Robots: The Backstories

by Jennifer Robertson, author of Robo sapiens japanicus: Robots, Gender, Family, and the Japanese Nation

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

Today robots have become, in the words of a Boston Globe headline from 2014, “the 21st century’s must-study subject.” Unless one is living in isolation or off the grid, one cannot avoid noticing that robots are in the news and entertainment media everyday. The scholarly literature on robots has also expanded exponentially, and the field of robotics is front and center in superheated debates about autonomous cars.

All the media attention paid these days to robots makes it a daunting challenge to write about them, as I realized while organizing my field notes and crafting my book. A major task I faced was to finesse the disconnect between actual robots and the robots that populate science fiction comics, novels, and movies. Although technologically complex, the former are clumsy, slow, and underwhelming compared to the latter. Video PR footage of actual robots moving is typically speeded up significantly, sometimes ten to thirty times their original speed, and is heavily edited to create the illusion of smooth, coordinated movement.

I also had to deal with the fact that the field of robotics and related technologies is evolving so quickly and in so many directions that research focused solely on highlighting the newest gee-whiz models quickly becomes out of date. How to keep my book relevant even after the robots featured in it were obsolete was a major concern. In addition, while seeking to analyze cross-cultural differences in attitudes toward robot-human interactions, I was careful to avoid fueling the stereotype of “the Japanese” as gadget obsessed and culturally prone to desiring robot companions over human ones.

My solution to these quandaries was to explore and interrogate the type of national cultural, social institutional, and gendered family structures within which humans and robots are imagined to coexist. I also researched and crafted substantive historical backstories to help contextualize the “imagineering” of human-robot relationships since the mid 1920s when, newly coined, “robot” (robotto) became a household word. Today, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, whose two separate terms in office bookend my work, is a leading promoter of robotizing the Japanese labor force. His 2007 blueprint for Japan, Innovation 25, anticipated the “robot revolution” formally announced in 2015. Abe is keen on making Japan a society in which robots of all configurations are utilized more than anywhere in the world, from agriculture to eldercare. He is also planning to use the 2020 Olympics to showcase robots in a separate “robot Olympics.” Although the robots displayed will be those made for the civilian market, Abe, like his Euro-American counterparts, is keen on parlaying robots in the lucrative weapons economy.

In Japan, the family or household is the place where robots will be domesticated and even given citizenship. Only in the past few years has this scenario become common in the United States and western European countries as evident in advertisements for gendered domestic robots called “Mother” and “Buddy.” Although it was broadcast in late October that Sophia, an android commissioned by the Saudi government, was the first robot to be granted citizenship, the fact is that the first robot to be granted citizenship was Paro, a Japanese robot seal recognized as the “World’s Most Therapeutic Robot.” Paro was added to his inventor’s family registry or koseki in 2010, which is irrefutable proof of Japanese citizenship.

The family or household is also the framework for a list of robot laws drawn up by writer and cartoonist Osamu Tezuka, the Japanese counterpart and contemporary of Isaac Asimov, whose robot laws are of a more abstract, universal nature. I argue that as Americans and Europeans become more comfortable with the prospect of sociable household robots, they will regard the family as the metaphor and model of human-robot relationships, just as they already do for animal pets.

And, just like in families when a relative passes away, a robot member will be similarly grieved and eulogized. Robot and computer funeral services have been provided by Buddhist temples for several years now. The glum looking humanoid robots on the cover of my book are in a holding cage at Osaka University waiting to be taken to a recycling center. It has never been confirmed if they were memorialized at a temple before being dismantled.


Jennifer Robertson is Professor of Anthropology and the History of Art at the University of Michigan. She is author of Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan and Native and Newcomer: Making and Remaking a Japanese City.


Make the Han Great Again

by Kevin Carrico, author of The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

Blame placed upon minorities and foreigners. Calls for isolation from the outside world to protect our way of life. Visions of a lost past, the good old days, needing to be recaptured.

For anthropologists gathering in Washington, DC for the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, these concepts will naturally bring to mind recent developments in politics in the United States. But these are also in fact issues addressed in my recent ethnography of race and traditionalism in urban China, The Great Han.

