Platforum Volume 10: 2009

Platforum Volume 10: 2009
The Graduate Students in the
Department of Anthropology at the
University of Victoria
Carlin Bennett
Cab Design
David Strongman
Office of the Vice President Research
Faculty of Graduate Studies
Faculty of Social Science
Department of Anthropology
Graduate Students’ Society
Linda Outcalt
Jennafer Roberts
Jenny Shaw
Allyshia West
Leanne Wiltsie
PlatForum is published annually (ISSN 1492-4293) by the University of Victoria, Department of Anthropology Graduate Students.
All rights reserved. General enquiries may be forwarded to: Managing Editor, PlatForum, University of Victoria, Department of
Anthropology,Cornett Bldg, Room 214, PO Box 3050, Stn CSC, Victoria, B.C. V8W 3P5. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the publisher. Opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of PlatForum, the Department of Anthropology, or the University
of Victoria. All authors retain the right to republish their material. The Editors assume responsibility for typographical errors.
Copyright 2009.
Marcel Mauss’ Essai sur le don (The Gift)
Phenomenologies of Fire: Exploring Combustive Ethnography and
the Articulating Sensorium
The Ainu as ‘Other’: Representations of the Ainu and Japanese
Identity Before 1905
Jineteras, Luchadoras and the Awkward Tourist-Anthropologist
in Havana: People as Categories
Contested Femininities: Social Evolution and the Victorian
Construction of the Idealised Woman
Re-representing Rwandan Child Headed Households:
Observations on Community Support
Exotic, Spectacular Dirt: Archaeology and Tourism
The Other Self of Landscape: Considering the Temporality of
Lekwammen Territory
(In)Visibility & (Mis)Representation: First Nations and Social Justice
Welcome to Volume 10, the 2009 edition of the University of Victoria’s Department of Anthropology graduate journal, PlatForum. This year marks the
second year of our new name and new editorial direction, a direction that
ventures forth anticipating the changing ways that we as anthropologists
produce, consume and circulate our knowledges.
The North American discipline of anthropology continues to benefit from a
sustained, 40 year engagement with its very own ‘crisis of representation’
that builds upon the work of the critical, feminist and semiotic movements.
As graduate students in anthropology, this engagement with the contemporary tenets of the discipline can be liberating, as one may find themselves
swept up in an optimistic wave of change, knowing that the theoretical foundations that give shape to how we view our analytical objects are fluid and
dynamic, and that by engaging with the minds who challenge what it truly
means to be an anthropologist and, in fact, what anthropology itself is, that
we are an intrinsic component in this process.
As students of a contemporary anthropology, our interests lead us further
away from the privileged, foundational discourse whose goal is to describe
and understand, and moves us towards an anthropology that recognizes the
diverse and often unknowable possible worlds that we live in. These shifting theoretical foundations, our adaptability to change and our unique and
inventive methods for conducting research in these ever changing environs
are what defines our contemporary discipline. I feel that anthropology will
never be a foundational discipline with static paradigms, nor should it be.
This is why all of academia benefits from a close relationship to our discipline and why anthropology is so relevant today. Our collaborative knowledges and ways of seeing and circulating knowledge is for others to consume, to build upon, to make their own, and to share with their worlds.
But this contemporary climate of possibilities can also be daunting given
that our chosen field of study has a fractured and tenuous relationship from
whence it came, from where it sits and to where it shall venture forth. As
graduate anthropologists we benefit from this constant flux because in it,
we are (relatively) free to define ourselves and our academic trajectories according to this mutability. As new ‘ways of seeing’ are developed, we adapt
them to our studies, and as the product of our knowledges make their way
into the mainstream, it will be because as emerging anthropologists we will
have recognized the need to open our doors, finding creative ways of organizing our thoughts and ideas, making anthropology accessible and inclusive to all who share in this great curiosity and concern for humanity.
It is precisely the opportunity to view myself and those around me through
the ever shifting, often murky lens of this always changing discipline that
sustains my interest in anthropology. Never before have anthropologists
had so many tools to view a world so ... sharply nebulous. While we have the
technology to witness the minutiae of the individual and collective lives of
the global community, the platform we stand upon to conduct our studies
is fleeting and ever shifting. As anthropologists, we can only ever really say
that we were there for that one moment, in the many moments that define
our life and times.
David Strongman
Editor in Chief
PlatForum is a peer-reviewed journal organized by the graduate students
in anthropology at the University of Victoria. We accept anthropologically
relevant submissions from all university and college students across Canada on a Call for Papers basis. PlatForum strives to be a participatory
publication offering an opportunity for students to participate fully in the
peer-review, evaluation and publishing process.
is a Toronto-native who received her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from
McGill University in Montreal. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in
Anthropology at the University of Victoria with a special interest in visual
anthropology, identity, rights and representation, and tourism.
is in the first year of the Master’s program in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Victoria, where he also earned his BA. His subdiscipline is socio-cultural anthropology, with a focus on the relationship
between First Nations and the Canadian state, Treaty, and Indigenous rights,
title and jurisprudence. Born and raised on Kwikwetlem traditional territory
in British Columbia, Hanna contemplates his own Plains heritage through
the idealized styling of two steel horses he is reviving in his living room
when he is not writing papers.
graduated with a B.A. and M.A. in Anthropology from the University of
Victoria. Her Masters’ thesis focused on the health concerns of children
living in child headed households in rural Rwanda, with a particular focus
on what they had to say about malaria. Michelle’s research interests include
medical anthropology, structural violence, social suffering and power relations, and the application of anthropology to contemporary issues, both
here in Canada and in Rwanda. When not immersed in academia, Michelle
enjoys kayaking the west coast of Canada.
graduated with her BA in Anthropology from the University of Copenhagen,
Denmark in 2006. Her honors thesis was titled: Behind the Façade: Negotiating Authenticity in Touristic Encounters in Kenya. She started the MA
program at the University of Victoria the same year. In the summer of 2008
she returned from six months fieldwork in Havana, Cuba, where she worked
with women who make a living in the informal sector and whose strategies
for getting ahead in Cuba’s dire economy often conflate with the kinds of relationships they are able to build to foreigners. Anne-Mette is enrolled in the
University of Victoria’s Co-operative Education program and has received a
MITACS internship grant to work for Pivot Legal Society, an advocacy organization in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
is a senior archaeologist with Millennia Research in Victoria, BC and has
had the pleasure of working closely with members of both the Esquimalt
and Songhees communities since the late 1990s. D’Ann started her MA in
2006 following the birth of her third child. Since that time she has resumed
almost full-time work and has had another child. She is investigating social
identity as evident in material culture at historic Black and Native-Hawaiian
settlements on Salt Spring Island, BC. It is her sincere desire to complete this
research before her children begin their studies at the University of Victoria.
is a graduate student of social anthropology at York University. Her scholarly interests have most recently resided in modes of moving and the multifaceted theoretical terrain deployed to texture the bodies therein.
completed her Bachelors in Anthropology at the University of Victoria
and is currently enrolled in a Master’s program at the same institution.
Her interests are located primarily within socio-cultural anthropology,
specifically feminist anthropology of reproduction. Her research focus includes women’s bodies as sites of medical surveillance and the politicization
of reproductive health and illness, particularly as it intersects with social
identity and inequality.
received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of
Victoria in 2009 with distinction. She has since been employed as an
archaeological field assistant and lab technician.
is an activist, and graduate student of Social Anthropology at York University. Her MA research involves a reflexive auto-ethnography of a particular
activist community exploring the lived politics of resistance. She completed her BA, honours, in anthropology with a philosophy minor at McMaster University in 2008, and through activist undergraduate field research
studied the reclamation of Kanonhstaton, and the surrounding backlash.
Niki is a member of the CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group
and continues to be involved in solidarity work around struggles for native
sovereignty and social justice.
Beth Wethers
without proper field notes
is useless drivel.
Alan Hanna
Marcel Mauss’ Essai sur Le Don (The Gift),
1967 Edition with an Introduction by E.E.
The argument that Marcel Mauss
presents in Essai proclaims that a
process of exchange among groups
and individuals in so-called archaic
societies was much more than simply the mere giving and receiving of
gifts detached from meaning as it is
in many contemporary Western societies. Mauss explains the exchange
of gifts and “prestations” as an
obligatory action, which contained
functional aspects that served to establish and maintain social relations
in perpetuity because of the spirit,
or essence, the items of exchange
possessed. Mauss argues that contemporary Western society would
benefit from reevaluating the meanings and spiritual properties that we
have stripped away from the processes of exchange. In addition to a
summary of Mauss’ key argument on
social obligations tied to exchange,
I will provide a critical response to
his work by highlighting some of
the strengths and weaknesses. This
analysis begins with a clarification
on the translation of Mauss’ use of
the term le don, which means the
gift, or talent for doing (see www. This translation of a gift as being an individual’s
talent for some activity expands the
notion of a gift from being merely an
object to give, to include an impalpable yet significant essence, or spiritual property. For example, to have a
gift for creating music is to have an
invisible propensity to create music.
As such, the gift is no longer simply
a physical object, but also a metaphysical concept, which embodies a
spiritual element.
According to Mauss, the use of the
terms “‘present’ and ‘gift’ do not
have precise meaning” (Mauss
1967:70). What he is getting at is
that the reader must be careful not
to confuse a contemporary Western
understanding of a gift, which is pri11
marily utilitarian and materialistic,
with the notion that a gift is not
detached from the person giving it,
making it “alive and often personified” (10). Mauss also uses the term
“total prestation,” which includes
services, ceremonies, people and
other activities and objects that
form an elaborate understanding of
the expression ‘gift’ (3). With the gift
framed as a personified living thing,
the process of exchanging gifts is
free to fulfill its many functions in
society that Mauss examines, beginning with the creation and maintenance of social relations.
Mauss’ conceptualization of gift exchange in non-Western societies opposes Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature theory. To generalize Hobbes’
theory, people live in a crude world
as individuals in constant fear and
isolation of others. Driven by a fear
of violence, they will eventually enter into a social contract to form
a civil society for protection. Until then, they will exist in a state of
perpetual war. Mauss examines “archaic” (31) societies that he considers to pre-date Western civilization
(46), and could therefore be interpreted as existing in Hobbes’ state
of nature. However, instead of living
in a state of fear, gift exchange establishes friendly relations between
and among societies by reciprocating “respects and courtesies” (44).
The exchange, or the giving of oneself, carries with it an essence of the
giver, which longs to return home
regardless of the number of hands it
passes through (9). In other words,
the spirit of the given gift produces
an obligation throughout any number of subsequent transactions that
will continue until eventually the
original giver is restored to a state of
wholeness. The important concept
to observe is that the gift itself is
producing the desire to be returned
home, whereas the obligation attached to giving and receiving is “a
moral one” designed to “produce a
friendly feeling between the two persons concerned” (18). This had the
larger effect of establishing alliances
between the societies that practiced
gift exchanges (31). One compelling
aspect of the exchange of gifts is
that the relations created demand
to be maintained because the people “are constantly embroiled with
and feel themselves in debt to each
other” (31). Therefore, relationships
between groups are established by
the moral obligation of giving and
receiving gifts, and subsequently
maintained by these same perpetual
obligations. As such, these societies
did not exist in fear, isolation or war,
as Hobbes argued. On the contrary,
the process of exchange meant that
“hatred and war…must be conjured
away so that trade can take place
between friends” (23). In order to
exchange between friends or otherwise, there must be trust among
people, not fear.
Mauss examines two forms of exchange in indigenous societies of
the Pacific: the kula and the potlatch. The Melanesian kula is a system of exchange that, once established between partners, demands
the maintenance of the “association
or partnership” (25). Borne out of
the obligation of giving and receiving them, the gifts, primarily ornate
shell necklaces and armbands, must
flow continuously through the cycle
of maritime expeditions. Considering that these exchanges are made
over the course of seasonal voyages,
there is no time limit for repayment.
The expectation for reciprocation
exists in perpetuity until the partners meet next, whenever that may
be. The case is somewhat different
for the potlatch of the Northwest
Coast. In the potlatch, gifts are given
with the expectation of reciprocation in time. Here, the notion of time
is relevant, in that “time has to pass
before a counter-prestation can be
made” (34). The significance of this
rule is that time must lapse to allow for the accumulation of interest
on the initial giving (40). This idea
of interest over time is what Mauss
considers to be a priori evidence of
a market economy.
Herein lies a problem I had with
Mauss’ argument: He proposes that
these systems represent “a stage
in social evolution” leading to the
“development of our own economic
forms” (46). In my opinion, framing
the discussion of indigenous forms
of exchange in an evolutionary context weakens his argument, as it creates hierarchies that tend to elevate
Western civilization above others.
One way that I framed Mauss’ evolutionism was in the relativistic approach that he employed when referring to these archaic systems,
specifically the kula system of Melanesia. Mauss referred to the kula
as “a highly-developed exchange
system,” and that the Melanesians
themselves had an “extensive economic life” (30). Therefore, although
he uses evolutionist terminology,
he does not place archaic systems
inferiorly to the Western economic
system. Additionally, Mauss comments on the wealth of Melanesian
and Polynesian surpluses, and the
scale of Northwest Coast potlatch
exchanges, calling them “considerable even when reckoned on the
European scale” (32, 36). Clearly,
Mauss sees these societies as “civilizations” (32) with complex economies that he does not consider subordinate to Western civilization.
A third archaic system of exchange
Mauss refers to is the early Western
economic system. He places the origins of this system in ancient Rome,
and traces it through the Hindu classical period and Germanic societies. Calling the Western economic
system “survivals” from earlier
systems, he makes the link to the
archaic systems of the indigenous
peoples previously discussed (47).
In the Western system, time is delineated into segments for the purpose
of calculating interest in a precise
manner, and exchange is regulated
by the written contract. The result
of this precision is that the process
of exchange has become mechanical. Mauss remarks that “it is only in
our Western societies that quite recently turned man into an economic
animal,” who is now little more than
a “machine—a calculating machine”
(74). This can only be the result of
stripping meaning from objects and
services in our “individualistic economy of pure interest” (73). The value
of society that Mauss emphasizes
over individual ends stems from
a critique of Western society, and
leads to the crux of his argument.
One of the strengths of Essai is that
Mauss acknowledges that Western
society is flawed. In one account, he
offers the suggestion that our society merely uses wealth as “a means
of controlling others” (73). Shortly
thereafter he accuses the West of
being “serious, avaricious, and selfish” (79). Although he does not denounce the accumulation of wealth
as being morally corrupting, he does
suggest that “we must become, in
proportion as we would develop our
wealth, something more than better financiers, accountants and administrators” (75). As my interest
in Mauss’ book pertains to the way
a process of exchanging gifts creates social relations, I am interested
in his views on becoming better administrators. He mentions that his
“analysis might suggest the way to
better administrative procedures for
our societies” (69), which is a tangible undertone throughout the book.
He is clearly presenting a challenge
for Western society to look at our
systems, as opposed to the administration of other societies under colonial control.
