Practicing Identities: Modeling Affiliation on Multiple Social Scales at Late Classic (A.D. 650–960) Las Canoas, Honduras (Department of Anthropology)
The study of identity is central to anthropological research and its focus on human lives in the past and present. Identity shapes the ways people perceive themselves and structure their interactions with others, yet is often difficult to define analytically, explain anthropologically, or locate archaeologically. This dissertation addresses these problems, focusing on debated issues of identity in southeastern Mesoamerica through the examination of affiliative practices at Las Canoas, a Late-to-Terminal Classic (AD 650–960) community in northwestern Honduras. Data excavated from Las Canoas permits the study of daily practices of dwelling, production, ritual action, building practices, economic strategies, and socio-political organization. I employ a practices of affiliation approach; conceptualizing identity as the repeated performance of affiliative sentiments that shape, and are shaped by, social life and the material world. In particular, three social and analytical scales are examined: the household, the community, and the region. Conclusions drawn from this data suggest that social identities at Las Canoas were profoundly shaped by the overlapping nature of affiliative practices. The performance of identities, such as "craft producer" or "ritual specialist," were intimately impacted by practices occurring within households, at the level of the community, and within the region as a whole. The data also suggest that identities at Las Canoas were shaped by instrumental agendas, as well as by more enduring, ideological aspects of regional affiliation and practice. Las Canoans negotiated their position in the local sociopolitical hierarchy by specializing in the production of pottery for export, and they appear to have manipulated external affiliations to maximize and foster their role in the regional exchange system. Engagement in certain domestic and ritual practices, however, appeared more static and enduring, connecting Las Canoans to sentiments of identity shaped by quotidian practice, symbolism, and beliefs that extended far beyond the river valley and region. Thus, while some aspects of group identity were intentionally initiated, altered, or abandoned, others had a more lasting quality that was less immediately linked to salient politico-economic agendas.