Theses - Social Anthropology


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  • ItemEmbargo
    Mastering the Margins: A Chinese Mine in Mongolia
    Zhu, Ruiyi
    In recent decades, Mongolia’s rich natural resources and small population have made it a sought-after destination for Chinese capital investment and labour migration, facilitated by China’s ‘going out’ policy. While this cooperation has been founded on the ostensible complementarity between Mongolia’s structural shortage of industrial labour and China’s surplus, the presence of Chinese workers has become a source of anxiety in Mongolian society. Historical interethnic and interstate entanglements, as well as Mongolia’s fear of China’s contemporary economic might, cast a long shadow over the relationship between these two neighbours. Examining the complex, delicate, and fraught Sino-Mongolian relations, this thesis presents an ethnographic study of a Chinese-owned private fluorspar mine and processing plant in Mongolia. I followed a group of middle-aged workers who endured mass layoffs in China and sought to regain economic agency by participating in Mongolia’s extractive economy – an industry buoyed by hopes and rife with controversies. I argue that the Chinese workers view their time in Mongolia as an opportunity to ‘master the margins’ by extracting the marginal value of their own labour and exploiting their relationship with the geographically peripheral land and socioeconomically marginal other. In this thesis, I seek to explore the nuances that elude the official discourse of interstate friendship and widespread apprehensions of neo-colonial hegemony by navigating a variety of quotidian interactions between Chinese workers and their Mongolian counterparts. The thesis consists of two parts, each with three chapters. The emphasis of Part I is on the emergence of the desire to command the margins, shedding light on familial bonds and entrepreneurial ethos as the twin forces undergirding the circular migration of laid-off workers, labour hierarchy on the shop floor, and ritual practices of ingratiation. Part II focuses on the discontent and ambivalence toward Chinese ‘masterhood’ by exposing the translation politics between monolingual and bilingual employees, the failure of skill transfer between the master and apprentice, and the aspiration for improvement through the discourse of standards. The analytical concept of ‘mastering the margins’ delineates the dual position of people who are simultaneously victims and enablers of capitalist expansion. With its exploitative potential, ‘margin’ elicits opposing views in economic and social theories. While maintaining an anthropological openness to social complexities and contingent processes, this thesis investigates the concerns, strategies, and dilemmas of ordinary Chinese and Mongolian workers in a transnational labour regime. I describe and analyse marginalised subjects’ attempts at overcoming material and ontological insecurities within structural constraints. In a broader perspective, this Sino-Mongolian industrial encounter serves as a case study for examining the contradictions in a globalising China.
  • ItemControlled Access
    Norms and Reasons: Modernity and subjecthood inside (and outside) a Chinese school
    Jiang, Edwin
    This dissertation has three intertwined aims. First, to elucidate (and defend) Weberian modernity as drastic transformations in peoples’ conceptions of normativity, which radically breaks with the past (Chapter 1), thereby illuminating how contemporary moral educational focuses in China function as a “pre-modernist” response to the effects of modernity (Chapter 2). Second, to understand how historical developments of Chinese modernity motivated mass educational migration (Chapter 3), thus identifying how top-down decisions to modernise inspired and sustained perhaps unexpected pluralistic perspectives on the Chinese nation-state (Chapter 4). Third, to examine the lived experiences of pupils within the Chinese schooling system, motivating anthropologists to rethink the “individual subject” in practical and theoretical contexts as actor (Chapter 5) and knower (Chapter 6) alike. The title of the dissertation, “norms” and “reasons,” derive from these three related aims. I propose to understand modernity as a reversal in the direction of normative fit; while I hope to reconceptualise what it means for the individual to be the locus of both practical and theoretical reasoning qua actor and knower respectively. To these ends, I undertook ethnographic investigations of the educational paradigm within China, as well as into the effects of studying abroad on informants from China who have since left. I relied heavily on historical arguments regarding China’s transformation and development—both material and abstract—since its encounter with Western powers in the mid-1800s. Throughout this dissertation, I drew generously from philosophical discussions in epistemology, action theory, and moral philosophy to make sense of the ethnography.
  • ItemRestricted
    In the Shade of the Kangla: Kingship and Revivalism in Northeast India
    Moon-Little, Edward
  • ItemRestricted
    Time, Self, and the Other in a Rural Chinese Township
    Naydenov, Angel
  • ItemOpen Access
    Gender and Generation in Rural Turkmenistan
    Loomis, Cara
    This thesis seeks to explain the reproduction of gender and generation in desert villages of Gökdepe district, Turkmenistan. More than differences of wealth or class, gender and generation acted as organising principles determining communication between men and women, roles and responsibilities assumed by young and old, and the arrangement of people and structures in space and time. An ideal Turkmen family is a patriarchy centred around feminine, demure young women who are respectful of pious elders. It might be easy to understand the social conservatism of rural Gökdepe as reflecting a “traditionally Turkmen” way of life. However, the people I knew rarely attached importance to practices for their symbolic value as either traditional or modern, Turkmen or Muslim. This theoretical difficulty of encompassing the behaviours of my hosts and acquaintances in terms of explicit projects of identification led me to a theory of habitus as incorporating a sense of practical competence that allowed “traditions” to be practiced without being explicitly framed as such. Part One addresses the reproduction of gender by looking at the gendered dimension of gift- giving. Taken together, these two chapters sketch out an opposition between men and women in terms of obligations through notions of patrilineal descent between men that disavow the necessity of small transfers of food between women. Seen from the perspective of brothers, fathers and sons, the day-to- day maintenance of relationships through small transfers of food appear inconsequential at best and at worst shade into petty accounting and calculation. However, these small transfers can have significant consequences. In the context of virilocal marriage expectations, sisters, mothers and daughters act to maintain intimacy and interdependence after leaving their natal home through gifts of food and cloth. Part Two asks if it makes sense to speak of gender as a static quality, given changes that occur with age. These two chapters address how seniority is established through claims that life-cycle events hosted by the older generation are necessary to transform the younger generation into mature adults. Both older men and women develop the skills necessary to assume prominent roles in hosting large celebrations. These events are a public expression of piety and wealth, garnering status for the host/ess from recognised acquisition of these skills. For older men, the central skills concern animal sacrifice and generous hosting. The work of care for their children and particularly grandchildren, built through the myriad transfers of small gifts detailed in Part One, offers an alternative route to fortune available to mothers and grandmothers. To account for the domestic reproduction of hierarchical relations of age and gender, the conclusion brings together the two themes that have oriented the thesis through the phrase an “actually existing patriarchy”. This means that; firstly, “patriarchy” is recognised as a political project intent on a coherent impression of “father-rule”; secondly, to use “patriarchy” to describe this configuration is necessarily one-sided, offering the impression of complementarity – a harmonious existence – that exists primarily from the vantage point of older men; thirdly, that “patriarchy” can come to be reproduced despite the best efforts, intentions and tensions inherent of men and women.
