Catherine Alexander and Josh Reno
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.
The landscape of global economies of recycling has rapidly changed over the early 21st century. Increasingly, policy and economic and scholarly attention on environmental transformation have focused on this topic, in keeping with Gabrielle Hecht's characterization of the Anthropocene era as "the apotheosis of waste." The global policy environment that was ushered in by the 1992 Basel Agreement has begun to shift radically. In a post-Basel world, the geography of the global south altered sharply in 2018, with China (followed swiftly by other southeast Asian nations) now refusing to accept what had previously been categorized as recyclable plastic, and countries like Norway pushing for revisions to Basel to accommodate concerns about oceans filling up with plastic debris. This has led to reverberations from wealthy OECD countries, struggling to meet their recycling and carbon accounting quotas, and from marginal and precarious informal recyclers the world over, who can no longer collect rubbish for a guaranteed return.
In line with rising public and policy concern about wastes, there has been 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 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 infrastructures is a useful method for exploring how global economies intersect with systems of waste management—not only to determine what becomes of waste, but also to discover how it is imagined as pollutant or resource, apotheosis of the Anthropocene or deliverance from it.
Fiona McCormack and Jacinta Forde
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.
The anthropology of fisheries is a core focus of maritime anthropology. Scholarship in this field is multifaceted, exploring fishing ways of life, fishing knowledge, marine tenure and economies, and the specificities of how this particular watery nature is manifested in social relations and cultural systems. Fishing can be defined as a productive activity that takes place in a multidimensional space, depending more on natural or wild processes than manufactured processes. The idea of fishing being closer to nature is an analytical thread, giving the anthropology of fisheries a particular edge on the multispecies and more–than-human ethnographic turn in contemporary anthropology. Research in the anthropology of fisheries has long held the connections between fisher and fish to be of central concern. Also significant is the thesis that the construction of fisheries as a natural domain to be managed, of which fishers are atomistic extractors, is a highly politicized process involving the bioeconomic creation of fish stock and broader political economies.
Peter W. Van Arsdale
Global human rights, writ large, impact the entire human condition. They span cultural, social, economic, ecological, political, and civic realms. They pertain to how people are treated, protected, and respected. They are interrelated, interdependent, and of importance to all people, yet in actuality—as they play out—do not apply equally to all people. They have not been formulated by representatives of all societies, have not been accepted by members of all nation-states, and have not—in any sense of an entirety or set—been formally approved by many important transnational rights-oriented organizations. However, as commonalities are considered in the way rights emerge and evolve, there are many. Certain principles are foundational. The processes are as essential as the products. The aspirations are as important as the achievements.
The subject of human rights can be addressed from many angles. Some authorities suggest that philosophy provides the overarching umbrella, dating from the era of John Locke (b. 1632, d. 1704). From one perspective of history, which features emergent religious interpretations, duties and obligations that are situated in various diverse cultural traditions are central. From another perspective of history, which features seminal events such as wars and genocides, the actions and reactions of various actors—from victims to warriors—become central. From the perspective of law, covenants and protocols designed to advise, protect, and aid prosecution emerge prominently. From the perspective of political science, the ways in which citizens engage the political process as rights and wrongs are debated is key. Other disciplines, from psychology to theology to journalism, also contribute significantly. By way of contrast, cultural or social anthropology takes an ethnographic perspective. The cultural context is specified, with case-specific narratives often featured. Documentation of encounters (one-to-one, group-to-group, institution-to-institution) is crucial. Past, present, and potential future issues are addressed. The actions of victims, survivors, and perpetrators, as well as service providers, advocates, and everyday citizens, stand out.
Field research, both theoretical and applied, is part and parcel of what anthropologists do. There is no single “theory of human rights.” However, there are a number of prominent paradigms, theories, and models that inform anthropological work in human rights. Of note are statist, cosmopolitan, and internationalist models, with the cosmopolitan of particular interest to anthropologists given its emphasis on individuals rather than states. Viewed differently, from the perspective of power and its abuses, the theory of structural violence is very useful. Case studies of perpetrators of abuse are usually more difficult to develop than those for victims, yet are particularly illustrative of power differentials. Ultimately, improvements in the ways in which abuses are dealt with and the ways in which the human rights regime (i.e., the systematized body of discourse, norms, resources, and protocols) ultimately can change for the better for everyday citizens, are tied to processes of socialization, internalization, and obligation. Rights are not static, but rather, very dynamic.
Keir James Cecil Martin
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.
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.
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 enquiries 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 extraction, including oil and gas operations. 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 relationships 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 untrammelled 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, a number of anthropologists were producing ethnographic works that sought to debunk these popular narratives, which obscure the more complex sets of relationships that exist 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 a 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, the making of company-community agreements, corporate forms, and the social responsibilities of corporations (or CSR), labour and livelihoods, conflict and resistance movements, gendered impacts, cultural heritage management, questions of indigeneity, and effects of displacement, 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.
