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.

“Emotion and Visuality in Chinese Literature and Culture”

“Emotion or qing 情 has been identified at the core of Chinese thinking about literature, such that ‘lyrical tradition’ becomes an encompassing concept for many to distinguish Chinese literary tradition from its Western counterpart,” write the editors of the newest Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture issue in their introduction, freely available

“Emotion and Visuality in Chinese Literature and Culture” explores topics such as the presence of emotion in medieval Chinese burials; image-text relationships of gendered emotions, such as is depicted in the “hundred beauties” (baimei 百美) genre of the late Ming and Qing dynasties; and the affective experience of Chinese culture, as evidenced in the works of Chinese artists Chen Hongshou, Qiu Canzhi, and Yuan Kewen.

Browse the table of contents, read the introduction, and sign up for email alerts to not miss an issue.

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. 

 

Interview with Jonathan Oberlander, New Editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law

We sat down with Jonathan Oberlander, the new editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law (JHPPL), to discuss his vision for the journal, what sets JHPPL apart, and what he’s looking for in submissions. Oberlander is Professor and Chair of Social Medicine, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What is your professional background, and what brought you to JHPPL?

I’m a political scientist by training, and I actually started out studying Middle Eastern politics before moving into health care. I must be drawn to irresolvable conflicts. When I applied to graduate school, I applied half to universities in Middle Eastern politics and half in health care politics. I wound up going to graduate school in American politics, with a focus on health care, and as a PhD student, I worked with Ted Marmor, who was one of the founders of the field of health politics in the United States and a former editor of JHPPL.

I grew up on JHPPL, and I’ve known other editors—Ted Marmor, Colleen Grogan, Eric Patashnik, Mark Peterson, Mark Schlesinger, Michael Sparer, Larry Brown, Jim Morone—they’re all colleagues and friends of mine. It was the first journal I ever published in as a graduate student, and it has remained the core journal in my professional life. I’ve been involved in one way or another with the journal for a long time.

What is your vision for JHPPL? What do you hope to accomplish as editor, and how do you see the journal evolving under your leadership?

I think Eric has been an excellent editor, and I want to build on what he’s done. This is an exciting time in health care policy and reform, a time of tremendous volatility and change, and JHPPL has much to say about that change and about what’s going on in health care reform.

I want the journal to be an influential voice in commenting on the direction of health care policy both in the United States and abroad. We’re coming up on the tenth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act; the journal has had a lot to say about the ACA, and we will have a lot to say marking the 10th anniversary of its enactment.

I want the journal to publish not just on health care reform but to deepen our engagement in the politics of public health, and to publish on a wide variety of issues, from the politics of reproductive health to the opioid epidemic to tobacco regulation and much more. I want us to be capacious in thinking about the kind of work we’re going to publish, and to think about health care politics as a very broad area that includes health care reform, insurance, and financing but is actually much broader than that.

Are you planning any special issues?

Nothing is final, but I have a few things in mind. Certainly the Affordable Care Act at 10 is one. I’d like to do a special issue on prescription drug costs and pricing, and one on the future of Roe v. Wade and reproductive health policy in this country. Immigration and health is certainly an issue that JHPPL should pay attention to, and the future of tobacco regulation is another one. These are all ideas swimming around, and we’ll see which ones get to the surface.

What qualities set JHPPL apart from other journals in the field?

I think the articles that JHPPL publishes have a substantive depth to them that’s singular. Health policy is a changing field; there’s a lot in health care policy that is fleeting, of the moment. I think JHPPL has always been committed to publishing articles that have intellectual rigor, scholarly depth, and a half-life beyond the next week’s headlines.

We’re also highly interdisciplinary. The journal has published political scientists, economists, health services researchers, lawyers, public health researchers, sociologists, and more, and I think that interdisciplinary nature is core to JHPPL’s identity. We want to publish articles that are of interest and accessible to our myriad disciplinary audiences.

What are you looking for in submissions?

We’re looking for pieces that speak to the core issues and themes that JHPPL is known for. We’re going to be looking broadly—we want submissions from authors who haven’t written for JHPPL before. We want more submissions from fields that JHPPL has published in but perhaps not yet in great quantity. Ultimately, what we’re really looking for is quality, and articles that have depth, accessibility, and that are compelling and engaging no matter what the discipline is.