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    'Like Ice Floes': Iñupiaq Sovereignty and Settler Migration on Alaska's North Slope
    Walsh, Elizabeth
    My dissertation examines relations between Iñupiat in the village of Utqiaġvik on Alaska’s North Slope and a number of non-Iñupiat transient workers who, enticed by generous salaries, have temporarily relocated there. A focus of my study is the North Slope Borough, founded by Iñupiat to preserve their political autonomy and funded by taxes collected on the nearby Prudhoe Bay oil fields. My research tests and refines theoretical frameworks concerning settler colonialism. I draw on political, economic, and environmental literatures in sociocultural anthropology, as well as Native American and Indigenous studies and interdisciplinary settler colonial studies, to show how Iñupiat and non-Iñupiat village residents engage in day-to-day interactions guided by differing economic motivations and different understandings of community, place, and value. By working in an Indigenous community with both Iñupiat and non-Iñupiat, my research adds contemporary, on-the-ground, ethnographic insight into the ways in which individuals’ perspectives and attitudes are shaped by settler colonial ideologies as they are experienced in the present. I explicitly locate the origins of attitudes and dispositions of both non-Iñupiat transient workers and Iñupiat in the settler colonial past, while also tracing how these norms have endured structurally into the present. Long-term participant observation has allowed me to explore the ways in which socio-political norms are felt in, and inform, everyday life. In the first two chapters, I contextualize contemporary transient worker passage through the village within a history of colonial comings and goings to the region initiated by European explorers and Yankee whalers pursuing similar economic goals. I locate Native Alaska, the North Slope, and Utqiaġvik within the legal and political frameworks of United States settler colonialism and demonstrate that contemporary relations among non-Iñupiat transient workers and Alaska Natives are grounded in norms and understandings derived from these frameworks. In the remaining chapters, I describe the findings of my ethnographic research. I detail how many economically motivated transient worker employees at Iḷisaġvik College, a tribal college founded to provide local, culturally informed higher education, socially segregate themselves from the majority-Iñupiat community. I show how their ethical, social, and political commitments to fellow residents and the Arctic landscape are informed by the settler colonial and capitalist ideological structures familiar to them. This puts them at odds with Iñupiat, for whom the ethical and the economic, the individual and the community, are all connected through the Iñupiaq value of sharing and the hunting and community-wide distribution of the bowhead whale.
  • ItemControlled Access
    The Dualities of Home: Hong Kong Citizens in a Mobile World
    Tse, Lee-Shan
    Hong Kong’s long-standing situation of escalating accommodation costs has been widely characterised as one of the most severe housing crises in the world. This is a study of how the Fuzhou members of one of Hong Kong’s long-term citizen populations from Fujian province experience home in its dual sense of home: what and where home is for my interlocutors. The first meaning of home is a physical and material site of residence, rented or owned, that runs in parallel with a second meaning of home, where home is perceived as a geographical and affective location, whether this is Hong Kong or the People’s Republic of China (PRC), or an in-between space either bridging or navigating between the two. Its key concern is how my interlocutors make and are being made by homes in a global city that was once imagined by its residents, its government and my interlocutors as a city of futuristic modernity and is now experienced as a deteriorating city in crisis. I conducted multi-sited fieldwork in three key locations: Hong Kong, their long-term place of residence; Fuzhou, their ancestral place of origin and return; and the Greater Bay, a new ‘Silicon Valley’ that actively incorporates Hong Kong into South China. Originating from Fuzhou, my interlocutors arrived in Hong Kong in the 1970s and the 1980s, when the PRC was still a strictly closed socialist economy. I document their remarkable trajectory from very poor low-skill earners to comparatively advantaged participants in the Hong Kong boom economy, using their residential sites and spaces as a key means of making real, though always volatile gains. How they inhabit, deal with, buy, rent out, and transform their flats, and other residential sites and properties is central to the material I present. Their distinctiveness lies in their flexibility in both location and identity: as self-identified Huaqiao (‘Overseas Chinese’), they move between the two Chinese worlds, without an exclusive, place-based identity. Each ethnographic chapter documents a different aspect of home: home either as a strategy, residential site, a business, an investment, or a fictive place of return. I develop an analytical framework wherein each chapter follows the central framework of a mirage: the mirage is the traversing of space as one seeks to reach a tantalising desirable object that has appeared in the distance. However, as the viewer comes closer, the tantalising object disappears - and subsequently appears anew elsewhere. For my interlocutors, homes take on multiple appearances, meanings, uses and locations. The home, in its dual sense changes over time due to the unprecedented border changes of Hong Kong and the PRC. This study seeks to contribute to four key areas of anthropological research: the anthropology of homes, diaspora, global city, and crisis. Important aspects of home include notions of temporality, materiality, urban change, and affect. In light of the current crises, which started as a housing crisis and subsequently deteriorated into a political crisis with city-wide protests, this dissertation contributes to a more nuanced understanding of homes in a mobile world.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Huddled Masses: Death and Citizenship in New York City
