A Place for Poor People? Peri-Urban Land & “Development” in Lesotho

This post was contributed by Charles Fogelman, and is part of a series on ‘Rending land investible‘, guest edited by Jenny E Goldstein and Julian S Yates.

Charles Fogelman is a Research Fellow with the Cultures of Law in Global Contexts Project and a Ph.D. candidate with the Department of Geography and GIS at the University of Illinois. He tweets at @charlesfogelman.


The title of this piece comes from a conversation I had with a senior unelected official for the city of Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. As he described the planned sprawling 18-hole golf course in a village on the outskirts of town, I asked him what would happen to the poor people who currently used the land for small-scale agriculture. “The city is no place for poor people!” he told me. His perspective, in direct conflict with discourses of international development, demonstrates a key tension between the objectives of poverty reduction and economic growth.

My dissertation project investigates that tension via the logics and impacts of a major land reform project in Lesotho. My presentation at the AAG meeting in Chicago will focus specifically on the uses of mapping and other technologies in Lesotho’s land reform, while other elements of my work focus on gender and authority. For this piece, however, I want to talk about my project more broadly to investigate what “development” means in the context of Lesotho’s land.

Land Act 2010 is the centerpiece of legislation that sets the rules for land reform in Lesotho. Together with several other laws, the Land Act set out to make land a more legible and exchangeable resource. The biggest element of the law was that it eliminated customary tenure in urban areas and instead mandated leaseholds (de facto titles). As the government minister responsible for the execution of the law phrased it, “The current land reform program in Lesotho is driven by the desire to achieve social growth and development on the one hand and economic growth and development on the other” (Sekatle 2010). The text of Land Act 2010 is nearly identical to its predecessor, but Land Act 1979 failed to successfully disempower customary authorities in land matters.

The reason Land Act 2010 has been successfully implemented is that a $363 million grant from the U.S.’s new development wing, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), provided the funding to measure, map, adjudicate and deliver the leaseholds that the law requires. In 1979 these expensive logistics were left to individual landholders. Together with wording that removes land allocation power from unelected local chiefs, who were seen as potentially capricious and unsanctionable by their constituents, Land Act 2010 successfully moved urban land tenure to the hands of the market. The goal of making Lesotho’s land an engine of economic growth is consistent with other MCC projects and with the MCC motto – “Poverty reduction through economic growth.” How this market-led land reform works toward economic growth is clear. However, its work toward the goal of poverty reduction is murkier.

The questions I have asked about this reform are rooted in a framework of access. In short, vulnerable people have been granted the right to benefit from their land, but have they been granted the ability to benefit? (Ribot & Peluso 2003). What my work demonstrates is that legal frameworks are necessary but insufficient to provide true land access to vulnerable land users. It is the institutions that govern the execution and application of the laws that are most important. They are the ones who can determine who truly benefits. In Lesotho, the beneficiaries of land reform do not appear to be the poor and vulnerable people said to be targeted by the MCC’s development plans.

That leads to a final point: who are the true beneficiaries of Lesotho’s Land Act 2010 if not the vulnerable people ostensibly targeted? In my research village, two real estate developers are reaping the benefits of secure and exchangeable land tenure. One is building the aforementioned par-71 golf course on half of the village’s former agricultural fields, the other is building a 700-home suburban development on the other half of the fields. Two things are notable about this. First, these developers are empowered by bureaucrats, who are able to influence the votes of the elected officials who are supposed to determine land allocation. The bureaucrats are, like the chiefs before them, unelected officials who can be capricious or corrupt with little ability for public sanction. Second, discourses of “development” that privilege economic growth as the driver of poverty reduction need to be more explicit in how poverty reduction will happen. All the good intentions in the world have not kept economic growth at my research site from trampling on the land access of the poor.

