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Anthropology Day

AnthroDay

Happy Anthropology Day! We’re thrilled to celebrate such a rich, impactful field by sharing some of our latest scholarship. Take advantage of today by digging into a new anthropology book:

978-0-8223-6902-8In Fractivism Sara Ann Wylie traces the history of fracking and the ways scientists and everyday people are coming together to hold accountable an industry that has managed to evade regulation.

In Saamaka Dreaming anthropologists Richard and Sally Price look back on their fieldwork with the Saamaka Maroons of Suriname beginning in 1966, reflecting on the work they undertook that would shape their careers and influence the study of African American societies for decades to come.

978-0-8223-6945-5Contributors to Unfinished, edited by João Biehl and Peter Locke, explore the plasticity and unfinishedness of human subjects and lifeworlds, advancing the conceptual terrain of an anthropology of becoming.

Crumpled Paper Boat, edited by Anand Pandian and Stuart McLean, is a book of experimental ventures in ethnographic writing, an exploration of the possibilities of a literary anthropology. Original essays from notable writers in the field blur the boundaries between ethnography and genres such as poetry, fiction, memoir, and cinema.

978-0-8223-7001-7In Unconsolable Contemporary Paul Rabinow continues his explorations of “a philosophic anthropology of the contemporary,” demonstrating how reflecting on the work of German painter Gerhard Richter provides rich insights into the practices and stylization of the “afterlife of the modern.”

Bianca C. Williams, in The Pursuit of Happiness, traces the experiences of African American women as they travel to Jamaica on “girlfriend tours,” where they address the perils and disappointments of American racism by looking for intimacy, happiness, and a connection to their racial identities.

978-0-8223-6909-7In Grateful Nation Ellen Moore traces the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans at two California college campuses, finding that veterans’ academic struggles result from their military training and combat experience, which complicate their ability to function in civilian schools.

Dana E. Powell’s Landscapes of Power examines the rise and fall of the controversial Desert Rock Power Plant initiative in New Mexico to trace the political conflicts surrounding native sovereignty and contemporary energy development on Navajo (Diné) Nation land.

In Monrovia Modern Danny Hoffman uses the ruins of four iconic modernist buildings in Monrovia, Liberia, as a way to explore the relationship between the built environment and political imagination. The book features nearly 100 color photographs taken by Hoffman, a former photojournalist.

978-0-8223-7050-5Kathleen M. Millar’s Reclaiming the Discarded is an evocative ethnography of Jardim Gramacho, a sprawling garbage dump on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where roughly two thousand self-employed workers known as catadores collect recyclable materials.

In Spiritual Citizenship N. Fadeke Castor illuminates how Ifá/Orisha practices informed by Yoruba cosmology shape local, national, and transnational belonging in African diasporic communities in Trinidad and beyond.

In Domestic Economies Susanna Rosenbaum examines how two groups of women—Mexican and Central American domestic workers and the predominantly white, middle-class women who employ them—seek to achieve the “American Dream.”

978-0-8223-7019-2Medicine in the Meantime by Ramah McKay follows two medical projects in Mozambique through the day-to-day lives of patients and health care providers, showing how transnational medical resources and infrastructures give rise to diverse possibilities for work and care amid constraint.

In Sounds of Crossing Alex E. Chávez explores the contemporary politics of Mexican migrant cultural expression manifest in the sounds and poetics of huapango arribeño, a musical genre originating from north-central Mexico.

Check out our full list of anthropology titles here, or visit the American Anthropological Association website for more information on Anthropology Day.

Black History Month Reads

February is Black History Month, and we’re pleased to share some of our recent books and journals that explore this essential field.

978-0-8223-7005-5In Why the Vote Wasn’t Enough for Selma Karlyn Forner rewrites the heralded story of Selma to explain why gaining the right to vote did not bring about economic justice for African Americans in the Alabama Black Belt. Drawing on a rich array of sources, Forner illustrates how voting rights failed to offset decades of systematic disfranchisement and unequal investment in African American communities. Forner demonstrates that voting rights are only part of the story in the black freedom struggle and that economic justice is central to achieving full citizenship.

Born in 1901, Louise Thompson Patterson was a leading and transformative figure in radical African American politics. Throughout most of the twentieth century she embodied a dedicated resistance to racial, economic, and gender exploitation. In Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice, the first biography of Patterson, Keith Gilyard tells her compelling story, from her childhood on the West Coast, where she suffered isolation and persecution, to her participation in the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. To read her story is to witness the courage, sacrifice, vision, and discipline of someone who spent decades working to achieve justice and liberation for all.

978-0-8223-6164-0Named a Best Art Book of 2017 by the New York Times and Artforum, Kellie Jones’s South of Pico explores how the artists in Los Angeles’s black communities during the 1960s and 1970s created a vibrant, productive, and engaged activist arts scene in the face of structural racism. Emphasizing the importance of African American migration, as well as L.A.’s housing and employment politics, Jones shows how the work of black Angeleno artists spoke to the dislocation of migration, L.A.’s urban renewal, and restrictions on black mobility.

A landmark exhibition on display at the Brooklyn Museum from April 21 through September 17, 2017, We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 examines the political, social, cultural, and aesthetic priorities of women of color during the emergence of second-wave feminism. The accompanying Sourcebook republishes an array of rare and little-known documents from the period by artists, writers, cultural critics, and art historians. 978-0-87273-184-4Available in February, the second volume, New Perspectives, includes original essays and perspectives by Aruna D’Souza, Uri McMillan, Kellie Jones, and Lisa Jones that place the exhibition’s works in both historical and contemporary contexts, and also includes two new poems by Alice Walker. We Wanted a Revolution is on display at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles through January 14, 2018; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York from February 17, 2018 through May 27, 2018; and the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston from June 26, 2018 through September 30, 2018.

In Tropical Freedom Ikuko Asaka engages in a hemispheric examination of the intersection of emancipation and settler colonialism in North America. Asaka shows how from the late eighteenth century through Reconstruction, emancipation efforts in the United States and present-day Canada were accompanied by attempts to relocate freed blacks to tropical regions, as black bodies were deemed to be more physiologically compatible with tropical climates. By tracing negotiations of the transnational racialization of freedom, Asaka demonstrates the importance of considering settler colonialism and black freedom together while complicating the prevailing frames through which the intertwined histories of British and U.S. emancipation and colonialism have been understood.

978-0-8223-6370-5In Listening for Africa David F. Garcia explores how a diverse group of musicians, dancers, academics, and activists engaged with the idea of black music and dance’s African origins between the 1930s and 1950s. Garcia traces how attempts to link black music and dance to Africa unintentionally reinforced the binary relationships between the West and Africa, white and black, the modern and the primitive, science and magic, and rural and urban.

