Decoupling identities: moving beyond gendered binaries in the southern African archaeological record
Keywords:Gender, fluidity, identity, craft, archaeology, Iron Age, southern Africa
One of the many intellectual contributions Simon Hall has made to southern African scholarship is his exposition of the contextual, agentive nature of identity-making in the past. Building on this theme, this study explores evidence for the configuration of gender, labour and craft through a case study of copper production at Shankare in Phalaborwa, South Africa (900–1900 CE). Recovery of the full stages of copper production, interspersed with domestic activities, suggests that copper production processes were embedded within the domestic economy of the site’s inhabitants. Evidence of the use of shared spaces, as well as interaction, feedback and technological overlaps between various crafters, challenges conventional interpretations of the division of labour and space in southern African Iron Age societies along a male/female gender binary. Drawing on feminist and queer theory, the paper outlines an approach to gender, labour and craft that emphasises the fluidity and contextual negotiated nature of identity.