Mauss is cognizant of how we, as a
society, conduct our relations with
other societies. He spends time
showing how indigenous systems affected these relations in a positive
manner, and how Western systems
have forgotten this same concept.
His portentous statement about the
risks of a liberal democratic society is worth recounting in full: “The
mere pursuit of individual ends is
harmful to the ends and peace of the
whole, to the rhythm of its work and
pleasures, and hence in the end to
the individual” (75). I believe Mauss
is challenging Western society to rethink the value of exchange as an
alternative to war when he argues
that it is through the exchanging of
gifts “that the clan, the tribe and nation have learnt—just as in the future
the classes and nations and individuals will learn—how to oppose one
another without slaughter and to
give without sacrificing themselves
to others” (80). I believe Mauss’ anthropology through Essai is a proposal to encourage future researchers to look inward and ask questions
about our Western societies and to
re-learn from older societies what
we ourselves have forgotten about
how to be in this world.
Mauss, Marcel
1967 [1925] The Gift: Forms and
Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. New York: W.W.
Norton and Company.
Shalanda PhilLips
Phenomenologies of Fire: Exploring
Combustive Ethnography and the
Articulating Sensorium
Fire poi refers to a style of object manipulation developed from a traditional
Maori dance in which performers swing two or more weights attached to a
length of chain or rope. Fire performers wield lit torches, spinning them into
streams of pulsing patterns. This paper investigates the sensory dimension
of movement through fire. Specifically, combustion is treated as the catalyst
through which dancing bodies become increasingly sensitized to, and able
to differentiate between, highly excited environments. Approaching fire poi
through Bruno Latour’s notion of articulation, this paper explores how combustion organizes and propels particular apparatuses of sensory production.
com•bus•tion 1
[kuhm-buhs-chuhn]; (n)
1. the act or process of burning
2. chemical combination attended by production of heat and light
3. violent excitement; tumult
If origin stories somehow validate
my current preoccupation with moving, sensing, burning bodies, I will
say this: since I was a little girl, I
loved nothing more than to sit too
close to the fireplace and watch
wrapping paper peel off a grocery
store-bought fire log, and let my
face burn. Combined with the calming tone this recital is meant to cast,
my dirty tale seems less than sinister. Today I still love to get too close
and feel too hot. Today I assume a
more active role in burning things.
I started in on this with Kailee, my
dreaded sister—dreaded describing both hair and temperament.
She picks me up in her dilapidated
Tracker, cigarette dangling from her
mouth, cursing and hollering and
telling me to hurry. We are both
dressed in old clothes (the kind you
paint in) as we load the car with kerosene and milk crates and buckets,
blankets and more warm clothes.2
I wrap my sooty, knotted wicks in
plastic grocery bags and I wrap my
hair in a bun, stuffing it in a hat.
And I forget a flashlight, always. We
are going to spin fire, or poi. Stated
plainly, we are going to soak greasy
wicks in fuel and then light them up,
ultimately planning to dance a night
away with the similarly twisted. For
my part, I intend on thinking this
through for once—that is, I am going
to explore how combustion organizes and propels particular apparatuses of sensory production.
Taking Bruno Latour’s (2004) lead, I
ask, how to talk about the body? Or
more to the point, how to talk about
the moving body, the body that commands and controls the driest of humours? I approach fire poi through
an anthropology of the senses by
relying on literature stemming from
science and technology studies and
related disciplines.3 In this vein, Latour’s notion of articulation along
with Rachel Prentice’s (2005) extension, mutual articulation, are useful concepts for thinking about the
ways in which the body, a dynamic
interface, becomes multiply configured by encountering that which
differentiates—the new, the hitherto unexplained and unarticulated.
Articulation, in this schema, stresses the ongoing encounter through
which we learn, accumulatively, to
be affected by difference. Mutual articulation, in turn, suggests that this
process flows both ways, that both
human and non-human transfigure
one another reciprocally. I interpret
mutual articulation through the lens
of combustion, arguing that this
fierce arena animates the senses,
succinctly. The following essay is
then devoted to theorizing that violent excitement: motion and the sensorium in fire dance.
How to witness, how to
I am no modest witness, or at least
I hope to be of a particular breed.
In contrast to the unadorned truth
that presumably permeates the
detached and unaffected observer
(Shapin and Shaffer 1985), I aim to
be “a more corporeal, inflected, and
optically dense, if less elegant, kind
of modest witness to matters of
fact” (Haraway 1997:24). My mode
of writing, my mode of witnessing,
my mode of worlding—I aspire for
each to be anything but naked in the
sense that that naked way of writing conspires to conceal by fostering
a genteel atmosphere of pure and
factual disinterestedness. The essay here produced is instead aligned
with Haraway’s (1988) notion of
situated knowledges, a method of
meeting the world locked into partial perspectives, limited locations
and a deep sense of accountability
(see also Barad 1997; Fox Keller 1987;
Harding 1986). It favours the “noninnocent, complexly erotic practice
of making a difference in the world,
rather than displacing the same
elsewhere” (Haraway 1994:63) and
is centered on a deeply experiential
reckoning of spun fire where I rely
on my own ways of thinking, feeling,
sensing. A saucy account of human
behaviour inspired by, but unfaithful
to, Merleau-Ponty’s (2007 [1945])
phenomenology is fitting given its
emphasis on the sensing body in motion (see also Csordas 1990; Kozel
2007). The kind of phenomenology
evoked herein is then one textured
by flesh and of the senses, a “more
meat-and-bones approach to the
body” (Foster 1992:480). In this article, I move through the dancing
body’s production of light, smoke
and stink, an awareness of which
comes into being in part through the
sensitization of one’s entangled faculties of perception, faculties that
likely total more than five.
Vision, in situated knowledges, is
deployed with an insistence on the
“embodied nature of all vision and
so reclaim[s] the sensory system
that has been used to signify a leap
out of the marked body and into a
conquering gaze from nowhere”
(Haraway 1988:581). This essay is informed by an embodied anthropology which insists that what matters
is matter (Barad 2003). Yet Haraway
asks, “What other sensory powers
do we wish to cultivate besides vision?” (1988:587). Seeking to destabilize the centrality of sight in ethnographic writing, I take on a wider
exploration of sensory domains.
This essay is driven by my own sensorium, situated and written as a
first-person narrative (Stoller 1989);
it focuses on an interplay between
the senses instead of considering
each in isolation (Howes 2003:XXII);
and finally, it takes Donna Haraway
(1997:36) quite literally when she
writes that “one must be in the action, be finite and dirty, not transcendent and clean”.
Fodder for the fire
Of fire, Gaston Bachelard has written that “[a]mong all phenomena, it
is really the only one to which there
can be so definitely attributed the
opposing values of good and evil. It
shines in Paradise. It burns in Hell.
It is gentleness and torture. It is
cookery and it is apocalypse” (1964
[1938]:7). To this list, I would add
that while fireside reverie welcomes
stillness and repose and a hypnotism Bachelard well noted, in other
domains it motivates the mobile to
move, hop, sway, twist and play—admittedly an inadequate kinaesthetic
catalogue. Fire poi refers to a style
of object manipulation developed
from a traditional Maori dance in
which performers swing two or more
weights (poi is the Maori word for
ball) attached to a length of chain
or rope. Fire performers wield these
weights, these lit torches chained to
looped handles, spinning them into
streams of pulsing, throbbing, beating patterns (Allen 2004; Bayliss,
Sheridan and Villar 2005).
Upon first witnessing fire spun, I
was redirected toward the light like
a little lost moth who had, ever so
abruptly, again retrieved her purpose. My sister had returned to the
city of St. John’s from a festival in
central Newfoundland with reports
of a woman who danced on a platform with unexplained fireballs. St.
John’s being the size that it is, Kailee was interviewed by this enigma
a week later for the position of sales
associate at Showcase in the Avalon Mall. She got the job. I came to
know her new employer as Corinne,
someone who knew things I clearly
had not yet thought to think about
and who brought with her tales of
Toronto and a seemingly endless arsenal of toys so naughty and so unlike anything I had seen before.
With respect to these naughty toys:
I was intrigued and not shy and so I
researched, observed and practiced,
eventually becoming more or less
proficient in the art of fire dance. In
the process, I kindled an atmosphere
conducive to the slow sensory awakening so central to Latour’s proposal
for an articulatory framework. Here
thermal environments of disorienting turns and stops confuse stench,
taste and spectacle, contributing
to the manufacture of a decidedly
holistic laboratory. Fire dance assumes a deeply sensuous quality for the practitioner, and to this
end I ask, what are its haptic, aural
and olfactory dimensions, to name
a few? I propose that the senses
evoked through spun fire play an
integral role in developing the embodied awareness of performers,
senses which articulate over time
to cultivate increasingly nuanced
relationships between dancer, environment and technology. It is time
to pause and contextualize the
larger theoretical implications of
Pictured is my earliest mentor Corinne. It is my hope that the photographs featured in this essay both illustrate spun fire as a
practice obviously foreign to many readers, while invocating decidedly thermal imaginaries with which to consider the sensing
body in motion.
fire dance by briefly illuminating a
begrimed and blackened night of poi
for the uninitiated.
Straining, reaching,
whirling: a non-innocent
It inevitably begins with a telephone
call from a friend to rendezvous at
the moment when the light recedes
and something different, something
darker, emerges. It is an invitation,
as Erin Manning (2007:2) notes, to
meet “at the edges of neighbourhoods, at the magic time between
dusk and dawn, in the periphery of
the social order.” Kailee and I are
pressing through the winding roads
of old St. John’s, navigating one-way
streets and urging the Tracker up
too-steep hills. We materialize at a
sparsely populated baseball pitch,
usually. And Kailee lights a cigarette, as she always does. I hear her
suck and the paper burns back, the
cherry glowing red, trailing, tracing in the dark. I watch and breathe
and then light my own. We stand together like twin chimneys on a duplex, sucking and blowing, billowing.
It is so very quiet, our modest city’s
soundscape somehow, strangely,
muting even the barmps of busy
movers. (Editor’s note: to “barmp” is
to toot your car horn)
It is a still night and our cigarettes
produce perfectly vertical smoke
signals. We are watching on, waiting,
greeting the mischievous as they
approach alone and in twos, later
in groups. There are jokes and hugs
and sometimes snubs. We do not all
love each other and many of us do
not spend any more time together
than this. I certainly could not claim
to speak for their experiences now.
But when this happens, this potent
night’s dance, we are obliged to
show up to play and share and show
each other up.
Kailee and I and a few others eventually pour kerosene into a communal dunking bucket and let our wicks
soak. I claim a spot and roll out my
blanket, remembering to share with
those who forget how wet the grass
in St. John’s always is (I plan to borrow their flashlights later, in return).
There is more catching up and being introduced to friends of friends
of friends. And there is, inevitably,
more smoking. Uncomfortably, we
are waiting, wasting, looking at each
other and leaving wicked things
left unsaid. But finally, it is time.
We glance about, sideways. One
by one, at least early on, the field
people take turns shaking off and
lighting up.
I walk over to the bucket placed
a few meters away, its location so
chosen in an earnest attempt to
not inadvertently detonate a kerosene bomb. I wrap my hands around
the slippery chains strewn over the
bucket’s lip, holding them up and letting kerosene run off their spongy
ends. I wiggle my fingers into the
double-looped nylon handles and I
spin them then, unlit, making sure
to force out every bit of excess fuel.
Wet kerosene flicks my face and
I twirl nervously. And when I am
mostly confident to have accomplished this feat, itself aimed at preventing the dangerous rain that happens when accidental drops of flame
spit off toward an audience, I light
my wicks. They catch, slowly at first.
The knotted ends are engulfed and
I dangle them from ballchains, holding them at arms’ length as heavy
smoke billows upwards. It is thick
and dark, a chemical cloud. I swing
to dissipate it or else risk inhaling
the noxious fumes, a task in which
I doubt I am consistently successful.
And so I sway, back and forth. When
I move, the poi absolutely roar, so
startling is the sound of these orbiting torches. Kailee’s boyfriend
beats a deep drum. Tap, tap, click,
tap. Tap, tap, click, tap. When I was
new, I could never hear the drums.
A little more seasoned, I now find
his rhythm, separating the roar from
the clicks and the taps. A whistle
starts in, but I dance with the drums,
with the deep, low base.
The fire is brilliant, blinding, bright.
As disorientating as the roaring,
these lights confuse new spinners;
hesitant, I once stood startled amid
a lively cage of light and smoke, unsure of what to do. But, having practiced, I am cognizant of onlookers,
finding my audience, making sure
to move on a plane that affords the
best view. I pace myself, carefully,
carelessly, intuitively. I begin with
long, slow, flowing moves, moves
kept away from my body while the
flames are robust. I think through
my repertoire haphazardly. I dredge
up contortions half-forgotten and
I hold my breath in anticipation, in
strain. I turn and reach, sending outstretched arcs of fire into the dark. I
spin on my heel, and with my entire
being. Throughout, the fire has been
shrinking as if something unseen
is choking the burner’s gas. And
so I transition to more complicated
techniques for the benefit of those
who may appreciate the difficulty
of what I am doing. The flames burn
down, getting quieter. I begin to manipulate my torches inside my arms
and around my waist and behind my
back, to places I cannot see and can
barely reach. Finally, I stop dancing
altogether. I stand still, spinning too
fast, willing the fire to let go.
Extinguished, I stink. The fire has
melted away the tiny hairs on my
arms, replacing them with oily
smears of soot. Stray wisps of head
hair, those either forgotten or freed,
have burnt up, becoming black and
brittle crumbs to be picked out in the
shower. Though I will not know it till I
get home and look in the mirror, my
eyelashes have sometimes shrunk
back to short stubs. I stink with that
acrid burnt hair stench; combined
with the aroma of kerosene and a
night of eating cigarettes, I have become undone. I often have a headache after spinning fire, though I
cannot be sure if it is due to the
chemical fumes or from holding my
breath while I strain and reach and
whirl. I sit back and let someone else
assume the spotlight.
Articulating the
As stated, the principle goal of this
paper is to tentatively explore the
sensory dimension of movement
through fire. Taking an analytic turn,
I treat combustion as the catalyst
through which dancing bodies become increasingly sensitized to, and
able to differentiate between, highly
excited environments.
Beginning with an understanding of
the body as ontologically fluid, Latour treats it as “an interface that
becomes more and more describable as it learns to be affected by
more and more elements” (emphasis omitted, 2004:206). To do this,
he tables his experience of becoming un nez, a nose, a pupil learning
to be affected by the perfumier’s
odorous kit. The student begins with
an undifferentiated reaction to any
particular aroma, treating one experience as no different than the next.
