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Householding and social reproduction

Comment on Newberry and Rosen

Deborah James

The central premise of this article can hardly be questioned: that the theoretical discussion of reproductive labor is “unfinished.” Whether one calls it unpaid work, unfree labor, care, or social reproduction, the topic seems increasingly to demand (and increasingly receive) more attention. This seems to be ever more the case as we move ever further away from the decades when the postwar consensus, established especially in Northern European countries, held sway. The imposition, by various regimes, of harsh austerity measures on their populations also makes this a key scholarly concern. Jan Newberry and Rachel Rosen’s contention that much of the burden of such work is increasingly taken up by women also seems well taken, if uncontroversial. Their observations about “familialization” and the “re-traditionalizing” of certain aspects of reproduction squares with the claim by Wendy Brown that women’s work intensifies under neoliberal capitalism, as states withdraw the provision of facilities for those who “cannot be responsible for themselves”; and indeed that women—in the face of the disappearance of the necessary infrastructure—become that infrastructure (2015: 105). If we add financialized debt into the mix, such points also echo the findings of scholars in diverse settings who have shown that women are frequently prime targets for microfinance and other kinds of moneylending (Guérin 2019; Han 2012; Kar 2018). But it is at the point that children and issues of temporality are added into an already heady theoretical brew that I find myself parting company with the vision of the authors.

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Hydrologic Habitus

Wells, Watering Practices, and Water Supply Infrastructure

Brock Ternes and Brian Donovan

Private water wells and municipal water supplies function as different systems of water provision, creating distinct—but understudied—patterns of water consumption. This article examines private well ownership to assess the relationships among conspicuous water consumption, cultural practices, and environmental structures. We surveyed well owners and non-well owners throughout Kansas, a state highly reliant on groundwater (n = 864). Borrowing insights from Bourdieu’s analysis of cultural consumption, this research considers the relationships between demographic variables and watering routines. We provide evidence that well ownership is a significant predictor of conspicuous water usage, and suggest attention to individuals’ hydrologic habitus—a disposition toward water usage shaped by infrastructure, class, and pertinent social variables—facilitates a better understanding of well ownership, drought-time watering, and conspicuous water consumption.

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Impatient Accumulation, Immediate Consumption

Problems with Money and Hope in Central Kenya

Peter Lockwood

Contemporary anthropological accounts of economic uncertainty often use the concept of hope as a means of recovering human agency in relation to broader socio-economic structures. At times, however, the emphasis anthropologists place on hope can appear too generically existential. This article argues for a more specific emphasis on the object of hope—an appreciation of more concrete desires held by marginal persons, orienting their economic activity. In the case I unfold from peri-urban central Kenya, low-status male youth are shown to lack the money they require to unlock pleasurable experiences of drinking, a sign of having wealth and the living of a good life. Rendered hopeless, young men turn to crime as an alternative means of realizing their desires for consumption in the short term.

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Ward Keeler

Fieldwork necessarily causes some degree of psychological stress for an ethnographer, although the nature and consequences of such stress vary individually. Rather than lament or conceal that fact, I suggest that an ethnographer’s idiosyncratic responses can provide particular insights. To illustrate the point, I consider what might have induced me, and perhaps others, to take on the necessarily disorienting role of an ethnographer. I then contrast my experience (as a middle-aged Western anthropologist) of a meditation retreat in Burma with my experience (as a recently divorced bisexual man) of a naked men’s yoga retreat in Texas. These brief vignettes are intended to suggest that my specific personal conflicts alert me to matters of more general anthropological interest.

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Inside Out

Embodying Prison Boundaries

Manuela Ivone Cunha

This article compares materials drawn from fieldwork in a Portuguese women’s prison in different decades, before and after the rise of concentrated incarceration that tightly interlocked this institution and a handful of heavily penalized urban neighbourhoods. As these worlds behind and beyond bars became socially and morally continuous, former intra-prison boundaries collapsed, entailing changes that included corporeal and sensorial aspects of prison experience. Taken as a window onto these changes, the imprisoned body is therefore described not as a bounded object of disciplinary power or as a site of resistance but as constituted first and foremost by social and moral relations, in a way that renders bodily experiences of confinement highly contextual. A comparison between forms more and less shaped by a particular prison–urban relation suggests that these experiences vary according not only to prison-specific circumstances, but also to social-specific circumstances.

