Public Culture 12.1 (2000) 115-144
Indonesia's profile in the international imagination has completely changed. From the top of what was called a "miracle," Indonesia fell to the bottom of a "crisis." In the middle of what was portrayed as a timeless political regime, students demonstrated, and, suddenly, the regime was gone. So recently an exemplar of the promise of globalization, overnight Indonesia became the case study of globalization's failures.
The speed of these changes takes one's breath away -- and raises important questions about globalization. Under what circumstances are boom and bust intimately related to each other? If the same economic policies can produce both in quick succession, might deregulation and cronyism sometimes name the same thing -- but from different moments of investor confidence? Such questions run against the grain of economic expertise about globalization, with its discrimination between good and bad kinds of capitalism and policy. Yet the whiggish acrobatics necessary to show how those very economies celebrated as miracles were simultaneously lurking crises hardly seem to tell the whole story. A less pious attitude toward the market may be necessary to consider the specificities of those political economies, like that of Suharto's Indonesia, brought into being together with international finance.
This essay brings us back to the months just before Indonesia so drastically changed, to canoe at the running edge of what turned out to be a waterfall, and thus to think about a set of incidents that can be imagined as a rehearsal for the Asian financial crisis as well as a minor participant in the international disillusion that led to the Suharto regime's downfall. In 1994 a small Canadian gold prospecting company announced a major find in the forests of Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Over the months, the find got bigger and bigger, until it was the biggest gold strike in the world, conjuring memories of the Alaskan Klondike and South Africa's Witwatersrand. Thousands of North American investors put their savings in the company, called Bre-X. First-time investors and retired people joined financial wizards. Whole towns in western Canada invested. The new world of Internet investment blossomed with Bre-X. Meanwhile, Bre-X received continuous coverage in North American newspapers, especially after huge Canadian mining companies and Indonesian officials entered the fray, fighting over the rights to mine Busang, Bre-X's find. The scandal of Indonesian business-as-usual, opened to public scrutiny as corruption, heightened international attention and garnered support for Bre-X. But, in 1997, just when expectation had reached a fevered pitch, Busang was exposed as barren: There was nothing there. Gasps, cries, and law suits rose from every corner. Even now, as I write two years later, the drama rumbles on. The Toronto Stock Exchange is changing its rules to avoid more Bre-Xs. Bre-X law suits set new international standards. Bre-X investors still hope and complain across the Internet, as they peddle the remains of their experiences: jokes, songs, and stock certificates (as wallpaper, historical document, or irreplaceable art, ready to hang). Meanwhile, Indonesian mining officials and copycat prospecting companies scramble to free themselves from the Bre-X story, even as they endlessly reenact its scenes, hoping to rekindle investor enthusiasm. Hope's ashes are inflamed even by ridiculous claims; recently the Bre-X chief geologist, named in many lawsuits, says there is gold at Busang. Who is to prove him wrong?
The Bre-X story exemplifies popular thinking about the pleasures and dangers of international finance and associated dreams of globalization. The story dramatizes North-South inequalities in the new capitalisms; it celebrates the North's excitement about international investment, and the blight of the South's so-called crony capitalisms: business imagined not quite/not white. Painting Southern leaders as rats fighting for garbage, the story also promises new genres of justice for the Northern investor who dares to sue. Finance looks like democracy: The Internet, they say, opens foreign investment to the North American everyman. But the Bre-X story also narrates the perils of the downsized, overcompetitive economy: the sad entrepreneurship of selling worthless stock certificates on-line. As one writer put it, mixing metaphors...
Cities and Citizenship is a prize-winning collection of essays that considers the importance of cities in the making of modern citizens. For most of the modern era the nation and not the city has been the principal domain of citizenship. This volume demonstrates, however, that cities are especially salient sites for examining the current renegotiations of citizenship, democracy, and national belonging.
Just as relations between nations are changing in the current phase of global capitalism, so too are relations between nations and cities. Written by internationally prominent scholars, the essays in Cities and Citizenship propose that “place” remains fundamental to these changes and that cities are crucial places for the development of new alignments of local and global identity. Through case studies from Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America, the volume shows how cities make manifest national and transnational realignments of citizenship and how they generate new possibilities for democratic politics that transform people as citizens. Previously published as a special issue of Public Culture that won the 1996 Best Single Issue of a Journal Award from the Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers, the collection showcases a photo essay by Cristiano Mascaro, as well as two new essays by James Holston and Thomas Bender.
Cities and Citizenship will interest students and scholars of anthropology, geography, sociology, planning, and urban studies, as well as globalization and political science.
Contributors . Arjun Appadurai, Etienne Balibar, Thomas Bender, Teresa P. R. Caldeira, Mamadou Diouf, Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, James Holston, Marco Jacquemet, Christopher Kamrath, Cristiano Mascaro, Saskia Sassen, Michael Watts, Michel Wieviorka
Public Culture 12.2 (2000) 574-575
Dakar, West African metropolis and capital of Senegal, is a transit hub in the broadest sense. The streets are crowded, and not only with private cars, mopeds, trucks, city buses, taxis, and cars rapides: Dakar is the nexus of a bustling traffic in images in which graffiti, murals, advertisements, T-shirts, and the like converge. Operators of cars for hire contribute to this visual economy in striking ways. The cars rapides--the ubiquitous privately operated minibuses -- are painted with bright bands of color and decorated with ornate patterns, motifs, and slogans. These include eyes, pineapples, flowers, and religious sayings like "Alhamdoulilahi." A lexicon of specifically American icons has also been developed. These include the Nike swoosh, the U.S. flag, the eagle, Marilyn Monroe, and Malcolm's X. Madonna also makes frequent appearances on the streets of Dakar.
David G. Nicholls teaches at Bilkent University in Turkey and is the author of the forthcoming Conjuring the Folk: Forms of Modernity in African America. He was a Fulbright Senior Lecturer in Senegal for 1997-98.
Public Culture 14.2 (2002) 429
Members of a pro-government militia, the kamajors, dressed for war. Bo, Sierra Leone 2000
Danny Hoffman is a graduate student in anthropology at Duke University. Currently he is researching the kamajor militia movement and its involvement in the war in Sierra Leone.
Public Culture 15.1 (2003) 209
Tony (not his real name) was among the first residents of Bagong Lupa, a huge shantytown built over a polluted harbor, to sell his kidney to a foreign transplant patient at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in downtown Manila. Afterward, his surgeon enlisted him as a kidney hunter to locate other men willing to part with a kidney for $1200. Tony gets a small fee for each kidney located but not enough to support his family. Since selling his own kidney Tony has been unable to return to his previous work as a stevedore. The pain in his side "never stops aching" he told me. Tony insists on wearing a mask because the transplant surgeon he works for asked him not to talk to outsiders about his work as an organs broker.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes is a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the author (with Loïc Wacquant) of Commodifying Bodies (2002). She is the director of Organs Watch, a research and documentation project she founded with Lawrence Cohen to monitor justice, equality, and human rights in organs procurement and distribution.