    Raudon, Natasha
    How can citizenship survive death? At Hart Island, New York City’s ‘massed’ grave cemetery for its unclaimed, unknown, and poor, the dead have historically been excluded from the realm of ordinary posthumous citizenship expected by their fellow New Yorkers. However, activists, relatives, and politicians are currently attempting to pull the Hart Island dead back into that realm. Their efforts have been complicated by multiple processes, including trench burials, isolation, penal control, lack of visitor access, and an absence of memorialization, all of which mark those buried on Hart Island as belonging to particular categories of people, less than full citizens. The deliberate nature of these processes indicates that the dead do not simply fall outside the bounds of ordinary posthumous citizenship but must be methodically placed outside them. This thesis shows how Hart Island’s practices have been made ordinary through more than 150 years of systemized bureaucracy, so can appear unremarkable to those most familiar with them. Yet people often react with great discomfort when they learn about Hart Island because it says something powerful about their city and about New Yorkers. I argue that for many, it juxtaposes painfully with their city’s compelling mythology of exceptional inclusion and liberal values by recalling a history of brutal disparity. I examine how, motivated by the social anxiety that Hart Island provokes, several projects have begun to recover Hart Island’s dead from their non-citizenship and re-embed them into the realm of normal posthumous relations. This includes political moves such as replacing the government department that manages the island (switching from Correction to Parks), pledging to increase public access, and reclaiming the dead rhetorically as New Yorkers, a term locals use as a gloss for citizens. What do New Yorkers understand as normal posthumous relations, and how are Hart Island’s dead excluded from them? What can this exclusion explain about perceptions of normal citizenship for the dead? If massed burial is usually prompted by exceptional circumstances, how does Hart Island’s very ordinariness trouble people? To answer these questions, I draw on anthropological literature on citizenship, death, memorialization, stigma, and social memory; and on ethnographic data gathered over fifteen months of fieldwork across New York City’s five boroughs, including Hart Island, and online during lockdowns. I argue that it is through memorialization that citizenship survives death, and throughout the thesis, I scrutinize the implications of this claim. The first two chapters contextualize these questions within the early Covid-19 pandemic and American deathcare, explaining my concepts of ‘ordinary posthumous citizenship’ and ‘normal posthumous relations’ and exploring how they are enacted in New York and the US. The following chapters examine stigma within the framework of commemorated citizenship, from talk about the Hart Island dead as New Yorkers to the shock when New Yorkers learn about Hart Island. In the final two chapters, I turn from this broader analysis to focus on two distinctive communities, contrasting views of those who find Hart Island’s neglect appropriate with others vigorously pursuing projects of destigmatization. Hart Island’s characteristic and mundane neglect, and the destigmatization projects this has prompted both seem to crystallize around how – or whether – to memorialize the Hart Island dead. I conclude by examining what kinds of memorialization are possible here.
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    'We Will Remember; We Will Not Stay Put': Ethics and Politics after the Sewol Ferry Disaster in South Korea
    Park, Yeong Seo
    The sinking of the Korean ferry, MV Sewol, on April 16th, 2014, claimed 304 lives, 250 of whom were high school students on a fieldtrip to Jeju Island. The Disaster, broadcasted real-time, incited a widespread movement founded on condolence for the victims, and a collective determination that ‘things have to change’. Bringing together bereaved families, progressive activists, and ‘ordinary’ citizens previously far from ‘political’, Sewol activism has witnessed mobilization of a scale unprecedented for a post-disaster activism in Korea. Based on 15 months of fieldwork, this dissertation investigates the ethics and politics of the social movement that emerged in the aftermath of Sewol. Chapter 1 begins with a contextualization of Sewol activism within a broader lineage of Korean social movements, and an outline of its key tactics and repertoires. Focusing on the movement’s striving for diffusion, I probe how the Sewol movement calls for a refined understanding of what it means to ‘act’ in the political arena. In Chapter 2, I turn to my interlocutors’ commitment to remembrance, through accounts of spaces and places intrinsically infused with the memory of the Disaster and its victims, and those endowed with meaning by the bereaved and activists. I highlight how remembrance establishes not only an intimate relation with the past, but also an orientation towards the future. Chapters 3 and 4 scrutinize the activist and ethical commitments of the bereaved family members and the non-bereaved activists, respectively. Both chapters highlight how ethical commitments are developed and performed relationally, through examinations of affectively charged notions of duty, complicity, and solidarity. Chapter 5 situates my interlocutors’ activism within the broader field of Korean politics. I recount the complexities inhered in treading a balance between a victims’ movement and a political movement, and in challenging normative ideas about how victims ought to engage with the field of politics. The chapter calls for attention to how ethical projects are shaped by and contested within their social and political milieus.
