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Article

Anthropocene  

Amy Johnson, Chris Hebdon, Paul Burow, Deepti Chatti, and Michael Dove

The Anthropocene is a newly proposed geological epoch that situates humans as geological agents responsible for altering Earth systems as evidenced in the geological record and directly experienced through the earth’s changing climate. There remains significant debate regarding when humans manifested change in Earth systems, as well as how human influence in planetary processes is evidenced geologically. As of 2022, “Anthropocene” has yet to be adopted as an official category of geological time by the International Commission on Stratigraphy and the International Union of Geologic Sciences. Its influence has nonetheless outpaced academic debate, informing politics, policies, and opinions worldwide. In this context, anthropologists engage the Anthropocene simultaneously as a coupled biophysical and geological fact and an imaginary shaping human relations to Earth and environment. While upholding the validity of the Anthropocene as a reflection of accelerating planetary-scale environmental changes, anthropology is notable for asking critical questions about how the concept is developed and mobilized and what mainstream interpretations of the Anthropocene hide from view about life on our changing planet. Anthropology has been especially sensitive to the ontologies of time latent in the Anthropocene debates, recognizing the plural ways time is lived globally and how the concept of the Anthropocene interacts with ideas of past, present, and future. Moreover, in concordance with the standpoints of Indigenous theory and feminist and queer studies, and in conversation with critical scholarship of power and justice, anthropology has contributed to ongoing discussion about the criteria used to evaluate the Anthropocene’s beginnings, advancing discussions about the complicity of political economies of capitalism, colonialism, and plantations in the production of the Anthropocene. The engaged ethnographic approaches central to contemporary anthropology have thus deepened understanding of how the proposed Anthropocene epoch is lived and how its framing is changing human relations to environment and responsibilities for Earth’s future.

Article

Anthropology and Catholicism  

Christine Lee

Roman Catholicism has been a repeated subject of interest for anthropology, from Julian Pitt-Rivers’s early ethnography of an Andalusian Catholic community to Talal Asad’s historical anthropological work on medieval monastics. Furthermore, a number of prominent social anthropologists of the mid-20th century—e.g., E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Mary Douglas, Victor Turner, and Godfrey Lienhardt—were themselves Catholics, a fact which infused not just their biography but often their subsequent work. At the same time, anthropologists on the whole have rarely taken Roman Catholicism as the focus of study; instead, Roman Catholicism has often been the invisible backdrop against which the main ethnographic action takes place. In the wake of the development of the anthropology of Christianity, however, an anthropology of Catholicism has burgeoned. The modern Catholic Church, with around 1.3 billion members worldwide, is the largest institution in history. As such, scholars have often examined the way the Church maintains itself as a unified institution even while containing vast spectrums of diversity in practice, theology, and lived experience. Resulting literature has often focused on this, examining institutional continuity over both time—such as the legacy of Catholic evangelization as a key part of colonial endeavors—and space—such as the question of syncretism and the nature of Catholicism’s relationship with indigenous cultures around the world.

Article

Anthropology of the Balkans  

Ognjen Kojanić

Anthropological research in the Balkans has taken place under different labels—ethnography, ethnology, and folkloristics, to name a few. A throughline that connects the various scholarly histories in the region is the emergence of the discipline under the influence of German Romantic ideas about language and culture. Early anthropological research was entangled with the political goals of nation-building in the aftermath of projects of national liberation and oriented toward internal others, mainly peasants. After World War II, ideas from the Soviet practice of ethnography gained influence. Since the 1970s, national traditions of anthropological research have opened up to influences from the centers of anthropological knowledge production, primarily the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. From then on, a greater number of foreign anthropologists were coming to do fieldwork in the Balkans, more scholars from the Balkans began receiving their training outside the region, and those trained in their home countries started engaging in a more dynamic exchange with foreign anthropologists. This exchange resulted in a critical and reflexive examination of the definition and status of the Balkans as a concept. Anthropological research conducted in the aftermath of the fall of socialism, in the 1990s and later, has four overarching topics. First, many researchers focused on postsocialist transformations aiming to understand the various domains in which profound cultural changes were taking place. Second, the war in the former Yugoslavia and the rise of nationalism elsewhere saw a growing interest in the topic of ethnonationalism. Third, the continual flows of outmigration from the region, the process of European integration, and more attention to the enduring legacies of empires crystallized in the research on transnational flows. Fourth, analyses of gender and kinship across the previous three topics became important in their own right. Since the turn of the millennium, anthropologists have been more likely to take up topics that have global reverberations rather than those that are more limited to the Balkans. First, anthropologists have focused on novel political and economic subjectivities that have appeared in the region in response to overlapping crises. Second, the region has provided ample anthropological theorizations of the state against the backdrop of nostalgia for the lost socialist state and changing forms of action in the political domain. Finally, anthropologists have engaged with materiality more deeply by focusing on topics such as infrastructure, environment, and the body.