In The Revolution Has Come Robyn C. Spencer traces the Black Panther Party’s organizational evolution in Oakland, California, where hundreds of young people came to political awareness and journeyed to adulthood as members. Challenging the belief that the Panthers were a projection of the leadership, Spencer examines the impact the organization’s internal politics and COINTELPRO’s political repression had on its evolution and dissolution. She also centers gender politics and the experiences of women and their contributions to the Panthers and the Black Power movement as a whole.

http://saq.dukejournals.org/?utm_source=blog&utm_medium=blog%20post&utm_campaign=j-transawareness_Nov2017Drawing primarily on the US #blacklivesmatter movement, contributors to South Atlantic Quarterly’s special issue “After #Ferguson, After #Baltimore: The Challenge of Black Death and Black Life for Black Political Thought” come to terms with the crisis in the meaning of black politics during the post–civil rights era as evidenced in the unknown trajectories of black protests. The authors’ timely essays frame black protests and the implications of contemporary police killings of black people as symptomatic of a crisis in black politics within the white limits of liberal democracy.

Topics in this issue include the contemporary politics of black rage; the significance of the Ferguson and Baltimore black protests in circumventing formal electoral politics; the ways in which centering the dead black male body draws attention away from other daily forms of racial and gender violence that particularly affect black women; the problem of white nationalisms motivated by a sense of white grievance; the international and decolonial dimensions of black politics; and the relation between white sovereignty and black life politics.

ddwpj_33_1World Policy Journal’s special section, “Black Lives Matter Everywhere,” takes an international lens to the topic of Black Lives Matter. In ““What Will Happen to All that Beauty?”: Black Power in the Banlieues“, contributor Hisham Aidi explores how Muslim youth in France are looking to the Black Power movement in the U.S. for inspiration as they found their own race-conscious political organizations. ““Not Blacks But Citizens”: Race and Revolution in Cuba” investigates how Afrocubanas are still fighting anti-black discrimination after the Communist Party seized control of Cuba in 1959. “How are they Dying?: Politicizing Black Death in Latin America” asks the difficult question “How are black people dying?” in order to investigate attempts to humanize and dehumanize black citizens across the Americas.

Q&A with Dana Powell, Author of Landscapes of Power

powell 5 credit Marie Freeman

Photo by Marie Freeman

We spoke with Dana Powell, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Appalachian State University, about her new book Landscapes of Power: Politics of Energy in the Navajo Nation. Powell examines the rise and fall of the controversial Desert Rock Power Plant initiative in New Mexico, tracing the political conflicts surrounding native sovereignty and energy development on Navajo (Diné) Nation land and emphasizing the potential of Navajo resistance to articulate a vision of autonomy in the face of colonial conditions.

How does your book approach and examine the Desert Rock Energy Project initiative, a failed late-2000s attempt to establish a coal-burning power plant on Navajo land in New Mexico?

This is a story about the sociocultural dynamics of intensive extraction. The book takes two tacks: first, I approach the problem of Desert Rock historically, telling the longer story of the Navajo Nation’s decades of economic dependency on energy minerals, but ask readers to critically understand this dependency through the double entanglements of settler colonialism and environmental harm. At the same time, I examine the parallel legacies of resistance and energy activism, which emerged from grassroots leaders who not only recognized this nefarious entanglement but saw how the 1960s ascendence of coal production intensified the risk of exposure already in place from Cold War uranium extraction. Second, I approach the problem ethnographically, inviting readers into some of the on-the-ground complexities of tribal sovereignty, economic development, policy change, and various interpretations of place, by following the work of one social movement organization in particular. Ethnography allows me to examine the situated experiences of Diné people on both sides of the debate—those for the power plant, and those against the plant—as an embodied struggle around science, technology, and the future of infrastructure in indigenous territory. By interspersing ethnographic vignettes in between longer chapters that examine policy, discourse, expressive arts, and resistance strategies, I hope readers gain a feel for the everyday life impacts of large-scale industrial development and their unique dynamics in Diné landscapes.

You were a political organizer and assistant manager with the Indigo Girls, an activist folk-rock duo that campaigns and holds benefits for native communities. How did your involvement affect the direction and nature of your research?

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The national political organizing work that I did through my affiliation with Indigo Girls offered me privileged access to conversations within the Indigenous Environmental Network, Honor the Earth, and the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, as well as dozens of tribal NGOs, which deeply shaped my sense of the double entanglement of colonialism and environmental harm in Native America (from early 20th-century extractive legacies to later 20th-century impacts of climate change). This involvement not only established certain alliances and relationships for me, which became crucial as my solidarity work morphed from activist-ally to activist-researcher, but allowed me to develop research questions in tandem with indigenous organizers and policy-makers. I came to see my work as nurturing a conversation among conversations, linking discussions within activist networks with similar discussions in academic debates. Later on, in my academic work with the Social Movements Working Group and Modernity/Coloniality groups at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke, I came to see how the knowledge work of the environmental-social movements I’d been engaged in for many years established the epistemic framework for my newfound anthropological inquiries into the problems. Aesthetically, having spent years working closely with feminist artists who approached social justice through songwriting, performance, and music, I was tuned in to the ways that expressive and sonic arts flowed through Diné and other indigenous environmental justice movements; this orientation provided me with a much-needed balance to my emphasis on the policy and political economy of energy. Last, years of assisting with the production of community-based and larger market-based benefit concerts confirmed for me the power of spectacle and affect in public education and outreach, and I tried to enact this sensibility and intention in the writing that coalesced into this book.

How did your thoughts about indigenous environmental activism shift over the course of your time with the Indigo Girls?

Over time, I came to see environmental activism in the U.S. as social justice work with questions of indigenous political difference and matters of territory front and center. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers offered strong models of how to enact solidarity as white allies to an indigenous movement; their feminist and queer analysis brought new angles to thinking about “justice” in matters of environmental harm. For example, although large-scale environmental organizations were brought to task by grassroots groups of color a few decades ago (see the “Letter to the Group of Ten” authored by the Southwest Organizing Project, and others), changing public discourse on the racialized and gendered dimensions of environmental risk is still pretty poorly understood among wider publics. We were focusing on solutions: supporting community-led and tribal government-led wind and solar development in Native Nations; but, over time, my thoughts shifted from these national efforts toward the complexities of “transition” work in specific locations. Over the years, I came to see that the national (really, international) activism we were engaged in didn’t always line up with what people desired in specific locales, so I became increasingly interested in understanding these frictions and how building power in particular demanded more specific, rather than general kinds of knowledge.  

You describe how environmental journalists packaged Diné activism against the Desert Rock power plant as a “David and Goliath” story. Why was this frame harmful or misleading?

This Biblical metaphor offers no simple alignment: who in this struggle was the godless Goliath? The energy company, the federal government, surrounding jurisdictional states, or the Navajo Council? And who was the liberatory David? Grassroots EJ groups, the Navajo Council, residents of the impacted area who fought back through their endangered status? In the case of Desert Rock, the “perpetrators” and the “underdog” were not so clearly defined adversarial positions. The only appropriate analogy or likeness in this figure of speech is, perhaps, activists’ questioning of the “god” of capital.

You spent time in native communities both as an activist and as an anthropologist-observer. How did these two roles feel distinct from each other? How did your multiple visits to the Navajo Nation affect your understanding of the community and the nature of your research?

