Institute of Archaeology



Conceptualising Resistance in Archaeology: From Prehistory to Occupying Wall Street | Wed Dec 18 14:00:00 | Room 802/4

The notion of resistance is receiving a great deal of attention in the social sciences, but at the same time its productiveness is at risk due to the heterogeneity of meanings that it encompasses, ranging from violent and organised opposition to small scale, everyday acts of dissidence. The ‘soft version’ of the concept is due to James Scott (1990), according to whom every small dissident practice can be labelled as resistance as long as it bears that intentionality. However, this conceptualisation has been accused of accepting as resistance practices that are in fact trivial. In contrast, more radical approaches have argued that power exists within every network of relationships, and its visibility and functioning change depending on the processes of dissolution/resistance that operate within human societies. Following González-Ruibal (2014), processes of resistance can be characterised as a spectrum, which depending on intentionality, capacity and visibility, allows to distinguish between resilience, resistance and rebellion. Archaeology is in a privileged position to analyse issues of resistance and power, as it allows us to understand how the past (memories, habits, traditions) and material culture are constitutive elements of both. This session invites critical contributions to these debates, focusing particularly in the following:

  • Theorisation of the notion of resistance and its application in Archaeology.
  • Theorisation of key concepts related with resistance, such as power and state, from an archaeological perspective.
  • Analysis of resistance practices in any archaeological context, but particularly colonial/imperial.
  • Analysis of resistance practices as a tool against inequality.
  • Analysis of resistance practices in state societies/societies against the state.
Session timetable
14:00 | Session organisers


14:05 | Manuel Fernández-Götz, University of Edinburgh

Communities against the state: resistance to hierarchy in preindustrial societies

Studies of resistance have been prominent in anthropological and political science literature, with J. C. Scott’s influential books playing a particularly prominent role. Some of the ideas have been applied in archaeology and expanded or revised by scholars such as A. Gonzalez-Ruibal, who stresses the materiality of resistance practices in their various modalities. In this paper, I will discuss different scenarios of resistance based on some case-studies in preindustrial societies: 1) resistance to urbanisation processes in the Iron Age; 2) resistance against expanding imperial powers exemplified by the archaeology of the Roman conquest; and 3) resistance to external control and influences by “deep rural” communities in the longue durée.

14:20 | Ana G. San Martín, Brown University

Metaphors to resist by

When thinking about how Power structures its different organizational dynamics, one feels immediately compelled to explore both the mechanisms and subjects reinforcing it, but tends to forget how their own creative will intervenes in the process.

Power imbalances can be found varying in the fashion of the networks they are being examined through. One of these forms, that in which different notions of time and temporality (and consequently, spatiality) is also bonded with the observance of elitist notions on progress as cultural change.

However, and following Lakoff and Johnson’s of metaphors, as well as Boroditsky’s metaphoric structuring view, both space and time are domains that take it on a constant metaphorical re-elaboration to organize each other’s structures and the social settings in which they become evident.

In this point, archaeology represents a cornerstone upon which to build a critical reflection on the ways the metaphorization of our epistemological categories subverts or endorses social orders. This requires of the production of memory as the simultaneous act of forgetting and remembering through some embodied social practices (observance, change, resistance, maintenance…).

Resignifying spaces and narratives of materiality, as well as its insertion in the social world, makes the archaeological research of past situations of heterotemporality the ideal theoretical tool to exercise resistance and critique towards an array of aspects of our society.

14:35 | Beatrijs de Groot, University of Edinburgh

Resisting technological change: how does it work and how can we recognise it?

This presentation explores the workings of resistance to technological change in craft production. There are numerous archaeological and historical examples of craft communities that seemingly resist for generations the innovative toolkits and changes in material styles that develop in other nearby areas or are offered through trade. However, the precise workings of resistance to innovative technologies may vary, and the level of intentionality and conscious action that underpin such processes are challenging to identify from material culture alone.

Technological behaviour can be defined as those actions relying on ‘integrated webs weaving skill, knowledge, dexterity, values, functional needs and goals, attitudes, traditions, power relations, material constraints, and end-products together with the agency, artifice, and social relations of technicians’ (Dobres 1999, 128). This complex set of conditions implies that technological change or continuity cannot purely represent a conscious choice or strategy, but is always also constrained by the learning/interaction networks available to a given social group.

