Nucho, Joanne R. 2016. Everyday Sectarianism in Urban Lebanon: Infrastructures, Public Services, and Power. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 192 pp. Ebook: US$29.95. ISBN: 9781400883004.
In Everyday Sectarianism in Urban Lebanon: Infrastructures, Public Services, and Power, Joanne R. Nucho demonstrates how the infrastructures and citizens’ channels of obtaining public services turn into elements that sectarian organisations intensify community's sense of belonging and then exacerbate the distinction and estrangement between the sects in Lebanon. Considering the creation and reproduction of sects in Beirut and its surrounding areas, the emergence of sectarianism in Lebanon can be classified as a dynamic modern social and political phenomenon (p. 4). Taking the sectarian conflicts in Lebanon and the Armenian community as examples, government, non-governmental organisations, and community organising are involved in giving infrastructures and public services the implied meaning of visible/invisible boundaries between sects. These three parties waver between cooperation and opposition in providing public services and planning infrastructure. This unstable relationship results in the fragmentation of public resource provision, while sectarian identity becomes a reference for defining service targets. As Nucho's generalisation of the multiple connections between sectarianism and people's access to social resources reflects, the relationship between sectarian identity, infrastructure, and public service can be perceived as an external manifestation of the lack of coordinated planning and equal resource allocation in Lebanese society.
The content of this book involves the historical tracing of Armenian settlement in Lebanon, the formation of the sectarian community, the relationship between sectarian identity and Lebanese everyday access to public service, and the domestic and transnational collaboration between sectarian neighbourhoods. Chapter One is about relationship between sectarianism and the violence and conflicts in Lebanon. Nucho defines sectarianism in Lebanon as a popular discourse explaining conflict and justification for counteraction (p. 30). In the cycle of temporary peace and long-term turbulence, the spheres of influence among the sects are in motion, and peace among the sects is maintained in the relative balance of power. Chapter Two is about technologies of municipal and political actors in informal property management and people's response to this municipal administration which generate notions of belonging to and exclusion from sectarian communities and draw boundaries of these communities (p. 53). Encountering informal property management, residents’ ability to make claims on property ownership in ethnic neighbourhoods correlates with their ability to make claims on the belonging of their neighbourhoods to a sectarian community, and to residents’ ability to claim the importance and authenticity of their neighbourhood for a sect community. Chapters Three and Four introduce gender etiquette in defining the audience of social services, and ethnoreligious identity in limiting the audience of financial services. Both gender etiquette scoping service audiences and the selection of customers in credit and lending based on ethnicity and religion strengthen exclusivity, as well as the influence of sectarianism in sect communities. Chapter Five concerns overlapping jurisdictions in Lebanon's infrastructure planning. By correlating religious and ethnic antagonism with construction of infrastructure, the negotiations on infrastructure become occasions that intensify notions of sectarian identity and community (p. 125). That is, Lebanese infrastructure turns into a medium for sects to delineate spheres of influence, and landmarks that invoke residents’ sense of belonging to sects.
Creatively, Nucho classifies infrastructures and public services in Lebanon as the mediums of maintaining the barriers between sectarian communities and strengthening residents’ sense of belonging to sects. The delineation of visible/invisible community boundaries generated by infrastructure and public services is the epitome of sectarian tension and ethnic conflict in Lebanon. Public service and the infrastructure turn into carriers of sects’ political clout and their division of spheres of influence, symbolising Lebanon's social cleavages. Besides, Nucho's research inspires an exploration of the mindset of Lebanese people's perception of temporary peace and permanent turbulence as a cycle. The turbulence and brief peace in the Lebanese Armenian's history of exile makes them accustomed to regarding conflict as a possible start of the next cycle of turmoil, activating their sense of self-protection after recalling past turbulence.
In general, this book brings the discussion of sectarianism in Lebanon to its embodiment in infrastructure construction and public services, as a reflection of the connection among sectarianism, infrastructure, social service, and power structure in this country. Nucho's significant accomplishment encourages research paying close attention to infrastructure and public service in Lebanon, to investigate the dynamic changes in the sectarian disputes of Lebanese society.
