This article examines transportation infrastructures’ capacity to produce and transform social space through a focus on the contested history of railway development in Valsusa, Italy. I draw on participant observation and interviews with local residents and activists during ethnographic fieldwork in 2014–2015. I first describe how railways helped form modern sociality in Valsusa in the twentieth century. Subsequently, I explore contrasting topological effects of a projected high-speed rail through the valley. For planners envisioning a trans-European space of exchange, the railway is a powerful way to “shrink” space; for local residents, this implies reducing Valsusa to a traffic “corridor.” Yet their protest generates new social relations and knowledges, giving rise to a notion of “territory” as unbound and connected to a transnational space of resistance to capitalist expansion.
Topology and Infrastructural Politics in Alpine Italy
Continuity and Change of (Post)Socialist Infrastructure
The construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) in East Siberia and the Russian Far East in the 1970s and 1980s was the largest technological and social engineering project of late socialism. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the BAM was dogged by economic bust, decline, and public disillusionment. BAM-2, a recently launched state program of technological modernization, aims to complete a second railway track. The project elicits memories as well as new hopes and expectations, especially among “builders of the BAM.” This article explores continuity and change between BAM-1 and BAM-2. It argues that the reconstruction efforts of the postsocialist state are predetermined by the durability of the infrastructure as a materialization of collective identities, memories, and emotions.
Educating the First Railroaders in Central Sakha (Yakutiya)
Sigrid Irene Wentzel
In July 2019, the village of Nizhniy Bestyakh in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutiya), the Russian Far East, was finally able to celebrate the opening of an eagerly awaited railroad passenger connection. Through analysis of rich ethnographic data, this article explores the “state of uncertainty” caused by repeated delays in construction of the railroad prior to this and focuses on the effect of these delays on students of a local transportation college. This college prepares young people for railroad jobs and careers, promising a steady income and a place in the Republic’s wider modernization project. The research also reveals how the state of uncertainty led to unforeseen consequences, such as the seeding of doubt among students about their desire to be a part of the Republic’s industrialization drive.
Decolonizing Directions in Railway Mobilities
This article considers the railways as a decolonial option for moving toward mobility justice. It views the photographic artwork Trained Man by Ngalkban Australian artist Darren Siwes through a mobilities lens, considering how the artist plays with time and attends to space, making visible what colonial projects of protection and assimilation have attempted to erase. Attending to the truths and imaginaries that reside and move with Trained Man, it draws on the work of Aboriginal and Black artists, scholars, and activists to trace Australia’s past and present colonial history of training Aboriginal people into whiteness. It considers the railways as carrying “two lines of destiny” with potential moving in both colonial and decolonial directions. The article concludes by suggesting that shared spaces such as the railways open possibilities for mobilizing the decolonial project.
Where Environmental Aesthetics Meets Magical Realism
A unique exhibition was held between 19 and 22 September 2018 in the deep blue waters of Amorgos, Greece. Amorgos is the easternmost of the Cyclades islands, neighboring the Dodecanese island group. The island’s rich aquatic life and architectural beauty featured prominently in French director Luc Besson’s internationally acclaimed English-language film on freediving, The Big Blue (Le Grand Bleu, 1988), transforming the island into an international destination for tourists and freedivers. The exhibition Underwater Gallery: On a Single Breath, was installed at a depth of 7 to 17 meters inside a sea cave in the area of Aghios Pavlos, below the Monastery of Hozoviotissa. Hozoviotissa’s famous top-floor window of the “big blue” opens to the Aegean Sea, affording visitors a bird’s eye view to the Aegean. It is clear that the gallery’s connection to Besson’s artwork is indisputable.
COVID Pandemic and the Politics of Mobility
This article reflects on the dissenting act of mobility as articulated by migrant workers in India, who, during the nationwide lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, are walking back home, hundreds of miles away, in lieu of public transport. Their mobility—precisely, the act of walking—has thus acquired a metaphoric status, and laid bare the ideological practices of territorializing the city-space. This article argues that the migrant worker’s mobility, from within the axiomatic of the prevalent “mobility regime,” can be read as a powerful metaphor of our tensions within the global political-economic order that the pandemic has so starkly exposed. The article provokes less literal, but more literary, understandings of mobilities in general, in order to come to grips with the manifold contradictions, paradoxes, and counteractions in the way the world moves.
Anthropology of Infrastructure and Debates around “Green” Transit
Heather Anne Swanson
As the introduction to this special issue points out, railroads are a relatively new object of attention for anthropologists. My response dives more substantially into the question of why they are such compelling sites in this present moment. What does the growing interest in railroads—exemplified by this collection of articles—tell us about current anthropological concerns, as well as about how the discipline might further contribute to wider debates about the politics of infrastructures? The first half of this response considers railroads within academic trajectories, while the second half examines them in relation to wider environmental conversations, especially ongoing public debates about climate-friendly transit.
