Rethinking Thuggery: Landed Elites and Agrarian Violence in Chiapas, Mexico
Finance in the Fields: Egypt, Agricultural Credit, and the Age of Global Comparison
In 1882, the British military invaded Egypt to forestall the Egyptian state’s potential default on its debts to private banks in London and Paris. The ensuing occupation coincided with a series of major shifts in the structures and practices of imperial finance. In these decades, a massive extension of international financial networks sought to transform remote rural environments into vital frontiers for the direct investment of metropolitan capital. While the great banks of Europe had once restricted their dealings to government loans and local money-lenders had held a virtual monopoly on agricultural credit, a host of institutional and infrastructural innovations provided new means to channel sources of international finance directly into the fields. My dissertation seeks to situate the socio-economic shifts that occurred during the British occupation within this trans-regional and imperial context of linked transformations that rendered Egypt a key site for both agricultural and financial experimentation. Drawing on an array of little-used sources—agricultural journals, family papers, bank records, court registers, and state archives in Egypt, India, and England—my dissertation will attempt to reconstruct the tangled and shifting webs of credit that enmeshed the Egyptian countryside between the British invasion and the onset of the First World War. I believe the changing system of agrarian finance provides a key vantage from which to reconsider two common features of existing scholarship on modern Egypt. First, rather than treat the occupation merely as the continuation of trends spanning “the long nineteenth century”, I hope to show that this period witnessed eventful transformations in Egypt’s agrarian political economy that cannot simply be deduced from the country’s earlier “peripheralization” as a producer of raw cotton for British mills. Second, departing from traditions of scholarship that either isolate relations between Egypt and the metropole or that treat British rule as the reproduction of existing colonial practices and institutions, I am interested in understanding how Egypt’s incorporation into the British Empire contributed to an ongoing elaboration of financial, discursive, and administrative networks with other colonial territories, most notably northern India.
Rubens in a New World: Prints, Authorship, and Transatlantic Intertextuality
This dissertation analyzes colonial-era paintings in Latin America that were derived or copied from European prints that crossed the Atlantic and circulated in the New World. My project uses this transatlantic frame to reassess how works of art relate to one another across geographic distances and cultural divides and to rethink the terms through which early modern authorship has been understood: originality, invention, replication, and the slavish copy. Though scholars have long understood the importance of European prints in the Americas, there has been little attempt to devise a methodological apparatus with which to analyze the ways in which this phenomenon mattered to individuals—artists, traders, clerics and religious devotees. My project interrogates the local contexts in which prints circulated to reveal how they functioned within the lives and practices of the artists who chose or were contracted to use them. To do so, I focus on works of art in both Mexico and Peru made from prints that reproduced paintings by the European artist Peter Paul Rubens, an artist who has come to define the art historical standards of authorship and intentionality during the early modern period (equivalent with the colonial/viceregal era in Latin America). In my project, Rubens, the consummate authorial "genius" of Europe's early modernity, becomes a lens through which to understand, often by means of contrast, the much greater range of artists—from similarly famous painters to anonymous craftsmen—who reconstituted his printed compositions in paint across the Atlantic. The project thereby aims to recapture something of the lived experience of using prints and making paintings in colonial Latin America in addition to plotting the routes through which prints moved in the transatlantic empire. In doing so, it proposes new comparative methodologies for an emerging "global" art history. SSRC research to be completed in Mexico City (9 months) and Cuzco, Peru (3 months).
Chronicles of Deaths Foretold?: Farmer Suicides in Chhattisgarh, India
More than a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide across India since 1995. Since what one report terms the 'largest wave of recorded suicides in human history' (Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, 2011) first received attention in the mid-nineties, the 'farmer's' suicide' has emerged as a potent politically charged symbol for intense public debates on the depredations of neoliberal structural adjustment, and the failures of state and society. Scholarly and activist discourses have attempted to establish causal links between the widespread suicide of farmers and the large-scale industrial transformation of agricultural production in the early 1990s. My dissertation research will focus on the suicides of farmers in the Durg and Mahasamund districts of the central-Indian state of Chhattisgarh in order to examine the means by which suicide is transformed from an exceptional occurrence in peasant life, to entering a culturally available repertoire of action. By examining affects and narratives around suicide deaths among cultivators in Mahasamund and Durg on the one hand, and the ways in which the category of the 'farmers' suicide' is energized as the grounds of new political mobilizations against neoliberalism on the other, my project explores the relationship between conditions of socio-structural marginality, forms of life and political possibility, under conditions of neoliberal precarity.