Leiden University (The Netherlands) - research funded by China Scholarship Council
Schorch, Philipp, Martin Saxer and Marlen Elders (eds.). 2020. Exploring Materiality and Connectivity in Anthropology and Beyond. London: UCL Press. 282 pp. Pb.: £20.00. ISBN: 9781787357495.
Choosing book covers is a challenging task, as they need to encapsulate the entire content of the book in a glance. The cover of the reviewed edited volume depicts six pairs of green boots. Each pair is wrapped in a torn brown paper bag, presumably damaged during transportation from one place to another. The bags feature red Chinese writing, and the boots are held together by dark green laces. The convergence of these diverse materials, along with the arrangement of the pairs, prompts inquiries not only about the boots themselves but also about their histories, purposes and the connections they forge throughout and beyond their ‘social lives’ (Appadurai 1986). This evocative image tellingly captures the book's purpose, which is to explore how ‘two modes of becoming [materiality and connectivity] relate and fold into each other to produce the realities we attempt to understand’ (p. 2).
In the Introduction, the editors of this volume invite their readers to reconsider two fundamental ideas in anthropology: the movement and interconnectedness of things, and how connections are formed, transformed and severed through the medium of things. Schorch, Saxer and Elders seek to go beyond viewing materiality as a mere property of things and connections as simple relations, by introducing the term ‘thing∼ties’. They purposefully employ the tilde symbol to signify the dynamic interchange between things and ties, rather than a static relationship. In the subsequent section, two scholars (anthropologist Tim Ingold and archaeologist Philipp Stockhammer) delve deeper into the conceptual underpinnings of this argument. Ingold focuses on relationality by exploring the relational nature of materialities, and arguing that relations are not exterior to material items but constitutive of their very existence. Stockhammer approaches the subject from the perspective of materialities, and directs attention to their diverse and evolving natures over time. Taking both chapters together, it becomes evident that ‘things and ties, and their underlying materiality and connectivity, are integral rather than external to each other’ (p. 6).
Sections two and three of the volume are dedicated to ethnographic chapters that delve into the empirical exploration of thing∼ties. Section three is titled ‘Movement and Growth’. Within this section, various chapters shed light on the transformations that can occur to things when ties undergo changes. These chapters adopt both historical and contemporary perspectives, as two of them focus on the global imperial relationships forged and disrupted through living and non-living gifts, while the other two chapters explore the contemporary trajectories of respectively religious paraphernalia and telephones. In section four, ‘Dissolution and Traces’, the emphasis shifts from ties to things. This section examines what happens to ties when things change or even dissolve. Chapters revolve around the ephemeral nature of smoke and the connections it engenders, the destruction and reconstruction of materialities after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the 1985 volcano outburst in Colombia, the process of urban erasure in Mexico City and the upcycling of refugee life jackets. Throughout the chapters, the authors skilfully demonstrate that thing∼ties are inherently multifaceted and multivocal, and include (to use the same tilde as the editors do, to suggest movement and gesture between different concepts) the human∼more-than-human, the historical∼contemporary and the local∼global.
The edited volume is the culmination of a four-year project that drew insights on, among others, two workshops. These workshops were designed as artistic-academic interventions, aiming to actively explore the realm of materialities and connectivities through a ‘thinking-by-doing’ approach. Vignettes and pictures derived from these workshops are interspersed throughout the volume. They align with the two sections of empirical chapters, with a focus on changing connections (Barbie dolls and mobile phones) and changing materialities (water collected from a street puddle, a death ritual and a stone).
The chapters, on the whole, are captivating. They effectively embody the editors’ proposed concept, although often implicitly, and demonstrate a degree of ethnographic imagination. Each chapter proposed its own distinct scope and composition, reflecting the broad range of potential topics within the study of materiality and connectivity. Furthermore, most chapters are enhanced by the inclusion of colour photographs or other images, lending the book a significant visual appeal. Consequently, the volume offers an engaging reading experience, both as a cohesive whole and when delving into individual chapters.
