Current PoLAR Issue November 2022

Late Saturday evening in Wynwood, Miami, during a busy and monthly festival known as “Art Walk,” where visitors from Miami and elsewhere visit shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Credit: Thijs Jeursen

Volume 45, Issue 2 

Editorial November 2022

For this, the second issue of Political and Legal Anthropology Review under our editorial tenure, the “race” to complete an issue “in time” has been at the forefront of our thinking. At times, it has felt as if the calls to refuse a “return to normal”—and its unsustainable and unequal tempos, as our predecessors importantly pointed out (Greenberg and Winegar 2021: 3)—has gone unheeded. As deadline after impending deadline (professional and personal) approach, we (and we are sure others) have scrambled to meet these, despite the persistent and seemingly compounding impacts of the pandemic on our communities’, our families’, our institutions’, our students’, our colleagues’, and our own health. In some (sometimes many) cases, we have missed them. Nonetheless, we are acutely aware of the continuing pressures to hasten the tempos of knowledge production and the stakes that delays have, particularly for recent graduates and junior colleagues.

At the same time, the very things we are determined to forefront in our editorial purview—mentorship, inclusion, engaged peer review processes, social justice, and in some ways structural change—require time; not just the open time necessary to complete a task, but the temporal space within which to sit with and percolate on ideas. We are increasingly reminded that time is not a resource, as the neoliberal university would often spin it. Time depletes and passes no matter how we attempt to fill it, manage it, control it; and time cannot be re-sourced in the same way that, say, money or other forms of capital may be. Time is a source: a foundation for action, not a value to be spent.

Thought of this way, there is an ethical imperative to not simply use time “more effectively” but more so to channel our time more intentionally. In our own efforts towards intentional journal editing, one thing that stands out as a method to enable temporal space for ourselves and others is generosity: empathy and understanding of the emails that go unanswered, the deadlines that are missed, the respect for clear boundaries on our colleagues’ working hours, realistic timeframes for work completed, and grace granted when extensions are needed because life and the ongoing pandemics of Covid-19 and structural racism continue to bring the unexpected. This past six months have been an exercise in (sometimes proactively and at other times retroactively) implementing an ethics of generosity and temporal space into our own work practices in PoLAR and elsewhere. The result has been—we hope—a volume here that brings together scholarship that is both timely and a product of an intentional—not reactive and rushed—process of knowledge production.

In these past months, certain public events in the United States and elsewhere around the world have also served to remind us of the “bigger picture” behind the minutiae of academic work. On the 24 June 2022 shortly after the release of our last issue in May, the conservative supermajority of the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the court’s earlier rulings regarding Roe v. Wade (1972) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), effectively overturning 49 years of legal precedent which allowed abortion to be recognized as a medical procedure protected from “interference by the state” under a Constitutional right to privacy. This decision V –and its immediate and intergenerational effects—is a sobering reminder of the contingencies of legal systems. That contingency is now writ large onto the bodies of every person in the United States with the capacity to become pregnant.

But not just any bodies. The overturning of Roe v. Wade will exacerbate already existing inequalities along the lines of race and ethnicity, class, migrant status, rurality, and gender, among others. Political and legal anthropologists have long been tuned into these layered and intersectional politics of reproduction. The politics of Roe v. Wade have been a topic of discussion from some of the earliest volumes of PoLAR1, and elsewhere others like Dána-Ain Davis,2 Risa Cromer,3 and Laura Briggs4 among others have also examined these politics of reproduction through the lens of anthropology. We will need political and legal anthropologists to continue foregrounding reproduction politics—which intertwine with all politics, as Laura Briggs argues—in our ongoing efforts to center our disciplinary work on all forms of justice and reparation.

In much the same vein of pursuing justice and reparation, as the “Unsettling Anthropology: A Conversation with the Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Nations” panel at the AAA annual meeting in Seattle duly sought to draw attention to, given the contingencies of legal systems, the sovereignty of Indigenous Americans continues to be under siege. This, as the recent majority U.S. Supreme Court judgment in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta (2022) and arguments in the Haaland v. Brackeen case heard by the Supreme Court show. And, lest we forget the obligations born of our own complicity, anthropologists bear a special burden with respect to advocating for setting right the wrongs against American Indian and Alaska Native peoples because of the discipline’s involvement in many of the harms done to their communities and the ways in which the careers of many leaders in the field were built on the backs of indigenous peoples and their knowledge systems.