Transgenic Crops and Transnational Activism: Controversies over Mexican Maize and Canadian Canola
Complicit Disputes: Islamic and Secular Norms of Political Modernity in Niger
Contesting Islam: Wahhabism, Education, and Muslim Identity in Northern Ghana, 1950-2005
Between Cartridges and Capital: Northeast India and the Indo-Afghan Borderlands in the Long Nineteenth Century
The northeastern and northwestern frontiers of British India entered an imperial economic sphere in the mid-nineteenth century. The British colonial government allied with European and primarily British capitalists to bring large tracts of land under intensive cultivation and offered agricultural advances to native landowners. It sanctioned the construction of rail lines to connect these areas to major towns in British India. It also undertook military expeditions against tribal raids and paid off raiders to ensure the safe passage of commodities through mountain passes. Colonial engagement and the imperatives of an emergent capitalism encouraged the mobility of people and commodities along particular routes while foreclosing others. My dissertation examines how this structuring of circulation, brought to bear by developments within the realm of political economy, shaped northeast India and the Indo-Afghan borderlands in the long nineteenth century. I focus on the appropriation of common lands through waste land and forest laws, extraction of agricultural and mineral resources, and their trade—in the wider neighborhood but specifically in the two frontier markets at Sadiya and Peshawar to analyze how these areas came to be incorporated into an imperial economy. Local communities played a crucial role in this process. They resisted the colonial state, sought to escape itineraries of imperial trade by relying on commercial networks that tied them to populations in Southeast and Central Asia respectively, and contributed to capitalist expansion by serving as laborers, porters and brokers. Drawing on waste land and forest laws, settlement records, trade statements, tour diaries of colonial administrators and route maps of railway companies, I explore how the encounter between the colonial state, private capital and local communities flattened the uneven natural enclaves that were northeast India and the Indo-Afghan borderlands and granted them a spatial coherence.
Objects of Veneration: Music, Materiality, and Marketing in the Composer-Cults of Nineteenth-Century Germany and Austria
My dissertation explores the popular veneration of nineteenth-century German and Austrian composers as figures akin to saints. The project's seven case studies focus on material "relics" as encounters with the composer's body, along with the museums that housed relics as sites for these encounters. While the project takes objects and spaces as its focus, I will also draw upon other "sites" of popular reception, such as panegyric poems, memoirs, obituaries, and biographies. An important aspect of my study will be to situate these genres and practices in the growing consumer culture of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, where the Romantic ideal of aesthetic transcendence was transformed into a commodity that combined artistic prestige with personal veneration. I will show that the proliferation of hagiographic biographies, enshrined objects, and mass-produced souvenirs in the nineteenth century were part of a growing tourism industry that promoted "pilgrimage" to birthplaces and gravesites. At its core, this study reveals a critical tension in nineteenth century aesthetics: the seeming incompatibility of the tangible (relics, body, composer) and the intangible (music, genius, the divine). This tension underlies many of the concerns about authenticity and kitsch that dominated nineteenth-century aesthetic debates. My project also contributes to the narrative of canon formation where textual and material objects, pervasive in nineteenth-century popular culture, functioned alongside monumentality and the "work concept" to crystallize the pantheon of (primarily German and Austrian) composers and a core of musical masterworks.
