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Article

Magical Practice  

Timothy de Waal Malefyt

The word “magic” refers to a broad range of beliefs and practices that include animism, charm(s), divination, enchantment, fantasy, fetish, glamour, illusion, miracles, the occult, shamanism, sorcery, spells, the supernatural, superstition, taboos, trickery, and witchcraft. Magic―once thought a core feature of “primitive societies,” abandoned by more rational, bureaucratic and progressive beliefs―is, in fact, thriving in contemporary life, and central to practices of capitalism as well as to everyday behaviors. Magic is practiced in fields of finance, government, law, medicine and health, technology, advertising, marketing, sports, the gaming industry, and theatrical performances, among other institutions. When situations allow for the assemblage of a “magician,” “rite,” and “representation” within these complex social networks and when professional skills, ideas, conditions, contexts, media, and meanings align, magic acts as an agent of change. Magic is also practiced in everyday situations in which people need to feel a sense of control in circumstances where it’s lacking, such as performing well under competitive conditions or during times of crisis with indefinite outcomes. Consequently, they rely on magical thinking—in the forms of superstitions, wishful thinking, and taboo avoidance—which is often accompanied by charms, amulets, or acts of faith to guide them through uncertainty. Conjuring terms such as “fate” and “luck” to ward off illness or improve one’s chances at getting a hit in baseball, are, in fact, ways of expressing ambiguities and dealing with conflicts of temporal existence that all humans face in one form or another. Magic structured in institutions and practiced in everyday situations is a prime example of contradiction in contemporary life. Objective knowledge of facts is increasingly understood as contingent rather than permanent, leaving room for uncertainty, mystery, the unknown, and seemingly nonrational alternatives. Scientific evidence becomes as valid as alternative facts. Documenting recent developments, it is suggested that rationality and magic are not mutually exclusive. Rather, rational behaviors and practices are suffused with magic. Magical beliefs and specific rituals complement practical knowledge so as to enhance knowledge as a way to secure success. All of these ways of thinking and social practices have something at stake, in that risk, uncertainty, and ambiguity of outcome are prevalent, and hence call on magical practices to bring about change.

Article

Malthusian Thought  

Glenn Davis Stone

Robert Malthus’s 1798 Population has proven to be one of the most influential publications in history. Challenging ideas popular among Enlightenment writers, including the perfectibility of human institutions, he argued that since population could grow exponentially and agriculture only linearly, there was an inherent and irresolvable imbalance in nature that unavoidably led to population being checked by mortality among the poor. The policy implication was that aid to the hungry would only create more misery. The most famous “proof” of the theory came in Ireland in the 1840s, and Malthus’s policy recommendations were followed. However, Ireland was setting food export records during the famine, and agriculture has grown much more rapidly than population ever since. The basic tenets of Malthus’s have been debunked, but it continues to be influential, especially in the form of neo-Malthusianism, largely because of the interests it serves.

Article

Managing Heritage Sites and the Politics of Cultural Continuity in Mesoamerica  

Fernando Armstrong-Fumero

The dynamic between indigenous descendant communities, archaeologists, and other heritage professionals in Mexico and Central America embodies a distinct regional history of relations between native peoples and the state. In contrast to the United States and other regions, where indigenous polities have a history of legal sovereignty, the legacy of Spanish colonialism has created few parallel avenues for native Mesoamericans. Linguistic, cosmological, and social continuities between living and ancient indigenous populations have long been an emphasis of Mesoamericanist anthropology. Nevertheless, laws for the management of heritage in those countries often marginalize descendant communities from the use and stewardship of the material traces left behind by their ancestors. The ethical dimensions of this dynamic are further complicated by the fact that many activities that are criminalized by existing heritage laws are, in fact, consistent with long-standing traditions of landscape use and material recycling in these societies. Lacking the sovereignty principle that shapes interactions between indigenous communities and archaeologists in the United States, a more inclusive practice of heritage in Mesoamerica involves new kinds of pragmatic dialogue and accommodation.

Article

Maritime Archaeological Research in Sub-Saharan Africa  

Bruno E.J.S. Werz

Maritime archaeology in sub-Saharan Africa is still in its early development stage. An extensive literature survey indicated that relatively few projects of this nature have been undertaken in these parts. Even fewer warrant the adjective “scientific,” based on the dearth of peer-reviewed academic publications that have appeared to date. Based on the survey, it seems that most research is undertaken in South Africa, Kenya, and Namibia, and the emphasis therefore lies with these countries.

