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Identity Politics and Subtle Ethnocentrisms: Queering Complexity in Ancient Maya Society

Date and Time: 
Thursday, March 9, 2017. 05:00 PM - 06:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Stanford Archaeology Center; Building 500, Room 106
Workshop: 
Archaeological Histories and Futures
Meeting Description: 

Chelsea Blackmore is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. As a Mesoamerican archaeologist, Dr. Blackmore examines the role of social identity in the construction and conceptualization of ancient states. Using queer and feminist theories, her work questions models of complexity that minimize the role of everyday people and practices. She has directed field research at sites in California, Mexico and Belize and is developing a new project focused on the role of illicit and illegal settlements in the formation of colonial-period (AD 1544-1840) Belize. She is currently finishing a book manuscript entitled Queering Complexity: Reimagining Class, Politics, and Identity in Ancient Maya Society.

When we speak of complex societies, archaeologists primarily consider broad systems of power, socio-political access, and economic control. These discussions, both explicit and implicit, continue to be framed by heteropatriarchical and classist assumptions.  Elites and men (as conceptual and literal heads of households) remain the frame of reference for how states operate and who and what matters in our discussions of complexity. Using queer and feminist theory, I interrogate how the normalization and standardization of archaeological evidence ignores social variation and the impact that “queered” identities had in shaping civil society. Moreover, I explore the connection between colonial texts and the role they continue to play in the construction of the past. While many have critiqued the use of ethnographic and ethnohistoric analogy, I suggest these have focused primarily on the overt omissions and mistakes of early explorers and scholars.  But what of the subtle ethnocentrisms and microaggressions that exist—the ones that align with modern day conceptions and practices, such as those related to constructions of gender, sexuality, and kinship?

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