Cooperation in Uncertainty: Migration, Ethnicity, and Community Governance in India's Urban Slums
In the face of common threats, why do some vulnerable communities develop institutions that advance their collective interests and security while others fail? Through a comparative analysis of slum communities in urban India, my dissertation will explain how community governance institutions take shape in contexts of ethnic diversity and patronage politics—conditions that describe many cities in the developing world. Two related puzzles motivate my research. First, the level of basic public goods and services—access to drinking water, sanitation and waste removal, public safety, and schools—varies widely across and within slums in India. What causes these developmental disparities? Second, urban slums are among the most densely populated and ethnically diverse areas in India. Slums diverge, though, in their levels of inter-ethnic cooperation and political organization. This complicates a growing and interdisciplinary literature that posits a negative relationship between ethnic diversity and cooperation. Drawing on variation in inter-ethnic organization across India’s slums, my research will illuminate the mechanisms that impede or facilitate collective action in socially heterogeneous groups. It will also provide insight into the origins and formation of informal political institutions. I propose a research design that combines the strengths of sustained qualitative fieldwork, formal theory, and a larger quantitative analysis.
Democracy, Science, and Everyday Life: Science of Thought and Postwar Japan, 1946-1996
Racial Ambiguity and Citizenship in the Postemancipation British Caribbean and United States
My work uncovers overlooked experiences of racially ambiguous people in the postemancipation British Caribbean and US. Scholars tend to define these societies as failed experiments in racially inclusive citizenship, but in doing so they rely on dichotomies like black/white, free/enslaved, and success/failure. I place racially ambiguous people in their frameworks. Instead of addressing those whose physical traits defied easy categorization--e.g. people of "mixed race" who "passed"--I analyze subjects whose "black" or "white" appearance came into conflict with typical racialized assumptions of normative behavior. For example, "black" Jamaicans who voted in favor of white landowners in local government were accused of disloyalty framed in terms of ambiguous identities: they were "black" men with "white hearts." I discuss four means by which ambiguity was created: transracial adoption, political participation, economic practices, and sexual habits. Subjects include former slaves adopted by white families, and their understanding of national belonging; black Jamaicans accused of acting white and excluded from an imagined exclusively black community for doing so; depictions of African Americans as "prosthetic" citizens in the postbellum US white "political body"; and white sectarian missionaries in the Caribbean and carpetbaggers (Northern officeholders in the US South); both were accused of racially impure sexual tendencies and relationships to property by white supremacists seeking to reclaim citizenship as exclusively white. I trace common vocabularies and experiences of ambiguity in both locations. In particular, I uncover a transnational conservative movement that opposed racial equality, and shared means and objectives of undermining its proponents. In its focus on racial ambiguity, the study adds to discussions about postemancipation societies, racial identity, black nationalism, and white supremacy, revealing more complex and contradictory pictures in each case.
Venues of Transformation: Pentecostal Spaces in Lagos, Nigeria
Dead Dreams and Boys with Pistols: Rethinking Urban Violence in Lyari Town, Pakistan
Within the space of a decade, the township of Lyari transformed from a peaceful neighborhood known to be a bastion of working-class solidarity to an urban war-zone marked by violence between street gangs organized along ethnic lines. This study seeks to answer the question why. Hitherto, anthropological inquiry has either taken an 'objectivist' route that explains urban violence as a by-product of 'larger forces'; or a 'subjectivist' approach that highlights the lived experience of precarity. However, between the analytical binaries of global/local and space/place are people who constantly innovate and reorganize their lives in response to circumstances that are not of their own making. This research project explores a 'third way' between objectivist and subjectivist approaches. It tests the hypothesis that urban violence can be explained through a close study of the evolution of social organization. It further explores the merits of the claim that evolving social forms mediate between local actors and global forces and constitute the optimal analytic scale through which to understand the recurrent and ubiquitous phenomenon of urban violence in our times.
