London Latin American Anthropology Seminar | Just another SAS blogs site


Autumn 2020

All seminars are held online via Zoom.

All are welcome and attendance is free. Registration is required to access the event link.

Thursday 29 October 2020

Opening session by Arturo Escobar.

Against Terricide: Pluriversal Politics and Transition Design

This talk discusses five axes or principles of redesign/ing of current anthropocentric systems towards pluriversal transitions, stemming from current Latin American theoretical and political debates. These principles concern the re-communalization of social life; the re-localization of productive activities; the strengthening of autonomy; the depatriarchalization and de-racialization of social relations; and the re-earthing of socio-technical and urban systems.  The principles are seen as a response to the imperatives of selective de-globalization and of working against terricide, clearer now than ever with the Covid-19 crisis.

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Thursday 12 November 2020

Asylum on the basis of Sexual Orientation: An Anthropological Study in the City of São Paulo, Brazil

Vítor Lopes Andrade, University of Sussex

Since 2002, Brazil has been granting refugee status for foreign people with the founded fear of being persecuted in their countries of origin because of their sexual orientation. The general objective of this research was to analyse the social networks established/activated by these non-heterosexual asylum claimants and refugees once they were in the city of São Paulo, that is, to delineate a morphology of the social networks constituted by them. An ethnographic field research was carried out in the city of São Paulo in 2016, which was possible through the volunteering in a non-governmental organisation. The results showed that the non-heterosexuality is disclosed only in strategic moments, such as when it is the only reason to justify the asylum claim. The fear of being persecuted because of one’s sexual orientation by people from the same country of origin and other asylum claimants persists in Brazil, which results in the continuing hiding of non-heterosexual asylum claimants and refugees’ sexualities. These asylum claimants and refugees do not constitute a social network among themselves and do not take part in the national LGBT support networks in São Paulo. In this sense, it is possible to conclude that they find a more favourable and receptive atmosphere for their sexual orientations in Brazil compared to their countries of origin, but they keep on living through the logic of silence and invisibility.

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Thursday 26 November 2020

Place and Context in the Energy Lifecycle: A Critical Engagement with Energy Justice

Adolfo Mejía Montero, University of Edinburgh

Academic debates around energy have been traditionally dominated by the natural sciences and techno-economic approaches, even if the world of energy involves fundamental questions that only social sciences are equipped to answer. Against this background, over the last few decades a phenomenon of social sciences integration to energy debates has been developing providing thriving scholarship like Energy Justice, which acknowledges the socio-technical nature of energy systems. Since the term was coined ten years ago energy justice scholars have developed a methodological and theoretical toolkit to identify, discuss and provide potential solutions to (in)justices embedded in energy systems around the world. This paper critically engages with the ‘lifecycle framework’ which promises to enable whole system interpretations related to the potential synergies and manifestations of injustice, existing at stages from resource extraction to waste. To do so, it draws upon ethnographic fieldwork around the development of utility-scale wind power projects undertaken in Oaxaca, Mexico, between 2017 and 2019, where a number of regional peasant and indigenous groups have led sustained resistance to utility-scale wind power on the basis of environmental, political and socio-economic impacts. The paper demonstrates how pre-existent and embedded cultural and environmental relationships determine the way in which energy justice is understood and constructed. In doing so, it highlights the existent tension in energy justice by corroborating the usefulness of the framework while urging caution towards universalistic and staged approaches to assessing injustices in energy systems.

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Thursday 10 December 2020

Methodological Challenges of Unmaking Invisible Religious-Ethno-Racial Groups in Mestizo Settings

Jessica A. Fernández de Lara Harada, University of Cambridge.