Susan Brownell and Niko Besnier
Sport offers a unique path to mobility to men—and to a much lesser degree women—who are members of disadvantaged groups and whose options for seeking a better life are otherwise limited. This mobility may be either social class mobility—as in basketball as a way out of racially segregated ghettos in the United States—or geographic mobility—as in the migration of soccer and rugby players from the Global South to the Global North in order to play in professional leagues there. Sport mobility potentially differs from the mobility based on manual and menial labor that is the more common path for such groups because successful professional athletes are regarded as heroes both by urban elites in their transplanted homes and by their compatriots back in their home neighborhoods, villages, and countries. At the same time, the hope to migrate to a successful career is often thwarted by the same structural conditions that thwart ordinary migrants’ mobility.
Different sports are associated with different social values that reflect the race, gender, social class, national, and global structures of power that underpin them. Until the past few decades, sports acquired their social value through a process of distinction in which gender, class, racial, and other differences were exaggerated by strategies of inclusion and exclusion. These differences were most closely guarded in sports organized by exclusive clubs, but they were also defended by other types of organizations such as schools and professional leagues. In the West, where most global sports originated, this produced a system of contrasting relationships between sport meanings: for example, golf, tennis, figure skating, and equestrian sports signified elite social status, while soccer, boxing, and—at least at the elite levels—basketball, baseball, and American football were identified with athletes from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds. In this way, sports produced an embodied social value in the form of the bodies of individual athletes, and until the last decades of the 20th century, this value was largely traded in the realm of symbolic capital and not economic capital—with the exception of a comparatively small number of athletes in professionalized sports. Furthermore, the embodied values of sports varied greatly between localities, nations, and world regions, shaped by the class structure, history, and culture of the body in a given locale.
However, at the end of the 20th century, the embodied values of many—if not most—individual sports became increasingly unmoored from their local, regional, ethnic, or national values and more tightly embroiled in global sport systems that have become increasingly commodified. Team sports, such as soccer, baseball, basketball, rugby, cricket, and ice hockey, and individual sports, such as tennis, golf, track and field, gymnastics, figure skating, and boxing, saw a large increase in the transnational mobility of athletes and coaches. These developments in the sports world reflected global changes in the global political economy: revenues from television broadcasting rights fees skyrocketed as television networks were privatized and proliferated; corporate sponsorship and advertising expanded along with the new television platforms; increasingly multinational sources of capital (such as corporations and billionaire team owners) were infused into sports; and elite athletes’ salaries, sponsorships, and transfer fees increased vertiginously in the most popular sports and seeped downward in the system. Clubs and teams began searching for talent further and further afield, bringing over players from the developing world. In US college sports (an anomaly on the world scene), the training of children toward the goal of gaining athletic scholarships became a growing industry that has even extended into China. In the Global South, at the same time, neoliberal development policies resulted in the reorganization or, in some cases, destruction of local agriculture and other forms of local production, as well as the social and economic relations that had been attached to them. Young men, who were particularly affected, now had to migrate to find employment and thus achieve the ideal of productive adult masculinity. These two factors produced a remarkable increase in the number of athletes from developing countries seeking employment as professionals in the industrialized world. For ever greater numbers of athletes, then, the embodied value of the body was no longer limited to symbolic or social capital but was all about economic capital.
The commodification of the sporting body and the transnationalization of the structures that determine its value provide novel and instructive insight into the changing nature of the global political economy since the end of the 20th century.
The anthropology of Islam has for a long time been concerned with questions of rules, orthodoxy, ritual practice, and piety. The idea that Muslim life can be studied through food practice is, therefore, a welcome reprieve from an over-determined association of Muslims and Islam with prayer, austerity, and un-freedom. Bringing Muslim culinary practices into view affords a lens onto the intersections between Islamic discourse, ritual practice, political economy, and changing notions of health, food, and the body in the contemporary world.
Food offers a unique opportunity to explore these overlapping developments, since what we eat is always subject both to past traditions, memory, and family histories as well as contemporary availability, affordability, and desirability of particular items. New ideas about medicine and the body can inform new notions of what counts as good food. Muslims, always in the world, are no different. However, the specific ways in which particular Muslims choose to include, avoid, or desire certain products may offer insights into the local political and economic expressions of Islam.
Halal, meaning permissible, is the name given to meat that is allowed for Muslim consumption. Islamic legal prescriptions evolved from the basic Quranic stipulations towards a complex regional, geographic, and sectarian taxonomy of animals. In practice, however, halal is assured, not through complicated legal discussions, but rather through consumption and trade within Muslim networks. Supply by a fellow Muslim constitutes halal. In the absence of obvious signs or evidence of dubious activity, halal must be assumed. Within Muslim networks of trade and consumption, the unintentional transgression of halal does not accrue sin. The practice of halal has thus been based on a communally charged notion of trust that has always been ripe for the articulation of regional and sectarian differences.