The Great Han is based in fieldwork across China with members of the Han Clothing Movement (Hanfu yundong), a grassroots nationalist group that has emerged in cities across China since 2001. Although “the Han” is China’s majority ethnicity, constituting 92% of the country’s population and playing a dominant role in the country’s political, economic, and cultural life, members of the Han Clothing Movement see the Han as an oppressed people, prevented from realizing their full potential, and thus China’s full potential. Why do these members of a dominant majority ethnicity see themselves as marginalized victims? In my analysis of majority nationalism, I interpret nationalism as an autopoeitic social system driven forward in the tension between boundless national fantasies and inherently bounded national realities, such that the reality of China today is interpreted as not corresponding to a fundamentally impossible yet alluring vision of “the real China.”

In response to this perceived dilemma, movement participants strive to bridge this distance from their “real China,” by promoting a purportedly ancient yet recently invented style of ethnic clothing, alongside reinvented rituals, etiquette, and traditional education. Having established the founding dilemma of Han nationalism in the first half of the book, in the second half I analyse various means by which participants seek to resolve these dilemmas: clothing that stabilizes, naturalizes, and eternalizes a romantic vision of Han identity; ritual that produces sequestered micro-spheres in which their ideal visions can be acted out without interference; and conspiracy theories that provide seamless narratives of Han innocence and goodness. These cultural manifestations of the movement, presented as “traditions,” in fact emerge primarily from the contradictions of the present, serving simultaneously as symptom and fleeting cure.

In tune with the theme of this year’s meeting, Anthropology Matters, I would like to suggest that in this age of newly emerging and revitalized global authoritarianisms, anthropology matters more than ever: a comparative anthropology of nationalism and racism can shed new light on the micropolitics of these troubling new trends, taking critical account of both global dilemmas and unique local experiences.


Kevin Carrico is Lecturer in the Department of International Studies at Macquarie University and the translator of Tsering Woeser’s Tibet on Fire.


The Tide Was Always High: Tune In to December’s Playlist

Within the history of Los Angeles, the Latin American cadence is hard to ignore: Among the city’s most consistent beats, its most influential set of rhythms and melodies, are those that have arrived after traveling through a century or two of cultural contact and musical creativity in the Americas and across the African Diaspora. . . . Latin American music in Los Angeles is past and future at once.—Josh Kun, in his introduction to The Tide Was Always High

Musical Interventions—the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA concert series curated by Josh Kun—wraps up this weekend, but you can still get your fill of cha cha cha rhythms and mambo melodies with his latest playlist below. And the accompanying book The Tide Was Always High is available to deepen your knowledge of Latin music and its impact on Los Angeles and American culture.

From Hollywood film sets to recording studios, vaudeville theaters to Sunset Strip nightclubs, the book explores the deep connections between Los Angeles and Latin America. Take a peek inside at some of the lush vintage album covers and check out LA Weekly for an excerpt connecting the dots between Latin music, Blondie, Mission: Impossible, and the Million Dollar Theater.

Musical Interventions
Event details at tidewasalwayshigh.com

December 2, 2017: That Bad Donato: The L.A. Brazil Connection—at Royce Hall, UCLA

This special evening revisits the 1970 album by legendary Brazilian pianist, producer and arranger João Donato, A Bad Donato (recorded in L.A.), and other moments of “Brazil-in-L.A”. musical creativity. Inspired by the Fowler Museum at UCLA exhibition Axé Bahia: The Power of Art in an Afro-Brazilian Metropolis, the concert features performances by João Donato backed by Bixiga 70, and Bahia-raised Mateus Aleluia with L.A.-based Brazilian singer Thalma de Freitas. Produced in partnership with Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA.

UC Press is thrilled to publish three books in conjunction with PST: LA/LA. Learn more here.

