181-200 of 259 Results

Article

The New Commons  

Katharina Bodirsky

Traditionally, the notion of the commons refers to long-standing common-pool resources such as forests, meadows, or fisheries that are managed communally. By now, the term is used for the communal production and management of almost any material or immaterial resource. “New commons” can include—for example—co-produced knowledge, shared urban space such as housing or community gardens, or communities of care. They are defined less by the particular resource they use than by specific social relations of “commoning”: relatively open, egalitarian, and democratic relations of co-production and co-use by a community of “commoners.” The (new) commons are a central hope for many activists and activist scholars that seek to work toward a postcapitalist future beyond the market and the state and related modes of sexist and racist domination. They are often associated with autonomist, anarchist, and neo-Marxist political practice and thought. Commons imaginaries are moreover central to critiques of neoliberalism and to initiatives that seek to carve out alternative spaces for social and cultural reproduction in an increasingly commodified world. Of particular importance in the literature are urban commons, with cities being key sites both of neoliberal enclosure and of contemporary social movements that practice commoning. Ethnographers are increasingly exploring the complexity of actually existing commons, which often do not easily conform to commoning ideals. Such commons can be prone to co-optation into capitalist processes or have difficulties in maintaining egalitarian relations in communities open to difference. They often stand in ambivalent relation rather than clear opposition to the state. At the same time, anthropologists emphasize how commoning enables new experiences of personhood, sociality, and commonality. While approaches to traditional and to new commons generally differ in central questions and conceptual tools, a possible point of connection is in a shared concern with planetary futures. While much of the literature on the traditional commons is concerned with the sustainable management of natural resources, many “new” commoning initiatives seek to enact postcapitalist relations to nature that are nonexploitative and recognizant of multispecies connections.

Article

New Media and Labor  

Judit Kroo and Ilana Gershon

In the early decades of the internet, many saw new channels of communication as potentially beneficial disruptions, analyzing largely through a utopic lens, albeit often with a technolibertarian bent. This did not last, and by the 2020s, scholars were increasingly pessimistic about how neoliberal logics structured the ways these technologies produced and extracted economic value. The heady promise of newness associated with recently invented communicative technologies had disappeared, to be replaced by despair of surveillance capitalism. Anthropologists of communication are especially well-equipped to study the construction of newness underlying this trajectory from revolutionary promise to all-too-familiar capitalist containment and control. Anthropologists analyze how media are socially constructed as new by attending to the participant structures that tend to accompany new media use—that is, studying the communicative roles and role fractions that participants can adopt or eschew while interacting with, storing, or circulating utterances. To understand how capitalist forms of exploitation so easily undercut the liberatory potential of new media, anthropologists have turned to how neoliberal logics increasingly shape how people value labor and interpret job roles. And in general, anthropological analysis provides a productive attentiveness to the gaps between what people understand about how media affect the message and what people’s actual media practices are, a gap that can reveal nuanced insights into the clashes between people’s hopes and work’s realities.

Article

Northeastern African Stone Age  

Alice Leplongeon

Research on the northeastern African Stone Age is intrinsically linked to the study of human occupation along the Nile, which flows north through the now hyper-arid eastern Sahara to meet the Mediterranean, forming a natural route toward the Sinai Peninsula. Since this is the only land bridge between Africa and Eurasia, the region is often referred to as a “corridor,” with the hypothesis that the Nile Valley may have repeatedly acted as a possible route used by hominins out of (and back into) Africa guiding many research projects on the Stone Age of this region. However, past human occupation of northeastern Africa is far from restricted to the Nile Valley and includes evidence from areas that are now desert on either side of the Nile, as well as the Red Sea Mountains. Throughout the Pleistocene (2.58–0.01 Ma), the region was subject to climatic and environmental fluctuations that may have alternately rendered the desert habitable or the Nile Valley inhospitable for hominin settlement. Researchers have used both European and African terminologies to describe the northeastern African Stone Age record. In particular, the terms Early Stone Age and Middle Stone Age are often used for earlier phases, but Upper Paleolithic, Late Paleolithic, Epipaleolithic, and Mesolithic are commonly used for the later phases. Evidence for the Earliest Stone Age is sparse, but numerous sites are attributed to the later part of the Early Stone Age, the Late Acheulean, after c. 0.6 Ma. The Middle Stone Age is known by many surface scatters of lithic assemblages and few stratified sites, sometimes associated with raw material extraction features. Only a few sites document the Upper Paleolithic in the region, whereas a rich archaeological record documents the hunter-gatherer-fisher societies of the Late Paleolithic. While Acheulean and Middle Stone Age sites are located in the desert areas as well as the Nile Valley, for the later periods until the beginning of the Holocene, c. 12 ka, sites are mainly restricted to the Nile Valley. The study of the northeastern African Stone Age reveals complex human-environment interactions with implications for the potential central role of this region in hominin dispersals out of and back into Africa during the Pleistocene.

