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The antimonies of the PAH (Platform of Mortgage Victims) in Spain

Between solidarity and political effectiveness

Monique Nuijten and Pieter de Vries

In the Platform of Mortgage Victims (PAH) the common view exists that all activists are equal, that there are no leaders, and that there is no division of labor between grassroots activists and activist-politicians. We show that the trope of horizontalism (the nonexistence of hierarchy within the platform) in effect hides the existence of an unacknowledged leadership structure and of electoral aspirations. We argue that the tensions between grassroots activists and emerging activist-politicians stand for a fundamental divide that renders possible a true change in the state of the situation. This article draws on the work of Alain Badiou and Jodi Dean to argue that the PAH contributed to the 15M movement as a truth event by staging performances of egalitarianism and cultivating solidarity in a disciplined way.

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Geoffrey Aung

Dua, Jatin. 2019. Captured at sea: Piracy and protection in the Indian Ocean. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Appel, Hannah. 2019. The licit life of capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sopranzetti, Claudio. 2018. Owners of the map: Motorcycle taxi drivers, mobility, and politics in Bangkok. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

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Exemplifying political ideas

Russian revolutionary circles before 1917

Caroline Humphrey

Contradictions lie at the heart of revolutionary groups operating in underground conditions: how can the trust and secrecy of the circle be combined with spreading the message to far-flung masses? Can the ideals for the future society be manifested in the way the revolutionaries are themselves organized? This paper examines the disputes on these questions that raged among Russian radicals before 1917, which are important because of their subsequent global influence. It analyzes the dynamical changes in the forms taken by certain major revolutionary circles, and argues that the differentiated social forms, which morphed via crucial decisions from their origin in egalitarian multi-voiced circles, stemmed from the internal debate that was essential to the circle and was to a great extent an outcome of the philosophical and revolutionary ideas espoused.

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F*ck the Police!

Antiblack statecraft, the myth of cops’ fragility, and the fierce urgency of an insurgent anthropology of policing

Jaime A. Alves

On the morning of 6 May 2021, the military police invaded the favela of Jacarezinho, one of Rio de Janeiro’s slums, and killed 28 people during a military operation tellingly named Operation Exceptis. Photos of dead bodies in the alleys of the favela and denouncements of extrajudicial executions of individuals who had already surrendered circulated widely on the internet. Jacarezinho adds to a troubling record of police killings that includes and goes far beyond the 1992 Massacre of Carandiru, when 111 prisoners were slaughtered by São Paulo’s police during a prison riot, and the equally infamous 2006 Crimes of May, when at least six hundred civilians were killed within the span of one week (Mães de Maio 2019). While human rights organizations denounced the Jacarezinho massacre for what it was, the police argued that “the only execution that took place was that of the police, unfortunately. The other deaths that happened were those of traffickers who attacked the lives of policemen and were neutralized” (Betim 2021). On a social media network, President Jair Bolsonaro praised “all the warriors who risk their lives in the daily mission to protect the good people,” and lamented that instead of honoring the life of the officer killed during the operation, human rights activists were treating “criminals who steal, kill, and destroy families” (Veja 2021) as innocent victims.

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Charlotte Al-Khalili

Through an ethnographic account of Syrian halaqas (Sunni religious circles) from the 1980s until the 2011 Syrian revolution, this article argues that halaqas have a revolutionary potential. Th e analysis demonstrates that Syrian religious circles are spaces of self-transformation that have heterotopic qualities. The Darayya halaqa studied here is a space where present and future are collapsed: a space in which future revolutionary selves and societies are already enacted. This temporal collapse is thus simultaneously a scalar one, for through the emergence of a relational or unbounded subject, a revolutionary project is being performed. This project is, moreover, without a preexisting program that its members seek to implement in a distant future; it is rather a revolutionary project that is perpetually in the making through discussions and actions happening within it.