In time, however, the pupil learns to
recognize and react to stimuli, in
this instance, the various potions
of the malettes à odeur. The kit, the
chemicals, the nose, the pupil—all
combine to articulate a newly sensitized body, a dynamic body made
attentive to a now differentiated,
layered reality in flux, one not ontologically stable, but interested and
intra-active.4 Articulation refers to
this exact process of differentiation,
the process of “bodies learning to
be affected by hitherto unregistrable differences through the mediation of an artificially created set-up”
(emphasis omitted, 2004:209). The
artificially created set-up coexists
with the students and thus serves as
the locus of a pedagogy devoted to
engaging bodies in the progressive
registration of difference. Having a
living, moving body, for Latour, necessitates accepting the presence
and the immediacy of these pedagogical devices.
Building on Latour’s work, Prentice
(2005) investigates recent developments in virtual technologies of
surgical training, specifically, the
use of simulations in “teaching the
fine motor movements needed to
clamp, cut, or suture virtual tissues,
and giving students and surgeons
opportunities to practice their skills
in silico before trying them in vivo”
(2005:838). Prentice argues that
paying attention to the processes
whereby surgical simulator training
devices are developed highlights a
relationship between surgeon and
patient easily overlooked in the traditional training environment—that
is, the process through which both
the bodies of surgeon and machine
are mutually articulated. All must
be calibrated so that the model
body responds in ways that facilitate and validate students’ surgical
skill. Foregrounding non-human and
human actors as co-constitutive in
this schema, mutual articulation becomes a productive point of departure for thinking theoretically about
spun fire, a realm where dancers are
shaped through training and practice, and the poi themselves are irrevocably charred and changed.
Both Latour and Prentice are situated within a rich field of related scholarship. Science studies scholar Lucy
Suchman (2007) notes a shift in the22
orizations of the social and the material starting in the 1980s in which
a number of scholars critiqued the
idea that humans and nonhumans
are at once discreet, pre-existing
and unaffected by one another in
any crucial way. The meeting of human and nonhuman has since been
intensely explored with an emergent
theme being the mutually constitutive nature of these interactions (for
example, see Haraway 1997; Latour
1993; Pickering 1995). Within the
context of her own work with human-like machines, Suchman asks
(2007:257-258), “What if our starting place comprises configurations
of always already interrelated, reiterated sociomaterial practices?
What if we understand persons as
entities achieved only through the
ongoing enactment of separateness
and always in relation with others?”
Karen Barad’s (2003) proposition
for a ‘posthumanist performativity’
is crucial in this regard. She outlines
a theory of intra-action in contrast to
interaction. “Whereas the construct
of interaction suggests two entities,
given in advance, that come together and engage in some kind of exchange,” Suchman notes of Barad’s
work, “intra-action underscores the
sense in which subjects and objects
emerge through their encounters
with each-other” (2007:267).
As an example, the work of anthropologist Natasha Myers stands as
one productive domain for exploring
embodied intra-actions. She investigates the body work of scientists
as they generate three dimensional
models of protein structures. Myers
writes that “[t]hrough the labour
of constructing, manipulating, and
navigating through protein models onscreen, researchers are literally able to come to grips with—and
make sense of—molecular forms
and functions” (2008:166). Many
researchers come to embody the
models they work with through “the
performative gestures researchers
use to communicate protein forms
and mechanisms in conversations
within and outside of the laboratory” (2008:166). The gestural dimension of articulation enables
modellers to become sensitized to
the phenomena they seek to represent. Moreover, through this process
of articulation, the models help remake the modellers by facilitating
new body talk, new ways of inflection and expression rendered corporeal. Keeping note of the importance
of related theoretical work by the
aforementioned scholars, this essay
focuses explicitly on the notion of
articulation and one route through
the sensory domains conjured
by igneous stimuli.
Interested interfaces
Taking the body as an interested
interface continuously forged in its
encounter with phenomena, I mobilize Latour’s notion of articulation in
relation to spun fire so as to explore
the dynamic nature of dancing bodies rendered increasingly sensitive
to their surroundings. In particular,
I am interested in the relentless confrontation of senses to stimuli. Sens-
es become refined, indeed become,
through such sustained contact. For
example, Foster (1992) discusses
the tangible bodies of dancers as
derived, in part, through “sensory
information that is visual, aural,
haptic, olfactory and, perhaps most
important, kinaesthetic” (1992:482).
She describes the embodied sensation of dancers moving at length:
They hear the sounds produced by locomotion, by one body part contacting
another, by the breath and by joints and
muscles creaking, popping and grinding as they flex, extend and rotate. They
feel the body’s contact with ground, with
objects or persons and with part of itself and they sense its temperature and
sweat. They smell sweat and breath. They
sense kinaesthetic indications of the tension or relaxation, tautness or laxness,
and degree of exertion for every muscle,
the action of any joint and, consequently,
the proximity of one bone to another, the
relationship of any part of the body to
gravity and the entire body’s equilibrium
Earlier I attempted to draw out a
visceral account of spun fire by focusing on its sensory properties.
I want to now explicitly reconnect
the sensory events specified to the
notion of articulation.
Visual, auditory and olfactory systems intertwine to evoke a fullbodied experience of moving with
fire. Of my first burns in Corinne’s
backyard: I remember squinting my
eyes from too much light, too sud23
denly; equally startled by the roar
burning generates and by my own
realization that I was not prepared—
that spinning fire is entirely more intense than I could have anticipated—
I would then hesitate, so unsure, so
worried, feeling my confidence drop
away with the stark realization that
I had no idea that it would be this
loud, this hot, this disorienting.
Breathless, I struggled to control
centrifugal forces, shouting with
fear, shrieking in delight. Waiting,
tentatively, in a wide-eyed stance of
smoky bewilderment, I was always so
lost. And yet, as I tasted and smelt and
sensed my surroundings, burn after
burn after burn, I gradually acquired
the ability to differentiate between a
monolithically intense array of light
and noise, learning to see past the
environment I had helped produce
and to acquire a sense of my larger
surroundings. Prentice notes that
the “sensing body becomes increasingly articulate as the senses learn
to register and differentiate objects”
(2005:841). With time and patience
and practice, fire illuminates a previously hidden audience. Those watching hear the music loader than the
fire and the appeal of a performance
resides in my ability to use this deafening circle of flame advantageously. Moving beyond the monopoly of
combustion, that chemical orchestra, I learn to pick up the sidelined
drums and whistles, to sense with
and through the chaos and to locate
an audience as I feel through that
improvised soundtrack. It is only in
my continuous encounter with an
overwhelmingly intense environment that I can eventually differentiate between competing sounds and
sights. By articulating the senses, I
eventually perform.
When ignited, my knotted wicks and
searing chains elevate in intensity, in
danger. The haptic dimension of sensory data should figure prominently
in any milieu where heat stands as
a driving impetus. In describing a
still night, one without wind, safety
registers cutaneously. The laboratory is less one variable and I can
focus on my own flailing, my own
failures. I know that the dangers of
being burnt are reduced. Learning
either to execute moves properly or
to effectively dodge mistakes is thus
a skill cultivated in time. I receive a
corrective lesson as tool and body
collide and, here, spinning becomes
a kinaesthetic kind of awareness.
Foster notes that:
The body seems constantly to elude one’s
efforts to direct it. The dancer pursues a
certain technique for reforming the body,
and the body seems to conform to the instructions given. Yet suddenly, inexplicably, it diverges from expectations, reveals
new dimensions and mutely declares its
unwillingness or inability to execute commands (1992:482).
I work on a particular technique,
stretching and contorting as much
as I can; I strain to grasp an embodied conception of a move—butterflies, weaves, corkscrews and
buzzsaws—practicing and trying and
often failing. When I succeed, the
poi continue to flow. They do not
stop unless I will them so, the patterns of motion required to launch
such tracks of flight now engrained
into my muscle memory. I know in
an utterly visceral way that they will
continue to flow.
It is precisely here—at the juncture
of moving, sensing, burning—that
the mutuality of articulation becomes most salient. Combustion
inscribes itself dramatically on my
toys. Brand new wicks are clean
and taut, yellow rope coiled through
careful craftsmanship. But with one
single night of use, they are irrevocably transformed. I dunk them in a
liquid hydrocarbon and wait for the
Kevlar to release its tiny bubbles. I
brush them with a plastic Bic and
then avoid the dirty plumes. I burn
and I play and, eventually, I smother.
What remains are different crea-
tures than those I first ignited. They
are warm and black and damp with
fuel, and they soil any surface with
which they come in contact. Bachelard writes that:
[t]he changes wrought by fire are changes
in substance: that which had been licked
by fire has a different taste in the mouths
of men. That which fire has shone upon
retains as a result an ineffaceable color.
That which fire has caressed, loved,
adored, had gained a store of memories
and lost its innocence (1964 [1938]:57).
Yet fire also marks the dancer’s
body. Besides the training required
to extend the possibility of movement and its direct impact on shaping the body’s flexibility, coordination and musculature, burns leave
scars on skin and soot on clothes. I
am marked by combustion, my newly shortened eyelashes taking weeks
While it is difficult to effectively capture jumping and twirling in stills, let alone the technicality of spinning fire, the photographs
here featured rely on long arcs of light and Corinne’s weaving hands.
to grow back. Along with common
sears most often on my arms, usually resulting from the heated metal
components of poi (nuts, bolts and
chains), I once caught my back on
fire. I am visibly transformed by
burning, as I have transformed my
wicks and my chains. Both the performer and the technology act upon
one another, as the former sets fire
to the latter and as the latter burns
the former. More dramatic than
most domains, articulation works
efficiently—that is, mutually—in both
directions through a fire dance.
When Prentice discusses the mutual articulation of human and nonhuman actors, she is making explicit
the two-way process by which articulation can operate. Spun fire and
all it involves act as that artificially
created set-up that Latour seeks.
Without it, there would be no fire,
no bodies rendered sensitive and
no articulation. Learning to spin is
entirely entangled with learning to
become sensitized to difference. Articulation will always already be twoway in this precise domain given the
presence of a malleable pedagogical instrument. The bodies of fire
spinners are then shaped by tacit
practices of moving with fire, while
the technologies they wield are likewise affected. “The model articulates what the user’s body knows,”
writes Prentice, “which helps the
user articulate what the model
is” (2005:589). Combustion thus
emerges as an environment that
provides the articulatory impetus
through which apparatuses of sen26
sory production are set into motion.
The sensing body in motion and the
technologies involved in this sensing and this moving are enmeshed,
entirely. If combustion, as an artificially created set-up, helps to articulate the senses, then human and
non-human find themselves in a formative dance. And yet, at least one
objection remains: simply because
a process can be said to be mutual,
that the changes evoked affect all
entities involved, we often need to
be reminded that these changes are
not equal—that while entities are affected, these changes are of a different order. Lucy Suchman says as
much: “Mutualities… are not necessarily symmetries. My own analysis
suggests that persons and artifacts
do not constitute each other in
the same way” (emphasis omitted,
2007:269). Even if the senses articulate rendering bodies increasingly complex, and even if wicks are
burned and kerosene consumed, we
cannot claim that these changes are
one and the same. The senses are
affected through fire dance and human bodies likewise changed, yet the
poi are of a different magnitude—poi
are nonhumans alright, but material
commodities perhaps fetishized in
unintended ways through these intra-actions. Thus, erasing difference,
in this instance at least, ignores the
political materiality basic to these
relationships. As Suchman notes,
what we need is “a story that can tie
humans and nonhumans together
without erasing the culturally and
historically constituted differences
among them” (2007:270). It is as important to realize the mutually constitutive nature of human and nonhuman interactions and the often
arbitrary boundaries that separate
us from one another, as it is to critically engage the historical specificity that has engendered these kinds
of demarcations to begin with, for
better or for worse.
Combustive ethnography
This paper has sought to situate
fire dance theoretically through the
concept of articulation as proposed
by Bruno Latour and as extended
by Rachel Prentice. Focusing on the
production of sensory apparatuses
through the moving body’s encounter with environmental stimuli, I
have argued that combustion serves
as the place of a pedagogy that renders bodies increasingly complex.
We should note now that, according
to Latour, “there is no end to articulation” (2003:211). Simply put, I take
this to mean that as the curious
creatures we so often are, worlds of
difference exist, and that we will continue to encounter these differences
and thus continue in the progressive
registration of these differences. We
cannot simply stop learning to be
affected by things we have not yet
fully reconciled. In the scope of spun
fire, this insight has special resonance: if the senses articulate more
generally by encountering new and
stimulating environments, can a person simply become accustomed to
burning, and cease learning to be affected? It is my experience, at least,
that the opportunity to learn does
not easily expire and, when it does, it
is often up to the practitioner when
difference is no longer sought. “For
myself,” writes Latour, “I want to be
alive and thus I want more words,
more controversies, more artificial
settings, more instruments, so as
to become sensitive to even more
differences” (2004:211-212). While
this noctuary and the corresponding analysis contained herein is devoted to furthering an anthropology
of the sensing body in motion, of
fire and of the night, it is the seeking spirit that fuels any articulatory
adventure. If it is then through the
practice of moving, sensing, burning
that we come to encounter and incorporate difference in this domain,
at least, then I very much want to be
alive. And thus I want more dance,
more fumes, more melting hairs and
scars and friends and fire. I want it a
fortiori. I want it every night.
I thank Professor Natasha Myers,
Jessica Caporusso, Megan Kinch
and the anonymous reviewers of
this volume who all patiently read
drafts of this essay, even in its most
rudimentary forms. More intimately,
I thank two very different women:
Kailee Phillips, for her uncommon
intensities and her daily explosions,
both little and big; and Corinne Pomroy, for the aesthetic template she
has cultivated for living with the
strongest kinds of grace.
1. Definition derived from, a free online dictionary
powered by InterActiveCorp.
2. Those familiar with fire spinning
practices may note many distinct differences between their
experiences and the ones recorded here: camp fuel and not
kerosene, chain links instead of
ball chains, leather corsets replacing the ‘kind of clothes you
paint in,’ and so on. I focus on the
flavour of spun fire in St. John’s,
Newfoundland, while remembering that these practices, like any
other, vary according to the ethnographic context in which one
finds oneself.
3. I offer a partial role call of those
who have most readily influenced
me, but by no means constitute a
conclusive collection of even the
most preeminent scholars working with and through science and
technology: Barad 1997, 2003;
Downey and Dumit 1997, Haraway
1988, 1991, 1994, 1997; Helmreich
2007; Latour 2003; Mol 2002; Myers 2008; Petryna 2002; Prentice
2005; Suchman 2007. This article
largely limits some of my early
thoughts on fire to science studies
in anthropology. As a preliminary
statement on spinning, I recognize
this paper does not consider work
on affect and how the senses can
be understood in a vastly different fashion. Such an engagement
would have produced a very different article. I ask the reader to
forgive me this omission and to be
patient as the partitions that surround the breadth of theory I am
ready to write gradually expand.
4. While space does not permit a full
exploration of Barad’s agential
realism, the notion of intra-action
is defined on page 22.
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Katie Bresner
The Ainu as ‘Other’: Representations of the
Ainu and Japanese Identity Before 1905
The Ainu of Japan have endured a history of subordination, exploitation,
and assimilation, pushed to the margins of society by Japanese imperialism.