Invoking ‘Azaadi’: Practices of Freedom in Kashmir
The movement for freedom from Indian rule, articulated as azaadi - the Urdu word for freedom - was launched in India-administered Kashmir in 1989, resulting in more than a decade of armed militancy and a brutal reprisal by the Indian state. At present, Hurriyat (G), the Islamist faction of the political front of Kashmiri separatists based in the capital city of Srinagar heads the freedom movement.While the demand for freedom from India is made transnationally intelligible as the political right to self-determination, in local publics and media it is also staked to the formation of a specifically Muslim political community towards which individual members must fulfill their ethical obligations. As the locus of ordinary social and economic activity, the marketplace becomes an important site for the implementation of separatist civil disobedience and protest activities, but the resultant loses suffered by the Kashmiri Muslim mercantile community amounts to billions of dollars. My research consists of an ethnographic focus on Kashmiri Muslim merchants in Srinagar to study the tensions they experience between the demands made on them in the struggle for political self-determination and the freedom to pursue their individual moral responsibilities as Muslims towards their families, livelihoods and religious duties.With this approach in mind, my research aims to shift the debate on the Kashmiri freedom movement from deliberative discourses and political rhetoric to the realm of everyday practices. I observe these practices as they arise within the ethos and sociality of the urban marketplace as a locally embedded public and a place of congregation and exchange. Finally, I take the merchant as the locus of a distinct Muslim ethico-political subjectivity, committed to both success in worldly pursuits and individual requital to God in the afterlife, in making inquiries into the exercise of freedom in Kashmir.
Psycho-pharmaceuticals and Traditional Medicine in Acholiland: Emerging Forms of Therapeutic Citizenship In Postwar Northern Uganda
Today in the Acholi region of post-conflict northern Uganda, international peacebuilding initiatives intersect with national health reforms to make generic psychotropic drugs, like benzodiazepine—an anti-anxiety drug, an important part of the care that government hospitals and NGOs provide for one of the highest rates of “war-related” mental illness recorded in clinical history. The recent influx of psychotropic drugs raises questions about why and how these medicines are made available to affected Acholi as well as how different Acholi engage these biopsychiatric technologies as they grow to complement and compete with other popular forms of care. Underscoring the recent extension of these drugs within new trends of humanitarianism and understandings of citizenship, my project will examine contemporary encounters between Acholi and psychiatric medicines and how they unfold within larger assemblages of medical expertise, humanitarian aid, and traditional Acholi healing practices. Situated in Gulu district, the launch site of several major international mental health initiatives, I will investigate the social, political, and medical networks that constitute the region’s mental health care, focusing on how psychotropic drugs circulate through these networks, and how they shape the strategies by which different actors deal with the mental health crisis there. At stake is the question of the kind of person and community that is reconstituted through the heterogeneous practices and resources that an international concern for Acholi mental health assembles, and the relationship that is emerging between Acholi, the state, and NGO agencies, as psychotropic drugs come to mediate efforts to repair the social and psychic life of Acholi society.
Jungle Cities: The Making of Urban Space in Twentieth-Century Amazonia
The Amazon Rainforest became an urban region during the twentieth century. In Brazil and Peru, more than seventy percent of the almost 26 million inhabitants of Amazonia live in cities. My dissertation examines the environmental history of Manaus (Brazil) and Iquitos (Peru), the two largest and most important cities of Amazonia during the twentieth century. Drawing from local, regional and national archives, as well as from select interviews, I explore the relationships between the environmental conditions of the rainforest and the social and spatial inequalities that characterize Latin American cities. I analyze critical junctures marked by the confluence of four key urban environmental issues: 1) the history of land ownership, 2) the history of water management, 3) the history of public health, and 4) the history of crime. Massive urbanization radically transformed Amazonia by reshaping everyday life, local social structures, and human interactions with the environment. In the large popular neighborhoods at the edges of Iquitos and Manaus, urban informality created distinct social landscapes that challenged prevailing dichotomies between city and rainforest, between urban and rural, and between built environments and nature. Meanwhile, developmental policies and contingent political factors took Manaus and Iquitos to different paths. Ultimately, convergences of popular agency, environmental conditions, and the forces of state formation and capital shaped the making of urban spaces in Amazonia. Neither cultural nor environmental determinisms explain the divergences between the two jungle cities. Both comparative and transnational, the history of the urbanization of the planet's largest tropical rainforest speaks to larger debates about of the complex, changing, and multidirectional relationships between humans and their environments.