Article

Frontiers  

Aditi Saraf

The term “frontier” is generally taken to mean an area separating two countries, or a territorial limit beyond which lies wilderness. But frontier is also used symbolically to refer to the limit of knowledge and understanding of a particular area, as in “frontiers of science” or in the idea of outer space as the “final frontier.” A certain elasticity therefore inheres in the term. Scholarship on frontiers generally examines geographical and cultural “peripheries”—zones that are viewed both as political barriers and sites of contact and exchange. However, the frontier as an empirical object as well as a scholarly heuristic is intertwined with long and often violent histories of colonialism, imperialism, and resistance. Anthropological concepts of the frontier are developed in relation to neighboring terms such as border, boundary, and line and methodologies for its empirical investigation in relation to other social science disciplines like history, international relations, geography, and gender studies. Drawing on a multidisciplinary perspective, ethnographic research aims to destabilize conventional notions of the frontier as the limit of settlement or as a space of statelessness, anarchy, or disorder in order to attend to the diverse cultural and political institutions that produce distinctive ideas of sovereignty, mobility, commerce, and community in such spaces.

Article

Heritage Management in West Africa  

Caleb Folorunso

The definition of heritage in West Africa must adopt a wider perspective of incorporating tangible and intangible heritage as recognized and defined by UNESCO. Generally, the West African region does not feature monumental heritage as in Europe and the Americas. The few monumental heritage properties belong to the historic period and are located in the Sahel zone (Mali in particular), while the coastal regions possess monumental heritage properties that were essentially relics of the period of European contact and colonialism (Benin Republic, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal). Heritage resources in West Africa are therefore essentially discrete and nondiscrete prehistoric and historic archaeological sites which include rock shelters, relics of ancient settlements, mounds, earthworks, industrial relics such as furnaces and surface finds, isolated historic buildings and spaces, and tangible (traditional architecture and artifacts) and intangible (language, poetry, songs, dances, festivals, beliefs, and value systems) ethnographic resources. Some studies in the 2010s have included heritage resources of all archival materials such as recorded audiovisuals of events and entertainments of the colonial and early postcolonial periods. Heritage management in the West African region has been problematic due to various factors that could be both historical and attitudinal, which include colonialism, intrusion of foreign religions and ideologies, economic and social conditions, insufficient and noneffective legal and policy frameworks for protection and conservation of heritage resources, and a general lack of awareness and interest in matters of heritage by the populace. In spite of these factors, some efforts have been made toward managing heritage in ways that can be interrogated. Government efforts at promoting heritage are more evident in the areas of cultural festivals, dance, and music with the establishment of cultural troupes at various political and administrative levels, thus creating the impression that heritage is limited to intangible cultural resources. Museums are few and far in between, priceless artifacts are still looted and illegally exported to foreign museums to join those looted during the colonial era, and facilities are limited and not standard, while the staff is poorly trained and unmotivated. In the face of expanding infrastructural developments and urbanization, the most appropriate management strategy and practice would be conservation through recording archaeological sites and historic properties.

