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Volume 92, #1 • Winter 2019




Strong Kichwa Women are Made, Made Up, and Make Others: Feminist Theory Meets Amazonian Ethnography of Gender, Bodies, and Social Change

Jamie Shenton, Centre College

ABSTRACT—This ethnographic snapshot of indigenous Kichwa women in Ecuador’s Amazon examines how processes of social change play out in/on women’s bodies while paying special attention to issues of gender, generation, ethnicity, and appearance. The defining feature of Kichwa women’s gendered agency is that their bodies produce on behalf of others; this is an ongoing process. Practice makes materiality of bodies. Antithetical to feminists’ dispute of reductionistic sex-role theories, sex/gender-related practices of social reproduction are a source of women’s strength, not weakness. Yet, encounters with globalized modernity have complicated views of gendered agency, especially for Kichwa women’s children and grandchildren who feel great pressure to go to school and secure non-farm jobs. However, rather than representing a radical break with the past, school and white-collar work have contributed to a changing idea of what it means to be a Kichwa “strong woman” among young women who continue to fulfill social obligations through contemporary bodily practices like wearing lipstick and skinny jeans. The coherence of Kichwa womanhood comes from its being a cobbling together of instances of agency geared toward others. Womanhood is a site of social action rather than a static social imposition or unyielding stereotype. Kichwa women’s understanding of empowerment shifts the focus to practice rather than the identities or categories that constrain practice. This is especially interesting given recent debates within critical feminism over how to re-collectivize the movement in the wake of a growing preoccupation among young Western women with individualized expressions of feminine agency. While some have observed that an emphasis on heteropatriarchal power differentials obscures feminist scholars’ ability to take notice of sex/gender differences in ways other than domination, I see an opportunity to assess what we learn by combining feminist and Amazonian ethnographic theory to understand Kichwa women’s experience of a changing world, specifically how gendered practice may be a source of community-sustaining productivity. [Keywords: Amazonia, Kichwa/Quichua, intersectionality, gender, generation, production, sociality, body image]


The Benefit of the Doubt: On the Relationship Between Doubt and Power

Naomi Haynes, University of Edinburgh

ABSTRACT—Anthropological studies of doubt have typically highlighted its productivity, pointing to the space that doubt opens to question established frameworks. This article builds on these observations by exploring an instance of doubt that I argue is unproductive. For Pentecostals on the Zambian Copperbelt, the fact that they do not receive the extravagant riches promised by the prosperity gospel—a Christian movement that is central to their faith—is not usually a problem. Most Pentecostal believers are able to reinterpret small gains in terms of a locally redefined prosperity, and therefore manage the doubts that their lack of wealth produces. For the poorest and most socially marginal believers, however, this kind of productive engagement with doubt is not possible. The productivity of doubt is therefore more an expression of structural factors than of the nature of doubt itself. This suggests that doubt—or at least the ability to mobilize doubt effectively—is a key index of power. This article provides an ethnographic exploration of the failure of the prosperity gospel while also expanding anthropological understanding of what makes doubt productive. [Keywords: Pentecostalism, prosperity gospel, doubt, power, agency, Zambia]


Intimacy Beyond Love: The History and Politics of Inter-Asian Development Aid

Chika WatanabeUniversity of Manchester

ABSTRACT—This article proposes that intimacy can be a useful analytical tool to understand how the private and the public, the personal and the political, intersect in development aid projects. Recent anthropological analyses have attended to the personal and moral worlds of aid workers, examining the knowledge practices and ethical dilemmas of “aidland.” Some scholars have cautioned that this perspective should not overlook the politics of development interventions. The lens of intimacy can be a fruitful avenue for understanding how “aidland” is always already political—how the personal worlds of aid workers and politics are intertwined. Examining the kinds of relations that define intimacy, and the specific ways that the private and the public intersect in these relations, can show us the particular history and politics of a development regime. Drawing on the case of a Japanese NGO in Myanmar, the article shows how “intimacy” in this inter-Asian form of development aid appeared in terms of “becoming one” (hitotsu ni naru). Ethnographic analysis and historical contextualization reveal nationalist-culturalist and Pan-Asian imaginations that are entangled in intimate experiences of “becoming one” among Japanese and Burmese aid actors. Ultimately, the analytical purchase of “intimacy” lies in calling our attention to how people negotiate similarities, differences, and conflicts in “private” spaces in order to make the ethos of becoming one in “public” possible. [Keywords: Development, NGO, intimacy, communalism, Pan-Asianism, Japan, Myanmar]


Living on the Frontline: Indeterminacy, Value, and Military Waste in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina

David Henig, Utrecht University

ABSTRACT—Thousands of people around the world are injured or killed every year by landmines and unexploded ordnance, whether in active or former zones of conflict. This article explores how the after effects of war, materialized in military waste (unexploded landmines, shrapnel, and bullets), transform forms of life in a post-war polity. It elucidates how the ongoing presence of military waste radically transforms the environment and the very conditions of liveability for those who dwell in such spaces many years after the actual conflict has finished. Situated in impoverished rural areas of postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, I offer an ethnographic elucidation of the social life of military waste and its entanglement in people’s attempts to remake livelihoods and reengage with their environment in the aftermath of the Bosnian war (1992–1995) that has resulted in pervasive politicization and privatization of social redistribution, and has given rise to an unprecedented degree of precarity. My aim is to document how the ongoing presence of landmines and military waste renders the landscape and peoples’ livelihoods not only radically uncertain and distressing, but also often indeterminate, and thus open to the generation of unexpected forms of engagement, cohabitation, and value creation. By treating military waste as indeterminate, I ask what forms, practices, and potential for value-creation military waste engenders in a particular spatio-temporal configuration of postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina. By tracking the emerging activities surrounding land use and value creation in timber forest contaminated by military waste, I show how this invisibly dangerous landscape gives rise to new ways of engaging with the forest’s economic potential vis-à-vis economic precarity in the postwar period. Ultimately, the article suggests how the subjective experience of fear gives rise to multiple modes of valuation, for people whose lives and the surrounding environment are mediated by experiences and remainders of conflict. [Keywords: Bosnia-Herzegovina, indeterminacy, landmines, land use, military waste, value]


Between Scene and Situation: Performing Racial and Gendered Alterity in a Cusco Orphanage

Krista Van Vleet, Bowdoin College

ABSTRACT—Gendered and racialized identities are jointly produced among social actors, often in ways that they cannot individually control. Drawing on ethnographic research in the city of Cusco, Peru and the surrounding region, I explore how gendered indigeneity is produced as a position of “alterity,” or otherness, in strategic ways by young women. I focus on a theatrical performance, “History of Natasia,” which was collaboratively created and performed by young mothers who live in an independent, NGO-run orphanage. I hold the words of characters in tension with the situation, a dramatic rendering of “a mother like us” for an audience of staff, children, and volunteers. By analyzing the unspoken assumptions and embedded dialogues that emerge between characters and performers in two scenes of the play, I demonstrate that social actors at once collude with institutional configurations of power and actively negotiate social hierarchies in tacit and explicit ways. The article contributes to ongoing discussions of indigenous identification and resistance in the Andean region by grounding these broader conversations in ordinary life and by tracing the micro-politics of interactions. Moreover, the article enriches understandings of the ways that young mothers, located in contexts saturated by power (an orphanage run by a humanitarian organization, for example), may themselves produce difference. [Keywords: Gender, race, Andes, ethnography of speaking, performance, youth, indigeneity]