The Suffering Continues, Chs. 2 and 3

Mea Culpa for the delay since our last post on Donald Moore’s book.
I’ve been moving, getting sick, getting my family sick, destroying my
laptop (on which last week’s 2/3rd written post still exists on an
unreachable, powersurged nirvana of a hard drive in an unknown Apple
“depot” somewhere in America), and then getting stung by a wasp in my
left hand… in short, I was doing the suffering this week. But I’m
ready to return the job to Moore now, so on to chapters 2 and 3.

Chapter 2 covers the bureaucracies and state schemes for controlling
the ownership, division and rule over lands in Kaerezi. Chapter 3
covers the more bucolic and ecological aspects of subsistence farming,
husbandry and the role of national parks. Together they go some
distance towards giving detailed expression to the “assemblage(s?)” that
Moore wants us to see in Zimbabwe. At a general level, this is more
that just a way of insisting that things are more complex– it is a
stab at revealing the reasons why, to an outsider, or to the media,
things look so complicated and unresolvable. A dinner conversation
about Afghanistan and Pakistan with my in-laws made me think, wouldn’t
it be nice if I had a book with the same level of detail and
engagement about the Afghan-Pakistan border at my ready. But then, I
suppose the DoD is probably thinking the same thing, now aren’t they?
The relative ability Moore has in conducting this fieldwork (versus
trying to do the same in Afghan-Pakistan) is both a testament to the
relative stability of Zimbabwe in the 90s and the relative poverty of
anthropology when fieldsites are warzones.

Chapter 2 runs through the long history of government schemes of
dispossession, repossession, resettlement and new dispossessions. It’s
pretty clear that this chapter alone could be a book, what with the
complicated schemes of colonial, late colonial, post-independence,
post-colonial, and current schemes of displacement and
re-organization. Obviously the very idea of feeling secure about
one’s land in any sense (not least a Lockean, possessive individualist
sense of ownership) has been the exception, not the rule. The action
of the book takes place just before the 1993 passage of the Land
Acquisition act, which overturned the “Lancaster House” negotiations,
brokered by the British, between Ian Smith’s Rhodesia and Mugabe’s
Zimbabwe in 1979-80. The Land Acquisition act started the ball
rolling towards the highly publicized dispossession of land owned by
white farmers in the 2000s, and the current economic chaos in the

It is thus easy to see why of the systems for redistributing and
organizing land in this democracy-cum-dictatorship are complex,
combined as they are with the overlapping histories of colonial rule,
chiefdom and local everyday practices. Moore spends a lot of time
focusing on the government attempts to plan and control of abstract
space: villagization, agricultural grids divided by function, roads
and water supplies, in short a lot of attention on the effects of 19th
century modernist planning carried out iin 1980s-90s, globalizing
Zimbabwe. I return again here to my sense that Moore treats planning
a little too much as if there were planning on the one side
(government) and the practices of people on the other
(governmentality), when it is clear that planning takes all kinds of
forms, and are a central feature of the politics he reveals. Clearly
Moore knows this when it becomes evident (pages 91-92) that Moore was
actively involved in “community based resource management” that would
propose alternatives to the official land-use plans. I was
disappointed therefore not to see more reflection on the question of
where planning ends and execution begins given this kind of
negotiating and intervention. There is an easy story in which
anthropologists discover what “the people” really do, and then go tell
the officials and the government how to best and most humanely plan
around them… but this is not the story Moore is telling.
Nonetheless, it’s still clear to me that there is no way out of
planning and its rationalities, and the real heart of the matter is in
how those rationalities are aligned with differing claims on and
demands for, justice.

Chapter 3 extends this question into the “micropractices” (again, why
micro? I don’t get it) of Karezi residents and how those practices
conflict with the resettlement schemes and regulations of government.
I found this chapter rich and enjoyable… filled with great
storytelling (although frequently Moore fails to finish his stories,
or return to them when it would make sense) of the “cattle dips” and
the cultivation of tsenza. It is here that the ecological sensibility
of people who occupy a place and understand the relation of space and
place is so obvious to the anthropologist, and so ignored by planners
and officials. Latour would be useful here, if only as a straw man–
the clear desire to control the practices of people from a “center of
calculation” seems to fail in Zimbabwe precisely because Moore is
probably the only person doing really quality research into the
political ecology of Zimbabwe– but he certainly isn’t trying to help
Mugabe govern better.