Article

Markets and Corporations  

Keir James Cecil Martin

Corporations are among the most important of the institutions that shape lives across the globe. They often have a “taken for granted” character, both in everyday discourse and in economic or management theory, where they are often described as an inevitable outcome of the natural working of markets. Anthropological analysis suggests that neither the markets that are seen as their foundation nor corporations as social entities can be understood in this manner. Instead, their existence has to be seen as contingent on particular social relations and as being the outcome of long processes of historic conflict. The extent to which, at the start of the 21st century, corporations satisfactorily fulfill their supposed purpose of managing debt obligations in order to stimulate economic growth is particularly open to question. This was traditionally the justification for the establishment of corporations as separate legal actors in economic markets. Some 150 years on, other sociocultural relations and perspectives shape their boundaries and activities in a manner that means that their purpose and character can no longer be assumed on the basis of such axiomatic premises. Instead, their actions can be explained only on the basis of historic and ethnographic analysis of the contests over the limits of relational obligation that shape their boundaries.

Article

Matauranga Maori and Environmental Research: The Interface of Māori Knowledge and Anthropology  

Marama Muru-Lanning

In a world where scholarship is constantly evolving and adapting, Mātauranga Māori is emerging in Aotearoa–New Zealand as a unique and legitimate knowledge source. The word Mātauranga is composed of two parts: mātau, which means to know, be acquainted with, or understand, and the suffix ranga, which turns the word from a verb into a noun. Mātauranga Māori is knowledge passed down intergenerationally from Polynesian ancestors, linking kin across time and space. It is knowledge that belongs to Māori from their earliest beginnings in Hawaiki to descendants living contemporary lives in Aotearoa–New Zealand and in other parts of the world. Guiding and informing Māori lives, Mātauranga Māori is a continuum of ancestral knowledge that binds people. Importantly, relationships between whānau (family), marae and hāpori (communities), and hapū (sub-tribes) are melded through shared experiences and practices of Mātauranga. Shaping the Māori world, Mātauranga Māori is comprehensive and includes creation stories, genealogy, history, oratory, the creative arts, environmental and technological knowledge, and local traditions specific to places and communities. Additionally, it contains the meanings and values of other significant Māori concepts such as kaitiakitanga (guardianship), rangatiratanga (leadership), mana (authority), mauri (life force), whanaungatanga (relatedness), tikanga (customs and protocols), and whakapapa (genealogy). Mātauranga Māori has historically been excluded from New Zealand’s mainstream curriculum, but this is changing as its value and potential become recognized by the state. The body of knowledge offers new ways of seeing the world, and many scholars, both Maori and non-Māori, believe it may be used to address some of the critical issues we face as a global society. Along with the desire for Mātauranga to be included in Aotearoa–New Zealand’s mainstream education, a domain previously dominated by Western science, there is a deep concern that Māori knowledge will be appropriated to benefit “others” who do not whakapapa to the original Mātauranga sources. This is an issue that Māori communities and Māori researchers must address going forward.

Article

Mental Illness  

Bianca Brijnath, Samantha Croy, and Josefine Antoniades

The anthropology of mental illness involves the study of human distress in context, which in turn shapes the way in which distress is understood and treated. Anthropology provides theoretical foundations and an ethnographic approach that attends to the lived experience of mental illness as well as capturing the intersections of the cultural, social, political, economic, historical, and ecological in the everyday. Much work in the field has contributed to an appreciation of similarities and differences across societies and cultures, with increasing recognition of the dynamic and fluid nature of understandings and practices associated with mental health in an interconnected world. Analyses of how the dominance of Western psychiatry and pharmaceutical interventions shape understandings and approaches to treatment show that these can be at once lifesaving and limiting; other work highlights the vast resources across human cultures for coping with mental distress. Studies that emphasize the sociostructural as well as the cultural raise questions of whether mental distress should always be pathologized and whether solutions may lie in improvement of the conditions in which people live. Anthropologists’ acquaintance through their fieldwork with the lives of people with mental illness and their families and communities allows them to provide critical insights into the enduring problems in the field as well as possibilities for hope and recovery. The discipline’s theoretical resources provide tools for understanding the sociality of what might otherwise be considered as deeply personal. Necessarily interdisciplinary, the anthropology of mental illness reveals the complexity of mental illness as human experience and underscores how a singular monocultural approach to addressing the challenge of mental illness is insufficient.

