Last week I returned from my annual trip to the American Anthropological Association meeting in Montreal. All five anthropologists from our department were there, and Gareth and I thought it would be a great idea to give you a brief overview of the papers and sessions in which each of us participated. So without further ado …
With my friend and graduate school colleague Brian Burke (University of Arizona), I co-organized a panel entitled “Purposive Economies in the Neoliberal Era.” Brian and I crossed paths in Mexico a year ago, and we ended up having a fairly interesting conversation about some of the parallels between our two field sites. Brian works in Medellin, Colombia, where he studies the barter markets and economies that have arisen amongst the disenfranchised denizens of that city. He’s interested in how people go about organizing this form of non-capitalist trade, as well as how they conceptualize that activity in relation to more dominant forms of exchange.
As you know, I’ve been working in Qatar over the past years, and one of the things I’ve focused on is the role of government employment in citizens’ lifeways. The paper I presented was entitled “Lazy Arabs: A Reconceptualization of the Rentier Economy.” In this paper, I argue that the often-criticized public sector in the Gulf Arab States strategically insulates citizen-employees from the grinding logic of the private sector, and thereby allows them to maintain customary social relations and cultural practices. I argue that it’s a purposive non-capitalist sector maintained by the state, and that public sector employment is essential to authoritarian legitimacy in the region.
The other papers in our panel pursued similar quarry: Benjamin Jewell (Arizona State) presented a paper that explored urban gardening in Detroit; Karen Rignall (Kentucky) contributed an excellent paper concerning land tenure in Morocco; and Boone Shear (UMass) analyzed community-level reactions to the Green Economy in Massachusetts. Jane Gibson (Kansas) graciously served as our discussant, and at this point we’re trying to polish the papers for submission to an academic journal.