Circulating Freedoms: Citizenship Rights and Political Activism around the Gulf of Mexico, 1868-1898
During the Cuban War of Independence (1868-1898) and U.S. Reconstruction, U.S. and Cuban Afro-descendants transformed regional commercial networks and port cities on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which had traditionally sustained Caribbean plantation economies, into an infrastructure for spreading radical interpretations of freedom and citizenship after slavery. My dissertation project examines the circulation of people and vernacular ideologies of race and citizenship between two societies transitioning from slavery to freedom. I hypothesize that, through labor unions, associational politics, and journalism, geographically mobile U.S. Reconstruction-era activists, along with Cuban journalists, artisans, union leaders, and anti-Spanish conspirators, collaboratively defined citizenship as membership of both national and trans-American communities of political belonging. As an idiosyncratic crossroads of French, Spanish, British, and U.S. political traditions and racial ideologies that mid-nineteenth century activist Afro-descendants drew upon, the Gulf’s revolutionary networks offer a case-study through which we can explore (1) the dynamic relationship between vernacular and formal-constitutional meanings of citizenship rights after the abolition of slavery; (2) the circulation of ideologies of rights across legal jurisdictions and political and cultural boundaries; and (3) the emergence of visions of diaspora in the Western Hemisphere. My research draws on rich, but underutilized primary sources located in U.S., Spanish, and Cuban archives, including notarial records, census data, embarkation and disembarkation records, journalism, personal and official correspondence, minutes of association meetings, consular reports, and judicial cases brought against alleged conspirators against the Spanish Crown.
Migration and the City: Early-seventeenth century urban history in Granada, Valencia, Rabat, and Tetouan
On a Biplane: Aerial Photography and the Politics of Space in the Middle East (1895-1950)
My dissertation examines the history of aerial photography in the Middle East through the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of independent states in Syria under French mandate, Iraq under British rule and in the Republic of Turkey (1895-1950.) First, my project explores the social construction of this technology at a time when, upon the fall of the empire, aerial mapping became instrumental to the charting of former Ottoman territories. There, aerial photographs were able to capture the coexistence of sedentary, semi-nomadic and nomadic communities with an unprecedented clarity and the development of aerial mapping disseminated conceptions of human geography that enabled the classification this diverse population along sectarian lines. Therefore, I examine the history of aerial photography as the development of not only a visual device but also a historically contingent way of seeing that shaped the Middle East at this critical juncture in time. Second, my research follows aerial mapping in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey in order to trace the deployment of this new visual practice in policies aimed at obliterating Ottoman institutions. In Syria and Iraq under colonial occupation, I question whether these policies destroyed important contact-zones that were characteristic of the Ottoman Empire by confining various populations within designated geographical areas. Additionally, I examine the modernization of Ottoman cartography by the Republic of Turkey in light of nationalist narratives that embraced notions of human geography in order to classify the Anatolian population into new categories such as 'Turks' and 'mountain Turks.' By tracing connections among aerial photography, human geography, and the dismantling of the Ottoman polity, my dissertation unravels the technological and scientific history of sectarianism as way to shed new light on the transition from empire to nation-state in the Middle East.
Reconstruction and Dispossession: Landed Relations in Post-war Sri Lanka
In May 2009, a three decade long civil war came to an end in Sri Lanka. Its war-torn areas are now under reconstruction; a process led by state infrastructure development. While the livelihoods of rural people of Jaffna, the war-torn, predominantly Tamil district in northern Sri Lanka, are mainly from agriculture, foreign remittances and the state sector also contribute to their household incomes. How is reconstruction shaping their relations to agriculture as a livelihood and land as a productive asset? What are the changes to labor, and how is that impacting class differentiation and caste stratification? This study will use both quantitative and qualitative approaches to analyze the sustainability of rural livelihoods in Jaffna. Through an analysis of rural livelihoods in war-torn Sri Lanka, it will address the dispossession of the peasantry, common to so many places in the global South going through armed conflicts, migration and rapid global integration.
