How Edges Become Centers of Innovation and Transformation: Boundary Objects, Heterogeneity, and Social Change in the North American Southwest

Wednesday, February 15, 2023 12:00 PM

Barbara J. Mills, PhD

Regents Professor, School of Anthropology, University of Arizona

Boundaries and frontiers have been popular themes in regional archaeological analyses, but many prior approaches have assumed a 'core-periphery' model that diminishes human agency and the innovative capacity of people living in frontiers or 'edge regions'. Instead, I argue that considering edge regions as 'internal frontiers', rather than as watered-down versions of core areas or hinterlands, archaeologists can build better models of how innovation and social transformation occurs through social networks. I draw on network theory as well as empirical results of evidence for migration into the Transition Zone of central Arizona in the late pre-Hispanic period to show how social heterogeneity and 'broad bridges' between social groups resulted in technological innovation and diversification. An important concept in this process of innovation and adoption of new technological and other social practices is the concept of 'boundary objects' -- objects that do not mark boundaries but bridge them. This case study has implications for how archaeologists model and interpret the transformative power of frontiers in other areas of the world. 

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