Perhaps like anyone who begins working in movements and then shifts in/to the academy, I experienced the unsettling feeling of betrayal: were my newly constructed academic questions—despite being inspired by the knowledge-work on the ground—a departure from more urgently needed, different modes of labor for non-native allies? Could the two positions ever be reconciled? Over time, I came to feel they were not so different, after all: the activist questions, theorizes, experiments, observes, analyzes and expresses, as does the anthropologist, following differing registers of expressive practice and media. Striving to maintain this critical edge within myself, recognizing and valuing both roles, deepened my understanding of the matters at stake and how the “local” struggle was, indeed, a “global” story and critically relevant to other extractive contexts. But at times, these roles made different ethical demands, challenging me to constantly interrogate what I was following, and why. Certainly, the multiple visits (that I discuss through the ethnographic trope of “arrivals” into the field) stretched out over years (1999-present) enabled me to slowly establish what have become long-term relationships of trust and collaboration with particular Diné people, and the project would not have been possible without these connections. And because I was examining the sociocultural life of the contemporary landscape, I had to learn to “see” infrastructures of power (from livestock wells to power lines, from ceremonial hogans to well-worn pathways in the forests) and it took many years of encounters to develop this perspective.

How can activists reconcile care for the environment with an understanding of the complex issues facing Native communities? What resonance do the lessons of Desert Rock hold for today’s activists?

Activists should not start with a consideration of the “environment”: it’s an abstract idea. As Anna Tsing, Bruno Latour, and many activists like those I work with in Navajoland argue, its unquestioned universality occludes the particularities of sites of struggle, in which the matters at stake are often not “the environment” as (we) imagined. Native Nations in the 21st century are facing new kinds of challenges to indigenous territorial sovereignty, often enacted through large-scale energy technologies: this was visible on a new scale, thanks to social media, during the Standing Rock/NoDAPL movement in 2016-2017. As I discuss in the book and elsewhere, activists who yearn for “environmental sustainability” in the U.S. cannot continue to follow the conventional “three E’s” approach to environment/economics/equity: the political difference of American Indians must be front and center in any project of harm reduction or transition. The notion of “equity” cannot contain this political/historical difference or the conditions of violence, ongoing, wrought by centuries of settler colonialism. An idea of “sustainability” that does not include sovereignty, in the case of Native Nations, is bankrupt. Likewise, as Myles Lennon shows in his study of Black Lives Matter activists’ pursuit of solar power, the question of energy justice in the U.S. brings with it long histories of the structural “demattering” of people of color. Activists can take these lessons of historical and political difference from the Desert Rock struggle. In this moment of public lands and sacred lands continually coming under threat (e.g., Bears Ears Monument, Standing Rock, Chaco Canyon, and more), especially with the expansion of energy infrastructure, activists who care for “the environment” would be wise to begin with an inquiry into the patterns of displacement, labor, settlement, and significance in a particular landscape.

Pick up Dana Powell’s Landscapes of Power for 30% off using coupon code E17LAND at dukeupress.edu.

The Trouble with White Women

Kyla SHC Oct 17 croppedToday’s guest blog post is written by Kyla Schuller, author of the new book The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century.

Broad swaths of the left and liberal-leaning U.S. public newly dedicated themselves to political activity in the wake of Trump’s ascension to the White House and the GOP’s control of the Senate and the House. Amidst the awakening of a liberal grassroots, a new enemy crystallized: the white woman voter. She emerged as the victim of a kind of false consciousness forged not in the factory, but in the college classroom and suburban mall. In dominant media narratives, her ubiquity came as a shock. The stats are repeated as incantation: 53% of white women voted for Trump a mere four weeks after video emerged of Trump bragging about sexual assault. 63% of white women voted for Roy Moore in December’s Alabama Senate special election, despite mounds of credible evidence of Moore’s molestation of young teen girls. Why, the narrative muses, would white women betray their own interests? And why are black women—98% of whom voted for Moore’s opponent Doug Jones—seemingly immune to electoral self-sabotage?

I wish to suggest a frame that has not emerged in the mountain of copy addressing the problem of white women. Feminists have generated many useful analyses – white women’s investment in patriarchy, the class structure, the racial status quo—underlining the material benefits conservative politics offer white women. There is a deeper, more structural reason why white women vote for misogynist, white supremacist candidates despite a century and a half of feminist organizing, however. Simply put: sex difference is itself a racial structure.

978-0-8223-6953-0Sexual difference, as a concept, emerged as a function of race. This is particularly salient in the nineteenth century, the era in which modern notions of race and sex difference solidified. My new book, The Biopolitics of Feeling, zeroes in on this generally overlooked phenomenon (outside of the history of evolutionary thought): that a wide variety of scientists, writers, and reformers articulated full sexual differentiation as the unique achievement of the civilized. The binary entities of man and woman were newly understood as thoroughly distinct in terms of mental, physiological, emotional, and psychological capacity. Sex difference was presented as the singular attainment of a teleological evolution moving toward ever greater specialization. The primitive races, by contrast, were cast as unsexed, as insufficiently evolved in both anatomy and character. The category of womanhood emerged in modern times as a unique quality of civilization. Its ramifications are still visible in electoral politics across the country.

The Biopolitics of Feeling uncovers the foundational role of sex difference to biopower. It unearths how sex difference functioned as a key technology of biopower’s racializing structures, which operate to choose some members of the population for life and cast others into disposability and death. Sex difference helped qualify individuals for life. I reveal how the position of the feminine was carved out not only to exemplify social evolutionary achievement, but also to protect it. Scientists identified the key quality of the civilized body to be its impressibility, or the capacity to be affected over time. Receptivity to sensory impressions determined a body’s capacity for growth, mental development, and even, in this Lamarckian and pre-genetic era, the transmission of acquired characteristics to descendants. Impressibility thus served as the ontological basis of progress. Impressibility also, however, entailed a frightening vulnerability to influence and environment, rendering the civilized body in need of careful protection.

I argue that two central technologies were developed in the nineteenth century to manage the constitutional vulnerability of civilization: sex difference and sentimentalism. The civilized body was cleaved in two, and the female half were assigned the liabilities of heightened impressibility as well as increased emotional faculty to mediate temptation to impulsive response to impressions. The male half were thus stabilized as masters of reason and moderate feeling. Sentimentalism, in turn, was a vast technology particularly, but far from exclusively, assigned to women to regulate the growth of the individual and the evolution of the population through managing the flow of impressions throughout a milieu. Both sex and sentiment were deployed as stabilizing forces regulating responses to sensory stimulations and thus their effect on the individual and racial body.

The legacy of womanhood as itself a stabilizing structure of whiteness reverberates loudly today and is particularly resonant in the trope of the white woman voter. The conservative ideology in which women’s role is to protect the private sphere is an element of the biopolitical logic that women’s role is to secure the stability of the civilized races. White Republican women who vote for sexual assaulters are not identifying with their whiteness over their gender, as has often been claimed. Rather, they are enacting their womanhood itself: both absorbing and smoothing over the flow of sensation and feeling that makes up the public sphere, ensuring that white men remain relatively free from the encumbrances of embodiment and are susceptible only to further progress. Our anger at white women conveniently spares the white male voter, who supported Trump and Moore in even larger numbers. The problem with white Republican women is the problem with woman as a category in the first place.