At least since the 1950s, and especially in the aftermath of the EZLN uprising in the 1990s, a growing body of research has developed theoretical and empirical insights into the operation of race and racism in Mexico. However, less attention has been paid to the methodological, practical, ethical and political challenges of conducting research in these often contentious fields. The discourse of ‘mestizaje’ claims that the mixing of Indigenous and Spanish-Americans is the foundational basis of the national and racial identity of Mexicans. Moving beyond this binary schema, recent work has examined the presence of Afro-Mexicans, and alongside this important shift, race and migration studies have introduced the study of new subjects situated outside the paradigm of mestizaje, including Middle Easterns and Asians. Asian migration to the Americas can be traced back to the 16th century, while Japanese migrants became more visible in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. Despite this, the experiences of Mexican Japanese remain mostly confined within individuals, families and their own communities. Drawing on twelve months of ethnographic research with five generations of Mexican Japanese, in this seminar, I share my reflections on attempting to reconstruct five pivotal events that connect their individual experiences with the historical configuration of mestizaje, the changing patterns of race relations, and the negotiation of group boundaries in Mexico. To do this, the seminar explores the dynamic relationship between ancestry, race and class to understand identity construction. It discusses the challenges of defining race, recruiting and selecting participants, and thinking about how racialization and ethnic and racial categorizations are made across time and locations. It also explores the epistemic reflexivity required to conduct research across and within difference to avoid reifying race, and the potentialities and limitations of being positioned as insider and outsider, and establishing collaborative practices. Finally, I present the model of family interactions, or intergenerational attachments, that I developed during my fieldwork. This model facilitates the weaving of individual and collective memories into an interpretative framework that enables participants to make sense, together, of events that we are compelled to forget and are only ever spoken of within families, if at all.

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Winter 2021

Thursday 4 February 2021

“There’s No Use for an Empty Database”: Techno-Politics of Brazil’s Forensic DNA Database and Its Promises

Vitor Richter, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul

Since 2009, following a collaborative agreement with the United States` Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Brazil has increased its efforts to introduce forensic DNA databases in its techno-legal scenery. In 2012, a federal law regulating the use of this technology was approved in a rather fast legislative process and Brazil officially joined the large and expanding group of countries that store individuals’ genetic information in a national database for criminal investigations. It became the largest forensic DNA database network outside the United States. The introduction of this biotechnology, however, has been raising important legal, ethical, and practical challenges. Work around crime scene preservation, the mandatory sampling of DNA and its effects on prisoners’ bodily integrity and rights, genetic privacy and the right to refuse self-incrimination are among the main debates that are emerging from the early use of DNA databases for criminal investigations in the country. This paper will describe how Brazilian forensic geneticists face the practical challenges that emerge from relations with other institutions and infrastructures, such as the criminal justice system, police practices and the Brazilian carceral infrastructure, when the time to sample subjects’ DNA inside prison facilities and at crime scenes arrives. I will also address proposals to expand the criteria for inclusion of genetic profiles in the databases recently expressed in a bill written by the former Ministry of Justice, Sergio Moro, in an effort to think about the techno-politics of forensic genetic databasing, the grammar of punitivism, and rising authoritarianism in Brazilian politics.  

Book your place here.

Thursday 18 February 2021

River’s Rights – People’s Rights? Urban Socio-Ecological Conflicts in Asunción, Paraguay 

Facundo Daniel Rivarola Ghiglione, Graduate Institute Geneva

In recent years, there has been an emerging debate about the “right of nature” and “nature’s jurisprudence.” From rivers to forests to animals, holders or claimants of rights are no longer presumed to be exclusively “human.” This research project brings together recent scholarly engagement with more-than-human approaches, post-colonial critiques, and urban political ecology. It centers on the case of the Paraguayan river and marginalized indigenous/mestizocommunities’ struggle over access to urban spaces in the city of Asunción. State-run new urban redevelopment projects deem that floodplains areas of the city “rightfully” belong to the river and that marginalized communities living there should move elsewhere. However, these areas, known as Bañados, were never empty floodplains. Indigenous, mestizos and rural migrant communities have lived there since colonial times, forming a historically rooted socio-ecology with the neighboring river. This project aims to understand the way(s) in which the recent urban redevelopment projects in Asunción create a socio-ecological conflict between what is understood as the “rights” of the river (to space, to flow, to move, to “inhabit,” etc.) as opposed to that of marginalized urban communities. It combines ethnographic methods in different locations of Asunción city and state institutions with historical archival research. In this way, the research aims to advance understandings about novel forms of governing people and the “environment” in an era marked both by climate change and uncertainty as well as greater social and political inequalities.