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.

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LGBTQ History

As we remember the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we’re highlighting some LGBTQ history and memoirs of activists and scholars that we’ve published over the years.

My Butch CareerIn My Butch Career, anthropologist Esther Newton tells the compelling and disarming story of her struggle to write, teach, and find love, all while coming to terms with her lesbian identity during one of the worst periods of homophobic persecution in the twentieth century. Writing in Curve magazine, Victoria A. Brownworth says, “What makes My Butch Career so compelling is that while writing about herself, Newton is also examining her milieu with the eye of the cultural anthropologist she became. The story she tells is as much our story as it is hers.” Newton also wrote an essay collection about her academic life, Margaret Mead Made Me Gay, and a history of Cherry Grove, Fire Island, a gay and lesbian resort community near New York City.

The Rest of ItHistorian Martin Duberman has written several memoirs. The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some, 1976–1988 tells the previously untold and revealing story of a twelve-year period in his life filled with despair, drug addiction, and debauchery, yet also a particularly productive time in his professional life. In Lambda Literary Review, D. Gilson wrote,We queers are better off, better informed and better empowered, for Duberman’s astute, engaged lifetime of work. We are also better off for reading The Rest of It, for understanding the beautifully written history of one man, yes, but in effect, a part of the history of us all.”

In her memoir My Dangerous Desires, Amber Hollibaugh fiercely and fearlessly analyzes her own political development as a response to her unique personal history. She explores the concept of labeling and the associated issues of categories such as butch or femme, transgender, bisexual, top or bottom, drag queen, b-girl, or drag king and examines the relationship between activism and desire, as well as how sexuality can be intimately tied to one’s class identity.

DepressionIn Depression: A Public Feeling, Ann Cvetkovich combines memoir and critical essay in search of ways of writing about depression as a cultural and political phenomenon that offer alternatives to medical models. “Depression succeeds at opening up a public discussion on certain kinds of depression that are often dismissed as trivial, like the stress of academic labour,” said William Burton in Lambda Literary Review. Cvetkovich’s book has become a must-read for many stressed-out graduate students.

Exile and Pride is Eli Clare’s revelatory writing about his experiences as a white disabled genderqueer activist/writer established him as one of the leading writers on the intersections of queerness and disability and permanently changed the landscape of disability politics and queer liberation. Jewelle Gomez says, “Eli Clare writes with the spirit of a poet and the toughness of a construction worker.”

Exile within ExilesTurning from memoir to biography, check out Exile within Exiles: Herbert Daniel, Gay Brazilian Revolutionary by James N. Green. Herbert Daniel was a significant and complex figure in Brazilian leftist revolutionary politics and social activism from the mid-1960s until his death in 1992. Writing in HIV Plus magazine, Donald Padgett says, “Exile Within Exiles speaks to Daniel’s personal struggle not just against the Brazilian dictatorship but also the left’s construction of revolutionary masculinity — as well as his ultimate losing battle against AIDS.”

Hold On to Your Dreams is Tim Lawrence’s biography of the musician and composer Arthur Russell, one of the most important but least known contributors to New York’s downtown music scene during the 1970s and 1980s. Lawrence traces Russell’s odyssey from his hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa, to countercultural San Francisco, and eventually to New York, where he lived from 1973 until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1992. In Bookforum, John Rockwell wrote, “Russell has inspired a book that helps us understand a thrilling twenty-five years of American cultural history.”

Be sure to check out all our LGBTQ Studies titles. They include Kristen Hogan’s history of the feminist bookstore movement; Me and My House, in which Magdalena J. Zaborowska explores James Baldwin’s final decade living in exile in France; Arresting Dress, Clare Sears’s book on cross-dressing in nineteenth-century San Francisco; and Safe Space, in which Christina B. Hanhardt examines how LGBTQ citizens’ desire for a “safe space” is tied up with the gentrification of cities.

And check out “Gay Power circa 1970: Visual Strategies for Sexual Revolution,” an article by Richard Meyer in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, which explores the role of visual images in the gay liberation movement, including the Stonewall Riots.

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.

