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Safe milk and risky quinoa

The lottery and precarity of farming in Peru

Astrid B. Stensrud

The neoliberal global food system has intensified the uncertainties associated with peasant farming and agrarian livelihoods around the world. This article examines processes of precarization among smallholder farmers in the Majes Irrigation Project in Peru. By discussing price volatility and uncertainty related to the “free market,” I argue that the conditions of small-scale entrepreneurial farmers today can best be understood in terms of gambling and precarity. After four decades of neoliberal deregulation, farmers in Majes describe agriculture as a “lottery” where one can win or lose everything. Despite prospects of growth and progress, most farmers rely on low-income dairy farming or contracted crops for agro-industrial corporations. The freedom to take risks in the open market entails uncertainty and often results in loss, and farmers must negotiate the ambiguous relation between autonomy and dependency.

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'Seeing’ Papua New Guinea

Making Order and Disorder through a Petroleum Project

Steffen Dalsgaard

This article contributes to debates about how capitalist corporations ‘see’, and how they concurrently relate to the places where they are located. It argues that an analytical focus on ‘seeing’ illuminates how internal organization and outward relation making are tied together in complex ways. Even so, corporations of the extractive industries in particular cannot be assumed to encompass a single coherent view. The empirical case is a critical examination of how a gas project employed strict health, safety, and security measures to generate order when encountering alterity in an unfamiliar environment in Papua New Guinea. It reveals how the project was organized around two conflicting ways of seeing its host country—trying to separate itself from it while simultaneously having to engage and provide benefits for it.

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Shaping Edits, Creating Fractals

A Cinematic Case Study

James E. Cutting and Karen Pearlman

We investigated physical changes over three versions in the production of the short historical drama, Woman with an Editing Bench (2016, The Physical TV Company). Pearlman, the film’s director and editor, had also written about the work that editors do to create rhythms in film (Pearlman 2016), and, through the use of computational techniques employed previously (Cutting et al. 2018), we found that those descriptions of the editing process had parallels in the physical changes of the film as it progressed from its first assembled form, through a fine cut, to the released film. Basically, the rhythms of the released film are not unlike the rhythms of heartbeats, breathing, and footfalls—they share the property of “fractality.” That is, as Pearlman shaped a story and its emotional dynamics over successive revisions, she also (without consciously intending to do so) fashioned several dimensions of the film— shot duration, motion, luminance, chroma, and clutter—so as to make them more fractal.

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Sicilian Futures in the Making

Living Species and the Latency of Biological and Environmental Threats

Mara Benadusi

Discourses and practices of anticipation occupy a hypertrophic space in contexts where uncontrolled industrial growth has inflicted grave damage on peoples and territories, even triggering environmental disasters. This article explores the use of nonhuman species as anticipatory devices in a petrochemical terminal in Sicily, focusing on public representations of three species: scavenger bacteria that play a cleansing role and underline citizens’ moral responsibility to secure their best possible futures through bioscience; migrating flamingos that breed under the petrochemical chimneys, raising the possibility of hopefulness by highlighting ecosystem resilience; and fish affected by spina bifida, which reveal human health status in advance, communicating the need to live in preparation for potential diseases. The analysis reveals the highly contentious character of these anticipatory devices and the contested ideas about possible futures they imply, thus shedding light on the ecological frictions that have repercussions locally and globally, in discourse and social practice.

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A Structure of Antipathy

Constructing the Villain in Narrative Film

Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen

Many narrative films feature villains, major characters that audiences are meant to condemn. This article investigates the cognitive-affective underpinnings of audience antipathy in order to shed light on how filmic villainy is constructed. To that end, the article introduces an analytical framework at the intersection of cognitive film theory and moral psychology. The framework analyzes villainy into three categories: guilty intentionality, consequential action, and causal responsibility.