Article

Ochre Use in the Middle Stone Age  

Tammy Hodgskiss

The term “ochre” has many meanings: a colored stone, a pigment, sunscreen, a curiosity item, a mustard hue, or even an object used for ritual. Ochre found at archaeological sites is described as a range of earthy, ferruginous rocks with red–yellow–purple streaks. The use of ochre in the past has proven valuable for interpreting not only cognitive capabilities of its users but also for its potential to shed light on behavioral and social factors. The late Pleistocene, and specifically the Middle Stone Age in southern Africa, is a time of significant behavioral and cognitive advances for Homo sapiens—this coincides with the habitual use of ochre. By looking at the collection and use of ochre in the African Middle Stone Age, placed within a global and temporal context, important behavioral conclusions can be made. Ochre has many potential uses, making interpretations of ochre use in the past complicated. Ethnographic and modern analogies are considered as well as the experimental work that has been produced by numerous researchers. All accounts have deepened our understanding of the many ways that ochre may have been used in the distant past. It is likely that both its color and mineralogical content dictated its use in the past.

Article

The Origins and Development of Agriculture in South Asia  

Jennifer Bates

The South Asian subcontinent contains a vast mosaic of environments and lifeways. Agriculture and pastoralism are important food producing systems within this mosaic but coexist alongside hunter-gatherer-fisher-forager groups, shifting cultivators, and nomadic pastoralists that are often marginalized. This interplay between different lifeways has deep roots in South Asian history and prehistory. Despite this, discussions of early South Asian agriculture and pastoralism often depict a limited and narrow dataset, confined to a few sites. As a result it has been argued that the origins of agriculture and pastoralism in South Asia are hard to pinpoint. However, archaeobotanical, zooarchaeological, and genetic data, alongside the growing archaeological record, are showing that the South Asian subcontinent is a rich ground for exploring the complexity and nuance of changing lifeways during the transition to agro-pastoralism. People in South Asia incorporated both nonnative crops and animals from southwest Asia, Africa, and China into existing systems, domesticated local taxa in multiple regions, and continued to exploit wild resources throughout periods of established agro-pastoral systems. A diversity of Neolithics are therefore demonstrated within the subcontinent, and the mixing of traditions is a hallmark of South Asia and is critical for discussions about what early agriculture and pastoralism looked like and what the impacts of changing lifeways and economies were over time.

Article

Origins of Food Production in the High Andes  

BrieAnna S. Langlie

Vertical topography, high altitude, infertile soils, and an arid climate make the Andes of South America a difficult region for agriculture. Nonetheless, archaeologists have found that potatoes, oca, quinoa, and kañawa were first domesticated by ancient famers in and near a region known as the Altiplano. Research indicates that approximately 6,000 years ago hunter-gatherers began to cultivate wild ancestors of these crops. Shortler thereafter, llama and alpaca herders played an important role in developing crop cultivation strategies; potatoes were uniquely adapted to a mobile pastoral lifestyle. By about 1,500 bce there is archaeological evidence that these crops were fully domesticated and supported early village life. Eventually tubers and chenopods were foundational sustenance for civilization and cities across the pre-Hispanic Andean highlands. Breeding over the last four millennia by generations of Indigenous Andean farmers in the diverse environments and climatic conditions of the Andes has resulted in a hugely diverse array of these crops. The outcome of these efforts is that hundreds of varieties of quinoa and over 5,000 varieties of potatoes are grown by Andean farmers in the 21st century. Potatoes in particular are a unique case of domestication for two reasons: (a) ancient farmers figured out how to store them long term through a freeze-drying process; (b) chemicals that are toxic to humans were not bred out of all varieties; rather, ancient people figured out that eating particular clays made the toxic potatoes less bitter and edible. Through paleoethnobotanical and genetic research, archaeologists have begun to shed light on the tangled history of Andean peoples and their crops.