Director Steve Cohn Retires

Steve Cohn (2)Steve Cohn, director of Duke University Press for twenty-five years, retires at the end of this week. He told the Duke Chronicle, “It has been a wild ride—sometimes wonderfully challenging, sometimes challenging to the point where I had no idea how we’d make it through—but in the end a very successful one.” To honor Steve, we offer some tributes from people who have worked with him over the years.

“I knew at the time when the provost asked me to take up a leadership position at the press that Steve was fully in support of that action, even though he obviously had credentials infinitely superior to mine. Later I understood that Steve was acting in character; that is, he was being generous and professional and putting what he saw as the needs of the press ahead of his own ambitions. Steve has always been a ‘company man,’ someone whose loyalty and devotion to the enterprise was obvious at every moment. I cherish my own tenure at the Press and attribute the success that we had in those years to Steve’s extraordinary dedication. And he also put up with me.” —Stanley Fish, Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Law at Florida International University and former Director of Duke University Press

“My first job at DUP was as the first assistant Steve Cohn had ever had. While I think I taught him some things about how to be assisted, he taught me a great deal more, through the example of his leadership: how to act with integrity; how to disagree strongly without making enemies; how to listen to and consider differing perspectives; how to communicate clearly and directly; and so much more. Steve’s leadership has shaped the strong organization we have become.”—Patty Chase, Steve’s former assistant and current Digital Content Manager

“Thank you for being kind, patient, and enthusiastic about the topic at hand (no matter what it was).”—Maria Volpe, Steve’s current assistant

“I’ve worked with Steve for more than twenty years and throughout that time I’ve always been impressed by his integrity, his devotion to our mission, his accessibility to his staff, and his commitment to being transparent in his decision-making. Sometimes that means we get more information than we actually want! Personally, I’ll miss Steve’s subtle sense of humor, his kind advice about parenting, and his deep historical knowledge of the Press and of Durham.”—Laura Sell, Publicity and Advertising Manager

“Steve Cohn’s thoughtful stewardship of the Press, his commitment to having all staff participate in the strategic planning process, and his zeal not only for our mission but for the publishing industry in general have made him an exceptional leader. I’ve enjoyed hearing stories about the extraordinary lengths Steve went to to recruit people to the Press in its less-robust days (including loaning one of them his caravan), and I am grateful for the work he put into making the Press what it is today.”—Jocelyn Dawson, Journals Marketing Manager

“With smarts, integrity, and humor of an infectiously subtle kind, Steve has stewarded DUP to the cutting-edge prominence it holds today as kick-ass academic press #1. Steadfast in vision, bold in execution, with the chops to be daring, Steve has been an exemplary director. His legacy will linger for a very long time. But his presence will be sorely missed. Thank you Steve for making the press, and involvement with it, such a richly intellectual engagement.”—Anne Allison, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and member of the Press’s Editorial Advisory Board

“The press has benefited greatly from Steve’s publishing entrepreneurial vision and we’ve come a long way in his many years as director. I’ve really enjoyed working for him these past nine years. I have truly appreciated his support of our working environment of creative collaboration that drives and enables DUP successes. I wish him lots of lazy days of biking, reading, kayaking, and traveling in his retirement.”—Nancy Hoagland, Director of Editing, Design, and Production

“Steve Cohn leaves an amazing legacy at Duke University Press. He has shaped the Press with his independent and innovative ideas and through setting ambitious, long term goals. His entrepreneurial approach has challenged the organization to innovate and to embrace change, such as being one of the first UPs to establish and successfully sell our own electronic journals and books collections. He has successfully led the Press through huge changes in the scholarly publishing industry and fluctuations in the US marketplace while continuing to grow the Press so that it is set up to thrive in the future. Many thanks, Steve, for all of your hard work and dedication. “—Cason Lynley, Director of Marketing and Sales

“Whenever I’ve needed help, Steve has been available with an amazing and immediate command of detail, the right questions, and ideas that have taught me time and again how to balance pragmatism and our mission. I’ve always left the room with a solid plan and a lighter mind. Thank you for everything, and congratulations, Steve!”—Leslie Eager, Director of Publishing Services, Project Euclid

