Life in debt. Book review | Nathalie Koc-Menard .edu
... Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile Clara Han .... may help to answer Thiranagama's summary...
BOOK REVIEWS Nathalie Koc-Menard University of Cambridge
Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile Clara Han (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012) Life in Debt is about everyday life in the aftermath of the Pinochet regime in Chile. Situated in the poblaci´on of La Pincoya, a shantytown in the outskirts of Santiago, Clara Han describes the daily social and economic struggles of the urban poor. This is an excellent book, well written, and organized in clear chapters, captivating the reader from beginning to end. Han has carefully chosen her protagonists and details their daily battles as these conflicts are framed within complicated kinship relationships. In La Pincoya, these families are consumed by debt, low income, memories of the dictatorship, and health problems that make it difficult to achieve a dignified life (una vida digna). Han analyzes three aspects that are inextricably entangled in social life (particularly in the Chilean socio-economic context): economy, health care, and a social debt toward those who have suffered human rights violations. Despite this entanglement, Han represents each aspect separately, problematizing each and granting readers a broad picture of life in La Pincoya. The clever play on words between the book’s title and content refers to both the daily economic debt in which families live and the social debt of the Chilean state. The state owes its poor citizens for the inequalities generated by its regime of economic liberalization. The 1990 change of regime involved returning to democracy and the new regime advocated for human rights, but the regime did not interfere with the problems of the established neoliberal economy. The past is erased when there is no public recognition and discussion of the consequences of violence and human rights violations on the everyday life of those who survived tortures and continue struggling, now in a neoliberal economy. Through an analysis of the economy of everyday life in La Pincoya, Han gives an intimate portrait of how families are overwhelmed by debts and low incomes, which contributes to domestic violence as well as drug abuse. She explores how economic debt has allowed people to achieve a dignified life, by improving their living conditions through certain commodities. However, her analysis does not look in detail at the meanings of consumption across generations. For example, a father may achieve a dignified life, but what does it mean for the son to have access to certain commodities? Pobladores from La Pincoya have acquired the status of “consumers” for the market and the state. Nevertheless, the topic is not fully discussed nor was there enough ethnographic data presented to explain how a flat-screen TV and a stereo make a person from La Pincoya a modern citizen in contemporary Chile. A deeper analysis would allow us to better comprehend relationships among different age-groups across Santiago. Han describes the poverty programs expanded by the government in order to pay off the social debt of the Pinochet era. Addressing and tackling poverty is one of the main aspects of reconciliation. The problems inherited from the past, like those related with Human Rights violations were not confronted during the transition government in the early 1990s. At the time, the national consensus was to render the past as debt, one that could be empirically accounted PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Vol. 36, Number 2, pps. 358–382. ISSN C 2013 by the American Anthropological Association. 1081-6976, electronic ISSN 1555-2934. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/plar.12034.
for and paid through “a process of democratization and modernization” particularly to the poorest groups (p. 57). Han argues that the new democratic government established the past as a moral debt in which the society achieves the pardon through the reconciliation among victims, perpetrator and witnesses. It becomes an arrangement about the past, through which life could continue its normal course. Later in 2003 the state provided economic compensations for some of victims of torture (p. 103). Nevertheless, coercion and mass repression (allanamientos) were excluded from this compensation, producing within La Picoya’s pobladores a deeper sense of living a life of debt. The author highlights the failures of some of these social programs. First, she finds that they focus primarily on women, intended to increase women’s autonomy from state networks. Second, these programs involve a conditional bonus given to poor families, with a monthly checkup followed by a social worker. In some of these cases, clients hide their wealth and try to appear poor to stay in the social program. Third, there have been 24 months of psychological workshops in which men, and the rest of the household members, are excluded. For example, they are not compelled to attend workshops. The narrow vision of the state is compelling. It approaches and understands women as if they were the only agents who can reduce poverty, the only ones able to cut the supposed dependency their families have on social welfare. Han provides a detailed account of her experience in a counselling group. Most of the “clients” use the counselling space to escape reality and do not necessarily follow the “healing pathways” established by the state (p. 65). These are women’s private spaces, where they forget debts and family problems; they are places of dreams and also, sometimes, of silence which could either be positive or negative. The human and economic resources invested in these programs are huge, but their impact is not significant because of the gap between what the state imagines people need and what the real needs of this population are. Here, within their daily struggles, the past cannot be erased as the state pretends. Memories of tortures, repression, and deaths cannot be forgotten by the mind and are embodied. Despite this ethnography’s skilful analysis, Han lacks a deeper discussion of the ethnographer’s presence in this poblaci´on. By placing bits of herself in the narrative, Han builds an ethnography in which she is most of the time merely a witness. She is overly concerned with the impact she may have on her relationships. When she witnesses one of her informants overdosing from antidepressants, Han intervenes by saying something, and the relationship changes. Han recognizes this as “crossing the line” (p. 224) but are not these interventions unavoidable during long periods of participant-observation? Willingly or not, the ethnographer crosses boundaries continuously, shaping and reshaping close relationships. Han’s presence itself has an impact in La Pincoya. It is hard to establish trust among the inhabitants of La Pincoya, and she has achieved this through years of work in the community. She does not portray herself in La Pincoya as a female American ethnographer but was nonetheless probably seen as a well-off gringa and a source of money. In addition, there is no mention of anyone asking to receive or lend money throughout the book. It is not exceptional to be asked for money, particularly when ethnographers work among low-income groups. It is hard to remain impartial to poverty and human suffering, and Han does not always address the toll it takes on the ethnographer. Life in Debt is a very interesting work which questions the effects of erasing the past, but also cares to show readers the daily battles families take to achieve a dignified life within the neoliberal system.
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Mark Whitaker University of Kentucky
In My Mother’s House: Civil War in Sri Lanka Sharika Thiranagama (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011) In a war filled with tragedies, one of the least reported and most puzzling was the ugly expulsion of roughly eighty thousand Muslims in October 1990 from Sri Lanka’s Northern Province and its most important city, Jaffna. This ‘Eviction’(106), as the author rightly terms it, was conducted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (or LTTE), a ruthless separatist army then involved in a military struggle with a Sri Lankan state dominated by that country’s majority, Sinhalese, ethnic community. Relatively inexplicable on either political or military grounds alone, this displacement of Tamil speaking Muslims—a minority within the Tamil minority the LTTE claimed to represent and, thus, an “intimate refused other”(142)—involved the loss of all wealth and land, exile to displacement camps located tantalizingly close to the province Muslims were now barred from and, most importantly, as Sharika Thiranagama carefully explains, the amputation of a homeland (what in Tamil is called an u¯ r) that was both a place and a distillation of interconnected practices and forms of personhood. Thiranagama’s excellent ethnography is, at once, an attempted solution to the quandary of why this happened and, more importantly, a scholarly and yet deeply personal meditation upon the complex consequences for personhood and collective identity of the radical displacements war, as a “making and unmaking” form of “social life”(10, 6), too often engenders. The cultural explication Thiranagama offers for the LTTE’s self-defeating eviction of the Northern Muslims is part of a fascinating, wider argument she wants to make about why the LTTE, in many ways, ended up so at odds with its own and its community’s interests. For Thiranagama, the LTTE, despite its claim to be the sole representative of the Tamil people, eventually developed at cross-purposes with the revolutionary nationalist inclinations of the early 1980s generation that created it. That is, early 1980s nationalist revolutionaries, she argues, were really quite Janus-faced in their concerns: trying, at once, to critique the conservative, caste-centered paternalism (and patriarchy) of conventional Tamil social practices even as they sought to deflect a Sri Lankan state they felt was being increasingly bent by Sinhalese nationalism toward the destruction of their community. The LTTE, by contrast, was focused with obsessive solemnity on nationalist separatism alone, and thus (with its valorization of martyrdom and intolerant, leader-centered totalitarianism) proclaimed itself and its stated separatist task so exceptional (in the meta-social, sovereignty-constructing, citizenship and rights-denying sense implied by Giorgio Agamben’s theories) that the LTTE, eventually, placed itself completely outside the very community it aspired to protect and lead. For Thiranagama, then, the LTTE’s sanguinary militancy and its propensity for such selfdefeating actions as assassinating critics, forcing the recruitment of underage soldiers, and, of course, evicting Muslims from the Northern Province, were all alike products of its self-exile into the “zone of exceptional life” (213) its peculiar form of nationalism made it make of itself. But, the LTTE aside, Thiranagama’s wider anthropological aim is to look at Sri Lanka’s recently concluded twenty-six year civil war as a form of social life with its own peculiar consequences. She does this, with great delicacy, by peering through the existential windows provided by various people, Tamil and Muslim, who suffered through it—visiting them in their
kitchens, bed sites, and refugee huts both in Sri Lanka and, among the diaspora, in London and Toronto. What she hears at these multiple sites, in addition to the brute suffering always born by those forced to live within the bloody outrage of war, is surprisingly ambiguous. Social and cultural destruction to be sure: of lives, physical places, marriage practices and forms of selfhood; but also, paradoxically, social and cultural construction: of new ways of being, of alternative and sometimes troubling forms of selfhood, and even, ironically, of an ethnic group—Northern Muslims themselves, of course—given sudden, collective identity as a kind of bitter-ironic gift by the very LTTE-inflicted trauma that was intended to forestall just this possibility. Thiranagama is able to describe all these odd twists and turns with convincing gravity because she has her own existential window, or ‘glass darkly’, through which to view them; and this is one reason Thiranagama’s book glimmers with grim, sympathetic anger whenever it recounts the cruel if creative adjustments people must make to the topsy-turvy calamities of war. Her mother, Rajani Thiranagama, a medical doctor, head of Jaffna University’s Department of anatomy, and, most importantly, a human rights activist in the late 1980s during the confusing period when the LTTE was fighting India’s misnamed Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), was shot dead in front of her own house in September 1989, most likely by the LTTE, for equal opportunity criticisms of human rights abuses by all sides in the conflict. Thiranagama is careful to avoid funneling the entirety of Sri Lanka’s plight through this singularly awful personal fact, which resulted in her own exile to England. But she does allow it to illumine her title, an allusion to Pico Iyar’s famous essay, ‘In My Father’s House’, about his own reorienting return to Ghana to attend his father’s funeral. She thus confirms why a central concern of her book is the problem of returning (or not being able to return), a problematic common to northern Muslims and unwilling exiles in general. Beyond this Thiranagama’s backstory explains why the theoretical sophistication of her writing about the consequences of war is shot through with a raw undercurrent of existential understanding; and perhaps also why, when I had my undergraduates read her book, they responded to it with fierce appreciation. This is not quite a perfect book. I think Thiranagama’s arguments about the LTTE, though brilliant, are a little incomplete. First, Thiranagama claims that the LTTE was generally loathed and feared by Tamils in Sri Lanka whenever they were free to speak their minds. But I think there is good evidence that local attitudes were more various, changeable, ambiguous, and situationally nuanced than this. More importantly, perhaps because of her understandable decision to focus only on the Tamil side of the conflict, Thiranagama’s account suggests that the LTTE developed its “state of exception” (213) by itself rather than, as is more likely, in agonistic dialogue with a Sri Lankan state also tending in that direction. Certainly the disturbing human rights records of each suggest a shared disregard for the civic personhood of those within their power but outside their definitions—a fact which, if true, may help to answer Thiranagama’s summary question: “How is it that the end of the war has not brought about large-scale commitment to rethinking and finding political and constitutional resolution to the uncertain status and transience of all minority life in Sri Lanka?” None of this, however, calls into question the importance of Thiranagama’s theoretical achievement here, or the eloquence and sheer power of her ethnography. Everyone interested in Sri Lanka should read this book.
