- Archaeology Director of Graduate Studies 2012 -
The central preoccupation of my research and writing is the role that the material world—everyday objects, representational media, natural and built landscapes—plays in our political lives. Our social worlds, from the ancient past to the modern present, are forged upon a dense thicket of objects, from the spaces and places we move through to the plethora of things that orbit around us. Yet rarely do we pause to understand how this material world has shaped our political procedures and values. This neglect is particularly surprising since at root, the two dominant political traditions of the modern era—liberalism and socialism—are as concerned to define our relations to things (or at least to property in the abstract) as they are to describe our ties to one another as fellow citizens. The canny recognition that in order to reshape the political community we must start by remolding our ties to the tangible world around us hints at, but does not explain, the depth of our entanglement with material culture. How did we arrive at this intimate relationship with a material world that in the last two centuries has attained unprecedented ubiquity and complexity? And what are the implications of this avowedly archaeological view of the polity for the way we understand the principles and priorities of political association? These are the primary questions that thread through my scholarship and my current research seeks to advance this broad project in theoretical, historical, and empirical terms.