Public Culture 15.2 (2003) 347-369
Dick Cheney, speech to war veterans, 29 August 2002
Is the United States running a new global empire? Is it acting imperial when it deploys military force against terrorists? Is terrorism a growing threat? Has the United States, perhaps like all states in more recent years, lost coercive control? Has "the state" lost its monopoly on coercive force? Has something irreversibly changed the global order of sovereignties and specifically the distribution and use of means of coercion? Have information technologies, for example, changed the means of coercion irreversibly? And, alternatively or contrapuntally, have new military technologies increased the powers for state military intervention? What is driving current U.S. military deployments and "force transformation" plans: new, "smart," military technologies or new, stupid, military policies or both?
It has become vital in social theory to carry analysis beyond party ideologies and electoral politics and toward the more sublime politics of governmentality, modernity, and critique of liberalism. But events now call us back to reconsider more quotidian things as well, such as new global deployments of actual military force. Deployments of actual military force have unbearable heaviness of being. First of all and unavoidably, they are matters of "mere" power over death in Foucauldian terms. But nevertheless, they are things that should not be left for the realists of political science to assess and explain. We could use a different kind of realism.
Critical scholarship can and should attack the premise that history reset on September 11, by remembering all that led to, as well as from, the terrorist attacks and the quintessential U.S. responses to them. We can rejoin a struggle that now moves through the events of response to 9/11 but began long before: a struggle over war powers and, in fact, new world order. Conflicts over rules of war are global and multivalent. A century of domestic conflicts between the two major U.S. political parties over war powers has had and continues to have global ramifications, in large part because of the leading role of the United States in the settlements after the first two world wars. The U.S. military responses to 9/11 are intensifications of a U.S. interventionist military plan, launched by a Republican Party-dominated government that was already planning to intensify and develop its assertions of sovereignty but was unsure, before 9/11, what public face to give its actions. This U.S. government is still unsure, not only about how to describe its military plans but also, more importantly, about what changes to impose in arrangements of sovereignty, limitations on warfare, and other controls on might and right that were established largely by Democratic Party administrations and congresses over half a century of Cold War and Pax Americana. Of course U.S. military responses to the events of September 11 have a great deal to do with the events themselves, but 9/11 gained specific meanings in the context of already existing uncertainties and initiatives within the world of U.S. military politics.
This essay pursues a new realism about might and right, in hopes of generating a more productive criticism of U.S. military culture and politics, beginning with the allegation of a U.S. empire. I argue that uncovering a latent imperialism in U.S. hegemony is an old and ineffective critical project, a project not cognizant of a specifically anti-imperial mainspring in American military tactics. An American military organized persistently for occasional intervention and continuing threat...
Public Culture 15.1 (2003) 149-177
Fajar, "Tangisan Mei Itu Mulai Dilupakan" [The tears of the May riots have begun to be forgotten]
For five years now, Indonesia has celebrated the May 1998 demonstration (known as reformasi) as a triumph of courage if not of democracy in the nation. To the amazement of the Indonesian people, the authoritarian and repressive regime of Suharto was toppled by a bold group of students together with a provisional, loosely connected "coalition" made up of frustrated middle-class families, calculating military figures, opportunistic ministers and bureaucrats, street hoodlums, and the urban poor. Yet, in spite of such stirring success and solidarity, for many others the May reformasi remains a forgotten tragedy. Riots, which took place over thirty-five hours and in approximately fifty locations throughout metropolitan Jakarta, involved the state's security apparatus as it sought to create a basis for the declaration of martial law as a "final" strategy for saving the collapsing regime. Thousands were killed in the ensuing disorder—including hundreds of poor looters trapped in ransacked lots—and hundreds of women and girls were gang-raped and tortured in these riots. This violence was directed, both systematically and spontaneously, at Indonesians of ethnic Chinese descent, whom many (including segments of the Suharto regime) deemed responsible for the nation's problems. The burning and plundering of Chinese property, as well as the gang rapes of ethnic Chinese women, were carried out by certain military groups and ordinary Indonesians who were transformed into a violent mob, often at the incitement of the Suharto army itself.
The targeting of Indonesian Chinese has been attributed to the strength of their economy, the weakness of their political position, and the sense that Indonesian Chinese are not Indonesian enough—though few citizens would think of driving them out of the country entirely. The Chinese, simultaneously admired and disliked by the Indonesians, have been a frequent target of rioting. Indeed, anti-Chinese riots have taken place since the formation of Indonesian nationalism in the early twentieth century under Dutch colonial rule, and perhaps even before. Over time, they have become a familiar phenomenon, so familiar that the reason(s) for anti-Chinese riots have never been clear even to those participating.
However familiar anti-Chinese riots may have been to Indonesians, the gang rapes of ethnic Chinese women in May 1998 were without precedent and went well beyond the recognizable framework of violence created by the long history of anti-Chinese activities. The gang rapes introduced new, more extreme and lasting violence into the vocabulary of anti-Chinese sentiment. Unlike previous anti-Chinese riots, which were forgotten after a few days by returning to "business as usual," gang rape does permanent damage that cannot be erased, replaced (like commodities), or simply put out of mind (like other, more recognizable forms of Indonesian riots). Stories of rape...
This essay anatomizes the postelection violence in Kenya in 2007 to identify the different forms of ethnic conflict so as to analyze their implications for the future stability of a democratic regime in the country. It argues that five types of ethnic conflict marked the aftermath of the elections: ethnically targeted state repression, targeting of local ethnic proxies for national political figures, ethnic vigilantism, opportunistic criminal violence, and ethnic cleansing by Kalenjin ethnonationalists. The essay also argues that while there are good prospects for reconciliation, Kalenjin ethnonationalism poses a serious challenge to long-term stability.
This essay addresses myths about al Qaeda operative Fazul Abdullah Muhammad and their implications for American foreign policy. The essay demonstrates how Fazul's legend mirrors broader genealogies of information that shape contemporary perceptions of terrorism. Fazul orchestrated two major al Qaeda attacks in Kenya, including the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy, but he has also become the object of fantastic speculation—the product of a psychology of fear combined with a popular imagination saturated with the layered syntax of the entertainment industry's imagery. Fazul's myth reveals how, in declaring war on terrorism, we have likewise waged a shadow war against the projections of collective paranoia.
Public Culture 12.2 (2000) 457-475
A funny thing happened on the way to the STET (the Stock Exchange of Thailand). In November 1997, I returned to Thailand amid a financial catastrophe that has since been labeled the Asian economic plague, to begin an ethnography of capitalist crisis. I imagined that it would be a project on the politics of transparency -- that ideological pointing stick by which the market has appropriated for itself the function of regulating the state where once it was the function of the state to regulate the market. I was, and am, interested in how capitalism in Thailand disguises itself as mere monetization, and how money's total and totalizing mediations have come to be experienced in the contrary idioms of immediacy and eternal present-being. I wanted to pursue the ways in which the rhetorics of transparency and visibility have been conceived in aesthetic domains where calls for the end of mimetic representation mirror and reiterate calls for disclosure and objectivity in the economic domain.
