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Testimonio and secrecy in a traumatic past

The “times of danger” in the visual art of Sarhua

Olga González

This article discusses the fate of dangerous memories of war associated with the “internal armed conflict” in Peru. It focuses on the Andean community of Sarhua in Ayacucho and their experiences with political violence as depicted in a collection of paintings, Piraq Causa (Who Is Still to Blame?). A close examination of this visual testimonio reveals that some dangerous memories have been denied representation. I suggest that these become silences and absences that give expression to a “traumatic gap”, which includes memories of fratricidal violence and the community's initial endorsement of the Maoist Shining Path. I argue that Piraq Causa reflects the magnified secrecy around events that the community agreed to deliberately “remember to forget”. In so doing, I also propose that the perceived gaps in the pictorial narrative provoke the unmasking of what is “secretly familiar” in Sarhua. To that extent, Piraq Causa exposes as much as it affirms the secrecy around traumatic memories of war.

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The correct secret

Discretion and hypertransparency in Chinese biosecurity

Katherine A. Mason

exercising what Lilith Mahmud (2012) calls discretion in deciding what information to disclose, to whom, and when. In differentiating discretion from secrecy, Mahmud defines the former as “characterized not by an exclusive preoccupation with concealment

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Why Revisit Intimacy?

Sertaç Sehlikoglu and Aslı Zengin

Intimacy is tightly bound up with notions of privacy, sexuality, proximity and secrecy, and with dynamics of sensual and affective attachments and forms of desire. It is therefore integral to the formation of human selves and subjectivities, as well as communities, publics, collectives and socialities. The articles in this Special Section all offer an anthropological inquiry into intimacy, seeking a conceptual formulation that might capture its actual operations, the ways intimacy is done in talk and action. They thus contribute ethnographically to ongoing anthropological debates about intimacy, and explore how multiple domains and forms of intimacies are defined, shaped, constructed and transformed across different social worlds.

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Exchanging Skin

Making a Science of the Relation between Bolivip and Barth

Tony Crook

This article proposes a theory of what knowledge is and a method of how knowledge comes about. To separate epistemology from knowledge provides the starting point for questioning epistemology in two ways. Firstly, the analytical relations by which anthropologists claim that they have gained ethnographic knowledge are examined and compared to the claims to knowledge made by male initiates in Bolivip, Papua New Guinea. Secondly, these aesthetics of epistemology are compared with the social relations by which anthropologists and Bolivip men come to know through other persons. The article then takes up Wagner's 'relative objectivity' and considers how it enables an ethnographic comparative method between Bolivip and Barth's interpretive paradigm of 'secrecy'. Having unhinged epistemology from knowledge, the article closes by reconnecting them, with a different view of each appearing as a result.

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The Red and the Black

A Practical Experiment for Thinking about Ritual

Michael Houseman

This essay reports on the performance of an initiatory rite of the author’s invention, undertaken as a practical experiment for thinking about certain recurrent features of ritual action and, specifically, of (male) initiation. In keeping with an approach that sees ritual as the enactment of special relationships, this initiation, The Red and the Black, was designed to demonstrate the importance of interactive patterning both for the structuring of ritual performance and for the participants’ commitment to the relationships they ritually enact. Its meaningfulness, as well as its capacity to affect the participants’ perceptions and ideas, is shown to derive less from the (minimal) explicit symbolism it employs, the beliefs it presupposes, or the social functions that can be attributed to it than from the relational entailments of the coordinate interactions it involves. Framing, simulation, secrecy, imposed suffering, symbolism, ceremonial efficacy, ritual condensation, and the complex interplay of in-group and out-group perspectives are among the issues that are illustrated and discussed.

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Niklas Hultin

This article examines the discourse surrounding the circulation of legal information in urban Gambia. It argues that ideas of information sharing suggest that Gambian law is fundamentally opaque, not simply in that it is not transparent but that it is only partially known. Drawing on the insights of Marilyn Strathern and other 'Melanesianists', the article further proposes that information sharing is a kind of relation and that opacity is a way of cutting relations. This in turn presents a way of apprehending African law that differs from the current emphasis on illegality and sovereignty in Africanist legal anthropology and focuses instead on emendation as a modality of engaging the law.

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The Shadows of Knowability

Reading between Opaque Narrative and Transparent Text

Younes Saramifar

secrecy would then be sustained in another manner. Her notion is based on an analysis of secrecy and transparency in documentation and texts, which she links to the realities of everyday life. I would argue, however, that she does not dwell enough on what

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Bernard B. Fyanka and Julaina A. Obika

Law and Disorder: Sovereignty, Protest, Atmosphere By Illan rua Wall. Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2021. 209pp. E-Book. ISBN: 978-0-429-33042-1.

Secrecy and Responsibility in the Era of an Epidemic: Letters from Uganda By Hanne Mogensen. London: Palgrave Macmillian, 2020. 246 pp. ISBN 978-3-030-47522-2. ISBN 978-3-030-47523-9 (e-Book).

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Geographies, Histories, Sociologies

Peter Merriman, Rhys Jones, Tim Cresswell, Colin Divall, Gijs Mom, Mimi Sheller, and John Urry

This article is an edited transcript of a panel discussion on “mobility studies“ which was held as part of a workshop on mobility and community at Aberystwyth University on September 3, 2012. In the article the five panelists reflect upon the recent resurgence of research on mobility in the social sciences and humanities, emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary debates, and the ways in which established fields such as transport history, migration studies, and sociology are being reshaped by new research agendas. The panelists discuss the importance of engaging with issues of politics, justice, equality, global capital, secrecy, and representation, and they encourage researchers to focus on non-Western and non-hegemonic mobilities, as well as to produce “useable“ studies which engage policy-makers.

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Amanda J. Reinke


Documents are part of interactive sociocultural worlds in which ethnographers can analyse topics such as power relations, social struggle, violence and secrecy. While they emerge from bureaucratic administration, apparently mundane and stagnant documents represent dynamic processes of decision-making, knowledge production and exclusion. I consider ethnographic research on documents and their production as one that offers significant insights into bureaucratic violence and the tensions between formality and informality in alternative dispute resolution in Virginia and the San Francisco Bay Area. This article discusses working with documents that are simultaneously bound by law and exist extra-legally. While documents are used to gain economic support, strengthen relationships between non-profit and government bodies, and evidence ‘success’, the processes have difficulties. The data demonstrate that bureaucratisation has resulted in cumbersome processes and expensive requirements that mirror the exclusion and power asymmetries of formal law itself.