Summer Reading Circle: Introduction to Suffering

“I elaborate entanglements with their gnarly knots that defy orderly undoing.” (Donald Moore, Suffering for Territory, p. 9)

The first thing I noticed about Donald Moore’s Suffering for Territory is that the preface and the flap-copy both describe events in Zimbabwe since 2000– the globally significant displacement of white landowners by the Mugabe government– but the research conducted in the book occurred in the early 1990s. At first sight this looks like a way to sell the book (it’s not out of date, it’s background!), but in reality I think there is something much more complex about this book that isn’t articulated until one gets well into the intro: that this is a book for understanding why the events of the last few years make sense. Whereas the news media and the fast-paced world of journalism are excellent at covering and tracking unfolding events, especially in places with dramatic political conditions like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, ethnography is after something that journalists (insofar as they are not really participating in what they observe) cannot articulate.

Unfortunately, that same sense-making skill that anthropologists develop is also the reason why it is so often hard for people (including authors themselves) to say what an ethnography is “about.” Certainly Donald Moore’s book is “about” Zimbabwe, and in particular, a little district in the north east called Kaerezi, and in particular a little village in that district. But to relegate the book to being merely about this village would miss the fact that it is actually (also?) about how power, sovereignty and discipline make space and place look, and happen, the way they do. But to say that it is merely a theorization of governmentality would miss the fact that it (also?) is about race, colonialism, African histories of liberation, resistance, genocide and suffering… and so on.

Fortunately for Moore, and for me, one of the perquisites of anthropology is that one can address novice and expert at the same time. I, for instance, had to look at a map to know where Zimbabwe is exactly, so I am very much a novice when it comes to one thing the book is about. But when it comes to the parade of familiar theorists (Foucault, Gramsci, Dolce and Gabanna, Appadurai, Lefbvre, James C. Scott, Chakrabarty, etc), I’m an expert whose own classes, syllabi and work have struggled to makes sense of things like governmentality, sovereignty, assemblages, articulations, situated ethnographies, space and place. The real challenge, for Moore’s book, is to integrate novice and expert– to make sense of something that is inevitably highly specific and particular, in terms that make it make sense at a global and historical level (and not only in terms of “governmentality”, but generally, as an ethnographic explanation of a situation, not just a particular place or set of people).

Of course, if you are looking for that elusive thing called fieldwork or ethnography (you know what I’m talking about, that thing that you can’t name but that when it is missing makes people say “where’s the ethnography”) then Moore’s book promises to be as rich a monograph of a specific locale as one could want: during fieldwork, Moore was detained by government officials at the airport, subjected to ruthless and pointless bureaucracy, had successive meetings with people in power overseeing his ability to work, was the subject of a public meeting deciding his fate, lived in a tent in the village, built his own mud and wattle hut, worked the fields, visited the archives, and spent on the order of ten years thinking through the experience. If this isn’t ethnography, then I’d be hard-pressed to say what is. More important however, might be trying to precisely articulate what this ethnography does that others (or other accounts that do not employ this kind of fieldwork) cannot do.

The Introduction

I find that the best way into many ethnographies today is through the last few pages of an introduction… and not the first. My theory is confirmed here in that the most illuminating part for me was the “Ethnographic Positioning” section, followed by the standard map of the text. I needed this first, before I could dive into the details of governmentality and racialized space and so forth. There is no doubt a sense of unhipness (at least) to repeating the classic “arrival narrative” whether consciously or unconsciously, and so many ethnographies today would rather bury this somewhat essential component of the story, than praise it. Regardless of its ideological underpinnings or its putative narrative effect on readers, the arrival narrative is the equivalent of scene-setting in a novel: you almost always need it. And when it is done well it gives the reader an almost instant sense of the possibilities in a story, it motivates and structures to be sure, but that’s exactly why one should take care with it rather than sequestering it in the back end of an introduction.

Moore misses a certain opportunity in this respect. He’s chosen to introduce his own debilitating car accident, which formed a kind of enforced departure from fieldwork, as part of his narrative, but it comes at the end of the story when it should come at the beginning. Because the book is so intensely about a specific location, spatialization, groundedness and situatedness are emphasized at the clear expense of mobility (a concept frequently hailed as a central feature of the contemporary world). Thus the narrative irony of a car accident (a hiatus of mobility, an enforced groundedness, an occasion for suffering) is in many ways the perfect introduction to a story of grounded, entangled, situated production of territory and suffering. Cars and trucks play an important part in the brief introduction, and I’ll be curious how mobility figures in the rest of the text. Given Moore’s concern primarily with the relation of territory to political technologies, and not only mechanical and bio-technical technologies, it has already made me reflect on the ways automobiles and automobile accidents are also sites of government-sovereignty-discipline (see e.g. Injury by Sarah L. Jain, whose more recent work has been about automobile injuries).