Before I got to the STET, however, a nationally renowned spirit medium named Chuchad appeared on a cable network talk show, hosted by a former academic, and confessed to twenty-six years of fakery. In a narcissistic act of tele-technic encompassment that the doubt-ridden Quesalid could probably never have imagined, Chuchad not only theatricalized his newfound skepticism but also invited all mediums to join him in renouncing their dissimulating practice. Ultimately, he called for an end to mediumship itself. This extraordinary event elicited newspaper coverage and cocktail party gossip even among the rationalists of Bangkok's elite. Nonetheless, the television broadcast was merely the anticipation of an even more spectacular disclosure that Chuchad would stage in a press conference: he would reveal everything, the tricks of his trade as well as the more scripturalist versions of Dhammic truth to which his recent reflections had led him. Having already devoted six years to the study of mediumship, I could not resist this strange and haunting invitation, which was directed as much at spectators as at mediums. Needless to say, I deferred the stock market and went in search of Chuchad and mediumship's end to Chantaburi, the city of Chuchad's residence, southeast of Bangkok.
Such flamboyant media savvy as Chuchad's is relatively recent but no longer exceptional among Thailand's contemporary spirit mediums. Thirty years ago, it was uncommon for spirit mediums to use or permit themselves to be represented via the mass media. Photography was implicitly forbidden, imagined in the terms that Balzac had once conceived of daguerreotypy: as a demonic receiving device that had the capacity to retain and thereby diminish the photographed subject's substance. More than most sites, mediumship seemed to retain a commitment to the etymology of the Thai words for photography, kaan thaay ruup (taking pictures). Kaan thaay can mean either taking or wasting, and even defecation. In combination with ruup (picture/s), it suggests not only taking pictures but also a concomitant transformation and discharge. For mediums, the risk of photography was not only doubling, but transformation, substitution, and displacement. Television, for its part, was still available mainly in Bangkok. And cinema had not yet assumed the populist forms of home movies and videos. To the extent that spirit practices were brought into conversation with the mass media at all, it was as the auratic threshold of representation whose enframement as tradition had precisely been the result of mass mediatization. But then, thirty years ago, spirit mediumship was itself imagined as being on the verge of disappearance. Its "persistence," as folkloric and ethnographic texts expressed the matter, was conceptualized largely in terms of atavism and/or residue: as the repressed orgiastic impulse buried, along with Brahmanism, within Thailand's syncretized Theravada Buddhism. It was also located on the periphery of the nation's geo-body, a popular construed in opposition to the state's newly formed public.
Indeed, from the perspective of the self-consciously rationalist Buddhist orthodoxy that had been on the ascent since its founding during Rama IV's reign (1851-68), mediumship was imagined as a temporal interruption of the nation's modernity. Even in the...
Financial prediction provokes intense affect. For bond traders, hedge fund managers, and economic planners, both statistical reasoning and affective discomfort surround professional judgments about the future. This article argues that contemporary financial knowledge is organized around the interplay of reason and affect. The history and contemporary use of the U.S. Treasury yield curve—a key economic indicator—point to this intractable problem of modern knowledge more generally. The devices that should create grounds for calculating future profits also open avenues of affect. Specifically, the reflexive character of financial devices provides fertile ground. As a forecasting tool, the yield curve's effectiveness is bound to its particular social content. Financial tools aggregate and objectify professionals' assessments about the economic future. Readers of the curve's shape must evaluate the rationality of the economic participants whose activities compose this reflexive device. Reading the financial future places affect at the center of calculation.
This article analyzes the Target Corporation as an example of the foregrounding of design in contemporary consumer culture. To understand the destiny of the manufactured object in an age of aesthetic capitalism, this article argues that the previous relationships among use value, exchange value, and sign value need to be reconfigured. A new dimension of the object is emerging, one that is best understood as combining aura and affect.
Public Culture 14.2 (2002) 281-304
Reconcile: to render no longer opposed. What conditions might make possible reconciliation after violent conflict? This essay addresses reconciliation in the aftermath of the ethnic cleansings and ethnicizations of the twentieth century. It neither elaborates a specific case nor makes detailed historical-cultural comparisons. Its potential contribution is theoretical and temporal: identifying contemporary psychosocial logics and processes integral to reconciliation after violent conflicts. In particular, it focuses on the role of the "third party" and argues for cultivating "practices of listening" after a violent conflict. The arguments presented can apply to reconciliation after conflicts other than those specifically referred to, but I restrict myself largely to a temporal diagnostic of the extreme case of what is today called ethnic cleansing: the attempt, through measures ranging from forced relocation to extermination, to eliminate from a social body, in whole or in part, a group based on identification as ethnic.
Reconciliation I define not in terms of permanent peace or harmony but as a project of departure from violence. To reconcile is an intersubjective process, an agreement to settle accounts that involves at least two subjects who are related in time. They are related in a temporal sense not in that they necessarily have a shared past or even think of themselves as sharing a concrete future. Consensus about visions of the past or future—in modern parlance, a collective memory—may make reconciliation easier, but it is not necessary. The expectation of social consensus often presupposes what Laura Nader (1990) has dubbed "harmony ideology," and it may in fact awaken counterproductive drives to recover a lost whole or to produce a community without discord. Rather, to reconcile, different subjects must agree only "to render no longer opposed," which means sharing a present, a present that is nonrepetitive (Moore 1987). To agree to a present that does not repeat requires both to create a "sense of ending"—a radical break or rupture from existing relations—and to create a "sense of beginning"—a departure into new relations of affinity marked not by cyclical violence but by trust and care.
After ethnic cleansing, victims, and to some extent perpetrators, are engaged in a struggle whose stakes are much higher than mere survival. Hostilities and violence may continue in some form, but physical survival is a solvable problem. It is, on the other hand, one that resolves very little. At a deeper, existential level survivors suffer from despair, an agony or melancholy of inconsolable and inarticulable grief. Despair, following Kierkegaard (1974: 342), does not result from an inability to live, but from "the disconsolateness of not being able to die. . . . What keeps the gnawing pain alive and keeps life in the pain . . . is the reason why he despairs . . . because he cannot consume himself, cannot get rid of himself, cannot become nothing." Because most survivors cannot die, they are continually confronted with the psychic, social, and political tasks of dealing with the ever-present loss of those who did die. They must, in some way, attempt to recuperate or redeem this loss.
Yet the profound loss suffered in an ethnic cleansing—the unbearable loss of loved ones as well as the damage inflicted on one's own standards of self, irrespective of whether one is perpetrator or victim—is never fully recoupable. Some sense of the loss continually reappears, and because of this continuous and uncontrollable reappearance, survivors remain, necessarily, in a state resembling melancholy, unable to detach themselves from the love object or (as Freud would have it) prone to repetition compulsions.