 


Making The “Meat and Two Veg” for Sunday Dinner and Why it Matters

by Amy B. Trubek, author of Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

Making Modern Meals cooking book coverThe discipline of anthropology has always paid close attention to everyday life, relying on ethnography as the method par excellence. Observations of how we live work like a microscope of the social. Anthropologists take notes on the small and telling details because each one means something, revealing our values, our perceptions, our social selves. Everyday life certainly matters. In this telling, food, for anthropologists, should be a matter par excellence: everybody eats. And to a certain extent this is true. Anthropology, of all the social science disciplines, probably contains the broadest and deepest set of fine grained studies of the complex and contradictory relationship humans have with food. Over the past ten years, a number of ethnographies have looked at the significance of special ritual meals, the meanings of an artisan product, food ways as means for social distinction and social power, the global journeys of ingredients, and more, all resulting in fascinating analyses.

But we have yet to give food its due, especially given the commitment of anthropologists to everyday life and everyday experience. What about all the processes involved in answering that mundane and necessary question addressed fifty years ago by Mary Douglas: What should we have for dinner? As David Sutton, a committed ethnographer of cooking points out, even in Douglas’s famous consideration of the British meal, in this brilliant analysis of the structure of her meal why was “no concern expressed about how the ingredients might be assembled, processed and cooked to create these dishes (“Cooking in Theory” in Anthropological Theory, 2017)?” It is tempting to focus on the finished product, the object of consumption as what matters most. But there is more to put under the microscope. There is eating Sunday dinner but there is also making it. What items must she purchase in order to create the two veg on the side? Where did she get her ingredients? How did she learn how to make that roast? Over the course of my research on everyday cooking in the United States, I realized that so much tacit knowledge stays just below the surface, buried, rarely the focus of attention. What is known but not understood is the next journey anthropologists of food should take. The tiny, the trivial, the barely conscious are in fact grand, powerful and significant. As I witnessed, while dinner gets made – and planned, and eaten, and cleaned up – so to do our social lives and social selves.


Amy Trubek author cooking Making Modern MealsAmy B. Trubek is Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession and The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir.


Why I Study Beauty in Brazil

by Alvaro Jarrín, author of The Biopolitics of Beauty: Cosmetic Citizenship and Affective Capital in Brazil

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

Beauty matters deeply in southeastern Brazil. Everyone has strong opinions on what ideal beauty is, how it can be attained and the effects it has on those who possess it. Popular sayings like “beauty opens doors” reflect a widespread belief that being beautiful can lead to upward mobility, because it provides opportunities in the job market and marriage market that would otherwise be closed. The popular saying “there are no ugly people, only poor people,” on the other hand, implies that no one is ugly by choice, and that those who lack beauty are only that way because they cannot afford the myriad beautification techniques available for purchase. Even for the working class, there are low-cost aesthetic surgeries available at some publicly funded hospitals that double as medical schools, but patients must agree to become experimental subjects for medical residents from all over the world who come to learn new Brazilian surgical techniques. Beauty matters in Brazil not only because individuals value it so highly, but also because the nation has become a global center of knowledge production within the transnational circuits of the plastic surgery industry.

In my book, The Biopolitics of Beauty, I trace the origins of this national concern with beauty to Brazilian eugenics, which began to consider beauty as a measure of racial progress. For the plastic surgeons I interviewed, beauty was still a eugenic enterprise, insofar as it “corrected” what they perceived as mistakes from too much racial mixture, and produced a more homogeneous population. They described their work with working-class populations as a form of charity, and considered it a way to uplift the poor and provide them citizenship by improving their appearance. Patients really admired the surgeons who offered beauty to the poor, but were more critical of the “dictatorship of beauty” they felt they had to participate in. My interviewees at publicly funded hospitals in southeastern Brazil described ugliness as intimately tied to forms of race, class and gender discrimination they had suffered – beauty had meaning for them because it seemed to condense all the ways that appearance trumped their qualifications or their hard work. Patients knew very well that they were running a risk by consenting to become “guinea pigs” for plastic surgeons, but they told me repeatedly that the risks of ugliness were even higher.

As I prepare to present my work at the upcoming AAA Meetings in Washington D.C., I think about this year’s conference theme, “Anthropology Matters,” and the ways in which anthropology can help us understand the world we live in, critique the forms of inequality we see, and yet empathize with people who are caught in power structures that are larger than themselves. Too often, people dismiss the Brazilian plastic surgery rates as an effect of their “culture,” and leave the question at that. Anthropology helped me unpack the complexity behind this cultural practice, and understand how beauty came to feel like a dictatorship for many Brazilians.