  • ItemOpen Access
    The great shout of the wolves’ mouth: Indigeneity, social change and historical narrative in the Ecuadorian Andes
    Rojas Rodriguez, Lucia
    This thesis is a historical ethnography of the parish of Simiatug, from the turn of the twentieth century to the present but focused mainly between 1970-2020. Simiatug is a rural parish located in the Bolívar province in the central highlands of Ecuador, where Kichwa indigenous communities, a major hacienda (Hacienda Talahua), and a white-mestizo town coexisted until the early 1980s. Relationships of exploitation and racial discrimination against indigenous people were predominant during this period. Legislation such as the agrarian reforms were not implemented locally, due to the unassailable power of the landowning family, the Cordovez, who were able to maintain their estate despite the law. This began to change in the 1970s, and social change accelerated during the 1980s. Indigenous peasants organised themselves to create a Peasant House for adult literacy, founded independent bilingual schools and a Kichwa radio frequency. They also demanded changes in market relations with mestizos, refusing the asymmetrical exchange systems that had been usual until then. In April 1981, hundreds of people marched to occupy the land of hacienda Talahua, pressing for the application of land reform legislation. In 1982, they were successful, and the hacienda’s land was granted to the indigenous organisation Fundación Runacunapac Yachana Huasi (FRY). FRY still owns several hundred hectares of communal land, on which they have since carried out many agricultural and educational projects. Each chapter of the thesis analyses a different aspect of the transformation of Simiatug, contrasting observations made during fieldwork with archival material, including documents from the Land Reform Archive and several unpublished video interviews with indigenous leaders filmed by anthropologists in the 1980s. Chapter One describes the hacienda through the landowners’ and peasants’ concepts of land, Chapter Two portrays the town and its market as a second backdrop for the struggles, Chapter Three describes the uprising in which indigenous peasants occupied Hacienda Talahua, Chapter Four looks at education and Chapter Five reflects on indigeneity as a form of historical consciousness. The main historical narrative woven through the thesis has been reconstructed from the perspective of the generation who participated in the occupation of the hacienda. This narrative is complemented by other interpretations made by the indigenous youth, mestizos, and landowners. Focusing on indigeneity, from the point of view of different actors - including not only the indigenous peasants’ perceptions of their identity but also the mestizos’ and the elites’ discourses - I trace how being indigenous in Simiatug is a complex, intricate and changing reality. I argue that the struggles for land, education and fair commerce, as a practice and lived experience of political mobilisation, shaped certain forms of historical and ethnic consciousness. This allows the consideration of historical consciousness not only as an abstract process, but as a multi-layered, embodied experience, with a strong relation to certain forms of indigeneity. Unravelling these histories of change and the pivotal events that made change possible from the perspective of my interlocutors, I present the complexities of being indigenous in Simiatug in the recent past and today and across different generations.
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    “Sharing Ontological-Metaphors”: Meanings, Expressive Agency, Lived- Realities, and States-of-Being, in Uttarakhand, North India.
    Hall, Victoria
    PhD Abstract: This project explores principles of “meaning” and “the meaningful” as active and embodied “gestures” or “lived-realities”, via concepts of “sharing” and communicative relationality. These concepts were ethnographically researched in the far northern, religiously-plural Indian state of Uttarakhand. This is a state with faith-based populations variously self-identifying as Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, or Muslim. I met members of all of these faiths regularly, although my interlocutors were predominantly Christian and Hindu. Formerly a region of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand is known for its close proximity to the Himalaya, the Indian borders with Tibet and Nepal, and for its religious sanctity as an area of devout (usually Hindu) pilgrimage. All of these diverse factors have led to the consistent and complex intermingling of a number of sub-communities and regional populations. This was evident within many of the larger towns, such as Mussoorie, found in the Garhwal district of Uttarakhand, and the central-base for my fieldwork. My methodology was ethnographic and qualitative, focusing on oral-verbal communications and person-to-person interactions. These processes defined my principal concepts within this project by demonstrating the lived-realities of religious identities, religious communities, and the prevalence of inter-faith communication (or “sharing”) within this region. Most significantly, my research highlighted the ongoing importance of meanings – as well as the notable variance in what “the meaningful” was actually considered to be across and between faiths. Such diversity in understanding was made even more complex by different meanings being expressed in the same language, forms, narratives, or verbal images. Within these communications, metaphor was a creative, commonly used, and actively-engaged principle, evidenced within the practice of (different) faiths. This demonstrated a form of “relationality” or “inter-relationality” that seemed to reinforce contemporary, anthropological concepts of embodied lived-realities being a fundamental aspect of the relational, but not the same as “definitionality” or as “meaning”. Yet, when in use in Uttarakhand, principles, concepts (and uses) of expressive form, representation, communication, “sharing”, and “meaning”, were frequently entangled . Many apparent “oral metaphors” and “descriptions” – including images of “sacrifice”, “heart-speech”, God, Gods, or the cosmological/transcendent – had extended-meanings and purposes in their Garhwali context. Such meanings and actions were in contrast to what I had previously understood metaphor “to be”. These were not solely representational-metaphors, they were, instead, acts of agency (via expression). These observations led to my own evolution of the term “ontological-metaphor”. The metaphorical was persistently utilised not only as a “symbolic- tool”, but as an overlapping, entwined lived-form that was capable of encapsulating the relational and definitional-meaningful. This was not merely in a simultaneous representation, but as a co-creational state-of-being or “ontology”.
