During my fieldwork in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2013–14, I witnessed the unfolding of the current Ebola crisis that is so heavily affecting the region today. I saw how the regulations put in place to stop the spread of the virus impacted livelihoods, restricting transport and closing businesses, schools, and borders. It is no exaggeration to say that the Ebola outbreak affected every single person I know there. I experienced an unsettling atmosphere of uncertainty: personal plans were put on hold as each day became a struggle to make ends meet. And then there were the fears about Ebola itself, which intensified as the virus spread to the capital. Broadly speaking, people I know became more reliant on those “close” to them in the wake of the Ebola crisis, particularly family members, the providers of financial and practical support and care. However, this approach to support and care runs the risk of transmitting the virus, transforming an intimate relative or friend into an “enemy.” In this piece, I suggest that the Ebola crisis exposes deep-rooted tensions surrounding intimacy in Sierra Leone. Experiences and understandings of the “enemy within,” along with broader notions of transformation, in turn color responses and attitudes toward the crisis itself.
In fall 2013, an alleged spy was put behind bars in the Qena governorate in Upper Egypt. The accused’s name was Menes, and his summer residency was Hungary. Menes was caught by a villager who spotted a suspicious device on Menes’s body, and he was put in custody until he was released by an attorney. In 2013, several foreigners were arrested in Egypt on similar accusations. Perhaps the most reported story is that of three Al Jazeera journalists accused of spreading lies and supporting terrorism. They were recently sentenced to between seven and ten years in prison (Al Jazeera 2014).
With the rise of the Islamic State—ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah (“Da’ish”)—senior figures in the American and British establishment reportedly considered working with the Syrian government to “fight this threat.” As of 23 September 2014, such debates are academic—US bombs are falling over Aleppo and Raqqa. It’s unknown if the regime clandestinely offered its approval; what we do know is that—aside from stressing the need to respect international law, to cooperate with the Iraqi government, and to protect the lives of civilians—no official condemnation has been issued.1 In one year we’ve transitioned from debating strikes against the Syrian regime to a Western-led alliance now bombing the regime’s enemies. To some this might appear surprising, but for many opposition fighters engaged in the revolutionary struggle, these events were a long time coming. This post2 tries to explain why.
Blood and Fire is a volume of the “Dislocations” series published by Berghahn Books. The immense dislocations and suffering caused by neo-liberal globalization, the retreat of the welfare state in the last decades of the twentieth century, and the heightened military imperialism at the turn of the twenty-first century have raised urgent questions about the temporal and spatial dimensions of power. Through stimulating critical perspectives and new and cross-disciplinary frameworks, which reflect recent innovations in the social and human sciences, this series provides a forum for politically engaged, ethnographically informed, and theoretically incisive responses.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in South Wales held 4–5 September 2014 was heavily mediatized in member countries as a “wake-up call” for this military alliance, for Europe, and even for Western civilization. Violence in eastern Ukraine, for which Vladimir Putin alone was allegedly responsible, was said to be catapulting the world back to the polarization of the Cold War. Yet when one looked more closely, Putin’s propaganda was restrained in comparison with the inflammatory rhetoric of the retiring NATO secretary general and the hyperbole of the US State Department and numerous European politicians with only one thing in common: They knew little or nothing about the history of Ukraine.
How to govern the “global land rush”1 was at issue in the final negotiations on the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems at the Committee for World Food Security (CFS) in Rome, held 4–8 August 2014. For a week, a policy drama unfolded. On stage were private sector organizations, clearly supported by the United States, Canada, and Russia, that wanted to prevent any regulation of investments. Opposing them were Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)—supported by Brazil, Ecuador, and, to some extent, Indonesia and Sudan—that wanted commitments from the governments to assume their obligations to govern investments in such a way as to realize the right to food as a national priority.
This brief note suggests some directions that a rising Marxist anthropology might consider taking. Sandy Smith-Nonini and Donald Nonini have done a wonderful job explaining why Carbon Democracy is a “brilliant” book that is “essential reading for anthropologists” (2014), especially for those concerned with the political economy of fossil energy. Elsewhere, I have reviewed Timothy Mitchell’s book (Reyna 2012) and offered some suggestions concerning an approach to the anthropology of hydrocarbons (Behrends, Reyna, and Schlee 2011), so I do not propose to discuss here either the substance of Mitchell’s argument or the emerging literature on the anthropology of oil. Rather, I will explore two implications of Mitchell’s work for the very nature of the anthropological project. These implications deal with bloat (conceptual) and tents (pup and big top).
A central, perhaps the central, question in political economy today is how forces of democracy, including organized labor and its allies, can regain a degree of control over corporate capitalism in the neoliberal era. Equally pressing (and related) is our need to confront climate change and replace fossil fuels with alternative energy resources. While the silos of academia have splintered political economy from studies of energy, the beauty of Timothy Mitchell’s Carbon Democracy lies in his eloquent and comprehensive study that merges these two essential aspects of industrial production and modern society into an integrated analysis.
Over the last few years I have found myself talking to people who have experienced radical displacements in their lives as a result both of economic distress and of political disturbance. They have been obliged to “move on,” to “move out,” to “move away.” Yet these are not really narratives that help put order into the world we live in. They are less to do with narrative, which is a rather literary way of believing the world can be settled for us. They’re more to do with the simultaneous solidity and the elusiveness of the role place plays in these people’s lives—even when they are not there. And they’re about the slipperiness of a time-past that sometimes deceives people that it can help deal with the present, and a time-future that keeps jumping about and producing either perpetual anxiety or, simply, resignation.
It is hard to make comments on the contemporary world without simultaneously prospecting the future. These endeavors are entangled. Under strong momentary impressions, we may believe we are facing pressing issues, but what seems so important today may quietly disappear into oblivion. At best, it is possible to scan the likelihood of various unfoldings in tune with identified trends and in analogy with previous historical examples.