If a development project is to be truly pro-poor, the poor need to truly be at the forefront of planning and execution. These concerns are hardly academic: the MCC is planning a second grant for Lesotho, and their initial plan identifies “Poor land management and allocation systems” as a “binding constraint to economic growth” in Lesotho. A further U.S.-led redefinition of the social relations that govern land access may lie ahead. Poverty reduction and economic growth are very different things. To truly reduce poverty, institutions and development agencies must target reforms and projects that directly help poor people rather than waiting for the fruits of trickle down to accrue to the poor. Trickle down development like Lesotho’s can create a situation where security of land tenure is for golf courses, not the vulnerable, and the city is truly not a place for poor people.

Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford: Open Access and Relevant

This week’s open access spotlight falls on the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford. A while ago I gave mad shouts out to Cambridge Anthropology when it was resurrected and published by Berghahn.  So it seems only fair to showcase the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford (JASO) for making the decision to stay small, home-brewed, and open.

It can be a bit confusing navigating around JASO’s site, but it’s definitely worth your while. Their latest issue is on sexual harassment in the field, a topic that has been the topic of increasing attention in the blogosphere and and the discipline more widely. On this score, JASO couldn’t be more relevant to what’s going on in anthropology today.

As someone interested in the history of anthropology, however, it’s really in the back issues (over  twenty five years of them) that JASO really shines. Here, the journal shows how a small group of people embarked on a shared project can create. The ups and downs of the department are recorded in every issue — book reviews show you what the department thought of the outside world, while obituaries help it mourn its own. I feel like a biography of Godfrey Lienhardt could be written out of just these back issues alone. It’s rich stuff to explore, and its all open access.

Ultimately, the quiet way JASO publishes its material may not result in a tremendous ‘impact’ of the sort that audit culture likes to see. But that’s ok. A quick look at the list of contributors make it clear that this journal is not just a platform for producing scholarship, it’s a platform for nurturing scholars and reproducing institutions.

Go dig around the site — it’s a rich enough archive that I’m sure there’s something there to tickle your fancy or to underwrite a teachable class example.

Can’t Get There from Here? Writing Place and Moving Narratives

[Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Sarah Besky as part of our Writer’s Workshop Series. Sarah is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the School of Natural Resources and Environment and a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan. Starting in Fall 2015, she will be Assistant Professor of Anthropology and International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Sarah specializes in the study of nature, capitalism, and labor in South Asia and the Himalayas. She is the author of The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in Darjeeling India (University of California Press, 2014) and other articles on social justice in agriculture and is currently working on a new book project on transparency, financialization, and tea auction reform in Northeast India.]

One of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits is a game show parody called “What’s the Best Way?” The premise is simple: a group of New Englanders jockey to give fast, accurate driving directions. Phil Hartman plays an old man with an airy Downeast Maine drawl; Adam Sandler an electrical contractor from Boston; and Glenn Close an upper-class Connecticut resident. The host, played by Kevin Nealon, asks questions about how to get from one place to another within New England. For example “Who’s got directions from Quincy, Maass to the Jahdan Mahsh department store in Bedford, New Hampshire?” Contestants buzz in, quiz show style, with their directions—directions which are loaded with quirky geographical references, including a “wicked huge Radio Shack” and a fahm that offers a chance to pick fresh Maine blueberries (“but only in the summah”).

I love this skit because it satirizes my own predilection as a native New Englander for giving overly detailed directions that orient the asker to the contours of the road, the colors and shapes of houses, and places that “yous-tah be there” (instead of supposedly conventional things like the number of traffic lights or street names).

But I also find this rather esoteric parody instructive for thinking about how to write place ethnographically. For many anthropologists, navigating fieldsites that are out-of-the way or otherwise marginalized, Phil Hartman’s character’s resigned answer to one directional challenge might ring a little true: Yah caahn’t get theyah from heeyah. Beyond writing about place, how can we use our writing to recall visual, material memories of getting from one place to another (or failing to do so)? Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: Week of March 15

For those of you in the Northeast like me, spring has officially come so don’t let a little snow fool you into thinking it hasn’t. As always, if you want me to feature anything here, send me the link at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com.

