How can we use the methods of archaeology to explore contemporary social phenomena? In what ways can the approaches of a discipline that has been developed to explore the distant past be used to understand the present, and should we even try? How can the ‘excavation’ of the recent past bring to light new insights into what it means to be ‘us’? These are the questions that have absorbed a new generation of scholars who seek to draw on the skills of archaeology to study an increasingly contemporary past and attempt to make the familiar past ‘unfamiliar’ (cf. Graves-Brown 2000a) by exploring its hidden, forgotten, and abject qualities and utilizing the powerful rhetoric of archaeological recovery in the retrieval of recent memories through the study of present-day material culture. This book aims to explore what happens if we take an archaeological approach to contemporary, late modern, post-industrial societies. It acts as an introduction both to the ways in which archaeologists approach the study of the recent and contemporary past, and to the interdisciplinary field of modern material culture studies more generally. We hope it will be of interest not only to students and practitioners of archaeology, but also to scholars who work within the broad interdisciplinary field of modern material culture studies— anthropologists, sociologists, historians of technology and science, and psychologists—in developing a new agenda for the study of the materiality of late modern societies. Because knowing more about our own society and how it functions is an issue of broad public concern, we have also tried to write this book in such a way that the reader who is not a specialist, but who has a casual interest in the manner in which archaeologists and others study contemporary material culture, will also be engaged by it. The book’s principal focus is the archaeology of developed, postindustrial societies during the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. Our emphasis is the period after about 1950, though the examples in Part II deliberately focus on the years after c.1970, a time which for us is literally the contemporary past, the period of our own lives and experiences.
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