Image from DeLeon's "Undocumented migration, use wear, and the materiality of habitual suffering in the Sonoran Desert" Material Culture 18(4).

Image from De Leon’s “Undocumented migration, use wear, and the materiality of habitual suffering in the Sonoran Desert” Material Culture 18(4).

We’ve previously posted about Jason De León and his use of discards left through undocumented migration on the US/Mexico border to narrate the social, political, and geographical elements of one of the world’s largest ongoing modern-day migrations. He continues this work with a new publication in the Journal of Material Culture with the article “Undocumented migration, use wear, and the materiality of habitual suffering in the Sonoran Desert.

We feel this work expands discard studies as a method by looking at things left behind by people crossing the boarder, as well as conceptually by linking affect to place-based objects to politics:

“In this article, I argue that the seemingly mundane things left in the desert are key to understanding the routinized and widespread forms of suffering that many border crossers experience, but often downplay. After more than a decade of crossing the Sonoran Desert on foot, many migrants have recalibrated their tolerance for suffering in order to both cope with the repeated non-lethal shocks that now characterize the crossing process and to construct a logic that helps them conceptualize the continuum of border violence that includes more visible and traumatizing forms. Borrowing and expanding upon the archaeological concept of use wear (i.e. modifications made to objects as a result of being employed in specific tasks), I demonstrate how an analysis of the worn and deposited items in the desert can provide a new understanding of the shared system of crossing techniques, as well as the intimate and often painful relationships between people’s bodies and the tools they rely on. First, I provide a brief background on migrant material culture, studies of techniques of the body and use wear. This is followed by a description of different forms of use wear found on migrant objects and their connection to the body. I conclude with a discussion of how a use-wear approach can be productively integrated into ethnographic research focused on materiality.”

Image from DeLeon's "Undocumented migration, use wear, and the materiality of habitual suffering in the Sonoran Desert" Material Culture 18(4).

Image from DeLeon’s “Undocumented migration, use wear, and the materiality of habitual suffering in the Sonoran Desert” Material Culture 18(4).

Jason de León is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan. He directs the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a long-term study of clandestine border crossing that uses a combination of ethnographic and archaeological approaches to understand this phenomenon in a variety of geographic contexts including the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona, Northern Mexican border towns and the Southern Mexico/Guatemala border. His research interests include materiality, violence, suffering, migration, the U.S./Mexico border, and Latin America.