Tibetan Buddhist prophecies of decline are largely unattended when it comes to practitioners’ lived experiences. This article considers such narratives through a focus on a community of American Buddhists in California. The relationship between Buddhist narratives of degenerating future and the American landscape is played out through the creation and distribution of sacred objects, which are potent containers for—and portents of—prophetic futures. Ruptures in time and landscape become, through the frame of prophecy, imaginative spaces where the American topography is drawn into Tibetan history and prophetic future. Narratives of decline, this article argues, also find common ground with salient American rhetoric of preparedness and are therefore far from fringe beliefs, but a more widely available way of thinking through quotidian life.
The Elsewhere beyond Religious Concerns
Annalisa Butticci and Amira Mittermaier
We are all connected to multiple Elsewheres: the place(s) where we grew up, the place we would rather be, the places that haunt us, the places where the dead dwell, the sites of empire. Geographical Elsewheres can be a source of fear. In the wake of Europe's so-called migrant crisis and border-crossing pandemic viruses, a moral and racist panic feeds off the supposed collapse of those ‘other places’ into ‘our society’. But other places can also be sites of fascination and longing. Think of the long history of travel accounts, or the long-standing desire to reach beyond the planetary horizon. The dream of a mission to Mars. Anything but the depressing here and now!
Julián Antonio Moraga Riquelme, Leslie E. Sponsel, Katrien Pype, Diana Riboli, Ellen Lewin, Marina Pignatelli, Katherine Swancutt, Alejandra Carreño Calderón, Anastasios Panagiotopoulos, Sergio González Varela, Eugenia Roussou, Juan Javier Rivera Andía, Miho Ishii, Markus Balkenhol, and Marcelo González Gálvez
Andía, Juan Javier Rivera, ed., Non-Humans in Amerindian South America: Ethnographies of Indigenous Cosmologies, Rituals and Songs, 396 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index. New York: Berghahn Books, 2018. Hardback, $135.00. ISBN 9781789200973.
Cassaniti, J. L., Remembering the Present: Mindfulness in Buddhist Asia, 318 pp., glossary, references, index. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018. Paperback, $27.95. ISBN 9781501709173.
Casselberry, Judith, and Elizabeth A. PRITCHARD, eds., Spirit on the Move: Black Women and Pentecostalism in Africa and the Diaspora, 248 pp. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019. Paperback, $25.95. ISBN 9781478000327.
Elison, William, The Neighborhood of Gods: The Sacred and the Visible at the Margins of Mumbai, 336 pp., illustrations, notes, references, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018. Paperback, $35.00. ISBN 9780226494906.
Hackman, Melissa, Desire Work: Ex-Gay and Pentecostal Masculinity in South Africa, 216 pp., illustrations, notes, references, index. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018. Paperback, $24.95. ISBN 9781478000822.
Leite, Naomi, Unorthodox Kin: Portuguese Marranos and the Global Search for Belonging, 344 pp., notes, references, index. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017. $29.95. ISBN 9780520285057.
Li, Geng, Fate Calculation Experts: Diviners Seeking Legitimation in Contemporary China, 158 pp., references, index. New York: Berghahn Books, 2019. Hardback, $120.00. ISBN 9781785339943.
Lynch, Rebbeca, The Devil Is Disorder: Bodies, Spirits and Misfortune in a Trinidadian Village, 282 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index. New York: Berghahn Books, 2020. Hardback, $120.00. ISBN 9781789204872
Matory, J. Lorand, The Fetish Reisited: Marx, Freud, and the Gods Black People Make, 392 pp., illustrations, bibliographical references, index. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018. Paperback, $29.95. ISBN 9781478001058.
Pansters, Wil G., ed., La Santa Muerte in Mexico: History, Devotion, and Society, 230 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2019. Hardback, $65.00. ISBN 9780826360816.
Pierini, Emily, Jaguars of the Dawn: Spirit Mediumship in the Brazilian Vale do Amanhecer, 290 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index. New York: Berghahn Books, 2020. Hardback, $135.00. ISBN 9781789205657.
Pitarch, Pedro, and José Antonio KELLY, eds., The Culture of Invention in the Americas: Anthropological Experiments with Roy Wagner, 288 pp. Canon Pyon: Sean Kingston Publishing, 2019. Hardback, $90.00. ISBN 9781912385027.
Rambelli, Fabio, ed., Spirits and Animism in Contemporary Japan: The Invisible Empire, 240 pp., illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. Hardback, $153.00. ISBN 9781350097094.
Richman, Karen E., Migration and Vodou, 384 pp., illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2018. Paperback, $28.95. ISBN 9780813064864.
Vitebsky, Piers, Living without the Dead: Loss and Redemption in a Jungle Cosmos, 380 pp., illustrations, glossary, references, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. Paperback, $25.00. ISBN 9780226475622.