The possibility of nonrepetition, then, rests on the recuperation of losses that are impossible to recuperate, the reconciliation with an end to which there is no end. This paradox is the key to reconciliation after ethnic cleansing. Two common attempts to recuperate loss are physical reproduction and revenge.
Following an ethnic cleansing, in the face of a loss that cannot be articulated and that is unrecoupable, perhaps the most common attempt at recuperation is compulsive physical reproduction by victims. One might think that physical reproduction following ethnic cleansing is a positive transformation...
Public Culture 15.2 (2003) 261-285
In front of the National Electric Power Authority of Nigeria headquarters is a larger-than-life statue of Sango, the Yoruba god of lightning, clad in his traditional outfit, presiding, as it were, over the offices of the major power generation and distribution corporation of the country. Sango, a sixteenth-century ruler of Oyo, is an anthropomorphic deity who was in his lifetime reputed to have had the ability to "call down" lightning to destroy his enemies and burn their houses and homesteads. The Sango myth, carefully preserved and nurtured by his devotees, is so well known in Yorubaland that to this day Sango priests are believed to possess the power of obtaining retribution through the agency of lightning. Oba Koso, an excellent traditional operatic drama that focuses on the life of Sango, was hugely popular with audiences both in Nigeria and abroad in the 1960s and 1970s. The acclaim that greeted the production of the play at that time may have been due partly to the theatrical skills of Duro Ladipo, whose dramatic evocation of this historical/mythical figure has since become one of the great moments of Nigerian theater and performance. However, in those heady days of postindependence cultural nationalism, the Sango myth may also have provided an avenue through which the new elite could reconnect with its historical and cultural heritage. The Sango statue was particularly meaningful to the new "educated" leaders who were supposedly alienated from their traditions by their Western education. For them, Sango was not only a figure from the historical past; he was more importantly a symbol of the meeting point between "tradition" and "modernity." He was a mythological figure whose incipient scientific consciousness was demonstrated in his ability to harness the electrical charges of lightning to serve his own sometimes undisclosed purposes.
Apart from this attribute, Sango's life is not exactly a tale of nobility and selflessness. On the contrary, he is the usual tyrant of history and mythology whose pettiness leads him to overplay his hand in the end. Employing characteristic divide-and-rule tactics in one instance, he sets two of his powerful warriors against one another in the hope that they will be so weakened by war that neither of them will be able to pose a threat to his power. In the ensuing battle, Gbonka, one of the warriors, defeats Timi, the other, but spares his life. Not satisfied with this outcome, Sango contrives another scheme that leads to another battle, which Gbonka once again wins. This time, however, Gbonka recognizes Sango's duplicity and invades Oyo. Deserted by his supporters, Sango suffers defeat, withdraws from the capital, and hangs himself in humiliation. His followers band together and deify him: the king did not hang (oba koso), they claim, he simply metamorphosed into a god. For his present-day adherents, the details of his life story are eclipsed by his power to "call down" lightning, which Sango supposedly bequeathed to his priests. But to those for whom Sango possesses only a symbolic significance, these details become irrelevant when set beside his "discovery" of electricity, a discovery extrapolated from the myths of his dexterity in the manipulation of lightning. It is this association with electricity that has made Sango the patron god of electricians and the deity who presides over Nigeria's power corporation.
This account of the life of Sango, its appropriation by a traditional elite, and its symbolic deployment by a modern elite underscores a form of sociocultural practice that has become quite pervasive in contemporary Nigeria, if not in all of Africa. Commenting on the Sango phenomenon in the essay "From a Common Back Cloth," Wole Soyinka writes: "The deistic approach of the Yoruba is to absorb every new experience, departmentalize it and carry on with life. Thus Sango (Dispenser of Lightning) now chairmans the Electricity Corporation, Ogun (God of Iron) is the primal motor-mechanic." And later, taking a more affirmative philosophical approach in Myth, Literature and the African World, Soyinka elaborates on the sources of this "deistic approach":
Public Culture 15.2 (2003) 295-322
Although most often considered with alcohol in policy debates, tobacco more readily compares with sugar or coffee in its ubiquitous and continual availability (and until recently, acceptability) to all classes. The intimate pleasures of the cigarette—from the flip-top box to the smoker's perfected flick of an ash to the excuse to ask a stranger for a light—should not be underestimated. The cigarette's social rituals have made it truly iconic of popular culture throughout the twentieth century. Consider its adaptability: readily slipped into a pocket or behind an ear, it is a means to a private or social moment. Useful as a lift or a sedative, the cigarette stands in as a snack, prop, drug, or coping mechanism. The commodity achieves its most refined, profitable, and complete incarnation in the cigarette, with its inexpensive, efficient, but short-lived gratification. Consumed nearly completely, literally disappearing into a puff of smoke (the butt easily disposed of under a shoe), the cigarette's solitary fault lies in the fact that, over time, the cumulative effects of its debris slowly and irrevocably sicken and kill its consuming host.
In the legal framing of capitalism in the United States, this one flaw—that cigarettes injure when used as intended—should be enough to not only regulate the cigarette but also ban it outright. In the United States, product liability law is the imperfect but established infrastructure by which Americans can claim their right not to be injured by the objects they purchase. But despite three decades of litigation, it is only since the late 1990s that people have been able to consider themselves injured by cigarettes in the legal sense. This change is due to the work of a recent wave of litigants who have shown successfully that tobacco corporations falsely advertised, defectively designed, and knowingly sold an addictive product. Although dismissed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 2001, one of the most interesting of the recent spate of lawsuits was brought in Pennsylvania on behalf of black smokers. In this suit, Brown v. Philip Morris, Inc., the Reverend Jesse Brown attempted to highlight the economic racism of cigarette marketing through a civil rights claim. The Brown complaint stated that "[the] Defendants have for many years targeted African Americans and their communities with specific advertising to lure them into using mentholated tobacco products." Brown raised the issues of niche marketing, discrimination, and the "staggering loss of life, premature disability, disease, illness, and economic loss" that have resulted from "the Tobacco Companies' intentional and racially discriminating fraudulent course of misconduct."
The Brown complaint contended that mentholated cigarettes (also known as menthols) contained enhanced dangers over other cigarettes. First, the complaint explained that the ingredient menthol contains compounds such as benzopyrene, which are carcinogenic when smoked. Second, it argued that mentholated cigarettes contain higher nicotine and tar levels than nonmentholated versions.Third, Brown claimed that menthol encourages deeper and longer inhalation of tobacco smoke, increasing the addictive properties of the cigarette and decreasing the lung's ability to rid itself of carcinogenic components of smoke. According to evidence submitted in Brown, mentholated cigarettes account for between 60 and 75 percent of the cigarettes smoked by African Americans—and 90 percent of African American youth who smoke, smoke menthols. Thus, Brown claimed, as a result of the increased danger of mentholated cigarettes and "a conspiracy of deception and misrepresentation against the African American public," African Americans have disproportionately suffered the injury, disability, and death that invariably follow from smoking mentholated cigarettes.