In honor of Sir Terry Pratchett’s life and work, here’s a quote from The Science of Discworld II: The Globe: “The anthropologists got it wrong when they named our species Homo sapiens (‘wise man’). In any case it’s an arrogant and bigheaded thing to say, wisdom being one of our least evident features. In reality, we are Pan narrans, the storytelling chimpanzee.” If you’re unfamiliar with his books, I recommend the Rincewind series, which begins with The Colour of Magic and skewers academic pretensions.

Continue reading

Cinderella at the Big Dance

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past week you might not have noticed that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is underway. My own fandom encompasses many different kinds of sports each for different reasons, but far and away the men’s tournament is the most entertaining televised event of the year. We’ll just have to set aside the irony of recognizing the problematic nature of elite-level college sports while enjoying it as faculty. Sorry! That’s a whole other post. Here I want to bring up a semiotic curiosity and get your feedback.

Non-sports fans, let me set the stage.

Over the course of the basketball season the teams play each other and develop reputations for their skill (or lack thereof), and the culmination of the season is a tournament in which only select teams are invited to play. There’s a lot of drama leading up to the tournament as a convoluted selection process decides which teams will play and in what order they will meet. As the anticipation builds and the media hype machine goes into overdrive we often hear the basketball tournament marketed as “the Dance” or “the Big Dance.” In this narrative the selection process is likened to a courtship ritual, with the teams as available women each of whom wants to make herself appear as desirable as possible in order to draw the most attention from suitors.

The selection process results in a numerical ranking for each team that represents their quality. The contest begins by pitting the weakest against the strongest. In theory this should give the strongest teams the best chance for advancing, but every year their are surprising upsets in which the underdog beats a heavily favored team.

If an underdog wins twice in row it is said to be a “Cinderella.” In this well known folktale, Cinderella, a girl in a structurally disadvantaged position in her family, undergoes a transformation in which she is revealed to be more beautiful and powerful than her mother (and sisters) who had previously tormented her. In the Disney version of this tale, the version most popular among young people in America, Cinderella goes to a dance with her identity masked and while she’s there she is courted by a Prince as her sisters and mother look on powerless to stop her.
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University of Toronto: Boundless Exploitation–“Business as Usual” IS the Problem

The following is an invited post by Sarah Williams and Jennifer Gibson.* 

“It’s business as usual at University of Toronto”, the Provost’s messages proclaim. These messages, meant for students and the media, assert that CUPE 3902 Unit 1’s decision to strike has had no impact on undergraduate classes or the daily operations of Canada’s largest university, recently ranked number 20 in the world. This union represents more than 6,000 graduate student employees. The provost’s claims seek to undermine both the value and importance of graduate student labour and justify the administration’s hard line against raising the minimum funding package, stalled at $15,000 per year, to an amount closer to, though not exceeding, Toronto’s version of a poverty line, the “Low Income Cut-Off” (LICO), which is $23,000. However, underneath the calm and unaffected airs of the university administration lies the reality that over 800 undergraduate classes and tutorials are no longer meeting or have been cancelled for the duration of the strike. As finals draw closer, so too does the possibility that students’ graduations may be delayed.

Photo: Daniel Kwan
Photo: Daniel Kwan

At base, the aim articulated by striking CUPE 3902 members is one of structural change to the funding relationship between graduate students and the university. The guaranteed minimum funding package achieved as a direct outcome of this union’s last strike, fifteen years ago, has dramatically diminished in real wage value thanks to the rapidly rising cost of living in one of Canada’s most costly cities, and has not seen any increase to account for inflation since 2008. Meanwhile, tuition––particularly for international students––continues to climb to the maximum rates legal in Ontario ($8,000-20,000––the highest rates in all of Canada). Combined, it is these two issues that have led to the now 21 day standoff between graduate student contract workers and the administration. If any tentative agreement is to achieve ratification, two core demands must be addressed: meaningful increases to the minimum funding package, and significant reductions in post-funded-cohort tuition. Continue reading

Don’t be a hero, just make anthropology public

I really enjoyed Erin Taylor’s recent piece on SM about how to make anthropology public, and I wanted to add on to her suggestions about how to make anthropology public with a few, slightly more unorthodox ones of my own. These suggestions rub against the anthropological grain because they involve small, quiet, and steady work that doesn’t feel heroic, despite the big impact that it has. So it may seem strange at first blush, but I firmly believe the most effective way to get the best anthropology in front of the most people is to edit wikipedia and write book reviews on Amazon.

Wikipedia, of course, needs no introduction to most people. It is an indispensable source of information — even for people who hate it. It’s ubiquitous, and it’s here to stay. What’s more, it’s a site that people actively go to for information. One of the big questions for public anthropology is: how do we push content in front of eyeballs?This isn’t a question for Wikipedia, because people actively pull content from the site.

And they do it in tremendous numbers. Now and again I have a go at trying to improve the Wikipedia entry on Melanesia. It seems like an obscure topic for an obscure page, but it gets 28,000 views a month. This is far more than the entry on, say, Franz Boas, which got 14,000 views last month. (Mainly this is because more people live in Melanesia than live in Franz Boas, I reckon). With just a little bit of work, we can alter what thousands of people know about the topics we study.

Amazon reviews have the same features as Wikipedia entries: people pull information from the site, rather than have it pushed to them. It receives massive traffic. Amazon’s data base of reviews will probably live forever, just like Wikipedia’s — except in this case, this is because Amazon is a massive corporate behemoth taking over the world.

Reviewing a good book on a topic is vital because it tells Amazon’s algorithms to lift the book out of the massive sea of self-published noise that is Amazon’s book database. In fact, it is Amazon’s ruthless reusing of your content to infinity and beyond that is part of what is so valuable for writing with them — they will show it and spread it and reuse it for as long as they can. And, of course, it lets people know what you thought about the book.

Of course, when you review a book for Amazon you are making a deal with the devil: you are helping the public learn more about the book, but you are also adding value to a corporation who — let me be polite here — has different interests than scholarly publishers and anthropologists. I personally feel in this instance it’s a deal worth making. And, last time I read Amazon’s license for your review, they didn’t stop you from publishing it on as many book review sites as you like — which is probably another great thing to do.

There are things that writing for Wikipedia and Amazon doesn’t do: It doesn’t make you feel like a hero. It doesn’t make you feel personally responsible for changing the world. It doesn’t make you famous to people. In this sense, it is very much out of the Margaret Mead mold. It may not feel as gratifying as writing a 500 word op-ed in the TLS and having your colleagues fuss over it.

But if the goal is to get the best information in front of the most eyeballs, then we need to realize that in today’s world, the most effective way to make anthropology public may not be what is most emotionally gratifying for those with a need to save the world. In the past I’ve wondered what amount of public anthropology would actually satisfy public anthropology advocates. I know my answer to this question: when we can send our students to Wikipedia and Amazon knowing that they will get high-value information about our discipline from them.

Making anthropology public may involve doing things that most people don’t even recognize as public anthropology. Some may not even be aware that it is happening, even as it grows more and more successful. For as Margaret Mead once said, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Wikipedia edits can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Putting on our public face: How can anthropologists get better at it?

The following is an invited post from Erin Taylor. Erin mostly puts on her public face at PopAnth, where she leads a team of editors to provide what John McCreery calls “mentor review.” A firm believer in the responsibility of academic disciplines to disseminate their knowledge, Erin is fond of irritating anthropologists with ideas from economics, and economists with ideas from anthropology. She is also a Research Fellow at the University of Lisbon in Portugal since June 2011, which she describes as “possibly the best career move ever.”

An increasing number of anthropologists recognize the value of making our writing public. We’re improving at both writing and dissemination, but we still have a long way to go. How can we get better at it?

Our reasons for wanting to go public vary. Some of us believe in open access principles. Others feel that disciplinary conversations should take place in the open. Many people use blogs and other Internet-based media to communicate with other anthropologists, and there are increasingly more of us who are interested in outreach to the general public.

However, a lot of our public writing efforts fall short of the mark. We publish without having a clear idea of what audiences we’re aiming for. We struggle to shake off an academic writing style that alienates all but the initiated. We don’t know how to get published on anything other than our own blog or an anthropology website. We lack contacts with journalists, radio producers, and other gatekeepers who can help us disseminate our ideas.

