Volume 91, #1

Winter 2018


New Directions in the Anthropology of Religion and Gender:
Faith and Emergent Masculinities


Volume 91, #1 • Winter 2018




With Respect to Zulu: Revisiting ukuHlonipha

Judith Temkin Irvine, University of Michigan
and Liz Gunner, University of Johannesburg, and University of London

ABSTRACT—Hlonipho is a form of respectful behavior, widespread in southern Africa. Its linguistic manifestation has often been interpreted as a “traditional” verbal taboo, whereby married women must avoid uttering the father-in-law’s name. The practice of (uku)hlonipha is not only verbal, however. Its fundamentally somatic meaning—covering, avoiding, and suppressing affect—applies broadly to bodily comportment, clothing, and the physical activity of speaking. The linguistic practice of (isi)hlonipha is itself somatic, we argue, in a Zulu ideology of language as voice. (Uku)hlonipha is best understood, we propose, in terms of a semiotic economy that contrasts it with another genre of honorification, the celebratory, exuberant, and expansive practice of (uku)bonga, praise-performance. Bonga is the inverse of hlonipha, and the two are joined in a broader sense of respect and honorific practice. These two genres have been discussed separately in the literature, which also largely assigns them to gendered domains: hlonipha to women and domestic settings, bonga to men and public settings. Combining ethnographic fieldwork with the historical archive, we show that the gender stereotyping—though interesting—overlooks important ways in which each practice can be, and historically has been, done by the other gender. Finally, we explore present-day mediations of voice via mobile phones and radio broadcasting. Hlonipha, broadly conceived as “respect,” is part of “doing and being Zulu” in a multicultural and multilingual state, and offers resources for contemporary concerns with social identity. Countering narrow categorizations of performance forms and, equally, assumptions that segregate language from a material world, our discussion explores wider semiotic networks. Linguistic practices, we argue, are not only actions of the mind but also of the body; and language use binds together, differentiates, and enables its speakers. [Keywords: South Africa, honorifics, linguistic practice, gender, praise poetry, verbal taboo, performance]


Unlikely Cosmopolitans: An Ethnographic Reflection on Migration
and Belonging in Sri Lanka

Bernardo Brown, International Christian University in Tokyo

ABSTRACT—Recent work on cosmopolitanism has emphasized how globalization generates multifarious connections that situate migrants from underprivileged origins at the center of global cultural flows, making them emblematic of an emerging working-class cosmopolitanism. While this article supports the aim of reclaiming the concept from its habitual elitist location, it shows that the unglamorous cosmopolitanism of transnational labor is often viewed by non-migrants with resentment, suspicion, and misapprehension. This unflattering facet of cosmopolitanism counterintuitively shifts openness to the world towards a post-migratory uneasiness and estrangement at home. Reflecting on the experience of Sri Lankan Catholic return migrant workers from Italy, I suggest that these unlikely cosmopolitans—far from being celebrated for their tolerance and worldliness—are often regarded by the non-migrant community as ungrateful and indulgent sojourners. Cosmopolitanism amongst Sri Lankan Catholic migrant workers is marked by a detachment from certain national and local idiosyncrasies, but while this may be a praiseworthy stance in the intellectual realm, its consequences often weigh heavily on the shoulders of those who leave the homeland. Following Martha Nussbaum (2002), I propose that cosmopolitanism can often be “a lonely business.” [Keywords: Cosmopolitanism, Sri Lanka, migration, morality, transnationalism]


“If You Greet Them, They ignore You”: Chinese Migrants, (Refused) Greetings and the Inter-personal Ethics of Global Inequality in Tanzania

Derek Sheridan, Brandeis University

ABSTRACT—What kinds of “friendship” are possible between unequally situated actors in the global economy? In this article, I recast the anthropology of global relationships through an ethnography of interpersonal relationships. The presence of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs in Tanzania—like other emergent “South–South” connections—provides an opportunity for exploring how the terms of global inequalities are negotiated in everyday interactions. Historical narratives of “Sino–Tanzanian Friendship” have invested interpersonal interactions between Chinese and Tanzanians with added semiotic significance. Based on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork among Chinese wholesale traders in the Kariakoo market district of Dar es Salaam, I examine the pragmatics and ethics of greeting strangers among Chinese and Tanzanian interlocutors. In particular, I assess the claim that “Chinese don’t greet” either Tanzanians or each other. Tanzanian and Chinese interpretations of these refused greetings reveal a symmetrical evaluation and suspicion that the other seeks relationships only for instrumental, rather than emotional, reasons. I argue that this is based not just on differing cultural idioms, but also the potential economic relationships between the actors, shaped in this case by global material inequalities between China and Africa. Adopting the concept of “mutuality” to mean interconnections between actors—which precede either the agency or intention of the actors themselves—I argue that material conditions of inequality and market competition between Chinese traders and Tanzanians shape the potentiality of relationships. These complicate the historical narrative of “friendship,” but are nonetheless registered in emergent forms of joking relationships between Chinese and Tanzanians, which index shifting global arrangements. [Keywords: China–Africa, mutuality, greetings, interpersonal ethics, inequality, strangers, friendship]


Negotiating Who “Owns” Penobscot Culture?