Article

History, Anthropology, and Rethinking Modern Disciplines  

Saurabh Dube

Pervasive presumptions in the human sciences project anthropology and history as taken-for-granted divisions of knowledge, whose relationship is then tracked as being vexed but constructive. At the same time, it is more useful today to rethink history and anthropology as disciplines of modernity – in their formation, elaboration, and transformation. To begin with, going back to the Enlightenment and Romanticism, historical and anthropological knowledge each appeared as mutually if variously shaped by overarching distinctions between the “primitive/native” and the “civilized/modern.” It followed that the wide-ranging dynamic of empire and nation, race and reason, and analytical and hermeneutical orientations underlay the emergence of anthropology and history as institutionalized enquiries in the second half of the nineteenth century. Further, across much of the twentieth century and through its wider upheavals, it was by attempting uneasily to break with these genealogies yet never fully even escaping their impress that history and anthropology staked their claims as modern disciplines. This entailed especially their discrete expressions of time and space, culture and change, tradition and modernity. Finally, the mutual makeovers of history and anthropology since the 1970s have thought through the formidable conceits of both these disciplines while reconsidering questions of theory and method, object and subject, and the archive and the field. Based upon salient intersections with a range of critical understandings – for instance, postfoundational and postcolonial perspectives, considerations of gender and sexuality, and subaltern and decolonial frames – the newer emphases have imaginatively articulated issues of historical consciousness and marginal communities, colony and nation, empire and modernity, race and slavery, alterity and identity, indigeneity and heritage, and the state and the secular. At the same time, considering that such disciplinary changes are themselves embedded within wider shifts in social worlds, the haunting terms of the antinomies between the “savage/native” and the “civilized/modern” unsurprisingly find newer expressions within ever emergent hierarchies of otherness.

Article

Language and Colonial Rule  

David Tavárez

The study, classification, and standardization of languages by scholars, missionaries, and administrators played a vital and often protean role in the implementation and enforcement of colonial domination. Ongoing scholarship surveys the merging of linguistic investigations and linguistic knowledge with colonial hegemony in the Americas and East Asia between the late 15th century and the end of World War II, with a sustained focus on Mesoamerica and the Andes. European colonial expansion from the 15th century onward resulted in the emergence of multiple philological and lexicographic projects that were intimately tied to a hegemonic refashioning of the social order through the establishment of extractive economic regimes, colonial administrative systems, and religious institutions that sought to Christianize and discipline colonial subjects. The conversion, education, and surveillance of these subjects were intricately tied to colonial governance objectives, priests, missionaries, and colonial officials who worked in tandem with Indigenous scholars and assistants who described and documented Indigenous languages. As a result of colonial policies, new vernaculars emerged, and regional languages underwent severe language shift or extinction. Even after the demise of colonial regimes, the linguistic policies embraced by nation-states relied on highly racialized, neocolonial approaches to linguistic and ethnic difference.

Article

Literature and Anthropology  

Andrew Brandel

Literature is often understood to be one of anthropology’s most recurrent and provocative companions in thought. The relationship between the two has taken a number of different and variously interrelated forms. Perhaps the most familiar of these is the theorization of the anthropologist’s status as a writer; this work tends to take its cue from certain strands of postmodernism and invokes literary techniques as tools through which to address concerns around representation and the evocation of lived experience. A second important, if often overlooked, area of research involves the study of concrete literary practices including reading, writing, performing, sharing, and listening, whether by means of ethnographic fieldwork or anthropological modes of textual analysis. Finally, there are the myriad relationships that anthropologists have maintained with particular literary figures or texts, which have proven essential to their thinking and to their lives.

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

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

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

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.

Article

Water and Religion  

Terje Oestigaard

There are many different and distinct types of religious waters: holy, sacred, neutral, and even evil. The ways various divinities invest waters with specific qualities and capacities depend upon a wide range of ecological, theological, and eschatological factors; some are shaped by the environment while others are purely ontological and concerned with otherworldly realms, and often there is an intimate relation between the mundane and the divine. Rivers, rain, lakes, springs, and waterfalls are some specific forms of religious water, which also relate to seasonality and changing hydrological cycles. All these variations create different dependencies not only to ecological factors but more importantly to divine actors. Religious water may heal and bless individuals and be a communal source for fertility and plentiful harvests, but may also work as a penalty, wreaking havoc on society as floods or the absence of the life-giving rains in agricultural communities. Given the great variation of religious waters throughout history where even the same water may attain different qualities and divine embodiments, divine waters define structuring practices and principles in ecology and cosmology.