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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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Popular Infrastructures in West Africa  

Brenda Chalfin

Popular infrastructures in West Africa encompass a broad array of basic utilities enabling access to water, sanitation, power, communication, and transportation networks. Though characterized as “by the people, for the people” formulations, popular infrastructures are rarely stand-alone and intersect with services sponsored by states, international investors, and humanitarian organizations. These amalgams evince a complex politics where self-determination vies with elite accommodation and infrastructural operations command labor and impinge upon public and private life. Most notable across the region is the overwhelming inadequacy of state-based infrastructural orders and the heightened role of corporate capital and commodification to meet and modify basic infrastructural needs and installations. This is evident in the rise of both digital communication networks and high-tech megaports and extractive enterprise across this wide swath of nation-states, the one intensifying social relations and interdependencies, the other promoting de-peopling and alienation. Like the “just-in-time” humanitarian infrastructural aid packages that mark the region’s crisis zones, they each carry their own chimera of promise. Received and reflected on by a diverse populace, these offerings and impositions combine with infrastructural strategies already in place—evident in revitalized tea circles in Niger and Burkina Faso; repair, care, and fabrication networks in Guinea, Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria; public points of gathering in Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Benin; or new conventions of domesticity in Mali, Senegal, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Irreducible to resistance or accommodation, popular infrastructural solutions prioritize opportunity and security in the face of the near inevitable predations of large-scale infrastructural interventions motivated by profit, development, or both.


A Postcolonial Approach to the Right to the City  

Lucas Amaral de Oliveira and Bruna Triana

A postcolonial approach to the right to the city involves the intersection of two multifaceted topics that has yielded an extensive body of scholarship. On the one hand, a postcolonial perspective conceives knowledge production as connected to the colonial matrix of power—a process that resulted in a narrow, Western-centered understanding of the world. On the other, the right to the city, a political motto associated with the French Marxist Henri Lefebvre, focuses on rebalancing the power over urbanization processes by embracing citizens’ prerogatives to co-participate in decision-making concerning the city. Tackling the debate on the right to the city from the standpoint of postcolonial spaces includes exploring a range of social, political, economic, cultural, and spatial axes that offer renewed engagements with the “urban question” from across the social sciences and humanities. In this sense, it is essential to question the universal grammar of the “city,” considering urban changes and local variations, as well as the metrocentric tendencies in the dominant urban theory, such as the concentration on large cities based on a normative and Eurocentric conception of urbanity. A postcolonial approach to the right to the city takes various processes, histories, experiences, projects, spatial perspectives, and agencies into account, considering epistemological and political proposals from the Global South. Critical Urban Theory, for instance, has analyzed varied contexts, times, and places to determine current patterns of urbanization under global capitalism and their far-reaching consequences for contemporary urban life, especially for groups at the margins. In the early 21st century, Postcolonial Urbanism, whether led by political and social movements or scholars, has drawn attention to how imperialism and colonialism have profoundly shaped city landscapes and positioned urbanism within a singular script centered on Western capitalism, modernization, and progress. Both perspectives outline a critical call to rethink and decenter the debate on the right to the city, confronting topics related to contemporary urban dynamics. These topics may include but are not limited to the new designs of citizenship and agency, center-periphery relations, city-making processes not restricted to the Western system of meaning, urban precarity, housing displacement, gentrification, environmental racism, and the costs of housing injustice in different geographical contexts.


Poverty and Resilience in Mexico  

Mercedes González de la Rocha

Resilience has become the dominant conceptual framework through which the changing lives of the poor are understood. Across the disciplines, resilience is taken to be an analytic measure of the capacity to resist, adapt, and transform itself in the impact of a given disturbance or crisis. Critical engagement with the concept and associated literature, however, shows this framework to be neither original nor competent in providing the heuristic tools for a comprehensive and empirical understanding of poverty, vulnerability, and adaptability or responsiveness. Older, socio-anthropological approaches emerging out of Latin American research from the 1970s to the early 21st century mark an important if unacknowledged precedent of resilience scholarship, while demonstrating the potential weaknesses of a conceptual framework that privileges constant capacity and flexible stability at the expense of disadvantage, damage, and irreparable loss.