Feminism, too, is revealed in The Biopolitics of Feeling to function as an apparatus of biopower that translates allegedly inherent natural categories into political identities and platforms. But it doesn’t have to be so. Twentieth-and twenty-first century women of color feminists have been strikingly clear that the position of woman has largely been denied to non-white groups, and they have refashioned the meanings of the term woman in the process. Women, as a political group, need no longer be tied to biological discourses of race or anatomy, but this requires explicit excavation and refusal of the term’s lingering past.

Multiethnic feminisms lead the way to disentangling feminism from biopower, and woman as an entity from naturalizing logics. Intersectional and assemblage feminisms and multiethnic #MeToo campaigns are pointing to a new politics in which women no longer serve as civilization’s remainder, the sponge to absorb the impressions and stimulations of which power is itself constituted. Feminism may be born of the biopolitical logic of sex, but it thus also contains the seeds of biopower’s demise.

Pick up Kyla Schuller’s new book The Biopolitics of Feeling for 30% off by using coupon code E17SCHUL at dukeupress.edu.

“All from my cup of tea”: International Tea Day

Sarah Ives, author of the new book Steeped in Heritage: The Racial Politics of South African Rooibos Tea, brings us a guest blog post for International Tea Day.

“And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognisable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.”Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

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In his early twentieth-century novel In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust describes the “all-powerful joy” that a sip of tea invokes. The joy stems not from the tea’s flavor, but from something transcendent that arises during the act of consumption. The smell and taste of the tea—and the madeleine cookie that accompanies it—transport him to another time and bring memories to life: flowers in a garden, people in a village, a parish church.

December 15 marks International Tea Day. In his iconic reflection, Proust focuses on the experience of drinking tea. International Tea Day, however, has a different goal. The “holiday” dates to 2005, when tea-producing communities around the world joined together to draw attention to the intimate, material experiences of producing tea in a global commodity chain.

In A Time for Tea (2001), Piya Chatterjee writes that the history of tea’s commodity chain is the history of the domestication of the exotic. To seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European and American consumers, tea was an alluring commodity: Its storied origins evoked landscapes of the new and mysterious. This sense of distance from the familiar, however, gradually transformed into the quotidian ritual of teatime, reflecting a quintessentially “English” definition of civility and taste. Chatterjee asserts that hidden in this shift from the “strange” to the “familiar” is the very history of empire: “the mappings of exoticism, the continuous struggles over symbol and sign, and the cultural cartographies of conquest.”

978-0-8223-6993-6In Steeped in Heritage: The Racial Politics of South African Rooibos Tea, I explore these struggles through the story of one tea-growing community. Rooibos is an indigenous plant that grows only in a small part of South Africa’s Western and Northern Cape provinces. Marketers describe rooibos as a “miracle” beverage that will supposedly help people lose weight and control diabetes; it will promote longevity, make skin more youthful, cure acne, prevent cancer and Parkinson’s disease, guard vision, protect the liver, improve male fertility, soothe colicky babies, promote sleep and relaxation, provide comfort, and on and on. These depictions, however, are more than marketing flourish. Residents of the growing region also describe a “rooibos miracle.” Some even call the tea “Mandela-like,” imbued with charismatic qualities that will heal the unhealthy body, the racially divided nation, and the depleted land.

A tea executive I interviewed described the benefits of rooibos beyond its healthful properties: “What’s interesting is that in tough times, people drink more tea. It’s cheap. It makes people feel comfortable. Tea and makeup, both those things go up. . . . Tea makes people feel good.” The world’s largest flavor company, Givaudan, selected rooibos as one of the flavors “to watch” in its annual forecast, and concoctions such as Vanilla Rooibos Lattes regularly feature in the United States as Starbucks’ “Drink of the Day.” Marketing portrayals of South Africa skip from ancient history to the immediate present and future, from South Africa as a primitive land to the country as a “place to watch.”

While this marketing is reminiscent of Proust’s “all-powerful joy,” the narrative negates years of colonial violence, apartheid-era dispossessions, and continuing inequality. As the executive said, rooibos simply “makes people feel good.” Despite the redemptive and celebratory tales of rooibos’s natural and indigenous healing power, the tea grows in a precarious place. Focusing on transcendent—even romantic—stories of consumption can lead to multiple erasures: The tea-growing region is a social and ecological landscape in which many inhabitants face uncertain futures, livelihoods, and claims to belonging. Yet the tea stories woven into marketing narratives require a production of locality—a natural, indigenous, exotic locality that is either unpeopled (the African wilderness) or populated only by “natives,” portrayed in these tales as a natural part of that wilderness and not fully or securely human.

International Tea Day asks consumers to rethink this narrative. The story of rooibos is not just about the tea or the plant but about how people claim their belonging in relation to an uncertain political, economic, and ecological future. By exploring the ironies and surprises that surround the plant/commodity, Steeped in Heritage looks at how people envision themselves as attached to places and how those attachments play out in fierce contestations over nature, race, and heritage in a land where climatic shifts are pushing the indigenous ecosystem southward.

As you sip a cup on International Tea Day, consider what the experience conjures in you. Maybe, like Proust, you find that the warm, aromatic flavors bring to life intimate memories from your past. But trace the tea’s production beyond the cafe and contemplate how the production of tea—whether in South Africa, India, China, or elsewhere—carries its own stories, stories that weave together violent dispossessions of colonialism and its aftermath with concerns about precarious economic and environmental futures. Like the joy invoked by Proust, producing tea can include narratives of intimate, affective belonging to ecosystems and loving relations with place. Acknowledging the realities of the violence behind these idyllic images, however, can lead to more complex understandings of tea growers’ persistent attachments to the plants they cultivate.

Pick up Steeped in Heritage for 30% off using coupon code E17IVES on dukeupress.edu.

Musical Duels and Troubadour Poets You Never Knew Existed

aec_photoSelf-described ethnographer-composer-academic-musician Alex E. Chávez shares a playlist and excerpts from his new book Sounds of Crossing: Music, Migration, and the Aural Poetics of Huapango Arribeño, which explores the contemporary politics of Mexican migrant cultural expression manifest in the sounds and poetics of huapango arribeño, a musical genre originating from north-central Mexico. In Sounds of Crossing, Chávez follows huapango arribeño’s improvisational performance on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to demonstrate how Mexican migrants use music to construct meaningful communities amid the United States’ often vitriolic immigration politics.

An accomplished musician and multi-instrumentalist, Chávez has performance experience in an array of styles ranging from American popular music to traditional Mexican folk. He has recorded and toured with his own musical projects, composed documentary scores (most recently Emmy Award-winning El Despertar [2016] & Where Soldiers Come From [2011]), and has collaborated with various artists, including Grammy Award winners Quetzal and Grupo Fantasma and Latin Grammy Award-nominated Sones de México, in addition to Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Charanga Cakewalk/Lila Downs, and Ocote Soul Sounds. He has contributed to the volumes Making Sense of Language (2016), Latino, American, Dream (2016), Iconic Mexico (2015), Celebrating Latino Folklore (2012), and Con La Música a Otra Parte: Migración e Identidad en La Lírica Queretana (2010).

