At this writing, it has been nearly a month since Russia invaded Ukraine and met with the resistance of Ukrainian people and the outcry of the world—most notably the Western / Global North / One-Third world. When European war, death and displacement unexpectedly fill our screens and simultaneously remind us of how unequal is the distribution of worldly attention and concern for such (what are now distressingly quotidian scenes in several parts of the world outside of Europe), it is challenging to look beyond the immediacy of these events. At a precarious time such as this (when has a moment in history not felt precarious, at least in one place or another?), it is difficult for us as the incoming editors of PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review to find the words to express our hopes and vision for our three year term. Yet perhaps, in some ways, it is all the more important at this time that we do.
Current events have so clearly reminded us that politics and law are never as settled as they might seem. Given that real world contingency and dynamism, political and legal anthropology must also remain active subdisciplines. They cannot just discuss and describe what needs to change but also need thoughtfully to be part of that change—especially when there are those among us to whom these seemingly abrupt changes and recent events are anything but unpredictable or unprecedented. Political and legal anthropologists have long engaged in study of the undercurrents and less visible elements of the very events we are witnessing unfold today. It is our hope that, in centering these works in this and forthcoming issues of PoLAR, we can demonstrate the unique and important entry point of political and legal anthropology to understanding systems and processes of power, violence, and inequality that can feel, at times, incomprehensible.
Speaking to important themes in our discipline, the articles that make up this issue do just that. Each touches on issues to do with precarity, governmentality, futurity, crisis, inequalities, and ways to collectively navigate through these. Darlène Dubuisson’s article, “The (State) University of Haiti: Toward a Place-Based Understanding of Kriz” works to disrupt conventional notions of “Haitian perpetual crisis” as general and inevitable, and instead foregrounds how insecurity is manufactured and lived through the specificity of embodied spaces. Dubuisson offers examples of improvisation within those spaces as a way for anthropologists to re-conceptualize how crisis is lived and actively navigated. Focusing on temporality, Anand Vaidya’s piece, “New Villages for Old: Collective Action and Conditional Futures after India’s Forest Rights Act,” offers a new way of thinking about the co-constitutive relationship between time and collective action, showing how histories of dispossession structure conditional futures which are then mediated by formations of law, solidarity, struggle, and collective action in the present. Also honing in on collective political formations in their article, “Patriarchal Authoritarianism Reloaded: Gender Violence, Policy Conflict, and the Resurgence of the Far Right in Spain,” Marta Cabezas brings us a feminist analysis of the rise of authoritarian groups in Spain and their concurrent interlinking with patriarchal values. Cabezas calls for these links between gender and contemporary political formations to be foregrounded in anthropological work on the state and applications to policy, alike.
Kristin M. Sangren’s article, “Processual Recognition in Chinese Traffic Disputes,” brings us insight into the moral economies that shape legal disputes in China, and specifically how forms of recognition in those systems produce forms of “justice” that reflect existing socio-structural dynamics. In “Between the Roll of Paper and the Role of Paper: Governmental Documentation as a Mechanism for Complying Incompliantly,” Valentina Pellegrino prompts us to see deeply into the optics by which the satisfaction of legal form comes to constitute the fulfillment of Indigenous peoples’ rights in Latin America. Through the example of litigation against the Colombian government, Pellegrino demonstrates how, rather than laboring to perform substantive actions that effectively protect people’s rights and lives, legally formalist states respond to demands for accountability with carefully orchestrated and presented technical reports that comprise curated performances of compliance. Robin Valenzuela’s article, “Interstitial Precarity: The Romance and Tragedy of the Transnational Child Welfare System,” deepens our appreciation for the ways in which, because of the proximity and intimacy of their relationships with people holding less legally secure national identities, precarity can be experienced even by those whose status is deemed legal and therefore secure. Children born in the United States to Mexican parents who are deemed illegal poignantly illustrate this precarity experienced in the interstices between two nation-states and their bureaucratic systems. Their example thereby calls us to see the ambiguities in even the successful governmental solutions that advocates achieve in trying to overcome the challenges posed by borders.