Rather than go on at length about the Introduction, let me do this seminar-style, and provide a series of what I think are the key concepts that readers should read for, and invite discussion about how well they are handled here and how to think about comparative work in tracking these concepts.

“Micropractices matter” is a refrain that is threaded through the introduction. To what exactly is never clear, but the implication seems to be that they matter as much as non-micropractices such as the more obvious “legitimate monopoly on the use of force” of Weber, or the bureaucratic, military and economic power of governments generally. What makes them micro, or practices, is also up for discussion. Are they micro in terms of territorial reach, temporal lastingness or some other scalar dimension? Are they practices because they are not ideologies or are they also imaginaries?

In the section on “Provicializing Governmentality” Moore reviews some of the literature on governmentality and its origin in Foucault’s study of governance in Europe. I sense already that this could spark a relatively endless discussion about what Foucault really meant (less likely would be what Chakrabarty really meant by “Provinicalizing Europe”) so let me make a feeble attempt to focus attention on what Moore calls the “triad-in-motion” of “sovereignty-discipline-government”. (Note mobility!) Moore is “grounding governmentality in Kaerezi”. The triad includes not only government (which for Foucault was always larger than the state) but also the concepts of sovereignty and discipline. Questions you might want to ask: Why is it, or must it be in motion? For extra credit, look up the original triangle in Foucault’s works and provide us with a precise distinction.

Moore should be especially appealing to geographers (to say nothing of Savage Minds contributors on the subject) given his emphasis on the spatialization of politics, the production of place through governmentality and the twin concepts of “Racialized space, spatialized race” he offers in the sections on “Racialized Rule” and “Spatiality and Power”. The focus on space and place is “antihumanist” (p. 19), even as it is concerned with classic humanist themes of race and culture, from Soyinka and Cesaire to Mandela. Focus here also on the “geo-body” and the governance of spatial relations over abstract space.

If your assemblage needs some juice, look no further. in “Entangled Landscapes” Moore promises not only to look at the “striated” entanglement of place, history, technology and power, but to combine assemblages and articulations into, you guessed it, “articulated assemblages.”. Pay special attention to the way assemblage “displace humans as the sovereign makes of history” (p. 23)and Moore’s claim (do you buy it? I don’t yet) that “scholarly invocations of assemblage…occlude power relations, historical sedimentations and their forceful effects” which necessitates a supplement of articulation.” (p. 24)

Finally, the section “Ethnographic positioning” promises some good old-fashioned (it’s old-fashioned now isn’t it?) reflexivity or “ethnographic emergence” . I actually think this is really important, insofar as the kind of reflexivity that is useful is the kind in which the ethnographer uses him/herself as a human tool of observation to make sense of things (I mentioned this in connection with my review of Xiang Biao’s recent book). If Moore’s particular situation as a white, first world anthropologist can be used as a tool for revealing social structure and cultural meaning, then I say bring on the reflexivity. If however, it becomes a way to claim that everything is situated, or what’s worse, complex… then I’ll pass.

Next up: “Governing space,” Chapters 1 and 2 (maybe 3, depending on how the discussion goes)…


Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

17 thoughts on “Summer Reading Circle: Introduction to Suffering

  1. Hi Chris,

    Parsimony is apparently not a goal of this text! The monograph therefore I think exemplifies contemporary anthropology. As you highlight, Moore offers us gnarly, disorderly, tangled knots. This might be tough-going on the reader, although I found the introductory analytical sections to be complex but clear. You rightly note Moore’s metaphors of motion, complemented as they are with images of stoppage, accident, pathology, chronic pain. The thematics of suffering seem appropriate given the violent colonial history that Moore wishes to tell us about. They seem also appropriate to contemporary Zimbabwe. I read in the Economist today of the desperate condition of Zimbabwe’s economy, an economy of radical inflation, scarcity, and shortage.

