EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures
- Martin Saxer (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich) email
- Ruben Andersson (University of Oxford) email
Remoteness has returned in world politics. Focusing on the intersection of remoteness and power, we ask how certain parts of the world are being reimagined - once more - as remote and dangerous, how they are intervened upon, and what the legacies of anthropology can teach us about these dynamics.
For a brief post-Cold War moment, it seemed as if marginal regions would be rewired into the world economy and global divisions would yield to connectivity. But instead we have seen new forms of 'remoteness' emerge in ways we have yet to fully understand. This panel focuses ethnographically on the global 'return of remoteness' by bringing to the foreground our discipline's legacy of studying marginal, out-of-the-way places (Ardener 1987). In recent years anthropologists have radically reframed remoteness, showing how seemingly 'distant' or marginal areas are fundamentally tied into national and global orders (Harms et al 2014; McDougall and Scheele 2012; Piot 1999; Tsing 2005). Building on this debate, the panel focuses on the intersection of remoteness and power. Insecurity has, in the post-9/11 years, come to be emblematic of many new 'danger zones', from the Sahara to the Hindu Kush, and world powers are actively drawing distance between themselves and these zones. Yet global 'centres' are at the same time actively forging connections with these areas, albeit often in shallow, brutal or counterproductive ways, as seen in the 'remote-controlled' drone attacks in the 'AfPak' borderlands, the long-distance interventions of Somalia or northern Mali, or the 'criminal' networks linking the Sahara or Highland Asia to national or global markets. In casting an ethnographic eye on these power dynamics, this panel will debate the politics of remoteness in today's world, while arguing for a 'return to remoteness' in anthropology itself as we critically reactivate our disciplinary heritage.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Rural insecurity, banditry, and the politics of remoteness on the highlands of Madagascar
Based on fieldwork carried out on the highlands of Madagascar since 2013, this paper explores how the topics of insecurity and banditry are reshaping the relations between state power and rural regions perceived as 'remote' despite their growing connections with transnational trade networks.
During the past few years, Malagasy media reported a recrudescence of attacks organized by groups of armed bandits (known as dahalo) in many rural regions of the island. Some of these regions, historically marginalized by state policies, have been classified as dangerous 'red zones'. A road network made of dirt tracks that become unusable during the rainy season increases the sense of remoteness and disconnection from the capital Antananarivo. The fear of the dahalo, who combine cattle theft with attacks against villages, trucks, and taxi brousse, brought many rural communities to demand a more robust presence of the state. Harsh disappointment followed when people discovered that, in some cases, the dahalo operated with the collusion of the armed forces or with the support of the national elite involved in the illegal international trade of cattle and other natural resources. State efforts to regain military control over these regions seem far from being effective and some rural communities have preferred to come to terms with the dahalo or to buy weapons on the illegal market in order to defend themselves. Based on fieldwork carried out on the highlands of Madagascar between 2013 and 2015, this paper explores how the topics of insecurity and banditry are reshaping the relations between state power and rural regions perceived as 'remote' in spite of their their growing connections with transnational trade networks. It shows the political centrality of the so called 'remote areas' for an analysis of the local processes of renegotiation of state sovereignty.
Remote peripheries: making of the Monyul border
This paper focuses on the Monpas, a borderland people of Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India, to show how remoteness is a construct of colonial and national border-making practices. What makes a place remote is not given, but is dependent on particular spatial practices of the state.
Is remote that which is geographically distant from the centre of administrative, political and economic power? Or is remote a construct of connectivity issues? In the case of the Monpas, a borderland people of Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India, remote denotes multiple aspects: lack of material infrastructure and transport, improper communication and geographical isolation. Living far away from New Delhi, the national capital, in a mountainous region on the Himalayan slopes, which remains cut off from other areas by snow or rain for a large part of the year, Monpas consider themselves to be backward, disempowered. Yet, Monyul, the traditional homeland of the Monpa communities, is of high strategic importance in the protracted India-China border conflict. Its present remoteness is woven in with politics of borders and frontiers. Through a focus on Monyul, I intend to show how colonial and postcolonial policies transformed the region into a remote periphery. While colonial boundary practices began the transformation of the region - from a cross-border trade route to an enclave zone, the policies of the postcolonial Indian state have led to the continuation of such spatial features. In this paper, I interrogate the notion of remoteness through the particular history and politics of Monyul.