Article

Migration, Displacement, and Dispossession  

Nina Glick Schiller

Debates about migration, whether led by politicians or scholars, often approach migration as a relatively new challenge and categorize it as a “destabilizing force,” ignoring the fact that the world’s past and present has been built by human movement. Humans have always migrated. Individual and population mobility as well as settlement are part of humans’ shared history. To integrate migration into an understanding of humans’ shared past, present, and emerging possible futures, several concepts prove useful including migration regime, displacement, dispossession, conjuncture, colonization, border-making, nationalism, and racialization. Deployed together, these concepts identify moments in human history in which migration has been understood to be part of the human experience and when, where, and how migrants have been stigmatized, and those who move defined as culturally or biologically inferior. By coupling the concept of migration regimes with an analysis of changing modes of dispossession and displacement over millennia, scholars can illuminate the intersection of the economic and political transformations of governance structures as well as the varying concepts of “the migrant” and “nonmigrant,” and “native” and “foreigner.” Anti-immigrant ideologies preclude discussion of the broader economic and political restructurings that underlie both increased human movement and anti-migrant sentiments. They also deflect attention from a set of questions that are at the heart of the anthropology of migration: Why do people leave familiar terrains, family, and friends? How do they manage to move and settle elsewhere? How do they relate to the life they left behind? These are questions that can equally be asked of people who move to another region of a country or travel across political boundaries. To answer these questions migration scholars have explored the linkages between forms of human mobility and processes of dispossession, displacement, and resettlement. In these investigations, social networks prove to be central to mobility and settlement. Since the 15th century, changing Western theories about human migration and the origins of political and social boundaries reflected transformations in political economy. Globe-spanning migration regimes used violent force, border formation and dissolution, documents, surveillance, and criminalization to allow the migration of some and disallow the movement or settlement of others. During that period, marked initially by colonialism and slavery, and then by nation state building and anticolonial struggles, migration scholars including the anthropologists took varying positions on the significance of mobility and stasis in human life. By the beginning of the 21st century, the accumulation of capital by dispossession emerged as a process increasingly central to a historical conjuncture marked by both heightened migration and anti-immigrant nationalism. Political struggles for social and environmental justice began to merge with movements in support of migration. This political climate shaped a new engaged anthropology of migration.

Article

Mining and Indigenous Peoples  

Nicholas Bainton

Anthropologists have been studying the relationship between mining and the local forms of community that it has created or impacted since at least the 1930s. While the focus of these inquiries has moved with the times, reflecting different political, theoretical, and methodological priorities, much of this work has concentrated on local manifestations of the so-called resource curse or the paradox of plenty. Anthropologists are not the only social scientists who have tried to understand the social, cultural, political, and economic processes that accompany mining and other forms of resource development, including oil and gas extraction. Geographers, economists, and political scientists are among the many different disciplines involved in this field of research. Nor have anthropologists maintained an exclusive claim over the use of ethnographic methods to study the effects of large- or small-scale resource extraction. But anthropologists have generally had a lot more to say about mining and the extractives in general when it has involved people of non-European descent, especially exploited subalterns—peasants, workers, and Indigenous peoples. The relationship between mining and Indigenous people has always been complex. At the most basic level, this stems from the conflicting relationship that miners and Indigenous people have to the land and resources that are the focus of extractive activities, or what Marx would call the different relations to the means of production. Where miners see ore bodies and development opportunities that render landscapes productive, civilized, and familiar, local Indigenous communities see places of ancestral connection and subsistence provision. This simple binary is frequently reinforced—and somewhat overdrawn—in the popular characterization of the relationship between Indigenous people and mining companies, where untrammeled capital devastates hapless tribal people, or what has been aptly described as the “Avatar narrative” after the 2009 film of the same name. By the early 21st century, many anthropologists were producing ethnographic works that sought to debunk popular narratives that obscure the more complex sets of relationships existing between the cast of different actors who are present in contemporary mining encounters and the range of contradictory interests and identities that these actors may hold at any one point in time. Resource extraction has a way of surfacing the “politics of indigeneity,” and anthropologists have paid particular attention to the range of identities, entities, and relationships that emerge in response to new economic opportunities, or what can be called the “social relations of compensation.” That some Indigenous communities deliberately court resource developers as a pathway to economic development does not, of course, deny the asymmetries of power inherent to these settings: even when Indigenous communities voluntarily agree to resource extraction, they are seldom signing up to absorb the full range of social and ecological costs that extractive companies so frequently externalize. These imposed costs are rarely balanced by the opportunities to share in the wealth created by mineral development, and for most Indigenous people, their experience of large-scale resource extraction has been frustrating and often highly destructive. It is for good reason that analogies are regularly drawn between these deals and the vast store of mythology concerning the person who sells their soul to the devil for wealth that is not only fleeting, but also the harbinger of despair, destruction, and death. This is no easy terrain for ethnographers, and engagement is fraught with difficult ethical, methodological, and ontological challenges. Anthropologists are involved in these encounters in a variety of ways—as engaged or activist anthropologists, applied researchers and consultants, and independent ethnographers. The focus of these engagements includes environmental transformation and social disintegration, questions surrounding sustainable development (or the uneven distribution of the costs and benefits of mining), company–community agreement making, corporate forms and the social responsibilities of corporations (or “CSR”), labor and livelihoods, conflict and resistance movements, gendered impacts, cultural heritage management, questions of indigeneity, and displacement effects, to name but a few. These different forms of engagement raise important questions concerning positionality and how this influences the production of knowledge—an issue that has divided anthropologists working in this contested field. Anthropologists must also grapple with questions concerning good ethnography, or what constitutes a “good enough” account of the relations between Indigenous people and the multiple actors assembled in resource extraction contexts.