    I am initially struck by the hugely ambitious task that Moore appears to have set for himself. I was thinking that Moore promises to tell us absolutely everything there is to know about Kaerezi. Note that in eschewing the isometry of previous ethnographic holisms (those that inscribed what Moore might call the imperial optics of ‘tribes’ and ‘territories’), Moore appears to be embracing a much more complicated (knotted) brand of Total Ethnography. Nothing will get left out, including the translocal strands of impingement that get tied up in particular places and times. So although the parsimony and controlled comparison of previous accounts of cultures is eschewed, Moore nonetheless seems here to be endorsing an almost empiricist form of ethnohistory, all the analytic modeling notwithstanding.

    Oddly and countervailingly, however, I found myself at the end of the introduction wondering exactly what it was that Moore discovered in fieldwork that informs this story. The introduction is so erudite, and so carefully analytical, that I was left with the impression that all of the points that this book makes about racialization and place could be made without ever actually doing fieldwork. They sound critical theory-derived, not ethnographically arrived at — so far! It almost seems as though Zimbabwe will simply *illustrate* points that Moore wants to make about Gramsci and Foucault. Which is not necessarily bad, I think. I am just hoping for the spark of discovery somewhere in this text, the motivating curiosity. Other thoughts:

    *Why is Anna Tsing absent?

    *What does it mean ‘to rule’? Much of what Moore wants to do here is place particular people within the overlapping and fractious regimes of rule to which they are subject. But do chiefs rule in just the same way as racist governments? No of course not. Yet the symmetry that Moore appears to want to posit between overlapping ‘sovereignties’ I think raises the question of what is meant by ‘rule’. This is my way of suggesting that in order for these different political orders to be grasped in their distinctiveness, some account of culture will be necessary. For example, I am quite excited to read about rainmaking and ancestors. I am wondering what analytic framing will enable Moore to tie these together with Rhodesian law as shaping (and being shaped by) place. Will ‘articulated assemblages’ be enough? We’ll need to know something I think about the cultural systems involved (including, for example, kinship).

    *The story of back injury and disability at the end of the introduction makes any mention of roads, cars, and the like kind of scary. Today I found myself grimacing at descriptions of journeys in the book, afraid that we will eventually encounter the fateful incident. Reiterating my earlier point, it is interesting to note what contemporary anthropologists choose to highlight about the earlier (‘poetics & politics’) thrashing the monographic genre received. Politics is in. Poetics is out. No one seems to be very much into problematizing their own claims to authority. Far from it in this case, Moore provides us with classic narrative touches as you note, Chris: the arrival scene traversing scenes of sovereign control, the back injury, etc. So this is not an experimental ethnography of any kind. Fine! Yet something makes me a little skeptical about such empiricist ambition combined with little to know epistemological reflexivity.

    Overall, my impression is that this book is going to tell us just how colonial and postcolonial government works. My impression is that the gnarly knots that defy untangling will nonetheless get untangled, through some clever analysis.

  2. Whether Zimbabwe illustrates Gramsci and Foucault, or the reverse, is indeed an issue in this book… I started out writing my post about how hard it is to navigate between the demands of monographic control and domination (talk about ruling) of one’s fieldsite and the urge, which I think is much stronger now than in the 80s/90s, to contribute to a disciplinary movement/accumulation/trajectory of some sort. It means that one is automatically in a double bind of sorts: emphasizing the particularity/situatedness/emplaced-ness of the author’s masterly ethnography of Kaerezi, but at the same time wanting to make general claims for and against theories of governmentality and hegemony that, if ethnography is to be worth its salt, are reached through fieldwork, and not simply careful reading of theorists… The trick I think is to figure out a way to do both without losing all potential readers– it’s easy to do the former and keep only the Zimbabwe specialists, but not easy to do the latter if you insist on readers learning all about your mud and wattle hut in order to do it 🙂

    I like Bill Maurer’s quip about ethnographic authority: “I’ve got no problem with ethnographic authority, I only wish I had more of it!”

  3. I have to disagree with a few of Strong’s comments, if for no other reason than for the sake of argument.

    First, Moore is not promising an ethnography of everything. He will look at spatial practices as they are mixed with practices of government or ‘rule’ (hopefully he will explicate ‘rule’ further). Here he is indeed ambitious in inquiring into a wide variety of phenomena, but his analytic helps determine what will require ethnographic attention. Without recourse to structures or logics, Moore’s job of bundling experience together into meaningful bunches (for us readers) is going to be less parsimonious. But, from what we’ve read so far, that seems to reflect the kind of reality that Moore is trying to describe. I tip my hat to Moore for maintaining, and finding a way of describing, the complexity of the situation.