“I’ll always be grateful for Steve’s vision, creativity, and tenacity, In 2010, he envisioned Duke University Press as a digital publisher of distinction, and set us a goal of selecting, producing, marketing, and selling our digital publications with as much expertise and finesse as we did our print books and journals. To drive us forward in this area, Steve tapped me to lead our digital publishing strategy, and in doing so, provided me with a tremendous opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the Press and to scholarly publishing more generally. I am the publishing professional I am today due in large part because Steve shared generously his vast store of publishing knowledge and insight. For this and so much more, thank you, Steve.”—Allison Belan, Associate Director, Digital Strategy & Systems

“Steve envisioned what the Press could become and was the brilliant planner able to bring it into being. Each time the publishing environment changed for books or for journals, he was looking ahead to see what we needed to do in order to flourish five and ten years out. His guidance and leadership will be long remembered. He never told us what to publish, but always made it better.”—Ken Wissoker, Editorial Director

In his retirement, Steve plans to devote more time to the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, of which he is president. All of us at the Press will miss him and wish him the best in all his future endeavors. We are welcoming our new director, Dean Smith, on June 25.

Summer Reading Recommendations from Our Staff

It’s the first day of summer here in the northern hemisphere. Looking for a great read for the July 4th holiday or for an upcoming vacation? Our staff love to read and today they share their summer reading recommendations. Head out to your local bookstore and grab a copy of one of these great books.

The QueenSenior Project Editor Charles Brower says, “I’m currently devouring Josh Levin’s The Queen, a page-turning combination of true crime and political history. It’s about the unbelievably twisty life of con artist, kidnapper, and (possible) murderer Linda Taylor, who became the most notorious ‘Welfare Queen’ of the 1970s and, as such, was a figurehead of Reagan’s racist attacks on the poor, particularly women of color. Taylor is mostly forgotten, but the stereotype she inspired, unfortunately, lives on.”

Jocelyn Dawson, our Journals Marketing Manager, recommends the memoir Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb. “It is written by a therapist experiencing her own personal crisis. She also captures the emotional journeys of several of her clients (who gave her permission to write about them under disguised identities). I picked this up thinking it would be a light read, but it’s incredibly moving with a nice balance of humor and insight. One of my top books this year.”

How to Do Nothing.jpgHow to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell is Digital Content Manager Patty Chase’s pick. “I read this over the course of several days on the porch of a mountain cabin, which was the perfect place to disconnect from information overload, and Jenny Odell was the perfect guide. This book has helped me to slow down and savor life’s moments, and to regain control over where I place my attention. It’s also a great companion to the Duke University Press book Counterproductive by Melissa Gregg, which I also read recently.”

Makers.jpgCopywriter Chris Robinson recommends Makers, by Cory Doctorow. “Makers is set in the near future and is about two inventors and their squatter community in Florida who are at the forefront of a new mode of work and economics who end up hacking Disney. I love Doctorow’s speculative/science fiction for his combination of technology, critique of capitalism, hacker culture, and his relatable and sympathetic characters. He makes me want to figure out how to hack capitalism!”

Production Coordinator Nancy Sampson says, “I’d like to recommend a mystery series by Cara Black, the Aimee Leduc Investigations. Each story is set in a different arrondissement in Paris and you learn a little bit about Parisian societal structure, architecture, and history in between the main plots of murder and intrigue. The main characters are consistent throughout but the books don’t necessarily need to be read in order. It is fun to follow Aimee, the main character, on her sidetracked adventures and the author is great at conveying locations in Paris that most tourists would never be aware of.”

Dear Mrs BirdMaria Volpe, the Administrative Assistant to the Director, suggests Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce. “Such an easy and enjoyable read – I couldn’t finish it fast enough! It was charming, funny and heartwarming all at the same time. It was recommended for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.”

Publicity and Advertising Manager Laura Sell recommends The Farm by Joanne Ramos. “The Farm is a dystopian novel set in a very near, recognizable and realistic future. Immigrant women are put up at a luxury facility outside New York City where they serve as surrogates for wealthy people. The novel addresses income inequality, the immigrant experience, working mothers, and surveillance capitalism in a brisk but heartbreaking way.”

Invention of natureKatja Moos, our Digital Collections Sales Manager, is reading The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf. She says, “This is a nonfiction book that reads like an adventure story. The discoveries and reflections of this famous early nineteenth century visionary German scientist, naturalist and polymath read like short stories that weave together traveling the world, relationships with iconic writers and scientists, and today’s issues of climate change and environmentalism.”

Whatever your summer plans, we hope they include reading!