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Tarini Bedi University of Illinois at Chicago
Transnationalism Reversed: Women Organizing Against Gender Violence in Bangladesh Elora Halim Chowdhury (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011) An increasing number of scholarly monographs are urging critiques of development discourse. These more recent critiques are particularly focused on development discourse that emerges as governments in the global south recede. Development discourse in these contexts originates in the complicity of NGOs, national elites, state bureaucracies, and international structures of development aid from the West to the non-West. That much of this scholarship comes from anthropologists and sociologists working in South Asia is not surprising. This region is precariously perched within a global moment of upheaval where market forces collude with receding states and newly empowered elites. In South Asia, questions of gender and gender inequality are vital to discourses on development and to women’s empowerment. Elora Chowdhury’s incisive and well-researched book Transnationalism Reversed: Women Organizing Against Gender Violence in Bangladesh is a very valuable addition to this literature. Bangladesh is an important place to illuminate the ways in which development discourse addressing gender violence operates. As Chowdhury vividly illustrates, the NGO sector in Bangladesh, buttressed by the neocolonial state, international capitalism, and the international donor community plays a key role in the state’s obligations to prevent gender violence. Local movements and their agents are transformed and (re-) constituted in the machinations between local, national, and transnational levels of mobilization and funding structures. The book traces a local women’s advocacy group (Naripokkho) and many of its activists as they move from radically opposing a particular form of gendered violence (acid attacks) to formalizing and incorporating into a transnationally mediated cause. Finally, Chowdhury analyzes the local fragmentation, dissent, and reinvention that she suggests are the inevitable consequences of transnational feminist organizing within extant neoliberal development structures. For anthropologists, what this book does so well is explore what happens to local movements and their activists as their advocacy gets formalized and as activists and causes travel across national boundaries. In the process of addressing “transnationalism reversed,” as Friedman recommends in her 1999 article in the International Feminist Journal of Politics, Chowdhury presents incisive critiques of all of the “neopatriarchal” (p. 142) relationships unleashed by transnational feminist organizing as it moves between national, international, and local environments. This nuanced and unsentimental approach is this work’s greatest strength; in this story, there are ambiguous successes and failures all around. Activists are both co-conspirators and agents in shaping and reshaping movements and their own place within them. Chapter 1 traces three broad phases of Naripokkho’s campaign against acid violence. The campaign began with a radical women and survivor-led mobilization in the mid-1990s. UNICEF intervened a few years later, due in no small part to international media attention and to the stage provided at the UN Conference on Women in Beijing to the “third-world horror.” Finally the campaign consolidated into the UNICEF-mediated Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), led by an Englishman. Both the foundation and its leadership became closely implicated in the transnational world of donors.
The second chapter lays out the local realities of acid violence in Bangladesh. Acid attacks involve throwing sulphuric acid on the face of a woman or young girl as an act of revenge for rejection, or other transgression of the patriarchal contract. These are culturally coded and familiar acts of violence against women (and often men) across South Asia. Chowdhury suggests that this violence is rooted in the notion that women are physical objects on a patriarchal marriage market. This explains why many of the victims are young girls who are desired or married women whose families were unable to contribute enough dowry to a marriage. When women fail to conform to patriarchal wills, disfiguring their bodies with acid assures that their value as an object is destroyed forever. Chowdhury points out that this is not the only or most common form of gendered violence in this region. However, the attention that acid attacks have received by transnational agencies and the western media treats them as particular spectacles of “third world horror” (p. 54) from which third world women must be saved. Unfortunately, this horror narrative obscures other inequalities and injustices that are left unaddressed. For example, the author suggests that acid attacks are an important lens through which to understand various failures of the state and the levels of discrimination faced by women, particularly rural women, because survivors of acid attacks have to access many levels of structural and infrastructural services in order to heal physically, emotionally, and legally. Therefore, for Chowdhury, if a feminist project is to seriously tackle this form of violence, it has to be analyzed in terms of other structures of gender discrimination and market-driven inequalities particular to local women. Chapter 3 follows the journey of two survivors, Bina and Jharna, shown to the West through the American television program 20/20 as they travel from Dhaka to Cincinnati for surgery and treatment. Bina is one of Naripokkho’s key voices in the acid violence campaign. In this chapter readers are introduced to the ways in which she (re)constitutes herself through her mediated presence in the Western media, and through her negotiations with a foreign country. Chowdhury frames this chapter through the broader narrative of human rights and transnational feminist narrative analysis to illuminate how the young women are implicated in various conflicting narratives as they ostensibly further the aims of the anti-acid campaign. They also constitute new selves through the various stages of their participation. Bina disrupts the victim narrative at several moments during her involvement with the campaign. Her final disruption comes when she refuses to return to Bangladesh, opposing all agreements in place between the various agencies that sent her to the United States. This act of errant behavior marks the beginning of the dissolution of the local movement in Bangladesh. The bitter irony of transnational feminist organizing lies right here for Chowdhury—that everything begins to fall apart when Bina asserts an agency incommensurable with dominant development narratives. Chowdhury discusses shifts in ideas of the new woman in Bangladesh in chapter 4. She explores how women and particularly third-world women get constructed as a category through NGO and development initiatives. The chapter is also an incisive critique of the ways in which NGOled development creates new forms of local dependencies between women of different classes. In an interesting engagement with anthropological perspectives on visual culture, the chapter discusses how locally produced media (in this case film) is just as complicit as the Western media in inadvertently furthering “a neoliberal script of development and women’s empowerment” (p. 131). As a well-researched and nuanced analysis should do, Chowdhury’s book lets no one off the hook—but instead holds the mirror up to all involved in the transnational feminist project.
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Chapter 5 broadens the debate on transnational feminist praxis to discuss the ways in which the local politics of religion and transnational discourses on Muslim women intersect with local women’s organizing in Bangladesh. The book concludes with a call to reorient transnational feminist praxis to attend to the new regimes of repression that they actualize. Chowdhury argues that feminist organizing must be accountable to the realities of women’s struggles rather than fitting them into “normative registers of patriarchy and imperialism” (p. 189). Transnationalism Reversed would particularly interest anthropologists who work on the anthropology of development, globalization, global feminism, and political anthropology. This book might also be provocative for students of ethnographic method, given that Chowdhury acknowledges her multiple and fluctuating positions as an ethnographer and offers a multi-sited ethnography. In parts, the writing does get a little repetitive; but this is a minor quibble and takes nothing away from the rich ethnography and the sophisticated challenges to theory and praxis that Chowdhury provokes.
