Anthropologist, ethnographer, writer? What am I? I spent seven years as a grad student (two in coursework, two and a half in both fieldwork and writing) and two as a postdoc. Only lately have I begun to identify as a writer. When did this happen? In the morning, I think.
Nobody tells an ethnographer beginning fieldwork that when their work is published it will already be a part of history. Aldo Civico conducted interviews with the foot soldiers and leaders of paramilitary groups in Colombia between 2003 and 2008; the University of California Press published The Para-State: An Ethnography of Death Squads in Colombia in 2016. His book is a history of the recent past, when Colombian paramilitaries were at the apex of their power, their demobilization process with the central government was ongoing, and the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the guerrilla in Havana seemed fantastical. The Para-State treads a careful path through this labyrinthine history of death squads intertwined with the Colombian state and its elites. The result makes for excellent, if disturbing, reading. Excellent and disturbing precisely because Civico takes a path less traveled by observers of Colombia’s conflict. Civico builds on life histories as told by paramilitaries themselves; the focus is not the victim, but the victimizer: the paramilitary supporter, commander, and now dead-eyed young men dressed in new clothes and shiny sneakers who perpetrated killings, conducted massacres, and sowed terror in the name of order.
A specter haunts Latin America—the specter of mining. As multinational mining corporations have spread across the continent, their grasp has been tightest in the Peruvian Andes where they have sparked dozens of anti-mining protests. Fabiana Li, an anthropologist at the University of Manitoba, provides a timely study of mining conflicts in Peru in her new book Unearthing Conflict.
One of the pleasures of editing Nokoko is the breadth of submissions. One of the challenges is editing a special issue amidst such plenty, while remaining committed to publishing all cogent contributions. This issue brings together three articles for a special issue on the theme of the African diaspora conceived broadly: cutting edge work which addresses the Somali community in Toronto, the meta-physics of migration found in transnational African cinema, and the displacement of black communities in the Pacific northwest of Colombia. Bookending these are four articles, which demonstrate our breadth: a reading of oral poetry as text and a thick description of a festival as theatre, both from Nigeria; a critique of closed caption television and policing in Johannesburg; and, from a promising new scholar, a review of the colonial legacies which lead to the genocidal violence in Rwanda.
Until June 2016, the plan was to move into my parents’ unfinished basement with my wife and our young son. It was a bad plan, for obvious reasons. But it was the only plan we had. I felt defeated by three years on the ‘academic job market’, and I was broke. A SSHRC postdoc in the US when the Canadian dollar fell to 68 cents had proven to be a financial disaster. I told myself that 2016 would be my last year looking for an academic job.
As gold prices rose between 2002 and 2012, Afro-descendant gold miners confronted illegal outsider-owned gold mines on their land in Colombia’s northwest Chocó department. This article examines why these Afro-descendant miners, who used hand tools and techniques, often invited the outsiders, who used heavy machinery and mercury, to work their mines. Their reasons included: familial pressure over land, profit sharing, high prices, access to gold, and dangerous working conditions. The decision to invite in the outsiders complicates the conventional narrative of a coercive relationship between outsiders and Afro-descendant communities, even as the relationship produced worse than expected outcomes for both sides.
This co-written Editorial introduces the fourth issue of Nokoko, which explores the themes, challenges, and opportunities in women’s rights and gender equality in Africa. The volume celebrates African women’s activism and struggles for their rights and social space to contribute to the continent’s development and democratization processes. Along with a supportive development community, women’s activism has resulted in notable progress in gender-responsive policy formulation, legislative reforms, and program and project design. The activism has also led to greater participation in political and decision-making processes throughout the continent. Still, widespread poverty, conflicts and wars, environmental degradation, drought, food insecurity, sexual violence, human trafficking, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic continue to disproportionately hurt rural women and the urban poor. The global financial crisis has exacerbated these problems. Moreover, African women themselves do not have a uniform outlook on gender relations, pa- triarchy, and ways to improve their situation. Although there has been a long-standing focus to “help women” by a wider-range of social forces in colonial and postcolonial Africa (e.g., missionaries, government officials, political parties, women’s groups, feminists, and international development agencies), such efforts sometimes cause grief and dislocation, rather than benefits for different groups of women.
This co-written article explores the pivotal period (1946–1953) in Colombian history when more than 200,000 mostly rural Colombians lost their lives and hundreds of thousands more were displaced. Based on a review of a variety of readings of La Violencia in Colombia, the article shows how stories of the body offer a useful lens through which to examine violence and the formation of citizenship at the dawn of modern Colombia. We document how cruelty was used as an object of public display and how terror became an instrument to control communities. From this, our article argues that instead of seeing individuals capable of self-regulation, Colombia’s elite saw a pueblo in need of physical and cultural improvement.
This article looks at the contradiction between citizenship and violence at two historical junctures in the Colombian department of Antioquia and its capital Medellín. It shows how narratives of a racialized and spatialized regional identity of antioqueñidad drove government interventions aimed at moral and physical improvement during La Violencia (1948–1958). In this period, residents of Antioquia saw themselves in ways that emphasized whiteness, capitalism, hard work, and civilization. In contrast, they saw residents of outlying areas as deviant, lazy, and un-civilizable. The article compares this time with the relationship between recent social programs in Medellín and contemporary paramilitary control of the city. In looking at the interactions of violence and social programs at two moments, the article shows the links between liberal governance projects, citizenship, and violence.
From the displacement of millions of people in Colombia as a consequence of an ongoing conflict, this article uses Hannah Arendt’s concept of statelessness to argue that the rights expressed in international law contradict the rights the Colombian state is willing and able to protect.