Anthropology

New Books in October

It’s official—fall has arrived! With the start of this new season, we’re releasing dynamic new reads in art and visual culture, anthropology, feminist studies, cultural studies, sociology, and more. Check out all of these exciting books available in October.

Continuing the work she began in The Promise of Happiness and Willful Subjects by taking up a single word and following its historical, intellectual, and political significance, Sara Ahmed explores how use operates as an organizing concept, technology of control, and tool for diversity work in What’s the Use?

In Where Histories Reside Priya Jaikumar examines seven decades of films shot on location in India to show how attending to filmed space reveals alternative timelines and histories of cinema as well as the myriad ways cinema constructs India as a place.

Eva Haifa Giraud contends in What Comes after Entanglement? that recent theory that foregrounds the ways that human existence is entangled with other nonhuman life and the natural world often undermine successful action and calls for new modes of activist organizing and theoretical critique.

The contributors to Reading Sedgwick (edited by Lauren Berlant) reflect on the long and influential career of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, whose pioneering work in queer theory has transformed understandings of affect, intimacy, politics, and identity.

Conceptualizing anthropology as a mode of practical and transformative inquiry in A Possible Anthropology, Anand Pandian stages an ethnographic encounter with the field in an effort to grasp its impact on the world and its potential for addressing and offering solutions to the profound crises of the present.

In Symbolic Violence Michael Burawoy brings Pierre Bourdieu into an extended debate with Marxism by outlining the parallels and divergences between Bourdieu’s thought and preeminent Marxist theorists including Gramsci, Fanon, Beauvoir, and Freire.

Achille Mbembe theorizes the genealogy of the contemporary world—one plagued by inequality, militarization, enmity, and a resurgence of racist, fascist, and nationalist forces—and calls for a radical revision of humanism a the means to create a more just society in Necropolitics.

In Fidel between the Lines Laura-Zoë Humphreys tracks late-socialist Cuba’s changing dynamics of social criticism and censorship through Cuban cinema and its cultural politics.

In A Fragile Inheritance, Saloni Mathur investigates the work of two seminal figures from the global South: the New Delhi-based critic and curator Geeta Kapur and contemporary multimedia artist Vivan Sundaram, illuminating  how their political and aesthetic commitments intersect and foreground uncertainty, difficulty, conflict, and contradiction.  

Ronak K. Kapadia examines multimedia visual art by artists from societies besieged by the US war on terror in Insurgent Aesthetics, showing how their art offers queer feminist critiques of US global warfare that forge new aesthetic and social alliances with which to sustain critical opposition to the global war machine.

In Eros Ideologies Laura E. Pérez analyzes Latina art to explore a new notion of decolonial thought and love based on the integration of body, mind, and spirit that offers a means to creating a more democratic and just present and future.

Edited by Frances Richard, I Stand in My Place with My Own Day Here features essays by more than fifty renowned international writers considering thirteen monumental works of art commissioned by The New School between 1930 and the present. We are distributing this beautiful art book for The New School.

Between Form and Content is a catalog that accompanied the first exhibition to focus on Jacob Lawrence’s experience at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1946, where his interaction with Josef Albers had a lasting impact on his future career. We are distributing this catalog for Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center.

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New Books in September

Summer’s almost over, which means it’s time to start to replenishing your reading list! Celebrate the start of a new academic year with us by checking out this diverse array of books arriving in September.

Acknowledging the impending worldwide catastrophe of rising seas in the twenty-first century, Orrin H. Pilkey and Keith C. Pilkey outline the impacts on the United States’ shoreline and argue that the only feasible response along much of the U.S. shoreline is an immediate and managed retreat in Sea Level Rise.

Brenda R. Weber’s Latter-day Screens examines the ways in which the mediation of Mormonism through film, TV, blogs, YouTube videos, and memoirs functions as a means through which to understand conversations surrounding gender, sexuality, spirituality, capitalism, justice, and individualism in the United States.

Self-Devouring Growth by Julie Livingston shows how the global pursuit of economic and resource-driven growth comes at the expense of catastrophic destruction, thereby upending popular notions that economic growth and development is necessary for improving a community’s wellbeing.

In Under Construction, Daniel Mains explores the intersection of infrastructural development and governance in contemporary Ethiopia by examining the conflicts surrounding the construction of specific infrastructural technologies and how that construction impacts the daily lives of Ethiopians.

Elizabeth Freeman’s Beside You in Time expands bipolitical and queer theory by outlining a temporal view of the long nineteenth century and showing how time became a social and sensory means by which people resisted disciplinary regimes and assembled into groups in ways that created new forms of sociality.

Terry Smith—who is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading historians and theorists of contemporary art—traces the emergence of contemporary art and further develops his concept of contemporaneity in Art to Come through analyses of topics ranging from Chinese and Australian Indigenous art to architecture.

