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The Anti-Help

Accusations, Mutual Help and the Containment of Ugly Feelings in the Gusii Highlands, Kenya

Teodor Zidaru

Abstract

Africanist scholarship and anthropological literature on envy offer a jaundiced take on the ugly feelings that can arise in the wake of increasing scarcity and inequality. Proposing an inductive approach that attends to the performativity of words and feelings, this article explores how a Gusii ideal of containing the expression and escalation of ugly feelings influences collective mutual help arrangements. It elaborates on local concerns with the ‘anti-help’, or the confrontational side of help where ugly feelings can be voiced, named, elicited or concealed. In doing so, the article tracks how containing the anti-help structures the relationship between language and emotion, while also acting upon inner experience and affording a political order where a variety of ugly feelings runs the risk of being reduced to envy.

Open access

What Competition Does: An Anthropological Theory

Leo Hopkinson and Teodor Zidaru

Abstract

Anthropologists, like neoliberal economists, have often assumed that competition (re)orders society in broadly predictable ways. By contrast, we contend that competition always facilitates changes beyond its anticipated outcomes and disciplinary effects. We argue that the outcomes of competition are contingent on the varied and co-existing interpretations of audiences, arbiters, and competitors about the nature of competition, what is worth competing for, and how to go about it. Hence, although it is often instituted with the intention of authoritatively determining value, generating order, or engineering predefined changes, competition inherently affords alternative and unexpected possibilities for sociality. In doing so, competition mediates divergent social orders and modes of relating, rather than instituting one order or another.