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

  • Jeffrey Fleisher

Extract

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.

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Corresponding author

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

References

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