Diana Bocarejo Escuela de Ciencias Humanas, Universidad del Rosario
Between the Guerrillas and the State: The Cocalero Movement, Citizenship and Identity on the Colombian Amazon Mar´ıa Clemencia Ram´ırez (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011) Between the Guerrillas and the State narrates the 1996 cocalero uprising in Putumayo, Colombia presenting it “as a diagnostic event that reveals ongoing contests, conflicts and competitions and the efforts to prevent, suppress, or repress them” (p. 2). This uprising emerged when Colombia was rapidly becoming the number one producer of unprocessed coca leaf in the world and the social movement was consolidated precisely by small campesinos growing coca in socially marginalized areas of the Colombian Amazon. The movement not only re-instantiated the demands of previous civic strikes seeking the improvement of state investment in infrastructure, health care, housing, or education, but it also openly contested the criminalization of small coca growers, advocating for their recognition and their rights as Colombian citizens. The book, however, is about more than just the movement itself. The richness of the text stems from the author’s attempts to show the paradoxes of “inclusion and exclusion, legality and illegality, order and disorder, ruled and unruled” (p. 7) experienced by citizens caught between the guerrillas and the state. In fact, in resonance with Anna Tsing’s work, Ram´ırez captures how contradictory discourses overlap most clearly in the margins. She shows the anxieties of campesinos who are stigmatized as coca growers, but who only have access to national and international institutions through this very same form of identification. Drawing on the richness of the case analyzed, Ram´ırez engages with different bodies of academic literature. She shares, both analytically and I would say emotionally, with the literature in anthropology and other social sciences that narrates how marginality is experienced, confronted, bent, and reignited. She also engages with the theorization of social movements, clearly departing and showing an important critique of the models whose main purpose is to typify old and new social movements or to treat social movements as the outcomes of citizens’
careful and rational calculations. The book’s significant contribution lies in the historical and ethnographic analysis of the possibilities–and impossibilities– of making one’s livelihood and life possible at the intersection of violence, local state formation, neoliberalism, and the war on drugs. The author’s portrayal of the “dynamic state of affairs of campesinos” (p. ix) in the area infuses every passage of the book. It is this dynamism which ultimately provides the conditions for their actions, expectations, and hopes for the social movement. Consequently, the author states: “throughout this ethnography of the 1996 cocalero movement I have sought to emphasize the agency of its subjects” (p. 13). This central theme sets the stage for interesting discussions regarding agency both within discussions of social movements and beyond. Ram´ırez explains that “the cocalero movement challenged and contested campesino subjection to both the state and the guerrillas” (p. 13). This active contestation was at the center of what the author shapes as a cocalero’s agency. This leads me to ask: what is the extent of this agency and what may its limits be? Would it be possible to trace different and changing forms of agency throughout the mobilization? Furthermore, how can we frame cocaleros’ agency before and after the 1996 mobilization? The answer to these questions depends, in part, on the close relationship the author traces between agency and forms of collective identification and action. As such, the contestation of identitary classifications and forms of political subjectivity vis-`a-vis the state, other international institutions, and the guerrillas becomes a way of contesting and reshaping their legibility in the highly violent intersection of local sovereignties. An important insight for understanding how agency is deployed in this context arises from the distinction that small coca growers make between themselves and large plantation owners and drug traffickers and the way that cocaleros object to being called agents of the state or agents or the FARC. I would say, borrowing the idea from Stuart Hall, that the cocalero movement in the Putumayo was a “struggle over the access to the very means of signification”. That is, it was “the difference between those accredited witnesses and spokesmen who had the privileged access, as of right, to the world of public discourse . . . as contrasted with those who had to struggle to gain access to the world of public discourse at all; whose ‘definitions’ were always more partial, fragmentary and delegitimated; and who, when they did gain access, had to perform with the established terms of the problematic in play” (Hall, 1982:77). Though beyond the scope of the book, it would be interesting to know how these reconceptualizations of identity are fed, shaped, and reshaped in many other instances and contexts beyond the uprising of 1996. I am sure in the near future Ram´ırez’s continued work in the area may follow such old and new reconfigurations. For example, does the construction of a cocalero identity extend to other scenarios or areas of daily or political life? That is, is cocalero as a distinctive identity category used beyond the social movement? Different authors who have theorized the study of identity, such as Peter Wade, have used the concept of “situational identity” to explain the manner in which, depending on the contexts of enunciation, people shape and also use different forms of identification. Thus, could we define cocalero as a situational political subjectivity only present within the 1996 negotiations? Can scholars make sense of the cocaleros’ agency in Putumayo beyond an opposition to the political ideas of actors such as the state, the guerrillas, USAID, PLANTE, etc.? Ram´ırez is in fact showing readers a more complex image, one in which, in certain circumstances, cocaleros find their rhetoric aligned with that of the state. Ram´ırez explains, for example, how the political negotiations of 1996 were only saved when human rights were promoted “to the top of the agenda” (p. 156). The language of human rights, development, and progress is used by many actors in the
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region, even if the terms’ meanings and their translations in specific programs of intervention are actually disputed. After reading Ram´ırez’s book, readers can easily agree with the author’s concluding remarks, where she writes: “The social and economic conditions associated with the armed conflict and drug trafficking have evolved, but there has been no structural change. The underlying social dynamics and processes examined in this book that revolve around the growing of coca remain the same” (p. 238). However, how can scholars understand the link that the author makes between those structural realities and the different forms of agency at play? Have those structures changed at all, even if they have left the inequalities in place? How does the author’s “emphasis on agency” (p. 13) actually re-signify or not such “structures”? This is of crucial concern, especially since the author’s statement of the problem argues that, citing Veena Das, the cocalero uprising was also a critical event in reference to consequences: “new models of action came into being, which redefined traditional categories . . . equally new forms were acquired by a variety of political actors” (p. 3). Therefore, how long did “these new models of action” last after the uprising? Was the cocaleros’ possibility of being addressed as interlocutors and participants of Putumayo’s future completely lost under President Uribe’s democratic security, with the intensification of military attacks against guerrillas and of the aerial fumigation in the area? If the repeated demands of campesinos, who depend on small coca crops for their subsistence, continues to be ignored by the state, can we say that the agency addressed by the author has been completely lost? Was it something entirely temporary? This book talks to a wide audience of readers interested in understanding the complexities of marginality, social movements, the war on drugs, guerrillas’ political practices, local state formation, and the dynamics of their articulations in particular times and places. In addition to all the interesting discussions that build upon these subjects, I want to highlight the importance of this book given the current debates on the urgency of rethinking drug policy in Colombia and worldwide. This book was written years ago, but its English version comes at a crucial moment in the international debate over the war on drugs. Various Latin American governments, as well as citizens all over the globe, are actively questioning the effectiveness of the war on drugs and most importantly are showing with despair its negative social and political consequences. Even though the debate may be moving in the direction of seriously addressing drug consumption, public health, and alternatives in regulation, the issue of producing countries is far from concluded. In fact, just to mention a few issues, what are the effects of aerial fumigation and of development projects directed to areas of coca production? Are those areas less marginalized than they used to be before the war on drugs? Has the state been able to reclaim its presence in those areas and consolidate a new local democratic regime? Are campesinos still attacked both by guerrillas or other non-state forces such as paramilitaries and by the state? As Mar´ıa Clemencia Ram´ırez shows, even in very volatile contexts the “dynamic state of affairs” in Putumayo does not seem to bring about drastic change in its structural conditions of marginality. The author shows how even in the midst of active civic uprisings and political engagements, the complex configurations between guerrilla, state, drug trafficking, and the war on drugs both inescapably fuel and illuminate the tremendous rigidity of social inequalities. In sum, for the careful historic and ethnographic account as well as the broad discussions this book integrates, this book is a very fine contribution to understanding the complex articulations of actors and practices that configure the contours of marginality, but also the possibilities for political action in areas such as the Putumayo.