While 2022 has brought the United States the lesson that hard-earned rights cannot be taken for granted, as we write there are others who are literally fighting for certain rights to be recognized. The suspicious death in police custody of Mahsa Amini on 16 September 2022 prompted outcry in Iran, with thousands of Iranian people—women and men—taking to the streets to demand justice, political change, and basic human rights. As we write, internet access has been either extremely restricted or cut-off entirely for weeks. The lack of stable internet has meant that estimates of injury and deaths resulting from the protests are unreliable, but conservative estimates from Human Rights Watch put the death toll (on 9 November) at 284 people, including 45 children.5 These and other complex situations directly challenge the taken-for-grantedness of human rights, political systems, and legal regimes, and once again remind us of the significance of political and legal anthropology as a foundation of our discipline.

The articles included in this issue highlight tenuous alliances between states and various institutional actors, from school teachers as “reluctant” state agents in Jordan Levy’s article, to “Churchstate” politics in William Girard’s—both coming out of the context of Honduras. State agents and surveillance are another theme of the issue, with Ritsuko Kurita’s article examining how “mutual obligations” embedded in welfare regimes in Australia work to surveil and produce “shame” for recipients, and Thijs Jeursen’s article on policing in Miami examining the strategic use of cameras and recording by police officers. Taking an international view on this same theme of surveillance, Julie Hemment’s article on Stiob sheds light on the ways in which satire is used in the geopolitical conflict between Russia and the United States as agents of the two states surveil one another and use visual social media as a primary site of their contentious expression.

Indeed, visuality emerges as a specific theme of this issue, with Tamir Sriraman’s article describing digital archiving of media texts as a form of “affective activism,” developed between stranded migrant workers and relief agents, which provides a way to transcend typical government bureaucratic emphasis on paper documentation. Also examining documents, Fatima Tassadiq’s article looks at the transformative power of documents as they are transferred across different points of bureaucracy, showing how, in the case of a land acquisition project in Pakistan, documents worked to transform informal urban residents into “humanitarian subjects.” Staying with the theme of (at least, potentially) transformative documents, Lydia Boyd uncovers the local strategies evident in political and legal debates on the constitutionally-protected right to health in Uganda under which a local advocacy organization works to negotiate the government’s obligations using African cultural frameworks.

The last set of articles shift our attention to interpersonal relationships and affect; from the struggles to “trust” one another in Miriam Driessen’s discussion of Ethiopian lawyers and their Chinese clients to Katy Gardner’s exploration of “emotional fixes” in a feminist organization’s culturally strategic mediation of marital disputes and divorces in Bangladesh, picking up on how affect’s role in activism (which Sriraman earlier raised as key to politics) plays out in legal contexts.

Given the urgency of many of the topics so thoughtfully explored by this issue’s authors, often studied in politically volatile environments and rapidly shifting legal landscapes, it seems fitting that we should again end our editorial with the action recommendations several authors have shared below.

Sindiso Mnisi, University of Massachusetts Boston, and Georgina Ramsay, University of Delaware, are Co-Editors-in-Chief of PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

Author Action Recommendations

William Girard: I would like to make two suggestions. First, the online journal Contra Corriente provides invaluable reporting (in Spanish and English) on a range of critical topics in Central America: politics, extractivism, the environment, and migration. Please visit their site and consider donating. Directly related to my article, you can read their excellent series on transnational Evangelical networks.

Second, anthropologists have recently produced a great deal of wonderful scholarship on Evangelical Christianity and right-wing politics. I find “Trump Time, Prophetic Time, and The Time of the Lost Cause,” a conversation between Susan Harding and Emily Martin about Donald Trump and Evangelicalism, to be especially valuable.

Link to Contra Corriente:  https://contracorriente.red/en/1-homepage-english/

Contra Corriente series on the transnational Evangelical networks:  https://contracorriente.red/2019/08/12/transnacionales-de-la-fe/

Link to the Harding and Martin Conversation:  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19428200.2021.1903507

Ritsuko Kurita: I would like to share information about the Anti-Poverty Network South Australia, an advisory group I consulted with when conducting fieldwork for this paper. They play an important role as a mediator between the welfare office and welfare recipients. In addition to providing practical support for those on welfare, they also educate mainstream society, including the government, about the situation by sharing the life experiences of people living in poverty, organizing workshops and rallies against poverty, and conducting surveys on the impact of current welfare policies on people on welfare. We can learn a lot about how people living in poverty are struggling and what changes are needed to address the issue of poverty from their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/antipovertynetworksa

Julie Hemment: My paper results from a “studying up” project. It marks a departure from my earlier collaborative ethnographic work with Russian feminist scholar-activists, which I am sadly unable to continue. I was unexpectedly drawn to the topic of humor as a political technology via our last collaborative research project. This humor has grown progressively darker since I began tracking it, particularly since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine prompted another reframing. I can share links to some of the many grassroots groups organizing to support war-displaced Ukrainians and refugees. Razom For Ukraine provides critical humanitarian relief (https://www.razomforukraine.org//razom-emergency-response/). Helping To Leave connects refugees with medical assistance, information, and support to evacuate from areas of military conflict (https://helpingtoleave.org/en). Feminist Anti-War Resistance is a remarkable grass-roots anti-war group that agitates within Russia—distributing leaflets, graffiti, information—as well as internationally (https://www.facebook.com/feministantiwarresistance). Their Facebook page includes their manifesto and publications, as well as a link to a legal support fund for those who experience discrimination at work in Russia due to their anti-war stance (https://t.me/strikefund).