Precarity, Care, and Popular Economy in Latin America  

María Inés Fernández Álvarez and Florencia Pacifico

The notions of precarity and care have become increasingly central in academic debate. Although both notions have a history dating back to the 1970s, the debates over them have undoubtedly been renewed since the world economic crisis that emerged in 2008. Both concepts have been subject to various reviews according to different disciplinary views and contexts of knowledge production. However, it is possible to identify some points in common across the different lines of analysis that come into play in both cases. From a social and historically situated perspective, the understanding of precarity as an experience that goes beyond what is strictly labor-related has made it possible to bring visibility to the living conditions of a large sector of the population worldwide. By putting on hold views of work based on a formal/informal dichotomy, attention to non-European realities has opened the way to questions and reflections that have led to a rethinking of the ways in which work and the economy are understood, and to consideration of the ways in which individual and collective strategies are generated for the reproduction of life under unwaged and even non-commodified forms of labor. The concept of care, particularly as developed by feminist economics, has also aimed to problematize economic systems which are centered on a self-sufficient ideal subject who meets their vital needs only through the market, and which evidence hierarchies of gender and class that come into play in the valorization and distribution of work. In Latin America, the recent development of a series of unionization and mobilization processes led by workers from the popular economy has meant a revisiting of the debates about the various forms of reproduction of life in populations structurally excluded from wage labor. In recent years, in Argentina in particular, a series of collective organization processes led by unwaged workers has taken place with the aim of claiming rights and improving living conditions for sectors of the population defined as part of the popular economy. The ethnographic analysis of these experiences sheds light on the intersection between precarity and care, contributing to broader questions about ways of making a living and producing well-being in contexts of structural inequality and exclusion from the formal labor market. The dynamics of organization produced by the popular economy entail the implementation of collective forms of care and reproduction of life that stretch the limits of the Fordist model of welfare provision anchored in the labor market and in the nuclear family, thus renewing debates around the ways in which processes of class struggle are configured.


Publics and the Public Sphere  

Andrew Graan

Mass communication is a constitutive part of social life and experience across the world today, affecting how people work, practice religion, engage in politics, understand others, and so on. Indeed, in many world contexts, social actors interact with mass media on a daily basis. In doing so, they not only consume or produce media artifacts but also participate in publics. A public is a particular kind of social form that coalesces as discourse circulates among, and thereby creates, audiences of mutual attention. Through participants’ ongoing orientation to and engagement with circulation of texts and images, publics produce social arenas that link disparate persons into collectivities of shared interests, issues, and convictions. Some publics are large, general, and sustained, such as those centered on national news. Other publics focus on particular topics, such as those related to religious communities, political ideologies, marked social identities, professional worlds, or even hobby and fan cultures. Others still are relatively small scale, such as those formed among the diffuse groupings of friends and acquaintances connected on social media platforms. As venues constituted by the circulation of discourse, publics have wide-ranging social and political consequences. The interests and identities that they privilege and presuppose shape broader processes of social belonging, exclusion, and contestation. Publics ground claims to political authority through assertions of the public interest. Publics also mediate contemporary consumer capitalism, as when advertising targets particular networks of public circulation. In short, publics lie at the center of contemporary social formations and political economies. The anthropology of publics and the public sphere examines how practices and structures of mass communication mediate and generate wider forms of social and political organization. How do publics normalize some identities while marginalizing others? Under what conditions can publics emerge as political actors? How do dominant public spheres shape political cultures? In taking on these questions, anthropologists attend to the regimes of publicity; that is, constellations of participation norms, social imaginaries, media infrastructures, language ideologies, and metadiscourses that organize publics. This analytic perspective illuminates both how normative publicity is reproduced and challenged and to what effect. In addition, in focusing on discursive circulation, scholarship on publics has pushed anthropologists to develop research methodologies that go beyond face-to-face, participant observation as a tool of data collection. The anthropology of publics and the public sphere has thus emerged as a theoretically generative and methodologically innovative field that endeavors to illuminate mass communication and its implications for social life. In doing so, it has generated novel theoretical understandings of mass media, power and affect, consumption and capitalism, identity, belonging and exclusion, and the bases and limits of democratic representation.


Global Entanglements of Recycling Policy and Practice  

Catherine Alexander and Joshua Reno

In line with rising public and policy concern about wastes, there has been a distinct rise in scholarly analyses of these and other developments associated with economies of recycling, focusing especially on people’s material and moral encounters with reuse. These range from nuanced investigations into how lives and materials can both be re-crafted by recovering value from discards; following an object through its many social lives; or focusing on a material such as plastic or e-waste and tracking how waste is co-produced at each stage of creation and (re)use. Examining contested property rights in wastes, together with the infrastructures and ethics of engagements with wastes and their recovery or otherwise, reveal how global economies intersect with a rapidly shifting policy environment and systems of waste management. The global entanglement of policies and practices not only shapes what becomes of waste but also how it is variously imagined as pollutant or resource.