This article traces a series of visual representations of the Ainu before the
Meiji Period up until the early twentieth century. Focusing on the Japanese
perceptions or ‘ways of seeing’ the Ainu, this article seeks to demonstrate
how closely these were connected to the political and social changes in
Japan during this time period. In particular, the changes that occurred with
the end of Japanese isolation and the impact of photography and Western science on Japanese and international perceptions of the Ainu are
examined. Using the example of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904,
how photography and presentation transformed the ‘ways of seeing’ the
Ainu is demonstrated.
The Ainu of Japan have endured a
history of subordination, exploitation, and assimilation, similar to
the experiences of countless other
indigenous groups worldwide who
have been pushed to the margins of
society by dominant forces. Due to
the absence of a traditional written
language, the effective history of
the Ainu began with the writings of
travelers and traders who encountered the Ainu on the northern islands of Hokkaido (formerly called
Ezo, before the Meiji period), Sakhalin, the northern tip of Honshu, and
the Kurile Islands. From these encounters a particular perception or
‘way of seeing’ the Ainu developed,
set in the context of a Japanese
cognizance of the world, reflected in
the writings, drawings, and paintings
from this time period. Foreigners
from the West formulated images
of the Ainu influenced by Japanese
representations of them, as well as
through Western experiences with
other indigenous groups and their
own worldview. In time, both Japanese and international perceptions
of the Ainu were altered and they
continued to adjust with the flow of
political and social changes in Japan.
After the introduction of the camera and the later political changes
during the Meiji Restoration, a new
‘way of seeing’ the Ainu emerged in
Japan. This was due in part to the
influence of Western science and its
methods of categorization and ranking, as well as its faith in the absolute
truth and fact of the photograph.
In this essay I will trace the changes
in Japanese perceptions of the Ainu
and highlight the significance of
photography in shaping the ‘way of
seeing’ the Ainu at the turn of the
twentieth century. I will first discuss
the early representations of the
Ainu and how they were regarded
with aversion and as a distant curiosity. Secondly, I will discuss the
Meiji Restoration (1868), its impact
on the Ainu, and how this turning
point in Japanese history changed
the representation of them. Most
significantly, I will show how the
opening up of Japan in the Meiji Period to foreign trade, the colonization of Hokkaido, and the impact of
photography modified the status of
the Ainu as ‘ways of seeing’ changed
for the Japanese and were morphed
into a Westernized model for comprehending the world. Finally, I will
discuss the Louisiana Purchase
Exposition of 1904 where an Ainu
group was put on living display. The
1904 Exposition is useful in order to
gain an understanding of Western
ideology at the eve of the twentieth
century and, I argue, was the physical manifestation of the change in
the ‘way of seeing’ the Ainu that
was initiated by photography during the colonization of Hokkaido in
the Meiji Period.
Early Japanese Representations of the Ainu
The representations of the Ainu predating the Meiji Restoration from
Japan and from visiting Europeans
created a general image of the Ainu
as northern curiosities. Japanese
representations of the Ainu were
remarkably stable from the early
Christian era to the dawn of the Meiji
period, emerging from a foundation
in Confucian social theory, agrarian
reform, and political considerations.
These representations typified the
Ainu’s ‘otherness’ by highlighting
their different ways of life from the
Japanese, as well as their physical
dissimilarities. Physically, the hairiness of the Ainu and their seemingly
Caucasoid features would serve as
a preoccupation for those writing
and thinking about them from preMeiji times well into the twentieth
century. Not only is hair mentioned
in virtually all of the early descriptions of the Ainu (Ölschleger 2008:
1-2, 6, and 9; Siddle 1996: 49; and
Ohnuki-Tierney 1998: 45), but later
became a defining characteristic in
studies in anthropology and evolutionary history attempting to uncover the supposed Caucasoid links
in Ainu heritage (Ölschleger 2008:
14-17; and Kodama 1970: 263-268).
Hair also played a key role in perpetuating myths and stereotypes
about the Ainu. For example, the belief that they were descended from
dogs and more animal than human
was evidenced by their body hair
(Siddle 1996: 42-44 and 37).
Traditional customs were also fodder for highlighting difference. Unlike the Japanese who had adopted
rice agriculture as early as 400 B.C.
(Ohnuki-Tierney 1998: 32), Ainu
subsistence and culture was based
on a different relationship with the
land, characterized by hunting, fishing, and gathering, with salmon and
deer being the most significant of
foodstuffs. Richard Siddle describes
a “mass importation of Chinese culture and ways of thought” in Japan
that occurred between the sixth and
eighth centuries (1996: 27). This included a moral order which separated the civilized from the barbarian; civilized being defined in terms
of Chinese, then Japanese customs
(Siddle 1996: 28). Those with different hairstyles, dress, diets and
customs were deemed barbaric. As
Buddhism was adopted into Japanese culture in the sixth century, the
eating of meat was considered taboo (Siddle 1996:28), which proved
to confirm the cultural and moral
inferiority of the meat-eating Ainu.
However, before the Meiji period,
the Ainu were feared by the Japanese because of their differences.
Seen as ‘barbarians’, the Ainu were
“outside of the moral order” (Siddle 1996: 27), and thus beyond the
scope of Japanese control.
‘Barbarians’ in the traditional Chinese sense meant those who were
“hairy, non-human, flesh-eating savages” (Siddle 1996:27). The “nonhuman” Ainu were akin to supernatural beings like ghosts, demons
and goblins, typical of ideas of the
Other in Japanese-Chinese mythology (Siddle 1996: 11). Ainu were represented in the same way as such
creatures in painting (Siddle 1996:
30). Ainu-e, Japanese paintings of
Image 1. A Whale-Hunting Expedition Late 18th to Mid 19th Century Courtesy of University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology
the Ainu, emphasized such ‘creature’ or animal-like qualities. Their
hairiness was exaggerated by a
wild hairstyle, a single black streak
for the eyebrows, and hair covering
the entire body. Image 1 is typical of
Ainu-e imagery. Nine Ainu men are
shown hunting for whale. All have
tufts of black hair and beards, many
wear earrings (which Japanese
men at the time did not) and all are
hunched over with compressed faces and sanpakugan eyes. Typical of
early Japanese art, sanpakugan eyes
were reserved for animals that represent “ill-fortune” (Dubreuil 2004:
16), like oni (giant, troll-like demons),
dragons, and tigers (Ohnuki-Tierney
1998: 46). This visual cue, along with
their hunched backs, linked the Ainu
to this mythology and associated
them more closely to animals than
human beings.
As trade increased and the rich
natural resources of Hokkaido (Ezo)
were being recognized, the number
of wajin (Japanese settlers) on the
island multiplied and interactions
between wajin and Ainu increased.
This lead to a disruption in traditional Ainu living as the Ainu were
often denied access to resources,
forcing them to become reliant on
Japanese goods (Siddle 1996: 31-37
and Dubreuil 2004: 9). With these
social changes and the concurrent
official colonization of Ainu lands
in 1799, the militarily and economically defeated Ainu were now being
represented in a new way, or rather,
old characteristics of the Ainu had
been forgotten. The Ainu had lost
their once ironically protective aura
as wild, dangerous, untamed people
outside of the social and moral order. Now ‘pacified’, the Ainu were
considered by Bakufu officials to
be naïve and childish (Siddle 1996:
39-40). Once previously denied a
capacity for ‘civilization’, the assimilation of the Ainu into Japanese
culture was seen as a very real and
pertinent task for the Japanese government – not only to ‘protect’ the
Ainu from Russian expansion, but
also to develop their resource-rich
territories (Siddle 1996: 41).
The process of colonization was accelerated after the Meiji Restoration,
yet up until this time the image of
the Ainu as animal-like barbarians
remained essentially stable. All that
really changed literally and ideologically was the level of power the Ainu
exercised and were perceived to
have by the Japanese.
The Meiji Restoration
and the Colonization
of Hokkaido
The Meiji restoration ended nearly
two hundred years of isolation policy in Japan which led to the opening
up of the country to Western modes
of thought, science and technology.
The ‘modernization’ policy that followed also meant empire building
since colonial ambition was regarded by the Japanese as a hallmark of
civilization, as exemplified by many
European nations by the late nineteenth century. The annexation of
Okinawa, the northern Japanese islands including Hokkaido, and later
Korea and Manchuria, was justified
by a new way of thinking in Japan.
This new way of thinking was the
imperial ideology that came along
side the restoration of the authority
of the Emperor, now modeled more
closely after European monarchies
(Fujitani 1996 and Ferguson 2006:
51). This imperial ideology bound the
people of the Japanese Empire biologically through a theory of bloodlineage, as well as ethnically and culturally under the father-figure of the
Emperor, making Japanese rule over
them nothing but ‘natural’. The idea
was that through assimilation into
the Japanese Empire any remaining
cultural boundaries could be transcended and would eventually vanish, leaving behind one Japanese
race (Howell 2004: 5).
The concept of ‘race’ inherent in this
doctrine was also a Western import.
With this new concept in mind, the
Japanese began to reconsider certain aspects of the traditional Confucian worldview:
The old hierarchy of humankind, which
separated the cultured from the barbarian on the basis of Confucian moral values, was replaced by a new one rooted
primarily in the criteria of visible wealth
and strength, but linked to Christian and
Enlightenment values as well. By the early
1970s the modernizing elite accepted
the Western notion that human societies
could be ranked along a continuum from
“savagery” to “civilization”, each repre35
senting different stages in the “progress”
of human kind (Duus 1997: 28-29).
The dominant social theory in
Europe at this time was rooted in
Darwinian evolutionary theory and
the concept of the ‘survival of the
fittest’. The building of empire in Japan meant that the Japanese had
to find their place within the racial
hierarchy of the world amongst the
other civilized races (Siddle 2003:
451). The Ainu played an important
role in the establishment of Japan’s
racial identity as they were used as
objects of comparison from which
the Japanese could measure and assess how civilized they had become.
The Ainu were what the Japanese
were not.
The Ainu as a race were relegated
to one of the lowest levels on the
conceptual ladder of human groups
amongst the other ‘primitive’ peoples of the world. Like other primitive peoples and according to the
law of the ‘survival of the fittest’, the
Ainu were a relic of mankind’s past
and doomed to extinction or full assimilation as they struggled to cope
in the rapidly changing world.
Despite these changes in Japan and
the assimilationist policies forced
upon the Ainu, the traditional ‘way
of seeing’ the Ainu did not really
change. It was not until the widespread use of photography that the
Ainu would be secured into the racial schism of the West.
Photography, Racial
Science, and Ways of
The induction of the camera to Japan
had occurred in the 1850s (Kinoshita
2003: 16-23) and became more popular with time as international interest in Japan and trade relationships
blossomed. While there was a large
commercial photography market in
Japan in the late 19th century, the
camera was also used as a tool of
science in a number of disciplines
including anthropology, as it was in
the Western world. Like commercial
photographs, many argue that ethnographic photographs were also
taken in a manner that fulfilled the
needs and expectations of their audience (Steiner 1987: 81; Maxwell
1999: 9-10; and Guth 2004: 51). As
Steiner explains, photography and
modern anthropology correspond
chronologically in their foundations
and, “since the discipline’s formative years, anthropologists have
used photography to visually record the peoples, sites, and events
encountered in the field, as well as
the artifacts brought back to the
museum or laboratory” (1987: 81).
Distinguishing between commercial
and ethnographic photography from
the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries sometimes proves difficult, yet both forms of photography
emphasized difference and exoticism in their subjects and both were
deemed as authentic, true, and ‘scientific’ representations of people,
places, and things.
Image 2. A Group of Ainos ca. 1868; Beato, Felice A. Courtesy of Smith College Museum of Art
The Ainu were no exception. Image
2 depicts six Ainu with a Japanese
man seated behind them. They are
seated on the floor dressed in traditional clothing, and all have long
hair and facial hair. The Ainu contrast with the Japanese man behind
them, who is sitting slightly elevated,
clean shaven, and wearing a kimono.
Image 3 shows an Ainu woman, head
and shoulders prominent like the
men in Image 2. She is also dressed
traditionally and has thick black hair
and tattooed lips (despite this practice being prohibited in the 1860s by
the Japanese government). While
little is known about Image 3, it is
very similar to ethnographic photographs (see Pinney 1992) and may
have been intended as such. It also
shares similarities to Image 2, which
was a commercial photograph, especially since the subject(s) in both
visually exhibit cultural practices
deemed ‘odd’ and quintessentially
Ainu by the Japanese.
It was not long after the Meiji Restoration that photography was being
used for the purposes of scientific
documentation and became an important part of Hokkaido’s Colonization Program (Kinoshita 2003:
31-33). This project included photographing the Ainu though its main
purpose was to capture Hokkaido’s
Image 3. Ainu Girl Published in 1935 Courtesy of the Secret
Museum of Mankind
development. Regardless, the vast
majority of these images do not
come with captions or specific dates
or identify the photographer. They
are absent of when, where, why, or
who are being photographed, making it difficult to comment on individual photographs specifically. However, by keeping in mind the historical
and political context in Japan at the
time that these photos were taken,
as well as the exhibition of the Ainu
on the world stage, it is possible to
extract the intention and ideology
behind photographing the Ainu.
Despite the Hokkaido photography
project being about documenting
progress, it is interesting that the
photos of the Ainu are not of the
successfully assimilated individuals, but of stereotypical ‘primitive’
Ainu. One must be careful interpreting these images since the actual
context of them is lost. Whether or
not they were officially part of the
government’s photography project
is unknown. Nonetheless, it seems
as though the images keep in line
with other Ainu representations by
“exaggerating their features which
are different from the Japanese”
(Cheung 1996: 262). There is a conscious pursuit for ‘purity’ of a cultural other (Pinney 1992: 76). As Guth
argues, these images confirmed the
Western and Japanese stereotypes
of the Ainu in two ways. First, they
highlighted the utter disparity between the Ainu, the West, and the
Japanese, and second, emphasized
the Ainu’s status as “hairy, halfcivilized curiosities” (2004: 70). As
Cheung argues, they are depicted as
living in isolated, primitive societies
(1996: 263) far away from civilization which contemporary photographs of Hokkaido’s development
show as blossoming on the same
land. The historical context of the
time was much different than the
photographs reveal. The Ainu were
reliant on Japanese goods, were
being pushed into farming, or were
working in the coastal towns. These
images look closer to the images of
Ainu-e as the figures are dressed in
their traditional garb and there is a
distinct lack of setting. Deliberate
exclusion and inclusion of various
elements in the picture frame was
common in anthropological photography (Pinney 1992: 76). The aim
was not to photograph the Ainu as
they were, but how they ought to be:
the ‘primitive’ Ainu were what was
relevant to anthropological study,
not an Ainu in the process of assimilation into Japanese culture. The
images create a particular picture
of the Ainu in order to position and
legitimize them as an uncivilized
race, incapable of progress with the
rest of Japan.