This presentation, therefore, considers the overlap between expressions of technological behaviour as a response to power relations and as an unconscious long-term process. It will evaluate how resistance to technological change can lead to long-term technological continuity, sabotage of the manufacturing process, or cultural hybridity and consider how such examples can inform archaeological research into craft traditions.

14:50 | Guillermo Diaz de Liano del Valle, University of Edinburgh

Resistance in times of ontological uncertainty

The current popularity of theoretical approaches such as New Materialisms and the Ontological Turn, which challenge what Bruno Latour called the ‘modern constitution’, present fascinating possibilities and challenges in order to think an Archaeology of resistance.

These new approaches seem particularly promising to tackle resistance as their reasoning is not constrained by dichotomies such as object/subject, individual/structure, or human/non-human. At the same time, some of their most important concepts, such as affect, entanglement or assemblage are undoubtedly useful to explore the non-human dimensions of resistance practices. And perhaps more importantly, some of them have expressed their commitment with the decolonisation of archaeological thought through the use of other ontological frameworks.

However, these new theoretical perspectives also imply some challenges. The new ontological frameworks that they propose tend to be better suited to think in terms of interconnectedness, rather than causality, which could be problematic in order to develop an explicitly political argument. Finally, the commitment to decolonise archaeological thought, although laudable, is at risk of becoming another example of the intellectual extractivism of the Global North, if becomes an excuse for us to use ontologies from the ‘Others’ rather than allowing their voices to be heard.

15:05 | BREAK
15:35 | Rachel Cartwright, University of Minnesota

Resistance is Futile: The transition to Christianity in Iceland

Scandinavia was notoriously difficult to Christianise, with many accounts from the Early Medieval period recording the adoption of Christianity and after a short period of time a reversion back to the old gods. Iceland however, appears to have been an exception to this trend. After an initial period of resistance and rejection, Iceland is said to have adopted Christianity and kept it. The archaeology, however, tells a different story to the one found in written sources referring to Viking Age Iceland. The presence of religiously ambiguous objects suggests subtle resistance to this conversion. These objects show the indirect ways that individuals can exhibit their resistance to forced changes, toeing the line between submission and overt resistance.

15:50 | Eduardo Herrera Malatesta, Leiden University

Counter-mapping the Spanish invasion: A multiscalar and multitemporal approach of the indigenous resistance in Haytí

This paper aims to answer two main questions: How did the early Spanish settlements and movements on the island of Haytí represent indigenous resistance towards the invasion? How did the Spanish search for resources shape the “safe-zones” for indigenous people and their resistance? By using the documentary and cartographical record of the Spanish colonization of the island of Haytí and the documented indigenous resistance, like a photographic negative to create a counter-mapping exercise to understand indigenous resistance. Recent research on the Dominican Republic has archaeologically explored the transformation of indigenous landscapes as a consequence of the Spanish colonization. While part of this transformation occurred in the material world, some aspects were reflected in the immaterial dimension. For example, the contemporary use of terms such as “Taíno” or “Hispaniola” to refer to the indigenous people and their lands is an implicit perpetuation of the colonial plan to erase indigenous people’s rights and identities.

The discussion will conceptualize the indigenous resistance spectrum from a multiscalar and multitemporal perspective by using three intersecting frames. 1) “land rebellions”, focusing on the key battles between Spanish and indigenous people. 2) “temporal resistance”, where the use of key ethnonyms and categories (e.g. “indigeneity”) will be conceptualized as political arenas to both resist contemporary colonialism and to replicate colonial strategies in the present. 3) “cultural resilience”, where the challenges of contemporary attempts to rethink about the indigenous history are explored. These arguments will be summarized in a counter-mapping proposal of the peculiarities of indigenous resistance in the past as well as in the present.

16:05 | Alexander Aston, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford

Flame of the Red Flag: Ecologies of Resistance from the Paris Commune to Present

Environmental justice is perhaps the most universal issue facing the human race. The predicaments of climate change, ecological collapse and resource scarcity are presenting challenges at radically emergent scales. Considering resistance in a period of dramatic environment change is a question about the relationship between social organisation, agency and scalability. Resistance is expressed along a diverse continuum of personal and collective acts which challenge, mediate and transform relationships of power. Acts of resistance, when most successful, generate emergent and self-organising relationships with revolutionary potential. Ecological transformation in the twenty-first century demands new analysis and understanding of the relationship between mind, environment and society if we hope to generate solutions commensurate with the difficulties we face.

