The Archaeology of Z: Household Economies in Nineteenth-Century Iceland

Abstract

A substantial and rapid increase in consumer goods has been detected in the archaeological record from Iceland during the 19th century. This article considers the impact of this change on household routines. Drawing inspiration from economics and Becker’s concept of Z commodities, the analysis seeks to blur the distinction between consumption and production by comparing the demands made on household resources by two different sets of tasks: firstly, those presented by the introduction of new materials related to coffee, and, secondly, those required by the traditional materials of butter production. The article illustrates the ways everyday routines are altered with the introduction of new materials and suggests that the productive work involved in consumption may be a key factor in how people and materials become entangled and mutually dependent.

Resumen

Se ha detectado un aumento sustancial y rápido de bienes de consumo en el registro arqueológico de Islandia durante el siglo XIX. Este artículo considera el impacto de este cambio en las rutinas del hogar. Inspirándose en la economía y el concepto de bienes Z de Becker, el análisis busca difuminar la distinción entre el consumo y la producción al comprar las exigencias con relación a los recursos del hogar debido a dos conjuntos de tareas diferentes: en primer lugar, las presentadas por la introducción de nuevos materiales relacionados con el café y, en segundo lugar, aquellas requeridas por los materiales tradicionales de producción de mantequilla. El artículo ilustra las formas en que las rutinas diarias se alteran con la introducción de nuevos materiales y sugiere que el trabajo productivo involucrado en el consumo puede ser un factor clave en cómo las personas y los materiales se entrelazan y dependen mutuamente.

Résumé

Une augmentation rapide et substantielle de biens de consommation a été détectée dans les archives archéologiques d'Islande au cours du 19ème siècle. Cet article examine l'impact de cette évolution dans les habitudes des ménages. S'inspirant de l'économie et du concept de Becker des produits de base Z, l'analyse s'efforce de brouiller la distinction entre la consommation et la production par une comparaison des exigences imposées aux ressources des ménages par deux séries différentes de tâches : tout d'abord, celles présentées par l'introduction de nouveaux matériaux liés au café, et en second lieu, celles requises par les matériaux traditionnels de production du beurre. L'article illustre les manières dont les routines quotidiennes sont modifiées par l'introduction de nouveaux matériaux et suggère que le travail de production associé à la consommation peut être un facteur clé de la manière dont les personnes et les matériaux finissent par s'imbriquer et avoir une dépendance mutuelle.

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    A similar argument has been made by Ritzer, who uses the term "prosumption" and "prosumer" capitalism to refer to this phenomenon (Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010).

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Acknowledgments:

This research received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 748698. Thanks are due to Sólveig Guðmundsdóttir Beck, who provided valuable insights into locally made coffee grinders, and to Orri Vésteinsson and three anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this article.

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Maxwell, Á.E., Lucas, G. The Archaeology of Z: Household Economies in Nineteenth-Century Iceland. Hist Arch (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41636-020-00278-w

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Keywords

  • consumption
  • production
  • household routines
  • Z commodities