An Ethnographic Poetics of Placed-and-Found Objects and Their Finders in the U.S.|Mexico Borderlands
By David Seibert, Ph.D. published under The University of Arizona.
Abstract: Residents of the region just north of the U.S.-Mexico border experience migration and smuggling activities through constantly changing found objects on the desert landscape--a pair of shoes neatly arranged on a trail; a cross hung in a tree; a can of food balanced on a rock. Consideration of some found objects as placed objects, set down with apparent care by travelers unseen and unmet, demonstrates how the objects uniquely inform the perceptions and practices of residents who find them. Such finders speculate about the lives and movements of others by utilizing the objects as metaphoric figures of practice, tools that uniquely but only partially help them bridge knowledge gaps among multiple constantly changing variables in their everyday lives. The finding-speculating dynamic confounds a direct and easy association of found items with trash, of migrants with threat, and of a border wall with hopelessness. Residents instead craft a sophisticated and practical cultural memory of place in a region that is inhabited differently by day than by night, where tragedy, grace, danger, and hope fuse in unexpected ways. The objects and events that erupt into rural border life inspire a poetics that matches the territory. In a landscape of uncertainty, placed objects secure and extend situational understandings beyond common conceptual frames of epidemic, normalized patterns of violence and collateral damage that are often considered necessary conditions of life in the region.
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