Article

The OsteoDontoKeratic Culture  

Patrick Randolph-Quinney and Anthony Sinclair

The Osteodontokeratic (ODK for short) is a technological and cultural hypothesis first proposed by Raymond A. Dart in 1957, based on fossils recovered from the South African cave site of Makapansgat. Dart proposed that the extinct hominin species Australopithecus prometheus were predatory, cannibalistic meat eaters, and specialized hunters. He suggested that they manufactured and used a toolkit based on the bones (osteo), teeth (donto), and horns (keratic) of prey animals, and that these first tools were evidence for the “predatory transition from ape to man” as a distinct stage in human evolutionary development. Dart based his hypothesis on the analysis of bones of fossil ungulates and other prey species found at Makapansgat. The parts of the skeleton recovered from the cave were biased toward the skull and limb bones, whilst the thorax, pelvis, and tail were largely absent, indicating a selection agent at work. The bones also exhibited evidence of damage, which Dart suggested could only have been caused by intentional violence. Many of the bones were blackened, which he suggested was due to burning or charring in a controlled fire. In his mind, the hominins of Makapansgat were prodigious hunters who used organic tools to kill their prey, whereupon they cooked and ate the meat, discarding waste bone but utilizing some of the skeletal material to make new tools. Dart developed a detailed typology of complete or modified bones that he indicated could be used as clubs, projectiles, daggers, picks, saws, scoops, and cups—in doing so, he confused form with function. Dart and the ODK were championed by the American playwright Robert Ardrey across four hugely successful popular science books starting with African Genesis in 1961. Following Dart, these books portrayed our early ancestors as aggressive hunters killing prey and each other, driven by a need to protect their territory. This concept infiltrated popular culture through the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey released in 1968, making the ODK perhaps the most famous scientific claim for an original form of human technology. Dart’s hypothesis was not widely accepted by contemporary scientists such as Kenneth Oakley, Sherburn Washburn, John Robinson, and C. K. “Bob” Brain, and led Brain to conduct his own field research on the agents of fossil accumulation and site formation processes in South Africa. Brain later demonstrated that the pattern of bone damage and skeletal part representation recorded by Dart at Makapansgat was the result of nonhuman modification, particularly accumulation and dietary processing of ungulate carcasses by large carnivores such as leopard or hyena. Furthermore, the blackening of bone was caused by manganese mineral staining. In testing and falsifying the ODK hypothesis, Brain and fellow researchers laid the experimental groundwork for the discipline of vertebrate taphonomy (the laws of burial and postmortem processes) which is now a cornerstone in paleolithic archaeology and the study of early human origins. It is debatable whether this scientific specialism would exist in its present form without Dart’s claims for the ODK.

Article

Ostrich Eggshell Beads in Later Stone Age Contexts  

Benjamin Collins

Ostrich eggshell (OES) beads are a common feature of Later Stone Age (LSA) archaeology throughout eastern and southern Africa and have the potential to inform on site use, cultural diversity, social networks, and site formation. However, too often OES bead assemblages have not been recorded or studied in the necessary detail to make meaningful contributions to these important questions. In this respect, and to aid future research focusing on the African LSA, OES and OES beads must be discussed in detail, beginning with a background to ostriches and their eggs and commenting on why OES is an important raw material. Then, one should consider OES beads in detail, specifically, the manufacturing process, the social context in which they were made, and how they may have been used in the past. Subsequently, the focus should be on how OES bead assemblages are analyzed, as well as archaeometric approaches to studying OES bead residues and OES bead provenance. The potential insights gained from these diverse and multidisciplinary analytical approaches, especially when combined, are then highlighted through discussing trends in OES bead research from African LSA contexts. These trends include the contribution of OES beads to understanding the complex transition from hunter-gatherers to herders, the identification of different cultural groups in the past, and identifying the presence and extent of past social networks. The final focus should be on future research directions that will benefit OES bead research, specifically more detailed approaches to understanding OES bead diversity and the expansion of experimentally derived taphonomic frameworks for identifying past human and nonhuman behaviors in OES bead assemblages. Future research should build on the growing body of detailed OES bead analyses, as they provide unique insight and a strong complement to traditional archaeological approaches to understanding past peoples, groups, and cultures during the African LSA.

