Skip to main content Accessibility help

On critical approaches, unintended consequences and the data of everyday life in ‘performing towns’

  • Jeffrey Fleisher


I welcome Axel Christophersen's effort to offer a new approach to the study of Scandinavian medieval urban communities, and his outline of an ‘urban archaeology of social practice’. His presentation of a theoretical framework and language offers many insights as to how archaeologists can analyse the way people constructed their social lives through practice. It is exciting to see studies that grapple with the complexities of everyday life in urban settings. This article makes a significant contribution in its explicit approach to a theory of practice that archaeologists can use to explore and describe social change. Christophersen draws heavily on the work of Shove, Pantzar and Watson as detailed in their 2012 book The dynamics of social practice. Everyday life and how it changes; I was unfamiliar with this work until reading this essay and I am impressed with the way this framework offers a language and a concrete approach to understanding how practices emerge, evolve and disappear. My goal here is not to revisit the details of this argument, but rather to push on some select issues raised in the paper. I first discuss the way that Christophersen frames his arguments against a processual archaeological approach, suggesting that his effort to provide an alternative might be unintentionally minimizing a more critical approach to everyday life. Next, I discuss the role and place of unintended consequences in Christophersen's argument. And finally I examine the way that Christophersen's approach might be more fully operationalized with data, providing some examples from my own work in eastern Africa.


Corresponding author

*Jeffrey Fleisher, Department of Anthropology, Rice University in Houston, Texas, USA. Email:


Hide All
De Certeau, M., 1984: The practice of everyday life, Berkeley.
Fleisher, J., 2013: Performance, monumentality and the ‘built exterior’ on the eastern African Swahili coast, Azania. Archaeological research in Africa 48 (2), 263–81.
Fleisher, J., 2014: The complexity of public space at the Swahili town of Songo Mnara, Tanzania, Journal of anthropological archaeology 35, 122.
Fleisher, J., and Sulas, F., 2015: Deciphering public spaces in urban contexts. Geophysical survey, multi-element soil analysis, and artifact distributions at the 15th–16th century AD Swahili settlement of Songo Mnara, Tanzania, Journal of archaeological science 55, 5570.
Fleisher, J., and Wynne-Jones, S., 2010: Archaeological investigations at Songo Mnara, Tanzania. Urban space, social memory and materiality on the 15th- and 16th-century southern Swahili coast, field report, available online at
Fleisher, J., and Wynne-Jones, S., 2012: Finding meaning in ancient Swahili spaces, African archaeological review 29 (2–3), 171207.
Fleisher, J., and Wynne-Jones, S., 2013: Archaeological investigations at Songo Mnara. 2011 field season. Field report, available online at
Gardiner, M., 2000: Critiques of everyday life, London.
Highmore, B., 2002: Everyday life and cultural theory. An introduction, London.
Highmore, B., 2011: Ordinary lives studies in the everyday, New York.
Joyce, R., 2004: Unintended consequences? Monumentality as a novel experience in formative Mesoamerica, Journal of archaeological method and theory 11 (1), 529.
Milek, K., and Roberts, H., 2013: Integrated geoarchaeological methods for the determination of site activity areas. A study of a Viking age house in Reykjavik, Iceland, Journal of archaeological science, 40, 1845–65.
Rapoport, A., 1988: Levels of meaning in the built environment, in Poyatos, F. (ed.), Cross-cultural perspectives in non-verbal communication, Toronto, 317–36.
Rapoport, A., 1990: The meaning of the built environment. A nonverbal communication approach, Tucson.
Robin, C., 2013: Everyday life matters. Maya farmers at Chan, Gainesville.
Shahack-Gross, R., Gilboa, A., Nagar-Hilman, O., Sharon, I. and Weiner, S., 2005: Geoarchaeology in an urban context. The uses of space in a Phoenician monumental building at Tel Dor (Israel), Journal of archaeological science 32, 1417–31.
Shillito, L.-M., and Ryan, P., 2013: Surfaces and streets. Phytoliths, micromorphology and changing use of space at Neolithic Çatalhoyük (Turkey), Antiquity 87, 684700.
Smith, M.E., 2007: Form and meaning in the earliest cities. A new approach to ancient urban planning, Journal of planning history 6 (1), 347.
Sulas, F., and Madella, M., 2012: Archaeology at the micro-scale. Micromorphology and phytoliths at a Swahili stonetown, Archaeological and anthropological sciences 4 (2), 145–59.
Wynne-Jones, S., 2013: The public life of the Swahili stonehouse, 14th–15th centuries AD, Journal of anthropological archaeology 32, 759–73.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed