The first chapter of the book should draw a familiar contrast with the introduction– little of the analytical language or conceptual erection (can I say that?) of the Intro is explicitly present in the first chapter of Part 1: “Governing Space”. I’m tempted to discipline Dr. Moore for his bad puns and subtitles, but that would involve pots and kettles and accusations, and I should refrain. This chapter by contrast is a great introductions to what is, as promised a complex tangle of people, places, histories, governments, sovereignties and disciplining. The frustration of trying to capture the social complexity of this place and time in an ethnography has already emerged in discussion… let me just reiterate some things. “Complexity is not its own virtue,” as Strong put it, gnarly or knot. And there is a double challenge here: first, to render the details, affect, experience and sense of a place using the relatively narrow tools of the ethnographic trade, i.e. the tools of the writer; second, to make the conceptual armature that is familiar to a broad range of scholars order and clarify the details that are otherwise available only to a narrow band of Zimbabwe specialists. Two kinds of complexity: the complexity of the novelist’s craft with rendering complex social life sensible and the complexity of the philosopher/social theorists craft of rendering conceptual schemes and empirical facts intelligible. In this respect, I think there is still a great deal to be said about “experimental” ethnography and the craft of writing one after the critiques of the 1980s–but only if this question is not divorced from the related goal of making conceptual schemes(Kerim implanted this term in my head– are you reading too much Davidson or something?) articulate with empirical description.
Chapter 1 almost achieves both, but I wouldn’t call it a complete success. It has a clever general structure and a lot of great detail (perhaps too much, indulging in places in obviously interesting but marginally relevant details of things like witchcraft or the rhetorical stylings of incompetent lesser headmen). There are two ways into the chapter, at least. One is through the author’s own “ethnographic emplacement” — the fact that as an anthropologist he had to find a (good) place to live, secure permission to live there, build his own hut and then, at the end of it all, found himself threatened with expulsion from that hut by the District Administrator — which in turn is the second way in, through the event of the District Administrator’s letter threatening residents with expulsion from Nyamatsupa if they do not conform to the plans for “villagization.” These two entry points–the author’s own experience with wattle, and the event of the DA’s disciplining letter–are explored in great detail, and are used to great effect as occasions to start laying out the complexity ethnographically. They do not explain, but they do start to map out settings, characters, events in history, and other crucial components of the story. Yet to emerge is a sense of how inquiry into this story has proceeded (what problems animate Moore’s search, other than his threatened hut) and a conceptual clarity (of the sort we hope will be provided via articulated assemblages and sovereignty-discipline-government).
I think this is one of the best ways to draw the reader into the ethnography–the same way the anthropologist was drawn in. As an ethnographic technique it is without peer, it sets up the tension which the author will resolve for the reader. However, as an analytic introduction, it doesn’t always help. One might wonder why this tiny event–significant to the victims to be sure, but seemingly insignificant beyond that–needs explaining, or where in our overcrowded, youtube-addled brains we are going to store it. Will we be needing all this detail? The Tsanga valley, the Dazi and Nyamatsupa regions, Nyanga (thanks to Strong for finding us a visual!). The overlapping powers of chief and headman, raimakers and DA, histories of the colonial and post-colonial regimes.
I’ll be interested to hear what readers got from the first chapter. Does the story of the meeting between DA and chief make sense, and does it motivate the kinds of questions raised in the intro? Is the detail overwhelming or helpful and where? I have to admit that I’m still fuzzy on a few of the characters and their roles, and if asked to display my knowledge of the various parts of Kaerezi or its inhabitants, I would dissemble. But it seems to be mostly all there in chapter 1, and so I can consult…
I wrote a long section about assemblages, but I think our server ate it because it Internal Server Errored on me. I will try to return to the issue in the next post…
P.S. Mobility continues to be present throughout, though not yet quite a theme: Trucks open the chapter– movement through the territory. the issue of mobility on foot emerges repeatedly, 1 hour walks, jogging behind oxen for 3K, security routes constantly improved by trucks and graders. Cattle allow people greater mobility than agriculture. since fixing capital in place was risky given the history of evictions. Indeed, the nature of mobility in this place is quite obviously tied to the constant evictions, resettlements and displacements, making the very idea of a permanent home risky, if not seemingly impossible.
P.P.S. There is a another subtheme here: ecological farming. The Kaerezi ecological approach to farming (mentioned briefly on p.50, reappearing in chapter 2) reminded me of Michael Pollan’s story of Polyface farms in Swope Virginia in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, wherein he describes the practices of rotation of crop, grazing and fertilizing animals, the arrangement of forest field, stream and home, and the fact that all of this is information-intesive (the farmer even insists that it is something like a post-information technology approach to farmin’). The point being that ecological arrangements are not natural, nor primitive as figured by the planners or to some extent hippies and conservationists–rather that it is a kind of post-human rationality of planning a farm. Naturally, it is easy to see the failures created by the simplistic, ad hoc and frankly retro planning techniques of the Mugabe government when they demand that land be disciplined into urban/rural grids and used according to function instead of managed ecologically. The fact is, however, that the option is not between planning and no planning or between discipline from above and government from below, but between competing rationalities of planning and care. This is something I don’t yet see in Moore. Sensitive as he is to avoiding claims of natural agricultural practices, there is still, to me, a sense that this is about planning all the way down, so to speak, which may also be why the sovereignty-discipline-government triad in motion doesn’t seem sufficiently precise to some readers.