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Institutions of Confinement as Sites of Passage

The Mètis of Foreign Nationals Caught in the Wars on Terror, Drugs and Immigration

Carolina S. Boe

Never have so many foreign nationals been confined and deported from Europe and the USA as within the past decades. Yet a minority succeeds in remaining undeported for years and sometimes decades, in spite of being targets of enforcement practices related to the wars on drugs, on terror and on immigration. As they are brought into forced circulations between prisons, detention centres and the public spaces of penalized neigborhoods, they join a ‘floating population’ of exiles, transforming spaces of confinement into sites of passage. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and biographical interviews at different moments of the trajectories of ‘the undeported’, this article examines how their ability to avoid deportation develops and increases. The notion of mètis is mobilized to analyse how individuals adapt tactically or strategically to shifting, uncertain situations, and to understand the changes that they can sometimes bring to bear on the larger social forces that constrain them.

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Tower block "failures"? High-rise anthropology

Constance Smith and Saffron Woodcraft

Th e high-rise tower block is an ambiguous construction: a much-maligned architectural form yet a persistent symbol of modernity and aspiration. It is also a fulcrum for discourses about urban failure, broken communities, widening urban inequality, and insecurity. Recent tower block disasters, from the Grenfell Tower fire in London to high-rise collapses in Nairobi, have intensified such debates. In this introduction to the theme section, we explore “tower block failure” as both event and discourse. Engaging with scholarship on global urbanism, verticality, and failure as a generative force, we highlight the particular discursive, social, political, and material constellations of “failure” as it manifests in relation to tower blocks. We propose that exploring what failure sets in motion—following what failure does, rather than what it means—can help inform our understanding of urban transformation.

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Confinement Beyond Site: Connecting Urban and Prison Ethnographies

Julienne Weegels, Andrew M. Jefferson and Tomas Max Martin

Recognizing that the ‘prison’ and the ‘street’ are increasingly understood to be enmeshed sites of exclusion and confinement, this introduction proposes an analytical orientation towards relations and practices across these sites, which attends specifically to the ways in which they are mutually constitutive. Utilizing notions of traversal and porosity, we push debates on confinement beyond their prison-centric impulse. This decentring of the prison goes beyond reading one site in terms of the other (the street as just another carceral space; the prison as another site of exclusion). We challenge the divisiveness of prison/street binaries and the domination of boundary-making by emphasizing the importance of polyvalent experiences and by drawing attention to the practices of people who traverse the prison/street threshold. On the basis of the fine-grained ethnographic contributions making up this collection, the introduction points towards novel avenues for a (grounded) theorization of confinement in terms of overlap, traversal and porosity.

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Toward a Comparative Anthropology of Muslim and Christian Lived Religion

Daan Beekers

This introduction proposes directions for a comparative anthropology of Muslim and Christian religion. While the anthropologies of Islam and Christianity flourish, comparative inquiries across religious boundaries have remained remarkably underdeveloped. As a result, parallels, overlaps, and situated differences between religious groups in today’s pluralist environments are often disregarded. This piece sets out the aim of this special section to develop ethnographic comparison, not of religious traditions as such, but of the ways in which everyday religious lives take shape within a shared social space, whether local or national. Such comparative work has the potential to provide insights and reveal connections that would likely be overlooked in non-comparative accounts, and that invite a critical rethinking of conventional understandings of difference and particularity.

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Vittorio Bufacchi

The principle of non-maleficence, primum non nocere, has deep roots in the history of moral philosophy, being endorsed by John Stuart Mill, W. D. Ross, H. L. A. Hart, Karl Popper and Bernard Gert. And yet, this principle is virtually absent from current debates on social justice. This article suggests that non-maleficence is more than a moral principle; it is also a principle of social justice. Part I looks at the origins of non-maleficence as a principle of ethics, and medical ethics in particular. Part II introduces the idea of non-maleficence as a principle of social justice. Parts III and IV define the principle of justice as non-maleficence in terms of its scope and coherence, while Part V argues that the motivation of not doing harm makes this principle an alternative to two well-established paradigms in the literature on social justice: justice as mutual advantage (David Gauthier) and justice as impartiality (Brian Barry).