  • ItemEmbargo
    The Ethics of Knowing: Epistemic Virtue at an Ex-literalist Church in Nashville
    Victor, Samuel
    This dissertation explores the intrinsic connection between knowledge and ethics. It is an ethnography about a community of Christians who have taken it upon themselves to change their way of knowing the Bible in view of becoming better moral subjects. Founded in 1929 as a house church in Nashville, Tennessee, today Heart Ridge Church (HRC) is a predominantly White, suburban middle-class congregation with 1,800 members. They identify as a “Restoration Movement church” (Second Great Awakening, c. 1790-1840) and are affiliated with the Churches of Christ, a conservative branch characterized by its stalwart commitment to biblical literalism. Restorationists lamented the schismatic denominationalism characteristic of American Protestantism, considering such discord a hindrance both to Christians’ own salvation and to global evangelization. They sought to unite all Christians around an “objective method” for acquiring biblical knowledge; there ought to be “no creed but the Bible.” Relying upon the empiricist precepts of Common Sense Realism and Baconian inductive science, they pursued an idealized form of purely perceptual biblical knowledge considered to be free from “interpretive” bias. Biblical truth was to be found, not made, and believers ought to humble themselves before the “facts” of God’s revealed word. HRC maintain an affinity for the Restorationist mission, but they have lost confidence in the efficacy of literalism both to shape good Christians and to make new ones. This puts them at odds with their own epistemic habits and intuitions. In their view, over the generations, literalism lost its righteous humility. This failure, in their view, is evident in their forebearers’ uncompromising dogmatism, suppression of the experiential dimensions of faith, and defense of what HRC now consider parochial social mores. For HRC, literalism ceased to be a moral way of knowing. I examine their efforts to fix this problem. Why does epistemic change matter so much to them? What exactly does renouncing literalism imply in mind, spirit, and practice? What cultural, social, and political conditions are they responding to? This dissertation proposes an anthropology of epistemic virtue. I highlight the ways in which knowing is shaped by ideal types of knowledge to which knowers aspire and the pursuit of which requires a particular shaping of one’s moral subjectivity. I explain how these Christians’ epistemic change is co-constituting with a shift in ethical style. In place of literalism, HRC promotes what members call “narrative theology.” It is a conception of biblical truth substantiated not through the ascertainment of objective facts but through believers’ capacity to foster and to sustain certain intellectual and relational virtues in alignment with the perceived teleology of the canonical biblical narrative. While rationalistic assent to propositional beliefs and the elaboration of logically sound doctrine remain essential, their alternative moral-epistemic strategy exhibits a heightened concern for the ethics of relationships. As aspiring ex-literalists (Chapter 1), HRC members must convince each other to undertake a shift in moral-epistemic stance. They nudge—and at times urge—one another to adopt alternative hermeneutic frameworks for acquiring biblical knowledge (Chapter 2), to critically reimagine the ethics and politics of evangelism (Chapter 3), to cautiously experiment with charismatic spirituality (Chapter 4), and to embrace the explanatory claims of science (Chapter 5). In these ways, these Christians challenge their former knowing selves and cultivate new ones.
  • ItemOpen Access
    The ‘truth about Ebola’: Insecure epistemologies in post-outbreak Forest Guinea
    Roth, Emmanuelle; Roth, Emmanuelle [0000-0003-4260-1069]
    This dissertation examines the ways in which the ‘truth’ about an outbreak of zoonotic disease stabilises through the labour of sampling animals. While scarcely any case of Ebola had ever been reported in West Africa, the deadliest epidemic to date started in 2013 in the southeastern region of Guinea called ‘Forest Guinea’. Since then, ecologists and virologists from Africa, America and Europe have been conducting the largest investigation into what some frame as the origins of Ebola: they are trying to establish a fuller picture of the processes by which the disease is maintained and infects humans in a place that has become known as one of its ‘hotspots’. During 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork, I closely tracked the Guinean staff of one of those foreign projects – local vets who professionally defined their role as préleveurs (‘samplers’ in English) – while they captured animals, took, and dispatched fluid samples, communicated about the risks of contact with bats, and disclosed the finding of a new species of Ebola virus in bat species. The social sciences have dismantled the idea of singular, hegemonic epidemic origins, and indicated that complex sociospatial conditions allow for epidemics to emerge. This dissertation adopts a different analytical angle and outlines the technological, epistemological, and affective consequences of framing microbiological research as a search for the origin of epidemics. It focuses on the economy of knowledge, epistemological labour, and ethical aspirations of animal préleveurs, whose work is to make a hotspot exist in Forest Guinea. By combining attention to history, the scientific literature and ethnographic fieldwork, I resituate animal sampling within a West African genealogy of asymmetrical extraction and conservation, which crosscuts the colonial sciences, interwar disease ecology, global health, outbreak preparedness, and the newer One Health agenda. At the core of this multifaceted sampling enterprise is an interdependence between anticipatory practices and forms of insecurity – political, economic, environmental. The thesis suggests that insecurity is normalised by hotspot investigations, and that associated social hierarchies, causalities and moralities inflect the local notion of responsibility for the epidemic. Ultimately, insecurity configures the production of evidence about the so-called reservoir of Ebola and leads the hypothesis of a bat origin to gain strength in Guinea. The dissertation chapters foreground the controversies, dissimulation practices, fear, and cynicism that the quest for epidemic origins elicits locally, even as it contributes to imposing a single narrative for disease causality. In so doing, I challenge a social science view that scientific claims become authoritative when the institutions and practices that manufacture them are socially recognised as trustworthy and legitimate, i.e., secure. Instead, insecurity is entangled in the material performances and ethos of préleveurs. Far from only producing scientific evidence for experts, their activity generates clues about Ebola’s origins for many people in Guinea and Africa more generally – with significant consequences for research priorities and prevention policies.
  • ItemOpen Access
    The three hearths: Custom, church and state as colliding orders of time and space in Asmat, Indonesian Papua
    Powell Davies, Tom
    This study examines the intersection of ‘customary’ ritual, Catholic religion, and state-centred politics among the Asmat of Indonesian Papua, and how these processes order time and space. Asmat are famous in anthropological and museum worlds for their woodcarving, flamboyant ritual, and pre-colonial practices of headhunting and cannibalism, yet their lives have not been well-studied ethnographically. In the large dual villages of Sa and Er where I undertook long-term fieldwork, Asmat today describe the key problematic of their lives to be how to organise the relationship between ancestral custom, missionary Catholicism, and the Indonesian state, conceptualised as three ‘hearths’ around which people gather. In Asmat people’s heritage political order, people made their livelihoods from autonomous hunting, fishing, and sago processing in spatially dispersed kin groups. Inter-clan cooperation was highly prized but achieved only with difficulty, accomplished in the context of long-running cycles of ancestral ritual. Against that background, the quintessential challenge of contemporary Asmat life today is how to organise activities associated with these three institutional domains so that they are ‘mutually supporting’, rather than mutually undermining. Asmat people understand such coordination to be critical to broader communal viability, but also increasingly difficult to achieve. Instead, village life is now felt to be pulled in competing directions by the intensifying demands of church and government, in the context of dramatic macrostructural transformations in the character of the Indonesian state at the outer rural periphery associated with policies of administrative and fiscal ‘decentralisation’. In this dissertation, I analyse how Asmat people are using the ‘hearth’ concept, a model of egalitarian social gathering, to order the activities of the church and state within their lives. I begin by examining the ‘hearth’ as a social organisational image, before tracing the historical development of the ‘hearth’ problematic. My dissertation then follows villagers’ attempts to manage the perturbing presence of Catholicism and the state by encompassing them within the timespace of ritual feasting, with mixed success. Through an extended case study of a feast house construction project, I analyse how ritual is being used to mediate these broader structural orders, but in ways that also transform ritual in turn, with further transformative effects on the broader social order. I examine Asmat use of ritual to mediate custom/church/state relations through an examination of three stages of ritual: inter-clan feast house construction processes, woodcarving and its semiotic mediation of relations with ancestral and other spirit agencies, and host/guest encounters during ritualised hospitality at the peak of feast. While Asmat villagers attempt to transform the organisation of church and state orders to fit within intra-Asmat organisational principles, these institutions are not Asmat-owned, and to varying degrees resist being treated as ‘hearths’, destabilising Asmat attempts to organise ancestral ritual, church and state as balanced orders of time and space. This dissertation contributes to anthropological understanding of how social life is constituted through processes of space and time, and to understanding how ritual mediates local kinship life and interethnic politics at a state periphery.