Henry Cow by Benjamin Piekut tells the story of the English experimental rock band Henry Cow and how it linked its improvisational musical aesthetic with a collectivist, progressive politics.

Davina Cooper’s Feeling Like a State explores the unexpected contribution a legal drama of withdrawal—as exemplified by some conservative Christians who deny people inclusion, goods, and services to LGBTQ individuals—might make to conceptualizing a more socially just, participative state.

In Making The Black Jacobins, Rachel Douglas traces the genesis, transformation, and afterlives of the different versions of C. L. R. James’s landmark The Black Jacobins across the decades from the 1930s onwards, showing how James revised it in light of his evolving politics.

William E. Connolly links climate change, fascism, and the nature of truth to demonstrate the profound implications of the deep imbrication between planetary nonhuman processes and cultural developments in Climate Machines, Fascist Drives, and Truth.

Cara New Daggett’s The Birth of Energy traces the genealogy of the idea of energy from the Industrial Revolution to the present, showing how it has informed fossil fuel imperialism, the governance of work, and our relationship to the Earth.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Read an Excerpt from Pamela Reynold’s The Uncaring, Intricate World

Uncaring Intricate WorldIn her new book, The Uncaring, Intricate World, anthropologist Pamela Reynolds shares her fieldwork diary from her time spent in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi valley during the 1980s, in which she recounts the difficulties, pleasures, and contradictions of studying the daily lives of the Tonga people three decades after their forced displacement. This edition of her diary was carefully curated by Todd Meyers, Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University, Shanghai.

“The diary is not inert. It is not a snapshot or a photograph, but recognizes the inherent problem of a photographic subject to hold still,” says Meyers in the foreword. In this excerpt from the first chapter, Reynolds describes her experiences arriving at the site of her fieldwork, including the environment, her interactions with the children, and her first meal.

Read an excerpt from The Uncaring, Intricate World below and then order a copy from our website for 30% off using coupon code E19RYNLD

Chitenge, Mola
SEPTEMBER 1, 1984
5:45 p.m.

It is, I suppose, one of anthropology’s funny scenes. The sun setting, and I in a house that consists only of poles widely spaced, roofless, doorless, so that all I do is exposed to the eyes of twelve children. That which I do amuses them greatly: I am sitting in a director’s chair at a folding table drinking tea, with a weird assortment of goods scattered around on the bare soil.

Anderson and I arrived at 3:30 p.m., having driven 440 kilo meters from Harare and having been on the road since 6:00 a.m. with half an hour in Karoi. The journey was fine— rather like being massaged by t hose ma-chines that are supposed to tone your muscles and slim you down. The road varies from corrugations to potholes to deep sand with combinations of the three. Over the last 200 kilo meters we met only two busses, one van, two trucks, three warthogs, and many kudu.

On arrival and the discovery of only the bare frames of a kitchen and sleeping platform, I expressed some dis plea sure to Samuel, the builder, who is racing the setting sun to build a ladder to the platform of the busanza (my house on stilts) so that I can climb up there to sleep. I was a little scornful of his pro gress on my house after six weeks. A small audi-ence of children listened in fascination. Samuel has since enjoyed getting his own back making the children roar with laughter at my expense. It is a fine scene, with Samuel and his mate, Shadrick, working hard yet enter-taining the children. One boy has a fearfully distended belly; another eats cold sadza and relish beside my doorpost; yet another plays with a little girl who is in his charge.

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Paulina and I (looking bushed) at her homestead. Photo graph by Alexan-der Joe for the book Lwaano Lwanyika, © Pamela Reynolds and Colleen Crawford Cousins, circa 1985.

Now fourteen children stand and watch me. The sun goes down; there is a little light, and the scruffy ends of twine that tie the steps of the ladder are being trimmed. Who won? Not me. Return to laughter!

6:05 p.m.

I made a grand gesture of climbing the finished ladder and allowed more opportunity for laughter. I gave Samuel and his mate an orange each in ad-miration of their effort. It had ended amicably, and I said a firm “Goodnight,” at which every one miraculously dis appeared. I shall now have a whiskey on the platform and read Virginia Woolf ( ought to be Shakespeare).

I need a candle guard. I have bathed in the moonlight. A tub of warm water has been placed for me in a newly made bathing shelter of matting reed set around a plastered floor. Odd how many new skills one must learn— how to take a little water in a mug, how to balance a watch on a pole, how to dress while keeping feet and clothes dry and clean.