Alvaro Jarrín is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at College of the Holy Cross.


Behind the Iconic Protest Posters of the AIDS Activist Movement

By Avram Finkelstein, author of After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images

Early in the 1980s AIDS epidemic, six gay activists created one of the most iconic and lasting images that would come to symbolize a movement: a protest poster of a pink triangle with the words “Silence = Death.” Here, Avram Finkelstein, cofounder of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury, reveals the process behind some of the most iconic protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic. #WorldAidsDay#DayWithoutArt.


Silence = Death, The Silence = Death Project, 1986 poster, offset lithography, 33 1/2 × 22 in.

In 1981, the man I was building my life around started showing signs of immunosuppression, before AIDS even had its name. By 1984, he was dead, a year before Rock Hudson was outed by the disease and died, and years before Reagan ever uttered the word.

It was a time I felt very alone, so in late 1985 I co-founded a men’s consciousness raising group with five friends. We met every week, loosely assembled around feminist organizing principles. We began each session by talking about our new lives in the age of AIDS, but by the end of every meeting we were talking about the political crisis that was forming.

Because of my upbringing, the political poster had always played a role in my understanding of social change, but to be young in the late 1960s was to be political anyway. By 1968, the East and West Villages in New York were papered with manifestos, meetings announcements, and demonstration flyers. When young people needed to communicate with each other, we used the streets.

So I proposed we do a poster about AIDS.

We worked on the poster for months, and put it to bed in late 1986. I had no idea what might happen, but I knew we couldn’t be the only ones who were enraged. We weren’t. Within weeks of our posting them in early 1987, the activist community it came to represent formed, ACTUP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power).

AIDSGATE, The Silence = Death Project, 1987 poster, offset lithography, 34 × 22 in.

AIDSGATE was the second poster by the Silence=Death collective, designed specifically for the third ACT UP demonstration, a June 1, 1987 action in Washington DC. It was the first national civil disobedience addressing AIDS, which we saw as a unique opportunity to formally indict Reagan for his lack of response during the early days of the crisis, and its disproportionate impact on women and communities of color. The text crawl across the bottom of the poster reads: “54% of people with AIDS in NYC are Black or Hispanic… AIDS is the No. 1 killer of women between the ages of 24 and 29 in NYC… By 1991, more people will have died of AIDS than in the entire Vietnam War. What is Reagan’s real policy on AIDS? Genocide of all Non-Whites, Non-males and Non-heterosexuals?… Silence=Death.”

When collective member, Oliver Johnston (1952-1990), was finalizing the mechanical for the printer, he unilaterally decided Reagan didn’t look evil enough, and made his eyes hot pink. I’m convinced it is the sole reason this poster was included in the 2012 Metropolitan Museum of Art Andy Warhol exhibition, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years. 

The Government Has Blood on Its Hands, Gran Fury, 1988, poster, offset lithography, 31 3/4 × 21 3/8 in.

On July 19th, 1988, the New York City Commissioner of Health, Stephen Joseph, suddenly halved the number of estimated AIDS cases in NYC, a move that threatened to drastically reduce funding for AIDS services. The cut was purportedly based on cohort studies in San Francisco’s gay community.

ACT UP NY declared war against him. During a sit-in at Joseph’s office a copy of his itinerary was taken, and it became the basis for a campaign spearheaded by an ACT UP affinity group. Several Gran Fury members were involved in the effort to remove Joseph from office, myself included, leading Gran Fury to design a pair of posters featuring bloody handprint images. One read “You’ve Got Blood On Your Hands Stephen Joseph. The Cut In AIDS Numbers Is A Lethal Lie,” and the other targeted then mayor of New York City with the text, “You’ve Got Blood On Your Hands, Ed Koch. NYC AIDS Care Doesn’t Exist.”

That same year, ACT UP decided to target the regulatory agency responsible for the testing of potential AIDS therapies in the US, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Given the high and rapid mortality rate, it had become clear that any risks the medications carried could not exceed the risks of non-intervention, and that the clinical trails for the safety and efficacy of these drugs were de facto healthcare for individuals confronting the fatal disease.

