Natural Graffiti and Cultural Plants: Memory, Race, and Contemporary Archaeology in Yosemite and Detroit

John M. Chenoweth
2017 American Anthropologist  
This paper argues that some elements of material culture can creatively cross the line between notions of "nature" and "culture" as these and related ideas are often tacitly understood by some modern people. This has implications for the biosphere, but the division of these categories is also tied up with the division of people, processes of identification, memorialization, and the way some people are defined out of the human realm altogether. Modern material culture-objects used, left,
more » ... ted, and removed by people-seems particularly adept at telling us about these categories in the minds of some modern people. An archaeology of the contemporary examines how people interact with different kinds of "natural" things in places where nature and culture, in the modern imaginary, meet and conflict. In the starkly different contexts of the city of Detroit and Yosemite National Park, such objects have been managed and manipulated in a way that speaks to crucial issues of memory, identity, and race. [contemporary archaeology, nature and culture, memory, national parks, Detroit] RESUMEN Este artículo argumenta que algunos elementos de la cultura material pueden de manera creativa cruzar la línea entre las nociones de "naturaleza" y "cultura", en la medida en que éstos e ideas relacionadas son a menudo entendidos tácitamente por algunas personas modernas. Esto tiene implicaciones para la biosfera, pero la división de estas categorías está también ligada a la división de las personas, los procesos de identificación, la memorialización, y a la manera como algunos individuos son definidos enteramente fuera de la esfera humana. La cultura material moderna-objetos usados, dejados, manipulados, y removidos por individuos-parece particularmente experta en contarnos acerca de estas categorías en las mentes de algunos individuos modernos. Una arqueología de lo contemporáneo examina cómo las personas interactúan con diferentes clases de cosas "naturales" en lugares donde la naturaleza y la cultura, en el imaginario moderno, se encuentran y entran en conflicto. En los contextos severamente diferentes de la ciudad de Detroit y Yosemite National Park, tales objetos han sido manejados y manipulados de una manera que habla sobre cuestiones cruciales de memoria, identidad, y raza. [arqueología contemporánea, naturaleza y cultura, memoria, parques nacionales, Detroit] Understanding the contours of where modern people draw the line between nature and culture and seeing the ways in which this line is crossed or blurred has far-reaching implications for science, politics, and relations of power (Ellen 1996, 28). Any environmental action-any effort to "protect" or "restore" natural cycles, species, places, or processes-depends on the exact boundaries of what is defined in discourse as cultural and natural realms. The division of these categories is also tied up with divisions of people and the processes by which some are even defined out of the human realm altogether. These terms, which have been widely discussed in anthropology over the last few decades, must be revisited again since they continue to structure public discourse. This paper argues that some elements of material culture can creatively cross the lines between notions of "nature," "cultural," "wild," and "urban" as these and related ideas are often
doi:10.1111/aman.12906 fatcat:krrqk2spdfehdbth3sigjiggfm