We can do better than this. Continue reading

Investment’s Rituals: Legitimating an Andean Gold Mine

This post was contributed by Eric Hirsch, and is part of a series on ‘Rending land investible‘, guest edited by Jenny E Goldstein and Julian S Yates.

Eric is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Chicago. His research looks at different forms of economic development intervention in Andean Peru’s Colca Valley – from small-scale NGO investments to mining and extractivism – and investigates how they intersect with local conceptions of indigeneity, sustainability, and permanence.


 

What happens when an Andean family finds gold on its land? Upon my return to the Colca Valley village of Yanque, in Peru’s southern Andes, last year after attending a conference in the United States, my host father Ricardo Flores cautiously approached me.[1] “We may have found some gold on Leonora’s estancia, way up there by Tayta Mismi.” He said this quietly, so as to keep the information a secret.

Because of Yanque’s densely gridded configuration of homes—each of which is the node of a local family’s “archipelago” of properties for dwelling, grazing animals, and growing crops (Murra 1972)—any talk of gold had to be hushed. Property lines aren’t always clear, and this applies both to the horizontal and—as we’ll see just below—vertical dimensions of land. Now, it was certainly clear to the Flores family. Leonora’s birthplace was close to the estancia property, located several kilometers from Tayta (Lord) Mismi, a mountain peak (Apu) that is the village’s main water source and thus a hugely important ritual site. Her family’s alpacas had grazed on that land. But the family did not yet have the documentation to prove it. And based on the Flores’ past experiences with Peruvian bureaucracy, this made the land vulnerable: anybody with better access to experts could easily make a claim to the property.

That was not the main source of urgency for the Flores family, however. Buenaventura, one of Peru’s largest mining enterprises, had been frantically buying up large expanses of land in the area and showed no signs of slowing down. According to the property map that David, one of the Flores’ sons-in-law, drew with marker on a large piece of graph paper (papelote) as he led an October family meeting at the Flores home on how to go about extracting gold from this land, their property was almost completely surrounded. Given the enterprise’s intimacy with state authorities, which have license to claim subsoil rights and set the terms of prior consultation, the estancia was sure to be seized soon if the family did not act.

The global land rush has been particularly pronounced in Peru, whose mineral resources have been largely responsible for the country’s astronomical aggregate growth. Copper, silver, and gold have made Peru the fastest-growing nation in South America for most of the previous decade.[2] Of course, aggregate growth does not tell the whole story, and wealth accumulation from mining profits has disproportionately benefited elites, tracing familiar historical lines of inequality. These elements’ importance for Peru’s growth has also been a source of ambivalence and anxiety, for mining is a perfect example of completely unsustainable development. During the portion of my fieldwork that I spent in the Peruvian cities of Lima and Arequipa, endless academic and NGO conferences were held to address the worry about what will happen to Peru after the mining boom. 2013 and 2014 saw a flurry of books published with titles like “What can be done about Peru?” (Ghezzi and Gallardo 2013). When Lima hosted the 2014 UN conference on global climate change, one of the chants animating the event’s main protest, the People’s Climate March, was this: “There is gold! There is copper! The people are still poor!” (“Hay oro! Hay cobre! El pueblo sigue pobre!”)

Tania Murray Li, in her recent piece “What is Land?”, asks: “why the rush?” (2014: 594). The idea of a land “rush,” Li writes, entails “a sudden, hyped interest in a resource because of its newly enhanced value…Do it now before others spot the value, and profit margins decrease.” For the Flores family in Yanque, Buenaventura was the reason to rush. A second reason to rush was a distinct source of pressure: many of the Flores men, manual laborers and, in one case, an entrepreneur who had just shuttered his video game café business, were unemployed. If Leonora’s estancia really did have gold in its depths, this was the time to find it: mineral prosperity stood to save family members from intense economic desperation.

