In the 1950s, teams of Chinese government ethnologists helped liberate “slaves” whom they identified among the Wa people in the course of China’s military annexation and pacification of the formerly autonomous Wa lands, between China and Burma. For the Chinese, the “discovery” of these “slaves” proved the Engels-Morganian evolutionist theory that the supposedly primitive and therefore predominantly egalitarian Wa society was teetering on the threshold between Ur- Communism and ancient slavery. A closer examination of the historical and cultural context of slavery in China and in the Wa lands reveals a different dynamics of commodification, which also sheds light on slavery more generally. In this article I discuss the rejection of slavery under Wa kinship ideology, the adoption of child war captives, and the anomalous Chinese mine slaves in the Wa lands. I also discuss the trade in people emerging with the opium export economy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century which helped sustain, yet also threatened, autonomous Wa society. I suggest that past Wa “slave” trade was spurred by the same processes of commodification that historically drove the Chinese trade in people, and in recent decades have produced the large-scale human trafficking across Asia, which UN officials have labeled “the largest slave trade in history” and which often hides slavery under the cover of kinship.
Wa "slaves" and their Chinese "sisters"
Ecosystem services (ES) are increasingly used as the conceptual driver for conservation and development actions, largely following from the influential Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Scholars skeptical of the neoliberal turn in conservation have critiqued the use of economic values for nature’s services. What has been less well understood and reviewed, however, is how concepts of ES are enacted by technologies of calculation, as well as how calculative practices move through networks and among stakeholders. This review traces how definitions and metrics of ES have evolved and how they are used, such as in biodiversity offsetting and wetland mitigation programs. Using the idea of the creation and deployment of calculative mechanisms, this article discusses how these processes proceed in different ES contexts, assesses what work has to happen ontologically to make ES commensurable and circulatable, and speculates on what the opportunities for future pathways other than commodification are.
Sites of pilgrimage and heritage tourism are often sites of social inequality and volatility that are impaired by hostilities between historical, ethnic, and competing religious discourses of morality, personhood, and culture, as well as between imaginaries of nationalism and citizenship. Often these pilgrim sites are much older in national and global history than the actual sovereign nation-state in which they are located. Pertinent issues to do with finance—such as regimes of taxation, livelihoods, and the wealth of regional and national economies—underscore these sites of worship. The articles in this special issue engage with prolix travel arrangement, accommodation, and other aspects of heritage tourism in order to understand how intangible aspects of such tourism proceed. But they also relate back to when and how these modern infrastructures transformed the pilgrimage and explore what the emerging discourses and practices were that gave newer meanings to neoliberal pilgrimages. The different case studies presented in this issue analyze the impact of these journeys on the pilgrims’ own subjectivities—especially with regard to the holy sites being situated in their imaginations of historical continuity and discontinuity and with regard to their transformative experiences of worship—using both modern and traditional infrastructures.
A Lucrative Revenue Stream
Pilgrimage has been performed by members of all religions, and all beliefs, from prehistoric times to the present. The visitation of religious and sacred sites represents a significant economic resource for many faith establishments and organizations. In this article, I will explore the Muslim Hajj to Mecca as a case study. The study is based on ethnographic research using interviews and observation. The economic impact of pilgrims is a multifaceted and complex subject. Pilgrims spend money on transport, accommodation, and other services; hence, they contribute to the economy of the host state. My research suggests that there is a particular type of relationship between the economic and the spiritual aspects of pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Livia Jiménez Sedano
This is a brief reflection on the consequences of the commodification of dance cultures from the former colonised world and the ways they are consumed in Europe. Inspired from ten years of fieldwork, the ethnic structuring of postcolonial dance floors in European cities proves an empirical basis to start this line of thought. Instead of promoting respect and interest in the dance forms and the cultural contexts in which these dance forms developed, aficionados tend to consider that these are less evolved, beautiful and interesting than the appropriations they develop in their home countries. As a result, commodification leads to reinforcing previous stereotypes and emic hierarchies of value. The kinetic metaphor of the bodies that scream but cannot listen structures the text and its arguments.
Resisting the Neo-liberal Enclosure of Life
Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham
The notion of a ‘genetic commons’ is a broad-based, multi-faceted response to a particular constellation of technological, cultural, economic, political, ethical, and legal developments of the past three decades. Prompted principally by advances in biotechnology and the heretofore unprecedented patenting of life forms, the genetic commons movement seeks to critique and resist the commodification and commercialization of ‘nature’ and to establish a cosmological and political space outside of, and protected from, neo-liberal capitalist processes.
“Taking the Waters” in Tunka Valley, Russia
This article examines the sacred mineral springs in Arshan, Buriatiia. These springs have been inscribed as sacred due to their medicinal properties and are marked as sacred through rituals and material offerings. Residents lament the loss of healing, and implicitly sacred, strength of Arshan. The author argues that the sense of loss is due to the medicalization of healing in Tsarist and Soviet times and from the commodification of this type of sacred site through bottling and tourism.
This edition of Theoria encompasses an examination of the character of historical enquiry, critical encounters with contemporary perspectives in political theory, reflections on religion and the state, an exploration of the implications of the commodification of time and work and an examination of the role of human rights in the contemporary international context. In this it extends discussion of themes that have come to define the coherence and unity of the journal as an editorial project.
This summary article situates the articles in this collection within the historical unfolding of the commodification and neoliberalisation of higher education. From the 1970s to the present, the article suggests that commodification and neoliberalisation are two social forces that in many nations are difficult to disentangle. It is important to see these forces as analytically distinct as they set up contradictions whilst transforming higher education in many nations in the world. While commodification begins the process of turning university programmes and degrees into commodities that a consuming public buys, neoliberalism puts pressure on universities to document that people are getting value for the money they spend. Neoliberalism also questions how we measure the quality of a product. Together these forces create an increasingly contradictory space where faculty work becomes very conflicted. The article then goes on to situate each of the articles in this contradictory university space. Finally the article discusses some ways faculty can move beyond resistance and collusion and find ways to reclaim higher education.
Zeynep Kılıç and Jennifer Petzen
This article invites scholars of race and migration to look at the visual arts more closely within the framework of comparative race theory. We argue that within a neoliberal multicultural context, the marketing of art relies on the commodification and circulation of racial categories, which are reproduced and distributed as globalized racial knowledge. This knowledge is mediated by the racial logic of neoliberal multiculturalism. Specifically, we look at the ways in which the global art market functions as a set of racialized and commodified power relations confronting the “migrant“ artist within an orientalizing curatorial framework.