phone: 202-994-3215  e-mail:


Volume 89, #2 • Spring 2016




Modern Views, Unblocked: Looking into the Distance in Phú Mỹ Hưng,
a Vietnamese New Urban Zone

Erick Harms, Yale University

ABSTRACT—When describing Phú Mỹ Hưng, an upscale master-planned residential and commercial development located on the peri-urban fringe of Ho Chi Minh City, residents typically emphasize the light, the air, and the openness. They often comment on how modern it is, and describe how it offers a new way of seeing the urban landscape—it offers a “modern view.” The view residents describe is modern because it is unblocked, has depth of field, and allows people to see beyond the dense webs of social relations and concrete walls that circumscribe views elsewhere in the city. This modern view offers people a generalized sense of “release” or of becoming unblocked. In this article, I describe the ways in which residents and visitors engage with, discuss, and even write poetry about open spaces, parks, wide boulevards, and riverfront promenades in Phú Mỹ Hưng. In the process, I show that the modern view they describe is not only a way of looking at landscapes, but also expresses urban social aspirations, which can carry subtle, yet often powerful, political connotations. [Keywords: Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, urban anthropology, vision, master-planning, New Urban Zones]


New Expert Eyes Over Fukushima: Open Source Responses to the
March 11 Disaster in Japan

Luis Felipe R. Murillo, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

ABSTRACT—In this article I explore the responses of the open source community to the Fukushima disaster by describing the development of collaborative technologies to measure radioactive contamination across Japan. Based on participant observation at Tokyo Hacker Space, this paper addresses an emergent form of technoscientific expertise which is not confined to or legitimized by established institutions, but, rather, is distributed and organized around transnational networks of field specialists, companies, educational institutions, and volunteers. Both Tokyo Hacker Space, as an independent laboratory, and Safecast, as a spin-off project, advanced practices of hardware engineering and open data management, which are examined in this article as manifestations of bricolage. As a concluding argument, I suggest that expertise and responsibility are interpretative keys for understanding the possibilities and impossibilities of collaboration and coordination in the context of open source-based responses to the Fukushima crisis. Responsibility has become an open question for Safecast and Tokyo Hacker Space as both have championed openness as an ethical point of departure, a projected outcome, and a collaborative technical practice for humanitarian reasons after the Fukushima disaster. [Keywords: Fukushima, nuclear disaster, hacking, Open Source hardware, hackerspaces, anthropology of technology.]


Embodying the Modern: Neoliberalism, NGOs, and the Culture
of Human Rights Practices in Nigeria

Omolade Adunbi, University of Michigan

ABSTRACT—The idea that neoliberalism is about shrinking the state to make it more effective has often translated to what many have called the “outsourcing” of state responsibilities to NGOs. This article investigates the growing influence of NGOs and NGO practices in Nigeria, while also illustrating Nigerian NGO connections to transnational networks of human rights NGOs. It maps the genealogies of two Nigerian NGOs, CLEEN and CISLAC, through the rise of their leaders. I argue that the culture of NGO practices is emblematic of how neoliberalism loathes the state in ways that privilege NGOs as alternatives to the state. I use this article to think through the following questions: how is it that NGOs engage in claim-making that imbues practitioners with knowledge aimed at reshaping structures of power? Why do NGOs demonize nation-state governance structures perceived as alien and backward? How is it that structures of governance shaped by neoliberal practices are claimed, normalized, and imbibed by NGOs as practices that are modern? These practices, I argue, are illustrative of how the culture of human rights has and continues to transform power structures in Nigeria. [Keywords: Transnationalism, networks, human rights, NGOs, neoliberalism, governance, environment, oil, natural resources.]


Queer Forms: Producing Documentation in Sexual Orientation Refugee Cases

David A.B. Murray, York University

ABSTRACT—Bureaucratic documents are often overlooked by anthropologists because of their “presumed transparency,” that is, the assumption that they provide immediate access to what they document (Hull 2012). However, recent anthropological research reframes documents as mediating objects with active and lively capacities, challenging assumptions of transparency. In this paper, I investigate the production of documents in sexual orientation refugee claims in Canada and how this production is crucial to the creation and surveillance of the category of the “sexual orientation refugee.” I argue that anxieties about the production and circulation of “credible documentation”  (Fassin and Rechtman 2009) by various participants in the refugee system and reliance on “social aesthetics” (Cabot 2013) in making decisions about who is deserving of a letter reflect the state’s increased levels of distrust of refugee claimants. These affective anxieties contribute to particular modes of defining, delimiting, or discrediting sexual identity formations and experiences at all levels of the refugee determination system. [Keywords: Refugees, bureaucracy, documentation, sexual orientation, Canada]


Defending White-Mestizo Invisibility through the Production of Indigenous Alterity: (Un)Marking Race in Ecuador’s Mainstream Press

Maximilian Viatori, Iowa State University

ABSTRACT—This article demonstrates the central role that discursively marked Others play in the defense and maintenance of white-mestizo unmarkedness in Ecuadorian public discourse. It does so through an analysis of the circulation of public discourses of race in interviews with indigenous activists published in the newspaper El Comercio from 1992 to 2004. These interview texts provide critical insight into the discursive strategies employed by white-mestizo editors and reporters to mark indigenous voices, thus naturalizing racial inequalities in Ecuadorian politics and society, and the challenges that indigenous interventions face in upsetting this process of naturalization. [Keywords: white-mestizo; indigenous peoples; discourse analysis; markedness; print media; Ecuador.]


Indecorous, Too Hasty, Incorrect: Market and Moral Imagination in Auhelawa, Papua New Guinea

Ryan Schram, University of Sydney

ABSTRACT—Malinowski quotes a typical Kiriwina man in Argonauts of the Western Pacific: “He conducts his Kula as if it were gimwali” (1932 [1922]:96). This analysis of the difference between ceremonial exchange and barter—not Malinowski’s, but his informant’s—is one reason why Trobriand kula practices resonate with so many. In this article, I suggest one consider the informant’s statement as an action, rather than description, and an attempt to construe who is exchanging what with whom. In this light, I argue, value can be defined as a reflexive stance toward the performativity of exchange itself. This suggests new ways to think about how different kinds of exchange, like markets and gift systems, are articulated. In Auhelawa (Normanby Island, Papua New Guinea), for instance, the term gimwala is used today to denote buying and selling in contrast to traditional forms of trade. Auhelawa rely on both earnings from an informal cash economy as well as gardening. Yet they also attach stigma to gimwala as selfish. How then do Auhelawa market traders exempt themselves from the stigma of the market? In this article, I argue that gimwala denotes not so much a distinct sphere of exchange, but a horizon of moral imagination against which buyers and sellers define themselves, and thus bring their own cash-earning and consumption closer to valued modes of transaction based in kinship and reciprocity. Traders do not struggle to overcome a conflict between spheres as much as embody the conflict itself, positioning themselves at the margins of moral exchange. In so doing, these traders create a new context for alternative kinds of economic behavior. [Keywords: Market, value, communication, morality]