Volume 94,#1

Winter 2021

IN THIS ISSUE: Judith Bovensiepen’s “Can Oil Speak? On the Production of Ontological Difference and Ambivalence in Extractive Encounters”


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


Volume 94, #1 • Winter 2021




Remaking Meat: A Place for Livestock

Brad Weiss, College of William & Mary

ABSTRACT—What is local food? What makes food—the cultivation, production, distribution, and consumption of agricultural products in particular—so resolutely bound up with place? Place is never simply about social membership—it can also be endowed with a sense of historical depth, and a set of particular possibilities. Active engagement with place is always full of potential that transcends the mere condition of being located in a position. In this essay I bring attention to these potentials drawing on field research in more-than-human places, by considering living and working landscapes laden with concerns for cattle in communities across central North Carolina. [Keywords: Food, livestock, landscapes, locality, phenomenology]


Can Oil Speak? On the Production of Ontological Difference and Ambivalence in Extractive Encounters

Judith Bovensiepen, University of Kent

ABSTRACT—Two disparate views emerge as rural people living along Timor-Leste’s south coast are confronted by extractive industries charged with implementing a large oil infrastructure project: emphasis is put either on the productive potential of the non-human environment or on the spiritual connections with particular sites. While political ontology approaches posit that resource conflicts reveal underlying ontological differences between animism and naturalism, this article shows how differences are in fact produced by extractive encounters. Resource extraction promotes the articulation of clear-cut positions, thereby displacing more ambivalent relations with the inhabited environment. The ontological multiplicity of East Timorese origin accounts challenges the analytical prioritization of difference in political ontology and provides a model for attending to multivocality, ambiguity, and political context. [Keywords: Oil infrastructure development, difference, animism and naturalism, resource extraction and conflict, political ontology, multivocality, ambiguity]


Erasing Traces with DNA Tests: Syrian Military Security and Mass Grave Politics in Post-2005 Lebanon

Roschanack Shaery-Yazdi, University of Antwerp

ABSTRACT—This article contributes to the emerging subfield of biohistory by exploring the nexus of forensic science and politics through an analysis of a mass grave exhumation in postwar Lebanon. In late 2005, a few months after the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon, the Lebanese army unearthed a mass grave, carried out DNA analysis, and identified the bodies of several soldiers whose families had long claimed that their sons had been abducted in 1990 and subsequently held in detention across the border in Syria. Focusing on the mysterious fate of these soldiers, I use oral history, archival documents, and ethnographic materials to explore how Lebanese national institutions relied on forensic DNA identification to produce hegemonic narratives that sidelined the demands of the victims’ families for more investigation and care. I demonstrate the overlap between forensic science, national security, and the army as an organ of the state, and I argue that DNA identification tests helped the Lebanese army erase traces of its decades-long collaboration with Syrian military security by allowing it to present the families’ claims of illegal cross-border transfers of abductees and their corpses as examples of irrational or wishful thinking and as a psychological coping mechanism on the part of suffering mothers. The exhumation of the mass grave thus did not promote national solidarity against “foreign occupation,” nor did it have a cathartic effect by helping people deal with a silenced past. Instead, forensic science supported a continuation of silence about past violence. [Keywords: Biohistory, forensic science, mass graves, enforced disappearance, Syrian military security, Lebanese civil war]


Radioactive Performances: Teaching about Radiation after the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Maxime Polleri, Université Laval

ABSTRACT—Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and its release of radioactive contamination, the Japanese state put into motion risk communication strategies to explain the danger of radiation exposure. Through an ethnography of state-sponsored exhibits, hands on activity, and didactic centers aimed at providing radiation information, this article examines how state expertise on radiation hazards is increasingly being disseminated to the public via teaching infrastructure that are jargon-free, interactive, and amusing. In particular, educational infrastructure in post-Fukushima Japan foster a process that I call “radioactive performances,” where radiation is presented as non-threatening and even beneficial. What is the impetus for resorting to such forms of explanations in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster? I argue that radioactive performances promote asymmetrical information about radioactive risks, being partisan toward a state-laden politics of revitalization in Fukushima in order to manage the vulnerabilities of an ecologically and economically precarious Japan. While providing comprehensible information, radioactive performances are partial in their nature, as they omit controversial aspects of radiation dangers, as well as different understandings of what counts as recovery. The notion of radioactive performances is useful to understand how environmental hazards get materialize to support specific politics of recovery in post-disaster contexts.[Keywords: Japan, Fukushima, nuclear disaster, radioactive contamination, performance, risk communication, normalization]



Taking Outside a Ritual: Ethnographers and the Israeli Mimouna

André Levy, Ben-Gurion University

ABSTRACT—In this article, I show how anthropologists’ focus on the marginal frequently becomes a means of reinforcing that marginality. In order to demonstrate this basic point, I take as a case study the Jewish Moroccan Mimouna holiday (as celebrated in Israel). After briefly presenting a possible venue for a critical analysis of the Mimouna, I show how Israeli anthropologists missed such perspective by endorsing widely accepted premises of the holiday’s marginality. I show how ethnographic texts of the Mimouna remove it from the legitimate societal sphere, mainly by overlooking it. When studied, it is “taken outside,” by framing it as deviant, as not belonging to legitimate Jewish-Israeli cultural manifestations. The case of the Mimouna is of particular interest since it poses far too many challenges for the hegemonic premises of Israeli society. [Keywords: Marginalization, ethnography politics, Israeli anthropology, Mimouna]