When we stepped into this role in November 2021, we articulated our lofty overall intention to harness PoLAR and the work of the collective of people involved and invested in the journal as a tool for the transformative action that our discipline of anthropology, and political and legal anthropology in particular, needs to disrupt and undo the structures of racism, imperialism, and elitism on which it has been built and which continue to be reproduced. We noted that our real interest is in simultaneously overcoming in our praxis and challenging in our content imperialist logics vis-a-vis power and rules. For us, transforming the knowledge that forms our field must happen by transforming how we produce that knowledge, starting with how inclusive and supportive our practices are, especially, of those on the frontlines of the struggles in which we feel we must partner (as opposed to being passively oppressive of these “our subjects” or competitive in an adversarial way with one another). These remain our intentions; yet, admittedly, faced with the immediacy of current events, it has been difficult for us to realize these aspirations.
Nonetheless, the questions that remain with us as a guide for our work as editors are: Is it possible for PoLAR to be a site for critical, decolonial, and abolitionist anthropology, not just in substance or content but in form and process? If so, how? In these questions are our hopes to work towards “thick solidarity” (Liu and Shange 2018, 190) both within our editorial team and, through our work in the journal and what it inspires in the world, more generally.
To accomplish this or at least move towards these goals, we are striving to bring into conversation people who see the world differently, not perpetuate the racism and imperialism that has structured our discipline and world overall. Such an approach necessitates collaboration and a diffuse drawing-in of diverse perspectives, and so as Co-Editors we have sought to develop an Editorial Collective to guide the work of PoLAR, comprised of our two incoming Book Reviews Co-Editors (Smoki Musaraj and Matthew Canfield) and the introduction of two Co-Editors of the reinvigorated “Directions” section of the journal (Deniz Yonucu and Caroline Parker), which we plan to use as a space to host emergent conversations about our discipline and the world at large within the journal. Building on the work of former PoLAR Co-Editors before us and our continuing Associate Editor of PoLAR Online (Jennifer Curtis), we are also making intentional efforts to internationalize PoLAR by gathering an Editorial Board that brings together the perspectives of scholars working in political and legal anthropology from across the globe, while working towards diversifying and internationalizing the scope of the journal’s authorship and the peer reviewers we invite to guide our process and content.
In the four months since we have been in the “Editor-in-Chief” role, we have made great strides in each of these areas and are excited, in each of these capacities, to be working with fantastic colleagues located in every inhabited region of the world. To launch our Co-Editorship in November of 2021, we hosted a AAA roundtable on the topic, “Setting Political and Legal Anthropology Ablaze with ‘Thick Solidarity,’” in which we invited a number of scholars representing different sections of the AAA organization as a whole along with others with an existing relationship to PoLAR to think together on how to imbue transformative action into the work of journal publishing in this field. The conversation, while hugely generative in a number of areas, was especially illuminating in that it highlighted the potential for cultural anthropologists at large to feel siloed in their sub-fields, and to not see their work as connected to the mission and vision of PoLAR even though we as the incoming Co-Editors would argue that, as anthropologists working in and across political and legal spaces, surely all of us are in some ways engaging the political and sociolegal. Our work over these first four months has been to hone in on that perceived gap, and to attempt to use our Co-Editorship to build a journal that is inclusive in praxis as much as intent. We see all anthropology as political. We see all lived experiences as shaped and/or constrained by the formal and structural parameters and contingencies of law, even if only by law’s claims that some people, spaces and interractions are illegal or extralegal. We invite scholars from all areas of study, stages of career, and parts of the world to join the conversations being hosted through PoLAR and to consider our journal as a space to disseminate your work.
The articles in this, our first, issue are a demonstrative sampling of our team’s collective efforts. Further still, our first Directions section is the product of a deep collaboration asking searching questions. It builds on PoLAR’s long standing commitment to naming and addressing scholarly inequalities by bringing together a sample of works from PoLAR Online’s newly published critical collection on Peer Review. The pieces invite us as authors, reviewers, and members of a scholarly community at large to think about how we can collectively re-frame how we approach and do peer review: urging us to move beyond transactional—and even at times adversarial—models of peer review, and to instead see these as opportunities to give and receive forms of scholarly care. All of this, of course, takes place within already existing unevenness in the academy, where reviews are shaded with gendered, classed, and racialized assumptions, and the capacity to review is frayed, with this form of service often falling to those least in a position to make time for it. As Co-Editors, we take from these pieces many lessons and actionable steps on how to improve the peer review process for all during our time in this role.