Gabrielle Lynch University of Warwick
Being Maasai, Becoming Indigenous: Postcolonial Politics in a Neoliberal World Dorothy Hodgson (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011) In this excellent book, Hodgson examines how and why, in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries, Maasai activists in Tanzania positioned and then repositioned themselves as indigenous and then as pastoralists in their struggles for representation, recognition, resources, and rights. More specifically, Hodgson analyzes how these activists moved from basing their “political claims on discourses of indigenity to discourses of livelihoods; from engaging in international advocacy to national advocacy; and from calling themselves NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and CBOs [community-based organizations] to civil society organizations (CSOs)” (xi). The result is a rich historical ethnography of how civil society works at the local level and of how ethnic identities are negotiated and used in postcolonial and neoliberal contexts. Particularly valuable is Hodgson’s persuasive exposition of how a global indigenous people’s movement initially led Maasai activists to become indigenous only for the continued relevance of the nation-state to later encourage them to recast their claims on the basis of pastoralist livelihoods. The book begins with an analysis of the proliferation of Maasai organizations and conscious engagement of Maasai activists in a transnational indigenous people’s movement. Hodgson shows how this engagement brought significant financial benefits, but also fostered division and tensions on the basis of best approach, generation, gender, and ethnic and sectional identities, and also fostered more specific problems linked to a reliance on donor funding, which included local competition for funds. However, when the Tanzanian state refused to accept that Maasai “were discriminated against because of their cultural distinctiveness, mode of production, and political-economic marginalization within the state,” activists shifted their advocacy efforts from the international to national arena, reframed their political struggles from a language of “indigenous rights” to “pastoralist livelihoods,” and called themselves CSOs (p. 157). This pragmatic move brought moderate successes and the Tanzanian government has proved more willing to listen to pastoralist than indigenous claims. However, according to Hodgson, government officials still fail to take Maasai concerns seriously, their marginalization instead “exacerbated by the government’s push, under international pressure, to “reform” its land policies, improve livestock production for national gains, and spread its increasingly thin resources among increasingly destitute citizens” (p. 180). In terms of particular additions to the literature, I found Hodgson’s elaboration of the concept of positionings particularly useful. I hope that it will help move debate about ethnic identities in contemporary sub-Saharan Africa (in particular) away from a rather tired debate about social constructivism versus instrumentalism. Instead, as Hodgson illustrates, a focus on positionings leads to a discussion about how and why people seek to identify or position themselves in a particular way given understandings of their own past, present, and future; political, cultural, and socio-economic contexts; and relationships with other actors at the local, national, and transnational or global levels. On such lines, one thing that struck me was the clear similarities and differences between the Tanzanian and Kenyan contexts (the latter being something I know much more about). In short, while many activists in Kenya also came to position themselves as indigenous in the late twentieth century, most have not repositioned themselves
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as pastoralists. One potential reason for the lack of a similar, or at least such notable shift, is the oft-cited difference in the post-colonial trajectories of these two countries and relative political importance of ethnic identities and contrasting approaches to nation-building. If this is true, then this geographic difference actually reinforces Hodgson’s central argument for the “mediating role of the state in shaping political positionings and possibilities for civil society to engage with transnational advocacy networks and movements” (p. 4). In terms of methodology, the analysis clearly benefits from Hodgson’s long-running engagement with and assessment of Maasai activism. The product is an organic analysis where theories have been used to explain local contexts and observed changes rather than case studies being employed to test theory, and to a methodology that Hodgson terms “nodal ethnography” (p. 18). Initially, Hodgson focused on the “major nodes”—the key players and the key sites—and then traced “the links—of funding, ideas, people, affiliations, and so forth—of these major nodes . . . with more “minor nodes”: the other groups, institutions, people, places, and so forth” (pp. 18, 20). One outcome is the rich detail that comes from decades of firsthand experiences, although this has also contributed to middle chapters that are rather empirically heavy with the more theoretical analysis concentrated at the top and tail of the book. Finally, and on a more critical note, while Hodgson understandably does not want to get embroiled in the issue of authenticity and questions of whether the Maasai are an indigenous people or not, there is an often implicit tendency to accept that the poverty and marginalization of the Tanzanian Maasai stems, at least in part, from their pastoralist identity and lifestyle: their situation thus becoming “part of a global pattern” (p. 28) shared by other indigenous peoples. In turn, she is insufficiently clear on the extent to which Tanzania Maasai have been marginalized relative to their compatriots, the reasons for such relative marginalization, and whether Maasai activists have tackled the right problems. Since, if their marginalization is due to broader structural inequalities of wealth and power, they have surely been doomed to fail. This weakness is likely a result of Hodgson’s proximity to the issues at hand, which—while one of the great things about this book—has perhaps led her (as she herself notes as a common problem of such anthropological endeavors) to be “wary of critiquing, however constructively, the ideas, practices, and agendas of these movements for fear of undermining their political support and agendas” (p. 14).
Lars Buur Danish Institute for International Studies
Performing South Africa’s Truth Commission: Stages of Transition Catherine M. Cole (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009) This is an important book—a bit wordy, but generally very well written—on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (hereafter the commission) and the public stages of performance that molded and potentially could still mold people’s perception of truth and reconciliation in South Africa and elsewhere. It focuses on some of the public dimensions of the commission’s work, namely the public hearings (research conducted primarily until 1998 when the human rights violation part of the commission ceased to work in contrast to the amnesty part), the television programs that documented some of the commission’s work, and several pieces of theatre inspired by it.
Performing South Africa’s Truth Commission cuts across several of the genres so far employed to address the impacts and legacies of the work of the commission, including the plethora of personal accounts ranging from chairperson Desmond Tutu’s memoir and those of commissioners, committee members and department heads to those of ordinary staff members. The book stands apart from the mostly academic literature that uses the testimonies from the public hearings to analyze narratives, silences and agency or as a springboard for further analysis of patterns of violence, human rights violation, gender bias, prospects for reconciliation and so forth. It also stands apart from the broad spectrum of work informed by different scientific traditions and legal positivism that has characterized the search for the foundation of transitional justice, reconciliation, and rights-based approaches. The five well-crafted chapters present instances of how the public or the nation experienced or witnessed the public proceedings of the commission either directly or mediated through the news media or art. Cole manages—and this is no small feat—in the first two chapters to position the performance perspective. She also recasts the related fields of transitional justice and political trials to reveal new dimensions of the constitutive fields of specific trials in South Africa and transitional justice. Witnessing and Interpreting Testimony, the book’s third chapter, zooms in on the important work done by interpreters. They relayed in real time the commission’s proceedings in multiple languages at great speed and under enormous pressure to be formally accurate. Instead of the supposedly simple one-to-one positivist relaying of language, Cole shows how the multilingual stage of the commission refined, developed, sharpened, and changed the nature of the testimonies as body language and the cultural dimensions of words and phrases became intertwined with the uttering and rendering of different languages. The fourth chapter, Eyes and Ears of the Nation, hones in on a relatively unexplored feature of the public life and afterlife of the commission—the mediatized performances of live TV broadcasts and other television coverage, particularly the SABC’s investigative TRC Special Report series. The chapter is a treat and pushes the boundaries for understanding the impact and legacies of the commission. This is not solely because few have read or will read the Final Report compared to the large number who experienced the commission’s more public performances. It is also because of the chapter’s capacity to illustrate the polyvalence and multiplicity of layers achieved by the public coverage of the commission by asking new questions related to witnessing, viewing, and producing truth and its repercussions for reconciliation or repair. In Dragons in the Living Room, the book’s fifth chapter, Cole most explicitly explains her performance perspective and understanding of the work of the commission as an ongoing process instead of a discrete event. She foregrounds the performative dimensions of retelling, narrative and memories of lived history in analyzing Philip Miller’s production Rewind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony celebrating the tenth anniversary of the commission. Cole’s book draws explicitly on a variety of methodologies including theatre, history, political philosophy and culturally specific perspectives, and perhaps less explicitly on poststructuralism theory related to performativity, to develop and sharpen the analysis. Theoretically, the book has several errands that are explored in greater detail in the specific chapters. By staying away from the stance of post-structuralism, Cole seems to be actively trying to avoid being placed in the rather limited post-structuralist and post-colonial camps of the cultural and political science genres in contrast to the broader fields of legal, transitional and cultural studies. However, perhaps the focus on performance, media and art does anyway position the book in the post-structuralism camp for quite a few of the multiple constituencies Cole wants to address.
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This brings me to my final comments on this excellent and intriguing book. The afterword brings into play a range of more inclined ethnographic, anthropological and sociological studies and perspectives on the commission. Cole discusses authors who have analyzed the everyday work of the staff of the commission in contrast to the genre’s usual focus on celebrities like Tutu, and the detailed theoretical and methodological implications of the various truth and reconciliation techniques and traditions at work in the commission, as well as the human rights discursive work of the commission. Cole may not have wanted to overdo the referencing in order to make the book unnecessarily heavy to read, while simultaneously wanting to add more perspectives. Yet I wonder if the ethnographic and anthropological authorships included as an afterthought would have changed her perspective and celebration of contested concepts like Ubuntu (reified notion of people’s allegiances and relations with each other) and encouraged her to show a greater attentiveness to the a priori structuring of the performance or performativity of the Commission.