It is clear that cigarettes have had a devastating impact on the African American community: tobacco smoking is the number one killer and disabler of African Americans. It results in more deaths among black Americans than homicide, car accidents, drug abuse, and AIDS combined. It intensifies serious health problems that disproportionately affect black Americans: hypertension, diabetes, low birth weight, infant mortality, and hazardous occupational exposures. Blacks have a higher incidence than whites of tobacco-related illnesses, such as cancers of the lung, esophagus, oral cavity, and larynx; heart disease; and cerebrovascular disease. In 1992 lung cancer became the leading...
Focusing on specific assemblages that have historically been seen as communities of lower-class and underclass individuals and families, this essay examines the history of members of these “communities” who come to inhabit not the positions of the down-and-out, where they allegedly belong, but those of the more comfortable, educated, professional middle classes. It asks what the history of the struggles of these subaltern middle classes tells us about the limits of the middle-class idea and about the conditions necessary for the consolidation of particular groups as middle-class, modern, and unmarked.
This essay focuses on Aimé Césaire's post–World War II commitment to colonial emancipation without national independence. It examines how his constitutional initiatives to enact a future with France in an age of decolonization may be read as politically untimely and strategic utopian engagements with the complex problem of freedom. It suggests that they can be grasped as such only if we recognize that Césaire's 1946 program to transform Antillean colonies into French departments and his subsequent attempt to reconstitute France as a federal republic were mediated by the spirits of Toussaint Louverture and Victor Schoelcher and the legacies of the 1790s revolution in Saint-Domingue and the 1848 abolition of slavery. At these crucial turning points, imperial conditions had created the possibility of nonnational colonial emancipation even as certain kinds of instituted liberty themselves obstructed the prospect of substantive freedom. For subsequent generations, such failed initiatives then became futures past that condensed not yet realized but ever-available emancipatory potentialities.
Public Culture 13.2 (2001) 299-324
John Berger, The Look of Things
I awoke to the sound of excited voices in the wee hours of the morning on 21 November 1992 in Biak City. Semuel Bidwam and his family were standing amid a pile of blankets and satchels on his sister's back porch, a few feet from my bed. A fire had broken out in the market, and, like others residing close to it, the Bidwams had headed for higher ground. Semuel's sister, Sally Bidwam, lived in a small brick house, built by the Dutch navy, in a hilltop neighborhood still known as the Ridge -- the name given to the complex of barracks and civil service residences by American commanders during World War II. Biak Island had been the site of massive destruction during the war, and it might well be again if Semuel's fears were to bear out and the fire spread three blocks to the petroleum installation at the harbor. The gas tanks were connected by underground piping to the airport at the other end of town. If the fuel ignited, Biak City, the multiethnic capital of Biak-Numfor, an island regency in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya, would explode.
The market, the harbor, then, finally, the airport: the imagined disaster would have consumed locations that were viewed as promoting national integration in Indonesia under the now-deposed New Order regime. By way of planes, ships, and, above all, commodities and national currency, these sites connected ethnic Biaks to a national economy and, through it, to other citizens of this large postcolonial state. Besides this fantasy, the fire also gave rise to rumors that associated the disaster with a reversal in the relationship between this periphery and distant cores. The rumors spread from the market to encompass dreams of disruption in what, following Edward Soja, we might call a geography: a historically constituted, spatial and social distribution of wealth, power, and point of view. This essay follows a similar route, taking off from the fire on a path that bypasses conventional conclusions about the geographies created by translocal passages of money, migrants, and goods. Undertaken in a society with a long history of interaction with outsiders, my analysis is an exercise in not taking for granted the ways that national currencies integrate nation-states and thus create new forms of intimacy and alienation, along with interdependencies born of trade.
I approach money in this essay as neither a solvent of social differences nor a target of resistance, but as a medium that traverses an uneven sociocultural terrain: an interconnected series of spaces that are logically simultaneous, yet distinct in their temporalities. Using the fire stories as a focal point, I examine different functions of national currency as it appears in quotidian, ceremonial, and mythical scenes. The market figures in these scenes not only as a node in national and global flows of capital but also as a site for the pursuit of intimacies and potencies conceived in local terms. Although they are expressed in capital, the values people transact do not find their measure in a crystallization of abstract human labor or in the outcome of an interplay between supply and demand. Still, by making money into a vehicle of social identity, the practices described here contribute to the reproduction of economically based inequalities among Biaks and between Biaks and outsiders. As such, this essay illustrates how the local and the global are mutually constituted, if always in historically specific ways.
This essay's findings fly in the face of classical accounts of the social effects of monetization, which tend to portray market exchange as a force that erodes intimacies by homogenizing values. But this essay also encourages us to read theory in novel ways. Take Georg Simmel, who describes the use of money as the culmination in an evolution of the relationship between subjects and objects. In the most primitive situations, the subject is overtaken in the presence of a desired object by a "feeling of anxiety, as if a part of the self had been detached." Robbery...
Public Culture 14.2 (2002) 341-347
a survivor of a factory fire in China
Fire, pain, and memory flashed into Xiaoming's life story, highlighting a social trauma that runs through the lives of dagongmei, migrant working daughters, in this time of restructuring for China's state socialist system. Reform-era China is imaged through a lens focused squarely on the global market, a lens that not only occludes new forms of class and gender inequality—and thus legitimizes them as necessary evils—but also leaves the voices of individuals subsumed within the collective enterprise. Who cares? A giant China is coming, a few thousand deaths a year mean nothing. After all, it was the West that was the first to dream of and promise a giant China to come in the twenty-first century! Thus was triggered a mighty desiring machine in mainland China, its effects felt especially among the elite. The desiring machine, with all its power, was targeted on one goal: to set the nation inexorably on the track of globalization, yu quanqiu jiegui, and join the World Trade Organization.What has been tragic is the calling up of a generation of young women to work toward this dream of integration with the global economy. A consideration of China's subaltern condition within the global order could have foretold the voices of tragedy—the tragedy of compressed time and space and the tragedy of compressed grievances—hidden, yet not choked off. Social explosions emerged from time to time, severely suppressed, leaving behind deep social traumas that continue to haunt the country.
Seven years have already passed. Chance had brought me to meet Xiaoming who, alone of all the migrant women from her village, had survived a factory fire in Shenzhen. Shenzhen was the first of the Special Economic Zones set up in China in the early 1980s as stepping-stones for international capital. On 19 November 1993, a blaze had engulfed a plant there run by a Hong Kong subcontractor to a European toy maker, a brand famous in U.S. and European markets. The fire killed over eighty workers. Twenty others were seriously burned and another sixty injured. Half a month later, I met Xiaoming in the hospital. Her body was completely burned, all her skin seared and charred; left behind were a pretty face and glinting, innocent eyes. She looked weak but calm, very calm.