I have my whiskey and candle and book and have watched the final sun’s light go and listened to the new night noises: crickets, a child’s cry, men talking, pots banging, little children’s chatter, and my first mosquito’s whine. Difficult to keep the candle alight on my bare platform. Frogs, crickets, do I hear something more threatening? The night is mysterious beyond the circle of my flame. The bus from Harare is passing, almost empty. Ander-son comes and chats for a while. What joy is the peace after the last two frenetic weeks. I have forgotten methylated spirits, pillows, a stretcher, and copies of photo graphs taken on the last trip to hand out. No doubt much else. Oh well.
Anderson’s uncle ( father’s brother) was arrested on the 21st  of last month. The National Parks game guards caught him in the bush and ac-cused him of poaching. He denied it, but after some interrogation he ad-mitted to having been seen with wire. He is the head of Anderson’s section of Chitenge. He is awaiting trial in Kariba, and as fines have been stopped, he is likely to spend six months in jail.

Anderson told me that the young man with the wonderful crafted bas-ket of fish that he was carry ing from Musamba to a market in Harare, to whom we gave a lift from Musamba to Bumi in July, has been killed. An ex- girlfriend who was living at Groebler’s crocodile farm knifed him. She, too, had been a fish trader but had recently been living with a worker at the camp. She now awaits trial in Kariba and leaves behind three young children.

Anderson’s eldest son fetched me for supper of meat that I had brought from Karoi and sadza. I joined a delightful domestic scene with Anderson chatting animatedly with his wives and little Cosimos being small, vocif-erous, and tired. He would only eat meat and went off to bed saying, “I will not sleep on the mat as a rat will eat me. I shall sleep in your bed” (to his mother and father). The adults laughed.

As we finished eating, a Land Rover approached with one light. I thought, “Ah, that is Bernard” (for I knew that he was passing through Chitenge that day), and I went out to the road. And sure enough it was Bernard Whaley, a friend from my school days. He was with the people undertaking a canoe safari being filmed by a French crew. They were passing en route to Bumi, having canoed some distance down the Zambezi River from Victoria Falls. I appeared to be an apparition as I stepped into their headlights as they ap-proached the end of a long journey through the bush.

Now to sleep to the sound of drums. My house does look peculiar. A pristine white net hangs from a pole across the roofless top; my clothes are carefully arranged on hangers from the same pole; a white bag full of tape recorders, etc., hangs beside my black handbag from a branch of the pole. My large straw hat sits like a moth against the curve. The wind plays with the mosquito net and extinguishes my candle.

Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer on Writing a Duograph

howeboyerCymene Howe and Dominic Boyer are the authors of Wind and Power in the Anthropocene, a duograph in two volumes: Ecologics and Energopolitics. In this guest post, they explain just what a duograph is and how they came to write one.

 Winds of Desire

Few people realize that the wind that cuts across southern Mexico is among the best in the world for generating immense quantities of renewable electricity. Nor is it common knowledge that Oaxaca’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec has become home to the densest concentration of wind parks anywhere in the world. In our research, we wanted to understand the powers of that wind—its ability to shape political debates, to twist the direction of species, to designate economic prospects, to carve out new relations between indigenous peoples, to overturn semitrucks and to condition the future. In the Isthmus there is no escaping the wind. But, there are divergent ideas about how to best capture it, mold its kinetic intensities, and harness its potential. There are also real questions as to whether the wind, in itself, can or should be captured at all.

Our anthropological research set out to address a central question of Anthropocenic times: How will low-carbon energy transition take place and what occurs in those transitions? Who is allowed to set the agenda and who—human and otherwise—is affected? And finally, what are the political, social and elemental forces that shape the imaginaries for low-carbon energy futures?  Over the course of sixteen months of fieldwork, we spoke with representatives of every group of “stakeholders” in wind development in Mexico: community members and corporate executives; federal, state, and local government officials and NGO staff; industry lobbyists and anti-wind power activists; conservationists and media professionals; indigenous rights advocates, bankers, and federal judges.

We arrived at and left fieldwork as committed advocates for low-carbon energy transition. But our experiences in Mexico taught us that renewable energy can be installed in ways that do little to challenge the extractive logics that have undergirded petromodernity. Renewable energy matters, but it matters how it is brought into being and what forms of consultation and cooperation are used. We came to see that “wind power” has no singular form or meaning. Everywhere it was a different ensemble of force, matter, and desire—inherently multiple and turbulent.

To (try to) capture wind and power: a duograph

The traditional academic monograph is familiar to many readers. With Wind and Power in the Anthropocene we wanted to try something different. We call it a “duograph”: two single-authored volumes that draw from a shared research project and archive. Each volume of the duograph details different case studies and follows distinct lines of inquiry and theoretical travel. Collaborative research and writing are nothing new in anthropology and while coauthoring offers many opportunities to learn through dialogue, it also involves compromises and ultimately, a synthetic voice and direction. We wanted to experiment with a new form. Our two volumes of the duograph speak in parallel, but not always in unison.