Jeremy M. Campbell Roger Williams University
Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise, and Power in Mexican Forests Andrew S. Mathews (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011) Much ethnography since the mid-1980s has been dedicated to the careful study of how knowledge-making necessarily entails power struggles in everyday encounters: the power to name, to enunciate official discourses, and to privilege or occlude phenomena as the sites of knowledge. This important work has relied on the assumption that knowing institutions—organizations such as states or regimes of scientific authority—go about their work with a determined confidence, and that the power of these institutions corresponds to their ability to construct the grids of intelligibility through which the subjects of knowledge will come to know themselves. While Andrew Mathews’ Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise, and Power in Mexican Forests contributes to this rich line of research, he turns the baseline assumptions of ethnographies of power and knowledge on their heads. At the heart of this compelling account of the arrival of forestry science in Mexico and its subsequent transformation into community forestry, Mathews is exploring the conceit that perhaps it is ignorance, rather than knowledge, that is the most important feature in how bureaucracies work and how authoritative discourses come to travel. Based on careful oral histories, archival research, and accompanying officials and locals as they move through Oaxaca’s forests, Mathews shows how various communities are induced to “institute nature” for their own motives. The text proceeds in nine chapters, though it can be more usefully thought of as having three sections. In the first section, Mathews outlines his principal argument—that collusion and complicity between experts and their publics is crucial to how state authority becomes effective. Mathews contends that moments of confusion, dissimulation, and official reversals have marked the construction of nature/culture binaries within official Mexican forestry discourse and practice, and that would-be subjects of rule have actively undermined, remade, or evaded these binaries. Mathews lays out the theoretical foundations of his work, which includes nods to science studies scholars Sheila Jasanoff, Donna Haraway, and Bruno Latour, and charts a fresh approach to James Scott’s (and by extension Foucault’s) framing of state power as vision. Mathews insists that state’s ability to see is itself the result of socially-situated dramas,
encounters between officials, communities, and ecosystems that are messy and indeterminate. These encounters have to be produced as seemingly transparent ligatures of power/knowledge after the fact. Between forest communities and the official reports that pin them as “known” is a rich terrain of trial-and-error, miscommunication, and willful ignorance that Mathews argues is the halting and fallible site for the construction of state power and popular accession to rule. Mathews next explores the environmental and political history of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca, where he tracks the arrival of forestry practice and knowledge in the early twentieth century. Writing from interviews and archives, Mathews convincingly portrays Oaxacan oak and pine forests as complex environments that had been shaped by indigenous economies, war, and the politics of patronage through the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, forestry science arrived in the region with an explicitly modernist orientation toward rationally managing Mexico’s natural resources and alleviating “rural ignorance” (p. 41). On the heels of the revolution, forestry science and bureaucracy took aim at the ejido system and swidden agriculture. Arbor Day celebrations were spectacles which wedded environmental values with citizenship ideals. As readers learn in Mathews’ thorough history, however, the institution of forestry did not unfurl evenly over the Oaxacan landscape: “the state was very good at communicating what it wanted people to do even as it was very rarely able to make them actually obey regulations” (p. 102). From 1920 through the late 1950s, indigenous Oaxaque˜nos learned the script of forestry regulations and began to adjust their practices to fit with the emerging regime of power/knowledge. While firewood harvesters and charcoal producers learned approved techniques to continue exploiting the forest, they also learned how to evade surveillance and to influence the exercise of rule. In the latter half of the 20th century, the focus of forestry in Sierra Juarez shifted toward large-scale industrial logging. Though state- and corporate-sponsored ideologies of environmental management circulated widely in the region, Mathews contends that these were never imposed on indigenous communities. To the contrary, Mathews explains that the rise of community forestry in Oaxaca—where it is a model of rationality, profitability, and local sovereignty—is due to “creative reworking(s) of official discourse and history . . . into an environmental history that justifies community ownership of the forest” (p. 140). So how did this work? In the third section—by far the most ethnographically rich and useful to scholars interested in the methodological challenges of studying bureaucracies—Mathews details how documents and official encounters provide the theatre for effective power. In the final chapters, we learn how local forestry officials are under pressure to report only certain kinds of knowledge to Mexico City; how indigenous participation in forestry bureaucracy gets enmeshed in the community cargo system; and how paperworkers and loggers “skillfully translate foresters’ theories into local practice” (p. 229). The community’s success in laying claim to forestry resources emerges as a result of local foresters’ skillful participation in the dramas of public knowledge and authority. To a certain extent, the comuneros of Sierra Juarez learn to become petty bureaucrats by shuffling papers and mastering the art of dissimulation, but as Mathews reminds us “public assent to forestry was not produced by the imposition of a state project . . . but by the ability of a well-organized and powerful community to collaborate in making knowledge that would inhabit national timber production statistics and official reports” (p. 232). Instituting Nature may prove challenging to undergraduates, but the weaving of detailed ethnographic description into sophisticated arguments can serve as a model for advanced seminars in science studies and the anthropology of the state. By taking a novel approach to state power, Mathews is clearly hoping to reach an audience beyond scholars of Mexico and Latin America, though the book is also replete with careful research and thoughtful passages that will delight regional specialists as well.
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Emma Crewe SOAS, University of London
Toward an Anthropology of Government: Democratic Transformations and Nation Building in Wales William R. Schumann (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) William Schumann paints a detailed picture of political transformations in Wales based on research carried out in 2003, 2005, and 2007. He makes sure that the reader does not get lost in the detail. In his historical tour of the politics of Wales he weaves together various threads—Welsh and UK political parties; class, socialism and neo-liberalism; nationalism and unionism—with elegance. Throughout, he keeps returning to the most momentous scenesetting event: UK devolution. During this devolution, assemblies were established in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales in 1999 by the Labour administration under Tony Blair. The Welsh National Assembly was created to enable a decentralized institution to address the socio-economic needs of Wales more effectively. But the intention was also to transform parliamentary culture of UK democracy; in the words of the White Paper on devolution, it would be inclusive, transparent, and modern. In contrast to Westminster, working patterns would be more family-friendly, procedures more informal, the semi-circular seating would encourage consensus rather than contest, the language more inclusive (for example, bilingual), and information technologies more widely used. The powers in the Welsh Assembly were, however, weaker than those of the Scottish parliament. Assembly Members (AMs) could only pass ‘secondary legislation’ passed on from London (or from Brussels via London) and they could not raise taxes or set their own budgets. At the first elections near-equal numbers of female and male MPs were elected—an extremely unusual event for any parliament—but against all this hope Schumann points to persistent challenges: socio-economic problems, lack of public interest and the weakness of the Assembly within the wider political systems of the UK and Europe. The fine-grained ethnographical detail was partly possible because Schumann worked as an intern for the Liberal Democrats. It means he describes the formal organization, most obviously by political party, but also informal codes of behavior. For example, party loyalty is important but fraternization across political parties is encouraged: political staffers from different parties meet socially partly to lay the social groundwork for asking favors and passing on information. Within parties the informal communication extends beyond Wales in ways that usually go unseen. Schumann tells a story about how a Welsh special adviser, often conduits of information behind the scenes, texted an MP in Westminster to ask a question and within minutes the MP stood up in the House of Commons to ask for clarification on the government’s intentions to revise decision-making powers in Wales. Despite the rhetoric and mechanisms of open and transparent government, ‘deal-making’ between parties continues away from the cameras because some secrecy is perceived to be necessary for healthy democracy. The traditional approaches to the study of parliament, relying heavily on structured surveys as they do, could not have uncovered these fascinating partially hidden processes. Schumann explores the various layers of legitimation and representation that play out in the National Assembly and in the best spirit of anthropological research on politics, he does so with intense attention to context, empirical detail, and drama. First, preparing policy
documents and deliberating views in parliament are tools for the Assembly’s legitimation; the ‘hierarchical and technocratic structure of these practices, after all, is in the political DNA of UK democracy.’ Secondly, he tells of a process traveling in the opposite direction in the sense of being distinctively Welsh and an example of resistance—that is, legitimizing the use of Welsh in UK governance by making the Assembly bilingual in English and Welsh. Speaking Welsh in the Assembly has become significant in claims to both having a Welsh identity and representing national interests. Thirdly, the semiotic struggles in the Assembly allow AMs to differentiate themselves from each other, when, for example, Ministers displace criticism of the government to a different time, place, or remit. Schumann agrees with Habermas’s thesis that parliament is important in giving politicans the means to appear to be representing public interests through rationalized communication. But in contrast to Habermas, he illustrates how, in Wales, contest rather than consensus is the result. He then moves beyond Wales. The relationship between the UK parliament and Welsh Assembly—the dominance of the former and limited powers of the latter—is painted on the canvas of the Iraq war. He contrasts the vigorous public opposition to this war in Wales (but also in other parts of the UK) relative to voter apathy in the 2003 Welsh elections which saw a turnout of only 38%. Finally we are taken to the even broader frame of decision-making in Wales within the context of UK and Europe through the example of GMO. Even more telling than the substance of the policy debate was what was revealed about Welsh political nationhood. The demands that GMOs should be banned by Wales, made by some AMs and civil society groups and denied by the government, exposed the weakness of the Welsh National Assembly, and therefore democracy in Wales, in relation to UK and Europe. The reproduction of political power wins out over the representation of the interests of the public in Wales, he argues, and he ends the book with an argument in favor of increasing the powers of the National Assembly along the lines of the Scottish Parliament. Schumann has made an invaluable contribution to the debate between anthropologists on government and political transformations in the UK and Europe. As he says, some anthropologists may argue for a different emphasis at certain points. I would have welcomed more on how ideas of legitimacy and representation were culturally constructed and how they related to socio-political hierarchies within the Assembly and wider society. The extraordinarily unusual near-equal numbers of female and male AMs is mentioned in chapter 2, but does not emerge again in the book. It would be fascinating to know whether this gender parity has made any difference to the rhetoric or practice of representation of the interests of Welsh men and women. While Schumann offers a tantalizing glimpse into self-reflexivity when discussing being an American in the face of protest against the Iraq (which he joined), his book raises interesting questions about the outsider/insider status of anthropologists. Does Schumann see the National Assembly with particular clarity as someone who is neither Welsh nor English and is it less contentious for him to conclude that the legislature in Wales deserves more power? He also argues that anthropologists should engage in debate with researchers of politics in other disciplines, a suggestion I heartily agree with. At a moment when some scholars of parliament show signs of questioning both rational choice theory and institutionalism, this book opens up all kinds of possibilities. Schumann’s book illustrates how an examination of politics has to embrace the importance of culture, power, ideas, and communication to get to the heart of governance.
