Historical Archaeology

, Volume 53, Issue 3–4, pp 653–673 | Cite as

Assemblages of Production: Capitalist Colonial Labor Regimes and other Productive Practices in Highland Guatemala

  • Guido PezzarossiEmail author
  • J. Ryan Kennedy
Original Article


The consequences of Spanish colonial/capitalist intrusions in highland Guatemala are an emerging focus of archaeological investigation. While providing insight into the entanglements between colonialism and capitalism and their effects on Maya communities, it is critical not to fixate only on extractive and exploitative labor regimes to the exclusion of other patterns of practice and production central to the experience of people in the past. In our analyses, a singular focus on capitalist colonialism reifies the suffocating ubiquity of abstract processes, foreclosing the possibility of other ways of being in the world that were not capitalist, colonial, or formed in relation or opposition to them. Instead, a holistic approach to the assemblage of production practices in capitalist colonial contexts allows for analyses of “capitalist” practices that exist side side-by-side and/or articulated with other practices—traditional and innovative—outside the unproductive two-step of either resistance to or engagement with capitalism or colonialism. In this article we use archival and archaeological research on colonial Maya sites in the piedmont and highland regions of Guatemala to piece together the spectrum of economic and productive practices carried out by colonial Maya communities: some coerced, some opportunistic of the emerging colonial economic landscape, and others having little to do with the intrusions of capitalist/colonial practices and effects.


Guatemala labor consumption colonialism capitalism assemblage theory 


Las consecuencias de las intrusiones coloniales/capitalistas españolas en las tierras altas de Guatemala son un foco emergente de la investigación arqueológica. Si bien proporciona información sobre los enredos entre el colonialismo y el capitalismo y sus efectos en las comunidades mayas, es fundamental no fijarse solo en los regímenes laborales extractivos y de explotación, excluyendo otros patrones de práctica y producción fundamentales para la experiencia de las personas en el pasado. En nuestros análisis, un enfoque singular en el colonialismo capitalista refleja la sofocante ubicuidad de los procesos abstractos, excluyendo la posibilidad de otras formas de ser en el mundo que no fueran capitalistas, coloniales o formadas en relación u oposición a estas. En cambio, un enfoque holístico del conjunto de prácticas de producción en contextos coloniales capitalistas permite el análisis de las prácticas "capitalistas" que existen lado a lado y/o articuladas con otras prácticas, tradicionales e innovadoras, fuera del doble paso improductivo de resistencia al capitalismo o al colonialismo o de compromiso con los mismos. En este artículo utilizamos la investigación archivística y arqueológica en los sitios coloniales mayas en las regiones montañosas y de piedemonte de Guatemala para reconstruir el espectro de prácticas económicas y productivas llevadas a cabo por las comunidades coloniales mayas: algunas coaccionadas, algunas oportunistas en relación con el emergente panorama económico colonial, y otros que tienen poco que ver con las intrusiones de las prácticas y efectos capitalistas/coloniales.


Les conséquences des intrusions coloniales/capitalistes espagnoles dans les montagnes du Guatemala sont un axe émergent de la recherche archéologique. Si elles apportent des éclairages sur les ramifications entre le colonialisme et le capitalisme et leurs effets sur les communautés Mayas, il est crucial de ne pas s'attacher exclusivement aux régimes de travail d'extraction et d'exploitation à l'exclusion d'autres modèles de pratique et de production essentiels à l'expérience des peuples du passé. Dans nos analyses, la priorité singulière donnée au colonialisme capitaliste matérialise l'ubiquité suffocante des processus de résumé de recherche, excluant ainsi la possibilité d'autres manières d'exister dans le monde qui n'étaient pas capitalistes, coloniales ou formées en relation ou en opposition avec celles-ci. Au contraire, une approche holistique de l'assemblage des pratiques de production dans les contextes coloniaux capitalistes permet des analyses des pratiques « capitalistes » existant côte à côte et/ou articulées avec d'autres pratiques—traditionnelles et innovantes—en dehors du pas-de-deux improductif d'une résistance ou d'un engagement à l'égard du capitalisme ou du colonialisme. Nous utilisons dans cet article une recherche d'archives et archéologique sur les sites coloniaux Mayas dans les régions des plaines et des montages du Guatemala pour tisser le spectre des pratiques économiques et productives mises en œuvre par les communautés coloniales Mayas : certaines étaient forcées, d'autres étaient opportunistes au regard du paysage économique colonial émergent, et d'autres n'avaient que très peu à voir avec les intrusions des pratiques et effets coloniaux/capitalistes.



We owe a great debt to many institutions and individuals that have helped with various aspects of this project. Thanks to the Instituto de Antropologia e Historia de Guatemala for allowing this research to take place and for supporting the various needs of the project, and to the project codirector, Luisa Escobar Gallo, who essentially made the actual work possible and served as an important advisor in all things related to fieldwork in Guatemala. A special thank you to UMass Boston and the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research, especially Heather Trigg, who carried out pollen analyses on samples from Aguacatepeque. The National Science Foundation DDIG (BCS-1346286), National Geographic Society, Waitt Foundation (No. W10-107), as well as the Stanford University Department of Anthropology and the vice provost for graduate education all provided support for elements of the work discussed here. We are grateful to the many individuals that have spurred these ideas and read earlier and different versions of these arguments, especially Barb Voss, Rosemary Joyce, Ian Hodder, Douglas Smit, and Heather Law Pezzarossi. All errors and issues, however, are our responsibility alone.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all the authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Society for Historical Archaeology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologySyracuse University, Maxwell SchoolSyracuseU.S.A.
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology and SociologyUniversity of New OrleansNew OrleansU.S.A.

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