Crafting Cultural Identity in Hunter-Gatherer Economies



All economic action is a moment of cultural creation and interpretation. This process occurs, according to classic political-economic theory, when productive labor is applied to transform matter into socially valued resources. Lacking the material resources so conspicuous in food-producing economies, hunter-gatherers are not usually considered transformational, but rather appropriative. This is an unfortunate dichotomy from the standpoint of cultural identity, because the intentionality of labor-action embodies histories of socially valued relations, if not material resources, that link particular people to land and to one another. Cultural identities are created and transformed in craft production and exchange, among other actions. Although intention cannot be inferred from craft items alone, variation in the context and scale of craft production attests to multivocal expressions of individual and group identity. The crafting of pottery and bannerstones among members of the fourth millennium Stallings Culture of the American Southeast illustrates how gender and kinship may have been manipulated for purposes of alliance building and ethnic identity. Crafting was among the actions used to assert egalitarian relations in Stallings Culture, but judging from the divergent histories of alternative crafts, identities along lines gender, kinship, and ethnicity were routinely contested.