Article

Musical Bows in the Rock Art of Southern Africa  

Joshua Kumbani and Oliver Vogels

Rock art is ubiquitous in southern Africa. It can be assumed that playing musical bows was a similarly widespread cultural tradition in prehistoric southern Africa. But discerning musical performances from other uses of the bow in the rock art is not trivial. Qualified arguments for musical performances therefore rest on the ethnographic record. Depictions of musical bows have been identified only in two rock art collections from South Africa and Namibia. In South Africa musical bows are known from the Maloti Drakensberg mountains in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, and Maclear District in the Eastern Cape Province. In Namibia, the musical bows have been identified mainly in the mountainous massif called Dâureb (its local Damara name) or Brandberg (its foreign Afrikaans name) and the surrounding region in northwestern central Namibia. The occurrence of musical bows in the rock art sheds light on some of the musical instruments that were used in the past and their playing techniques. This is important in music archeological studies, which involve the analysis of music-related artifacts or sound-producing artifacts and their cultural background from the archeological record, or the investigation of the effects of sound in past societies. Rock art is an important source that can be used in music archeological studies. Ethnographic information also gives another depth in describing musical bows and allows one to differentiate contemporary music cultures from the past. There are some notable similarities and differences between the musical bows from South Africa and Namibia. These similarities and differences come in the form of the technical aspects of how sound is produced (organology) by the musical bows and playing techniques, exhibiting distinct music cultures. What stands out is that in most cases the string is turned away from the player, which is different when a bow is used for shooting, as well as the use of a tapping stick to play the bow. The musical bow depictions in Namibia do not have resonators, whereas most of those depicted in South Africa do. However, the musical bows in Namibia are braced or have a string that divides the bow string into two sections (tuning noose), whereas none have been recorded in South Africa.

Article

Muslim Food Culture  

Shaheed Tayob

The anthropology of Muslim food practices is a burgeoning field that promises to shift the focus away from the dominant concern with rules, conformity, and piety. Food offers an embodied and material location through which to explore the way in which religion, economy, technology, ethics, and everyday life intersect. Studying food brings into view an aspect of Muslim religious and social life that is often commented on in popular media but rarely in scholarly debate. Halal consumption, a practice rooted in intra-Muslim trade and trust, is now a global consumer market. The halal certification industry has emerged to both produce and respond to the new discursive and material context of global trade, consumption, and increasingly scientific eating habits. The new terrain of molecular halal presents opportunities and challenges for Muslim consumption. Beyond halal, food is a substance thought to produce and transmit divine grace (barakat). All-night Ramadan markets and the annual festival of sacrifice are events that draw worldwide attention. Novel phenomena include ever increasing spectacles of feasting and consumption during Ramadan and the emergence of welfare intermediaries that cater to the distribution of sacrificial animals and meat across the globe. In each instance, one obtains an insight into how a discursive and material set of practices that link religion and food are inhabited and transformed in different economic, social, and political contexts. Further research calls for further investigation of these crucial global arenas of Muslim everyday life.