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Gemma John University of Manchester
Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India Akhil Gupta (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012) Red Tape is a brave attempt to answer a harrowing question: ‘Why has a state whose proclaimed motive is to foster development failed to help the large number of people who still live in dire poverty?’ (p. 3). The number of people lost in India due to malnutrition and morbidity translates to over 2 million annual deaths, a figure that overshadows those killed by natural disasters globally (p. 5). Gupta argues one should not view the deaths of thousands of poor as evidence of the state’s neglect. Rather, their deaths should be seen as evidence of ‘structural violence’ (p.19) against the poor at the hand of the state; in other words, the state has actively attempted to kill them. Following Agamben, he considers the death of the poor as a form of ‘thanapolitics’ (p. 6). The state constitutes the poor as not worth saving. Yet the poor continue to vote for a state that appears to do nothing to save them. Moreover, their input is necessary for the state to be perceived as open and democratic. The poor are killed, Gupta argues, despite their centrality to democratic politics and state legitimacy. In an attempt to answer the question he poses—why has the state failed to help a large number of poor people—he claims the state and the poor are mutually constituted. Gupta points out everyday state practices serve to produce both the state and the poor and legitimize the state’s actions against them. Employing Foucault’s notion of biopolitics, he argues so-called statistical objects like the birthrate and the rate of mortality and morbidity, come into a calculus of planning and control, which enables the population to become a target of intervention, regulation, and deviance (p. 15). However, Gupta argues that Foucault’s theory of biopolitics does not explain why the state’s treatment of the poor is so arbitrary. Gupta dwells on the tension and conflict between different arms of the state. The state’s apparent disorganization, or arbitrary action, Gupta argues is indicative of its indifference—that is, its indifference to ‘arbitrary outcomes’ (p. 24) that for the poor are a matter of life or death. Having conducted fieldwork for one year on state antipoverty programmes in the Mandi subdistrict of Utter Pradesh, Gupta pays close attention to the everyday practices of state bureaucracies such as corruption and inscription through which both the state and the poor are constituted. Stories of state corruption became a feature of the everyday lives of poor people, Gupta argues, such that the state comes into being through citizens’ narratives of corruption. Those who cannot afford to bribe state bureaucrats are marginalized as boundaries are drawn between those who can and cannot pay. The actions of state bureaucrats, their decisions and motivations, their arbitrary treatment of the poor, powerfully create both the state and the poor as particular kinds of entities. Yet corruption, Gupta argues, is not to be taken at face value. Notions of corruption provide insight into what its citizens anticipate the state should be/do, which in turn, gives insight into how the state becomes constituted in their eyes. In the context of the antipoverty programmes Gupta describes, citizenship has been crafted as being about inclusion. To be excluded indicates the state’s failure to deliver on its own promise.
Gupta’s analysis of inscription is by far the most intriguing as he dwells on the importance of the file. It is his interest in the file that prompts the title of his book. He notes: ‘The file is a compilation of papers of different sizes and qualities [ . . . ] Across the width of the file goes a red tape that keeps anything from falling out’ (p. 145). Yet, in a surprising twist, Gupta puts forward a case for the fragility of the written word. In the context of complaints made by citizens about the state, Gupta highlights the codependency of oral and written statements. The authenticity of a written document is sometimes in question since written documents are often altered or fabricated: ‘The reliability of the document depends primarily on a knowledge of the character of the writer’ (p. 207). In this sense, oral accounts serve to bolster the credibility of written statements. Gupta’s account of the relationship between written documents and oral accounts, and also statistics and narrative, makes a significant contribution to existing anthropological analysis of the construction of knowledge in bureaucratic settings. Rather than take the existence of the unified state for granted, Red Tape takes the articulation of such a state as a social fact that requires anthropological and sociological analysis (p. 57). He describes the state not as bounded, whole, cohesive, but as fragmented and dispersed. It is continually being generated and regenerated through the actions of state bureaucrats as well as citizens’ oral narratives. The state is disaggregated, Gupta argues, and it is also imbricated in international and transnational development networks, which means that it has become dispersed across these networks. In light of its fragmentation and dispersal, Gupta’s Red Tape is a radical attempt to extend Foucault’s theory of governmentality. He argues that Foucault established his theory of governmentality on the notion of the nation-state. Gupta attempts to extend the boundaries of the state beyond the nation. In answer to his own question—why has the state failed to help a large number of poor people—I would have liked Gupta to put this question directly to state bureaucrats and the poor. Do they recognize this as a failure of the state? Do they have their own answers or even their own version of this question? Drawing on the explanations given by state bureaucrats and the poor in relation to their own activities would enable Gupta to more convincingly show that the theoretical methodology he employs is aligned with people’s own understanding of themselves rather than a part and product of scholarly discourse. I felt both Gupta’s questions and answers are heavily guided by existing theory, and as a reader, I was left unsure of whether they actually articulated the preoccupations of state bureaucrats and the poor themselves. What (different) conclusions would Gupta reach if he pursued his own subjects’ lines of inquiry?
Julie McBrien University of Amsterdam
Secularism, Soviet Style: Teaching Atheism and Religion in a Volga Republic Sonja Luehrmann (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011) For legal and political anthropologists, religious revivals, and their links to public spheres and modern nation-states, has been of great interest for the last two decades. However, when the term ‘revival’ is used to talk about the present it intimates something about the past, an understanding of which is all too often assumed rather than investigated. Scholars of the former socialist world, for example, know a great deal about the
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early attacks on religion in the Soviet Union, the most violent of perhaps any secular(izing) nation-state. The contours of secularism in the late Soviet period—the most immediate referent for those living in the post-Soviet era—remains, however, rather unexplored. In her examination of the multi-religious field of Marij El, a republic in Russia’s Volga region, Sonja Luehrmann has made an important step toward rectifying this. She combines ethnography with historical investigation and asks an important question: what can a study of religion reveal about secularism? Her answers provide rich insights into the lived and taught Soviet atheism of the 1960s and 70s. Luehrmann explores the ways in which Soviet society might be understood as secular. Relying on Charles Taylor’s account of Western secularism, she asserts that, much like the liberal project, socialist secularism can be defined by its “exclusive humanism” (p. 7). She takes this as her point of departure and describes the ways in which so-called cultural workers attempted to bring about a society constructed solely on the basis of, and only with reference to, human agents. She focuses her attention on those involved most intimately with the Soviet secularizing project—the methodicians—and their didactic endeavors. Early on in her fieldwork she noticed striking similarities between these former soviet cultural workers and contemporary religious leaders and teachers, especially regarding the methodology that inspired and drove their instructional endeavors. Perplexed by this, her fieldwork became an investigation into the sometimes congruent, sometimes contrastive, but always overlapping conceptualizations and practices of the secular-religious. Utilizing a Weberian notion of affinities for her analysis, each chapter in her book examines a different field of intersection including the dissemination and acquisition of knowledge, the power of the visual in learning, and the spirituality of man. In each instance, she urges the reader to see various ways the secular and religious are intertwined. Luehrmann is at her best in her historical sections. She deftly demonstrates the complex, uneven, and very dynamic ways secularism was advanced in the USSR. She argues, for example, that policy makers, ideologues, and cultural workers, understood religion as something simultaneously unifying and isolating. Each conceptualization implied a different threat to the cultivation of a new socialist society. These complex understandings of religion, Luerhmann shows, demanded unique, sometimes contradictory, forms of attack. She also describes how, at certain historical junctures, the methodicians were themselves ill-prepared for and overburdened by their work and how, through teaching atheism, they too were learning what a normal Soviet person was. Luehrmann likewise provides detailed insight into how central dictates and ideas about religion and the fight against it were interpreted and implemented at a local level. She pays close attention to how centrally generated lecture titles, for example, gave methodicians direction for their instructional endeavors but allowed for creativity and adaptation to the local contexts. In each of these areas, and in many others, her work demonstrates not only the complex ways in which secularism was taught but how people learned, as she says, ‘what was expected of them’ (p. 96). In doing so she is able to demonstrate how certain forms—modes of learning, methods of establishing authority, or manners of cultivating spirituality—created and utilized during the atheist campaigns persisted and were modified to post-Soviet religious endeavors. This persistence of form and the way methodicians used and adapted it to new ideas is the core of her historical and ethnographic argument. Well-researched and rich in detail, Luehrmann’s book contains much for the area specialist. But, when it comes to its chief preoccupation, namely the nature of late Soviet secularism, the book delivers arguments intriguing for a broader readership. Using Taylor’s definition to highlight one of the congruencies between Soviet and Liberal secularisms, she argues that the
two diverge with reference to ideas about individualism and privatized religion. Luehrmann demonstrates that methodicians’ attempts to rid the region of religion were focused not just on an individual’s belief and practice but on at total transformation of the collective mode of being. Soviet secularism targeted society as the object of transformation. One of the key means through which “Soviet society secularized itself” (p 13), she argues, was through an ever increasing didactic public (p. 11). In contrast to other secularism however “policymakers never thought of anyone’s convictions as a private matter” (p. 9) so their didactic interventions extend forcefully into domestic arrangements. Soviet secularism, she argues, was engaged in forming new scopes of connectedness constructed through and in reference to the state. This contrasts to what she sees as the liberal ideal of secularism, which forbids public coercion, especially by state or state-allowed actors, and permits individual belief in the private sphere. Unfortunately Luehrmann has a tendency to contrast Soviet secularism with an ideal type of the liberal version, rather than its various actually existing instances. These instances reveal much more congruence with Soviet secularism than Luehrmann allows, especially on the nature of the coercive state and its intervention into private spheres. While excellent in illuminating socialist secularism, Luehrmann is less effective in her exploration of contemporary secularism in Marij El. She fruitfully compares Soviet era cultural workers and contemporary religious promoters, but one longs to hear about those today in Marij El who are less certain about, less invested in, or simply against religion. Perhaps because they are less actively involved in teaching and converting they fall from view. This raises the interesting question: how does contemporary secularism thrive and advance? These two critiques are, however, minor matters. Luehrmann’s book is well written and excellently researched. It provides much-needed understanding of the late-Soviet atheist endeavors. Importantly, by showing how Soviet secularism diverged from liberal projects, it makes a valuable contribution to conceptualizations of secularism.