    Second, we have no reason to believe that Moore wrote the outline of the introduction before going off to the field. At this point know very little about the intellectual journey Moore travelled to arrive at the analytic he presents in the intro. The arrival narrative is a great devise for positioning the ethnographer in the field, and here, because it comes towards the end of the introduction, we already read it through the lense of the analytic. Was it experienced as such? It doesn’t really matter, because it is now a wonderful, engaging illustration.

    The larger issue here is the (dialectical, dialogical, imperial?) relationship of an interpretive/explanatory appartus and ethnographic/archival experience. Chicken or egg? Moore does give us his idea of this relationship early in the intro:

    “I use the term situated spatially, culturally, and politically, emphasizing the salience of contingent constellations of practice, milieu, and materiality. In doing so I also advance an analytic of ethnographic emergence wherein Kaerezian spacial struggles informed my emplaced acts of fieldwork. In turn, my understanding of Kaerezi’s territorial struggles as constitutive of cultural identity–woven into the fabric of the the community, politics, and rights–oriented my subsequent analytical engagements with power, spatiality, and racialized dispossession. Ethnographic representation thus emerges across multiple moments and sites through recursive relations among my practices, those of Kaerezians, and analytics–producing sediments and traces contingently assembled in texts.” (p. 4)

    Like the tangled knot of spaciality and rule in Kaerezi, it seems that ethnographic description and anthropological theorizing is a knotted affair. If Moore is not crystal clear in his discussion of the process of assembling a text (he needs to include publishing and other pressures, as ckelty mentions), to me this signals that he is perserving some of the complexity of the situation. Ethnography according to Moore is emergent, just like the ethnographic situation he is a part of and attempts to describe. Emergence is messy, on the ground (as it were) and ultimately on the page. For this reason I will cut him a little slack (at least for now).

  4. I don’t disagree with a single one of the intellectual positions taken by the author in this introduction, but I felt as if I was reading an entry on a matchmaking website. It was all about establishing his credentials as sufficiently poststructural and postcolonial without being too textual or metaphysical. Whenever he is about to link these vague and general statements to something concrete he moves on to something else.

    I don’t much mind, since I don’t have high expectations for introductions, but I think there is something else going on here. I think that anthropologists are struggling with how to handle complexity. We feel our language has to mirror the full complexity of the lived experience we attempt to describe. For instance, he writes:

    For this reason, I use articulated assemblages to emphasize mixtures of livelihoods, landcape, and environmental resources as well as ancestral spirits, rainmaking territory, and political rule.

    Do we really need our terminology to carry such a heavy burden? What use are terms which mean so much? It strikes me that in the end they end up meaning very little.

    Finally, one sentence really drove me up the wall:

    A single vowel switches simbi, steel rod, into simba, power.

    So what? A single vowel switches duck; into dick, but this fact is rarely commented upon.

  5. Kerim, I too found that sentence and those following kinda silly. I wasn’t sure on initial reading whether Moore was attributing to his informant intentional conflation of simbi/simba… because otherwise, he is just ruminating interpretively on his own linguistic trick.

    TimElf, for the sake of argument, :-), I °disagree° that “ethnographic description and anthropological theorizing is a knotted affair.” They certainly *can* be, and they usually are these days. But I think such endeavours can also be parsimonious: elegant, concise. (Compare, for example, the ethnographic-analytic interface in Bashkow’s book on Orokaiva ideas about whiteness, a book also about race, colonialism, modernity, etc.) If it wasn’t clear from my initial response, I actually really like this book so far and think that I will learn a lot from it. I just don’t think ‘complexity’ (self-troped as gnarly!) is its own self-evident virtue.

    My feeling about the ambitious goal of this text stems from sentences like the one that Kerim cites above. ‘Articulated assemblages,’ as he appositely notes, seem to be just about everything… religion, space, moisture in the ground. I know that Moore will make this all work (or I hope that he does).

  6. I’m probably oversimplifying here, but I read a lot of these terms as taking the analytics of governmentality that are usually (traditionally?) applied to documents and using them to analyse ethnographic data. So articulated assembleges, the triad in motion, selective sovereignties, and micro practices are all terms which link to the analytics of governmentality but build on them in very ethnographic ways.