Sweat is trickling down the side of your face, welling at the back of your neck; the heat and humidity are smothering. It’s a typical sweltering July evening in Central Texas, close to ten o’clock. The incandescence of city lights in the distance washes over the starry night sky, an amber glow that crowns the ballroom outside of town where Mexican migrants have gathered. Some sit along concrete bleachers, others lean out across the flanking metal railing and peer leisurely toward the crowd of several hundred below. These soon-to-be dancers are nestled in between two stages, positioned at opposite ends of the dance floor. An indistinguishable murmur of laughter and conversation nervously crescendoes every now and then, in anticipation of the musical duel everyone is awaiting.

The multitude sways to and fro, wave after wave of shifting bodies stirring the dust beneath them into a cloud. Four silhouettes appear on one stage, moving leisurely with their instruments—two violins, a vihuela (small five-stringed chordophone), and a guitarra quinta huapanguera (larger modified eight-string bass guitar, similar to the more common six-stringed version). They assume their positions, exchange glances, and confer quietly, subtly coaxing the music about to be played. They gaze over at the other stage, now similarly occupied by a matching ensemble, waiting patiently. A collective sigh rushes across the congregation, quieting the chatter, tilting bodies forward as everyone focuses on the shadows emerging before them. Suddenly, the strumming of instruments booms out through the sound system; elaborate fiddle melodies erupt, followed by the soaring voice of the troubadour poet. The pulsing 2/4 cadence echoes forcefully, measured, trembling through the body, ascending upward, embracing those present, as do the unraveling verses. These eight musicians—composing two identical huapango arribeño ensembles—will face off in a bout of musical and poetic flyting, exchanging fiddle melodies and improvised verses all night long.

When I describe this type of musical duel—referred to as a topada (from the verb topar, to collide with)—to those unfamiliar with it, they are often amazed at the thought of an eight-, ten-, or twelve-hour back-and-forth at that level of intensity on the part of both the performers and the audience. The excessive nature of the time and energy spent is unlike so many other performance styles. In that very excess lies the conviviality, the tones and tensions, and the laborious explorations that are crucial to huapango arribeño as an intertextual and polyphonic locus of aesthetic enactments and responses. Think of huapango arribeño as a dense, musical architecture that yields a rhythmic and poetic complex. It has jagged, sharp edges in structure, timbre, and tone. There is gravity behind the sudden drops and shifts between verses and melodies. You become attentive to these modulations; they snag the ears—extreme changes that move you, catch you, confront you. Yet, despite this seemingly intense and virtuosic performance style, most of the Mexican public is unaware of this musical tradition.

Huapango arribeño originates in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Querétaro, and San Luís Potosí, and takes its name from the Nahuatl word cuauhpanco—cuahuitl meaning ‘wood,’ pan designating ‘atop,’ and co ‘place,’ signifying ‘on top of the wood’ and referring to the wooden platform (tarima) atop which people perform patterned footwork (zapateado) to vernacular Mexican stringed music. This seems to indicate that huapango refers explicitly to ritual dance, and in part 
it does, for it may be seen as synonymous with the fandango, a social gathering centered on dance and music-making in 18th-century New Spain. The term arribeño (highlander) refers to the mountainous region of the states of Guanajuato and Querétaro (known as La Sierra Gorda) and to the midregion of San Luís Potosí (La Zona Media), which sits higher in altitude than the huasteca portion of the state, home to the Téenek (or Huastec) Indians and the more widely known huasteco style of huapango. The huasteco variant, specifically, is one of many regional string musics popularized 
in the years following the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) as state-sponsored cultural education efforts featuring sanitized folkloric performances of select aires nacionales (national anthems) played a role in deeming certain musics ideal expressions of Mexicanidad (Mexican cultural nationalism). At the same time, radio and cinema emerged as powerful commercial vehicles for disseminating the huasteco variant. The resulting streamlined popular huapango style quickly became an emblematic sound of assumed national tradition.

Given this, the term huapango—in a more general sense—typically references its signature rhythm, in a galloping 6/8 meter. Indeed, most appreciators of Mexican music can recognize huapango in many of its variations, whether it be the accordion-based stylings of Mexico’s música norteña or rendered with dramatic bel canto air by the immortal stars of the golden era of Mexican cinema. This latter image exists as an archetype of a sort of “classic” huapango. And again, while the popularity of this music outside its region of origin owes much to the silver screen, this stylized representation lays bare
 the complicated relationship between music and nationalism in the 20th century, and subsequently sheds light on the relative absence of huapango arribeño from this story.

978-0-8223-7018-5My book Sounds of Crossing represents the first extended study of huapango arribeño, a topic otherwise absent from scholarship on Mexican music. And although ethnomusicologists, folklorists, and linguistic anthropologists will be able to glean the details of its formal musico-poetic properties—particularly its extensive use of the Spanish décima (ten-line stanza) and its topada performance style—this book follows moments of this music’s lush and improvisational performance within the lives of both audiences and practitioners, from New Year’s festivities in the highlands of Guanajuato to backyard get-togethers along the back roads of Central Texas. In doing so, it provocatively uses “sounds of crossing” as a graphic model to map the bindings and cultural adjacencies produced through the enactment of huapango arribeño’s music and poetics across this transnational geography in the late twentieth and early twenty- first centuries.

As a student and practitioner of various Mexican folk musics for over two decades, I have engaged in music-making alongside my interlocuters, transforming my own experiences into a unique perspective on the body politics of performance that has shaped my understanding of how people cross various types of borders. This was certainly the case with the research that informs Sounds of Crossing. And while my musical curiosity first compelled me to make performance a cornerstone of my ethnographic process, I soon realized it was vital to gaining a deeper understanding of huapango arribeño music-making more generally given that very few sources exist on the topic. Consulting extensive written sources of any kind was not an option, and furthermore, recordings of the music are rare and have only been made by a few select musicians. So, apprehending both the conventions that govern performance and the rhetorical logics of composition required not only that I observe performances, but also participate in them as a practitioner.

Years later, one such relationship built through research and performance resulted in a collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute where I was able to serve as lead producer of a Smithsonian Folkways recording of Guillermo Velázquez y Los Leones de la Sierra de Xichú entitled Serrano de Corazón (Highlander at Heart) (2016). This first-ever recording of its kind by an esteemed cultural institution of this caliber highlights huapango arribeño at its finest and makes anthropological knowledge of this music-culture accessible to a global audience. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, the national museum of the United States, and is dedicated to supporting increased awareness of peoples from around the world through the documentation and dissemination of sound recordings.

In this same spirit, the playlist I have compiled consists of music that represents the contemporary world of huapango arribeño. And while certainly not a definitive list, this sampling of transnational artists performing in Mexico is an excellent glimpse into both the sounds of this music and its various performative contexts. So, sit back and listen to the music and poetry of troubadour poets you probably never knew existed.

 

Tali Díaz y Los Díaz del Real—“Para que el tiempo no se quebrante” (poesía, valona, & son)

Featuring the young troubadour poet Tali Díaz and his group Los Díaz del Real, this track captures the typical huapango arribeño musical piece, which consists of three distinct components: (1) poesía— recited décimas anchored by a musico-poetic refrain; (2) decimal/valona—sung décimas accompanied by ornate violin interludes; and (3) son—violin-centered portion that displays the typical 6/8 galloping rhythm and showcases virtuosic fiddle melodies.