Photographic representation of
the Ainu confirms a convergence
of Western and Japanese ‘ways of
seeing’, simultaneously justifying
the hierarchy of power between
the three groups supported by
the facts of science found in social
evolutionary theory. This evolutionary hierarchy and ‘way of seeing’ was brought to life before the
eyes of the world at the Louisiana
Purchase Exposition in 1904.
The Ainu in Living Colour:
The Louisiana Purchase
Exposition of 1904
What photography did to change
the characterization of the Ainu
from Japanese visions of animalcreatures to ‘primitive’ people and
specimens of Western science was
expressed and physically manifest
for six months from May to December of 1904. The change in view defined through photographs was displayed to the eyes of the world in St.
Louis, Missouri that year. Like other
world’s fairs, the Louisiana Purchase
Exposition of 1904 was a celebration
of the success of the host country
and an opportunity to display its
marvels and accomplishments in a
number of fields, such as technology, agriculture, entertainment, and
architecture. As Corbey explains,
“world fairs quickly became inseparable from imperialism and nationalism” (1993: 339). Discourse on the
dominant science of social evolution, namely the white EuropeanAmerican race as the highest form
of civilization, underlined these expositions (Coombes 1988; Domosh
2002; Corbey 1993; and Maxwell
1999:1-9). Through the rhetoric of
entertainment and education, these
fairs often had ‘living displays’ of socalled ‘primitive people’ in order to
teach the public of their evolutionary history and juxtapose them with
the displays of Western industry located in the same physical space of
the fairground.
The anthropological exhibit at St.
Louis had over two thousand ‘primitive’ people on display (Breitbart
1997: 3), nine of which were Ainu.
Two children, three women, and
four men (one of which was almost
prevented from attending because
he was seen as too ‘Japanized’)
made up the Ainu group (Vanstone
1993: 81-84; Breitbart 1997: 65; and
Parezo and Fowler 2007: 84-85).
Like other indigenous groups at the
fair, the Ainu were required to build
a traditional home to live in on the
fairgrounds, wear their traditional
clothes at all times, and go about
a daily routine of cooking, singing,
dancing and producing crafts and
tools (Parezo and Fowler 2007: 100
and 103). The Ainu also participated
in parades, performed ceremonies
and rituals for spectators, and even
competed against other ‘primitive’
groups in the St. Louis Olympics
Anthropology Days. The Ainu made
money selling arts and crafts to fairgoers such as mustache lifters, arrowheads, hunting knives, swords,
baskets, carved wooden plaques.
They also made money by posing for
pictures and in tips from their performances (Parezo and Fowler 2007:
103 and 212).
The living displays were organized
and categorized according to social
evolutionary science. The fair set up
twenty-six anthropological villages
in addition to the Indian School, Anthropology Building, and Philippine
exhibit, all located on the Western
edge of the fair grounds – the symbolic reference to the once ‘wild’
American West was obvious (Christ
2000: 679). These people were not
only there for the education and
entertainment of fairgoers, but also
participated in anthropological studies where they were measured and
photographed as scientific specimens (Breitbart 1997: 18 and Corbey
1993: 354-355).
The anthropology villages were arranged consciously so that a visitor
moving from south to north would
see the world’s most primitive races
first and move upwards to the most
civilized, with the Ainu at the southern-most end and Native American
groups and the Indian school to
the north. For W.J. McGee, who organized the ethnological exhibits,
“each group illustrated ‘steps in the
development of intelligent Man, and
is at once an object-lesson in the illwritten history of the human past
and an object for beneficent example and effort for Man has no higher
duty than that of mending the way
of human progress’” (Parezo and
Fowler 2007: 100). The physical organization of the exhibits was the
expression of this particular way
of knowing and understanding the
world and ones place within it. The
visitors to these exhibits were meant
to view the displayed people keeping
in mind this evolutionary paradigm.
In the same way that photography
was orchestrated to capture an authentic, truthful image of its subject,
so too was authenticity important
to the fair’s ethnological program
which was why the ‘primitive’ groups
had to be dressed in traditional
clothing at all times. However, keeping them in a state of their stereotypic ‘primitive’ was not as easy in a
living display as it was to capture in
a moment in a photograph. For example, as Parezo and Fowler report:
McGee spent hours ensuring that Natives
did not borrow from each other or use the
manufactured goods and clothing they
acquired while in St. Louis. Since participants wanted souvenirs just as much as
visitors, it was a futile effort. The best
McGee could do was request authenticity
from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 to 4:00
p.m., when groups were officially demonstrating. (2007: 100).
The living displays’ detailed history
and the context of this world fair
bring to life the issues of authenticity and truth to imagery that is
not apparent in photographs. By
requesting ‘authenticity’, McGee
was requesting the performance of
culture as if removed from space
and time, in an ‘ethnographic present’ like a living photograph - which
is hardly authentic at all. These efforts worked in the same way as the
staging of photographs and the conscious inclusion or exclusion of elements from the picture frame.
Like the other Native groups at the
fair, the Ainu were placed in a position for comparison, not only with
each other but more importantly
with the West. Their physical being
was in St. Louis for subjectification
by the Western viewer and objectification by Western science in the
same way it was in a photograph, but
in an even more alienating way as
they were wholly present to inspecting eyes. St. Louis was different in
that the Ainu were participating
by choice. In the Hokkaido photographs, one cannot discern whether
or not the people in the images approved of being photographed. From
the viewpoint of the American and
European visitors, their position of
superiority and authority as spectators and members of civilized white
society was undeniably reinforced
by the juxtaposition of the anthropological exhibits and the other
exhibits on the fairground. Of particular interest was the Japanese
pavilion which, as Carol Ann Christ
argues, was designed to “promote a
new, alternative reading of Japan’s
political position, one that assigned
it the titles of imperial nation and
colonial power” (2000: 677). Japan
exhibited itself at St. Louis in a particular manner in order to be seen
by the Western powers as the dominant civilization in East Asia. The
Japanese positioned themselves in
contrast with other East Asian nations at the fair, particularly China.
Through their claims to the Ainu
and Formosans as their colonial
subjects, the Japanese delegation
aimed to achieve a level of equivalency to the United States in Asia, as
the distributer of civilization to the
inferior races (Christ 2000: 680 and
687). The Japanese were also on the
world stage, but for the purposes of
boasting their progress in opposi-
tion to the view of the Ainu as being
static in time.
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition,
founded in understanding the world
through the lens of evolutionary
science and social Darwinism, solidified this particular ‘way of seeing’. Its microcosmic display of the
world’s indigenous people, arranged
according to this ideological order,
justified the perceived truth in this
particular ‘way of seeing’. The fair
emblematized the ‘way of seeing’
that was developed by photography
and brought it to life in such a way
that its truth could hardly be denied.
The camera and the scientific discourse that it grew out of was instrumental in changing the way the Japanese viewed themselves and the
world. The traditional Japanese view
of the world’s people, a dichotomous
separation between themselves (the
civilized) and everyone else (the barbarians), was only slightly refined
and made more complex by the influence of the Western scientific theories of social evolution. It required
the Japanese to place themselves
within the social hierarchy of the
world. Through the need for modernization from the recognition of
their vulnerability in the opening of
their country to the technologically,
scientifically, and militarily superior
Western nations, the Japanese saw
opportunity in a program to master
Western forms of knowledge. While
a new Japanese identity fit for the
modern world was being formed, so
was the identity and status of the
Ainu being transformed in relation
to it. Their status as inferiors was
amplified as they were no longer
ideologically inferior to just the Japanese but now to most of the known
world. Photography framed this as
fact. The ‘ways of seeing’ and ‘ways
of knowing’ imported from the West
used photography to frame the Ainu
in a particular way, to mirror ideology and to mirror this ‘way of seeing’, telling very little if nothing at all
about the Ainu themselves and their
own perspectives on their situation
and status. Photography silenced
the Ainu and reaffirmed their powerlessness while simultaneously
providing evidence for the justification of their subordination through
the language of science and technology. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition publicized this particular ‘way
of seeing’ the world and organizing
its people on a linear scale from the
primitive to the civilized, which like
photography, provided an evidentiary basis for this ideology. The Ainu
as ‘primitive Others’ was not merely
a painting on a scroll, or an interpretation of a photograph, but a fact of
life demonstrated by the Ainu themselves living and breathing in St.
Louis in 1904.
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2002 A ‘Civilized’ Commerce:
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Images Cited
Image 1
Detail of Scene 14 “A Whale
Hunting Expedition” in Album: “An
Ainu-e Scroll: Japanese Paintings
of Ainu Lifeways” part of the Grayson Archery Collection Watercolor
on paper
Late 18th to mid 19th Centuries
Reprinted Courtesy of University
of Missouri Museum of Anthropology MAC 1995-0389
Image 2
“A Group of Ainos” ca. 1868
Beato, Felice A (ca. 1825-1904) Album page: 13 1/2 x 18 3/4 in.; 34.29
x 47.625 cm; image: 4 x 6 in.; 10.16
x 15.24 cm Albumen print with
hand coloring Reprinted Courtesy
of Smith College Museum of Art,
Northampton, Massachusetts
Purchased with the Hillyer-TryonMather Fund, with funds given in
memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy
Parker, class of 1930) and in honor
of Beaumont Newhall, and with
funds given in honor of Ruth
Anne-Mette Hermansen
Jineteras, Luchadoras and the Awkward
Tourist-Anthropologist in Havana: People
as Categories
In this article I argue that research ethics applications, although necessary,
are problematic for aspiring anthropologists because they curb the imagination and provide a rigid template for conceptualizing one’s research project
and categorizing one’s research participants. The process of applying forces
applicants to invent social units that do not necessarily hold empirical validity. To exemplify I describe my own, unsuccessful search for jineteras in
Havana, Cuba. Jinetera is a stigma applied to some women who have relationships to foreign men that are sexualized and commercialized to various degrees. I will unpack this category and show that the stigma itself is
useless in defining individual women’s life strategies. However, categories
(of people) are not in and of themselves useless. The second part of my argument concerns the utility of taking our informants’ categories seriously,
not to replicate them, but to use them as vehicles for discovering some
properties of the relationships between our informants and their surroundings, including their relationships to researchers. To demonstrate this, I use
my own position during fieldwork as the awkward tourist-anthropologist. In
conclusion I argue that the strength of anthropology lies in explaining social
relationships, not in listing people according to already defined categories.
The target population of this research will consist of a cross section of Cuban women who frequent the
dance venue Casa de la Música where they meet foreign men, with whom they might develop romantic
relationships of various degrees of intimacy, duration and commercialization.
Excerpt from my Application for Ethics Approval for Human Participant Research,
submitted to and approved by the Human Research Ethics Board, University of Victoria, December 2007
I don’t really know who my informants are, because a lot of the information I get, [...] I get it from
people who wouldn’t say themselves that they have had relationships of exchange to foreigners that
were romantic in nature.
Letter to my supervisor Hulya Demirdirek, February 2008
The quotes above are taken, respectively, from my Application for Ethics Approval, which I had to submit
before beginning my fieldwork, and
from my field notes, written at a
point in time when I was well into my
fieldwork of six months in Havana,
Cuba. These two contrasting quotes
point towards two complimentary
threads that I will weave together
in this article. The first is that although necessary, Applications for
Ethics Approval through the university Human Research Ethics Board
(HREB) are problematic for aspiring
anthropologists because they curb
the imagination and provide a rigid
template for conceptualizing one’s
research project and categorizing
one’s research participants.1 The
problem, I will argue, is that HREBs
force applicants to invent social
units that do not necessarily hold
empirical validity. As an example I
shall describe my own, unsuccessful
search for jineteras in Havana, Cuba.
However, categories (of people) are
not in and of themselves useless.
The second thread that I will weave
into my argument in this article concerns the utility of taking our informants’ stereotypes seriously, not to
replicate them, but to use them as
vehicles for discovering some properties of the relationships between
our informants and their surroundings and between ourselves and our
informants. To demonstrate this,
I will use my own position during
fieldwork as the awkward touristanthropologist. In conclusion I argue
that the strength of anthropology
lies in explaining social relationships, not in listing people according
to already defined categories.
Developing the Field
I arrived in Havana armed with a
proposal to investigate relationships between Cuban women and
foreign men. Relationships between
locals and tourists, which play out
in a hyper-sexualized setting and
an economic grey zone, have become so commonplace in Cuba that
reporters have named the tropical
island a new hot spot for sex tourism. Locally the phenomenon is
known as jineterismo, which literally
translates as “horseback-riding,”
but which refers to different kinds
of hustling and prostitution and the
way in which some Cubans since the
1990 have been able to “ride” the
country’s new dollar economy symbolically and maybe tourists more
literally in order to take economic
advantage of their personal connections.2 I wanted to understand how
women, whose romantic relationships with foreigners are sexualized
and commercialized to various degrees, play an active role in initiating, defining and developing these
relationships. Based on previous
trips to Cuba (for pleasure), I suspected that one important avenue
through which Cuban women were
able to establish romantic relationships with foreign men was dance.
Salsa 3 and other Cuban dances are
highly popular both in and outside
of Cuba, and have indeed come to
stand for the essence of Cuban sensuality and sexuality, as perceived
by foreigners. Dance shows, dance
courses and dance clubs attract
huge numbers of foreigners who are
fascinated with both the movements
of salsa dance as well as with Cuban
salsa dancers. I proposed to study
the interactions between Cuban
women and foreign men in two salsa
clubs in Havana, because I wanted
to know how desire was produced
and reproduced in the interactions
between Cuban women and foreign
men and the role of dance in this
My fieldwork lasted six months from
January to June 2008 and I spent
on average two nights a week in different clubs in Havana, mainly two
tourist favorites both called Casa
de la Musica.4 I spent the rest of my
time with a circle of ten women who
became my principal informants
as well as with my host family with
whom I would reflect on my daily
experiences and discuss different
perspectives on my research. My
informants had little in common,
apart from obvious characteristics
such as the fact that they were all
Cuban women living in Havana.
Some of them had children and
some did not; some of them knew
each other, most did not; some of
them had relationships to many different foreign men, some of them
had a permanent relationship with a
foreign man and some of them had
relationships to Cuban men and so
on. None of them frequented Casa
de la Musica, because they could not
afford it, but they did go with their
friends and lovers (and me) to other,
cheaper recreational spots. Most of
the time I hung out with them individually, in their homes, talking
about their lives; both those aspects
of them that concerned their relationships to foreign and Cuban men,
as well as any other issue on their
minds at the time.
None of my informants auto-identified as jineteras, and although
they shared their experiences with
foreign men with me and willingly
discussed the emotional, sexual
and economic properties of these
relationships, they did not classify
themselves as women of a certain
kind—jineteras. In the next sections
I shall explore why it was not their
refusal of belonging to the category,
which was problematic, but rather
my own insistence on trying to fit
them into a category.