    Anthropologists who use governmentality have pointed out that the three forms of power described by sovereignty-discipline-government usually exist simultaneously to some degree; in governmental societies discipline and sovereignty often control the boundaries, the subjects that do not conform to governmental power. Mbembe pointed out that the simultaneous nature of these different powers is particularly evident in colonial Africa, because although the colonial government was confronted with a population that they had to control (conduct) from afar, they did not consider Africans to have the fundamental ability to form the civil society necessary for true governmental power. Thus they resorted to many of the techniques and some of the mentalities of sovereignty or discipline (in particular violence).

    It seems to me that Moore is assuming the simultaneity of sovereignty-discipline-government and then pushing it even farther by suggesting each locus in the field of power has its own triangle that reflects the mentalities, justifications techniques, and projects of that locus. These triangles are in motion because of struggles with other triangles for domination, and because of their articulations with material conditions and the effects produced by other loci of power (both contemporarily and historically).

    The thing I’d really like to pick apart about assemblages is the statement that they “displace humans as the sovereign makers of history” (23). I feel like I’m willing to give this idea some consideration, but I’m not entirely sure what it implies. Is he using sovereign here to imply sovereign power in the Foucauldian sense? How does this link to notions of action and consciousness?

  7. Carmen, thanks for this helpful comment. I especially like your question regarding the potentially slipperiness of sovereignty in its various guises in this book. Sovereignty seems to refer to a mode of rule over populations, but also to a capacity for action… thus, Moore writes of ‘self-sovereign.’ Speaking of action and consciousness then, I am noticing as I read further a rather worrying imputation of self-evident ‘interest’ in regard to land amongst those subject to resettlement and anti-resettlement schemes. Thus, again, politics is in and poetics is out, so far, where politics pertains to (singular) interest. I will be waiting to see how meanings (culture) comprise aspects of the articulated assemblages… Something else I am noticing is that Moore often comments on gender divisions — he *notices* them, as for example, at communal meetings — but so far, ‘gender’ does not seem to him to be a terribly salient ‘dividing practice’ in the context of contestation over and through territory. Gender relations are backgrounded.

  8. Strong, I certainly agree with you that “‘complexity’…is [not] its own self-evident virtue.” But neither is parsimony a self-evident virtue. It depends on what the author seeks to accomplish with her text. My suggestion is only that knotted prose and analytic strategies may be a virtue for this specific ethnography.

    Why? It seems to me that Moore understands his analytic concepts such as ‘entanglement’, ’emergence’, and ‘assemblage’ to apply as much to his own work as an anthropologist as to the phenomena he describes. The arrival narrative illustrates his own entanglement, and his elaborations of this concept guides my reading of his textual strategy:

    “Entanglements suggests knots, gnarls, and adhesions rather than smooth surfaces; an inextricable interweave that ensnares; a compromising relationship that challenges while making withdrawal difficult if not impossible. Attempts to pull apart such formations may unwittingly tighten them.” (p. 4)

    If Moore’s goal is to represent (and embody in his text) entangled practices, spaces, materials, and historical traces without reducing them, what is an appropriate writing strategy? To arrive at a parsimonious (smooth) explanation of the underlying principles (logics, structures, etc.) makes little sense here. The imperial optics of ‘tribe’ and ‘territory’ adopted this strategy, believing they had discovered the principles. How can Moore take into account the recursive performative effects of modern knowledge practices without replicating them? They seem to be examples of knowledges attempting to untangle the knot only to tighten it. Parsimony, in this case, might be an attempt to withdraw from the entangled situation.

    It seems that with these observations I am stuck in the land of ethnographic poetics. Undoubtably. But I also sense that we are finally realizing some tangible results from all the fevered debates of the 80s. Harry West’s book is a great example the productive results, one which has a different set of strategies than Moore’s. The clarity or parsimony of the analytic-ethnographic interface in West’s book is appropriate for to the point of the book (which is not complexity but the performative effects of explanatory analytics, in anthropology or sorcery.) Moore’s writing style to me is similarly performative of the point of the book.

    We may not be primarily interested in evaluating the ethnographic poetics of Suffering For Territory. No problem. But if we don’t consider them at all we have no way of evaluating the writing. We can no longer use parsimony as an unproblematic criteria of good anthropological writing. (My meandering posts demonstrate that I’ve taken this to heart.)