Article

Overindebtedness and Resistance  

Irene Sabaté Muriel

During the first two decades of the 21st century, a wide anthropological literature has tackled the social nature of debt and credit under contemporary capitalism, with its increasing centrality linked to financialization processes that involve the commodification of different kinds of debt. Indebtedness appears in different modalities and reaches different scales: that of individuals or households (consumption credit, mortgages), that of entrepreneurs and firms (microcredits, corporate debt), and that of national economies and public administrations (sovereign debt). In some cases, indebtedness evolves into overindebtedness as borrowers experience persistent difficulties in keeping up with loan repayments, due to a variety of factors, including poor financial decisions, lack of transparency or fraud on the creditors’ side, insufficient consumer protection, structural factors that incentivize recklessness on both the borrowers’ and the lenders’ part, and so on. For critical scholars, acts of borrowing should not be seen as the result of rational choice, but as a behavior naturalized by a neoliberal regime of accumulation where credit plays a central role, and where indebtedness is a precondition for social reproduction, especially among the poor. Although operational definitions of the notion of overindebtedness tend to focus on objective indicators and normative statements, a number of authors advocate for the exploration of its subjective dimension: when is debt experienced as a burden? Overindebtedness, on the one hand, has an impact on material living conditions, as it leads to economic precariousness, impoverishment, and dispossession. On the other hand, it also has political effects: if power relations between creditors and debtors are taken into account, it entails the disciplining and disempowerment of borrowers, who are forced to adopt a neoliberal ethos. In the face of excessive indebtedness, in cases where debts are unpayable and/or are perceived as illegitimate, debtors may react in a variety of ways, giving way to different forms of resistance, including the refusal to repay. The latter usually entails certain consequences, on moral terms—as defaulters are not fulfilling the obligation to repay—and/or in the form of debt enforcement. The politics of such resistances are to be understood as manifestations of opposition against a “debt economy” in which the most basic functions of household and national economies are only attainable through indebtedness. Occurrences of resistance to overindebtedness with explicitly political aims include debt audits, debt cancellation campaigns, different forms of collective disobedience, calls for changes in legislative frameworks, and experimentation with alternative credit-lending institutions. However, there are few cases where borrowers refuse to repay their debt for a conscious, politically motivated reason. In many other situations, their intentionality is not an emancipation from debt, but the attainment of more sustainable conditions for repayment, for instance, negotiating debt restructuration, prioritizing certain financial obligations over others, and so on. Apart from analyzing, comparing, and classifying existing resistances, both before and after the 2008 financial crisis as an important historical milestone, the scholarly literature on the topic also explores the possible conditions necessary for future resistances and a potential society free from financial speculation and exploitative debts.

Article

Paleoepidemiology  

Samantha L. Yaussy

The field of paleoepidemiology utilizes epidemiological and bioarchaeological methods and theoretical frameworks to examine aggregate patterns of disease and other health outcomes in past populations. Paleoepidemiological studies most often use data gathered from the skeletal remains of deceased individuals to investigate the origin and antiquity of specific diseases in the past; explore the coevolutionary history of particular pathogens and their human hosts; and assess patterns of intra- and interpopulation variation in susceptibility to disease, risks of mortality (frailty), and the various health outcomes produced by diseases and other conditions in past human populations. Paleoepidemiological scholarship benefits from an interdisciplinary approach to the study of health and disease in the past, applying analytical techniques common in epidemiological studies of living populations, such as hazards analysis and survival analysis, while also drawing on the theories and methods traditionally employed in bioarchaeological research. However, unlike contemporary epidemiological studies, paleoepidemiological work is also constrained by the biases and limitations of skeletal data, including issues of preservation, hidden heterogeneity in frailty, selective mortality, and the potential for skeletal indicators of stress and disease to simultaneously signal “good” and “poor” health. In spite of these limitations, the field of paleoepidemiology provides valuable insights into past pandemics of diseases like tuberculosis and plague, major epidemiologic transitions in antiquity, and the developmental origins of health and disease in past human populations. Importantly, the results and conclusions of paleoepidemiological research hold value not only for scholars interested in life and health in the past but also researchers and public health experts concerned with understanding and mitigating global health crises in the present and future.