Article

Narrative in Sociocultural Studies of Language  

Sabina M. Perrino

Narratives are primary modes in human communication and engagement across cultures and have been used as key analytical tools in numerous disciplinary fields. While defining what a narrative is, how many units it contains and so forth has been a daunting task in narratological studies, it is important to emphasize that, since the narrative turn in the 1980s, narratives have been appreciated not only for their content, or “denotational text,” but also for their pragmatic effects in the here-and-now of speech participants’ interactions, or their “interactional text.” More specifically, linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists consider narratives-as-practices instead of relying only on narratives-as-texts. From the classic Labovian model, in which narrative units are key elements for a narrative to be considered as such, to the more pragmatic and discursive approaches to narratives, many theoretical advancements have been made in this field. A linguistic anthropological analysis of a set of narratives collected in northern Italy (2003–2023) and in the United States (2017–2023) illustrates these discursive and pragmatic approaches to storytelling. These analyses demonstrate that narratives are interactional events in which their sociocultural surrounding is fluid and unpredictable, and, crucially, it always influences the story in significant ways as it unfolds in interaction. In this respect, while the narrative model elaborated by William Labov in the 1960s has been widely used, linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists have meaningfully advanced this field by adding an important pragmatic layer to their narrative theories and analyses. In their view, narratives need to include not only the sociocultural context in which they are told but, importantly, speech participants’ contributions during the storytelling event. Within this analytical and theoretical framework, scholars can unveil narrative patterns that would remain covert otherwise, such as the various spatiotemporal (or chronotopic) configurations that are encapsulated in the collected stories. In this sense, participants’ past stories can become part of the here-and-now interaction. Thus, narratives hardly have a clear division between the past story and the present storytelling event, which, at times, conflate and become one.

Article

Natural Parks: Political, Economic, and Socioecological Relations  

Cecilia Paradiso

Protected areas occupy a high-profile position in the politics of environmental conservation, largely due to their history and their contemporary distribution. Although these institutions’ stated goals appear as largely unequivocal (e.g., the preservation of one or more environmental elements), numerous studies in the social sciences have revealed the complex and diverse realities that hide behind their designations and models. By observing the political, economic, and socioecological relationships in which natural parks (and especially national parks) participate, we can sketch an overview of this complexity, along with the plurality of critical approaches to these topics found within the panorama of contemporary anthropology. First, the history of national parks and its intertwinement with the emergence of environmental concerns on the global political stage demonstrates the political impact of this topic, located at the center of shifting geopolitical contexts. Next, a thematic review of anthropological studies on environmental conservation, which also touches upon the interdisciplinary dialogues that characterize the field, helps us to grasp connections between different stakes (epistemological, economic, political, symbolic) and to evaluate the frictions between broad dynamics and localized scenarios. In this sense, ethnographic evidence from the national park of the Maddalena archipelago (Sardinia) enables us to deepen our understanding of the directions considered more or less innovative for conservation, such as sustainable development and its corollaries or cap-and-trade systems for emissions. This approach is founded on a situated context, nourished by an interdisciplinary dialogue, and develops an attentiveness to the interrelations between living species, climactic elements, and inorganic elements. As such, this work invites us to move beyond the conceptual vagueness of notions that cut across the field of environmental conservation and to note the political dimension of individual and collective engagements.

Article

Neoliberal Conservation  

Robert Fletcher

Neoliberal conservation describes a dynamic wherein prominent organizations around the world concerned with biodiversity protection have increasingly adopted strategies and mechanisms that seek to reconcile conservation with economic development by harnessing economic markets as putative mechanisms for financing nature conservation. Since the turn of the millennium, a vibrant discussion around this topic has arisen across anthropology, geography, and related fields. Within this discussion, the rise of neoliberal conservation is generally treated as part of more widespread processes of neoliberalization occurring throughout the global economy since the 1980s, promoting a constellation of core principles including privatization, marketization, decentralization, deregulation, and commodification. Neoliberal conservation arose out of a growing concern among prominent conservation organizations to include poverty reduction and economic development within their mandates as well as to capture additional funding via partnerships with wealthy corporations. It is commonly implemented through a series of so-called market-based instruments (MBIs), including ecotourism, payment for environmental services (PES), and biodiversity and wetlands banking, as well as financial mechanisms such as green bonds. However, evidence suggests that promotion of neoliberal conservation rarely achieves intended outcomes in actual implementation. This has led some researchers to argue that these activities are thus not neoliberal at all, while others defend this characterization within an understanding of neoliberalization as a variegated process. Researchers also point to the rise of right-wing authoritarianism as a potential challenge to neoliberal hegemony, yet the implications of this trend for conservation policy and practice remain little explored. Thus, the important open question is raised of whether neoliberal conservation was the product of a particular political era that is coming to an end, and if so, what will arise in its aftermath.

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

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

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

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.

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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.