DISCIPLINARY ADAPTATION AND UNDERGRADUATE DESIRE: Anthropology and Global Development Studies in the Liberal Arts Curriculum
Like most disciplinary scholars, anthropologists have been reluctant to reorganize their undergraduate programs to speak directly to student concerns. Yet, students are oriented, both intellectually and proto-professionally, to issues like global development, about which anthropologists have much to teach. This article examines student assumptions about development and about the interdisciplinary knowledge they think they need to understand it. I outline a critical pedagogy to respond to student ideas about development. I then sketch the cultural assumptions and bureaucratic structures that work to marginalize interdisciplinary programs. I conclude by suggesting ways anthropologists could adapt their undergraduate programs to “colonize” new curricular territories frequently defined in interdisciplinary terms.
In North Carolina, a faith-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization facilitates a child sponsorship program that connects North American evangelical Christians with at-risk children in one of postwar Guatemala City's most violent neighborhoods: La Paloma. Pitched in the name of gang prevention, child sponsors help create a context in which these Guatemalan kids might choose God over gangs. Based on fieldwork in North Carolina and in Guatemala, with both sponsors and the sponsored, this article explores how child sponsorship makes the work of gang prevention dependent on the work of self-cultivation. It is an ethnographic approach attuned to what this article understands as the subject of prevention, that is, the individual imagined and acted upon by the imperative to prevent. This includes at-risk youths, in all their racialized otherness, but also (and increasingly so) North American evangelicals who self-consciously craft their subjectivities through their participation in gang prevention. The subject of prevention's observable outcome is a kind of segregation with its own spatial logic. The practice of evangelical gang prevention ultimately produces an observable kind of inequality that says something about the surgically selective nature of Central American security today. Some Guatemalan youth connect with North Americans. Others get left behind.
Sovereignty and governance in contemporary Africa are hotly contested issues with important—even dire—consequences for all those interested in the continent's markets, resources, people, and welfare. This article focuses not on questions of how authority is assigned or removed but on how it is shaped, worn, and performed for diverse audiences, particularly in the arena of “traditional governance.” Here, the Bafokeng “ethnic corporation” meets Africa's last absolute monarchy, the Swazi Kingdom, in a juxtaposition of styles, symbols, and strategies that illuminates the difference between an aesthetic of defiant African alterity and an Afromodern capitalist cosmopolitanism.
This article explores the engineering of affect in socialist urban design and subsequent changes in the affective register of a rapidly growing city in late socialist Vietnam. The setting is the north central city of Vinh, destroyed by aerial bombing during the American War and rebuilt with assistance from East Germany. A primary focus of urban reconstruction was Quang Trung public housing that provided modern, European-style apartments and facilities for more than eight thousand residents left homeless from the war. Drawing from interviews, images, poems, and archival materials that document urban reconstruction, the article foregrounds the complex historical, ideological, social, and gendered meanings and sentiments attached to a particular construction material: bricks. It argues that bricks have figured prominently in radical and recurring urban transformations in Vinh, both in the creation and the destruction of urban spaces and architectural forms. As utopic objects of desire, bricks gave shape to an engaged politics of hope and belief in future betterment, as construction technologies once reserved for the elite were made available to the masses. In Quang Trung public housing, bricks harnessed political passions and utopian sentiments that over time, as Vinh's urban identity shifted from a model socialist city to a regional center of commercial trade and industry, came to signify unfulfilled promises of the socialist state and dystopic ruins that today stand in the way of capitalist redevelopment.
In 2009–2010, a team of officials at Lima's Office of Formalization worked to formalize (legalize) the hundreds of markets that operate informally in the downtown area of the city. To persuade businesses to apply for an operating license, the Office lowered the threshold of requirements and simplified the procedure. This strategy was akin to the legal reform program promoted by Hernando de Soto's 1986 influential study of informality, El otro sendero: La revolución informal. But at what point does simplifying the law, in its aim to bring state regulation closer to the realities of informal vendors, produce, rather, the informalization of the legal and bureaucratic apparatus? Drawing on fieldwork at Lima's Office of Formalization and at the downtown markets of Mesa Redonda and El Hueco, this article is an ethnographic examination of informality not as the absence of legal or bureaucratic form but as a sequence of countless operations engaged in its deformation. Georges Bataille's theories of general economy and l'informe (the formless) frame this study of the formlessness of bureaucratic form and of informal vendors’ unrelenting desire for autonomy from the state.
This article analyzes stories of ghosts and criminals told by residents and workers in urban high-rise buildings and suburban gated communities in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. For many in Chiang Mai's “communities of exclusion,” the fantasy of progressive, orderly neighborhoods and intellectual, prosperous communities coexisted with stories of empty streets haunted by violent ghosts and drug-addicted foreign invaders. With the added shocks of economic and political crises in 1997 and 2006, events that littered the Chiang Mai skyline with abandoned buildings, the idea of progress in Chiang Mai—in the Thai idiom of khwam charoen—underwent its own crisis. Through an analysis of these stories of progressive or haunted sites, I show how, for many in these communities of exclusion, the fantasy of progress and development has been rendered uncanny.
This article considers the treatment of commuter train suicides in Tokyo's commuter train network in an effort to think critically about the lived experience mediated by theories of emergence materialized through “smart” infrastructures. In so doing, it embarks from the question of how the commuter train network thinks the disorder of the commuter suicide in relation to how the network has been restructured in recent decades to handle irregularity as regular. This restructuring, I demonstrate, works to corporealize the network in accordance with an understanding of the body as a paradigm of decentralized complex emergence, which is a concept with roots in cybernetics and artificial life but which has also been adopted in recent political theory to rationalize social, economic, and environmental instability. Materialized in the commuter train network, this concept asks us to think the system as a kind of machinic life that, while generating the potential for new forms of value creation, potentially encourages the experience of commuter suicides as a necessary and recursive process of metabolic renewal within a totalizing system.
This article describes the temporality of eviction in a rubble-strewn site of urban demolition in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where over 14,000 households are being evicted to create an ambitious “new urban zone.” Eviction thrusts many residents into an alternative time-world of enforced waiting, marked by an oppressive sense of being suspended in time. For some residents, however, an alternative temporality marked by indifference and disinterested detachment disrupts the project's timeline and thwarts the temporal designs of planners. Attention to the play of time reveals important social dynamics of everyday urban development and shows that acts of land clearance and reactions to them are more complex than simple battles over land and money. Most significantly, the difference between oppressive, alienating “waiting” and empowering, socially productive “hanging out” (chơi) is conditioned by the different ways social actors understand productive activity as an expression of agency played out in time.