They snapped into action. They are, at present, engaged in a costly race against time to formalize their property title, constitute the family as an enterprise, and fulfill the other bureaucratic rituals necessary for convincing authorities that they are legitimately entitled to mine the property, against the specter of the state’s usufruct rights and Buenaventura’s profound political advantage.

So this was the Flores family’s first task: get the necessary documents in order. In theory, we can see how land titles serve as protective devices. The Andes and, much more intensely, the Amazonian region of Peru, have seen an “epidemic” of illegal artisanal mining, whose practitioners tend not to meet state regulations or undergo the inspections necessary to be cleared for an extractive activity that poses high risks to substantial parcels of land. These artisanal miners also risk invading territories that belong to others who are often politically weaker than them, and subsequently destroying those territories. If a land title can offer protection, the quest for this protection is another story: state bureaucracy is a significantly more difficult structural obstacle for a small family whose members have limited schooling and even more limited political capital than it is for a large mining corporation.

The Flores family is simultaneously racing to render the site investable by seeking a different kind of permission: the land’s. This permission can be attained through the pago a la tierra (offering to the earth), a ritual fundamental to life in much of the Andes which involves an elaborate process of breathing on and burning, in a highly regulated way, an assemblage of materials including coca leaves and an alpaca fetus. For this ritual, and in order to work the land, a constant supply of chicha (fermented maize and barley) also had to nourish the land, as well as its workers, and making chicha was itself a labor-intensive activity requiring days of preparation. On another of David’s papelotes at the Flores family meeting was a budget, which contained a category he labeled “investments.” Investments here did not only include machinery, the costs of copying and processing documents, gasoline for the truck, and food costs. It also included each of those ritual elements essential to any kind of labor that uses the land to cultivate prosperity.

This second set of tasks was key for rendering the land investable on the family’s—and the land’s—own terms. The consequences of failing to conduct the pago or doing it wrong could be grave, ranging from simply finding no gold to deadly accidents and bad luck on the site and beyond. Even before finalizing the title (something which has yet to happen), Flores family members had made a number of trips to the site lasting up to several days, where they excavated samples for laboratory analysis to attain a better sense of how much gold might be awaiting them. During those trips, they also had to make the place habitable. This means that in a much more mundane way, rendering land investable at the supra-terranean level also has directly to do with transforming the property into a livable space. Labor was required to cook both the chicha and enough food to last each work trip, and to keep the small shelter adequately warm in hostile cold conditions at what was an extremely high altitude. When I accompanied them to the site in January, our project for the day was to re-thatch the small shelter’s old rooftop in preparation for longer stays.

So let’s return to the fundamental discussion question we are each addressing here: What is land? Yes, it is a source of supplies and nutrition, the ground beneath our feet, a commodity, a place, a space, and even that small site on which physical occupation by one person excludes physical occupation by another (Li 2014). But it is also an animated environment, a spirit, a kind of political actor (De la Cadena 2010). The earth and the ground were specifically described as a mother during many rituals I was able to observe in Colca. A patient nurturer and a protector, yes, but also a being personified as somebody who can get hungry and angry and wreak destruction when displeased.

Beyond the simple opposition between “state”/“official”/“secular” and “local”/“spiritual” registers of legitimation, the Flores’ urgent race to render land investable brings multivalent ontologies and ethics into the space of explicit acknowledgment and valuation. And making these things explicit, all together and at once, is not only a common feature of ritual as an interactional genre. This is also a strategy for not leaving anything out, for covering all the bases and pulling out all the stops. In this effort, the Flores family challenges Buenaventura, the state, and just as importantly, the whims of the land itself by recruiting, engaging, and framing on their own terms—while always careful not to resist outright—that which our panel organizers have called “the capitalist-centric framing of rendering land investable.”

References

De la Cadena, Marisol. 2010. Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections beyond Politics. Cultural Anthropology 25(2): 334-370.

Ghezzi, Piero and José Gallardo. 2013. ¿Qué se puede hacer con el Perú? Ideas para sostener el crecimiento económico en el largo plazo. Lima: Universidad del Pacífico/PUCP

Li, Tania Murray. 2014. What is land? Assembling a resource for global investment. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 39(4): 589-602.