  • ItemControlled Access
    An ethics of coherence: self, knowledge, and religious authority among women Islamic scholars in Leicester, UK
    Ahmed, Shumaila
    This thesis is about Sunni Muslim female religious scholars (‘alimat sing. ‘alima) of Gujarati-Indian origin in the British Midlands city of Leicester. It investigates their efforts to live a good Muslim life and to guide others in doing so. These women studied a multi-year Islamic syllabus at local Deobandi seminaries for women where they begin their journeys of becoming pious Muslims. I examine the shifts and continuities in their engagements with knowledge and the ‘ulama, and how these figure in their projects of the self as well as in the construction of their own religious authority. I argue that these women’s work on the self and their modes and discourses of guidance need to be understood as emerging relationally and contextually in dialogue with their own ethical aspirations, moral conflicts, concerns, doubts, and everyday struggles as well as those of the lay Muslim women they seek to guide. I employ a Foucauldian framework of the care of the self to examine how ethical reflection and knowledge-seeking are employed as technologies to facilitate both self and other in cultivating a coherent and consistent Muslim subjectivity. The ‘alimat strive to show that Islam is a comprehensive and timeless source of guidance for all Muslims. But these efforts entail an interweaving of Islamic and secular-liberal registers and values precisely to render both the Islamic tradition and Muslim subjectivity coherent. I contrast the concerns and strivings of these third-generation Muslim women with those of older generations to trace historical shifts and continuities and to show how these are linked to debates internal to the British Muslim social milieu I worked in as well as wider mediatic and political discourses on Islam in Britain. I aim to show how Muslim women are critically intervening in these debates, even as the modalities in which they do so change, diverge, and multiply across generations. By examining everyday struggles toward cultivating a coherent Muslim subjectivity, I emphasise the shifting, non-linear, and ongoing reflective nature of subjectivation processes even as these aim for coherence and perfection. In the face of frequent crises and disappointments in their ethical journeys, hope emerges as both affect and practice through which Muslim women propel themselves into the future and their ethical becoming. This thesis contributes to recent debates in anthropology of Islam and anthropology of ethics which have tended to paint a stark divide between analyses that emphasise coherent subjectivities and traditions and those that prioritise incoherence and fragmentation. In contrast, this ethnography highlights how religious discourses and everyday experiences mutually constitute each other. Drawing on their own struggles, conflicts and concerns, young female Islamic scholars are reading the Islamic tradition in novel ways. In doing so, they are reconfiguring Islamic orthodoxy in Britain by cultivating and promoting shifts in Muslim sensibilities and subjectivities through which a Islamically good life can be lived in secular-liberal pluralist British society.
  • ItemOpen Access
    'You are all my people': building disabled community in Uganda's microentrepreneur economy
    Modern, Julia; Modern, Julia [0000-0002-4571-1557]
    In 1995 Uganda adopted a new Constitution mandating parliament and local councils to include disabled members, elected by registered disabled people in each community. Consequently, Uganda has an unusually institutionalised disability movement, with over 45,000 disabled councillors and, theoretically, disabled people’s organisations in every village. The political position of ‘disabled person’ is closely tied to Uganda’s governing party, the NRM, as a structural client, encouraging a form of ‘quiet politics’ aimed at fostering relationships to bring about future opportunities rather than approaching government or NGOs as citizens demanding rights. This thesis uses an ethnographic study (based on eighteen months of fieldwork) of a disabled women’s organisation called DWG to investigate the effects in disabled people’s lives. With a focus on the social determinants of obligation, it expands critically on anthropological literature treating dependence as a mode of political action. DWG is based in a peri-urban market in Bunyoro, where the core members run small retail businesses. Members receive grants from government and NGO small business programmes, which form the overwhelming majority of support available to disabled people in Uganda. Through analysing the distribution of one grant, I detail the disciplinary effects produced: the programmes establish an idealised model of newly empowered (post-1995) disabled people as independent and self-sufficient. This advantages an elite group who present the desired financial behaviour, including some members of DWG. Disabled people who do not fit the behavioural expectations (particularly people living with mental health problems or intellectual disability) do not benefit. However, DWG's operations are not fully determined by powerful infrastructure or actors. While entitlement to business funding is judged on economic performance, obligations accruing to relationships within the group are based on long-term togetherness, especially co-residence, giving the group a gendered historico-spatial specificity. Chapters 4-6 look at elements of DWG sociality that exceed the model of self-sufficient businesspeople. Even the most financially successful members rely on long-term relationships providing care and (for deaf members) communication assistance based on linguistic community, repurposing disability movement-derived resources to foster them. In this space, obligations turn on what I call ‘claims in relationship,’ a concept that blends theoretical work on dependence, clientelism, and obligation. My interlocutors use two diverging discourses. One, characterised by the word ‘obulema’ [disability] is closely associated with legal structures; its usage is largely restricted to the political disability community. The other, using the term ‘abaceke’ [weak people], is more widely used, forming part of a moral system of provisioning in which people who live together accrue mutual obligations in misfortune. In chapters 6 and 7 I look at the differential distribution of these discourses. The second can be more inclusive, allowing partial identification with those excluded from mainstream disability sociality (especially ‘mad’ people). However, because it relies on non-systematic personal connection, this group's challenges are not thereby fed into the infrastructure or funded activities of the disability movement. Chapter 7 looks at problematic interactions between the discourses, which impact on the most excluded during land disputes, in the context of industrial sugar farming.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Becoming Accountable: Jehovah's Witnesses and the responsibilities of evangelism