Guillermo Velázquez y Los Leones de la Sierra de Xichú feat. Maria Isabel “Chabe” Flores Solano—“Brota mi canto y se ufana” (valona & son)

This track is taken from the Smithsonian Folkways album Serrano de Corazón (Highlander at Heart) featuring Guillermo Velázquez y Los Leones de la Sierra de Xichú. Chabe Flores takes the helm on this decimal/valona, showcasing her trademark voice. Here, she addresses the topic of women’s empowerment and self-determination with a commanding and powerful performance. The valona is crowned by a traditional son arribeño titled “La rosita arribeña” (the rose from the highlands).

Guillermo Velázquez y Los Leones de la Sierra de Xichú—“Serrano de corazón” (poesía-inspired composition & son)

Also taken from the Smithsonian Folkways album Serrano de Corazón, this song typifies both the lyrical virtuosity and musical energy Guillermo Velázquez y Los Leones de la Sierra de Xichú bring to their live performances. The song is a hybrid form that alternates between recited décimas—in the spirit of the poesía portion previously described—and a lively canción portion played in 6/8 that features harmonized lyrics in the style of the huapango-canción and canción típica genres. The track ends with another variant of the son “La rosita arribeña.”

El Conjunto de Pedro Sauceda—“La virgen tendió su manto en la tierra del placer” (jarabe)

Taken from the set of albums titled Antologia del Son de Mexico released by Discos Corasón in 1985, this track features El Conjunto de Pedro Sauceda performing a traditional jarabe arribeño. The name jarabe is an analogous reference to the drug of the same name, which is made of various healing herbs, and the musical jarabe is similarly composed of various musical sounds and melodies that give it structure.

Toño Escalante y Conjunto Los Gorrioncillos de la Sierra—“El pajarillo” (son)

Also taken from the Antologia del Son de Mexico (1985), this track features Toño Escalante y Conjunto Los Gorriones de La Sierra performing a traditional son arribeño “El Pajarillo”.

Las Palomitas Serranas with Ángel González (jarabes & son)

This is a live performance featuring the all-female huapango group Las Palomitas Serranas with veteran troubadour poet Ángel González. The group is performing a traditional jarabe arribeño as they arrive in the rural hamlet of Palomas, Guanajuato for an artistic summit centered around Ibero-American music and poetry.

Guillermo Velázquez y Los Leones de la Sierra de Xichú—“La topada de poetas”

Also taken from the Smithsonian Folkways album Serrano de Corazón, “La topada de poetas” is Velázquez’s magnum opus on this album, which both narrates
 and performs the atmosphere of the topada, vividly detailing the portions of the marathon encounter, as night turns into day. It begins with a shortened poesía with a narrated ending, followed by an instrumental polka (typically called a pieza) with narration. Another shortened poesía with a narrated ending ensues, which then introduces two poesías de bravata (boasting poesías, wherein poets engage each other in banter and jibes)—here, Vincent Velázquez and Nicacio López take on the roles of opposing poets. Finally, Guillermo Velázquez performs a valona, followed by an extended jarabe, which captures the climactic energy of the topada in full bloom, when violinists are locked in after several hours, stretching out the music while the zapateado of the audience echoes out in percussive response.

Ángel González with Las Palomitas Serranas (pieza [polka])

This is a live performance featuring the troubadour poet Ángel González with members of the all-female huapango group Las Palomitas Serranas. The group is performing a traditional instrumental polka (typically called a pieza) in the rural hamlet of Palomas, Guanajuato.

Santa Vibra feat. Maria Isabel “Chabe” Flores Solano & Tali Díaz—“Llegar al mesón” (huapango)

While not a traditional huapango arribeño, this track is nonetheless in the galloping 6/8 huapango style and features a duet between Maria Isabel “Chabe” Flores Solano and troubadour poet Tali Díaz. The group Santa Vibra provides the musical backing.

Los Tiradores—“Otro ratito nomas” (valona from Michoacán)

Taken from the album Michoacán: sones de la Tierra Caliente produced by Fonoteca del INAH (the official sound library of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History), this track features the group Los Tiradores performing a valona typical to the stringed music genre of the state of Michoacán known as son de la Tierra Caliente. I have included this example to demonstrate the musical and poetic similarities the valona maintains across genres. As you will hear, both valona variants feature décima poetry, and the principle violin interlude—referred to as the valoneado in huapango arribeño—expresses some melodic resemblance in both styles.

Los Caporales—“Jarabe ranchero” (jarabe from Michoacán)

Also taken from the album Michoacán: sones de la Tierra Caliente, this track features the group Los Caporales performing a jarabe typical to the son de la Tierra Caliente of Michoacán. This example likewise demonstrates the musical and poetic similarities the jarabe expresses across genres, particularly the virtuosic bundling of violin melodies.

Want to read more about huapango arribeño? Pick up Alex Chávez’s book Sounds of Crossing for 30% off using coupon code E17SOUND on dukeupress.edu.

Q&A with Monique Moultrie, author of Passionate and Pious

Monique MoultrieMonique Moultrie, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University, is the author of the new book Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women’s Sexuality. In the book, she explores the impact of faith-based sexual ministries on black women’s sexual agency to trace how these women navigate sexuality, religious authority, and their spiritual walk with God.

How would you describe your personal history and relationship with the evangelical church, and especially with the televangelist Juanita Bynum, whose ministry you discuss at length in Passionate and Pious?

I was reared in a conservative Christian church (a Baptist church) in a rural community that was a model of evangelicalism and took quite seriously the Christian message to evangelize. I went to Jerry Falwell rallies as a teen and actively participated in Christian organizations/clubs. When I entered college I first became aware of televangelist Juanita Bynum even though as a teen I had practiced purity as was expected from my evangelical model. What I remember about watching Bynum’s “No More Sheets” sermon for the first time in a small group setting with a group of other women was that I remembered many things clicking from the sermon. It made sense on a very guttural level. I also think the sermon offered voice to a lot of the personal experiences of women in the room. Women were trying to live out their faith lives in ways that came into contrast with their own sexual needs, desires, and actual realities. Later as I watched events in Bynum’s personal life unfold, I began to wonder if Bynum was the model exemplar or if in fact this was a model that others could hold onto and participate in the same way.

After personally following Bynum for years she became the topic of my doctoral dissertation as I set out to explain the sexual dilemmas facing black women of faith and why/how they were influenced by No More Sheets. My dissertation used ethnographic research and cultural analysis to examine the authority of evangelical sexual messages produced in religious media like her televangelism. I continued to follow Bynum through her marriage, divorce, and subsequent ministries beyond her initial No More Sheets ministry although the book really only focused on this first step.

How did your background in the evangelical church—your experience in the community and as a consumer of its messages about sexuality—help (or hinder) you as you conducted research?

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I mention in the book that part of my background in the evangelical church meant that a lot of this rhetoric was something I was used to, as I already knew the lingo and phrases. One of the early book reviewers’ comments was that the book was full of a lot of insider language as I described the communities. I was really such an insider that I needed to go back with the editors to get help determining what words/phrases/categories needed to be defined for those outside of these communities. Thus, in this initial way I had a natural in because I was formed in black church settings. I was also familiar with religious media because I grew up watching televangelism and in many ways the evangelical communities I was studying just made sense to me. It made entering into research much easier as I knew what types of questions to ask to get a response. At times, I could even anticipate responses. I could be understood by my audience and in ways that gave me an advantage since I didn’t have to work as hard to earn trust. Having familiarity in their settings aided my research. I didn’t have to be vouched for in many ways and specifically online this helped when people can’t look at you in your eyes and get a feel for whether you seem authentic or not. Being online in many of these accountability groups and participating online it really helped to know the community’s language, theology, worship, etc.