Murra, John V. 1972. “El ‘control vertical’ de un máximo de pisos ecológicos en la economía de las sociedades andinas” (pp. 427-476). In Iñigo Ortiz de Zúñiga (1967-1972[1562]), Visita de la provincia de León de Huánuco en 1562. Vol. 2. John V. Murra (ed.). Huánuco: Universidad Nacional Hermilio Valdizán.

 

[1] All names have been changed to minimize the risk of this post revealing the owners of a property that may have gold on it. Note that “Flores,” which is my anonymizing substitute for a Quechua-language surname, is one of the most widely shared surnames of Spanish origin in Peru.

[2] This piece in The Economist describes Peru’s “Asian-style” growth between 2003-2013, and describes the instability of subjection to a “commodity lottery”: http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21610305-colombia-overtakes-peru-become-regions-fastest-growing-big-economy-passing

Karen McCarthy Brown’s Mama Lola, or that Book that Kept Me in Grad School

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this guest column from Gina Athena Ulysse in tribute to Karen McCarthy Brown. Gina is an associate professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University. Born in Haiti, she has lived in the United States for the last thirty years. She is also a poet, performance artist and multi-media artist. Prof U, as her students call her, is the author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, A Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica (Chicago 2008). She recently completed Why Haiti Needs New Narratives, a collection of post-quake dispatches, essays and meditations written between 2010-2012. Currently, she is developing VooDooDoll, What if Haiti Were a Woman, a performance-installation project. Her writing has been published in Gastronomica, Souls, and Transition.)

News that Karen McCarthy Brown passed away after years of deteriorating illness reached me earlier this month. I kept it to myself. When more official announcement from Drew University–where she was Professor Emerita of anthropology and sociology of religion—showed up on my Facebook feed this past Sunday, I shared it with the following comment:

Reading Karen’s Mama Lola kept me in grad school. Vodou got a human face from her. A tremendous loss, indeed.

When the first email arrived from UCSB’s Claudine Michel who penned the preface to the third edition of Brown’s award-winning ethnography in 2010, I had a flashback to nearly two decades ago. Continue reading

Anthropologists are helping Vanuatu and so should you

People around the world have heard about the devastation cyclone Pam has wrought in Vanuatu and other areas of the Island Melanesia. It’s striking to see people who normally couldn’t tell Tanna from Tuvalu suddenly focus in on this part of the Pacific. And there is good reason to do so — Pam’s impact was devastating. The cyclone hit Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, square on. Many other outlying islands were also hit. Vanuatu needs our help to recover from these terrible, terrible events.

There are many excellent charities you can donate to to help the people of Vanuatu. But I’d like to particularly attract your attention to one charity organized by anthropologists and others with a close connection to the country: Heart blong mifala wetem yufela — which means roughly like “our hearts are with you” in Bislama, the English creole widely spoken in Vanuatu. This fund is being run through chuffed.org (‘chuffed’ is Australian for ‘pleased’), an excellent Australian charity site. The money  will go right to the Australian High Commission in Port Vila Vanuatu High Commission in Canberra — you can’t get much more directly targeted then that. The list of people who have donated to this fund are a who’s who of anthropologists, historians, and other researchers who work in Vanuatu and Melanesia more generally. Please consider giving.

What is Vanuatu that anthropologists should be mindful of it? Although less well known than the Papua New Guinea of Mead and Malinowski, Vanuatu has a long and important history in our discipline. Vanuatu — and Island Melanesia more generally — was the location that generated some of the first, and still highly-regarded, anthropological ethnography. Codrington’s hugely-influential book The Melanesians fundamentally shaped anthropology, and gave the west the concept of ‘mana’. Foundational researchers such as A.M. Hocart and W.H.R. Rivers conducted research in this area. Today, the Vanuatu Cultural Center is leading the world in its programs to produce new blends of indigenous and anthropological knowledge (please click on that last link — it’s an openness ebook!). A key player in supporting the cultural center, Ralph Regenvanu, is a parliamentarian with a background in anthropology.