People as Categories
When writing an Application for Ethics Approval, the applicant is asked
several questions about the participants in the proposed study. One
section concerns the shared salient
characteristics among the research
participants and why that sample
is of interest to the researcher.5 Depending on how familiar she is with
her chosen site, the answer to this
question inevitably has to be more
or less made up of the researchers
imagination. In a book that tracks
and analyses the correspondence
between herself and her student
conducting fieldwork in Australia,
Liisa Malkki describes how social
units often come across as natural
and self explanatory categories in
anthropology. In a reference to Wim
van Binsbergen she questions the
validity and utility of references such
as “the tribe,” “the village,” “the
ethnic group,” or indeed “the nation” as unproblematic social units
that the ethnographer can study
(Cherwonka and Malkki 2007:74-75).
Such generalizations are tempting
in their simplicity, but dangerous
in as much as they eliminate variation within groups and function as
identity markers that individuals of
a group might not relate to (Anderson 2004:71). In fact, I would argue
that these categories are mystifying in their simplicity: who are “the
Cubans” for instance? No one is
short on stereotypical ideas of what
Cubans are like, (sexual, emotional,
great fun, passionate, machistas—
just to name a few popular stereotypes), but such stereotypes tell us
little about individual life projects
and reduce human behaviour to an
expression of geographical-cultural belonging. Malkki however, also
notes that such very general social
units are often commonly accepted
and appropriated among the people
in question. My host family would
be happy to tell me “what Cubans
were like” and how their family
represented such an essential Cuban national identity (cubanidad).
One day my host mother said: “You
will notice that Cubans smile even
though they have many problems.
This is because it is the only way to
survive.” Such a statement is generalizing almost to the point of provocation, but was importantly uttered
by a Cuban. In conclusion Malkki
writes: “That certain social categories and groupings that are socially
or common-sensically meaningful is
important to know, of course, but it
does not follow that these should be
swallowed whole as analytical units”
(Cerwonka and Malkki 2007:75, ital-
ics in original). HREBs play a key
role in developing, in the mind of
the anthropologist, the categories
that are swallowed whole as analytical categories, although they might
not be developed based on empirical
explorations. The general intent of
ethnography is to approach the field
and one’s informants with an open
mind and with few assumptions in
order to learn the emic terms and
categories from doing fieldwork.
Unfortunately, the institutionalized
process of obtaining ethical approval puts the carriage in front of
the horse in the sense that the researcher has to develop her categories before she has had a chance to
learn them through fieldwork. Rena
Lederman, who has edited an entire issue of American Ethnologist
dedicated to the subject of ethics
and the problems with Institutional
Review Boards (IRB), the American
equivalent to HREBs, writes:
Situating themselves in everyday both
as persons and researchers, ethnographers expect to learn how their interlocutors negotiate the tangles of social
life by observing, listening, and getting
partially caught up with them. Expectations of these sorts—the very framework
that gives good work in ethnography its
complementary value relative to other
kinds of social research—simply cannot
be translated in terms designed for experimental biomedical and behavioral
science, in which good work depends on
creating a demarcated, controlled space
of research. (Lederman 2006:489)
The questions in the Application
for Ethics Approval are designed in
such a way that they correspond to
research done in a controlled space
of research or even a clinical setting,
not the kinds of fieldsites that anthropologists tend to work in. In the
US the situation may be “worse,”
according to a number of authors
in the issue of American Ethnologist particularly dedicated to the
theme of ethics. These authors use
“worse” in the sense that IRBs more
rigidly limit the parameters for conceptualizing fieldwork and research
participation than is the case in
Canada. Interestingly HREBs do not
exist in many European universities.
Although ethical issues of fieldwork
need to be considered in every research project at these institutions,
this is often a task taken up at departmental level. Daniel Bradburd,
a contributor to the issue of American Ethnologist mentioned above,
argues that “the rules appear to
exist to legitimate and protect the
university more than the subject”
(Bradburd 2006:497). I will refrain
from commenting further on this
particular claim, but it is clear that
HREBs have caused anthropologists grief for a long time because
of their somewhat clinical perspective to what it means to conduct
research with “human subjects”
(Lederman 2006:487). The grief
they cause novice anthropologists
is a deep frustration and confusion
as to with whom and how many one
is supposed to speak in the field; a
concern reflected many times in my
field diary.
The influence that HREBs assert
upon researchers is not only to think
people into categories, but to think
them into specific categories. As
such we tend to think of our informants as “research participants”
and the researcher becomes obsessed with finding exemplary members of a given category (Anderson
2004:79). Another fallback of the
ethics application procedure is that
in publications the ethnographer
might limit contextual information
about her informants to a bare minimum and restrict their narratives in
an attempt to protect their anonymity, but thereby reducing the richness of the research. For me the
consequence of going through the
application procedure was an almost permanent unnerving feeling
of not having been able to sample a)
the right kind of informants and, as
a result thereof, b) the right number
of informants. The women I worked
with did not fit well into my idea of
how jineteras looked and behaved.
They were too poor, too old, too
young, too content, and too unsuccessful in keeping long-term relationships with foreign men. Furthermore my impression of the women
changed over time as particular individuals slipped into the category
of ‘friend’. It took me quite a while
to discover that it was not the women who did not fit the category, but
the category that did not fit them.
This realization not only made me
question the utility of going through
the ethics application procedure,
but also made me more interested
in understanding what made the
category jinetera difficult to apply
to real people. This was especially
interesting as I was not short of informants who would willingly point
out others as jineteras. Next, I will
show how the category in this sense
turned out to be a fruitful one, not
in and off itself, but as a vehicle for
understanding social prejudice and
stigma in Cuba.
Jineteras and Luchadoras
As alluded to above, the term jineterismo refers to the phenomenon
that made up the context for my research interests. Individuals engaging in jineterismo are called jineteros
(men) or jineteras (women). It would
be appropriate to refer to the term
jinetera as a stigma, its properties
depending on “a complex interlocking of discourses of morality, race,
class, gender, and nation” (Rundle
2001:3). According to Mette Berg
Rundle, the term jinetera ultimately
challenges the revolutionary narrative of economic, political, gender
and racial equality in Cuba. Jineteras are portrayed as foolish young
girls or selfish, greedy women who
have not only gained headway in
the Cuba’s new dollar economy
through illicit means, but are also
flashing their newfound fortune for
everyone to see. My host family and
friends that wanted to help me with
my research would often point out
supposed jineteras to me, telling me
that they were easy to spot because
they wore fancy clothes and had expensive habits (for instance taking
cabs and drinking whiskey). Cuban
women who had relationships to
foreign men received presents from
them: perfumes, purses, clothing,
jewelry etc. These items were ‘luxury goods’ because they could not
be purchased in Cuba or were too
expensive for the average Cuban to
afford. The situation often resulted
in my informants experiencing stigmatization as jineteras. Importantly,
an array of circumstances and factors contributed to singling out the
women I talked to as jineteras in
the eyes of others: their skin colour
(while some of them were black and
some mulatas, only one was white),
their origin (from poorer suburban
neighbourhoods in Havana or the
country side), their work situation
(or lack of), their family situation
(most of them were single mothers)
or any combination of these. It was
an interlocking of these factors and
their association with low social status that solidified the stigma as jinetera for my informants.
We can understand stigma as an attribute, a behavior or a reputation,
which is socially discrediting to the
stigmatized person (Cecilia Benoit,
personal communication). Stigma
usually overshadows other aspects
of a person’s identity, which are invalidated by the stigma. As an example, if a woman who participates
in commercial sex is being called a
“prostitute,” this pejorative pertains
to all aspects of her life, so that even
if she has children, studies, is an artist or holds other jobs, people will
still know and refer to her as a “prostitute”. Calling the same woman a
“sex worker,” on the other hand,
indicates that her participation in
commercial sex is but one aspect of
her life: a way for her to make money to support other aspects of her
identity. The term jinetera functions
much as that of prostitute. It refers
to a specific kind of woman who engages in specific kinds of activities
motivated by a desire for money
or “luxury goods”. It hides the fact
that many Cuban women who have
relationships to foreign men, do so
on occasion when the opportunity
arises and may simultaneously occupy other professional or social
roles.6 My informants’ emphasis or
suppression of certain features of
their life contributed greatly to the
way in which others perceived them.
As I will show below, this was important because the women did use the
stereotypical image of the jinetera
to prove that given their own circumstances they did not belong to
this category, but rather to the more
respectable category of luchadora.
In the public imagery the jinetera
embodied the “newly rich” in Cuba,
and was believed to engage in illicit
activities that were damaging to her
health and wellbeing simply to obtain luxury goods. This image of the
jinetera is best understood in opposition to the image of “every” Cuban
woman or at least “good” Cuban
women as being luchadoras.
The luchadora is also a well-known
figure in Cuban society, even older than that of the jinetera. The
noun refers to the emic term “the
struggle” (la lucha), which has be51
come the common understanding
and description of daily life in Cuba,
especially after the onset of the economic crisis known as The Special
Period in Times of Peace (El Periodo
Especial en Tiempos de Paz) in the
mid 1990s. After the collapse of the
Berlin Wall in November 1989 and
the complete disintegration of the
Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba experienced a severe economic crisis. The
country had relied almost entirely on
the trading relationships with their
big sister in the East and when the
Soviet Union failed to deliver oil supplies to Cuba along with monetary
support through the CMEA7, Cuban
living standards declined radically.
During this period (which never officially came to an end) Cuban citizens
grew accustomed to state regulated
power outages, a reduction by more
than half of the available public
transportation and extreme shortages of food and other household
necessities. Since the mid 1990s,
Cuba has introduced aspects of a
market economy and seen a boom in
the tourism industry, hoping this will
save the economy. However, daily
life in Cuba is still presents itself as
a “struggle” to make ends meet for
many families and requires the ability to “invent” (inventar) alternative
life strategies.
It is in this scenario of shortage and
struggle that the figure of the luchadora, the woman who fights or struggles, acquires meaning. Through
sacrifice, black market activities and
hard work Cuban women (ideally)
try the best they can to resolve their
economic problems and feed their
families. Concretely Cuban women
do this in various ways, but what is
important is that the term luchar
and the idea of the luchadora are
widely recognized and positively associated with hardworking women,
devoted to their families.
Recounting of my first meeting
with Dolores will serve to highlight
the way in which Cuban women can
play with well-known emic categories to present themselves in a desirable way and escape the stigma
of jinetera. Dolores was a friend of
my hostess and one day when visiting with family in the neighbourhood where Dolores lived my hostess told me that we should go see
her because she “had the kind of
experience I was interested in”. My
hostess was referring to the fact
that I had said I was interested in
the phenomenon of jineterismo and
in talking to women who had relationships with foreign men. As my
hostess introduced me to Dolores
she said, directing herself to Dolores and I simultaneously, that I was
interested in studying “jineterismo
and all that” and that I would like to
speak to Dolores (at this point my
hostess directed herself to Dolores
only) because “you also struggled
for a while” (tu también luchaste
por un tiempo). My hostess showed
great sensitivity in phrasing her request on my behalf this way because
even when it was common knowledge that Dolores had acquired every piece of furniture in her house
through activities of jineterismo, my
hostesses did not directly tell Dolores that I wanted to talk to her about
her experiences in prostitution. Instead she framed her actions as
acts of “struggle” and “sacrifice” for
her children, both terms that have
positive connotations in Cuba. Dolores quickly picked up on this, and
although she would become a key
informant and willingly talk to me
about her experiences with foreign
men, she always referred to herself
as luchadora. She often made reference to the hardship she endured
and her many ways of trying to resolve her economic problems.
Was Dolores a jinetera or a luchadora? She did have the experience I
was interested in knowing about, but
was not willing to fit herself into the
category of jinetera. This insistence
on defining herself as luchadora
taught me a lot about her situation
and the stigma that being a jinetera
entails. Dolores insisted on being a
luchadora and cleverly counteracted
the stigma of jinetera by inverting
the traditional understanding of the
term luchadora from being a term
describing the struggles of revolutionary women, to describe her
struggles as a woman who had had
to prostitute. Dolores conflated the
two categories and argued that she
was a luchadora because she had
been a jinetera.
my proposed category of research
participants. Her experience with
dating foreign men was in the past,
and she did not want to talk much
about it. She had more pressing and
current problems with her Cuban
husband that we often discussed. It
took me a long time to realize that
the category of jinetera was inappropriate, and undesirable as a stigma. Through the process of applying for ethical approval I had gotten
stuck in my head that I was looking
for jineteras in Havana, although in
hindsight it is clear that I needed to
understand the discourse of jineterismo and the way it was applied in
social relationships before I could
understand the function of the category jinetera in such relationships.
Whether I could call anyone of my
informants a jinetera post fieldwork
is irrelevant, as the lesson learned
was that jinetera is a stigma no one
will willingly subscribe to. The good
news is that the strength of anthropology lies in discovering, explaining
and analyzing the kinds of social relationships that can lead to an understanding of social categories and
phenomena. The bad news is that
the Application for Ethics Approval
asks the researcher to list categories, rather than developing their
own productive questions in order
to explore social relationships.
The Tourist Category
Despite these insights that I gained
from talking to Dolores and trying to
understand her situation, I was frustrated because she did not fit in to
It turned out that the most relevant
categories to “discover” in the field,
were not only those that my informants occupied, or that I thought
they occupied, but also the categories available to me. My experience
included a constant nagging feeling
of being more of a tourist than an anthropologist, or the awkward ‘tourist-anthropologist’ as I refer to it.
This proved fruitful for understanding the possibilities for relationships
between my informants and I, but
also between my informants and
others—such as the foreign men that
the Cuban women engaged with.
George Simmel has written a wonderful article called “The Stranger”
that many anthropology students
are familiar with. Simmel argues
that the stranger is a sociological figure, a special position within
cultural and social units occupied
by those who do not belong to the
group per se, but manages to obtain
rapport with its members and play
an important role in their social life.
The stranger, as Simmel poetically
puts it, is “the person who comes today and stays tomorrow,” a person
who immerses himself in the lives
of a foreign group of people and becomes part of the group although he
does not have social obligations or
owns property within the group. The
moral of the story is, that even if we
as anthropologists are strangers to
our informants, we obtain exclusive
access to other peoples’ worlds and
find ourselves at the core of “culture”. In fact we gain this access
because we are strangers. As Simmel writes: “He [the stranger] often
receives the most surprising openness – confidences which sometimes
have the character of a confessional
and which would be carefully withheld from a more closely related
person” (Simmel in Frank 1950:404).
This description of the relationship
between the stranger (or fieldworker) and her informants might represent the “anthropologist’s dream,”
at least for many students who have
listened to endless anecdotes from
their professors’ time in the field. In
my experience, however, I remained
a stranger to my informants. This
was because my relationship to my
informants was based on my position as a foreigner in Cuba and
because their lives played out on
many stages, and not one “secret”
backstage existed for me to gain
exclusive access.