In recent decades, neoliberal developments have transformed the terrain of global food consumption, trade, and supply. Muslims increasingly consume through networks of non-Muslim producers, manufacturers, and suppliers. Advancements in food production technology mean that animal enzymes may end up in seemingly harmless everyday non-meat items. A new regime of halal certification has been established in a bid to standardize and regulate the supply of halal foods, cosmetics, and even tourist services. The new terrain of molecular halal that relies on DNA testing, and production and supply chain management, has been central to the ubiquity of halal as a label of assurance as well as a marketing tool. Many Muslims, particularly in the developed world, have become aware of the product ingredient listing of their favorite chocolate products and may even search for a certification label on bottled water. However, this development has not been hegemonic. Even in the face of new material and discursive arrangements, Muslims continue to draw on an older ethical basis for practice as they seek to trade, compete, and consume in the contemporary capitalist economy.
In many contexts, the explicit investigation and concern about halal among Muslims is subdued. Different interpretations of Islamic law produce different authoritative notions of what counts as halal. A famous hadith commands ignorant companions to recite the name of God before consumption. A Quranic verse declares the food of the people of the book (ahl-al-kitab, which refers to the Christians and Jews) as halal. Although the certification industry produces arguments to negate these sources, many Muslims continue to draw on these sources for practice.
Importantly, these instances of thinking beyond halal afford an opportunity to consider how food features in broader Muslim life. Festivals of sacrifice and fasting are focused on the preparation, distribution, and sharing of food. The famous Muslim notion of hospitality is emphasized around festivals and ritual events in different parts of the world, as Muslims articulate sharing and feeding each other as a way of extending God’s grace (barakat). To eat is to remain entangled in relations of reciprocity, friendship, and community. Food cooked in the home is considered of higher value as it carries the well wishes of the host. Indeed, instances of gifting are also opportunities for competition as households outdo each other in the lavishness of preparation and the amounts distributed.
Finally, the theme of ingestion is carried over into medicine. In India, the Unani (lit: Greek) system of medicine links foods substances to prophetic sources and complex medical theory. In Africa and Asia, the words of the Quran are handwritten in ink onto wooden boards. The ink-water, once washed away, is consumed as a cure for physical and spiritual ailments. And around the world, newborn babies are offered a taste of honey as part of the ritual name-giving ceremony. In each case, authoritative notions from a discursive tradition of past text and practice are articulated and contested in locally specific ways.
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 of these. Pastoralists rarely rely solely on their livestock; they may also engage in hunting, fishing, cultivation, commerce, predatory raiding, or extortion. Some pastoral peoples are nomadic and others are sedentary, while yet others are partially mobile. Economically, some pastoralists are subsistence oriented, while others are market oriented, with others combining the two. Politically, some pastoralists are independent or quasi-independent tribes, while others, largely under the control of states, are peasants, and yet others are citizens engaged in commercial production in modern states.
All pastoralists have to address a common set of issues. The first issue is gaining and taking possession of livestock, including good breeding stock. Ownership of livestock may involve individual, group, or distributed rights. The second concern is managing the livestock through husbandry and herding. Husbandry refers to the selection of animals for breeding and maintenance, while herding involves ensuring that the livestock gains access to adequate pasture and water. Pasture access can be gained through territorial ownership and control, purchase, rent, or 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.
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.
Refugees are understood as forcefully displaced people who flee conflict in their country of origin in search of safety in another country. Their international legal status is defined by the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention complemented by the 1967 Protocol. To be recognized as a refugee, an individual must fulfill three conditions: fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; having crossed an international border and being outside his or her country of nationality; and having lost the protection of the country of origin. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a mandate to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to some 20 million refugees, according to 2016 figures, and to promote the three solutions to their problem: voluntary repatriation in the country of origin; integration into the first country of asylum; resettlement in a third country. The more than 5 million Palestinian refugees fall under another set of texts and are supported by a separate agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
This body of international legal texts and practices has triggered the emergence of a whole set of studies in the social sciences. This new and distinctive field of research was further institutionalized when the Refugee Studies Centre was established in 1982 at the University of Oxford and when the Journal of Refugee Studies was launched a few years later.