Jane Anderson, New York University

ABSTRACT—Museums, archives, and libraries are important places of re-connection and re-animation for Indigenous peoples and communities. Ethnographic collections held within these sites tell very particular histories about the colonial experience, including how Native culture was transformed into forms of exclusive property through practices of research, collecting, and documentation. The Penobscot Nation is one of many tribes grappling with the reality that it is the legal owner neither of the material culture held in institutions nor of the representations of culture, the photographs, manuscripts, and other audio visual materials that were collected by researchers over the long period of colonial engagement. As non-owners of materials that record their images, voices, histories, and ideas, the Penobscot Nation has to negotiate against the weight of powerful legal orders that reflect colonial idioms of control and authority over Native peoples and the representations of their cultures. This article explores the range of strategies that the Penobscot Nation has developed to maneuver around the legacies of legal and social exclusions in access to, and therefore decision-making about, the future uses of these cultural materials. [Keywords: Ethnographic collections, MoUs, property, museums, legal exclusion, negotiation, sovereignty, strategic maneuvering, agreements]


Deferral and Intimacy: Long-distance Romance and Thai Migrants Abroad

Andrew Alan Johnson, Princeton Univeristy

ABSTRACT—Aek’s fiancée, Fern, was already married to a European man. But each month, she sent remittances back to Aek so that he could build them a home and rubber orchard in their hometown in northeastern Thailand. In the meantime, Aek waited for Fern to return. But in the time spent waiting, plans, aspirations, and even bodies changed. As Aek and Fern charted a life together, this deferred life grew more and more spectral. This article is an ethnographic study of the Thai male romantic partners of Thai women working abroad as sex workers or marriage migrants, and their engagement with the problems of impermanence and deferral. Via the “work of waiting” (Kwon 2015) of those left behind, I argue here that waiting is in tension with the impermanence of hopes, selves, and bodies. I ask: what does it mean to “wait,” when what is promised, who promises, and the future date when promises are to be realized are each in flux? [Keywords: Thailand, Southeast Asia, marriage migration, sex work, waiting, migrant labor]


Gendered Violence and Indigenous Mexican Asylum Seekers:
Expert Witnessing as Ethnographic Engagement

Lynn Stephen, University of Oregon

ABSTRACT—The intertwined theoretical contributions of this article are: 1) how to interpret the lives of indigenous women asylum seekers in relation to structural vulnerability in western Oaxaca, Mexico, and in the asylum seeking process in the US, and 2) why expert witnessing should be considered as a form of ethnographic engagement. My discussion entails a detailed analysis of the cases of two female Triqui asylum seekers and their connections with local, regional, and larger state and economic structures and narratives of militarized gender violence. Finally, I discuss the ways that ethnographies as expert objects and expert witness reports harness both evidence and narrative through an interpretive framework. [Keywords: Structural vulnerability, gendered violence, indigenous women, expert witnessing, asylum, Mexico]


“I Don’t Make Coffee for My Husband in the Morning”: Gender and Precarious Life among Home-Based Workers in the Philippines

Marie Larsson, Stockholm University

ABSTRACT—This article is about precariousness of work and shifting gender roles among Filipina home-based workers, who labor from or nearby their homes either as industrial homeworkers working for an employer, or as own-account laborers—sometimes referred to as the self-employed. It demonstrates how gender and the globalization of production are formed, negotiated, and challenged by people through their localized ideas and practices. Focusing on the persons who have mobilized through Patamaba and Homenet Southeast Asia, I examine the relation between work and life, or workplace and home, which for a long time has involved a spatial division of gender roles that increasingly have been called into question. At the center of the analysis are the shrinking national labor market and growing spatial mobility of women due to their mobilization for the rights of the home-based workers. Because of this changing socio-economic environment, people’s experiences of labor are much more complex than the binary gender discourses, as they constantly alternate between home and work, and reproduction and production, as well as the private and political.Finally, I suggest that the growing precarization of life must be approached from a gender viewpoint, which often has been bypassed in the scholarly debate. [Keywords: Precariousness, informalization, gender, home, globalization, activism, the Philippines]