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The Stuff of Soil

Belowground Agency in the Making of Future Climates

Céline Granjou and Juan Francisco Salazar

Despite soil’s vital ecological importance, its significance as a belowground tridimensional living world remains under-theorized in social and cultural research. Drawing on the reading of scientific literature and a series of interviews with scientists working at the juncture of soil and climate research, this article pursues a picture that highlights soil’s capacities to shape future climates, including by fostering major planetary tipping points; we elaborate on the cultural and ethical significance of that picture for opening up alternative stories in which agency and change are not human-only prerogatives. We develop a critical stance on the growing expectations of storing more carbon into soils and argue for a better consideration of the situated, heterogeneous, and volatile dynamics of carbon within soils. We eventually call for more responsible ways of thinking about, and caring for, the myriad conglomerates of living, decaying, and dead matter that basically make up the stuff of soil.

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The Swiss Paradox

Egalitarianism and Hierarchy in a Model Democracy

Marina Gold

The Swiss system of direct democracy is in many ways paradoxical. The federal structure counteracts the formation of centralizing state hierarchies and protects the egalitarian representation of local political interests. Simultaneously, local political structures can have hierarchical and exclusionary effects, especially when democratic processes are turned into values. This article considers the tensions between egalitarian and hierarchical values in Swiss democratic structures in the wake of the rise of anti-foreigner and anti-EU passions harnessed by extreme right-wing parties. These tensions are heightened in the context of global processes that are transforming the structures of the state, as corporate power undermines state apparatuses with the potential to subvert democratic practices.

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Transnational Cultural Propaganda

French Cultural Policies in Britain during the Second World War

Charlotte Faucher

The Second World War challenged the well-established circulation of cultural practices between France and Britain. But it also gave individuals, communities, states, and aspiring governments opportunities to invent new forms of international cultural promotion that straddled the national boundaries that the war had disrupted. Although London became the capital city of the main external Resistance movement Free France, the latter struggled to establish its cultural agenda in Britain, owing, on the one hand, to the British Council’s control over French cultural policies and, on the other hand, to the activities of anti-Gaullist Resistance fighters based in London who ascribed different purposes to French arts. While the British Council and a few French individuals worked towards prolonging French cultural policies that had been in place since the interwar period, Free French promoted rather conservative and traditional images of France so as to reclaim French culture in the name of the Resistance.

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The Value of Nation

Bureaucratic Practices and the Lived Experience in the French Naturalization Process

Sarah Mazouz

Drawing on ethnographical observations made in the Naturalization Office of a prefecture of the Paris region, and on interviews carried out with bureaucrats and French citizens who have been naturalized, this article examines both the institutional process of granting citizenship as well as its impact on subjectivities. It investigates the assumptions and broad judgments that underlie the granting of French citizenship to see how norms and values linked to this procedure circulate between bureaucrats and applicants. It focuses on the idea of “deservingness,” linked to the act of being granted French citizenship, to determine how bureaucrats from the Naturalization Office and French naturalized citizens differently appropriate this notion. By addressing the articulated difference between bureaucratic practice and lived experience, this article aims to highlight the political, moral, and ethical dimensions at stake in the procedure of making foreigners into French citizens.

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"You’re a Trickster”

Mockery, Egalitarianism, and Uncertainty in Northeastern Namibia

Megan Laws

The trickster has held a prominent place in the study of folklore, as much as it has been central to anthropological understandings of egalitarianism. In both, the trickster embodies an insoluble tension between the repressed, amoral desires of the individual and the moral demands of social life. This tension, so it goes, is visible in the ambiguity of the figure—a protean indeterminate being, neither good nor bad. Among the Jú|’hoànsi of northeastern Namibia, the trickster is similarly ambiguous. The figure conveys not a clash of values, but rather the doubt and uncertainty people feel toward those with whom they share resources, or about different ways of sharing and how they might relate to one another. This article approaches such uncertainty through a focus on the mocking phrase “you’re a trickster” and the moral discourses that accompany it.