Ecologics Ecologics, by Cymene Howe, follows the aspirations of a giant wind park destined for the isthmus, one that would have been the largest of its kind in all of Latin America, promising immense reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and opportunities for local development. Between the distinct imaginaries of environmental care and environmental harm the deeply relational qualities of energy and environment come into focus, illustrating that the dynamics of energy transition cannot be captured without understanding how human aspirations for energy articulate with or against nonhuman beings, technomaterial objects, and the geophysical forces that are at the center of wind power.

EnergopoliticsEnergopolitics, by Dominic Boyer, engages the case of Mexican wind power to develop an anthropological theory of political power for use in the Anthropocene anchored by discussions of “capital,” “biopower,” and Dominic’s own neologism, “energopower.” At the same time, the volume emphasizes the analytic limitations of these conceptual minima when confronted with the epistemic maxima of a situation of anthropological field research on political power. Those maxima not only exceed the explanatory potential of any given conceptual framework, they also resolutely demand the supplementary analytic work of history and ethnography. Energopolitics is thus an urgent invitation for Anthropocene political theory to un-make and remake itself through the process of fieldwork and ethnographic reflection.

We invite our readers to read these volumes synchronously, or not—to think of them as a Choose-your-own-Adventure trip, or to follow a character, human or otherwise. You are invited to riddle through the knots of aeolian politics or become absorbed in the meaning of trucks. Or, to perhaps pause for a minute to see the istmeño sky: filled with birds by day, bats by night and turbines for the foreseeable future.

Cymene Howe is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Rice University and author of Intimate Activism: The Struggle for Sexual Rights in Postrevolutionary Nicaragua. Dominic Boyer is Professor of Anthropology at Rice University, Founding Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS), and author of The Life Informatic: Newsmaking in the Digital Era. They also co-host a weekly podcast, Cultures of Energy, featuring discussions on innovative scholarship, activism and art making around issues of environment and energy.

Series Launch: Theory in Forms

This year we are pleased to launch a new series, Theory in Forms, edited by Nancy Rose Hunt and Achille Mbembe. A few of the books came out this spring and we have several more on the fall list.

Theory in Forms presents new writing showcasing the import of new political contours in our planetary times of crisis, racializations, and securitization. The books address temporal and spatial scales—whether global, transnational, or intimate—and emphasize movement, borders, enclaves, and impasses in (post)colonies, global South(s), and beyond. Inciting experimentation with structure, methods, and the practice of writing, the series argues that form enables theory. Theory in Forms seeks new work that addresses the politics of life and death—whether in history, anthropology, aesthetics, geography, architecture, urban design, or environmental, medical, oceanic, literary, and postcolonial studies—and creates a transversal space for new modes of writing, reflection, and timely interventions.

Experiments with Empire by Justin IzzoThe first book in this series is Experiments with Empire by Justin Izzo, which examines how twentieth-century writers, artists, and anthropologists from France, West Africa, and the Caribbean experimented with ethnography and fiction in order to explore new ways of knowing the colonial and postcolonial world. Focusing on novels, films, and ethnographies that combine fictive elements and anthropological methods and modes of thought, Izzo shows how empire gives ethnographic fictions the raw materials for thinking beyond empire’s political and epistemological boundaries.

 

The Fixer by Charles Piot

In the West African nation of Togo, applying for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery is a national obsession, with hundreds of thousands of Togolese entering each year. In The Fixer Charles Piot follows Kodjo Nicolas Batema, a Togolese visa broker—known as a “fixer”—as he shepherds his clients through the application and interview process. Relaying the experiences of the fixer, his clients, and embassy officials, Piot captures the ever-evolving cat-and-mouse game between the embassy and the hopeful Togolese as well as the disappointments and successes of lottery winners in the United States.

 

Colonial Transactions by Florence Bernault

In Colonial Transactions Florence Bernault moves beyond the racial divide that dominates colonial studies of Africa. Instead, she illuminates the strange and frightening imaginaries that colonizers and colonized shared on the ground. Bernault looks at Gabon from the late nineteenth century to the present, historicizing the most vivid imaginations and modes of power in Africa today: French obsessions with cannibals, the emergence of vampires and witches in the Gabonese imaginary, and the use of human organs for fetishes. Overturning theories of colonial and postcolonial nativism, this book is essential reading for historians and anthropologists of witchcraft, power, value, and the body.

Coming this fall we will publish series editor Achille Mbembe’s own book Necropolitics; Beneath the Surface: A Transnational History of Skin Lighteners by Lynn M. Thomas; and The Complete Lives of Camp People: Colonialism, Fascism, Concentrated Modernity by Rudolf Mrázek.

About the series editors: Nancy Rose Hunt is Professor of History & African Studies at the University of Florida, and the author of the prizewinning A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo. Achille Mbembe is Research Professor in History and Politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economy Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is author of Critique of Black Reason and coeditor of Johannesburg: The Elusive Metropolis. 

We look forward to watching this exciting new series expand. 

 

New Books in July

Our Spring 2019 season may be drawing to a close, but we’ve got some exciting new titles this month to help keep your summer reading in full swing. Check out our new releases for July!