The three chapters of part one have not on balance delivered on the
theoretical promises of the introduction (or if they have, it has been
in ways far too subtle for me to catch); assemblages, articulated or
not, remain little more than a gesture so far, and there is no
conceptual scaffolding that would make me confident that the two
remaining parts will fill it all out… but I look forward to finding


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.

4 thoughts on “The Suffering Continues, Chs. 2 and 3

  1. You poor thing, suffering from a wasp sting. Sorry! You know, I went through laptop ordeals this summer as well.

    I am interested in the problem of planning you are pointing to. Everyone’s a planner? What would be lost in understanding the home as a scene of rational planning, an oikos governed by, perhaps, the father? Why do you wish to impute ‘planning’ to everyday subsistence farming? I am not sure I understand your complaint here. Is it just that you think it is empirically problematic? I think I just need more clarity on what you are saying, because perhaps I am misunderstanding it.

    Another question I have is: Is anyone else out there reading the book with us? Have we lost them? Hello people!

  2. yes, well, I won’t turn down your sympathy… oh the pain.

    I think it may be as simple as re-affirming that not all governance happens in the government, which I take to be the core insight of “governmentality.” The fact that something like “community-based resource management” exists (i.e. instead of just “local government”) is proof positive of that. So yes, it could be about conceiving of the oikos as a locus of “planning” (and Arendt’s Human Condition does exactly that, pointing out the ways in which it is effectively a dictatorship, not a democracy). But the next level up, that of inter-family or village level planning is not always visited from above, nor emergent in some organic form. Wherever groups gather to solve problems, planning is about to happen. This is also Dewey’s definition of the State– and of the publics that he sees as the first stage of government. So in the idealized model whereby government progresses from family to village to region to State, with each level of complexity layered on top of the next, then planning is a ubiquitous activity of mitigating the unintended consequences of private action on others. Obviously, in Moore’s case, with a history of colonialism, post-colonialism, globalization, and democratic dictatorship, such nice models of embedded, emergent complexity make no sense. As such the activity of planning at the local level is always already about arguing with planners at some other level, whose activity is always already about arguing with planners at some other level, whose activities… etc. The complexity of Kaerezi is not “emergent” in the popular theoretical sense, it is more like a tangled, ingrown, auto-immune form of complexity manifest in the fact that it seems illogical, uncivilized, irrational etc. and is shot through with brutality and suffering. Uncovering the places where power emerges through these arguments and their outcomes is the work of the concept of governmentality, when it works.

  3. Strong, I’ve had to stop reading the book so that I can work on my thesis proposal, but I’m still interested in the discussion.

  4. Still here, just slow to respond,

    Ckelty, thanks for the further comments on ‘planning’, although I still am not completely clear on point you are making. I read the term ‘planning’ more narrowly as refering to a specific set of calculative rational, bureacratically authorized practices with a modernist optic and aesthetic (thinking of James Scott’s Seeing Like a State.) So I would distinguish planning from the more encompassing concept of practical, problem-solving activity. Indeed, everybody is constantly involved in practical action, but we can distinguish how planners (whether as part of the state or not) go about this from the rationalities, ethics, and aesthetics of others’ practical actions.

    It seems to me that this distinction is crucial for Moore’s ethnographic composition of assemblages. I broadly agree with your characterization, that “the complexity of Kaerezi is not “emergent” in the popular theoretical sense, it is more like a tangled, ingrown, auto-immune form of complexity manifest in the fact that it seems illogical, uncivilized, irrational etc…” The complexity of the situation in Kaerezi, as opposed to Dewey’s model liberal democracy, is in part the result of the smash-up of a bunch of differing historically sedimented styles of practical reasoning and acting. Hence, from the perspective of those involved in the situation, the actions of others seem illogical, uncivilized, irrational, etc.. Moore nicely conveys the conflicting rationalities of different subjects, while not claiming to uncover the singular force operating behind everyones back. He is able to keep the knot tied (to use his metaphor) because he does not overlay the situation with an all-encompassing concept like modernity, but rather focuses on entanglements and overlaps. This, for me at least, is what intrigues me about the book. It is also getting me closer to a sense of what the analytical concept ‘articulated assemblage’ might be capable of doing, even while waiting for Moore to more directly tie the theory of the introduction with the ethnographic content of the rest of the book.

    Question for Ckelty (or Arendt or Dewey if they are out there in cyberspace somewhere): How does the (liberal?) conceptual pair of ‘public’ and ‘private’ map onto a knotted situation like that of Kaerezi?

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