Political economy explores the relationship between individuals, polities and society in order to examine the ways in which surplus has been produced and mobilized in human history. Archaeologists working on this topic seek to investigate how people created wealth and distributed it in past and modern societies. Archaeologists at Binghamton University study production, reproduction, distribution and consumption within their cultural and material contexts in order to identify inequality and social hierarchy in the past and in the present. We embrace an anthropological approach to political economy that emphasizes bottom-up perspectives, human agency and the cultural component of human history. We use our archaeological study of political economy to empower modern subaltern groups and investigate how people have confronted conditions of inequality throughout history.
Randall McGuire uses historical archaeology to study the political economy of 20th century labor relations as well as inequality and surplus production in the pre-Hispanic Trincheras Tradition of Sonora, México. Researchers at the Public Archaeology Facility (PAF) have focused on studies of political economy at late prehistoric (Owasco/Iroquois) sites in the Southern Tier Valleys of New York. PAF also maintains an active research program on the social and political inequalities within 19th-century urban and rural sites. Siobhan Hart is studying the transformations of 17th-century Native American economies and social organization in the Northeast in the face of European colonialism.