Gran Fury, nationalized the bloody hand specifically for the FDA action the statistic “One AIDS Death Every Half Hour.” The FDA action was the turning point for the AIDS activist movement, leading to the streamlining of the drug approval process, the parallel track drug access and compassionate use protocols, and the inclusion of People Living With HIV/AIDS, people of color, and women on research advisory boards.


Avram Finkelstein is a founding member of the Silence = Death and Gran Fury collectives. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the New Museum, and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

His book, After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images , is available now.

After Silence is an important contribution to the history of AIDS activism. It tells the personal story of a key designer of a crucial political movement and demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis. Compelling and potentially empowering to future visual activists.”—Sarah Schulman, author of The Gentrification of the Mind

“This book is essential for understanding the politics of resistance and the impact of ACT UP in building a movement. After Silence will be an invaluable resource for artists and activists of all ages.”— Ken Gonzales-Day, Professor of Art, Scripps College


Congratulations to our 2017 AAA Award Winners!

UC Press is honored to have numerous authors among the award winners at the 2017 American Anthropological Association conference. Please join us in congratulating the following #AmAnth17 award winners.

Jason DeLeon, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail

  • 2017 MacArthur Fellowship presented by the Jonathan D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • 2017 Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharf Memorial Prize for the Critical Study of North America presented by the Society for the Anthropology of North America

 

  • 2017 Robert B. Textor and Family Book Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology presented by the American Anthropological Association
  • Honorable Mention, 2017 Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharf Memorial Prize for the Critical Study of North America presented by the Society for the Anthropology of North America

 

  • 2017 Sharon Stephens Prize presented by the American Ethnological Society

 

 

 

  • 2017 Michelle Z. Rosaldo Book Prize presented by the Association for Feminist Anthropology

 

 

 

  • Honorable Mention, 2017 Victor Turner Book Prize presented by the American Anthropological Association

 

 

Angela Stuesse, Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South

  • 2017 C.L.R. James Book Award presented by the Working Class Studies Association
  • 2017 Book Prize Winner presented by the Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

 

 

 

Stefan Helmreich, Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas

  • 2017 J. I. Staley Prize presented by the Society for Advanced Research

 

 

 

Christiana Giordano, Migrants in Translation: Caring and the Logics of Difference in Contemporary Italy

  • Second Place, 2016 Victor Turner Book Prize presented by the American Anthropological Association

Documenting the Human Costs of the U.S. Security-State, Part 1

This post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd. #AmAnth17

We are so glad to be in attendance again at AAA. This year’s theme of “Anthropology Matters!” is a call to action that we—alongside our authors—have always embraced. Anthropology will always help us make sense of the past, explore our present, and journey through our future.

Deborah Boehm
Sarah Horton

This year, authors Deborah Boehm (Returned) and Sarah Horton (They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields) share their thoughts on Anthropology in Unseen Spaces, discussing the fate of Latino immigrants due to policing, detention, and deportation policies in the U.S. They note that, “Anthropologists have a central role to play in uncovering and understanding state power but also the social movements that challenge it.”

In They Leave Their Kidneys in the Field: Illness, Injury, and Illegality among U.S. Farmworkers, Sarah Horton discusses the physical and psychological stress that these policies inflict on Latino migrants:

The Everyday Violence of Being a Legal Minority

While recent studies of chronic stress and cardiovascular disease have focused specifically on racial minorities, the findings are suggestive for other minority groups that also face chronic, pervasive stress.. Many researchers observe that being a legal minority—that is, an undocumented migrant or a migrant with tenuous legal status—may provoke unprecedented anticipatory stress and chronic worry in the current anti-migrant climate.  Cecilia Menjívar and Leisy Abrego’s analysis of legal violence focuses on how it exerts material effects on migrants’ schooling, family life, and employment.  Complementing their analysis, this chapter explores on the subjective and physiological effects of such legal violence.