On the other hand, if my insider status did hinder my research, it was because I was very compassionate towards them. I really spent a lot of time thinking of my research questions. I think a lot of what gets written about evangelicals treats them as if they are cultural dupes. They are written about as if they lack intellect or are overruled by emotionality or that they are not making conscious decisions. I knew that not to be the case so I wanted that to show in my own research. I wanted to highlight the very tough decisions that are being made daily in each of these women’s lives where they embody very complicated contemporary realities where being celibate until marriage for a black woman often means participating in celibacy movements for more than half of their lives. Young girls start in groups in their teen years and they participate in college groups and stats show that black women marry much later; they marry much closer to age 50 so that’s a long time to participate in these movements! I wanted to be compassionate towards this experience because I understood this struggle. I also understood their deep desire for sexual relationship and faith to align. I wanted that to come forward in my research. In some ways, my tenderness towards their plight may have obfuscated my ability to be as critical as I may have wanted to.

As a trained academic, I was clear in my goal of illuminating my ethnographic subjects’ experiences while at the same time offering a womanist corrective. My constructive sections are where my critical side shows. In my goal of not just being objective in presenting these various ministries but to humanize them and these women’s experiences I did take a very critical persona. I did mention in the book that my own rearing in a conservative Christian background gave me messages that privileged monogamy and committed relationships as more normative. When I looked back at my questions related to non-monogamous relationships like hook up culture, my own background tainted those sets of questions. I didn’t really presume that non-monogamy would be the norm. Persons talked with me about their experiences with multiple partners, but often it came out as not their own experience but something that they were reporting from others. When I went through the transcripts, I think a large part of that may have been the way that I crafted the question that probably presumed monogamy. If they were in a multiple-partner relationship my questions presumed that this wasn’t what they intended as a mature relationship. Yet, I know for some of the participants that having multiple partners was not a stage or some immature sexual agency. Having multiple partners was deemed as normative as having one partner and so that’s definitely one way when I looked back at the research I saw a hindrance. Thankfully I became aware of this before the book went to print but certainly as I did the interviews I wasn’t as in tune with this unconscious privileging.

Your book discusses the many messages black women receive from the evangelical church: submission, modesty, abstinence outside of marriage, heterosexuality, etc. What tools does your book provide for shifting these messages or encouraging black women to reclaim their sexual agency?

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American Anthropological Association 2017

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Booth staffers ready to go on the first day

The 2017 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., was a great chance for us to meet authors and editors, sell books and journals to excited customers, and celebrate prize-winning books!

Our authors racked up quite a few awards at this year’s conference:

Metabolic Living by Harris Solomon and Tell Me Why My Children Died by Charles Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs were co-winners of the New Millennium Book Award from the Society for Medical Anthropology.

Sareeta Amrute’s Encoding Race, Encoding Class won the Diana Forsythe Prize from the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology & Computing. Plastic Bodies by Emilia Sanabria received honorable mention for this prize.

Emilia Sanabria’s Plastic Bodies also won the Michelle Rosaldo First Book Prize from the Association for Feminist Anthropology. Downwardly Global by Lalaie Ameeriar was a finalist for the same prize.

Aimee Meredith Cox’s Shapeshifters won the Delmos Jones & Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of North America.

The Look of a Woman by Eric Plemons won the Ruth Benedict Prize in the Single-Authored Monograph category from the Association for Queer Anthropology.

Yolanda Covington-Ward’s Gesture and Power won the Elliott P. Skinner Award from the Association for Africanist Anthropology.

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João Biehl toasts new edited collection Unfinished

Reel World by Anand Pandian won second place for the Victor Turner Prize from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, and David McDermott Hughes’s Energy without Conscience received honorable mention for the same prize.

Everyday Conversions by Attiya Ahmad received honorable mention for the Clifford Geertz Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of Religion.

Congratulations to these outstanding authors!

On Friday we enjoyed a wine reception for the new collection Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming with its editors João Biehl and Peter Locke.

It was exciting to see so many of our authors and editors in person. Check out the photo gallery:

 

Did you miss AAA this year? Not enough room in your luggage to carry all the books and journals you wanted? You can still take advantage of our 30% conference discount—just use coupon code AAA17 on our website through January 15.

“Thank You for Your Service”

On the day before Veterans Day, Grateful Nation author Ellen Moore offers commentary on a phrase many of us take for granted.

ellen-6470As many of us take the day off work for Veterans Day, we pause to honor former military members and often resort to the familiar phrase “Thank you for your service.”  Yet the simple gesture of thanking soldiers for their service is not so simple.

In the years since 9/11 and the onset of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “thank you for your service” has become a ritualized phrase that is repeated in airports, schools, shopping centers, and movie theaters. On college campuses, for example, veteran support meetings routinely begin with civilian speakers thanking the student veterans for their service. When I began my research with veterans attending college, civilians working for the U.S. Army advised that I should introduce myself to veterans by thanking them for their service because it would facilitate communication. Because the phrase was so ubiquitous, instead of repeating it, I chose to ask veterans to describe how they feel when they hear the phrase “thank you for your service.” I got a range of answers from appreciation to active dislike, but many said that the phrase, coming from strangers who knew nothing about them beside their military status, seemed like a platitude; it seemed like something civilians thought they were supposed to say. Others were concerned that the phrase served as a way to avoid deeper discussions about the wars and about the effects on soldiers who are sent to fight them. As Jordan, a former Marine and veteran of the Iraq War told me: “For me the biggest problem is that the people of this country don’t understand what they’re asking [when they send soldiers into war]. They don’t understand what we’re doing. They want to be appreciative. They want to understand. I really believe that. They want to be thankful. They want to be supportive. But all of these things require being informed, being knowledgeable and not burying our heads in the sand when we get to the ugly truth.”

978-0-8223-6909-7For Jordan the “ugly truth” involved sending young men and women into battle to harm or kill unknown others for reasons not always clear to them. Many suffer from what is now called moral injury resulting from having to carry out actions that conflict with their moral beliefs. During the three years I spent in and around veteran communities researching their experiences on college campuses, I found that when civilians, soldiers, or veterans criticized military policies or actions they were often labeled as not just anti-war, but anti-military or even anti-veteran.  But my research found that dichotomous “pro or anti-war” labels cannot adequately describe diverse beliefs held by military members, veterans, and civilians about the military and the contemporary wars.

Daily life today in the United States is marked by a heightened sense of vulnerability and anxiety about national security. We are warned that enemies at home and abroad threaten U.S. jobs, families, and homes. This national insecurity problem has come with a built-in solution: militarized interventions in the form of expanded and instrumental use of deadly force by police, walled-off militarized border zones, drone warfare, and threats of nuclear strikes. Paradoxically, the heightened rhetoric of war is accompanied by a societal silence about the effects of war on soldiers as both victims and perpetrators of violence.