Echoes of Legal Pasts: Landed Property Relations in the Negev, 1858-1948
My dissertation research aims to explore the interplay of geography and law in a relational way in the Negev, now part of Israel, under two different regimes: the late Ottoman, since the enactment of the Ottoman Land Code (1858-1917), and the British Mandatory (1917-1948). Looking at both the social and the material dimensions of geography and law, this project examines the frequent reconfigurations of land relations in the Negev over the century preceding 1948 and how land rights were defined and reshaped within a unique legal order that evolved through the dynamic interaction of state law and tribal customary law. This dynamic relationship was influenced by fluctuating notions of modernization, sovereignty, authority, as well as ongoing capitalist development, all of which impacted the land regime and had significant social repercussions. Focusing on this region's Bedouin-Arab population, my project draws on Ottoman, British, and Israeli archives, personal papers and interviews, to explore the system and evolution of landed property relations, in the context of a broader analysis of state-society relationships. My dissertation will examine how the shifting understandings and categorizations of specific legal, spatial, and social realities by governmental and social actors (including courts, judges, regional governors, tax and land registry staff, inhabitants, and local leaders) shaped the geographic and legal order in the Negev. My project's focus on land relations in the Negev since 1858 provides an excellent angle from which to investigate the legal orders of imperial, colonial, and post colonial regimes in this particular region, and challenges the neat distinctions often drawn between each political order. Further, the research challenges scholarly tendency to treat the legal history of modern Palestine as if each regime brought with it an entirely distinct legal system.
Authoritative Scriptural Interpreters: An Anthropology of Islam
Shortly after the collapse of the central government in Somalia in 1990, there began to sprout up clan-based Islamic or Shari'a courts in southern Somalia. The courts began a process of centralization which culminated in the formation of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2004. By 2006 the ICU was in control of all of southern and central Somalia. An Ethiopian invasion of the country in December 2006 resulted in the disintegration of the ICU as a governing entity and a unified political movement. The Shari'a courts did not only represent different clans and sub-clans but also distinct schools of thought and theological positions within Islam in Somali society. This project will approach the emergence of the courts and their unification as an entry point to conduct a historical and ethnographic study of how local Islamic practice and orthodoxy is established. It will do so by focusing on the role and position of authoritative scriptural interpreters in the formation of the Shari'a courts and in today's Somali society. How do kinship and politico-economic conditions influence who and how scriptures are interpreted, understood, and lived? This project will provide the first in-depth and explicitly theoretical attempt to understand how local cultural and political factors interact with foundational Islamic scriptures in the establishment of local Islamic practice and orthodoxy. In so doing this project will engage with and contribute to the general literature on political Islam and specifically the anthropological debate on how to conceptualize in a single analytical framework the relationship between Islam as a universal religion and the diversity of specific local Islamic practices.
The Role of Legal Maxims in the Development of Islamic Law
The Origins of the Camp: Violence and Humanity in the British Empire, 1830-1902
Usually associated with the totalitarian regimes of the mid-twentieth century, concentration camps first appeared during the South African War (1899-1902). My project traces the development of the concentration camp in British imperial practice. By exploring the affinities between South African camps and earlier precursors, my project examines the evolving practices of encampment and the cultural mentalities that informed them. Metropolitan and colonial workhouses, military cantonments, arrangements for the control of infectious disease, and relief camps used to manage famine victims in late 19th-century South Asia provided an archive of imperial practice that informed the creation and management of camps in the South African War and beyond. In addition to tracing an evolving set of practices and policies, I argue that as a culturally embedded phenomenon, camps were the outcome of shifting mentalities of warfare, discipline, and the spatial organization of modern masses. Camps are now a ubiquitous feature of our contemporary geopolitical landscape. By locating the origins of the camp in liberal empire, I believe we can account for the continuing afterlife of the camp even after the demise of totalitarianism. My hypothesis is that British imperial agents were able to imprint the camp with a humanitarian pedigree that was mobilized to justify repressive measures throughout the twentieth century.