In many ways, we are following the lead of our predecessors, Jessica Greenberg and Jessica Winegar, to whom we owe a tremendous debt of thanks. As did they, we aim to make submitting a manuscript to PoLAR a constructive experience, where peer review and editorial feedback emphasizes mentoring and support as being core parts of collegiality and academic rigor. We have the privilege of building on their incredible groundwork with the journal. In particular, their development of the PoLAR Reviewer Guidelines and the updates made to Author Guidelines, on the foundation of which we too are working towards making the very opaque and implicit rules and norms that guide journal submission into a knowable, tangible process which ultimately increases the equity of our work. We also celebrate their efforts to internationalize the journal and work towards including more manuscripts from authors outside of the US and Europe, and working intensively with some authors in order to include their work, thus centering mentorship as part of their editorship. Finally, we applaud their investment in working out strategies to improve the journal’s impact factor, which benefits not only the journal but all our authors.
Needless to say, we look forward to sharing more fruit of these collective efforts with you in the months and years to come for there is much more to come in the next issues as we re-launch special issues as “Special Sections” of the journal, host workshops to encourage and provide hands-on support to potential authors, and also explore really important topics in partnership with our colleagues in other AAA sections as well as future members of the AAA through joint roundtable sessions. We encourage all of our readers to follow our work in the coming months for updates on these initiatives, and most of all to continue reading the journal, citing the articles published in it, and referring others to our collective journal enterprise as the site from which to gain (and share) anthropological insight into contemporary political and legal structures confronting us all.
In the meantime, we are excited to share this May 2022 issue with you and to carry on a new tradition left by our predecessors by providing resources below that our authors have conveyed as practical ways for readers to get involved in supporting the people whose struggles are documented in these pages.
Author Action Recommendations
Darlène Dubuisson: I would like to share information about the Haitian Studies Association (HSA). The HSA “supports scholarship on Haiti and provides a forum for the exchange and dissemination of ideas and knowledge to inform pedagogy, practice, and policy about Haiti in an international community.” The HSA has created a few funds to assist the research and travel of Haiti-based students, academics, public scholars, artists, and professionals. Here is the link to contribute to these funds: https://www.haitianstudies.org/supporthsa/donate-to-h-s-a/
Kristin Sangren: Stop AAPI Hate (https://stopaapihate.org/)
Valentina Pellegrino: Although I did most of my research within the Colombian Interior Ministry, part of my fieldwork happened amongst the Wiwa people, one of the Indigenous groups acknowledged by the Constitutional Court as being at risk of extermination due to the war. They are members of the Colombian Indigenous National Organization, ONIC, comprising 50 regional organizations. This organization has been fighting to protect Indigenous people’s rights for over forty years and had a pivotal role in denouncing the dramatic situation that led to Order 004 explored in the article. ONIC has also served to unify the different Indigenous groups into a cohesive political organization to gain visibility and representation. I have, through the years, collaborated to the best of my abilities with this organization. Through their website, it is possible to learn and get involved with their political struggle: https://www.onic.org.co/
Robin Valenzuela: Though my article discusses a transnational bilateral agreement that enables Illinois child welfare officials to place minor wards with their deported parents or kin in Mexico, I believe it is important to place the child welfare system within a larger context of family regulation. Following child welfare abolitionists like Dorothy Roberts and Martin Guggenheim, I support the abolition of the child welfare system and the radical rethinking of child protection and wellbeing. I recommend three resources for information, advocacy, and donations. The first is the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, which not only provides a wealth of up-to-date information about the child welfare system, but also advocates for policy changes. You can visit their website and/or donate to the Coalition at https://nccpr.org/. Another website with additional resources is the upEND Movement: https://upendmovement.org/about/. Lastly, I recommend the ImmPrint weekly podcast interview featuring Dorothy Roberts, who addresses the abolition and reconceptualization of child welfare: https://imprintnews.org/podcast/dorothy-roberts-child-welfare-abolition-non-reformist-reforms?gclid=Cj0KCQjwl7qSBhD-ARIsACvV1X0oL4CdQgU7bRqInXYPtWP6Qkdbq3R1KxBi7nsusMeJAozstj4NWf4aAgneEALw_wcB.
Processual Recognition in Chinese Traffic Disputes
Kristin M. Sangren
Introducing Directions Section
Caroline M. Parker, Deniz Yonucu, Jennifer Curtis
Dispirited Away: The Peer Review Process
Rising Threats in the US
Routine Crisis: An Ethnography of Disillusion
Bureaucratic Intimacies: Translating Human Rights in Turkey