Remote management aid practices: the humanitarian cross-border operation in Syria
Following a year of ethnographic fieldwork in Gaziantep, southern Turkey, I analyze how the humanitarian cross-border operation is put into practice by a heterogeneous group of aid organizations and aid workers using a remote management approach to reach people in need inside Syria.
The Syrian conflict is the biggest humanitarian challenge since the Second World War. The aid industry has been overwhelmed by a lack of funding, the political polarization and difficult access to millions of people in need. Some humanitarian actors have been providing cross-border and cross-line aid since the beginning of the conflict and successive UN resolutions (2139, 2165, 2191, 2258) have created an international legal framework for a 'humanitarian cross-border operation'. The term is not legally defined but "it is commonly employed to refer to the provision of assistance from the territory of third states" (Gillard, 2013:352).
Practices of 'remote control', 'remote management programming', 'limited access programming' and 'remote partnership' have been employed in many varying ways in Somalia, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka or Sudan, producing practices that transfer risks and redistribute the responsibilities from internationals to national or local aid workers and organizations (Stoddard et al, 2006, 2009, 2010; Egeland et al, 2011; Gillard, 2013; Autesserre, 2014; Smirl, 2015; Anderson & Weigand, 2015).
The Syrian humanitarian challenge is even more complex because the operation does not have the support of any peacekeepers and remoteness here implies crossing national borders. It entails negotiating with different governments and opposition groups with various political agendas, dealing with national and international laws and administrations, and involves overlapped categories of local, national and international aid workers and organisations with unequal power and practices. In addition to examining humanitarian cross-border practices, this paper also investigates previous remote management experiences and how this knowledge/experience is reused in everyday work-life practices.
Zomia 2.0: casino towns and the "China effect" in Myanmar and Laos
The paper analyses the role of the (Chinese) state in casino towns and special zones along China's border with Myanmar and Laos. It highlights the ambiguous role of the state, and argues that these areas represent a neoliberal response to a growing Chinese presence in the region.
Since the 1990s several "special zones" have appeared along China's border with Myanmar and Laos. Often described as lawless enclaves of vice, gambling, and smuggling, the study of those spaces has focused mostly on their exceptionality and ambiguous form of sovereignty (Ong 2000). As shown by Nyíri (2012), however, rather than simply keeping the state out, those special zones bring the state in, through investments, infrastructures, and deals with government officials -- similarly to the "ceasefire capitalism" logic illustrated by Woods (2011). Those geographically and politically remote areas are, in other words, closely tied into national politics and global financial interests.
This paper argues that it is precisely through the ambiguous presence of the state that those spaces manage to maintain a unique level of autonomy. This occurs, for instance, by mimicking state practises and aesthetics, or what Nyíri calls the "paraphernalia" of the (Chinese) state. Moving from Scott's (2011) famous discussion of highland communities in Southeast Asia, I term this Zomia 2.0: a modern and neoliberal attempt to keep the state out at the edges of Asia's greatest power.
Furthermore, Zomia 2.0 refers to the fact that today, whilst in the remote highlands of Asia it remains possible to evade the state, it has become impossible to avoid China's growing influence. My second argument, then, is that those special areas are not just an attempt to escape the state, but rather to deal with this Chinese presence in the best possible terms. A "China effect" rather than a "state effect".
Remote intervention and public authority in Pakistan's periphery
By reducing both intermediary relations and external understanding of local authority dynamics remote forms of intervention inhibit evaluation by intervenors or scholars of how external action interacts with emergent local order.
In the post 9/11 years large parts of the global south have been overwhelmingly (and problematically) construed as 'failed', 'ungoverned' sources of danger to the global north. The ensuing interventions across the world, and the crisis of faith in the transformative ambition of the so-called 'liberal peace' has exhibited two contradictory impulses. On the one hand, there emerged a growing fascination with social science in parts of the military community in order to 'decode' target societies and achieve various intervention objectives. On the other, a growing disillusionment with grand intervention projects has also stimulated a view that threats had instead to be violently contained through 'light footprint' and increasingly 'remote control' modes of operation entailing practices such as targeted killing and persistent surveillance. The consequences of more pervasive and intimate forms of external intervention upon local political orders have recently attracted innovative scholarly attention regarding ongoing contestation processes over the landscape of political authority. A major finding is the importance of intermediary relations between intervenors and the intervened in shaping the character of public authority in the context of external intervention. This paper makes two arguments. First, while remote forms of intervention considerably reduce opportunities for 'local' intermediaries to manipulate intervenors it also distances intervening actors from the local political order, making contestation over public authority less legible. Second, this creates epistemological problems both for the policy community and for public authority scholars seeking to understand the effects of such forms of intervention.