    Cardoza, Danny; Cardoza, Danny [0000-0002-2238-7459]
    For Jehovah’s Witnesses, evangelism is of prime importance. It forms the core of their identity and is shaped by an ethics of communication. Witness evangelism is a fundamentally pedagogical process through which one “learns the truth” by studying the Bible with a Witness. In this thesis I describe Witnesses’ evangelism in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan by exploring the way they conceptualize “preaching and teaching” as a process that “makes disciples,” from the moment of first contact with a person to their baptism. The process of making disciples and becoming a disciple is, ultimately, a process of becoming accountable to Jehovah God. I detail the responsibilities Witnesses understand themselves as having in evangelism, and the way they imagine preaching and teaching to be about getting others to take those responsibilities as well. The arc of this thesis explores these responsibilities by: laying out how Witnesses organize their preaching according to the “local needs” of a specific place; the problematics of understanding truth in the “initial call”; the roles of “Bible literature” in cultivating “interest” in “things as they really are” through “return visits”; and, the “theopolitics” of “theocratic education” as Witnesses’ students take on preaching themselves during Bible studies. This leads a person to become accountable through dedication and baptism, which I explore as the embodiment of accountability. I conclude by examining what happens to evangelism after Armageddon and what eschatology means for Witness evangelism in the here-and-now. To draw out how Witnesses conceptualize and methodologize the process of becoming accountable to Jehovah in the chapters of this thesis, I ethnographically disaggregate “accountability” and “responsibility” in Witness ethical life to show how they differ in their temporality, their institutionalization, and the way they relate to the human subject. This allows for an analysis that can make sense of how Witnesses’ take universal moral thinking and apply it to particular social contexts.
  • ItemOpen Access
    ‘Action through non-action’: self-transformation and social transformation at the PRC grassroots
    Zhang, Liangliang; Zhang, Liangliang [0000-0003-4472-7984]
    This dissertation is situated at the intersection of the anthropology of ethics and politics in the context of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). I ground my analysis in a long-standing ethical-political tradition, dating from the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE), which sees societal political progress as predicated on prior individual self-transformation. My overarching argument is that in contemporary China, discourses and practices of self-improvement have mediated, and continue to mediate, the relations between the political subject and the state. This dynamic is manifested in party-state-led projects of citizenry reform as well as in grassroots social initiatives centred on xiuxing – a polyvalent term denoting processes of self-amelioration, whose significance must be unpacked through a situated ethnographic exploration. To this end, I examine the social life that unfolds via the ‘Wu-Wei School’, a private organisation that provides educative xiuxing retreats. The school claims to use an areligious rendering of Daoist ascetic techniques to help citizens live healthier, more fulfilling lives, thereby contributing to the national rejuvenation project inaugurated by the Xi government (since 2012). My primary interlocutors are organisers and participants of the school, the majority of whom are urban professional householders belonging to relatively privileged social groups. They embark on xiuxing projects via grassroots organisations such as this school to address tangible problems in their lives, especially in areas of health, child rearing, and relationships. Notably, many hold that by undertaking xiuxing, they are reshaping not only themselves, but also their families and their situated socio-natural environment. I trace how my interlocutors engage with esoteric forms of self-transformation knowledge-practice, adopt forms of Daoist autogenetic healing, and intersect with other alternative education schemas such as Steiner Education. While ostensibly retreating into their bodies and interiorities, I argue that these Chinese citizens articulate a historically-sedimented mode of influence which connects human interiorities and sociohistorical transformations through the avenue of reflexive self-improvement. I further demonstrate how this mode of influence is integral to diverse components of the PRC political-cum-moral project, delineating the surprising ways in which my interlocutors operating ‘outside the system’ (ti zhi wai) coalesce with injunctions and techniques issued from ‘within the system’ (ti zhi nei). Through a historically-situated consideration of grassroots initiatives centred on xiuxing in the PRC, this dissertation contributes to anthropological studies of ethics, personhood, education, health, and governance. My theoretical contributions are fourfold: Firstly, I deploy indigenous Chinese concepts as analytical tools on a par with social theories constructed in Euro-American academia, enriching the conceptual repertoire of anthropological analysis. Secondly, I explore new ways of engaging with the ‘affective’ domain of social life by analysing how actors deploy indigenous theories of influence and potentiality in their situated articulations of socio-political belonging. Thirdly, I propose a theory of citizen-state interrelation in the PRC: ‘coopetition’, a framework borrowed from management studies that underscores practical interdependence and creative coalescence, eschewing notions of a reified structural divide. Finally, I develop an analytic of ‘recreational asceticism’ to elucidate the ethical life found at the Wu-Wei School, which differs significantly from what has been described as ‘self-cultivation’ in the anthropology of ethics.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Humanitarian shame and cosmopolitan nationalism: Norwegian volunteers at home and abroad
    Mogstad, Heidi