Religion and Moral Economy  

Webb Keane

Religious stances toward moral economy have long provided important resources for critical reflection on economic life. When religious institutions seek to build alternatives to existing economic systems and financial practices, however, they also encounter a range of problems. In contrast to many secular critiques of economics, religious ones tend to be explicit about both their moral directives and the ontological assumptions on which they are grounded and give rise to distinctive economic habits and financial institutions. For this reason, their ethnographic study sheds light on a range of more general anthropological questions about the sources of value, the limits of rational calculation, the morality of debt, the meaning of inequality, economic justice, and the legitimate purposes of an economy.


Rhetoric Culture Theory  

Robert Hariman, Shauna LaTosky, Michał Mokrzan, Jamin Pelkey, and Ivo Strecker

Pragmatic linguistics, discourse analysis, and the ethnography of speaking developed rapidly from the middle of the 20th century, when researchers began to be able to take ever smaller and more efficient audiovisual recording equipment to the field, and computers helped them play back, analyze, and discuss these especially rich new data with their interlocutors on location and with their colleagues at home. Part of this newly energized research was the comparative study of rhetoric—that is, of how distinctive speech practices could have persuasive effects. It soon led to the finding that specific forms of culture produce specific forms of rhetoric, as when economic horizons (hunters, herders, cultivators, etc.) provide specific metaphorical repertoires. However, a further finding took longer to emerge. It was first articulated by the rhetoric culture project, which seeks to explore not only how culture structures rhetoric but also how rhetoric structures culture. This fundamental chiasmus was initially discussed at several international conferences in Germany and the United States and has been elaborated in nine volumes of the Berghahn Books series Studies in Rhetoric and Culture (2009–2022). A key premise of Rhetoric Culture Theory (RCT) is that human beings are neither fully free nor fully determined in what they can do, and that this tension is mediated by the continual generation of discourses from the interaction between intention, convention, and performance. Stephen Tyler has provided a model for this complex process which illustrates the open-ended and emergent nature of discourse and explains how cultures, with their diverse customs, conventions, habits, and lifestyles, are self-organizing configurations continually recreated, negotiated, and changed through texts and performances. Cultural explanation is advanced through attention to processes of argument and appeal, dissonance and resonance, variation and feedback, and the like, but the results may not be objectively functional. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote de la Mancha was chosen as RCT’s icon and telling example of this rhetorically produced and potentially fantastic nature of culture. RCT is also inspired and supported by understandings of the power of the word in other (and especially non-European) cultures. An example of this is Baldambe (Father of the Dark Brown Cow), an elder from Hamar, southern Ethiopia, who provided “historic” moments where in collaboration with the ethnographer spoken words were transformed into written ones, and texts with their own distinctive features and literary style emerged as documented in a number of publications. RCT is also influenced by the tenor of its time, not least an impending climate collapse and other threats that characterize the Anthropocene. Rhetorical and cultural abundance can be part of the existential crisis and resources for renewal on behalf of equity and sustainability. Reflecting on the relationship between speech practices and deep problems can reveal how all of culture is challenged by vicissitudes that are unanticipated and that scale up disastrously, and that call up inventive answers while testing the limits of human ingenuity.


Risk and Finance  

Horacio Ortiz

To study risk in the financial industry, rather than using the concept as an analytic category, anthropological research should instead examine the multiple technical and political meanings it has in the highly standardized procedures used by financial professionals worldwide. One important definition of risk concerns the concept of risk-free, used to qualify the bonds of the most powerful states worldwide, which are expected not to default because of their capacity to find money to pay creditors and their willingness to prioritize them against the rest of the polity. Financial professionals use risk-free bonds as a standard to assess any other activity vying for the funds of the financial industry. If professionals consider the activities riskier according to the risk-free criteria, they will demand these activities pay higher returns, a differential designated as a risk premium. The notion of risk-free thus tends to reproduce a geopolitical order where the most powerful states set the standard of financial value for other financial assets. Another definition of risk includes the mathematical concept of standard deviation, often called volatility, established by considering that prices, returns, or other such financial information have a mathematically “normal” distribution, and hence it makes sense to use probabilistic thinking and tools, such as the calculation of averages and correlations. These methods are combined with a political imaginary of market efficiency established in neoclassical economics, according to which, in efficient markets, maximizing investors seek all available information about assets, so that prices reflect this information and thus function as signals for a socially optimal allocation of resources. In this case, investors should not try to “beat” the market, but accept its prices as signals, and the investment strategy should only seek to minimize volatility. By mathematical construction, the standard deviation of a bundle of series that is not completely correlated is lower than that of one series. According to this view, investment should diversify into as many assets as possible, buying the “whole market.” This is the conceptual foundation of indexed investment, which tends to produce investment portfolios that replicate the market, so that the proportion of each asset in the portfolio supposedly matches its proportion in the “investment universe” of all available assets that pay the risk-free rate of return or a risk premium. This leads to a reproduction of the distribution of money among existing assets and thereby to the reproduction of the social hierarchies that include and exclude social activities from financial industry funding, instituting a small group of powerful states as the global foundation of financial value. In everyday practice, financial professionals thus mobilize standardized definitions of risk, with various ontologies and political meanings, in a way that tends to reproduce current monetary distribution and the global hierarchies that result from it.



