Tag Archives: cultural anthropology

The Potency of Indigenous Bibles and Biography: Mapuche Shamanic Literacy and Historical Consciousness

Ana Mariella Bacigalupo (University of Buffalo)

Mapuche oral shamanic biographies and performances—some of which take the form of “bibles” and involve shamanic literacies—play a central role in the production of indigenous history in southern Chile. Bacigalupo explains how and why a mixed-race Mapuche shaman charged her with writing about her life and practice in the form of such a “bible.” This book would become a ritual object and a means of storing her shamanic power by textualizing it, thereby allowing her to speak to a future audience. The realities and powers her “bible” stored could be extracted, transformed, circulated, and actualized for a variety of ends, even to bring about shamanic rebirth. Ultimately, through their use and interpretation of this kind of “bible,” Mapuche shamans expand academic notions of indigenous history and literacy.

Nostalgia in the Post-Apartheid State

Amber Reed (Penn)
What would make rural, black South Africans nostalgic for the days of apartheid? While this nascent democracy is celebrated worldwide for its “progressive” constitution and relatively peaceful transition from an oppressive government in 1994, today a growing tide of disappointment with the democratic state is emerging across the country – as evidenced in recent service delivery protests and new competitor political parties to the ruling African National Congress. Ethnographic encounters in the rural Eastern Cape Province go beyond these frustrations with the status quo, revealing widespread sentiments of nostalgia for the perceived stability and order of the apartheid regime among those who ostensibly suffered most under its rule. In this paper, I argue that nostalgic discourses for apartheid can be read as reactions to the increasing inequalities of neoliberal capitalism that have become conflated with democracy as a political system. Furthermore, many local cultural ideologies in rural South Africa aligned more closely with the hierarchical structures of apartheid than they do with contemporary Western-based human rights legislation on equality. On a broader level, I show how Eastern Cape residents are using competing epistemologies from that of the state to understand why democracy is ultimately understood as failing to create happier lives for rural South Africans.

The Racial Lexicon of Development in Postcolonial Africa: The Case of Ghana

Jemima Pierre (UCLA)
If colonial rule in Africa depended upon a racial hierarchy that simultaneously consolidated supposedly “tribal” difference and white racial and cultural and political supremacy, what happens to this structure at the end of formal colonial rule? Following this, what does it mean to explore racial formations in our analyses of decolonization and the African postcolony? In this lecture, I use examples from my current ethnographic and historical research on resource extraction – specifically focusing on Ghana as a new oil exporter – to tackle these questions. I argue that “development-speak” converges with “oil-speak” to create a particular racial lexicon that upholds historical, (neo)colonial hierarchies. In so doing, I demonstrate one of the many ways that race continues to be rearticulated in postcolonial Africa.
* Co-sponsored by the Center for Africana Studies

‘Modelling’ Development: Kerala on the Global Stage

Ritty Lukose (NYU)

In recent debates about the post-liberalization achievements, failures, and future directions of the Indian economy, the choices before the Indian state and electorate have been cast as the “Gujarat versus Kerala” models. This discourse partakes of a longstanding construction of the Indian state and of Kerala’s development trajectory, as one pole in “growth versus redistribution” policy arguments both within India and internationally. This model came into being in the mid-1970s, linking the region to the international development apparatus, just as the transformations we currently associate with “neoliberalism” were taking shape. What was this “model” alternative to in the mid-1970s? What is it an alternative to now? This paper addresses these questions as part of a larger exploration of our understandings of gender, development and neoliberalism.

African non-State Networks, Social Capital or Social Liability? The case of DRC

Patience Kabamba (Penn)

The central argument of my study is that everybody knows about the wealth of the region, currently siphoned off by Rwandan/Ugandan generals in collusion with US corporations, but they don’t know about the social wealth and dynamism of the country. I argue that the future of Africa hinges on what happens to the DRC with its huge population and natural wealth including hydroelectric energy whose transport to distant destinations will require political reorganization of Africa by Africans. Indeed, the kleptocratic alliance between Jacob Zuma and Joseph Kabila prefigures a more serious future development linking South-Africa and DRC in SADC. The case of Butembo where in the absence of state framework and in the presence of multiple contenders for power, Nande traders networks managed to build a self-sustaining and prosperous transnational enterprise in North Kivu would serve as a parable. It presents an alternative story of Congo society being built from bottom up. Spinoza’s understanding of power as “potentia” and “potestas” would frame the theoretical underpinning of the new vision of the DRC I am putting forward.

Nature Cure, Ayurveda and Ecology: The Affective Politics of Intimate Nationalism

Joseph Alter (University of Pittsburgh)

Although it was invented in Germany in the 19th century, Nature Cure, as a distinct system of medicine, is institutionalized and professionalized in India, where it is now more popular and pervasive than almost anywhere else in the world. This is very odd, for a number of reasons, including the fact that India is the “cultural home” of one of the world’s most popular forms of alternative, holistic therapy ? Ayurveda. One might say, to adapt a vintage colonial phrase, that importing Nature Cure to India was rather like bringing coal to Newcastle: redundant. So what does Nature Cure have to offer that Ayurveda does not? There are many answers to this question, some simple and others more nuanced. But the question itself and the apparent redundancy it bespeaks, highlights some interesting problems in the study of colonialism, power and the body. One of these problems concerns the nature of ecology in relation to health, and the connection between the embodiment of ecology and the affective politics of intimate nationalism. Among other things, this talk examines the embodiment of the feeling of belonging as an expression of desire in the context of nationalist sentiments.