Rogelio Sáenz and colleagues point out that a climate of increasing hostility toward migrants in the United States affects their psychological (and presumably physiological) health. They show that the passage of Arizona’s “Show Me Your Papers” law in 2010  caused distress and anxiety even among migrants in neighboring states.  They compare the micro-aggressions with which undocumented migrants contend to the “racial battle fatigue” that racial and ethnic minorities experience. Similarly, in her study of eighteen return migrants at a public psychiatric hospital in Oaxaca, Whitney Duncan found that all but two attributed their mental illness to the migration experience—in particular its “solitude, discrimination, [and] unremitting anxiety and stress.” Most of her sample had never experienced mental health problems prior to leaving for the United States. In the current anti-migrant climate, legal minority status may also lead to perpetual vigilance. Like being “Black,” being “illegal” or tenuously legal may result in hyperarousal—the chronic perception of the body’s being under attack.

Stay tuned later this week when we share Deborah Boehm thoughts on the psychological and social tolls of a migrant returning to their home country as a “lost citizen” in Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation.

And attend the AAA session on Detained on Trumped-Up Charges: Migrants and the Ascendant U.S. Security-State.


Anthropology Matters: Going Back to our Talent for Finding Cracks

by Claudio Sopranzetti, author of Owners of the Map: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

The 2010s opened with waves of popular uprisings. Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, cities across the US and Western Europe, Hong Kong, Korea, and—as Owners of the Map narrates—Thailand were all shaken by massive, and largely unpredicted, political awakenings. Established and secure authoritarian regimes, capitalist common sense, and cultural hegemonies seemed to crack under the weight of collective action. Then, as the decade progressed, those awakenings were often followed by authoritarian push-backs, fascist resurgences, diffused fear and repression. Whether in Washington’s offices, in the ballot boxes of Athens, or on the streets of Cairo, Damascus, and Bangkok hopes have been crashed and shivers of change clouded.

The unthinkable happened twice in the course of a decade; as Marx would have said, first as a tragedy than as a farce. Caught in the midst of this open-ended reality, Owners of the Map asks: how can state power be so fragile and open to challenges at one time and yet so seemingly sturdy only a couple of years later? Specularly, how could protesters who had once fearlessly resisted military attacks now remain silent? And finally why, as social scientists, have we completely missed the coming insurrections and their violent silencing?

Trying to answer these daunting questions—central to contemporary political mobilizations around the globe—gets at the core of the theme of the 2017 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association: anthropology matters, a statement that in its grandiose tone is hardly able to silence the unwritten question mark that follows it. Owners of the Map argues that anthropology does matter, provided it re-directs its attention to his strong suits—namely finding contradictions, fractures, and weak spots in political, economic, and theoretical meta-narratives.

In the last decades, unfortunately, our analyses of power have often gone the opposite direction. We’ve too often focused on the sturdiness of power, the invincibility of capitalism, or—at most—on the small and hidden acts of resistance to its triumphal and disastrous march. This has made many of us into the over-systematic thinkers despised by Henry Lefebvre, people who “oscillate between loud denunciations of capitalism and the bourgeois and their repressive institutions on the one hand, and fascination and unrestrained admiration on the other. [Thinkers who] make society into the ‘object’ of a systematization which must be ‘closed’ to be complete; [and] thus bestow a cohesiveness it utterly lacks upon a totality which is in fact decidedly open—so open, indeed, that it must rely on violence to endure.”

Owners of the Map tells a different story, a story of unresolved tensions and continuous attempts to brush them under the rug, of re-emerging cracks and fault lines, of opposing orders striving in vain to impose themselves, and of collective actions that raise significant challenges when aimed at specific weak spots. Letting these stories go unheard, the book argues, does more than losing an intellectual perspective, it promulgates a praxis of political immobility, a position that in times of mass mobilizations and fascist resurgence will not only make anthropology irrelevant, it eventually will put its practitioners on the stand, on the side of those who could have helped but decided to do nothing. As a discipline we have made that mistake in the past, remaining silent and turning our heads to the horrors of colonialism. Are we going to make it again?


Claudio Sopranzetti is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at All Souls College at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Red Journeys: Inside the Thai Red Shirt Movement.


The Town Where the Asphalt Ends

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd. #AmAnth17

By Angela Stuesse, author of Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South

In 2004 I moved to Scott County, Mississippi, where new Latin American immigrants, recruited by the area’s poultry industry, were arriving from across the continent. There I joined a budding coalition of immigrant and civil rights advocates, communities of faith, union leaders, employment justice attorneys, and working people who were grappling with the changes happening in their neighborhoods and workplaces.