  9. There is a difference between parsimony and clarity. Not all writers need write like Hemingway. One can have clarity of thought while being long-winded and performative.

    While you reply to Strong here, my own point about complexity was with relation to the meaning given to individual analytic terms. I don’t see the point of having analytic terms which are meant to mean anything we want them to mean. It seems that such terms are meant to create a protective shield around the author’s work such that nobody can criticize them. They are magical invocations, not analytic terms. It seems to me that we are now training graduate students the art of such invocations rather than encouraging them to say things which might be wrong and which might be criticized.

    In short, I think one can be meandering and performative in a way that is still capable of being wrong, which is a good thing.

  10. Kerim, I hate to keep playing the devil’s advocate here, but as a recently trained grad student (one of the drop outs being discussed in another post), most of what I was expected to do was to criticize (only later in grad school were we trained to breathlessly invoke analytic terms ;-)). If anything, we did not suffer a lack of criticism. My impusle to give an author open hearted reading, the kind I would hope to get as an author, is my attempt to get away from the relentless criticism of seminars. I may not ultimately agree with an author, but on the first reading I want to make sure I give her the best possible reading, for example, not confusing my projecs for hers.

    On the other hand, you are right to decry the empty (or overstuffed) invocations of analytic terms (although, following West, analytic concepts may indeed be a kind of sorcery that you are quick to dismiss). The question is whether ‘articulated assemblage’ acts in Moore’s text like a shield, preventing his readers from challenging him, or if it is an analytic concept that does useful work. You believe it is the former. As yet, I’m not sure. But I am less disturbed by statements like:

    “I use articulated assemblages to emphasize mixtures of livelihoods, landcape, and environmental resources as well as ancestral spirits, rainmaking territory, and political rule.”

    Just as I don’t read Moore as attempting his own brand of Total Ethnography, this assemblage does not contain anything and everything. These specific entities, practices, processes, and scales are specific to his ethnographic project. The promise is that the concept ‘articulated assemblage’ will be able to relate specific phenomena into a particular formation in a way that more familiar analytics such as class, kinship, or gender on there own cannot do. Will the promise be fulfilled?

    In using this analytic concept, is Moore marking a difference that makes a difference? For me, yes. Can Moore carry off his project with it? Don’t know yet. Perhaps his attempt will demonstrate the concepts inadequecies.

  11. I don’t think that being critical negates the ability to be generous. Critique is about thinking rigorously, not about playing a game of “gotcha.” I don’t think I’m doing the author any favor by turning my brain off when I read.

    You are correct to point out that Moore claims that the concepts are only useful in terms of the specific context of his own ethnographic fieldwork and should only be judged in that regard. I call BS on this. The same has been said of Foucault’s concepts and Gramsci’s concepts, and yet Moore is perfectly happy to apply them to his work. If analytic concepts have no utility beyond the specificity of an authors own fieldwork they are not analytic concepts. It is specifically this rhetorical move which I object to as a way to deflect critique.

  12. Kerim, I don’t think that I understand how you are interpreting the concept of “articulated assemblage.” It seems to me to be a fairly precise concept with analytical strength. If we encounter a person who claims rights to land who bases those claims on a multitude of things–say, current use of land, chiefly/kinship ties to previous users of land, spiritual rights based on rainmaking, legal rights based on some laws or agreements from some point in colonial history that may or may not be current, and aid to people currently in power during some point in history–then these can legitimately be termed a bunch of claims that cannot be meaningfully reduced to a single concept like “ethnicity” or “habitation.” But “bunch” isn’t very academic, and assemblage connotes the correct meaning, from the everyday English perspective and the Foucauldian theory perspective. Saying that such an assemblage is articulated with other assemblages implies that such a claim exists in the context of counter-claims, history, and projects that may have nothing to do with land claims but nonetheless may interact with these claims.

    It seems to me that such an analytic frame develops a way of talking about how processes of change and of power draw on “culture:” essentially an assemblage is drawn from what we generally term culture, but it implies a partiality and a mutability that is difficult to convey with the concept of culture.

    I don’t see anything inherently overburdened by the concept itself. I don’t think he suggests that an assemblage represents everything all the time, and I do think that the concept can be open to criticism if one uses it as one should, which is to be explicit about what constitutes any given assemblage that one is discussing/analysing. If Moore says that rainmakers and war heroes are important factors in land claims, that is a statement that can be wrong. If he terms this an “assemblage” because there isn’t any link between rainmakers and war heroes, I don’t see an inherent problem with this. If he is right, then assemblage nicely connotes that the connection is in the invocation of these two things as the basis for claims, and if he is wrong then we can see exactly what we need to do: show that there is some logic or connection that links rainmakers and war heroes into a single category independently of their relevance to land claims.

