Speculative Archaeology: The Politics of Disaster Debris

Shannon Lee Dawdy
Shannon Lee Dawdy, University of Chicago

Public Lecture:
Speculative Archaeology: The Politics of Disaster Debris
Shannon Lee Dawdy (University of Chicago)
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
4pm – Smathers Library 100

The debris pile from 134,000 New Orleans buildings damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina is visible from space. Although there was some effort to recycle materials through a little-known global market in demolition debris, most of the rubble amassed in place. In the future, archaeologists might reasonably consider the hurricane landfill a monumental structure. In the 1970s, Bill Rathje boldly suggested that an archaeological approach to contemporary life can reveal things about ourselves that we didn’t know. Modern landfills were his field sites. This talk thinks through Rathje’s garbology and the exceptionalism of disaster sites. Contestations reveal how important the management of debris and its ideological effects are to local and national governments. Trash is political. And politics is an assemblage of the human and the non-human, the intentional and the accidental.

Shannon Lee Dawdy is Professor of Anthropology and in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. She earned her doctorate from the University of Michigan in Anthropology and History in 2003. Her fieldwork combines archival, ethnographic, and archaeological methods. The central thread running through her work concerns how landscapes and material objects mediate human relationships, with a regional focus on the U.S., Cuba, and Mexico. Her enduring interests include historical anthropology, archaeology of the contemporary, temporality, and capitalism’s intimate effects. She is the author of Building the Devil’s Empire: French Colonial New Orleans (2008) and Patina: A Profane Archaeology (2016). Her current research projects focus on the materiality of American funeral practices and archaeology of the future.

This event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Prof. Ken Sassaman (sassaman@ufl.edu).

This event is organized by the UF Mellon Intersections Group on Imagineering and the Technosphere, with additional support from the Hyatt and Cici Brown Endowment for Florida Archaeology and Imagining Climate Change.