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Landscapes of Inequality: Creative Approaches to Engaged Research


In this dissertation, I claim that collaborative research produces better data, interpretations, and ethical outcomes. I argue for an expanded toolkit of representational practices in anthropological archaeology. To do so, I compare how archaeological knowledge is created and becomes involved in contemporary land-use practices through two community-based research projects. The first, the Albany Bulb Archaeology Project (ABA), documented self-built homes at an Albany, CA public park after eviction in 2014. The second, the ongoing Berkeley-Abiquiú Collaborative Archaeology Project (BACA), surveyed and interpreted the historic acequia irrigation ditches that traverse the 18th century land grant community of El Pueblo de Abiquiú in northern New Mexico. Both projects investigate landscapes of inequality: spatial-temporal materialities forged by the phenomena of colonialism and capitalism in the last 400 years.

The landfill-turned-public-park known as the Albany Bulb is a landscape privileging use by an upper-middle class “public” over the home-making and care practices performed by people experiencing homelessness. Through an analysis of city documents and archaeological documentation, I deconstruct how urban development values a construction of “nature” over the realities of industrial history and contemporary homelessness. Creative interventions such as maps and photographs have emerged in response to the re- or even de-contextualization of this place as an “art park.” The presentation of these archaeological/artistic maps and photographs in an art gallery subsequently provides an opportunity to reflect on the effects of archaeological work on this contemporary issue.

El Pueblo de Abiquiú is a Genízaro Indio-Hispano community created by colonial Spanish practices of indentured servitude and relocation. Abiquiú’s story begins with colonial violence, displacement, and disenfranchisement. It continues to the present day, where movements for federal recognition and the adjudication of water rights pit Abiquiúceño resource and heritage management against the capitalistic mechanisms of the surrounding state and federal governments. I evaluate the impact of collaborative archaeological research on heritage revitalization and water rights with the Pueblo’s Genízaro residents. Using the concept of hydrosociality, I interpret the complex inter-relationship between people and water, governance and infra-structure, and past and present that make up acequias and their archaeological representations.

Building on the ethics of anthropological archaeological research and experimentation with art as a method for archaeological story-telling, I posit that socially engaged archaeology must use diverse strategies to not only communicate its narratives, but create them. This includes cultivating collaborative practices for research development, execution, and interpretation, as well as community-centered definitions of “success” and “meaning.” Different contexts present opportunities to change the terms of knowledge production and to achieve a critical “praxis” as proposed by calls for engaged research.

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