Tamir Sriraman: While Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) wound up its work after the first two waves of COVID, there are many other organizations and individuals who have either dedicated themselves to supporting migrant workers or alternately extend assistance to them as one of many marginalized groups in India. These include Jones Manikonda, Samuel Anilkumar, the Dalit Bahujan Resource Centre, Aajeevika Bureau, Migrant Workers Solidarity Network (MWSN), Delhi Rozi Roti Abhiyan, and the Jan Swasth Abhiyan. Most of these centres have webpages that allow donations, and I would encourage readers to also follow them on social media to explore other means of supporting them.

Lydia Boyd: This article is about the struggle to secure a right to health in Uganda and mainly focuses on the work of the Ugandan NGO CEHURD (Center for Heath, Human Rights and Development). More information about their work can be found on their website: https://www.cehurd.org. CEHURD is focused on legal advocacy, health policy making, and community outreach throughout Uganda. For those interested in learning more about a community organization directly involved in expanding healthcare access in Uganda, especially a community run organization that provides care to an underserved community, I’d like to highlight the work of Budondo Intercultural Center (BIC). BIC runs Suubi Health Center which provides primary and obstetric care to a rural community in Luuka district in eastern Uganda. They don’t have their own website, but more information about them can be found on one of their main donor’s sites: https://www.mamahope.org/where_we_work/budondo-intercultural-center/. BIC also has a sister organization in central Uganda, Shanti Uganda, that runs a maternal health clinic that similarly aims to expand access to quality maternal healthcare in a rural area. Their website is also hosted by a donor: https://www.globalforceforhealing.org/shanti-uganda-society.

Katy Gardner: During my research I was given generous support by Ayn O Sallish Kendra (ASK) and the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association. These non-profit and under-funded organisations provide free legal advice and aid to women who are experiencing marital problems, domestic violence and other forms of abuse. They also campaign against trafficking, child marriage, and domestic violence and fight for women’s and girls’ rights via the courts. Find out more at https://www.askbd.org/ask/ and http://bnwla-bd.org/about/.

Notes

1  Moore, E.P. 1993. Gendered Identities and the United States Supreme Court Decisions. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 16(1): 31-35.

2  Davis, D. 2019. Reproductive Injustice: Racism, Pregnancy, and Premature Birth. New York, NY: New York University Press.

3  Cromer, R. 2019. Jane Doe. Cultural Anthropology 34(1): 18-25.

4  Briggs, L. 2018. How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

5  Human Rights Watch, 2021. “Iran: Thousands of Detained Protestors and Activists in Peril.” November 3, 2022. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/11/03/iran-thousands-detained-protesters-and-activists-peril#:~:text=Since%20September%2016%2C%20the%20protests,284%20people%2C%20including%2045%20children.

Research Articles

Reluctant State Agents: Schoolteachers and Governing Authorities in Post-Coup Honduras
Jordan Levy

The Resonance of Church and State: “Churchstate” Geopolitics, the 2009 Honduran Coup, and the Antidemocratic Turn in the Americas
William Girard

Coping with Welfare Shame: Responses of Urban Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Peoples to “Mutual Obligation” Requirements in Australia
Ritsuko Kurita

“Cover Your Ass”: Individual Accountability, Visual Documentation, and Everyday Policing in Miami
Thijs Jeursen

Satirical strikes and deadpanning diplomats: Stiob as geopolitical performance in Russia–US relations
Julie Hemment

Affective Activism and Digital Archiving: Relief Work and Migrant Workers during the Covid-19 Lockdown in India
Tarangini Sriraman

Producing dispossessed and humanitarian subjects: Land acquisition and compensation policies in Lahore, Pakistan
Fatima Tassadiq

Ask and They Will Listen: Economic Justice, Political Agency, and a Right to Health in Uganda
Lydia Boyd

Trials of trustworthiness between Ethiopian lawyers and Chinese clients
Miriam Driessen

Cool Yourself and Be Strong: Emotional Fixes in the Work of Bangladeshi Marriage Advisers
Katy Gardner

Book Review Editorial

Book Review Editorial: Emerging Themes in Legal and Political Anthropology
Smoki Musaraj,  Matthew Canfield

Review Essays

Legal Occupations
Elif M. Babül

Lives at Borderlands On the Edge: Life Along the Russia-China Border, Billé, Franck and Caroline Humphrey (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2021)
Éva Rozália Hölzle

Book Reviews

 

 

 

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