change—political realities and capitalistic fantasies of futures dominated by apocalyptic wastelands—frame the future as something alternately possessed or dispossessed of; as private property and as foreclosed upon. Many worry these wastelands will wreak havoc and ruin bodies, eradicating and irradiating life and creating mutant ecologies and denuded landscapes. Most powerfully and painfully, these possessive futures obscure those already feeling the uneven effects of capitalist, colonial, and heteropatriarchal ecologies in the present, those who already live in their ancestor’s apocalyptic futures (Whyte 2017). The past is not something over and done with and the future is not something that some people have and others are dispossessed of. Who, then, breathes life into ruins and wastelands (and artifacts)? How do divergent pasts and futures co-emerge when, for example, Indigenous people gift historic beads with each other and ancestral bones, when someone looks for a certain plant or nourishment in decaying buildings, or when a mountain seen through a prison window provides a reminder that life still exists. And are ruins given new life only by humans, or also by plants, insects, rivers? Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s “now-time” (Jetztzeit), Rodney Harrision’s (2011) outlines an “archaeology in and of the present” that “gathers up” the past within the present. Old materialities, in this sense, are not only “of the past” but continue to animate the present. In gathering up the past to be present with historical wounds, how can the present also become a space of caring and healing? How can we get on together, making life and imagining alternative futures within ruins of pasts that were supposed to be foreclosed and over with? We encourage papers that help us think through these and other questions as it relates to archaeological scholarship and practices.



Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.

 Harrison, Rodney. 2011. “Surface Assemblages: Towards an Archaeology in and of the Present.” Archaeological Dialogues 18(2):141-61.

Whyte, Kyle Powys. 2017. “Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene. Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities, edited by Ursula Heise, Jon Christensen, and Michelle Niemann. New York: Routledge.


Individual papers:


Ancestral Materialities in Contemporary Circulation: Simultaneity Theory and Being Present with Historical Wounds


Lee Bloch, University of Virginia


Everyday life in the US South unfolds in an ongoing dystopia of settler colonialism. Yet ancestral presences and descendants whose ancestors avoided Removal remain, finding ways of getting on and making futures. If archaeological historicities take shape within the knotted paths of movement and transformation of soils, durable objects, and their representations, this paper engages with nonlinear and affective Indigenous archaeologies emergent within circulations of ancestral things between sentient landscapes, ethereal presences, and descendant peoples. Such moments extend ancestral exchange networks into the present, creating spaces for mutual care that renews intimacies with landscapes while attending to the wounds of settler colonialism and capitalist expansion. These circulations exceed settler colonial temporalities: an ongoing longue durée of forces that reach into and shape the present in its own image, pasts that refuse to stay to themselves. Ancestors call upon descendants to recover stolen bones; descendants become consumed with ancestral desires to amass commodity beads. In becoming consumed with ancestral affects, descendants must find ways of making peace with others’ historical wounds. Drawing on Ursula Le Guin’s novel, The Dispossessed, I outline an affective-temporal theory of simultaneity. As an alternative to linear and sequential time, simultaneity assumes the co-presence of past, present, and future. Le Guin’s writing also evokes an ethos of being present with one another’s pain without necessarily fixing it: of being present with others’ wounds. Simultaneity theory provides a framework for events that exceed the normative limits of the possible within (popular understandings of) settler colonial physics but insist on happening anyway. It foregrounds the co-presence of moments folded into each other and a mode of care that unfolds in being present with each others wounds, re-opening unfinished histories, and getting on together in futures that were supposed to be foreclosed.