    Following the so-called refugee crisis unfolding on the Greek islands in 2015, a multitude of citizen-led agencies emerged to mitigate or contest the EU’s policies of securitisation and containment. This dissertation explores the trajectory of one of these initiatives: a Norwegian humanitarian volunteer organisation Dråpen i Havet (A Drop in the Ocean, DiH). Established by a mother-of-five with no prior experience in humanitarian or social work, DiH aspires to “make it easy” for ordinary people to help refugees in Greece, but has undergone a process of partial professionalisation, leading to larger responsibilities inside and outside Greek refugee camps. The organisation also tries to scale up their acts of care and hospitality to the Norwegian state and to influence co-nationals who do not share their humanitarian sensibilities. The dissertation is based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Greece and Norway. Chapter 1 discusses the emergence of a new humanitarian geography and the rise of “Fortress Europe.” Chapter 2 and 3 trace DiH’s trajectory from spontaneous volunteering to “NGOization” and explore the organisation’s shifting and contested efforts to “fill humanitarian gaps” on Europe’s southern border. Chapters 4 and 5 examine DiH’s widespread appeal amongst Norwegian citizens and the organisation’s vision of volunteering as a transformative experience. These chapters also explore volunteers’ pathways to help refugees in Greece and ambivalent experiences of returning home and negotiating different worlds and relationships. Chapter 6 analyses DiH’s political turn and efforts to witness and mobilise for more inclusive asylum policies and positive public orientations towards refugees in Norway. The conclusion discusses the redemptive potential of volunteering. Taken together, the chapters challenge enduring representations of humanitarian actors and volunteers as “rootless cosmopolitans” or “transnationals” motivated by either selfish or altruistic concerns to help distant strangers. Conversely, the dissertation shows that DiH staff and volunteers felt deeply ashamed by Norwegian affluence and their government’s restrictive asylum policies and increasingly worried over the moral health and future of the Norwegian state and society. The dissertation argues that DiH staff and volunteers can be understood as “cosmopolitan nationalists,” called to help as indignant and ashamed Norwegian citizens and mobilising against what they perceive as an illicit, inward-looking nationalism. Drawing on feminist and anthropological work on the politics of affect, the dissertation analyses shame (skam) as both culturally and politically contingent, expressed on personal and collective levels and simultaneously on behalf of and against the nation. Contrary to popular and scholarly assumptions, DiH staff and volunteers experience shame as largely productive and self-affirming. However, the dissertation argues that its political force is hampered by its reliance upon (and reproduction of) a sanitised and romanticising national narrative. While primarily a contribution to the study of humanitarianism, nationalism and border politics, the dissertation addresses anthropological and philosophical debates on ethics, affect, cosmopolitanism and liberalism. It further provides windows into changing and increasingly fragmented and hostile humanitarian and political landscapes on the fringes of Europe. Analysing volunteers’ post-utopian and redemptive aspirations, the dissertation identifies “sticky attachments” to national and humanitarian frames and imaginaries yet also some cracks and openings.
  • ItemControlled Access
    Meekly Kneeling Before Wisdom: Labouring for revelation in an Anglo-Catholic chaplaincy
    Dreyer, Carolyn
    This dissertation is a study of the effort required to know God as it takes shape in Anglo-Catholic theological practice. It presents divine revelation as a processual relationship between humans and God, which is developed through the individual’s engagement with social forms and practices maintained by the Church as a mediating presence. These theoretical concerns are situated in the ethnographic context of Bouverie House, an Anglo-Catholic chaplaincy in Oxford, England, that ministers to the surrounding university and city. Anglo-Catholics are members of the Church of England who desire to restore Catholic teaching and practice to their reformed, Protestant Church. This branch of Anglicanism began with the mid 19th century Oxford Movement, a controversial attempt to revive liturgical ritual and anti-rationalist theology in the British ecclesiastical and scholastic landscape. Its early leaders were priest-professors of the University of Oxford, and Bouverie House sustains this union of worship and scholarship by instructing members in techniques of spiritual formation through which practitioners grow in knowledge of God. This dissertation presents the Anglo-Catholic pursuit of revelation as a process of ‘recollection’, a kind of memory work that evokes Plato’s anamnesis, Augustine’s philosophy of the mind as a site for divine encounter, and Christ’s commandment to ‘Do this in memory of me.’ Recollection is a term employed by Anglo-Catholics in reference to their spiritual disciplines which prepare bodies and minds to receive knowledge of God. Recollective practices specifically addressed in this dissertation include the study of history, liturgical ritual, fasting and prayer regimes, confession, Scriptural hermeneutics, prophetic performance, and veneration of real divine presence in the Eucharist (communion). It is a chief contention of this thesis that the revelatory knowledge of God sought by Anglo-Catholics at Bouverie House is fundamentally non-rationalist and contingent on attachment of the knower to the object of knowledge. Here, religious knowledge is a relational process rather than an object. This dissertation purposes to reconsider anthropology’s engagement with theology in its analyses of Christian subjects. Adopting Furani’s (2019) heuristic and polemical dichotomy between a Cartesian epistemology based on detachment and difference, and an Augustinian epistemology based on relational attachment, this dissertation presents Anglo-Catholic recollection — an epistemology grounded in relationality — as antithetical to the differential analytical framework that grounds a secular anthropology. Because of this epistemological mismatch, anthropology struggles to comprehend religious knowledge on its own terms. As remedy, this dissertation suggests the adoption of emic theological epistemology (not any particular theological claim) in ethnographic accounts of Christians, and demonstrates one such epistemological shift by employing the concept of ‘recollection’ as both ethnographic object and analytical method for understanding how Anglo-Catholics learn about God. Used as such, recollection purposes to ask new questions about religious subjects, viewing theology as a process with transformative potential, and valuing God as both an ethnographic actor and analytical agent. This dissertation engages with recollection to consider how religious knowledge is transmitted across time, requires certain dispositions of knowledge-seekers, and is contingent on relationship between the knower and object of knowledge.