Volume 92, #4

Summer 2020


Institutions, Infrastructures, and Religious Sociality


phone: 202-994-3215  e-mail: ifer@gwu.edu


Volume 93, #1 • Winter 2020




Materializing (In)securities: Urban Terrain, Paperwork, and Housing in Downtown Bogotá

Federico Pérez, Portland State University

ABSTRACT—In Bogotá, city planners and residents struggle over downtown renewal by mobilizing security frameworks linked to Colombia’s history of political and criminal violence. Urban spaces appear as terrains of military strategy, bureaucratic artifacts as weapons of (para)state violence, and housing transformations as incarnations of rural land grabbing and displacement. Far from being only metaphorical reverberations of the country’s pervasive imagery of warfare, such discursive maneuvers are practical enactments that become intimately entangled with the constitution of urban materialities. Everyday performances of security activate the physical qualities of urban forms and things, endowing them with significance both as sources of insecurity and as vehicles of securitization. While recent scholarship has explored the ways in which urban infrastructure and materiality mediate urban politics, conflicts over Bogotá’s renewal highlight the relational dynamics between social actors’ discursive performances and urban materialities. At stake here is what I conceptualize as ongoing and tentative processes of materialization. As urban actors assemble, calibrate, and deploy repertoires of (in)security, they actively contribute to the material shaping of urban worlds. Tracing such security performances and their attendant materialities usefully refocuses attention on human action and political accountability within complex social-material assemblages. It reveals the ways in which contests over authority and belonging are enacted by a range of urban actors, mediated through specific histories, and sedimented in urban forms. [Keywords: Urban materiality, security, downtown renewal, city planning, bureaucracy, property]


Atmospheric Presence: Reflections on “Mediation” in the Anthropology of Religion and Technology

Bruno Reinhardt, Federal University of Santa Catarina

ABSTRACT—The recent media turn in the anthropology of religion has reinvigorated research about religion and technology by identifying these domains ontologically through the notion of mediation (religion-as-media). In this article, I unpack mediation and propose an alternative set of concepts to tackle this issue. They are theoretical tools that allow me to recognize the atmospheric quality of Christian charismatic faith and presence in Ghana. Charismatic atmospheres persistently dissolve the boundaries of discernible—organic and mechanical—mediators into the ecological medium while unleashing from it special affordances. I examine ethnographically what technology affords to three distinctive prayer methods and the atmospheres they engender: corporate revivals, meditation, and impartation. I conclude by arguing that religious atmospheres provide a specific solution to the question of immediacy or, as I prefer, transcendence, in material religion. [Keywords: Technology, material religion, medium, Charismatic Christianity, Ghana]


Transgressing the Right to the City: Urban Mining and Ecotourism in Post-Industrial Romania

Marc Loustau, College of the Holy Cross

ABSTRACT—This article describes emerging structures of power and informal workers’ everyday resistance in the context of a European Union ecotourism project in the post-industrial Romanian mining town of Bălan. In 2011 and 2012, a public-private partnership began demolishing Bălan’s mine buildings, a project that exemplifies neoliberal capitalist urban renewal. The project also featured a new hybrid of urban reconstruction and urban mining: the extraction and resale of metal from anthropogenic supplies in wasted post-industrial buildings. Unemployed industrial workers, whom I call “informal urban miners,” collected and sold metal alongside formal workers. Of primary importance to informal urban miners was attuning their skill and mode of communication to the demolition company’s workers and heavy machinery. Although at first glance it looked like informal urban mining facilitated their integration into Bălan’s neoliberal economy, I argue that this work offered unexpected opportunities for transgressing project organizers’ authority. Urban anthropologists often overlook such practices when, as in the case of informal urban mining, the differences between resistance and market activity are subtle and contingently negotiated. Informal urban miners’ skill and communicative practices were complexly embedded in emerging structures of power in the post-industrial city: simultaneously a necessity of the working environment, a way of sustaining a livelihood, and a way to transgress the very order that produces and reproduces such wasted urban environments. [Keywords: Urban mining, urbanization, waste, ecotourism, skill, semiotics, post-industrial, Romania]


Striving to be Separate: The Jewish Struggle for Predictability in Casablanca

André Levy, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

ABSTRACT—This article closely observes various survival strategies employed by the tiny Jewish minority in Casablanca aimed at fortifying their notion of predictability; i.e., the ability to foresee how interactions with the vast Muslim majority will unfold. Predictability is essential in the face of the imminent demise of the Jewish community. Jews’ main strategy to achieve this goal is to constitute spaces of encounter where they believe that they can conceal intimate and embarrassing cultural knowledge from Muslims. Jews seem to establish the boundaries of their “cultural intimacy” through the exclusion of Muslims. Ironically, the assumption of predictability is confirmed by the cooperation of Muslims—a co-operation that ipso facto includes Muslims within the realm of Jewish cultural intimacy. Moreover, the behaviors involved in excluding Muslims are part of the intimate and embarrassing cultural knowledge (often seen as dangerous) that is to be concealed from Muslims. Hence, embarrassingly, Jews rely on Muslims’ consenting assistance in order to separate themselves from Muslims. Muslims thus participate in the efforts of their own exclusion from Jewish spheres. [Keywords: Moroccan Jews, minorities, space, predictability, separation, Casablanca]