Article

Participatory Design of Language and Culture Archives  

Christina Wasson

Online archives to preserve and share Indigenous language and culture materials emerged in the 1990s and 2000s. They were, in part, a response to concerns about Indigenous language and culture loss that gained prominence during that time period, both in Indigenous communities and in fields such as anthropology and linguistics. From an Indigenous perspective, language and culture were central to community members’ identities and exercise of sovereignty. The development of online archives was also facilitated by technology advances in the 1990s and 2000s, including more sophisticated online platforms for storing and sharing information, broader access to the internet, and digital recording technologies. Prior to the development of online archives, traditional brick-and-mortar archives had a long history of collecting language and culture materials from Indigenous communities. However, they operated in a colonial context in which their practices contributed to the subjugation of Native peoples. In response, the 1970s and 1980s saw a rise in tribal archivists and Indigenous approaches to managing Indigenous materials and collections. Concerns to treat Indigenous materials appropriately and with respect have continued with the development of online archives. One focus has been Indigenous data sovereignty. Some online archives have focused more on language and some have focused more on cultural heritage. The field of documentary linguistics has been highly active in developing language archives, with a particular concern for endangered languages. For example, Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR), Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC), Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), and The Language Archive (TLA) all include data from a large number of different languages. A smaller group of anthropologists has engaged with the development of cultural heritage archives. Anthropologists have also critiqued the colonial logics of traditional archives and theorized what a “postcolonial archive” might look like. Some cultural heritage archives have started to enact these new principles. At the same time, Indigenous communities have developed their own community-based archives, often focused on meeting the needs of community members. Although Indigenous community-based archives have generally had a solid understanding of the needs of their users, archives that collect materials from a large number of communities have not always conducted user research. A user-centered design approach to archives was initiated through a 2016 workshop funded by the US National Science Foundation. In addition, there has been a trend to integrate language and culture materials into combined archives. Participatory design may be the most appropriate approach for archive development because it recognizes and honors the sovereignty of the Indigenous peoples whose materials are included in an archive. One example of an ongoing participatory design process for an archive is a collaboration between Christina Wasson’s research team and four Indigenous communities in Northeast India. Language and culture archives offer opportunities for design anthropologists to engage in a more participatory process than is possible in most private sector work. Many archives, museums, and libraries would be open to hiring people with this expertise.

Article

Pastoralist Ecologies  

J. Terrence McCabe

Rangelands cover more of the earth’s surface (25–45 percent) than any other type of land. The primary livelihood strategy for people living in these lands is the raising of livestock, with an estimated thirty million people in Africa alone depending on livestock for their basic subsistence. Pastoral people are found all over the world, and regardless of what continent on which they are found, the environments in which they live are characterized as marginal, being too dry or cold for cultivation. These ecosystems are also subject to unpredictable extreme events, most commonly droughts. The impact of the environment on pastoral people’s decision-making and livelihoods and the impact of livestock on the environment have been the subject of anthropological inquiry since the 1940s. Beginning with E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s work in the Sudan and Owen Lattimore’s work in China, many aspects of the literature on pastoralism have developed in concert with the larger literature on ecological and environmental anthropology. How to define pastoralism has also been the subject of anthropological debate, and how to define a livelihood as “pastoral” has been complicated by more recent research revealing that people have moved in and out of livestock keeping for millennia. However, the degree to which people depend on livestock, both in terms of subsistence and identity, lies at the core of any definition of pastoralism. In many respects, the anthropological and ecological study of pastoralism has led the way in the theoretical development of the study of human/environment relationships. Theoretical advances have also had important policy implications. The idea that pastoralism will inevitably lead to environmental degradation (the tragedy of the commons argument) has influenced governments and development agencies to advocate for reduced mobility and reduction of the number of livestock kept by pastoral households. This understanding has been challenged by an examination of rangelands as nonequilibrium systems, which would require a rethinking of pastoral development policies and programs. Now ecological anthropologists and other social scientists are examining the resilience of these coupled social and ecological systems as rangeland ecosystems are increasingly fragmented and subject to climate change.