A potential shortcoming of the book is the absence of a concluding chapter. While the editors’ proposition of the concept of thing∼ties is understandable, it leaves the reader pondering the actual value of this term. Is the edited volume simply a publication that makes one think – once again – about these crucial anthropological concepts, or could a new term offer a way forward in thinking anthropologically about the world, its people and its materialities, in both history and the present? With this question in mind, the editors could also have reflected in a concluding chapter on the slight shortcoming of the book's ‘globalness’. As is (unfortunately) still the case in much anthropological research, there is often a predominant focus on societies and cultures distinct from our own. The volume follows this trend, potentially running the risk of ‘exoticising’ materialities and connectivities, despite the fact that these factors shape all aspects of our lives, as evidenced by the simple example of the boots on the front cover. Nevertheless, it is a great read for anthropologists and other social scientists, both junior and senior, with interests in how daily objects in our lives connect with the relations we have and make.
Utrecht University (The Netherlands)
Cvajner, Martina. 2019. Soviet Signoras. Personal and Collective Transformations in East European Migration. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 279 pp. Pb.: US$30.00. ISBN: 978-0226662398.
Ukrainian women and children seeking refuge became visible all over Europe in 2022, their presence attracting much support and empathy. In some European countries, such as Italy, this occurs in contexts where there are already strong images and stereotypes of Ukrainian women as both devoted housewives and elegant, sexy women. Soviet Signoras by Martina Cvajner is a unique account of this notion of Slavic femininity as it manifests in an Alpine town in northern Italy. Positioning women migrants as the main actors of the social drama precipitated by the traumatic economic collapse in Eastern Europe, Cvajner scrutinises their migration experiences. She shows how migration entails both degradation and a striving for dignity, defined by the women's ambivalent condition as care workers and ‘great lovers’ (p. 104). The book engages with the anthropology of migration, addressing the situation of vulnerable migrants, here migrant women arriving from Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. Different from much research focusing on vulnerability of irregular migrants and their often precarious labour and social integration, Cvajner uncovers how these women rediscover femininity and dignity despite their precarious status. This perspective, focusing first on migrants’ identities and sense of dignity, opens up important questions in addressing the lives of vulnerable people, here women irregular migrants.
Cvajner first unfolds these women's statuses: they are single mothers in their forties and fifties, formerly educated professionals. The fall of the Soviet Union led to a failing economy, staggering unemployment, hyperinflation and collapsing social systems. Many of their husbands are unemployed or unpaid, often becoming alcoholic or ‘damaged goods’ in the eyes of the women (p. 30). These women accrued large debts and took high risks in order to migrate and cater for their children. The book further details their solitude and difficulties working as live-in carers in Italian houses. They have to adapt to a new lifestyle, hide their maternal emotions towards their faraway children and negotiate their privacy. Only with their legalisation do they become ‘real persons’ (p. 49), paving their way to a better life. In time, they also discover some social support in the places of the town where other migrant women meet – they co-rent flats and gather in parking lots.
Consumption plays a special role for them, defining their personhood. Shopping or window-shopping is an end in itself. Women seek elegance – they acquire cosmetics and clothing (such as dresses and bras), and admire the textures of the textiles that others buy, debating and supporting buyers’ decisions. Shopping is conducted in immigrant shopping areas – in an open parking lot, in the open market or in the waiting room of the bus station that is sometimes used as dressing room. Sometimes they acquire clothes in Chinese shops, while the supermarket Lidl is seen by them as a shop for immigrants. They are reluctant to go to ‘Italian’ shops and, if they have to, they avoid situations where they could be regarded as lavaculi, care workers.
Next to consumption, sexuality is another defining feature of their femininity. Many of the women are in their forties and fifties, seeing themselves as ‘babushkas’ (p. 30) back in Ukraine. In the Italian context, they discover that they are desirable to Italian and migrant men. Sexuality is entangled in a wider meaning of womanhood, beauty and performance. Casual sex is akin to something to be consumed, and is opposed to the ‘real thing’ (p. 146): serious love relations that have to be constructed and cared for. Respectability is achieved by the ‘real thing’, through marriages with either migrant men or Italians, when the former lavaculi can become respected signoras.