Three years later, in the course of my doctoral fieldwork, I would meet Yan, another migrant working daughter, who was employed at a Shenzhen electronics factory. Her condition seemed unexceptional, except that she screamed into the darkness every morning at four o'clock, frightening other female workers in the dormitory. Yan was awakened by nightmares. As a disclosure of social violence, this speech act seemed obvious and urgent, but I could still find no device of writing that could work to turn the pain inside out and get deeper into the grip of the power that held her. Hope of resistance was still far away.
I never expected to meet Xiaoming and Yan, and vice versa. Fire, pain, dream, and scream nested three lives together, bound us with a mutual imperative to give voice. Xiaoming, a young woman of twenty-one when I met her, was a migrant worker fresh from a village in Hubei, a relatively poor region. Worried that recalling memories of the fire would be too hard for her, we chatted about her childhood, her family, and her work experience in Shenzhen.
Public Culture 15.2 (2003) 323-345
September 11 changed the world—at least according to most Americans" (Schmidt 2002: 3; my emphasis). So begins a recent article by the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt in Die Zeit, the prestigious weekly newspaper. Schmidt argues that September 11 is actually a sign of continuity rather than a dramatic caesura and suggests that only Americans were really taken aback by it. According to Schmidt, American foreign policy did not change suddenly in the year after September 11, 2001, but instead had been moving in an increasingly imperialist direction for the past two decades. He suggests that this tendency became especially pronounced during the Clinton presidency, but he also lists a series of unilateral American military interventions dating from the Reagan era. In Schmidt's view, this trajectory shows that the United States has increasingly understood itself as "the sole global superpower," one that "no longer needed to consult with its European allies" or to "pay much attention to the interests of other nations." This view is particularly interesting coming from one of the most conservative members of Germany's Social Democratic Party and the chancellor who invited the United States to install its modernized missiles in Germany in the first half of the 1980s. But it is not at all unusual on the broadly defined political left.
A different "Left" argument for continuity since September 11 has been presented by Michael Hardt, coauthor with Antonio Negri of the widely discussed Empire (2000). Empire is an impressive attempt to theorize broad, epochal sociocultural transformations that had started well before September 11. Hardt and Negri also articulate their historical narrative with an explicit political/ethical program. Their critique of the naive anti-Americanism of some strands of the antiglobalization movement is based on an analysis of a very specific historical period that began with the end of the Cold War, when the United States did cede some authority to international coalitions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). I am also sympathetic to the book's deployment of the regulation-theoretic approach and its allied concepts of Fordism and post-Fordism. Hardt and Negri connect the rise of the unique political-juridical form they call Empire to the emergence of the post-Fordist mode of regulation.
I will argue here, however, that Empire should be understood as a historical reflection on the post-Fordist formation that crystallized in the 1990s and that is now coming to an end rather than a consideration of the present and the future. Hardt and Negri's arresting portrait of Empire is undercut by an explanatory framework that suffers from many of the epistemological shortcomings of traditional Marxism. The authors' residual reductionism and their adherence to a Marxian end-of-history story line prevent them from grasping the transitory nature of the relatively decentered political formation that they call "Empire." In addition to the political shock of September 11 and the ensuing war on terrorism, the 1990s also differed in other ways from the current period. As Slavoj Zizek(2002: 110) points out, this was a period in which there was no dominant "schematization" of the "figure of the Enemy" around a single "central image." Capitalist profit rates were so satisfying as to make this lack unproblematic. Nor was there anything like September 11 during this decade: no direct and radical attack on the American node in the network of global capitalism. The ideological, political, and economic conditions for the decentered, multivalent system of Empire described by Hardt and Negri thus seem to have disappeared in the past year and a half. The question now is: Which of these conditions are being replaced and which of them retained? What sort of political-juridical form and what kind of regulatory framework are emerging?
In Welcome to the Desert of the Real!Zizek offers a more compelling image than Hardt and Negri's, one that combines continuity and discontinuity. He begins by rejecting the "phrase which reverberates everywhere: 'Nothing will be the same after September 11'" and argues initially that in fact "the only thing that effectively changed was that America was forced to realize the kind of world it was part of" (Zizek...
Public Culture 16.1 (2004) 119-130Figures 1-3 Susan Kelly
We see a woman clothed in a late-nineteenth-century dress coat and a wide-brimmed hat. She sits on a black swivel chair with wheels. On the floor next to her are a small bag and an electric candle that shines when the surrounding environment is dark and fades out when the room gets brighter. She faces the wall onto which she projects slides. The images are mostly of her own bronze portrait sculpture.Figures 4 and 5
Annie Moore was the first immigrant processed through the Ellis Island Immigration Station when it opened in 1892. She presents us with the slide show of her trip. She appears through the medium of her contemporary double who uses spiritual devices such as magic lanterns, photographs, slide projectors, and videos to conjure her in what seems to be real time. She repeats the story from the guidebook. She repeats the story from the official Ellis Island National Monument guidebook in the first person. She repeats the story from the plaque on the pedestal beneath her. She repeats the story from the plaque in the first person. She goes on to repeat the story from her photo caption, the plaque in Cork, and the guidebook from the Cobh Harbor Heritage Center in the same manner. After a chance encounter with the bronze portrait sculpture of Annie Moore at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 1998, we developed this project initially to trace some of the buried histories of immigration to the United States. Extensive research into Annie Moore's life turned up archival documents, guidebooks, commemorative plaques, and photo captions that endlessly restated the same facts of her arrival. The figure of Annie Moore disappeared in a series of dead ends, gaps, and ellipses within an archive that represents an Irish immigrant woman as an exemplary U.S. citizen. The tautological structure of the archive reinforces a systematic amnesia of the social and historical conditions that led to Moore's arrival and eventual assimilation. Using several methods to "call up" Annie Moore, we trace the radical discontinuities between early immigrant histories and the social conditions of non-European immigrants dwelling in the contemporary United States and Ireland.
Calling Up Annie Moore was originally conceptualized in 1998 as a mixed-media installation, combining slide projections of archival photographs, video projection, and live performance. Through a palimpsest of slide and video documentation—of found archival photographs from the National Park Service archives and the vast corporate photo bank of Corbis—and their subsequent reincorporation into the installation, the overall piece worked to reveal the technical structure of Annie Moore's archive.
Jacques Derrida (1996: 1) contends in Archive Fever that the word archive means both beginning and command. In this piece, we examine how this double sense of commencement and legislation embedded in the word archive might be used to trace a different way of understanding the histories of Irish immigration and the moment of arrival in the so-called New World. Derrida (1996: 16-17) comments that the technical structure that allows one to "archive an archive" also determines the "archivable content" and its very coming into existence. This archivization produces as much as it records (Derrida 1996: 17). Annie Moore is known to us simply because she was the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island on the day it opened. The predetermined technical structure of archivization into which Annie Moore literally walks is what produces her public existence. By working with an "archivable concept of the archive" (Derrida 1996: 36) and tracing the process whereby this event comes into being, we hope to open a different relationship with the future.Figures 6 and 7
My name is Annie Moore and this is my holiday slide show. What a potent mixture of excitement and apprehension I must have felt as a fifteen-year-old girl from Ireland when I descended the gangplank of the steamship Nevada on January 1, 1892! As the first of 700 immigrants to disembark from three ships that lay offshore from the brand-new processing station at Ellis Island on that historic day, I was swept...