Article

Pastoralists  

Philip Carl Salzman

Pastoralists depend for their livelihood on raising livestock on natural pasture. Livestock may be selected for meat, milk, wool, traction, carriage, or riding, or a combination. Pastoralists rarely rely solely on their livestock; they may also engage in hunting, fishing, cultivation, commerce, predatory raiding, and extortion. Some pastoral peoples are nomadic and others are sedentary, while yet others are partially mobile. Economically, some pastoralists are subsistence oriented, others are market oriented, and others combining the two. Politically, some pastoralists are independent or quasi-independent tribes, others, largely under the control of states, are peasants, while yet others are citizens engaged in commercial production in a modern state. All pastoralists have to address a common set of issues: gaining and taking possession of livestock, including good breeding stock. Ownership of livestock may consist of individual, group, or distributed rights, managing the livestock through husbandry and herding. Husbandry is selecting animals for breeding and maintenance. Herding is ensuring that the livestock gains access to adequate pasture and water. Pasture access can be gained through territorial ownership and control, purchase, rent, and patronage. Security must be provided for the livestock through active human oversight or restriction by means of fences or other barriers. Manpower is provided by kin relations, exchange of labor, barter, monetary payment, or some combination of these. Prominent pastoral peoples are sheep, goat, and camel herders in the arid band running from North Africa through the Middle East and northwest India, the cattle and small stock herders of Africa south of the Sahara, reindeer herders of the sub-Arctic northern Eurasia, the camelid herders of the Andes, and the ranchers of North and South America.

Article

People, Plants, Animals, and Formlings in the Rock Art of Zimbabwe  

Ancila Nhamo

In Zimbabwe, the term “rock art” refers mainly to prehistoric engravings and paintings that were executed on the walls of shallow caves, rock shelters, or faces of boulders across the country. Rock paintings were executed using pigments in a variety of colors and textures while engravings were etched into the rock using incisions, polishing, or pecking methods. The paintings dominate the corpus of rock art in the country. They are found within the granitic boulders that cover much of the country while rock engravings are confined to narrow belts in the eastern, southern, and southwestern parts where the sandstone is found. The spatial distribution of rock art in Zimbabwe helps to show that geology was the influential factor in choosing whether to paint or to engrave. In terms of subject matter, the rock art of Zimbabwe is mostly dominated by what is known as hunter-gatherer art, with a few sites having what has been termed “farmer art.” There is a possibility of some of the art having been made by herders but this requires further research and conformation. The hunter-gatherer art is made up of mostly animals and humans. Nevertheless, the occurrence of plants and geometric figures, especially the “formlings,” sets the rock art of Zimbabwe apart from that of other areas in southern Africa. Farmer art has animal and human figures, mostly in white kaolin and usually found superpositioned on top of the hunter-gatherer images. The color and superpositions led the art to be termed the Late Whites. The possibility of herder art has been raised due to the occurrence of depictions such as handprints and finger-painted dots. These images are associated with herders in neighboring countries such as South Africa and Botswana. Research in Zimbabwe has tended to favor the dominant aspects of rock art. As such, rock paintings have been extensively investigated at the expense of engravings. In the same vein, hunter-gatherer research art has been preponderant as compared to the study of farmer and possibly herder art. Nevertheless, it is important to note that although a lot of strides have been made in rock art research, fewer researchers, especially among the indigenous, have had an interest in these aspects of the Zimbabwean past. Rock art is often overshadowed by the archaeology of the farming communities, which has Zimbabwe culture and particularly Great Zimbabwe as its hallmark. However, it is encouraging to note that there has been an upsurge in students working on projects concerning rock art, which foretells good prospects for the uptake of rock art research in the future

Article

Performativity in Africa  

Katrina Daly Thompson and Mwita Muniko

Judith Butler’s theory of performativity has been highly influential in anthropological studies, particularly of gender and sexuality. Drawing on J. L. Austin’s concept of language as action, Butler’s theory challenges identity categories and emphasizes the role of language and other semiotic resources in constructing, reproducing, and resisting social identities and power relations. While much research has focused on applying Butler’s theory to studies of gender and sexuality in the West, there is a growing interest in its application to diverse cultural settings, including African societies. The use of Butler’s theory of performativity in anthropology to understand how language and other semiotic resources are used to perform specific social actions in African contexts goes beyond gender and sexuality to encompass various areas such as research, statehood, nationhood and nationalism, kinship, religious identity and piety, respectability and social hierarchy, race and ethnicity, morality and dignity, everyday interactions, aging, and citizenship. Examining these aspects of performativity reveals the complex interplay between language and social action in shaping cultural practices and beliefs in Africa and beyond. The translation of Butler’s theory in Africa-focused anthropology emphasizes the importance of examining cultural practices and beliefs within specific sociocultural contexts rather than imposing external frameworks or preconceptions. It highlights the diverse and dynamic nature of African societies’ cultural practices and beliefs, offering a valuable theoretical framework for understanding them and contributing to a nuanced understanding of the construction of social practices and beliefs in African societies and beyond.

