H. Materiality of Contemporary Practices

Organizers: Rosemary A. Joyce and Peter Nelson, University of California, Berkeley

Saturday, May 7th
10:00 – 12:00
Kroeber 221 (The Gifford Room)


Archaeologists are not simply students of contemporary practices and materialities; we participate in them. This session brings together archaeologists (and interested others) whose life includes the practice of some embodied skill or expert engagement with materiality to reflect on those practices from the dual perspectives of participant-observers. Submissions are invited that examine communities of practice, historical reproduction of practices, the experience of a practice, or any other topic that might help us think about the past in a less uninhabited, mechanistic way.


Throwing Pots

Rosemary Joyce, University of California, Berkeley, rajoyce@berkeley.edu

The physicality implicit in the phrase “throwing pots” is my entry into a discussion of what an archaeologist learns by participating in contemporary studio pottery production. My production of pots is not analogous to that of the ancient pottery I study: those pots were hand built from slabs, while I “throw pots”. But the bodily awareness that I gain does help me understand pragmatic aspects of making pots: that water-saturated clay doesn’t like to be handled; the tendency of drying pieces to deform from an overly hasty touch; these and other bodily habits will be the focus of my discussion.

Songs in the Key of Off: Archaeology and Popular Music

Paul Graves-Brown, Independent Scholar, slightly.muddy@virgin.net

Since my teens I have been a practising musician, written music, and worked with music technology. Before falling foul of archaeology I worked as a BBC sound engineer. It is only recently that my archaeological practice converged with music. Practical skills are invaluable, yet there are aspects of practice that defy words. As a (competent?) musician, producer, and engineer I often find that music history/technology publications lack understanding about what the technology can be made to do. In this paper I will try to discuss my experience, bearing in mind that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”.

Theory on the Cutting Edge: How Changing Notions of Gender Transformed Western Techniques of the Body and the Materiality of Fencing

Peter Nelson, University of California, Berkeley, peteran@berkeley.edu

Embodiment of form and technique is essential to the success of all fencers.  But what defines success and how does goal-orientation shape bodies and objects—materiality—within fencing?  The transition of mainstream fencing from a martial art to a modern sport had profound effects on how fencers fence; that is, they began favoring more “masculine” aesthetics of strength and “athleticism” over sensitivity and “blade conversation.”  The equipment created for practice and competition began to exhibit attributes that favored the modern style of sport.  These changes in materials and competition rules completely transformed the experience of all fencers on the piste.


Russell Sheptak, University of California, Berkeley, rsheptak@berkeley.edu

The production of software may seem to be disembodied to those unfamiliar with the process. In this paper, I examine the embodied practices through which I write code. While we have long ago realized that computer programs are parts of material systems, I explore practices that still are left largely unexamined, but that—as with other forms of embodied practice—produce members of a community of practice at the same time that they produce useful things.

Making Material in a Digital Age

Daniela Rosner, UC Berkeley School of Information, daniela.rosner@gmail.com

Craft conventions are on the move. Textile designers sew circuitry into clothing, jewelers use 3D printers, and knitters share tips online. Despite the increasing role of digital tools in craft, both popular culture and academia tend to consider the digital separately from the physical. This paper takes a different tact through ethnography, design, and physical prototyping with Spyn: software that associates digital records—audio/visual media, text, and geographic data—with physical locations on handmade fabric. During fieldwork with knitters, I found that digital engagements enabled a range of material practices that, like traditional craft, traced and redefined ongoing cultural production.