During my initial encounter with and
analysis of the tourism scene in Havana I was tempted to replicate the
stereotype of the tourist, mostly
in order to demonstrate that I was
not one. In my own imagination, the
tourists were those old, white men
that came to the resorts in Varadero
and to Havana to enjoy all kind of
luxuries, without knowing that none
of this was accessible to Cubans
and without speaking Spanish so as
to understand the nuances in local
ways of communicating. In my own
opinion, I distinguished myself by
being a young, Spanish speaking, female researcher, somewhat adept at
Cuban ways of talking and walking. In
hindsight my attempt to escape the
category of the tourist, just as many
tourists try to escape themselves,
shows that I, along with my informants, tended to think of foreigners
stereotypically. These stereotypes
are no more nuanced than the same
stereotypes tourists apply to Cubans. I had a hard time accepting
that to most of my informants and
to my host family I was just “passing
by”. I was little different from a tourist, and although I developed lasting
friendships during fieldwork, they
had met someone like me before. I
was often advised to do the same
things I heard other tourists being
advised to do, although I ambitiously tried to come off as a “poor student” who could not afford to go see
the most famous tourist attractions
such as the world famous cabaret
Tropicana. Being a tourist is difficult
for an anthropologist, because of
the moral values we attach to tourism in comparison with fieldwork.
Tourism is superficial, uninformed,
disinterested, exploitative and so on.
I soon learned, however, that “the
foreigner” (extranjero) was a very
prevalent and important emic category in Cuba, and I slowly warmed
up to the fact that the category
might be a useful one to explore in
order to understand relationships
between Cuban women and foreign
men. Furthermore, I was in a unique
position to do so because I was one.
Much of everyday socio-economic
life in Havana revolves around tourism and a majority of the residents
have daily direct or indirect contact
with foreigners, as they sell objects
to them, guide them around town,
try to engage them in conversation to see if they can do business
with them, make catcalls after for-
eign women who pass by and gossip about foreigners’ consumption
of luxury goods. Other locals try to
avoid foreigners because they find
the massive presence of tourists
invasive or because they are afraid
to be interrogated by police if they
hang around with foreigners, as
such interactions are subject to severe control by Cuban authorities.
Early scholars in tourism studies
believed tourism to render interactions between “hosts” and “guests”
superficial and disingenuous due
to its temporality and the obvious
socio-economic inequalities between local populations and visitors
(Boorstein 1964; Smith 1989). However, the situation in Havana proves
that tourism and the institutionalized role of the foreigner enables
personal relationships between
Cubans and tourists, though it also
causes certain strains on these relationships. In what has been called
Cuba’s “tourism apartheid” physical
space is sharply divided between the
places that Cubans have access to
and those that only foreigners can
enter, such as hotel lobbies, certain
beach and pool areas, some restaurants, clubs and stores. Cubans also
desire to enter such places, and often find their way in, not least with
the objective of getting in touch
with foreigners and enjoy the luxuries of such exclusive spaces with
foreign friends, who pay for their
Cuban companions’ entrance and
entertainment. Despite official restrictions on movement and contact
between Cubans and foreigners, in
effect such divisions actually cre55
ate a desire for establishing contact
between Cubans and foreigners and
facilitate exchange. A foreigner can
invite his or her Cuban friend/guide/
host/lover to a bar in an attempt to
become acquainted and build a closer relationship and the Cuban person on their part can have a specific
desire to interact with their foreign
acquaintance in a space where they
are usually not permitted to enter.
Foreigners are also often invited to
private parties, and are expected
to show up with extra provisions of
rum and beer, and so they often end
up almost hosting the party they are
attending as guests. In this situation
the foreigner may feel as if they gain
exclusive access to a private space,
while at the same time their access
has been prompted by their status
as a foreigners and the expectations that they will bring provisions
to the party. Official policies attempt
to minimize and regulate contact
between foreigners and Cubans,
for example by requiring tourists to
stay in official tourist lodging only
and pay higher fees in dollars for
cultural entertainment such as theater or cabaret performances, than
the regular price in pesos. These restrictions and regulations, however,
in their own way provoke tourists to
seek out experiences that are unregulated and again, enable rather than
restrict contact and relationships
between tourists and foreigners.
The emic categories that I discovered in the field depended in part
on which relationships were open
to me. I discovered the category of
the foreigner, or rather its importance in the setting in which I did
my fieldwork, because of my own
relationships and the opportunities
that being a foreigner allowed me.
For example, my host family invited
me to stay with them, fully knowledgeable about my research project
and with a certain interest in helping me complete it, but they were
without doubt also motivated by the
fact that I would pay rent throughout my stay. We developed a close
relationship, but a certain ambiguity always existed because of the
obvious socio-economic differences between us. I was in some ways
treated as a daughter, and expected
to partake in housekeeping. At other
times expected to behave as a foreigner, for instance by taking dance
classes from my hostess. Ambiguity
is often a productive focus point for
analysis in anthropology. Unfortunately the categories available in
the Application for Ethics Approval
do not allow for such ambiguity and
do not allow the researcher to envision creatively what kind of possible
relationships they will be able to
establish in the field.
In this essay I have drawn on examples from my own research in order
to demonstrate the problems that
the process of applying for ethical
approval poses for novice anthropologists. This process reverses the
anthropological method of inquiry
and asks the researcher to define
and explain social categories be-
fore they have been discovered in
the field. I am not pointing towards
the problem in order to argue that
HREBs are disruptive of anthropological research initiatives to the
point that we should do away with
them. The protection of research
participants’ wellbeing is of outmost importance as is the health
and safety of the researchers and
this is the stated objective of the
work of the HREBs. Furthermore,
anthropologists continuously find
themselves in situations were ethical standards are absolutely necessary and guidelines are needed. Especially inexperienced fieldworkers
should be obligated to consider the
ethical implications of their work. I
have focused my critique on the process through which students of anthropologists are forced to do so. In
this process the complexities of the
kinds of ethical issues anthropologists may encounter in the field are
obscured by the seemingly “easy”
application of categories and definitions of relationship. Categories
are problematic, not only because
they reduce our sense of variation
within groups and individual differences in people’s life projects, but
also because they come across as
self-explanatory, “natural” categories, that need not be criticized. We
need not criticize such categories to
do away with them, but to discover
their meanings and significance in
social relations (Anderson 2004:72).
also led me to think about the usefulness of taking our informant’s
and our own, sometimes stereotypical, categories seriously. We must
think of social categories (such as
jinetera) not as fixed local identities, but as volatile processes that
will continue to unfold (Lancaster
1997:7). This might be especially
true in the context of Cuba, a postrevolutionary society in transition.
Anthropologists should look at fluid
social relationships, because that is
what we are good at.
Beyond this, my discussion of the
role the Application for Ethical Approval in the research process has
1. I am emphasizing that the process
may be particularly troublesome
and frustrating for novice anthro-
In conclusion I will suggest that the
Application for Ethics Approval for
Human Participant Research is valuable, but other questions need to
be asked in the application form if
it is to become truly relevant to anthropology. These questions need to
concern social relationships rather
than categories of people, including
the possible relationship between
researcher and research participants. For example: What kinds of
relationships are you going to investigate? What kinds of relationships
do you envision yourself having?
Anthropologists know that they are
implicated in the categories that
their informants occupy, because of
their research relationship, and this
form of self-reflection is a strength
in anthropology that should be of
inspiration in the work of HREBs.
pologists because I suspect that
senior scholars, who have gone
through the same process numerous time, are more strategic and
less emotionally affected by the
2. Jineterismo is a catch-all term
that covers a wide span of activities in the informal sector,
only some of which carry sexual
meanings. Street vendors that
sell overpriced cigars to tourists
or people who offer unauthorized guiding services to foreigners also risk being singled out
as jineteros (men) or jineteras
(women) both by their peers and
the police. Even academics, who
use their professional networks
to present their work abroad
could be accused of jineterismo
or may even jokingly refer to
themselves as such.
3. Salsa music and dance has
achieved fame and popularity around the world in recent
years, but the musical phenomenon has roots back to the 1960s
and 1970s where it originated in
the Latin American neighborhoods in New York. It incorporates a variety of Caribbean musical styles, such as son, guajira,
mambo, charanga, boogaloo and
rumba. The name salsa, Spanish for “sauce”, refers to this
agglomerate of formerly different ingredients to a new and
indiscriminate blend (Wieshiolek 2003:120). Salsa is known
in Cuba and elsewhere in Latin
America as a popular music and
dance, but has never been domesticated and regulated as a
ballroom dance, such as waltz,
foxtrot or quickstep (Weishiolek 2003:122). In Cuba, salsa is
not taught in the national dance
schools as are ballet, folklore
and modern dance, but most Cubans will claim that they dance
salsa or that they know enough
to admit that they are bad at it.
4. Casa de la Musica is a dance
club chain, and a franchise can
be found in every major city in
Cuba that attracts foreign visitors. However, all major business
is state owned in Cuba and Casa
de la Musica is therefore not a
competing brand, but rather a
well-known and popular cultural
5. Question 2a: “Briefly describe the
target population(s) for recruitment. Ensure that all participant
groups are identified,” 2b: “Why
is this population of interest?”
and 2d: “What are the salient
characteristics of the participants?” (University of Victoria’s
Application for Ethics Approval
for Human Participant Research,
submitted to and approved by
the Human Research Ethics
Board 2007).
6. Interestingly, the verb “jinetar”
is commonly used to describe,
often jokingly, the things people
have to do to find solutions to
their problems (resolver). I once
overhead an professor of mine at
the University of Havana laughingly ask a colleague who he
would have to “jinetear” in order
to get his new book published
outside of Cuba. Using the verb,
jinetear, rather than the noun,
jinetero/a, indicates that it is
something one does occasionally,
not an aspect of one’s persona.
When certain women are singled
out as jineteras, the stigma is
much more powerful.
7. From its foundation in 1949 till
its demise in 1991 the Council of
Mutual Economic Assistance (in
Spanish called Consejo de Ayuda
Mutua Económica or CAME) was
an economic trading organization between designed to create
corporation and facilitate trade
between socialist and communist states. The CMEA membership spanned the Soviet Union
along with other eastern and
non-eastern socialist countries,
although the organization was
dominated by the large economy
of the Soviet Union. Cuba was
a member of the organization
since 1972 and benefited greatly
from this, particularly by exchanging oil for sugar with the
Soviet Union. Cuba expierenced
a immediate hard currency crisis
when the CMEA ended all special concessions to Cuba in 1992
(Susman 1998:187).
References Cited
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Bradburd, Daniel
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Cherwonka, Allaine and Liisa
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2007 Improvising Theory: Process
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1997 Sexual Positions: Caveats
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Rundle, Mette B.
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Courtman (ed.)
Simmel, Gorge
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Smith, Valene (ed.)
1989 Hosts and Guests: The
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Susman, Paul
1998 Cuban Socialism in Crisis: A
Neoliberal Solution? In Globalization and Neoliberalism: The
Caribbean Context. Thomas
Klak (ed.) Lanham: Rowman and
Wieshiolek, Heike
2003 ‘Ladies, Just Follow His
Lead!’ Salsa, Gender and
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Embodied Identities.Noel Dyck
and Eduardo P. Archetti (eds.)
Oxford, New York: Berg.
Jennafer Roberts
Contested Femininities: Social Evolution
and the Victorian Construction of the
Idealised Woman
In this essay, I focus on the ways in which social evolutionary theories reified and legitimated socially constructed gendered inequalities between
middle-class Victorian men and women. First, I begin by summarising the
tenets of social evolutionary theory as they were expounded by Charles
Darwin and Herbert Spencer. In the second section, I highlight the manner
in which Victorian feminists mobilised against dominant masculinist evolutionary perspectives to form a counterargument promoting the authority
of women. Finally, I utilise dominant masculinist and feminist discourses of
social evolution to discuss the social production and political implication of
scientific knowledge. Through my analysis of dominant masculinist evolutionist and feminist discourses, I argue that social evolutionary theory was
situated, contingent, and contested.
Social evolutionary theory in the
late-1800s and early-1900s served
to legitimize socially constructed
gender inequalities in Victorian society. The scholarly work of scientists in Victorian society set out to
support the “...conventional vision
of perfection in family life; it was
not, perhaps a natural institution,
but it was the result of a long and
painful evolutionary struggle away
from nature” (Deutscher 2004: 24).
An analysis of social evolutionary
thought as it constructed Victorian
feminine identities is significant because it provides a site whereby we
can come to understand the scientific legitimisation of social and political agendas. It also allows us to understand how scientific discourses
reify social inequalities, particularly
gendered inequalities, in the past
and the present.
In this paper, I attempt to address
the ways in which social evolutionary theories were inscribed in white,
middle-class Victorian women’s gendered identities in the late-1800s
and the early-1900s. To attend to
this goal, it is pertinent to focus on
three different aspects of social evolutionary theories as they were constructed in Victorian society. In the
first section of this paper, I discuss
Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer’s construction of social evolution. For Spencer, civilisation was
linked to patriarchy. Indeed, he considered male domination, through
patriarchy, to be situated in the
“thorough domestication of women”
(Fee 1975:38). In the second section
of the paper, I discuss the way in
which Victorian feminists challenged
dominant evolutionary theories that
reified gender inequalities. I focus on
the way in which three feminists, in
particular, critique the construction
of male superiority by reconceptualising social evolutionary theories
to demonstrate the natural authority of women, particularly white,
middle class women. Finally, I utilise
dominant masculinist and feminist
discourses of social evolution to
discuss the manner in which scientific knowledge is socially produced
and politically implicated. Both the
Victorian male social evolutionists
and the feminists mobilised the authority of scientific knowledge to
advance their political agendas with
the tacit assumption that scientific
knowledge was neutral. Through my
analysis of dominant masculinist
evolutionist and feminist discourses,
I assert that the science of social
evolution was situated, contingent,
and indeed, contested.
Evolutionary Science and
the Construction of the
Feminine Ideal
Before the concept of evolution
could become inculcated in public
thought, it first needed to “...prevail
within the realm of science itself”
(Hofstadter 1959:16). By the early
1870s, Darwin’s theories of evolution
through natural selection and transmutation of the species permeated
the realm of science and success-
fully dominated the minds of American naturalists (Hofstadter 1959:18).
It should be noted that it is not my
goal here to summarise the tenets
of Darwin’s theories of evolution,
but rather to discuss his conceptualisations of sexual differences between men and women as they were
situated within these theories.
Darwin saw distinct and innate differences between men and women’s
mental and physical capabilities. In
his works, The Descent of Man and
In Relation to Sex, first published in
1871, Darwin took on the task of describing the biological roles of men
and women as they were embedded within a general evolutionary
scheme of all organisms. He opined
that man in comparison to woman
was not only more courageous, pugnacious, and energetic, but he also
had a “more inventive genius” (Darwin 1890: 557). Man’s general superiority over woman rested within
his overall physical strength as a derived characteristic from “half-human male ancestors” (Darwin 1890:
563). Darwin maintained that men,
“as a general rule, have to work
harder than women for their joint
subsistence, and thus their greater
strength will have been kept up”
(1890:563). Men were, thus, more
biologically inclined to be stronger
because it was necessary for the
survival of men and women alike.
