Archaeologies of Working-Class Culture and Collective Action

  • Charlotte K. SunseriEmail author


The nineteenth-century emergence of an American working class is studied by historians as an abstract awareness of shared experiences grounded in material conditions and concrete reality (Oestreicher 1986). Historical archaeology is appropriate to track the rise in class consciousness through: (1) shared material culture in workers’ domestic lives; (2) archaeological or archival evidence for class distinctions and hierarchical dissent; and (3) material evidence, archival and oral histories of working-class efforts to affect change through labor organizing or political action. These markers of class consciousness are compared among historical sites of labor contestation, and used to understand experiences of workers in the company town of Mono Mills, California. Identification of a working-class culture contributes to theorizing how class structures crosscut differences (e.g., ethnic, gendered, and racial) as well as built solidarity in opposition to other tiers of the labor hierarchy.


Social identities Working class Collective action Labor 



Archaeological data for this paper is the product of the 2012 SJSU field project conducted in collaboration with the Mono Lake Kutzadika’a Paiute Indian Community; special thanks to Leroy Williams, Charlotte Lange, Jerry Andrews and Teri Jenkins, Augie Hess. Archival study was supported by several staff of historical archives, including Jessica Maddox and Jacquelyn Sundstrand at UN Reno special collections (Reno, NV), Craig Castleton at California State Railroad Museum Library and Archives (Sacramento, CA), Roberta Harlan at Eastern California Museum (Independence, CA), and Sheryln Hayes-Zorn at Nevada Historical Society (Reno, NV). Special thanks to Charles Orser and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on previous versions of this manuscript that greatly improved this article.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologySan José State UniversitySan JoséUSA

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