Moral landscapes, safety strategies, and fear management regimes in urban Detroit
I study strategies of security and fear management in Detroit. Faced by high crime rates and stigmatization, residents and visitors debate ways how to calculate risk of crime by reading their surroundings. Different agents act upon the environment to inscribe their own regimes of fear management.
After 9/11 academic interest shifted from fear in public space towards more abstract, global anxieties. Detroit, where I did field research between 2013 and 2015, is still shaped by the classic "fear of crime" anthropologists and criminologists focussed on since the 50ies. Like many US inner cities, the "black metropolis" became the complete Other for its white suburbs: a place of danger and crime, to some even a jungle of animalistic violence. Faced by high crime rates residents and visitors use various security strategies involving 'street smartness', knowledge of 'moral landscapes', and the skills of reading assumed signs in your surrounding. Having this knowledge is a point of pride, since it sets you apart from the (other) suburbanites. Yet not only the efficiency of those strategies is constantly debated, but its legitimacy is attacked on grounds of racism, classism, and historic claims to this contested city.
At the same time the various actors, residents, City government, or realtors, try to impose their regimes of fear management on those places they have stakes in. In many transitional areas the physical appearance became the window for the turf war between the various visions for the city's future. Collective clean-up days are interpreted as everything from display of 'care' to community making, thereby re-enacting the academic debate between subculture theory, environmental criminology, and individual pathologies.
My research followed the way people manage their fear of crime and gain or loose trust in a city that is still nicknamed "Murder Capital".
The market is far away: the economic remoteness of rural Ukraine
This paper looks at the power of ‘the market’ as an instrument by which a region in rural Ukraine is marginalised from the global economy, and the role of western development projects in this process.
Village Nagorna, Odessa province, is situated in the furthest southern periphery of Ukraine. Its geographical remoteness from Kiev is exacerbated by poor road and communication links to the rest of the country. Economically too the region is in decline, with high unemployment and more recently the war in the east of the country resulting in large scale emigration. However, this area has not always been an economic backwater. Indeed during Soviet times it was an economic hub with crucial strategic importance connecting the region to all corners of the vast Soviet Union through the busy cargo and passenger terminals at the nearby Port of Reni on the Danube river. In this paper my focus is on the growing marginalisation of the region since Ukraine independence and the role of western development projects in the exacerbation of this process. Using a case study of a British sponsored project in the village, I explore how unequal access to the global economy is determined by the 'western' orientation of the market sought and the type of goods designated for production. Thus the power of 'the market' - as both an ideological construct and western-located site for exchange - serves to distance the community from centres of global economic importance, both in a symbolic and practical sense. Such an exclusion is acknowledged by local officials who speak of their community as 'far away' from 'the market'.
The state, NGOs and the daily making of remoteness at the U.S.-Mexico border
I propose to study the role of State and non-state actors in the making of the U.S.-Mexico border. By analyzing the case of the Sonoran Desert, I intend to enlighten the power dynamics at stake in an area constructed as a quintessence of remoteness.
The making of the U.S.-Mexico border cannot be understood without considering the power relations between the State and the remote places it creates. On its southern border, the American Federal State deployed a vast and diverse set of tools whose objective is deeply interspersed with the idea of securing the homeland from different forms of threats. Far from the double or triple fencing, typical of most of the urban areas along the line, the Sonoran Desert is characterized by a lack of border infrastructure and is used as a "natural deterrent" by the U.S. Border Patrol. Over the years, and despite the hostile conditions it implies, the Sonoran Desert became one of the most popular routes for people seeking to cross illegally into the United States. I this paper, I propose to use part of the data I collected during a fourteen months' fieldwork in California (USA) to question the intervention of the State in this area. More specifically, I will examine the case of a local search and rescue NGO operating east of San Diego. The study of its daily interactions with both migrants and Border Patrol agents reveals the importance of unexpected actors in the daily management of these marginal zones. The analysis of the border as a political space finally shows how the State and its technologies of power can be contested, confronted and even replaced by non-state actors, enlightening the understanding of the power dynamics at stake in an area constructed as a quintessence of remoteness.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.