Manuel Will

The Sibudan is a technocomplex within the cultural stratigraphy of the southern African Middle Stone Age (MSA), first formulated in 2012. The term was introduced as a working concept to organize the spatio-temporal variability in material culture among the archaeological record following the Howiesons Poort during Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS 3; ~59–24 ka). In contrast to the more widely used name “post-Howiesons Poort” (“post-HP”)—an umbrella term resting primarily upon temporal aspects—the Sibudan possesses a formal definition based on characteristic elements of its lithic technology. The site of Sibudu, located in the eastern part of southern Africa (KwaZulu-Natal), serves as type locality since it has yielded a rich and high-resolution record of modern human occupations during MIS 3. The Sibudan type sequence at Sibudu, dated to ~58 ka and encompassing twenty-three layers, features both characteristic traits and diachronic variability. The consistent techno-typological elements include predominantly local raw material procurement, concomitant use of multiple core reduction methods (Levallois, discoid, platform, and bipolar), manufacture of flake and blade assemblages, as well as soft stone hammer percussion for blades. Temporal variability exists in the proportions and morphologies of tools and unifacial points in particular—including Tongati, Ndwedwe, and asymmetric convergent tools—the presence of bifacial points, as well as the frequency of blank types and different core reduction methods. Comparative studies since 2014 suggest a spatio-temporal extension of the Sibudan in the eastern part of southern Africa during early MIS 3 (~58–50 ka), with marked differences to assemblages of similar ages along the southern coast and Western Cape. The concept is thus not a direct substitute or congruent with the “post-HP” and “Sibudu technocomplex.” On a more interpretive level, the Sibudan has featured in discussions on the trajectory of cultural evolution among early modern humans, the scale and mechanisms of behavioral change during the MSA, and theoretical debate on the relevance of technocomplexes.


Sign Languages  

Erika Hoffmann-Dilloway and Kristin Snoddon

Ethnographic studies of sign languages illuminate and complicate the ways in which the category of sign language is differentiated from other categories, including the categories of language and non-language, different types of sign languages, and signed versus spoken languages. These studies also highlight how sign language ideologies emerge in particular contexts, methods, and interpretations of data. An ethics of nonnormative communication is both an object and a mode of inquiry in anthropological and ethnographic studies of sign languages. Rather than pursuing categorical distinctions between codes and modalities, ethnographic studies show that such distinctions hinge on the situated interpretations that people make based on their life experiences, their sensory orientations, and the ideological frameworks that mediate their assessments.


Social Media  

Kendra Calhoun

Foundational linguistic anthropological theories of community, identity, and multimodality, among other topics, offer invaluable insights into communicative practices on social media. Phenomena on social media also require researchers to continually adapt and update these theories—which were first conceptualized before social media became integral to everyday life—to account for the unique communicative possibilities afforded by constantly evolving digital technology. Like anthropological studies in in-person contexts, anthropological studies of language and culture online vary in scope, theoretical framing, and methodological approach depending on their central topics of inquiry. Social media can be studied within a primarily in-person ethnographic project as one of many sites of communication for members of a community in addition to (or overlapping with) contexts such as work, school, and the home. Social media can also be studied as primary sites of analysis through digital ethnographic approaches, typically focused on the communication patterns within a network or community of social media users on a single platform. Linguistic anthropological perspectives on social media are necessarily interdisciplinary, informed by scholarship in related fields including sociolinguistics, cultural anthropology, communication studies, and media studies. To this interdisciplinary understanding linguistic anthropology contributes a unique perspective attuned to the details of linguistic structure and the ways language and culture are mutually constitutive.