There are so many reasons to help out now that Vanuatu is in such dire straits — especially for anthropologists. Donations are always helpful, but if you’re not in a position to send money overseas, take this opportunity to teach about this current disaster and how it intersects with our discipline — this may be the first and last time that students Vanuatu appears on the radar of many people outside the Pacific.

Writing Archaeology “Alone,” or A Eulogy for a Co-Director

[Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Jane Eva Baxter as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Jane is a historical archaeologist and an Associate Professor of Anthropology at DePaul University in Chicago, IL USA. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including the forthcoming book Childhood and Adolescence in the American Experience (University Press of Florida 2016). You can follow her on twitter @janeevabaxter.]

For the past couple of years, I’ve been suffering from the condition we affectionately know as “writer’s block.” This has not been a generic or widespread condition as much of my writing is progressing as swiftly and smoothly as my job structure allows. This particular writer’s block has been confined to the writing associated with several years of archaeological work I conducted on the island of San Salvador in The Bahamas. The reason for this particular condition is easy to identify: my project co-director simply decided to stop writing.

My co-director and I began planning our research in 2002, and from 2004-2012 we conducted archaeological and historical work investigating transitions in the daily life of the island’s residents. During this time, we co-authored conference papers, site reports, proceedings volume papers, and articles for the Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society. We often co-authored work with our students. We developed curricular materials for the local school, co-authored a popular guide to the historic sites on the island for residents, tourists, and student groups, and created archaeology posters for a small, local museum.

And then, my project co-director stopped writing. At first, this decision to stop writing manifested itself as a waning interest in what had become a rather routinized and comfortable process of co-authorship. Writing plans were disregarded. Deadlines were missed without renegotiation. Discussions about writing ceased. Eventually, he announced he no longer had an interest in publishing scholarly articles, and told me to just go ahead and write everything up on my own. For many, being freed from the bonds of co-authorship might seem liberating, but to me it has been rather paralyzing. It also has given me cause to reflect on the production of archaeological knowledge, and left me to wonder exactly what it means to write without him. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: Week of March 8

Beware the Ides of March, pansies. The dedicated anthropology blogs were a bit quieter than usual this week but to make up for it, anthropologists were featured in a variety of other spaces. As always, if you come across anything good or want to bring an anthro blog to my attention, email me at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com

Let me take a minute to boost the Savage Minds Reader Survey (after all, survey data shows that people who take surveys are nicer and smarter than people who don’t!).

This is a January post, and it’s not even written by an anthropologist. Bear with me. It blew up my feeds this week when it was republished by The Guardian, so I think it’s worth a look. The title is pretty self-explanatory: Don’t Call them Expats, They are Immigrants like Everyone Else

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Walking on Money

It’s mid-day in Cabo Pulmo. October, 2012. The heat is well on its way. I just finished a late breakfast at a small local restaurant called “El Caballero.” Juevos rancheros, juice, coffee, beans, torillas. I’m talking with Lorenzo*, who has lived in Cabo Pulmo for more than a decade. He tells me more about the story of Meri Montaño, as he heard it from one of the primary founding members of the community. According to this elder, Lorenzo tells me, Meri had a massive amount of land, many heads of cattle and lots of money. She was rich. Meri adopted him, the elder explained to Lorenzo, and eventually gave him everything when she died. This story — about Meri giving all of her land to this particular patriarch—is one of the primary versions of history that gets told about Cabo Pulmo. There are other, competing versions of community history as well.

Lorenzo continues with his version. This elder had no idea the land would become valuable one day, so he sold it piece by piece, often without papers. Some also say he gambled it away. According to one anthropologist who worked in the community in the early 2000s (see Weiant 2005), the land was informally sold, traded, gifted, and passed around for decades. These practices led to an incredibly complex and confusing land tenure situation, which worsened in the early 1970s when the Mexican government tried to clarify and formalize land titles in preparation for impending tourism and real estate development. This transformation from informal to formal tenure systems led to decades of conflict. Continue reading