Anthropologists have played a significant role in these developments. Many have worked closely with humanitarian organizations assisting refugees on the ground, while many others have critically addressed the conceptual background of the notion, with its supposed state-centric and sedentarist bias, according to which solutions are found when movements stop. Refugees represent a practical and theoretical challenge for anthropology. Indeed, the figure of the refugee has been analyzed as a categorical anomaly that disrupts the functionalist idea that societies form coherent sets anchored in discrete territories. Is the refugee a distinct social type with specific protection needs, or does it result from a bureaucratic label that comes with potentially alienating consequences? Some authors insist that refugee studies have imported uncritically the legal and humanitarian terminology of governments as well as international and nongovernmental organizations. Some others consider that theory and practice should inform each other. This debate may call into question any sharp distinction between applied and fundamental research. Refugees are a field of study for anthropologists, but they also represent an opportunity for jobs. If there is little doubt that anthropology might inform the way refugees are assisted, a fundamental question is also how engagement with humanitarian action and post-conflict reconstruction will affect anthropological practice as well as theory.
While 85 percent of the world’s forcefully displaced people are in developing countries, the so-called European refugee crisis of 2015 has attracted much attention. Among the many topics addressed in the first decades of the 21st century, let us mention the social meaning of the legal notions of asylum and refuge; refugees living in camps and so called self-settled refugees in urban centers; return; strategies developed by the people labeled as refugees and their capacity to respond to the situation they face; the long-term process of cultural adjustment; and memory of the country of origin and feeling of belonging.
Remittances are monetary or social transfers made by migrants to their countries of origin, usually but not exclusively, to members of their families. They represent a significant capital flow at the international level (hundreds of billions of dollars), exceeding by far official development assistance. Remittances, as an instrument for combating poverty and fueling economic growth, have attracted an increasing interest in development studies and the social sciences in general. The question of the relationship between migration and development has gained significant visibility in the last decades and, at political and academic levels, has provoked passionate debates in which anthropologists have participated actively. Over time, the mood has fluctuated from developmentalist optimism in the 1950s and 1960s, to pessimism in the 1970s and 1980s, and once more optimistic views in the 1990s and 2000s. The post-9/11 period has seen a progressive shift again and is dominated by a securitization political rhetoric.
In spite of this cyclical history, the terms of the debate are well known and rather constant. On the one hand, the role of money sent by migrants to their families may be seen as an effective survival strategy, a diversification of revenue sources that increases purchasing power; it may lead to small business creation, the promotion of education, and the transfer of knowledge by return migrants bringing with them skills learned abroad. Ultimately, the possibility of remitting money back home contributes—in more sociological terms—to the establishment of transnational networks and therefore to the cohesion of kinship or residence groups despite dispersion. However, the fact that so many people—especially youth—are trying to migrate is related to a culture of dependence, while the private dimension of most transfers does not bring real collective benefits. Far from promoting social cohesion, remittances may, on the contrary, increase inequalities, as the poorest households cannot afford to send one of their members abroad. In some cases, the money that is transferred may be used to finance armed groups.
These debates on the role of money and know-how sent by migrants are primarily situated within the vast literature on migration and development. Interestingly, most anthropological dictionaries and encyclopedias do not have an entry on remittances. The issue of remittances has still to acquire a fully-fledged theoretical dimension within the discipline in order to contribute to conceptual discussions on global mobility. Migrants weave multiple links throughout their lives and are often full participants in several societies at the same time. To grasp the complexity of the phenomena at stake, it might be necessary to decompartmentalize the existing categories of mobile people (asylum seekers, refugees, migrant workers, skilled professionals, international students, even tourists), recognize the non-linearity of most spatial and social trajectories, and integrate empirical studies into a more encompassing theoretical discussion.
Indigenous peoples worldwide are affected by, and engage with, tourism in several major ways. On the one hand, the tourism industry in its constant expansion appropriates indigenous peoples’ land and resources, creating tensions and escalating inequalities. In some cases, indigenous peoples may have a role to play (with various levels of agency and power on their own part) in welcoming people into their homes and on their land, for the purposes of ecotourism (in which pristine environments, usually with rare or endemic species of plants, birds, or other living organisms are attractive to tourists), or because the people themselves and their way of life are of interest to tourists. What is more, the graves and monuments of the ancestors of indigenous people, local festivals, and ceremonies may be recognized as “marketable” from a tourism perspective and promoted to encourage tourist visits, which may or may not be considered disruptive or disrespectful from an indigenous perspective. So-called indigenous tourism development refers to tourism in which indigenous people and communities are directly involved (in varying degrees) in the industry, whether as owners and tour operators or as porters and servants. Many scholars from anthropology, sociology, human geography, and other related disciplines have sought to address some of the issues and concerns regarding the relationship between tourism and indigenous peoples, drawing on examples from around the globe in order to illustrate the multitude of ways in which this relationship operates. Ways that indigenous peoples’ relationship to tourism may be explored include contexts such as tourism to visit ancient monuments and UNESCO-listed world heritage sites, tourism in search of cultural difference, cruise travel and luxury resorts, and ecotourism.