The final mode of gaining respectability is through involvement in migrant associations. These associations are loci of solidarity for migrants as well as institutions that advocate for migrants rights and present artistic performances and events about countries of origin in Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Moldova and Russia). While these associations started off quite cosmopolitan, addressing the needs and interests of all migrant women from the former Soviet Union, they later divided along national and religious lines.
The book, by looking at morality and femininity in migration, provides a rich understanding of women's lives and their sense of entitlement as people with lives divided between ‘here’ and ‘there’ – their lives, morality and sexuality ‘abroad’ and ‘at home’. It is a book highly recommended for students and academics interested in the study of migration coming from different disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, political sciences or geography, as well as for professionals and policy makers involved in the field of immigrants’ integration. A wonderful, empirically rich and taboo-breaking book, it is a much-needed book of our time.
REMUS GABRIEL ANGHEL
National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Romania and Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities (Romania)
McGonigle, Ian. 2021. Genomic Citizenship: The Molecularization of Identity in the Contemporary Middle East. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 220 pp. Pb.: US$75.00. ISBN: 9780262542944.
We all know that nations are imagined communities. Forty years ago, Benedict Anderson identified newsprint media as inculcating a shared imagination of citizens as co-present members of an imagined nation-state. Arjun Appadurai extended this reading to think multidimensionally about the diverse regimes of cultural mediation in a delocalised, globalised, but interconnected, world. Ian McGonigle, an anthropologist with a background in biological science, has fashioned an intriguing discussion updating and extending this context with an ethnographically rich reflection on how biology – and specifically genetics – has become part of ethnonationalism's conceptual boundaries of national inclusion and exclusion. Focusing specifically on the genetic ‘biobanks’ of two distinct and contested Middle Eastern polities, Israel and Qatar, Genomic Citizenship explores the histories, techniques and ethical challenges that attend their establishment and operation as they play into their respective national imaginaries and external images.
Now clearly of all nations these are two whose genesis and current citizenship policies might entangle their genomic nation-forming in political and ethical controversy. Israel, founded in the penumbra of the Holocaust by a returning Jewish diaspora on the dispossession and exclusion of an autochthonous Palestinian population; Qatar, a fabulously wealthy autocracy where disenfranchised foreign remittance workers outnumber native Qataris by ten to one. The author deploys a tantalising but ultimately circumspect strategy, deflecting some of the more obvious eugenic and colonialist pitfalls and shibboleths, particularly in the case of Israel, where the stakes of the debate over Jewish origins are high because the founding narrative of the Israeli state is based on exilic ‘return’.
As background, McGonigle draws extensively on analysis of the work of Israeli population genetics in the 1950s and 1960s. These genetic studies expressed a desire – indeed, a need – to find a ‘content’ for the a priori nationalist belief in the fact of Jewish peoplehood. At stake in their research was the possibility of revealing a Jewish common origin in ancient Palestine. A generation previously, in the context of initial Zionist settler colonialism, archaeology was the academic discipline used to reformulate a national people by fostering an elective affinity between archaeology's epistemological and methodological commitments and the cultural politics of the Jewish colonial nation-state-building project. The creation of the new Jewish state required the construction of a myth of origins built on the twofold strategy of emphasising a new beginning as well as discontinuity with an earlier past. The self-fashioning of Israeli-ness involved a redefinition of a Jewish self, a breach with history, and with that a resurrection of a new history that would root Israelis to the land of Israel. McGonigle handles this potentially fissile material with ethical and political caution, tempered by a scepticism, learned from the Comaroffs, in regard to the notion of an absolute, value-free epistemology that might turn out to be ‘our own rationalizing cosmology posing as science, our culture parading as historical causality’ (p. xviii).
In the contemporary midst of this imperative, with a much more ethnically (and de facto genetically) diverse Israeli demographic than in the early days of settlement, McGonigle is surprised to find that the national biobank eschews the pursuit of genomic exclusivity or indeed Jewish exceptionalism. Its focus is instead on the much more universalist medical research agenda where Israeli scientific know-how and research élan gains global acclaim, thereby performing and strengthening Israeli national identity.