Article

Phenomenological Arguments and Concepts for Anthropology  

Bernhard Leistle

Phenomenology is an important branch of 20th century philosophy, which originated in Germany but has been taken up in many countries all over the world. In cultural anthropology, it has informed theoretical as well as methodological perspectives and approaches and has led some anthropologists to proclaim a subdiscipline of “phenomenological anthropology.” The definitions of this subdiscipline and, consequently, the criteria for inclusion in it, however, vary widely and work that is labeled “phenomenological” sometimes shows a lack of acquaintance with philosophical phenomenology. This is typical for interdisciplinary projects, which face the difficulty of formulating the basis for a dialogue between intellectual disciplines with different orientations and traditions. In contrast to a common misunderstanding, phenomenology is not a first-person description of experience but a systematic inquiry into the structures and processes of experience and their philosophical significance. In this effort, the concept of the “intentionality of consciousness” is often described as phenomenology’s major theoretical discovery. This key notion of an essential relation between mind and world can serve as point of access and touchstone for cultural anthropologists to gain a working understanding of other phenomenological concepts like epoché, being-in-the-world, life-world, or otherness. As a philosophy, phenomenology stresses open-endedness, indeterminacy, and in-betweenness of experience and human existence; in this capacity it suggests to cultural anthropologists paradigmatic ways in which to think about their discipline and its relationship to its object of study, the “culturally Other.” But anthropology’s relationship to phenomenology need not necessarily be dogmatic, and phenomenological anthropology can be carried out within the conventional paradigm of a hermeneutic science. In this context, phenomenology provides a wealth of theoretical concepts like embodiment, intersubjectivity, intercorporeality, which enable anthropologists to perform innovative empirical analyses on a wide variety of topics including, but not limited to, cultural differences in sensory experience, cultural contagion of health and illness, immigration, and transnationalism.

Article

Plant Use  

Anna Maria Mercuri

Plant use is a familiar word pair that emphasizes how the great wealth of properties and characters of different botanical species has allowed humans to develop different aspects of their culture. On one hand, plants communicate chemically with each other; on the other hand, their wealth of chemical communication tools has attracted humans, who are interested in colors and smells, taste and food, fuel, wellness, and health. The traces of plants buried in archeological sites—the subject of archeobotany—allow us to reconstruct the steps of the relationship between humans and plants. Surprisingly, the study of botanical remains from the past shows complex uses since the very early stages of human cultures, dating back even before the beginning of the Holocene. The relationship with the environment was structured in forms of increased control, at least from the invention of agriculture (as something that had never existed before) onward, undertaking complex forms of exploitation in accordance with the different cultures in the different regions of the world. In more recent times, people and plants have also progressively developed a history of greater management and interdependence, including the development of agricultural landscapes, selection of domesticated species, and creation of gardens. The relationship with plants changes as society changes, leading to the loss of much knowledge in present times because of less connection and contact with nature. Knowledge and conservation of traditions dealing with plants are studied with ethnobotany, which explores plant use in the present day. Ecology for ecosystem services is the newest perspective on plant use, where perhaps trees return to play a key role in human existence without being cut down, and the green color of chlorophyll returns as a reassuring signal to the human species.