Human capital is to neoliberalism what Marx's free worker was to liberal capitalism, that is, the subjective formation at once presupposed and targeted by neoliberal technologies of government. According to this thesis, the neoliberal condition involves investors in their own human capital who, as such, seek to appreciate the value of the portfolio of conducts that constitutes them and whose relationship to themselves is speculative rather than possessive—as was the case of their liberal predecessors.
Public Culture 14.2 (2002) 361-385
One of the more compelling issues to emerge out of the gay movement in the last two decades is the universalization of "gay rights." This project has appropriated the prevailing U.S. discourse on human rights in order to launch itself on an international scale. Following in the footsteps of the white Western women's movement, which had sought to universalize its issues through imposing its own colonial feminism on the women's movements in the non-Western world—a situation that led to major schisms from the outset—the gay movement has adopted a similar missionary role. Organizations dominated by white Western males (the International Lesbian and Gay Association [ILGA] and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission [IGLHRC]) sprang up to defend the rights of "gays and lesbians" all over the world and to advocate on their behalf. ILGA, which was founded in 1978 at the height of the Carter administration's human rights campaign against the Soviet Union and Third World enemies, asserts that one of its aims is to "create a platform for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people internationally, in their quest for recognition, equality, and liberation, in particular through the world and regional conferences." As for IGLHRC, which was founded in 1991, its mission is to "protect and advance the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status." It is these missionary tasks, the discourse that produces them, and the organizations that represent them that constitute what I call the Gay International.
Like the major U.S.-based human rights groups (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International) and many white Western feminist organizations, the Gay International has reserved a special place for the Muslim world in both its discourse and its advocacy. This orientalist impulse, borrowed from predominant representations of the Arab and Muslim worlds in the United States and Europe, continues to guide all branches of the human rights community. As a relative latecomer to this assimilationist project, the Gay International has had to catch up quickly. To do so, supporters of the Gay International's missionary tasks have produced two kinds of literature on the Muslim world: an academic literature of historical, literary, and anthropological accounts, written mostly by white male European or American gay scholars, which purport to describe and explain "homosexuality" in the past and present of the Arab and Muslim worlds; and journalistic accounts of the lives of so-called gays and (much less so) lesbians in the contemporary Arab and Muslim worlds. The former seeks to unravel the mystery of Islam to a Western audience, whereas the latter aims to inform white gay sex-tourists about the region. The larger mission, as I describe below, is to liberate Arab and Muslim "gays and lesbians" from the oppression under which they allegedly live by transforming them from practitioners of same-sex contact into subjects who identify as homosexual and gay. The following remarks may be taken as typical. Lisa Power, co-secretary general of ILGA, states that "most Islamic cultures don't take kindly to organized homosexuality, even though male homoeroticism is deep within their cultural roots! . . . most people are too nervous to organize, even in countries with a high level of homosexuality." Robert Bray, public information director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and an officer of ILGA, understands that "cultural differences make the definition and the shading of homosexuality different among peoples. . . . But I see the real question as one of sexual freedom; and sexual freedom transcends cultures." Describing his adventures in Morocco and southern Spain, Bray states that "at least one guy expressed a longing to just be gay and not have to live within the prescribed sexual behaviors, and he said that there were others like him." Seemingly convinced by this one conversation, Bray declares: "I believe this longing is universal."
In contradistinction to the liberatory claims made by the Gay International in relation to what it posits as an always already homosexualized population, I argue that it is the discourse of the Gay International that both produces homosexuals, as...
Public Culture 12.2 (2000) 501-528
On 16 August 1998, several people from Belyuen and I drove to Wadeye (Port Keats) and ran into the ark of a covenant, a building underway aimed at housing an indigenous spirituality. This building has several aspects, modalities, and scales -- physical, subjective, textual. It is dispersed across multiple social fields -- law, business, and public life -- and the purpose it serves goes by several names: cultural tourism, ecotourism. In this essay, I seek to understand the sources and limits of this built environment and its social, subjective, and economic implications for indigenous Australians.
David Harvey (1989: 339) has noted that post-Fordist capitalism seems to be dominated by "fiction, fantasy, the immaterial (particularly money), fictitious capital, images, ephemerality"; the stock market and various financial instruments being well cited examples. Herein, I examine a related market -- the market in the uncanny, the mystery (rather than the mysterious), the fourfold (morphe) as it operates in northern Australia. I will propose that one of the operations of this market is to hold certain groups of people accountable for manifesting for certain other groups a Heideggerian form (morphe). It will also emerge that the market itself relies upon a complex set of textual mediations generating both an object for and a limit to capital forms of commodification. What might these particular modalities of capital and textuality tell us about the dynamic relation among text, subject, and economic practice at the end of the millennium? More specifically: How do we understand the textual sources of the indigenous Spirit that capital commodifies? Note: I will seek the answer to these questions not in analysis of the representation of the Spirit of commodity capital, but rather in an interrogation of how the building of various sorts of capital infrastructures is mediated by various sorts of textual architectures and by the subjective inhabitation of both. In short, the logic and timing of the subject are not equivalent to the logic and timing of capital.
We had not gone to Wadeye to chase the market of the Spirit. We had planned to spend the week mapping the coastal region historically associated with the Marriamu and Marritjaben Aborginal people with other men and women living at Wadeye in preparation for a sea claim to be lodged under the Native Title Act of 1993. The map would help demonstrate the continuing existence of the traditional laws, customs, beliefs, and practices of the Marriamu and Marritjaben. It is such traditional customs that give their native title its legal efficacy in Australian statutory and common law. Most jurists loosely agree with Justice Olney's understanding of traditional customs as a set of laws, customs, practices, and traditions that are "integral to a distinctive culture" rather than a mere "description of how people live" or a description of how their ancestors once lived (Hayes v. Northern Territory 1999: 20). It is not required by the national law that these customary laws be demonstrated to be "spiritual" in nature, although in the common sense and common parlance of national courts, parliaments (federal, state, and territory), and public spheres, Aboriginal customary law is considered to be saturated and fully comprehended by the cosmogonic myth-ritual of the Dreamtime. What is required of applicants -- before their native title claim can be registered -- is that they acknowledge their native title rights and interests to be subject to all valid and current laws of the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory. According to the current phrasing of native title applications in the Northern Territory, they also must further acknowledge that the exercise of these rights and interests might be regulated, controlled, curtailed, restricted, suspended, or postponed by reason of the existence of valid concurrent rights and interests by or under such laws. This acknowledgment is a formal textual act: the statutorily mandated form and content of a native title application. Because applications are usually prepared by non-Aboriginal lawyers and anthropologists, most claimants never know they have been represented as acquiescing in this hierarchy of legal power and authority.