For six years I contributed to their efforts to create a workers’ center to support poultry workers in defense of their rights. I also conducted research on how the area’s transformations came about, their relationship to longstanding political economies of race in the South, and their impacts on poultry workers, their communities, and possibilities for workplace justice. A decade later I told this story in my book, Scratching Out a Living.

While I eventually left Mississippi, many of the relationships I built there were deep, rooted in personal commitment and political struggle. This is especially true of the bonds I formed with injured workers. As Coordinator of the Mississippi Poultry Workers’ Center’s Workplace Injury Project, I spent thousands of hours advocating on behalf of injured workers, including 100+ trips to doctors and lawyers in which I served as interpreter and advocate.

Nearly half of those doctor’s visits were with Gaudenico, who lost part of his hand in a gruesome workplace accident when he was just 17 years old. We spent the next year in surgeries and physical therapy together, including countless hours of conversations on the road to and from appointments. He took to wearing a glove to hide his twisted and amputated digits, a practice I couldn’t convince him to shake. When he returned to Veracruz a few years later, at first he called periodically to give me updates on his life back home, but eventually we lost touch. The number I had for him stopped working, and his phone calls ceased.

This semester I have been on research leave in Mexico, and last weekend, while attending the XVIII Encuentro de Pueblos Negros in Veracruz, my young children and I embarked on a journey in search of Gaudenico. I had no idea whether I might find him in his village, living in a nearby city, back in the United States, or even alive, but I’ve long wondered what became of him, and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass us by. Armed with his birth certificate, an old student ID, a handful of photos, and bunches of curiosity, we headed into the mountains of Veracruz.

While inquiring about the best routes and state of the rural dirt roads at our hotel, an employee called her father, a retired long-haul trucker from the area, for guidance. Don Tibursio offered to accompany us on our journey, and we were delighted to have a local guide and native Nahautl speaker on our team. Several hours into our journey, talking to folks in the town where the asphalt ended led us to believe we could reach Gaudenico’s community along a sharp shale road up the mountain in 1-2 hours, as long as we had a spare tire and attempted by day. But nearly to the village, my realization that I had failed to fill the gas tank that morning forced us to turn back.

I felt a flood of disappointment as we searched for gas in the town where the asphalt ended. We had come so far but had been unable to find Gaudenico or his family. Don Tibursio insisted it was too late in the day to make a second attempt. Not to be defeated, after partially filling the tank with a questionable substance using a homemade soda bottle funnel, I started asking who in town might have contact with people in Gaudenico’s village.

We eventually found ourselves in the home of a woman who had married a man from the village. Though skeptical at first, her husband shared by phone that he knew the family. He had seen Gaudenico sometime in the last few years and believed he was living several hours away in the city of Xalapa. Unable to stay, I left a note for Gaudencio, one for his mother, and a copy of my book along with a request that they be delivered. I hoped that one day with the help of kind strangers and technology I might hear from one of them.

Little did I know that my notes would be taken to Gaudencio’s mother in person by someone heading up the mountain that very night! My phone rang early the next morning. The delight in Gaudenico’s voice when I answered matched my own, and he wept as he told me of the time nearly a decade ago that his phone was stolen and all his contacts lost. Our families joyfully met up later that day outside of Xalapa. “I love you like a sister, and I’ll never forget the role you played at such an important time in my life,” he said as he held my hand. “I didn’t do anything,” I replied. “It was what anyone would do when seeing another human being suffer. I’ve missed you.”

What a heartwarming reunion it was. At 30 years old, today Gaudencio is married with an infant daughter. He drives a taxi for a living. He appears happy and healthy, and his disability doesn’t seem to slow him down in the least. Oh, and that glove he used to wear? He proudly boasts that he tossed it as soon as he returned to Mexico. Today we’re all smiling, inside and out.


Angela Stuesse is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her book, Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South, has been selected as the recipient of the 2017 Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology (SLACA) Book Prize, to be awarded at this week’s American Anthropological Association meeting in Washington, DC. Learn more about Stuesse’s work at www.AngelaStuesse.com.