HoweBoyerTogetherCymene Howe and Dominic Boyer have written a duograph subtitled “Wind and Power in the Anthropocene.” In Ecologics, Cymene Howe traces the complex relationships between humans, nonhuman beings and objects, and geophysical forces that shaped the Mareña Renovables project in Oaxaca, Mexico, which had it been completed, would have been Latin America’s largest wind power installation. In Energopolitics, Dominic Boyer examines the politics of wind power and how it is shaped by myriad factors—from the legacies of settler colonialism and indigenous resistance to state bureaucracy and corporate investment—while outlining the fundamental impact of energy and fuel on political power. The two books can be read together or separately and are available for purchase as a set at a special price.

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In Blood Work, Janet Carsten traces the multiple meanings of blood as it moves from donors to labs, hospitals, and patients in Penang, Malaysia, showing how those meanings provide a gateway to understanding the social, political, and cultural dynamics of modern life.

Leah Zani considers how the people and landscape of Laos have been shaped and haunted by the physical remains of unexploded ordnance from the CIA’s Secret War in Bomb Children.

Florence Bernault retells the colonial and postcolonial history of present-day Gabon from the late nineteenth century to the present in Colonial Transactions, showing how colonialism shaped French and Gabonese obsessions about fetish, witchcraft, and organ trafficking for ritual murders.

978-1-4780-0467-7_prIn The Uncaring, Intricate Worldedited by Todd Meyers, anthropologist Pamela Reynolds shares her fieldwork diary from her time spent in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi valley during the 1980s, in which she recounts the difficulties, pleasures, and contradictions of studying the daily lives of the Tonga people three decades after their forced displacement.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

 

 

Q&A with Charles Piot, author of The Fixer

153417_piot_charles001Charles Piot is Professor of Cultural Anthropology and African and African American Studies at Duke University where he does research on the political economy and history of rural West Africa. His new book The Fixer: Visa Lottery Chronicles, follows a visa broker—known as a “fixer”—in the West African nation of Togo as he helps his clients apply for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery program.

Briefly, what is the Diversity Visa lottery and why does it attract so many Togolese applicants annually? What drew you to tell this story of borders and migration?

The US Diversity Visa (DV) lottery, also referred to as the green card lottery, allocates 50,000 visas annually to those from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the US. Up to twenty million people from around the world apply each year, with winners selected by raffle. The DV program came into being in the mid-1990s, thanks to a powerful Irish lobby in Congress led by Teddy Kennedy—but that’s another (albeit fascinating and bizarre) story. Today, in a sweetly ironic postcolonial twist, Africans have become the DV’s main beneficiaries.

The FixerTogo’s unusually high number of annual applicants owes to its ongoing political and economic crisis, a crisis which dates to the 1990s when privation at home pushed many to search for a better life abroad. When the visa lottery—referred to locally as loto visa—first appeared and word of it spread to the streets of Lomé, Togo’s capital, it became all the rage and Togo quickly shot to the top of the list of per capita applications for the African continent.

I first became aware of Togolese enthusiasm for the DV during the early 2000s, when large banners began appearing outside cyber cafés in Lomé (where applicants went to complete the online registration), urging them to “get your USA visas here.” When I asked a friend about the DV’s infectious spread, he announced that he too was an enthusiast and yearly applicant, and that since he had never been selected he had begun signing up female friends, hoping that one might win and enable him to acquire a visa as trailing spouse. The following year, one of his enlistees was selected and he spent weeks chasing down the required documents (birth/marriage/work certificates) and preparing her for the embassy interview. Sadly, she failed the interview but along the way Kodjo became well-versed in the nuances of DV protocol and decided to go into the business—helping others apply online, assemble their documents, prepare for the embassy interview, and arrange financing. I was impressed not only with his success in getting visas for clients but also his ingenuity—and that of the street more generally—in gaming the process, and asked Kodjo if he would mind if I wrote about the DV, using stories he had shared with me. Surprisingly, he accepted and opened his archive to me. That article has now morphed into this co-authored book.

Kodjo Nicolas Batema is what the US embassy identifies as a “Fixer.” What does this term mean for those in the embassy and for the Togolese?

In Lomé, they call visa brokers like Kodjo traiteurs (those who “treat” identity documents); in Ghana they refer to them as connection men (hustlers who have the connections to get anything done); at the US embassy in Lomé, they refer to such brokers as fixers, because they operate in the shadows of the law, sometimes engaging in identity games to get visas for clients. Togolese, not only those on the street but also those in high places, see traiteurs like Kodjo quite differently from those at the embassy. They celebrate them as clever business men and entrepreneurs, even Robin Hood figures, engaged in making life better for compatriots overseas in a moment of privation at home.

What did you find was the biggest source of contention between the embassy and visa lottery hopefuls?