But it was neither the expanse of the Dreaming nor the conceit of national law that initially caught my breath. Instead...
striking aspect of recent developments in Africa is that democratization seems to trigger a general obsession with autochthony and ethnic citizenship invariably defined against “strangers”— that is, against all those who “do not really belong.” Thus political liberalization leads, somewhat paradoxically, to an intensification of the politics of belonging: fierce debates on who belongs where, violent exclusion of “strangers” (even if this refers to people with the same nationality who have lived for generations in the area), and a general affirmation of roots and origins as the basic criteria of citizenship and belonging. Such obsessions are all the more striking since historians and anthropologists used to qualify African societies as highly inclusive, marked by an emphasis on “wealth-in-people” (in contrast to Europe’s “wealth-in-things”) and a wide array of institutional mechanisms for including people (adoption, fosterage, the broad range of classificatory kinship terminology). In many African political formations, prior to liberalization there was an important social distinction between autochthons and allochthons, but its implications were strikingly different from today. Often rulers came from allochthon clans who emphasized their origin from elsewhere, yet had privileged access to political positions. Since the late 1980s, in contrast, autochthony has become a powerful slogan to exclude the Other, the allogène, the stranger. Political liberalization seems to have strengthened a decidedly nonliberal tendency towards closure and exclusion (cf. Bayart 1996).
A comparison of two challenges to freedom of the press, in Indonesia and Denmark, reveals some of the linkages among semiotic ideologies, secularism, and a moral narrative of modernity. By analyzing conflicts between semiotic ideologies, the article shows how actual journalistic practices both presuppose and deviate from the assumptions of any given such ideology. The article also discusses claims about the role of the press in the history of the nation. The case comparison brings out some fundamental tensions between two grounds for this role, to speak as a voice of a people and to serve as a conduit for truth. Viewed in the context of the semiotic ideologies they presuppose, conflicts over the actions and authority of the press can reveal some of the difficulties posed by the moral narrative of modernity and the common sense of contemporary liberalism.
Public Culture 13.2 (2001) 267-291
Etienne LeRoy, L'odyssée de l'état
Filip De Boeck, Postcolonialism, Power, and Identity
For the regular visitors to the Dogondoutchi dispensary in the late 1980s whose persistent search for health was repeatedly frustrated by the inadequacy of the medical supplies, the empty shelves of the state-sponsored facility -- a stark contrast to the usually well-stocked shelves of the local pharmacy -- displayed one of the most flagrant symptoms of the decline of the Nigerien postcolony and the attendant dissolution of authority. Just as the mismanagement of food relief in famine-stricken Niger some twenty-five years ago gave rise to a host of rumors centering on President Hamani Diori's kin and close associates -- whose predatory practices earned them the title of le clan des bouffeurs (the clan of the gluttons)--so the resident doctor and nurses of the rural dispensary became in the late 1980s the target of disturbing rumors about the apparent mutilation of the bodies of deceased patients. While the medical personnel were later exonerated after rats were discovered near headless corpses on hospital grounds, the incident nonetheless contributed to increase people's fear of the local facility.
"A place of death (wurin mutuwa), that's what it is!" Dije, the old woman who often visited my neighbors, had once exclaimed. She was referring to the well-known fact that many of those -- especially among the elderly -- who were hospitalized ended up dying at the dispensary. Whether or not their deaths could have been prevented with "adequate" medical assistance is not clear. During fieldwork conducted in 1988-89, I was told on several occasions that the local doctor rarely made use of the ambulance to transport patients who were in serious condition to the better-equipped hospital of Dosso, some three hundred kilometers away. With little or no fund allocations for gas, the decision to transfer patients was only made for desperate cases. That the patients invariably died on their way to, or in, the Dosso hospital only confirmed some people's suspicions that the dispensary was, in Dije's words, "a place of death." "Those who leave in the ambulance, they never come back," my assistant Yahaya had remarked. Conversations with other residents later confirmed that indeed "the doctor always waited [to send patients away] until it was too late." This sad reality had prompted some residents to nickname the ambulance "the hearse."
Much has been said and written about the modern state's seemingly boundless capacity to prey upon its citizens in postcolonial Africa (Bayart 1989; Mbembe 1992). Accounts from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Cameroon, and elsewhere that offer culturally specific commentaries on the "politics of the belly" through which the state and its cronies appropriate the vitality of those subordinated to them periodically remind us of the omnivorous potentialities of the postcolony (Bastian 2000; Geschiere 1995; Masquelier 2000; Shaw 1996; Weiss 1996). Yet, while these visual and visceral displays of predation point to the specific ways in which people are consumed, depleted, or violated by a perverse -- but often historically legitimized -- power structure, they rarely offer concrete instantiations of what stands behind the gluttonous practices and immoral politics that inscribe themselves so tangibly onto the bodies of the state's victims. Simply put, the state appears to have no palpable existence outside the discursive formations that emphasize its alleged rapacity. Even the images of perverted and predatory consumption that lend it some materiality do not disguise the increasing withdrawal of the state from public life. Despite the growing fragmentation of government, however, the state is hardly powerless, as Jean-François Bayart, Achille Mbembe, and Comi Toulabor (1992) remind us, because administrative procedures and institutional rules are "only one channel among many which the public authorities use...
Many mundane practices of city life in public in Beijing converge on public parks. Focusing on the uses, significance, and powers of the annual park pass, an inexpensive identity card that gives residents free access to the city's well-known and historic parks, I demonstrate some ways in which the “routines and rituals” of state articulate in practice with both a spatial and a nationalist politics of the people. This is not a politics of rebellion or resistance; rather, it advances a compliant civilizational nationalism with deep roots in China's revolutionary twentieth century. It displays a particular sensitivity to the history of spaces in the city and to the forms of ownership and control to which such spaces can be subjected. To understand the daily enjoyments of ordinary city residents as a continuation of China's revolutionary century is to acknowledge the voices and the public activism of many whose forms of political communication are usually ignored, or even denounced as passive. But a more generous definition of the political, one that does not presume liberal democracy as its natural setting or emancipation as its aim, can show how even compliance and personal pleasures work on the dispositions of power in public.
The shadow of cultural diversity—the diverse ways in which we “world” this earth — now falls across all universalistic assumptions about history or human nature that often underlie propositions of modern political philosophies. Their inherent Eurocentrism is what makes these assumptions suspect in the eyes of practitioners of the human sciences today. But neither cultural nor historical relativism is seen as an answer —a nd rightly so, for an absolutist relativism can easily be shown to be self-contradictory. Understandably, therefore, many postcolonial debates on political philosophies such as Marxism or liberalism often try to work out a middle ground between the two options of universalism and relativism. Critical energies are focused on questions such as how and where one