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Dances with Heads

Parasitic Mimesis and the Government of Savagery in Colonial East Timor

Ricardo Roque

This article explores the conjunction between mimesis and parasitism as a colonial mode of relating with forms of ‘savagery’ in state administration in relation to both the colonial Self and indigenous Others. The article examines the participation in 1861 of Portuguese Governor Afonso de Castro in a headhunting ceremony, the ‘feast of the heads’, which was held in colonial East Timor. By following a dispute concerning the problems and merits of the governor’s compliance with this ritual, it conceptualizes the trade with savagery within colonial government praxis as a parasitic form of mimesis. In this context, the dangers of bracketing the self and surrendering to the forces of otherness allowed for headhunting ritual energies to be extracted and exploited to the colonial state’s advantage.

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Elias L. Khalil

This article advances what it calls the ‘Impossibility Result’: it is impossible to claim that the reduction of exploitation leads to the improvement of efficiency. The Impossibility Result is the inevitable result of the proposed conceptual difference between ‘injustice’ and ‘exploitation’. Injustice occurs when one member of a society deviates from the norms and the legal rules concerning how one should treat other members of that society. Exploitation occurs when one member of a society takes advantage of entities such wild animals, cattle, a field of vegetables, or other people that lie outside the boundary of that society. In many cases of exploitation, the exploited may derive some benefit, as in the case when enslavement is better than death. In other cases of exploitation, the exploited may derive zero benefit, called here ‘harm’, as in the case when a deer is hunted.

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Katherine Verdery

Throughout the Cold War, most people in the US saw the communist party-states of the Soviet bloc as all-powerful regimes imposing their will on their populations. The author, a child of the Cold War, began her fieldwork in Romania in the 1970s in this belief. The present essay describes how her experiences in Romania between 1973 and 1989 gradually forced her to see things differently, bringing her to realize that centralization was only one face of a system of rule pervaded by barely controlled anarchy and parasitism on the state. It was not simply that the regime had failed to change people's consciousness; rather, the system's operation was actively producing something quite different. These insights contributed to the author's developing a new model of the workings of socialism.