The embassy assumes that many who come for the interview are engaging in fraud, especially when a spouse appears on the dossier after winners have been announced. Consuls refer to such add-ons as “pop-ups” and seek to ferret out real from fake by separating spouses and putting them through the paces— “When were you married?” “Who attended?” “What were the marriage gifts?” “When did you first meet?” “What side of the bed do you sleep on?” “What’s your spouse’s favorite color?” —with inconsistent responses dooming a couple. But interviewees are coached by fixers before the interview – a Kodjo specialty—and usually know what questions to anticipate. Couples who marry for the visa also spend time together in the months leading up to the embassy interview—to better present as legitimate spouses—and sometimes fall for each other. I’m fascinated with such cases (and track several of them in the book), as they rebut consular assumptions that visa marriages are strictly expedient. As Kodjo once put it, “What’s the difference between meeting your spouse at the beach, at the shopping mall, or through the lottery?”

You compare Kodjo to familiar trickster gods, such as Anansi. What is it about Kodjo’s role that makes this comparison meaningful for you?

In West African folklore, the trickster is often an animal or insect who plays tricks on and outwits his enemies, usually someone more powerful—a chief, a deity, a colonial master. Kodjo strikes me as exemplifying many characteristics of the trickster – of someone using his smarts to get the best of those in authority—here, embassy gatekeepers who would block the movement of Togolese to greener pastures abroad. A trickster for postcolonial times.

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The Fixer is full of Kodjo’s cases, and his clients’ successes and failures. Which cases did you find the most exciting or interesting?

Always the ones that surprise, those with unexpected outcomes: the ones in which arranged marriages become real, or when consular suspicions go awry. Here’s one of the latter. A DV couple in the US petitioned to bring over their three children, but DNA tests (standard protocol in such cases) revealed that only two were positive for both parents while the third was positive for the wife alone. The consul assumed this indicated the couple was trying to cheat—to smuggle the child of another onto the dossier – and denied their petition. After a flurry of follow-up emails with the petitioning couple, however, he discovered that it was the woman’s infidelity (of which the husband was apparently unaware), not the couple’s deliberate attempt to add someone else’s child, that explained the discrepancy—and, in a nice gesture, he asked the woman to reapply alone for all three children. Salutary news for the couple, of course, but how they weathered the revelation that the wife had engaged in an extra-marital liaison, I do not know.

Here’s another case that caused a stir on the streets of Lomé. A male interviewee’s doctor’s report—it is mandatory to have a physical exam before the interview—noted that there was a scar on one of his legs. When the consular official conducting the interview read the report, he asked the man’s “wife” which leg her husband’s scar was on. When she guessed incorrectly, they failed the interview. The next day, all on the street knew why they had failed and began exploring the intimacies of their visa-spouses’ bodies.

And another, also with a disappointing outcome. During the interview, a pop-up couple was separated and aggressively interrogated by a Togolese member of the embassy’s fraud unit who had a reputation as a bully and fierce embassy loyalist. This questioner told the man—the “husband” —that when they turned up the heat on his wife, she spilled the beans and admitted that theirs was not a real marriage. “But,” the interrogator continued, “since you were the winner, we’ll give you a visa [while denying her] —if you tell the truth.” The man fell into the trap, and when the couple was called before the consul, they were confronted with their differing accounts—the woman had stuck to the story that they were real spouses—and both were denied. When the young man visited Kodjo the next day to complain, he was met with little sympathy. Kodjo told him he’d warned him of exactly this possibility and that he had no one to blame but himself.

Here’s a similar case with a more upbeat outcome. During the embassy interview, the consul challenged a DV selectee by telling her that she didn’t believe she was really married to the man on her dossier—but that she would give her the visa while denying him. Without missing a beat, the woman responded that the man was indeed her husband (though in fact he was not) and that if he was not granted a visa, she would refuse hers. This seemed proof enough for the consul, and both were granted visas. Kodjo’s commentary: “It takes this type of courage to pass the interview.”

In The Fixer you highlight laughter and its presence in the face of precarity as important threads throughout your book. WHY? Were there any particularly funny moments for you? Were there any moments of laughter that particularly surprised you?

A first impression of many who visit West Africa is the pervasiveness of laughter—on city streets, in the markets and villages. Togolese love repartee and banter, and relish making fun of those who misstep or are dim-witted, while the vernacular comedian who comes with the quick one-liner is the envy of all. And yet this is the poorest, most economically-deprived region in the world today. How to make sense of this antinomy, the side-by-side presence/entanglement of humor and precarious life? I wanted to write a book that would acknowledge this conjuncture and unsettle the commonplace view that poverty and a dour everyday disposition necessarily accompany one another. But more, critical theory in anthropology today, with its preoccupation with suffering and trauma— “suffering slot” anthropology, Joel Robbins has called it—inhabits an often-dismal, humorless space of critique. I wanted to use the Togolese material to disturb that goes-without-saying reflex and make room for pleasure alongside precarity in my analysis.