Squatter Housing  

Alan Smart

Squatting is one of the most important forms of housing for the world’s poor, accommodating perhaps a billion people, with the numbers continuing to grow. Squatters occupy vacant land or buildings without the consent of the owner. Squatting in existing buildings is more common in the Global North, particularly in Europe, and tends to be more political, often explicitly anticapitalist, than squatting on vacant land, which accounts for the vast majority of squatters, particularly in the Global South. Urban squatter housing needs to be seen as valuable housing rather than just as a social problem. Housing generally has exchange value, a price on housing markets, as well as use value, the utility of it for those who live in it. Early research dealt primarily with use value because of the emphasis on self-building and collectively organized invasions of land. Demand for scarce stocks of affordable housing leads to market prices despite governmental denial of the possibility of ownership of illegal dwellings. Squatter housing often meets the needs of poor people more effectively than public housing, and policy initiatives around the world are attempting to enhance the utility of informally built and regulated housing while mitigating the environmental problems that they can cause. Formalizing informal housing is a key but controversial policy. Research has revealed that informal tenure security is considered adequate by residents, resulting in lower than expected demand for squatter titling. Formalization may also lead to gentrification and thus diminishes the abilities of informal housing to provide affordable accommodation.


Surrogacy as Labor  

Anindita Majumdar

Surrogacy as labor is an important theoretical idea within anthropology. Emerging from ethnographic and feminist engagement, surrogacy or the practice of a woman gestating an artificially or naturally conceived fetus in her uterus for an infertile or childless couple, with the promise of compensation or a gesture of “gift-giving,” has been controversial. The idea of motherhood as a form of labor is especially under scrutiny within the practice of surrogacy as it becomes technologically supported through in-vitro fertilization and other forms of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) and begins to be global. Against the universally socially exalted positioning of motherhood, the problematic practice of surrogacy defies social conventions. Thus, surrogacy as labor is a difficult proposition socially and morally, bringing forth questions regarding “body work” and intimate labor—all of which are represented within the practice of surrogacy. As a field of enquiry, surrogacy as labor includes theoretical and ethnographic engagements regarding the rise of transnational surrogacy and the “hiring” of women from the Global South by couples from the Global North, and what this has meant for pregnancy, birthing, and ART. Most importantly, labor and motherhood are enmeshed in this complicated narrative of family-making that involves the intermixture of race, culture, and commerce in an uneasy relationship. In thinking through the understanding of surrogacy as labor, it is important to trace its linkages with kinship, family, commerce, and medicine. Thus, surrogacy as labor is analyzed within the following themes: as linked to other forms of precarious labor that are also enmeshed in the “hostile worlds” of money and intimacy (such as sex work and domestic labor); as a process of kin-making; and as the most legislated form of work, globally.


Sustainable Development  

Eric Hirsch

Sustainable development was famously defined in the 1987 Brundtland Report as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” In the decades that followed, anthropologists have made clear that the term requires a more specific redefinition within its context of late capitalism. For anthropologists, sustainable development evokes the effort of extending capitalist discipline while remaining conscious of economic or environmental constraints. Yet they have also found that sustainable development discourses frequently pitch certain forms of steady, careful capitalist extension as potentially limitless. Anthropologists have broadly found “sustainable” to be used by development workers and policy experts most widely in reference to economic rather than environmental constraints. Sustainable development thus presents as an environmentalist concept but is regularly used to lubricate extraction and energy-intensive growth in the name of a sustained capitalism. The intensifying impacts of climate change demonstrate the stakes of this choice. Anthropological interruptions and interrogations of the sustainable development concept within the unfolding logic of late capitalism range from the intimate and local realm of economic lives, to the political ecology of resource extraction, to the emerging ethnography of climate change. Anthropologists investigate sustainable development at these three scales. Indeed, scale is an effective analytic for understanding its spatial and temporal effects in and on the world. Anthropologists approach sustainable development up close as it has been utilized as a short-term disciplinary instrument of transforming people identified as poor into entrepreneurs. They can zoom out to see large extractive industries as, themselves, subjects and drivers of a larger-scale, longer-term framework of sustainable development. They also zoom out even further, intervening in emergent responses to climate change, a problem of utmost urgency that affects the globe broadly and far into the future, but unevenly. The massive environmental changes wrought by energy-intensive growth have already exceeded the carrying capacity of many of the world’s ecosystems. Climate change is at once a grave problem and a potential opportunity to rethink our economic lives. It has been an impetus to redefine mainstream approaches to sustainable development within a fossil-fueled capitalism. However, a deliberate program of “neoliberal adaptation” to climate change is emerging in sites of sustainable development intervention in a way that promises a consolidation of capitalist discipline. Anthropologists should thus engage a more robust ethnographic agenda rooted in environmental justice.