To this end, I present an interpretation of the Siege and Commune of Paris from 1870 to 1871 as transformations in urban ecology and social cognition. Specifically I examine how communities of resistance emerged through the reorganisation of energy-matter flows in the city and mediated these challenges by radically modifying their material culture to challenge institutional power. The material reconfigurations of Paris during the middle of the nineteenth century and the ecological bottleneck created by the Prussian siege in 1870 provide a robust analogy and metaphor for assessing the relationship between the technological, economic and social reconfigurations of globalisation and unfolding environmental crisis. The ecology of resistance in the Paris Commune, such as radical clubs, women’s unions, vigilance committees and worker’s cooperatives find parallels in the emerging and intersecting forms of resistance that are challenging ecological, economic and political disfunction in the current historical moment. Utilising the Paris Commune as an example, it is possible to interrogate how ecological processes inform strategies of resistance and generate revolutionary transformations.

16:20 | Enrique Moral de Eusebio, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

When Sexualities Clash: Ethnosexual Conflicts and Resistances during the Spanish Colonisation of the Mariana Archipelago

The Spanish colonisation of the Mariana Archipelago during the late 17th century brought about a clash between two different (rather incompatible) sets of sexual practices and beliefs. The aim of this paper is to analyse the resistance of native peoples from these islands (known today as Chamorros) towards the sexual standards that Spanish colonisers attempted to implement in the archipelago. This sexual clash revolved around two different constructed spaces, two heterotopias: the “public” or “bachelor houses,” where young Chamorro males gathered before being initiated into adulthood, and the Jesuit seminaries, where Chamorro boys and girls were socialised according to the Christian doctrine and, hence, to European sexual standards. The premarital, promiscuous sexual encounters that took place inside those “bachelor houses” outraged the Jesuit missionaries and were one of the triggers of the ensuing Spanish-Chamorro conflicts. I will argue that Chamorros, far from remaining passive before the imposition of Christian sexual standards, developed (ethno)sexual resistance strategies during those conflicts, such as the reconstruction of their “public houses” (once they had been burned by Spanish soldiers) and the burning of Jesuit seminaries by themselves. Finally, I will reflect on how sexuality, as archaeologist Barbara Voss points out, is not a mere by-product of colonial situations, but rather plays a crucial role in processes of colonisation.

16:35 | Jaime Almansa-Sánchez, JAS Arqueología, Madrid / Incipit-CSIC

Resistance and resilience in the management of archaeological heritage

In the context of #pubarchMED I had the chance to delve into many conflictive regions within the Mediterranean. Nationalisms in their many forms have shaped a wide range of management models with many issues in common but also a reminiscence of old and new identities. As a result, the reshape of the political map created a balance between resistance and resilience amongst different nations and nationalities. Drawing on some examples, from the regional tensions in Spain, to the post-war reconstruction of the Balkans, or open conflicts like Cyprus or Israel-Palestine, I will try to show how policies and practices are shaped in a balance between resistance and resilience, where depending on the interests things are done differently.

16:50 | Carlos Tejerizo-García, Incipit-CSIC

Franco's craving: archaeology of repression and resistance of the Spanish antifrancoist guerrilla

Structural and physical violence are common instruments used by dictatorial regimes in order to impose their hegemony and to gain legitimacy within local communities. At the same time, repression usually entails resistance from individuals and societies, which may be active or passive, physic or ideological. Both repression and resistance are materialized in landscapes and objects which can be analysed through Archaeology, telling stories not visible by other means. In this paper, we will discuss repression and resistance during the Francoist dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975) through the case of "La Ciudad de la Selva". La Ciudad de la Selva is a group of settlements used by the anti-Francoist guerrilla during the 40s in the context of the Second World War located in the Northwestern part of the Iberian peninsula. Since 2017 we have been conducting an archaeological and anthropological project in this site which have resulted in a significant amount of information regarding the emergence and organization of the anti-Francoist guerrilla and also their connections and networks with the local communities of the territory. In this communication, I will analyse the materialization of Francoist violence and repression and of the diverse ways the guerrilla and local communities used material culture as a means of resistance.

17:05 | Alfredo González-Ruibal, Incipit-CSIC


17:30 | END