* Co-sponsored by the Department of South Asia Studies

Black/Queer Here & There

Jafari Allen

How do we best see, and say today– in the wake of anthropology’s much storied crisis of representation; attempted corrections following movements of ‘Third World’ peoples, women, and queer folks; the recent disavowal of 1980s and 1990s reflexivity and experimentation; and what Marcus has recently termed a contemporary “crisis of reception.” What sort of moment is this to raise the question of Black/queer desire, in the context of here and there? If, as Tsing contends, transnational “friction… is the grip of a worldly encounter” what happens when we finally encounter the world through a multiply constituted lens of race, gender, nation and sexuality? Black/Queer Here & There presents “a moving picture of a world that doesn’t stand still, that reveals itself (and likewise, individuals who reveal themselves, and change themselves) en route” (Clifford) — showing how a cross-section of Black (and) queer, travelers, artists, intellectuals, political activists, and regular folks imagine and practice ‘here’ and ‘there’ in the Americas. Here we trace and highlight the operations of desire in translocal Black LGBTQ politics and culture — providing new perspectives, which require a re-focusing of social theory, and a re-signification of social/cultural anthropology’s ways of seeing and saying.

Reclaiming Favelas: How Pacification Impacts Black Territories in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

João Costa Vargas (UT)
10/23/2013                        * in Rm. 345

What gives coherence to police pacifying operations preceding the 2013 Confederations Cup, the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro? How do narratives of security and development gain added meaning when explored through their linkages to narratives of modernization and blackness? Drawing on long-term ethnography and collaborative work with Black organizations in Brazil and the United States, this talk engages these questions by providing an analysis of the contested geographies in Rio.

“An Impossible Science?” & “The Technology of Emergency”: Penn ABD Student Talks


An impossible science? How hydroelectric engineers, cyberneticists, Orthodox mystics, transport planners, rocket scientists, Stalin, etc. assembled Soviet economics, again
Adam Leeds

Taking political economy to mean the intersection of visions of the ideal society and claims about the nature of actually existing society that limit and condition political action, I tell a new history of its torturous re-birth from the years of high Stalinism through Khrushchev’s “Thaw” of the 1960s. With the execution of the prominent economists of the 1920s, the political economic horizon of thought collapsed and Soviet reality became identified with ideal socialism; with the launch of forced industrialization, the economy itself collapsed directly into politics. 1) Yet over the 1940s and 1950s, while orthodox political economists gradually resurrected a concept of economic objectivity, engineers and statisticians in the planning apparatus reopened basic economic questions, in the process limning a space of problematization of the economy. 2) Following a very different trajectory through Stalinism, the geniuses of the Moscow mathematical school retained their pre-Revolutionary ideals and professional autonomy. Drawn into the exemplary Big Science projects of WWII and its aftermath — radar, rocketry, the bomb, and the space project — these mathematicians became among the first users and most zealous proponents of Soviet computers. The success of these projects left them politically untouchable and administratively powerful by the late 1950s. From this position they pushed cybernetics as an alternative scientific metalanguage in place of dialectical materialism. This cyborg science allowed the flow of metaphors, models, and personnel between different disciplines in the emerging post-War military-scientific complex — at the same time as it reestablished the autonomy of the scientific from the political. The mathematically-inclined economists and engineers allied with the cyberneticists and thereby institutionalized themselves in the space of a decade, reconfiguring the epistemological field of economics in the process. Two lines of thought sharing mathematical technique with Western economics but otherwise crucially different allowed the reestablishment of a truth function with respect to the economic.  Amid the cultural ferment of the Thaw and the proliferation of new ethical stances and strategies with respect to Soviet power, the political economic imagination was reborn, and mathematical economists elaborated a plethora of visions of market socialism. The social and ideological processes thus set in motion are the deep genealogy of the collapse of Soviet experiment.

Maternal Healthcare and the Technology of Emergency
Beth Hallowell

In this paper, I explore what counts as an emergency in maternal healthcare in rural Guatemala today. I argue that the creation and circulation of Planes de Emergencia (Emergency Plans) for birthing shape the possibilities for biomedical maternity care in this context. Drawing on fieldwork carried out in 2010 in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, and on recent feminist scholarship on “emergency thinking” (Scarry 2011), I suggest that Emergency Plans and the forms of care of which they are a part generate their own forms of knowledge and ignorance about the possibilities for healthcare in this context. In so doing, these planning systems reconfigure both the sociality and temporality of biomedical maternity care in Guatemala today. This “technology of emergency” shifts moral responsibilities among care providers and mothers, engenders new intimate relationships while obviating other forms of collective security, and positions biomedical birth as the only possible outcome of moral action. Considering how this technology of emergency works as a mode of “reproductive governance” (Morgan and Roberts 2012) points to the ways in which reproduction is understood and managed in contexts beyond Guatemala.