“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 At first sight this looks like a way to sell the book (it’s not out of date, it’s background!), but in reality I think there is something much more complex about this book that isn’t articulated until one gets well into the intro: that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.
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)…