Long an analytical staple of historical archaeology, capitalism in recent years has found itself under renewed scrutiny, due in part to the repercussions of the 2008 global economic crisis. Questions about the failings of “free-market” self-regulation and the proliferation of predatory practices and value-manipulation instruments fostered discussions about what, in fact, the “true” nature of capitalism was, and whether such practices, drawing on extra-economic power, violence, and various forms of coercion in the name of unequal accumulation, were aberrational or foundational. A space emerges within these discussions for a critical rethinking of capitalism through the emerging contributions of feminist, new materialist, actor-network, and (post-)Marxist perspectives that emphasize the diverse mechanisms and practices generative of the effects attributed variously to an abstract, monolithic, epoch-defining capitalist system. The approaches articulated in this thematic collection push for a move away from limiting and inconsistent definitions of capitalism, and toward a more supple suite of analytical threads for the cross-context analysis of diverse assemblages with diverse histories of emergence that generate parallel capitalist effects. In turn, the contributors to this collection illustrate the broader relevance of the contributions of historical archaeologies of capitalism to other archaeological contexts and subdisciplines by providing common ground for the comparative analysis of contexts generative of similar human/nonhuman experiences and effects that have remained categorically segregated in their analyses.
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