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Thursday 4 March 2021

Trajectories to Understand the Absence: An Ethnographic Reading of the Materiality and Intersubjectivity of the [No]Body among Missing Persons’ Families in Peruvian Andes

Mario R. Cepeda-Caceres, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú

The internal armed conflict 1980-2000, greatest episode of violence in the republican history of Peru. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (or CVR for its initials in Spanish), more than 69 000 Peruvians were murdered during those decades. Currently, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has managed to establish that the number of missing persons due to the war rises to 20 511. In this scenario, based on the ethnographic work carried out with the National Association of Relatives of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru (or ANFASEP in Spanish) —main Peruvian victims’ association—, this presentation will analyze how the violent experience of disappearance acts on the missing subjects, as well as on those who remain alive and undertake the search for their love ones. Two trajectories are identified through which disappearance passes between subjects: the materiality, linked to the body, and the intersubjectivity, linked to what will be called “the non-body”. The presentation will explore how disappearance annuls the body and, therefore, the ties of daily life and certainty between the subjects; while in the non-body realm, disappearance does not succeed in annulling the subjects as social beings despite ending their physical existence. Through each of the trajectories family member who seek will implement techniques in order to respond to the uncertainty of the loss of the body, on one hand, and to be able to build alternative forms of relationship with the non-body, on the other. The presentation will conclude that, based on these trajectories, ANFASEP’s members have managed to position themselves as political subjects, building citizenship from the margins of the State based.

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Thursday 18 March 2021

“Evo Only Likes Señoritas”: Humanness at Bolivia’s National Psychiatric Hospital         

Carolina Borda, WWB Foundation, Colombia

Based on an ethnographic research, this paper focuses on the influence that ethnic, gender and class classification schemes have on the intertwining of psychiatric and indigenous discourses around the trajectories of indigenous and peasant women hospitalised at the Chronic Unit of Bolivia’s National Psychiatric Hospital.

I revise Goffman’s concept of the “moral career of a patient” to incorporate ethnic, class, and gender dynamics taking place prior to and outside psychiatric hospitalisation, and explain why they are an integral part of such a career, although overlooked by one of the founders of sociological studies of mental health institutions. Through ethnographic and archival data produced at the Female Chronic Unit of Bolivia’s National Psychiatric Hospital (INPGP), I examine hospitalisation as an option (and a place for treatment) whose realisation depends on power relations that exceed the hospital, which can be located within the communities of origin of female inmates, who in general are of rural origin.

Perspectives such as Basaglia’s study of the “psychiatric contradiction” and Foucault’s examination of discourses on mental illness and madness are brought into the analysis to study how, from hospitalisation to diagnosis and treatment, the moral career of the patient reflects ethnic, class, and gender hierarchies that are valid outside the institution. The institution reflects the outside but is also a place of impunity in which more violent ways of embodying such hierarchies are put into practice. Allopathic and non-allopathic medical diagnoses also have an influence on the place that a person, in this case an inmate, will occupy within the social structure of the hospital. However, rooted in the everyday life of the institution (whose power structure is analysed within the chapter) and in the history of the country, the institutional hierarchy is challenged by different subjects, which in turn helps to relieve tensions but without changing drastically the order of things. Indigenous and peasant people, when becoming inmates, are still considered as dirty, polluted, potentially violent, but also remain as subjects who are represented as feminised subjects in need of guidance and correction. Peasant and indigenous women are placed at the bottom of the hierarchy, and are the focus of even more drastic forms of treatment that begin by dispossessing them of their traditional clothes and extend to allowing practices of sexual violence against them to take place within and outside the hospital.

Book your place here.