  13. It sounds like ‘assemblage’ is a device or tool for bringing together relations of various sorts and for showing how they impinge upon each other. It is about relations between relations, as for example, the set of relationships that both intersect at and constitute sites such as Kaerezi: relations of kin and culture, of state and citizen, of market and worker, and so on. If assemblage is a rhetorical and analytical device, assemblages also seem to be ‘things’ out there in the world. As Moore notes and Carmen quotes, ‘In my vision, assemblages displace humans as the sovereign makers of history.’ What does Moore mean by sovereign here? Do assemblages themselves act or have agency? See discussion in footnote 114 of the introduction, regarding Deleuze. The assemblage starts to appear organic, practically living: a network or mesh or skein of relations of which any particular person and his or her interests and motives are but a pulsing cell or synapse, a potentially consequential offshoot.

    My sense of what Moore meant by articulation was not that different assemblages connect up, but rather that assemblages work or have effect in consequential ways because of unequal power relations (see page 25).

    I re-read the intro after having read further into the book. In retrospect, Moore anticipates many of my worries, not least of which is that culture in this account will be reduced to politics. He even invokes the spectre of a Foucaultian functionalism, suggesting that perhaps he is sensitive to the sort of worry that Sahlins and others have articulated about viewing social and cultural life primarily through the lens of power. He rejects notions of singular interest. His theorist of choice, I note, for this opening up of politics to culture is Gramsci. He refers to ‘Geertzian’ without bothering to cite Geertz.

    Pace TimElf, my concern about what I see as the ambition of this text to convey a kind of complete picture of Kaerezi in pointillistic detail stems not from knee-jerk criticism, but from my own present concern with my own writing. Anthropology has opened up the terrain of its object of study, rightly so. For those of us writing now, this nonetheless can be worrisome or intimidating: just how ‘big’ are these assemblages that move history and how much of them, as an anthropologist, am I required to be familiar with? Do anthropologists portray the garden (assemblage) in its growing state? Or do we dig up the tubers so that we can eat them?

    Like some other Minds, I suspect that anthropology as way of analyzing things is being eclipsed by ethnography as a genre of writing. I suspect that the discipline as a whole is mistaking the sense of ethnographic writing for the logic of inquiry itself. As Chris noted, the play between the particular and the general is a key question dogging all of us these days. I think this all pertains to perennial battles between the nomothetic and the idiographic, between the scientistic and humanistic, between rival inheritances of western epistemology (see Toulmin, Cosmopolis, for a neat account of some of these tendencies). Anthropology’s great strength, to my mind, has been its ‘balancing’ of these impulses, a balance achieved through various hermeneutics, including circular ones. What’s interesting to me, perhaps, as I write, is that relational constructs like ‘articulated assemblage’ perhaps cut the loop between near and distant in anthropological ways of knowing… it is almost as though there just different ‘nears’ hovering next to each other. Perhaps this is what Kerim is also worried about… that the concept work enabled by such categories short-circuits meaningful comparative thinking about social life.

  14. Carmen,

    We have different ideas about what constitutes analysis. In your approach, the adequacy of a term is judged in terms of how accurately it captures the essence of a given phenomenon being described.

    I however, see analytic terms as being useful not just in terms of description/interpretation, but also in terms of their linkages to the particular system of thought under discussion. In this latter view a change in the definition of a term has consequences for the conceptual framework as a whole.

    Conceptual frameworks must be adapted to the specificity of the ethnographic encounter – but if they are not articulated clearly then we run the risk of seeing those frameworks as much more powerful and all encompassing than they really are. When I say we should be capable of being wrong, I mean that we should be able to learn from our inevitable failure to match theory to reality, rather than a more empiricist notion of failure as simply failing to describe something adequately.

  15. I posted that before having read Strong’s comments. Strong is correct about my concerns: I feel clearly articulating how specificity affects the system of thought as a whole is the basis of comparative thinking.

    I look forward to reading further. I’ve just finished Chapter one which I enjoyed …

  16. For those following the reading circle discussion… I’ll try to keep us all together as I post on each chapter or section… so without further ado, go here now.

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