Scott Matter Rutgers University
I Say to You: Ethnic politics and the Kalenjin in Kenya Gabrielle Lynch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) How should scholars make sense of the eruption of violence in the aftermath of Kenya’s contested 2007 General Election, in which over 1,000 people were killed and almost 700,000 displaced in less than two months? And, in light of the modernization narratives of previous eras—that ethnicity would fade away as decolonization reshaped societies around the world—what do scholars make of the fact that this violence was overwhelmingly carried out along ethnic lines? Taking on these complex and contentious problems, Lynch uses a case study of the Kalenjin of western Kenya, the main antagonists in that country’s persistent ethno-political violence over the past twenty years, to analyze the “construction, development, political relevance, and appeal of ethnic identity over time” and argues that “the constructed nature of ethnic identities is the source of ethnicity’s attraction and danger, as selective and interpreted histories are used to unite some and differentiate others in ways that are meaningful, contested, and unstable” (p. 1–2, emphasis in original).
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Lynch makes three important theoretical contributions that also have practical implications for policy and social change. Lynch skillfully argues that political ethnicity can, and may necessarily, be both a bottom-up source of collective identity and a product of elite manipulation, drawing on John Lonsdale’s critical formulation of the relationship between moral ethnicity and political tribalism. Pointing out that this conceptual distinction has been misconstrued in the past to be a binary that counterposes positive and negative manifestations of ethnic construction, she argues that elites can not simply incite ethnic sentiment, exclusive ethnic politics, and intercommunal violence out of nothing. They must draw upon and reinforce existing popular notions of shared culture, language, and experience as well as narratives of difference, inequality, and risk. Leaders who seek to counter or avoid making use of such popular political discourse risk losing support and face accusations of being out-of-touch with the experiences of their constituents. While ethnic identities may be consolidated under new ethnonyms by opinion leaders and culture brokers, they are built from shared interpretations of the past, and often based on perceived and experienced marginalization that contributes to an angstkomplex that drives exclusive and potentially violent ethnic politics. These shared pasts, expressed through historical narrative, rely on collective memory and are subject to negotiation and reinterpretation; processes that allow for the boundaries between us and other to be shifted over time in response to changing political circumstances. In the Kalenjin case, Lynch illustrates not only the historical emergence of a new ethnic category as diverse communities speaking closely-related dialects engaged with colonization and independence, but also how membership in this confederation has evolved in connection with debates about inclusion in or exclusion from flows of state patronage. Ethnic and political unity among Kalenjin-speaking sub-groups is not a given, but rather must be constantly renegotiated amidst tensions that include dissatisfaction about inequality between communities under the Kalenjin umbrella. These debates often reach their apex at critical junctures—in Kenya during all-important election campaigns in which leaders, as heads of ethnically organized political parties, compete not just for office but for control of a state apparatus whose resources have routinely been appropriated for private gain. Constituencies dominated by Kalenjin-speakers and considered to be part of Kalenjin territory have tended to vote overwhelmingly along ethnic lines, even while protesting the failure of their leaders, as ethnic big men, to share the rewards of power beyond narrower personal and sub-ethnic networks. Lynch attributes this phenomenon to speculative ethnic loyalty—“calculation of the potential advantages of electing community spokesmen” (p. 9)—toward potential patrons out of hope for redress of historical grievances, and to the mobilization of narratives recounting worse hardship when ethnic others have been in power. Despite past failures to provide for their clients, political leaders may become benefactors and protectors in the future, a situation far more likely when they are subject to demands based on moral ethnicity than leaders of other ethnicities would be. To illustrate these critical arguments, Lynch presents a historically-oriented analysis focused mainly on opinion leaders and culture brokers, organized chronologically beginning with the emergence of “Kalenjin” as an ethnic identity in the late-colonial (1940–1960) context of rising anti-colonial activity and ending with discussion of the crisis of post-election violence in 2008 and its implications for the future of Kenyan politics. While this material is richly described, more ethnographic detail about the experiences of non-elites would be invaluable. Given her arguments about the crucial links between elite and non-elite in the articulation of instrumental manipulation and popular discourse, it would be illuminating to learn more about the voters who support ethnic demagogues and the youth-cum-warriors who carry out ethnically targeted violence from their own perspective. There is a clear difficulty in doing this, however, due to
the sensitivity of the subject matter and the ethnographic context. The keleidoscopic Kalenjin ethnicity is not easily amenable to grassroots ethnography, especially if, as Lynch argues, it involves a fractious collection of sub-ethnicities that may be claimed to be distinct from one another or from the whole, rather than a unified category that has superceded older, more specific identities. Further, the ethical dilemmas involved in working with and writing about individuals who have committed violent crimes and atrocities and who will most likely never be brought to justice are daunting. At the same time, the limited overt use of the more than 250 interviews she carried out over five years may be as much a reflection of the challenges of writing ethnographically about African politics—an endeavour often heavily influenced by the disciplinary conventions of history and political studies—as her cautious handling of sensitive, emotive content. This forgivable weakness notwithstanding, Lynch’s impressively detailed historical accounts of the intrigues of Kenyan and Kalenjin politics are compelling, especially when they conflict with previous interpretations, if sometimes dizzying and perhaps difficult for readers less familiar with these ceaseless dramas to digest. Overall, Lynch has written a wonderful book; a commendable work that sheds light on Kenya’s periodic crises of ethno-political violence and on the sometimes life or death struggles involved in trying to capture and maintain control of the state, as well as the incredible challenge faced by Kenyans seeking to effect change. The theoretical and empirical contribution of this book will resonate with readers interested in the politics of ethnicity and the culture of ethnic politics, and in how these often perpetuate widespread injustice and suffering.
Gillian Harkins University of Washington
REVIEW ESSAY Sex Offenses and the Imaginaries of Punitive Reason Sex Panic and the Punitive State Roger N. Lancaster (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).