Do you see The Fixer shifting existing conversations about migration and immigration practices? How so?

With seventy million migrant-refugees on the move today worldwide, mobility has become the issue of our time. As have mobility’s travails—especially at a moment when border walls and biometric tracking have become the order of the day. Today’s world is one of enclosures and fences, one in which security has replaced freedom as core value.

Neither celebratory nor tragic, my account aims to humanize the West African migrant by giving agency and voice to migrant experience, and by situating these sojourners within precarious West African times, while also putting border practice and consular decision-making under the microscope.

One of the grave injustices in today’s world is that metropolitan border policy means that most on the African continent will never be able to travel and will remain enclaved/incarcerated at home. As such, they are denied access to a world they helped create—through the wealth produced by the Atlantic slave economies, through colonial systems that accumulated raw materials for European industry, through the contemporary extraction of oil and minerals—including the coltan that powers the world’s cell phones and laptops. Why should this continent be denied its due, especially when its denizens are the best of workers and citizens wherever they land?

Read the introduction to The Fixer free online and save 30% on the paperback edition using coupon code E19PIOT.

Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month Reads

In honor of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are featuring some of our recent books and journals that explore Asian American and Pacific Islander studies.

racial melancholiaDavid L. Eng and Shinhee Han draws on psychoanalytic case histories from the mid-1990s to the present to explore how first- and second-generation Asian American young adults deal with difficulties such as depression, suicide, and coming out within the larger social context of race, immigration, and sexuality in Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation.

Also looking at the lives of young Asian Americans,  Straight A’s, edited by Christine R. Yano, Neal K. Adolph Akatsuka, features personal narratives of undergraduate students at Harvard University in which they reflect on their shared experiences with discrimination, stereotypes, immigrant communities, their relationship to their Asian heritage, and the difficulties that come with being expected to reach high levels of achievement.

In Paradoxes of Hawaiian SovereigntyJ. Kēhaulani Kauanui examines contradictions of indigeneity and self-determination in U.S. domestic policy and international law, showing how Hawaiian elites’ approaches to reforming land, gender, and sexual regulation in the early nineteenth century that paved the way for sovereign recognition of the kingdom complicate contemporary nationalist activism, which too often includes disavowing the indigeneity of indigenous Hawaiians.

Dean Itsuji Saranillio’s Unsustainable Empire offers a bold challenge to conventional understandings of Hawai‘i’s admission as a U.S. state. Saranillio shows that statehood was neither the expansion of U.S. democracy nor a strong nation swallowing a weak and feeble island nation, but the result of a U.S. nation whose economy was unsustainable without enacting a more aggressive policy of imperialism. With clarity and persuasive force about historically and ethically complex issues, Unsustainable Empire provides a more complicated understanding of Hawai‘i’s admission as the fiftieth state and why Native Hawaiian place-based alternatives to U.S. empire are urgently needed.

postcolonial griefIn Postcolonial Grief, Jinah Kim explores Asian and Asian American texts from 1945 to the present that mourn the loss of those killed by U.S. empire building and militarism in the Pacific, showing how the refusal to heal from imperial violence may help generate a transformative antiracist and decolonial politics.

In Migrant Futures, Aimee Bahng traces the cultural production of futurity by juxtaposing the practices of speculative finance against those of speculative fiction, showing how speculative novels, films, and narratives create alternative futures that envision the potential for new political economies, social structures, and subjectivities that exceed the framework of capitalism.

worldmakingDorinne Kondo draws on critical ethnographic work and over twenty years of experience as a dramaturge and playwright to theorize how racialized labor, aesthetics, affect, genre, and social inequity operate in contemporary theater in Worldmaking.

Jan M. Padios examines the massive call center industry in the Philippines in the context of globalization, race, gender, transnationalism, and postcolonialism in A Nation on the Line. She outlines how it has become a significant site of efforts to redefine Filipino identity and culture, the Philippine nation-state, and the value of Filipino labor.

Migrant Returns  by Eric J. Pido also takes a transnational look at the Filipino experience. His award-winning book examines the complicated relationship between the Philippine economy, Manila’s urban development, and Filipino migrants visiting or returning to their homeland, showing migration to be a multidirectional, layered, and continuous process with varied and often fraught outcomes.

Interrogating “Diversity”

pcl_31_2_coverThe newest issue of Public Culture, “Interrogating ‘Diversity,’” edited by Damani J. Partridge and Matthew Chin, is available now.

Since the 1970s, the global practice of diversity has sparked a number of inclusion initiatives, such as affirmative action in universities, implemented to redress historical inequality. Contributors to this special issue argue that, in recent years, these initiatives have shifted away from their original intent toward a concept of “diversity” in which inclusion systematically denies access to minoritized populations.