But we must talk about this—and veterans have a lot to say.

War veterans’ complex positions are often informed by what they call the “ground truth”– the lived reality of combat and military occupation. When someone knows this “ground truth”, they cannot reduce that experience to a simplistic choice between being a hero or a villain. However, in our efforts to honor veterans’ service, we can end up idealizing both war and warrior.

News stories and commercial ad campaigns featuring uniformed soldiers highlight heroism, loyalty to country, and sacrifice, but there are few public representations of the ambivalence and conflict that so many veterans shared with me. I found that some student veterans wanted to be acknowledged for their service while others just wanted to blend in on campus and be seen as ordinary students. Some veterans wanted to engage in conversations about the wars with civilian students, while others wanted to avoid discussions they feared would lead to unwelcome interrogations. This diversity highlights the need for more complex and targeted supports for student veterans. We must provide room for conversations involving political difference on college campuses and in veteran support settings.

We can honor military veterans by engaging in difficult conversations about war and peace, consent and dissent, social conformity and social difference, and about what it takes for a nation to be secure. Yet finding common ground across diverse worldviews is difficult since we live in a highly polarized ideological environment that seeps into discussions about military veterans and the current wars.

“Thank you for your service” and other societal conventions that require veterans and civilians to adopt an uncomplicated view of military service and the wars inhibit discussions that some veterans want and need for their own benefit and for the benefit of their fellow veterans. As I conducted the research for my book, I found that for many veterans, enforced silences and heroic narratives about the wars increased cognitive and emotional dissonance between their lived military experience and their return to civilian society.

Jordan and his fellow veterans deserve more than ritualized phrases, they deserve to be listened to and to have their experience understood. We can and should differentiate between support for veterans and support for the wars in which they fought.

Ellen Moore’s Grateful Nation: Student Veterans and the Rise of the Military-Friendly Campus is out now. Pick up the paperback for 30% off using coupon code E17MOORE on our website.
Supporting thoughtful, deeply researched scholarship like Moore’s is what University Press Week is all about. The final day of University Press Week’s blog tour theme is Libraries and Librarians Helping Us All #LookItUP. University of Missouri Press provides a look into the ways the Special Collections archive and certain librarians helped both the press and the author with Lanford Wilson: Early Stories, Sketches, Poems. At University of Nebraska Press, director of Lincoln City Libraries, Pat Leach, will contribute a post. Next, the University Press of Florida will spotlight the Florida and the Caribbean Open Books Series, a collaboration between the press and and the UF George A. Smathers Libraries. An entry from University of Georgia Press demonstrates how libraries serve as bastions of facts and real information against the onslaught of Fake News.  University of Alabama Press  will also have a post. Read and share with the hashtags #ReadUP and #LookItUP and keep talking about the great work university presses do even after this week ends.

The Face Is a Population

Thank you to Kris Cohen, author of new book Never Alone, Except for Now: Art, Networks, Populations, for today’s guest blog post.

cohen-krisApple’s design aesthetic mimics social media intimacy, so the arrival of a new Apple product can feel a lot like something blowing up on one’s Facebook feed, even if not a single person in the world actually cares. Nevertheless, the arrival of a technological capability such as facial recognition software, built into Apple’s new iPhone 8, is worth paying attention to even if it does follow the now entirely predictable commodity arc from military-funded R&D fantasy to ordinary mass consumer good. Maybe its new ordinariness means that people have become numb to it, but it always means that people now have to bargain with it in their daily lives. In the case of facial recognition software—a technology that now plays a major if sometimes shadowy role in all aspects of the security industry: border policing, population control, crime prevention—what exactly are we being made to bargain with?

Like the cameras on our phones and computers, embedded facial recognition software is one more place where the “personal” device becomes entirely porous to the corporations and governments that extract data from all devices. Try shopping for computer camera covers and you will get a sense of how deep and habitual the feeling is that the most personal devices are now the ones we control the least. The threat with a camera is quite concrete: someone is watching. The threat with facial recognition software is slightly more abstract (for some), but it exists because in order to recognize one’s face, the software has to create an open channel between our device and the massive database of faces and correlated data that make automated recognition possible (for some), but over which we have no control at all.

978-0-8223-6940-0Here we see how, in networked cultures, an intensely individualistic address is tightly laminated to a massive effort to form groups of people that can be put to work, producing value, relations, suggestions. As I say in my recent book Never Alone, Except for Now: Art, Networks, Populations, individuality in networked cultures is a kind of group form. In order to better understand individuals in relation to group form, I adapt the term population. The term comes from census technologies used for managing the resources of a nation, but also from Michel Foucault’s late work on neoliberalism. A population logic is one that addresses and organizes individuals through the informatic power of statistics, making the individual into a kind of effect, even a side effect of the population as a predictive and statistical entity. In networked cultures, populations get assembled in databases and prediction is keyed to desire: what we want to see, read, buy. Networked populations make the individual a distillate of the database, and the database an effect of the ordinary habits and activities of individuals, recorded as data. I think this is the untold story of the too-told story of the individual and individualism in contemporary American politics. And this is why populations are not the same as the masses of modernity, which always prioritized some form of unity or sameness. Facial recognition software prioritizes individuality, the quiddity of the unique face, but can only do so by participating deeply in population logics. How can we learn about such effects even as they’re being rolled out at paces and scales beyond human comprehension?

I’m an art historian as well as a media studies theorist, so one of my methods is to look to art: not art as in fine art objects magisterially pronouncing judgment upon the jumbled events of ordinary life, but art as a mode of thought about the present embodied in an encounter between more than one person, any of whom are invited to improvise a relation with one another in a scene that can work at a range of paces. On this view, art is no less mired in and impacted by the present tense than anyone else, and one can read the marks of those impacts on the work as a kind of impression of the ways the present tense shapes people, labor, environments, institutions. The artist Josh Kline would be one kind of resource for thinking about facial recognition software, as it appears so often in his work. There, the mediation of the problem is more or less direct. In this, Kline’s work offers the anchor of concrete feeling, even the prospect of a community of sorts galvanized by shared feeling.

But in the book I also think about artists whose work has no biographical or directly referential relationship to the networked technologies I study (performance artist Sharon Hayes and installation artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres). But as facial recognition software shows so graphically, one of the most distinctive features of networked technologies is that they are distributive by nature, automating the extraction of data from gestures, from movements through streets, from things we say out loud and in print, from our very facial expressions. So we need better resources for thinking about that kind of spread, in which literally nothing doesn’t bear the imprint—maybe slight, maybe bruising, maybe overt, often subliminal or subdermal—of networked technologies. Working between media technologies and works of art that often seem to operate at some distance from those technologies helps me to sense some of these more distributed and deeply encoded impacts.

Facial recognition technology fundamentally, even physically, changes what faces are. Think about that next time you encounter faces such as those in the paintings of Kehinde Wiley, Chuck Close, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Henry Taylor, or Amy Sillman; in the early videos or late paintings of Sadie Benning; or even in the massive public works of Julie Mehretu, which contain no faces, but then neither do the circuits that connect our phones with the populations of people that allow phones to discern a single face out of millions, a face we might once have called our own.

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