American Anthropologist 2003

Cliggett, Lisa. Gift Remitting and Alliance Building in Zambian Modernity: Old Answers to Modern Problems. American Anthropologist September, 2003 Vol. 105(3):543-552.

In this article, Cliggett attempts to show that in the precarious economy of modern Zambia, where the falling price of copper has lead to financial insecurity for urban migrants, Zambians use gift remitting to kin in their rural home villages as an “insurance policy”(548). Cliggett asserts gift giving nurtures ties to their home village so that they will be welcomed back again. While this is one reason for Zambian gifting, I believe it is not the main reason. The examples given by Cliggett suggest that family ties and tradition are larger motivators for gift giving than simply to secure a place to retire.

To begin, Cliggett points out that Zambian gift remitting is different from remitting in other countries because Zambian gifts are small and do not supplement the incomes of those in the home village significantly. Migrants from villages often have little income to spare and some choose not to remit at all, even if financially able. Because of this, Cliggett asserts that any gifting, however small, must have another purpose. She recounts stories of migrant retirees who were turned away when they tried to return to their home villages after years without contact to illustrate how remitting maintains ties and nurtures relationships with relatives.

Cliggett gives several specific examples of how migrants maintain ties with their home villages. In two of the stories, the migrant families scarcely earn enough to make it through the month, but both find ways to host visitors from their home villages or make the expensive journey home themselves. In one case, the wife spends some of the family’s limited income by visiting the doctor to find out why she is not pregnant. Cliggett states that this is a problem because her family expects her to carry on the familial line. Similarly, the other family undertook the expensive journey home for the wife to have her first child according to tradition. Also, many of the visitors that this family hosted were relatives from other villages meaning that ties to their home village were not directly affected. These examples suggest that family and tradition are more important to these migrants than simply having a secured place to retire.

Cliggett points out that gift remitting in Zambia must be done in person or by proxy. This fact along with examples given by Cliggett show that what is most important is not the gift itself, but the act of giving and the fact that the migrant still shows interest in the village. I believe that Cliggett has not supported her point fully that Zambian gift remitting is undertaken simply to secure a place to retire. From her examples, gift remitting is only a part of the tradition in Zambia that maintain links between migrants and their home villages. It is these traditions and the strong connections to family that compel migrants to give when they scarcely have enough for themselves.

CLARITY: 2
MYA STOREY Valdosta State University (Melissa Rinehart).

Goodman, Jane. The Proverbial Bourdieu: Habitus and the Politics of Representation in the Ethnography of Kabylia. American Anthropologist December, 2003 Vol. 105(4):782-793.

Jane Goodman examines Pierre Bourdieu’s extensive research with the Kabyle of Algeria within the context of his theoretical conception of habitus. She looks at Bourdieu’s methodological and theoretical approach when employing different proverbs to explain Kabyle meaning systems and ontologies. Proverbs and quotations were drawn primarily from the first three of Bourdieu’s following publications: Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977), The Sentiment of Honour in Kabyle Society (1966), Le Déracinement (1964), The Algerians (1962), and Sociologie de l’Algérie (1958).

As noted, Goodman analyzes the myriad of methodological issues Bourdieu faced when conducting his ethnographic research with the Kabyle. Surprisingly, Bourdieu did not speak Kabyle Berber, had no conception of the alphabet symbology, and recorded the (perceived) phonetic patterns and then reconstructed them later to discern their meanings. Nevertheless, Bourdieu relied heavily on proverbs and phonetic reconstructions. Goodman also critiques Bourdieu’s literature review in that he used “entextualization strategies” to work with irrelevant details that were appropriately supportive to his theoretical aims. In fact, Goodman claims that Bourdieu simply directed his fieldwork in the same manner—that he, essentially, excluded details that did not support his theoretical approach and preconceived notions. Likewise, Bourdieu seemed to ignore historical data and intra-cultural variation, positing that habitus was in fact collectively represented through the existing proverbs.

Bourdieu also faced issues of accountability within the context of roles and, specifically, the relationship of the ethnographer and consultants. Concerning the relationship Bourdieu had with the Kabyle, Goodman had several concerns. She noted that Bourdieu failed to ask the Kabyle participants about their symbolic knowledge of proverbs. Goodman also suggested that Bourdieu was reinforcing existing dominant European stereotypes because of his insistence on the “education” of the Kabyle, as they were unable to read the existing literature concerning their belief systems. Of course, Bourdieu claimed to make the education of the Kabyle an essential goal because of his desire to reveal their own meaning structures to them.

CLARITY: 4
HEATHER EVANS Valdosta State University (Melissa Rinehart).

Kowalewski, Stephen A. Scale and Explanation of Demographic Change: 3,500 Years in the Valley of Oaxaca. American Anthropologist June, 2003 Vol. 105(2):313-325.

Stephen Kowalewski focuses on existing data on demographic change over the Mesoamerican Pre Classic (c. 2000 B.C. to 250 A.D.), Classic (200-900 A.D.), and Post Classic (900-1519 A.D.) periods within the Valley of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, in comparison to missing and inconsistent data from 1500 to 2000 A.D. Kowalewski notes that past population studies have often relied on theories of exponential growth related to fertility and mortality, without accounting for the political economy of a region. He shows that population estimates may not be drawn solely from a scale-based comparison of the size of a particular town to how many individuals lived or worked there. Concurrently, Kowalewski emphasizes that missing population estimates, specifically from 1500 to 2000 A.D., may be determined by holistically reviewing a combination of ecological, biological, and economic factors.

Extensive interdisciplinary research was required to gather the necessary data. Kowalewski emphasizes the need to incorporate several types of archival and historical records, drawing from government and archaeological data. Kowalewski worked within a Marxist framework to provide a general history of the Valley of Oaxaca. He, also, explains the relationship between changing Oaxacans, including mescal distillers, peasants, and laborers who worked to maintain haciendas and mines, and the evolving means of production in relation to their government and environment during the reign of Porfirio Diaz (1830-1911). Most importantly, Kowalewski explores possible reasons for migration linked to major political and economic events such as the Reformation (1850-1910), which was initiated during the regime of Porfirio Diaz. As archival data shows, mortality rates increased with the Revolution after Porfirio Diaz’s reign, and the market economies within the Valley of Oaxaca changed drastically; disruption and hunger caused economic collapse and population decline.

Further, Kowalewski specificially tracks the changes in fertility and mortality rates in relation to migration spurred by economic change, and, eventually, the Revolution and a sort of Post-Revolution reconstruction period. For example, Kowalewski refers to the evidence of migration as a means of disruption to certain market economies within the Valley. In this way, Kowalewski works to highlight the economic, and, therefore, demographic significance of political economy in relation to demographic changes over time.

CLARITY: 4
HEATHER EVANS Valdosta State University (Melissa Rinehart).