Hound Pound Narrative: Sexual Offender Habilitation and the Anthropology of Therapeutic Intervention James B. Waldram (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012) The sex offender has been labeled the monster of our times. The past two decades have seen the dramatic rise of mandatory sex offender registries and community notification practices as well as sexually violent predator laws and indefinite civil commitment for people perceived at risk to commit sex offenses. These new technologies of surveillance and punishment represent sex offenders as compulsive creatures who can only be deterred through expanded policing and penality. And among sex offenders, those who have sex with children are characterized as particularly inhuman and incorrigible. Thus laws expressly targeting sex offenders—most frequently sex offenders against children—transform society as a whole, including how modes of imagination and reason intersect with domains of the state. Recent academic studies of sex offenders have often split focus between imaginary offenders— or “making monsters” (Lancaster p. 59)—and the actual human beings who populate the cells and institutions forged through such penal imaginaries. Roger Lancaster’s Sex Panic and
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the Punitive State (2011) and James Waldram’s Hound Pound Narrative: Sexual Offender Habilitation and the Anthropology of Therapeutic Intervention (2012) exemplify these two approaches to the contemporary sex offender. Lancaster examines the sex offender as a monster or folk demon, asking how populist imaginaries helped craft the punitive state. According to Lancaster, 1960s and 1970s crime panics were transformed into 1980s and 1990s panics about children’s vulnerability to sexual predators. Sex panic produced the neoconservative conditions for expanded penalty, which in turn was incorporated into the specific mode of United States neoliberalism associated with the punitive state. Waldram, on the other hand, examines the experiences of people incarcerated for sex offenses. Waldram takes his readers into the Hound Pound of a therapeutic prison in Canada, an institutional space where prisoners participate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to demonstrate readiness to re-enter society. Here men undergo a contradictory process of narrative reformation in which their own imaginaries come under strict scrutiny for signs of moral habilitation and conformity to therapeutic paradigms. Given their very different approaches, these two texts provide a unique overview of the landscape of sex offender policing and punishment, revealing how new institutional and intersubjective relations emerge within this landscape. Lancaster makes a strong case for using “sex panic” to understand the “punitive turn” (p. 222) in U.S. popular, political, and legal culture. Lancaster takes up familiar definitions of sex panic to argue that sexuality offers a particularly fertile ground for imaginary threats to social hygiene and moral order. Earlier twentieth century panics, such as the 1937 invention of sex crime by the New York Times, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s “war on the sex criminal” (p. 33), and the sexual psychopath statutes of the 1950s, laid the groundwork for 1970s anti-homosexuality “Save Our Children” (p.42) campaigns and 1980s panics about the sexual abuse of children in daycare settings. In the later twentieth century U.S., sex panic about pedophilia or child predators in particular fueled a “paranoid style” (p. 186) that fostered greater demands for punishment and retribution. The dismantling of the welfare state and the turn to the punitive state depended upon these sex panics, rather producing them (as other scholars have argued). This is a shift in dominant interpretations of the emergence of punishment through neoliberal restructuring. For Lancaster, “crime and sex panics bridge the gap between social backlash and economic retrenchment” (p. 138), providing a more contingent, ad hoc, and discontinuous “history of the neoliberal punitive state” (p. 220). Thus even as Lancaster notes the limits of sex panic as an explanatory concept, he reminds readers that the concept of “economic panic” (p. 31) is no less problematic, particularly when used to explain complex institutional and interpersonal change. These broader structural claims are outlined in the book’s Part Two (primarily Chapters 7 and 8), where Lancaster makes the clearest case for the central role of sex panic in the structural adjustment of U.S. society. Part One unfolds in a more provisional way, seemingly performing the ad hoc and contingent historiography theorized in the final chapters. Lancaster describes his method as a “mix of fine-grained analysis, robust polemic, and ethnographic writing” (p. 17), with Part One in particular moving between summaries of existing research, legal case histories, the ethnography of a friend’s false accusation of sexual offenses, and stories from the author’s own youth. These earlier chapters offer a somewhat familiar analysis—“sex panics give rise to bloated imaginings of risk, inflated conceptions of harm, and loose definitions of sex” (p. 2)—found in work by Lauren Berlant, Lee Edelman, James Kincaid, and Judith Levine (among others). But these chapters also provide a thick description of existing scholarship and law, including a more precise elaboration of how homosexual stigma intersects with racist mobilizations of sex crime in the making of the white pedophile as folk monster. Here he adds to existing scholarship by exploring how white middle class protocols of hygiene and purity are imaginatively universalized even as that class is structurally dismantled,
resulting in a populism whose “paranoid style” (p. 186) is institutionalized in legal and social regimes of punishment. According to Lancaster such institutionalization is achieved through the “rhetorical forms” of “moral entrepreneurs”(p.220) whose alleged prognostic powers link “punishment to imagined risks and anticipated future victimizations”(p. 11). Waldram picks up where Lancaster leaves off: inside the “actuarial illogic” (Lancaster p. 80) organizing sex offender treatment inside carceral facilities. Waldram’s ethnography depicts the experiences of men incarcerated for sex offenses in Canadian federal prison who are admitted to a therapeutic prison unit for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In this unit men live for eight months in a collective space that blurs the line between “custody and caring” (p. 26). They participate in group therapy and shared housing organized around “the Bubble,” a “combined nursing and security station” (p. 27) whose glass walls allow staff and inmates mutual observation. This “panoptic” is linked to the “synoptic” (p. 45) of the therapeutic process itself—all participants must participate in a process of narrative disclosure that includes an Autobiography (treated in Chapter Five), a Crime Cycle (Chapter Six), and a Relapse Prevention Plan (Chapter Seven). Each step in this process requires the participant to present a narrative that is subject to public interrogation and at times combative revision from nurses and other prisoners. Successful completion of each step requires the participant to adapt their own subjective narrative to what Waldram theorizes as a “paradigmatic” (p. 10) narrative adjusted to fit the putative forensic facts in their profile and the principles and theories of CBT. The aim of this process is to reduce the risk of re-offending upon return to society, which is somewhat paradoxical since men too near release are not admitted in the program and those who complete the program are often returned to carceral facilities. This tension between paradigmatic “habilitation” (p. 11) and actuarial prediction is a central focus of Waldram’s analysis. In order to be admitted to this unit, the prisoner must have a psychological diagnosis that can be treated. And yet sex offenses are crimes, not psychiatric disorders, and the fantasies and urges subject to therapeutic intervention inside prison are not “criminal activity” (p. 53). CBT bridges the gap between this “forensic black hole” (p. 75) and paradigmatic habilitation. Participants must come to identify and reduce those “cognitive distortions” (p. 55) or “thinking errors” (p. 59) that cause sexual offenses and to replace these errors with paradigmatically acceptable thoughts. They must then express CBT approved affective responses such as anger management and empathy along with those thoughts. Participant success is achieved by persuading other inmates and staff that CBT cognitive and affective strategies have been subjectively adopted while at the same time scoring appropriately on forensic tools such as phallometric testing (p. 69) and “risk assessment instrument[s]” (p. 69) such as the Static 99 assessment tool or the Violence Risk Scale—Sexual Offender Version (VRS-SO). CBT codes assumed predictive of supposed success outside prison are subject to forensic verification inside prison, under static conditions that cannot match the dynamics of either the nontherapeutic prison or the outside world. This does little to enable success for prisoners who are returned to prison or for those who are released into society; the former must return to the “con code” (p. 67) at odds with CBT, the latter to the brand of “modern-day lepers” (p. 217) facing the stigma, isolation, and paranoia described by Lancaster. Both Lancaster and Waldram reflect on the anthropological challenges posed by research on sex offenders. First, they both suggest that their research findings require alternative strategies of representation. For Lancaster, this mixes ethnographic material with scholarship synthesis and direct address (what he calls polemic), presumably to counter the existing “rhetorical forms” of “moral entrepreneurship” (p. 220) which dominate the topic. For Waldram, this results in a complex and “jagged” (p. 21) form interspersing direct citation of research subjects and more conversational inter-chapters with his own analysis. Waldram also points out the problem
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of doing ethnography in “nonvoluntary contexts” (p. 22) and the difficulty of gaining trust from both incarcerated subjects and corrections staff who perceived participant observation as “loitering” (p. 35). Second, they both describe the limits of “social suffering” (Waldram, p. xi) as a preferred focus of anthropological research. Waldram suggests recent anthropology exhibits a bias toward studies of the sympathetic or oppressed, which can discourage development of deeply needed ethnographic approaches to the experience of reviled or oppressive groups. Lancaster launches a more sustained critique, arguing that “lov[ing] trauma” (p. 181) is less an ethnographic problem than a dominant cultural logic produced through the punitive turn. He argues “the Left” should “reconsider its fixation on injury” (p. 212) as political strategy and instead consider “getting over it” (p. 205) or “forgetting of trauma” (p. 244) as a strategy. As Lancaster summarizes his position: “Injury ennobles no one; it makes no one any smarter; it gives no one insight beyond the simple experience of pain”(p. 212). The only thing it enables is a “perverse politics of identity” (p. 212) which “can only be the psychological and organizational building blocks of the punitive state” (p. 213). Lancaster’s rather bold pronouncement draws attention to the limits of his own approach to sex offenders as well as the central role concepts of reason—in contrast to paranoia and injury—have in both studies. Lancaster is right that enclosing distributions of humanity in a penal logic of injury, especially one that can be rationalized through a “forensic black hole” (Waldram p. 75) and CBT, is a problem. But Lancaster’s analysis of paranoid style overly universalizes “loving trauma”and the politics of injury. Valorization of trauma and injury may be a rhetorical form used by various moral entrepreneurs, but this moral and political valorization does not operate uniformly across institutions and actors. One easy counterexample can be found in Waldram’s text, in which incarcerated subjects are cognitively and affectively denied a subjective narrative of injury—their empathy training does not allow them to draw explicitly on their own experiences of abuse or pain. Waldram clarifies that a specific mode of paradigmatic (and forensically verifiable) reason is at the heart of both diagnosis and treatment of offenders. Yet Waldram reminds readers that the line between reason and paranoia is highly variable across institutional spaces, since CBT reason requires adopting cognitive and affective behaviors that are maladaptive to their future contexts (whether prison or society). Situated in relation to Waldram’s study, Lancaster’s own argument that we should replace loving trauma with “getting over it” (p. 205) might also be characterized as paranoid. Neither loving nor forgetting injury address the complex conditions in which recognition and harm are distributed in subjective or paradigmatic modes of penality. Read together, these books task scholars to find new ways to contest the inequitable distributions of power and resources which conceal negative impacts (or constructed suffering) on human lives and communities and to reveal how heterogeneous affects and imaginaries may be mobilized against the forensic and paradigmatic reason of carceral penality. These two books offer an important overview of institutional practices related to sex offenses in North America. Waldram’s Canadian case undermines Lancaster’s U.S. exceptionalism, since there are similar legal and institutional mechanisms in place across North America (Canadian law is outlined in Waldram’s Chapter Three). And Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is popular as a treatment technique inside U.S. facilities as well, including facilities specifically for sexual offenders such as the Butner Federal Correctional Institute in North Carolina. Both texts also confirm the statistical preponderance of white men sentenced for sex offenses against children (although Waldram points out that his regional case study was anomalously 50/50 white and Aboriginal). There is certainly an urgent need for analyses of this sort, and both books contribute importantly to understanding emerging regimes of penality and penitence.