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John Gledhill

I first met Monique at the Colegio de Michoacán, when she was doing fieldwork in Jalisco for her doctoral thesis. We shared interests in both Mexican land reform communities and political anthropology generally and continued to exchange ideas back in Europe. I felt privileged to be invited to be one of the examiners of her thesis in Wageningen, which was awarded a farfrom-routine cum laude distinction. I reported to the committee that I judged her work equally outstanding for its depth of ethnographic enquiry and for its theoretical contributions. It reached a much wider audience than specialists on Mexico after being condensed into her book Power, Community, and the State. Here, however, I want to focus on some of Monique’s later research, on the urban periphery of Recife, Brazil. By a happy coincidence, our mutual interests converged again in Brazil, where I was working on the urban periphery of Salvador, Bahia, in collaboration with Dr. Maria Gabriela Hita of the Federal University of Bahia; but it is not because of professional links or the deep personal affection that Monique inspired in all her friends that I want to discuss her Recife studies. It is because they confirm that she remains a “presence that does not end,” the wonderful title chosen for the online event paying homage to all her contributions that the Colegio de Michoacán organized in March 2021. Monique’s research is highly relevant to the current conjuncture in Brazil, shaped by the 2016 “parliamentary” coup and subsequent election as president of Jair Bolsonaro, whose regime is now regularly accused of being genocidal as well as ecocidal. Since Bolsonaro’s popularity is waning and the Supreme Court has drawn a line under the “lawfare” that blocked ex-president Lula of the Workers’ Party (PT) from standing against him in the 2018 election, the return of a more civilized government under Lula’s leadership now seems a possibility. Yet for that very reason, Monique’s critical analysis of the PT in power in Recife offers us vital lessons about the limitations such a government would need to transcend to eliminate the enduring structural foundations of social injustice.

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Navigating the sustainability landscape

Impact pathways and the sustainability ethic as moral compass

Matthew Archer

Sustainability professionals believe their work has positive social and environmental impacts in the “real world,” but they recognize that their impactfulness is contingent on a number of other factors, especially the willingness of other, typically more powerful actors to consider their findings and implement their recommendations. In this article, I develop the notion of “impact pathways” to think about the relationship between paths, maps, travelers, terrains, and ethics in the context of what my informants regularly refer to as the sustainability “landscape.” I show how the interpretation of a map and the choice between different possible paths can be partially explained by an actor’s particular ethical framework, in this case something I identify as the sustainability ethic.

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Revolutionary abandon

Circles and machines in Sandinista Nicaragua

David Cooper

In Nicaragua, the political trajectory of the governing FSLN has been understood as a transition from underground revolutionary circle toward clientelistic political machine. This article traces the emergence of these two key images in political and scholarly discourse, and shows how they have come to inform everyday politics in a community of rural government supporters, who—within a defunct agrarian cooperative—struggle to participate in the government’s project of fostering an “Organized People.” For those excluded from this populist political model, the views of inclusion produced by ideas about circles and machines give rise to alternative strategies for contesting what James Ferguson terms “abjection.” The case demonstrates the value, for an emerging anthropology of political “abandonment,” of attending to the formal properties of political images.

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Revolutionary circles

A morphology of radical politics

Martin Holbraad and Myriam Lamrani

Drawing on the contributions of this theme section, this introduction stakes out an agenda for the anthropological study of revolutionary circles. Understood as a powerful model of and for political action, the revolutionary circle renders the desire for radical political change as a function of the circular configuration of the group of people who pursue it. This correlation of political ends with social means puts questions of “political morphology”—actors’ concern with the shape of their relationships—at the center of revolutionary action. As the articles of the theme section illustrate, such a concern with social shapes plays itself out not only in questions of political organization, but also those of personal relationships and ethical comportment, practices of secrecy and dissemination, shared activities and values, and their different potentials for transformation over time.

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The “awkwardnesses” of aid and exchange

Food cooperative practices in austerity Britain

Celia Plender

Self-help and mutual aid have been at the heart of the consumer cooperative movement and its response to food insecurity since its inception. Yet how these terms are conceptualized and practiced in contemporary food co-ops often has more to do with their individual histories, ideologies, and the values of those involved than it does the history of the cooperative movement. Drawing on ethnographic examples from two London-based food co-ops with different backgrounds, this article explores how each enacts ideals of aid and exchange. It argues that the context of austerity creates “awkwardnesses” between and within personal values and organizational structures in the face of inequality, leading to blurred boundaries between different models of aid and exchange and the forms of moral accounting that these entail.