The case of Qatar is at once simpler and more challenging. McGonigle, drawing on Strathern, Wagner and Gell, highlights the dividual character of genetic personhood. It is precisely the ‘dividual’ character of genetic data that furnishes the possibility of imagining the nation as a shared biological entity and indeed fosters the imagination of genomic citizenship. The demographic minority status of Qataris threatens the national character or identity of the young nation. Perhaps this minority status may be assuaged by assembling public health data in a way that presents a picture of the population that foregrounds Qataris and their dominance in the biobank repository. This phenomenon can be read as a cultural artifact of nation-building as the biobank is seen to act as a site through which a ‘normalisation’ or, more precisely, ‘Qatarisation’ of the population structure can be imagined. The biobank creates a material resource of biological samples that can be recruited to draw human capital to Qatar in the form of scientists, clinicians, nurses and healthcare professionals who connect Qatar with the global infrastructure. It further achieves a Qatarisation of the samples in the biobank, rendering Qataris a privileged cohort, which in turn helps promote the imagination and performance of the Qatari nation as a lived reality.
McGonigle has undertaken an audacious and convincing enterprise to explore in these two examples the practical workings and implications of genomic nation-building in geopolitical real time. Apart from a comprehensive anthropological theoretical framework, he brings a high level of scientific expertise to construct a credible biography and genealogy of what might be termed the assemblage of the bio-nation, where the citizen is apprehended as a therapeutic subject – as in Qatar's biobank – or is imagined as a ‘natural’ genetic constituent of the bio-collective – as in popular discourses of genetic belonging and citizenship in Israel.
Oxford University (UK)
Sax, William and Claudia Lang. 2021. The Movement for Global Mental Health: Critical Views from South and Southeast Asia. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. 346 pp. Hb.: €129.00. ISBN: 9789463721622.
Critiquing bio-psychiatric models of mental illness has been a recurring practice, ever since the inception of the ‘anti-psychiatry’ fervour of the 1960s. However, there has been a significant paucity of anthropological critiques that are embedded in rigorous cross-cultural studies of mental ill-health. The Movement for Global Mental Health: Critical Views from South and Southeast Asia fills this lacuna in the literature and provides novel ways of interrogating recent developments in the psy-disciplines. The book discusses the Movement for Global Mental Health (MGMH), which seeks to close the ‘treatment gap’ for people with mental disorders by making mental health a human right, and by improving accessibility to psychiatric care worldwide. Prima facie, the movement appears innocuous enough. Yet, the contributors in this volume believe that this movement is based on several problematic assumptions – namely, that there is an epidemic of mental disorders; that there is a treatment gap and not a treatment difference; and mental disorders are ultimately neurobiological in nature and can be clearly identified; that they can be treated with psychopharmaceuticals. Moreover, it assumes that psychiatry pertains to a culturally universal paradigm of mental health that can be dissociated from its socio-cultural milieu, and blindly applied in the Global South, which supposedly lacks its own way of approaching mental health.
The book is divided into four sections: ‘Critical Histories’ discusses the chequered past of MGMH and takes the reader through a genealogy of its inception – the conceptual and methodological tools it used to gain worldwide appeal and legitimacy. The section on ‘The Limits of Global Mental Health’ contains contributions that discuss issues with the imposition of western psychiatric knowledge in culturally incommensurable worlds. The third section, ‘Alternatives’, illuminates possibilities of epistemic entanglements and asks whether another psychiatry or another approach to ritual therapy might be possible. The final section, ‘Afterwords’, ends with an auto-ethnography by a psychiatric survivor, bringing the locus of attention from complex theoretical debates to the phenomenology of the mental health services user.
In the introductory chapter, Sax and Lang dive deep into the biomedical episteme of psychiatry and highlight significant concerns with psychiatric nosology. They focus on the debate within psychiatry between an approach that privileges the identification of mental disorders through biomarkers, on the one hand, and one that defends a phenomenological approach that focuses on symptoms rather than ascertaining the causal mechanisms behind mental disorders, on the other. Moreover, the distinguishability of mental disorders remains uncertain also due to what the feminist philosopher Jacquelin Zita calls the ‘diagnostic bracket creep’ where the distinction between different diagnostic categories becomes nebulous as different conditions respond effectively to the same pharmaceutical.