Fell the Witness Trees: Semiotic Landscapes of Collective Trauma


Julia Gabrielle Barnes, Anthropology of Virginia


This paper deals with subjective memory and memorialization practices in collective trauma that goes unrecognized and is outright denied by culpable polities. I address the personal narrative of Gina, a survivor of the 1943 foibe massacres in the Primorska region of Slovenia, the memorialization of which remain highly contested and deeply politicized to this day. My assessment will follow Brigittine French’s (2012) application of a semiotic orientation to Nora's (1989) notion of memory sites, lieux de mémoire, to the inadequate attempts by the Italian and Slovenian governments to make and remake collective memories of these atrocities. Following Brighttine French’s (2012) a semiotic approach to Nora’s (1989) notion of lieux de memoire (memory sites), this paper locates collective memory in iconic signs in two ways: first, the popular mode of constructing monuments and memorials; and second, in Gina’s narrations of sentient ecology manifest in “witness trees.” These trees had a role in municipal government and presided over towns where Italian and German fascism and the subsequent foibe massacres ravaged the local population. The removal of many of these trees after the war can be read as a symbolic destruction of potentially the most significant sites of local collective memory. While the witness trees were uprooted, and the massacres long denied politically sanctioned memorials, language became an essential repository for survivors—In fact, Gina recorded her story in a foreign language that she herself did not speak. Exploring local enforcement of topically regulated language practices offers perspective on the long-term effects of entextualization and erasure in collective memory. The semiotic perspective is provides a powerful heuristic for mapping the courses by which past trauma is confronted and communicated in a politically charged present.



Mobility Matters: Materializing Mobile Spaces at a Southwestern American Prison


Macario Garcia, University of Virginia


In this paper, I demonstrate that incarcerated people’s mobilities at the Desert Echo Facility (DEF), a medium/maximum-security prison in the American Southwest, are visceral and simultaneously encompass relationalities, sensorialities, temporalities, and materialities. Instead of homogenized and easily distinguished movement practices, I assert that DEF mobilities enmesh in innumerable ways that challenge current conceptions of what it means to be mobile, as well as confined. DEF incarcerated people exhibit Nancy Munn’s (1990) mobile spatio-temporal fields that stretch from an individual's body throughout many different locales; however, the men and Trans women viscerally feel and materialize these fields as consequences of their confinement and everyday correctional living. While spatio-temporal fields can be mobile, they can also be confining, contributing to sensory overload, relational deprivation, and uncontrollable urges or bodily reactions. Most importantly, not all mobilities feel the same or carry equal meanings to different peoples. An ethnographic mobilities analysis from DEF incarcerated people’s perspectives also demonstrates that though many imagine prisons to be places of social and material restriction, they simultaneously exist as spaces where specific relations and sensorial practices become amplified during everyday correctional operations. Following repeated requests from the men and Trans women held captive at the DEF, I attempt to make you feel their mobilities in order to challenge rigid preconceptions about correctional life while also exemplifying how their continuous punishment does not fit their crimes.


Munn, Nancy

 1990 Constructing Regional Worlds in Experience: Witchcraft and Gawan Local Events. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.  Vol. 25(1).  pp 1-17.




A Contemporary Heritage Ontological Domain: The Centralia “Zone of Sacrifice”


John Sabol, I.P.E. Research Center


Michael Shanks (2012) has said that archaeology “deals in a past which is not so much over and done, no longer present, as both present in ruins and remains and uncannily non-absent phantoms, hauntingly present”. Centralia, a former coal mining town now abandoned, is full of these ‘phantoms’ that are ‘hauntingly present’ as layers of patina entangled to a contemporary social stratigraphy that re-inhabits a place of absence. Today, this is a zone of continuing transformations, and perhaps something else: a ‘living’, vibrant anthracite coal mining heritage of destructive production, one that is not exhibited in glass displays of material culture, re-enacted events, or restored as a series of re-constructed buildings (or ones left in ‘controlled ruination’). Being there, experiencing the landscape in transformation, is a ‘heritage phenomenology’, providing meaning beyond an archaeological interpretation at the trowel’s edge, and more visible than subsurface geophysical scans. It is an example of what Ingold (1993) envisioned as “engaging perceptually with an environment that is itself pregnant with the past”. Today, Centralia shows how its landscape was already in a state of ruination in a place ‘pregnant’ with memories of exploitation, deeply-excavated histories and stories, and traces of dangerous (still present) work spaces. These elements produce a change in the cultural significance of the place, a shift in its social imaginaries, and offers alternative heritage horizons in which a multiplicity of cultural experiences and relationships can (should) be mediated. The backstory of Centralia that will be presented will direct focus to what Tilley (1990) has called on archaeology to do: “challenge and restructure the blackside of modernity: domination, exploitation, repression, alienation”. In those considerations, Centralia certainly is a landscape that offers a heritage ontology of destructive-production