“At elite institutions and in high-paying jobs in various global contexts, diversity has come to mean a sprinkling of color or the contingent presence of the ‘disadvantaged’ in otherwise majoritarian ‘White’ or upper-class/high-caste institutions,” write the editors in their introduction.

“Our call to interrogate diversity has also led us to collectively think beyond, outside, and in spite of diversity,” the editors continue. “It is not that we are against inclusion, but we cannot justify forms of inclusion that necessarily (even systematically) limit access. This includes forms that do very little to create possibilities for those who have systematically faced barriers that deny entrance. Interrogating diversity cannot mean sustaining existing institutions as we already know them. This process must be engaged in an activist, collective, and participatory project of social transformation.”

Read the introduction, freely available, or browse the table of contents.

New Books in May

Jump-start your summer reading with one of our new titles this May!

In Coral Empire Ann Elias traces the history of two explorers whose photographs and films of tropical reefs in the 1920s cast corals and the sea as an unexplored territory to be exploited in ways that tied the tropics and reefs to colonialism, racism, and the human domination of nature.

The contributors to Remaking New Orleans, edited by Thomas Jessen Adams and Matt Sakakeeny, challenge the uncritical acceptance of New Orleans-as-exceptional narratives, showing how they flatten the diversity, experience, and culture of the city’s residents and obscure other possible understandings.

The ChasersRenato Rosaldo’s new prose poetry collection, The Chasers, shares his experiences and those of his group of twelve Mexican-American Tucson High School friends known as the Chasers as they grew up, graduated, and fell out of touch, conveying the realities of Chicano life on the borderlands from the 1950s to the present.

In Queering Black Atlantic Religions Roberto Strongman examines three Afro-diasporic religions—Hatian Vodou, Cuban Lucumí/Santería, and Brazilian Candomblé—to demonstrate how the commingling of humans and the divine during trance possession produce subjectivities whose genders are unconstrained by biological sex.

Written in 1937, published in Spanish in 1973, and appearing here in English for the first time, Freddy Prestol Castillo’s novel You Can Cross the Massacre on Foot is one of the few accounts of the 1937 massacre of tens of thousands of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.

Book Reports

In Book Reports, a generous collection of book reviews and literary essays, rock critic Robert Christgau shows readers a different side to his esteemed career with reviews of books ranging from musical autobiographies, criticism, and histories to novels, literary memoirs, and cultural theory.

The contributors to From Russia with Code, edited by Mario Biagioli and Vincent Antonin Lépinay, examine Russian computer scientists, programmers, and hackers in and outside of Russia within the context of new international labor markets and the economic, technological, and political changes in post-Soviet Russia.

In Camp TV Quinlan Miller reframes American television history by tracing a camp aesthetic and the common appearance of trans queer gender characters in both iconic and lesser known sitcoms throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

The coauthors of Decolonizing Ethnography integrate ethnography with activist work in a New Jersey center for undocumented workers, showing how anthropology can function as a vehicle for activism and as a tool for marginalized people to theorize their own experiences.

In Work! Elspeth H. Brown traces modeling’s history from the advent of photographic modeling in the early twentieth century to the rise of the supermodel in the 1980s, showing how it is both the quintessential occupation of a modern consumer economy and a practice that has been shaped by queer sensibilities.

In Figures of Time Toni Pape examines contemporary television that often presents a conflict-laden conclusion first before relaying the events that led up to that inevitable ending, showing how this narrative structure attunes audiences to the fear-based political doctrine of preemption—a logic that justifies preemptive action to nullify a perceived future threat.

In Anti-Japan Leo T. S. Ching traces the complex dynamics that shape persisting negative attitudes toward Japan throughout East Asia, showing how anti-Japanism stems from the failed efforts at decolonization and reconciliation, the U.S. military presence, and shifting geopolitical and economic conditions in the region.

The Cuba Reader

Tracking Cuban history from 1492 to the present, this revised and expanded second edition of The Cuba Reader presents myriad perspectives on Cuba’s history, culture, and politics, including a new section that explores the changes and continuities in Cuba since Fidel Castro stepped down from power in 2006.

The Fernando Coronil Reader, a posthumously published collection of anthropologist Fernando Coronil’s most important work, highlights his deep concern with the global South, Latin American state formation, theories of nature, empire and postcolonialism, and anthrohistory as an intellectual and ethical approach.

The extensively updated and revised third edition of the bestselling Social Medicine Reader (Volume I and Volume II) provides a survey of the challenging issues facing today’s health care providers, patients, and caregivers with writings by scholars in medicine, the social sciences, and the humanities. It will be a great addition to courses in public health, medicine, nursing, and more.

Catherine Waldby traces how the history of the valuing of human oocytes—the reproductive cells specific to women—intersects with the biological and social life of women in her new book The Oocyte Economy.

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