The Politics of Space

For this blog post I decided to focus on the Michael F. Brown reading. In general I found this reading very interesting and different from other material assigned in this course. Through this reading we are given an example of the politics of how space is interpreted and used.

The reading introduces two different American landmarks, the Big Horn Medicine Wheel and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The issue pointed out is that different groups within Wyoming and the rest of the United States have very different associations, as well as uses for these sites. For Native Americans both sites are considered to be sacred and important culturally. Similarly, other groups of Americans view these two sites as culturally significant historical landmarks. Both sites are important tourist destinations in Wyoming and over time the effects of high traffic have taken toll on them. Again, the issue lies within the specific use and interpretation of both sites. While various Native American groups believe they have a cultural and ancestral claim on these sites, other groups believe they have just as much of a claim.  It poses the question of who exactly owns what is considered to be native culture?

As mentioned in the reading the federal government controls 50% of land use in Wyoming (Brown 2003: 149). For years there have been negotiations between the government (forest services) and the Native American groups. Certain changes suggested by the American government breached American rights that are outlined in the constitution (Brown 2003: 157) This in turn resulted in negative reactions from other communities. Some individuals even felt that the government was working too hard to help the minority and not the majority (Brown 2003:155). As a historic landmark, it can be argued that this site should belong to all Americans. However, since Native American groups have ancestral claims on both sites and consider them to be spiritually significant their claim can taken more seriously. In this case there are two main groups of people affected by these two spaces, Native Americans and non-Native Americans.

I believe in situations like the one presented in the reading it is difficult to please all of the parties. In the end the courts opted for a P.C. Volunteerism approach (Brown 2003:171 ) in controlling both sites. This approach kindly asks visitors of the site to respect it’s significance to the Native American community and according to the reading it seems to be working.

I think I will end my blog post here, here are some questions to open up discussion in the comments section. Do you think volunteerism was the right decision in regards to the use of these sites? How would you interpret the situation to please both parties? Considering both sites are Native American , do you believe enough importance was given to them and their culture in the decision making process?

Work Cited

Brown, Michael F.
2003 “Negotiating Respect.” Excerpt from Chapter 5 of Who Owns Native Culture? Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

P.s. I suggest a quick Wikipedia search of the sites to those reading the chapter for a quick breakdown. Additionally, I am not an expert in American policy so there may be some stuff I missed, please feel free to comment below with anything I missed.

P.P.S. I wish you all luck on the rough drafts of your paper!

Space and Place

This blog post will focus on two of the readings assigned to us this week. The first reading I will draw from is the article by Michel de Certeau and the second reading I will discuss is the article by Cynthia Robin.

It is safe to say that the Michel de Certeau article was very heavy in theory. With that being said it was definitely an interesting challenge for me. In terms of discussion, there is a lot that can be extracted from this text. However, after reading this article numerous times and attempting to fully understand the subject matter, I have decided to blog about de Certeau’s view on social constructions as well as how it influences space and place. Additionally, I will draw on examples that were given in Robin’s article in a brief attempt to conceptualize de Certeau’s research in an archaeological context.

According to de Certeau, when examining the representations and the behaviour of a particular society, the specific uses of the formerly mentioned should also be taken into consideration (de Certeau 1984: XIII). He then simplifies his argument by presenting the reader with a relatable example (as presented below).

“The analysis of the images broadcast by television (representation) and of the time spent watching television (behaviour) should be complimented by a study of what the cultural consumer ‘makes’ or ‘does’ during this time and with these images” (de Certeau 1984: XIII)

What I extracted from this argument is that in order to fully understand the ‘users’ or ‘consumers’, one must experience specific representations and behaviours. Similarly, in order to understand specific behaviours and representations one must understand social constructions and experiences. In order to understand social constructions and social experiences one must look at specific representations and behaviour that is directly relevant to the individuals being studied. I believe these are good points to have in mind when looking at space and place.

In her article Cynthia Robin draws upon the lessons of de Certeau to conceptualize her research. Robin utilizes de Certeau’s work on space and place to discuss “the interpenetration of social construction and social experience in the everyday lives of Maya farmers at Chan Nòohol, Belize” (Robin 2002: 250). Additionally, Robin questions how social construction and structure can be understood without understanding social experience (Robin 2002: 250). The research conducted by Robin is a great example of the previously mentioned arguments due to the fact that the site displays the ongoing process of constructing and reconstructing social experiences and constructions at Chan Nòohol . When relating the case study back to de Certeau’s view on representation, behaviour and their specific meaning, the study suggests that social experience and social construction are important factors when interpreting the past (Robin 2002: 262). Furthermore, the ongoing actions of individuals continue to construct and reconstruct the meanings of place and space (Robin 2002: 262).

In all, I believe that de Certeau’s article is very heavy, however, it is very interesting. It introduced me to a new way of thinking about space and place in my life. Furthermore, the Cynthia Robinson article further helped me conceptualize de Certeau’s work in an archaeological context. I encourage those who are commenting this week to leave feedback and further questions below. I would love to know what you think of these two articles.