Article

Platform Capitalism  

Maribel Casas-Cortés, Montserrat Cañedo-Rodríguez, and Carlos Diz

Platforms have become a central concern in scholarly production due to their sudden scope and rising popularity in mainstream discourse, which either hyper-celebrate their possible achievements, or over-dramatize underlying consequences. Together with related terms—such as sharing economy, digital ecosystems, algorithmic decision-making—the so-called platform revolution has been portrayed as a profound transformation upon previous modes of economic exchange and models of business organization. Platform scholarship is sharply divided among utopian and dystopian prospects, contributing to a multiplication of terminology and opposing narratives around the emergence and development of platforms. While some fields and disciplines emphasize its multiple potential benefits, others explore its continuities with previous negative trends. Both, defenders and critical scholars of platforms, agree upon the intermediary role of connecting economic agents through technological innovations as the defining feature of platforms. Those working in the field of anthropology—and its sister disciplines such associology, human geography, cultural and media studies, as well as legal scholars—have been steadily contributing to complicate, if not undo, an overly optimist or pessimist portrait of the platform economy. Thanks to case-based studies and empirical appraisals of its inner workings, these disciplines are developing more complex and rather critical accounts of its human and environmental entanglements. The very study of platforms, as with other research objects such as mobility, technology, and racism, among others, request a certain fluidity between disciplinary boundaries, giving rise to transdisciplinary fields and approaches. In the case of the emerging field of platform studies, the discipline of anthropology has a lot to offer. Indeed, anthropology’s attention to materiality, everyday practices, and agency are already informing the literature on platforms. Methodologically, ethnography is becoming one of the main approaches to engage the complexities of platforms. For an anthropology of platforms to fully unfold, three areas of research can be identified as worth exploring: (a) tracing the genealogies and logistics of platform infrastructures; (b) further understanding the limits of this economic model by building and expanding upon established concrete and critical engagements; and (c) accounting for the conjunctural contingency of platforms by paying due attention to expressions of resistance and instances of reappropriating platforms.

Article

Police and Policing  

Paul T. Clarke and Julia Hornberger

Policing, perhaps more than any modern institution, has become the subject of intense political contestation. Police killings have sparked clashes in the public sphere and in the streets over the role of policing in society in diverse places such as the United States, Eswatini, Brazil, France, Hong Kong, and Iran. At the same time, policing from the vantage point of policymakers is often taken as a straightforward way of reordering society, of putting law into practice. What, then, could be gained by studying the police anthropologically—by following them in their everyday work, listening to them in their own words, and seeking to understand them in the context of their own environment? The anthropology of police and policing understands its object of study neither as just reflection of society nor pure execution of policy but as a potent force of imagination and action in itself. On the one hand, policing throws into stark relief the wishful thinking of what orderly society would like to be. This dynamic can take the form of people projecting their desires onto the police or the police performatively enacting these expectations and their own visions of power and authority and who they would like to be. On the other hand, policing manifests itself as a means of exclusion, inequality, and violent differentiation. It operates as a key force within societies at odds with the flourishing, and even survival, of many of those who live within it. The anthropology of policing’s unique perspective originates from the subfield’s diverse geographical and institutional scope, encompassing state and nonstate policing practices in places across the globe. It is also a product of the broader discipline’s approach to quotidian practices as always already embedded in multiple layers of context and inflected by broader social institutions. Within this vein, anthropologists have mobilized ethnographic studies to explore how states are given force and effect through mundane bureaucratic practices and how more foundational notions such as sovereignty, legitimacy, and authority are enacted through policing. Other scholars have shown how policing’s seeming ability to materialize these more transcendental aspects of statehood has lent policing to be embraced and animated by religious practice and justification. Crucial within this scholarship is an emphasis on policing as a provisional and emergent form of authority, which is ultimately dependent on spectacular and quotidian forms of performance. As a consequence, policing has become a rich site for the anthropology of policing to explore how contemporary citizenship is taking shape, how structures of exclusion within it are emerging, and how these exclusions are contested at multiple scales. As these contests have taken greater prominence, the subfield itself has been home to debates not simply over how best to do an anthropology of the police but also whether, in this tense political moment, it is worth studying the police ethnographically at all.

Article

Politics of Identity in Maloti-Drakensberg Rock Art Research  

Andrew Skinner

The contexts of hunter-gatherer rock arts of the southern Maloti-Drakensberg are characterized by enduring patterns of cultural acquisition and social transformation, resulting in communities with highly contextual identities and cultural possessions, but with nonlinear relationships between the two. Attempts to mitigate discontinuities between ethnographic source and interpretive subject, however, have left interpretive methodologies to represent authorship in more singular terms, to the exclusion of potential contextual sources who express identities not outwardly San, despite ancestral trajectories overlapping those of the artists. Recognition of the inheritances of the communities of the present Maloti-Drakensberg, and their transformative histories, necessitates their inclusion not only as sources, but as contributors to ethnoarchaeological process.