The political economy of archaeological cultures: Marxism and American historical archaeology

Christopher N. Matthews, Mark P. Leone, Kurt A. Jordan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The application of Marxist theory in American historical archaeology has expanded greatly over the past 20 years. More than just a theoretical tool, the rise of Marxism reflects an emerging consciousness within historical archaeology that its subject matter is capitalism, an interest obviously shared with Marx himself. We propose, however, that historical archaeology has proceeded to study the emergence of the modern culture of capitalism without engaging Marx's critique of the political economy of cultural production in any direct way. Instead, much of historical archaeology reifies past cultural formations in place of maintaining a focus on the dialectical social processes through which those formations emerged. We illustrate how a Marxist approach to cultural production improves the foundational historical archaeologies of the colonial American state and African-American ethnogenesis and is the basis for archaeologically-based critiques of dominant American society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-134
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Social Archaeology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2002


  • African America
  • Marxism
  • Maryland
  • archaeology
  • critical archaeology
  • critique
  • ethnogenesis
  • historical
  • hoodoo
  • lifeworld
  • state


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