A more nuanced engagement with psychiatric epidemiology is established in Ecks’ contribution, as he traces the genealogy of the MGMH and talks about the crisis stemming from the reliability of data, inconsistencies in prevalence of mental disorders across nations and the issues with extrapolating clinical results to the population at large. Furthermore, Sax, Lang and Ecks show how the language of economic (white man's?) burden and the methodological invention of DALY (disability-adjusted life year) constructed the ‘epidemic’ of mental disorders – shifting the attention from mental health as a form of suffering to an economic burden.
Another central concern in this book is the idea of different ontologies and epistemologies encountering each other. Mukherjee's chapter illustrates how the biomedical establishment tried to interpret the phenomenon of djinn possession in Bangladesh by invoking the category of mass psychogenic illness (MPI). He traces historically how biomedicine explains radical alterity by looking at other contexts in which MPI has been evoked wherein physical evidence was insufficient to explain the phenomenon at hand. Through various techniques, biomedicine tries to legitimise itself while delegitimising djinn-based aetiologies that are reduced to the pole of superstition or quackery. Paradoxically, Naraindas, through his ethnography of a German psychosomatic ward, argues that what is considered superstition in the Global South (as well as in MGMH) is part of biomedical settings in the Global North. He claims that in the German Klinik, the ontology of science and superstition are wilfully fused, whereas in the MGMH the Global North represents the ontology of science, which is supposedly a messiah for the Global South wherein superstition continues to dominate the mental health landscape.
The idea of the treatment gap is thus limited to accessibility to psychiatric services, which ultimately amounts to a form of epistemic violence since the authorities remain ‘structurally blind’ (p. 273) to ritual healing.
If the MGMH has such significant issues, then what must be the way forward? Lang provides one possible answer through her fieldwork in Kerala, where she ethnographically describes the practice of Ayurvedic psychiatry based on an imbrication of different therapeutic epistemologies. She shows how Ayurvedic psychiatrists are able to incorporate globalised psychiatry with local conceptions of mind and body, and how the two ontologies often overlap in local cosmologies of suffering and healing.
These convergences may not even involve different epistemologies but can involve a revitalised form of psychiatric practice, as illuminated in Halliburton's ethnographic work in Kerala, where the use of socio-emotional relations of love – Sneham – acts as a ‘bio-social lubricant’ (p. 234) replicating Malayali concepts of well-being and care in an otherwise secular space, namely a psychosocial rehabilitation centre. However, these convergences or epistemic entanglements may not always work, as shown in Hornbacher's fieldwork in a clinic in Bali which combines psychiatry along with local purification techniques and occult practices to treat patients with severe psychosis. She realises, however, with her interaction with psychiatrists that this configuration upholds an epistemic hierarchy where psychiatry pertains to universal biology and the rituals are mere ‘symbols’ representing Balinese culture that ultimately provide ‘ontological privilege to entities recognised by modern scientific disciplines’ (p. 141).
This timely contribution provides rich ethnographic data to corroborate its arguments, yet it bases all of its critique on biological psychiatry while paying scant attention to cultural and critical psychiatry. Moreover, this book presents one of the rare instances where a scholar from the Global South (Naraindas) has analysed mental health systems in the Global North. It would have been interesting, however, to see if the monolith of psychiatry as well as the concepts of ‘Global South’ or the ‘Non-West’ could have been opened up further for ethnographic interrogation.
Lastly, some of the arguments in this book might appear to be lacerating critiques of psychiatry which, despite their validity, may not be useful if anthropologists want to retain their relevance in the current hegemonic healthcare systems dominated by psychiatry. One way of bridging this gap might be to construct a fertile ground for anthropologists and psychiatrists to work with each other as a way of redefining their disciplines and in turn redefining the landscape of mental health. Nevertheless, these pedantic concerns cannot discredit this lucidly written volume, which will be relevant to early career scholars and seasoned researchers within medical anthropology and the related fields of global health and cultural psychiatry.
University of Delhi, India