While Darwin suggested inherent
physical differences between the
sexes, he also ascribed differences
of mental faculties as well. Woman,
he believed, differed from man “...
chiefly in her greater tenderness
and less selfishness...woman, owing
to her maternal instincts, displays
these qualities towards her infants
in an eminent degree; therefore it
is likely that she would often extend
them toward her fellow creatures”
(Darwin 1890: 563). It is here that
we begin to see how the biological role of women was thought to
contribute to their expected role in
society. For Darwin, the defining distinction between men and women’s
intellectual capacities was demonstrated in men’s ability to attain “...a
higher eminence, in whatever he
takes up...whether requiring deep
thought, reason, or imagination,
or merely the use of the sense and
hands” (1890:564). Darwin asserted
that the capabilities of women were
located in “their powers of intuition,
of rapid perception, and perhaps
of imitation,” characteristic of the
“lower races, and therefore of a
past and lower state of civilisation”
(1890:563-564). Darwin’s analysis of
the biological roles of men and women were espoused by Spencer and
applied to the contemporary Victorian social roles of men and women.
In mobilising Darwin’s ideas of evolution and natural selection, Spencer attempted to situate them within
his own theories of gendered social
roles of men and women, middleclass white men and women, in particular. For Spencer, biological processes informed men and women’s
social roles. Spencer regarded the
comparatively lower rate of multiplication of humankind to other animals
as necessary for its higher evolution
(Spencer 1895:479). In Principles of
Biology, published in 1895, Spencer
situated variations in human fertility
within general laws of fertility for all
organisms. He theorised that there
was a specific period in the life cycle
of individuals in which they would
be most reproductively successful.
Reproductive success was marked
by the ability to produce healthy
infants. He believed that a woman’s
prime reproductive years were between twenty-five and twenty-nine
years of age. Infants born to women
either younger or older than this age
bracket, he argued, would be smaller
in weight and height and therefore
less healthy (Spencer 1895:480).
Spencer insisted that individuals
should focus on the reproduction
of the (civilised) human race, rather
than on themselves. By doing so, “...
the cost of individuation being much
reduced, the rate of Genesis is much
increased” (Spencer 1895:482).
Spencer was particularly concerned
with what he termed the “antagonism between individuation and reproduction,” which he defined as “a
tax which, though it is pleasurably
paid in fulfillment of the appropriate
instincts and emotions, and is in so
far a fulfillment of individual life, is
nevertheless a tax which restricts
individual development in various
directions” (1904:533).
Though not clearly defined, Spencer conceptualised individuation as
the pursuit of an individual’s goals,
achievements, and ultimately, an
individual’s development. For him,
individuation in women particularly
manifested itself in mental or physical labour and had the potential to
disrupt their reproductive abilities.
Thus, he declared that “absolute
or relative infertility is generally
produced in women by mental labour carried to excess” (Spencer
1895:483). This deficiency in reproductive abilities was a result of the
over-taxing of a young woman’s
brains. This over-taxation, in turn,
produced serious physical reactions,
including a greater frequency of
sterility, an early cessation of childbearing, and an inability to nurse an
infant (Spencer 1895:486). While
Spencer argued women should give
up their individuation to perpetuate
the human race, he claimed men’s
“greater cerebral expenditure” did
not necessarily destroy or diminish
their reproductive power (Spencer
1895:486). Men, therefore, could
successfully pursue individuation,
while contributing to human reproduction without detrimental affects
to themselves or their offspring.
Spencer’s affirmation of a man’s
dual ability to pursue individuation
and contribute to the perpetuation
of the human race manifested itself
in male authority over females. This
is a particularly salient theme in the
institution of marriage. In Spencer’s
Principles of Ethics, published in
1900, he argued that because men
were the primary economic contributors within a marriage, the “discharge of domestic and maternal
duties by the wife may ordinarily be
held a fair equivalent for the earning of an income by the husband”
(1900:161). For women, who must reciprocate in what he termed “marital
beneficence,” “indebtedness to the
bread-winner has to be recognized
and in some measure discharged...”
(Spencer 1900:341). This, he suggested, could be achieved by taking care of household duties, which
makes domestic life, life within the
household, run smoothly (Spencer
1900:341). Women’s primary biological role of reproducing the human
race led Spencer to declare women
the primary caretakers of children.
Their domestic role in the household,
therefore, necessarily restricted
their activities to the home and limited their “individual development”
(Spencer 1900:337). Pregnancy and
ultimately the transition into motherhood resulted in a mental degradation occurring in women. The lack
of individual development in women
led Spencer to suggest that men ultimately had authority over women
because they were more “judiciallyminded,” particularly in situations of
disputes (1900:161). Spencer extends
this argument beyond the domestic
sphere by suggesting that women
did not have the same political
rights as men because they did not
contribute to or carry the same responsibilities as men outside of their
roles as mothers (1900:166).
Spencer conceived chastity to be
the foundation upon which Victorian marriages rested. He believed
that sexual relations needed to be
favourable to the rearing of offspring; straying from chastity, as a
criterion of “evolutionary ethics,”
(1904:448) would result in the degradation or extinction of the human
race (1904:449). As such, chastity
was a “higher conception,” that did
not extend to the “lower societies”
(Spencer 1904:449). Spencer argued that chastity, particularly of
women, furthered the superior social state of man. Chastity was conducive to the nurturance of offspring
and it allowed for the development
of “higher sentiments which prompt
[monogamous] relations” (Spencer
1904: 463). For a woman, this biological role manifested itself in her
social role as a mother; indeed, not
fulfilling it could result in the “not infrequent occurrence of hysteria and
chlorosis [which] shows in that women...are apt to suffer grave constitutional evils from the incompleteness
of life which celibacy implies” (Spencer 1904:534). What this suggested
was that a woman was apt to ill
health if she did not fulfill her reproductive, biological role as a mother.
Marriage provided the arena in
which a woman could fulfill this role,
while reinforcing the importance of
chastity. Marriage resulted in a moral transformation, whereupon even
the most vain, thoughtless girl could
become a devoted wife and mother
(Spencer 1904:535). Spencer suggested that the welfare of offspring
should take precedence over the
welfare of those who produce them
(1904: 544). “The ethical code of
nature...allows no escape of parents
from their obligations” (Spencer
1904:547). For Spencer, “no conclusion can be sustained which does
not conform to the ultimate truth
that the interests of the race must
predominate over the interests of
the individual” (1904:544). Ultimately, Spencer’s discussion about
the altruism of parenthood and the
necessity of restricting individuation
for the perpetuation of the species
rested in the role of women as mothers. Thus, it necessarily fell to women to subordinate their individuality.
Spencer claimed that the perpetuation of the human race necessitated women subverting their individuality to motherhood; yet, he
was insistent that men and women
should treat each other with equal
consideration. In The Man Versus
the State, Spencer argued that within the institution of marriage, men
should recognize “that there is a
fatal incongruity between the matrimonial servitude which our law recognizes and the relation that ought
to exist between husband and wife”
(1895:76). Although the imposition
of one human being’s authority over
another is “essentially rude and brutal,” (Spencer 1895:73) he insisted
that a woman’s rights, that is, the
“freedom to exercise the faculties,”
(1895:73) should be measured in
relation to her mental intelligence.
This establishes an obvious tautological argument that Spencer both
relied upon and failed to recognize.
Spencer’s tautology rests within five
interconnected features that are
mutually dependant on each other:
First, Spencer argued that women
must subvert their individuation to
perpetuate the human race. Second,
individuation was conceptualised as
dangerous to women because it had
the ability to disrupt their reproductive duties. Third, the subversion of
women’s individuation to their biological roles as reproducers resulted
in a decline of brain power. Fourth,
because the pursuit of individuation
did not detrimentally affect men’s
ability to reproduce, they were freely
able to cultivate their own individuation, while perpetuating the human
species. Finally, it was women’s limited mental capabilities, as a result
of their reproductive duties, that
rendered them inferior to men’s superior mental and physical abilities.
The Feminist (Re)Interpretation of Social Evolution
and Gendered Faculties
In the late 1800s, feminist movements began to challenge the reification of male superiority promulgated through social evolutionary
theories. In this section, I focus on
the feminist critique and reconceptualisation of social evolution by
three women in particular: Charlotte
Perkins Gilman, Eliza Burt Gamble,
and Antoinette Brown Blackwell.
All three women attempted to dismantle what they conceptualised
as a version of social evolution that
promoted the subversion of female
qualities perceived to be threatening to male superiority. By mobilising the rhetoric of social evolution
and by embracing theories of human progress, each woman was
able to construct an argument that
repudiated the naturalisation of
gendered inequalities put forth by
male scientists. Gilman, Gamble, and
Blackwell formulated a retort, legitimized through the language of science, which simultaneously rejected
the superiority of the male sex and
promoted the natural authority of
women. Yet, at this juncture, it is
imperative to note that while these
feminists challenged gendered inequalities, they reproduced the
social inequalities that existed between women of differing social
identities, including class, ethnicity,
and ability. Indeed, their reconceptualisations of social evolutionary
theory benefitted a select group of
women situated in a relatively privileged position in middle-class Victorian society.
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s book,
Man–Made World, published in 1911,
she acknowledged the superiority
of men over women, but argued this
“pre-eminence to be a distinction of
humanity and not of sex, fully open
to women if they use their human
powers” (1911: Preface). For Gilman,
the distinction between a common
humanity, in Victorian civilised society, and a differentiation between
the sexes was an important one. She
(1911:13) maintained that the scholarly work of sexual differentiation, put
forth by Spencer and Darwin, served
to obscure a common humanity. As
such, she argued “our humanness is
not seen to lie so much in what we
are individually, as in our relations to
one another; and even that individuality is but the result of our relations
to one another” (1911:16). Social evolution relied on the innate biological
abilities of males and females, which
in turn dictated human behaviour
and social roles. Gilman disputed
this biological determinism and put
forth that social identities were constructed through the relations between individuals. She held that the
course of human history had been
made and written by men and had
thus been constructed through what
she termed an “androcentric culture” (1911:17). Indeed, “the mental,
mechanical, the social development
was almost wholly theirs. We have,
so far, lived and suffered and died in
a man-made world” (Gilman 1911:17).
Through the androcentric lens of
the masculinist perspective, women
had been accorded the inferior position. Thus, Gilman’s purpose in her
critique of social evolutionary theories was to discuss the way in which
human life had been dominated by
male authority. For her, the “human scheme of things rests on the
same tacit assumption; man being
held the human type; woman a sort
of accompaniment and subordinate
assistant merely essential to the
making of people” (1911:20). Masculine nature, within the androcentric
culture, was representative of all human nature. For Gilman, the androcentric conceptualisation of human
nature manifested itself in women’s
prescribed roles in society. She emphasized that:
To the man, the whole world was his
world; his because he was male and the
whole world of woman was home; because
she was female. She had her prescribed
sphere, strictly limited to her feminine
occupations and interests; he had all the
rest of life; and not only so, but having it,
insisted on calling it male (Gilman 1911:23).
Gilman, in her analysis of the institution of marriage, took Spencer to task. Spencer asserted that
the institution of the family was a
manifestation of men and women’s
reproductive roles. Spencer envisioned marriage as characteristic
of a sacrifice of individuation. This
sacrifice affected women primarily
because of their fragile mental capacity, which had the dangerous potential of disrupting their reproductive abilities (Spencer 1895:486).
Spencer maintained that the sacrifice of individuation was integral to
the improvement of the human race.
Yet, Gilman argued that although
this subversion of individuation was
necessary, it had been perverted by
the agenda of men. Men, Gilman asserted, manipulated the institution
of the family from one that was dedicated to the “ service of the
child to one modified to [man’s] own
service, the vehicle for his comfort,
power and pride” (1911:27). Thus,
the role of mother shifted from the
“original and legitimate base of family life,” to a role of servitude as a “...
means of pleasure to the man, as his
property” (Gilman 1911:32).
For Gilman, interpretations of evolu68
tionary science, particularly of sex
differentiations, were corrupted by
the androcentric culture. Not only
were these interpretations corrupted, they were injurious to human
progress. Gilman believed that “we
rob our children of half their social
heredity by keeping the mother in an
inferior position; however legalized,
hallowed, or ossified by time, the
position of domestic servant is inferior” (1911:39). Gilman deemed, with
Spencer, monogamous marriage
to be the embodiment of progress
and superiority of Victorian society.
Contravening Spencer, however, she
argued that “marriage is our way of
safeguarding motherhood; of ensuring ‘support’ and ‘protection’ to the
wife and children” (1911:168).
Gilman conceptualised the progress of human civilisation as resting within the abilities of men and
women. She believed that few men
could “overlook the limitation of
their sex and see the truth; that
this business of taking care of our
common affairs is not only equally
open to women and men, but that
women are distinctly needed in it”
(1911:223). Where Spencer and Darwin claimed that sex differentiation
was representative of human progress, Gilman emphasized the importance of equality between the sexes.
She envisioned Victorian society as
the manifestation of the idealised,
intelligent mother. Arguing that because the family was conceptualised
as a unit of the state, she believed
the state should be run on that basis. For Gilman, a “government by
women, so far as it was influenced
by their sex, would be influenced by
motherhood; and that would mean
care, nurture, provision, education”
(1911:190). She considered human
society, particularly Victorian society, as poised to make the world better in a single generation. Progress,
however, could not occur if women
continued to be subordinated to
men. Women were arguably better
equipped to promote the progress
of the human race: men were handicapped by their masculinity, competitiveness, and antagonism. These
characteristics were so interwoven
within androcentric conceptualisations of human progress that woman were unable to claim any “equal
weight and dignity in human affairs”
(Gilman 1911:237). Ultimately, Gilman
asseverated that if women could
recognize their true position in society as mothers, as opposed to subordinating themselves to men, they
would come to understand that “
line with physical evolution, motherhood is the highest process; and that
[women’s] work, as a contribution to
an improved race, must always involve this great function” (1911:245).
While Gilman attempted to challenge
gender differentiation as a marker
for racial progress, Eliza Burt Gamble
subscribed to it. In Gamble’s book,
The Evolution of Women, published
in 1894 (cited in Cohart 1957), she
based much of her theories of social evolution on the work of Darwin.
While she subscribed to these theories of evolution, she disagreed with
Darwin on one essential point. For
Gamble, it was females, not males,
who represented a higher stage of
development (Gamble 1894 cited in
Cohart 1957:9). Gamble states:
...after a careful reading of The Descent
of Man, by Mr. Darwin. I first become impressed with the belief that the theory
of evolution, as enunciated by scientists
furnishes much evidence going to show
that the female among all orders of life,
man included, represents a higher stage
of development than the male (Gamble
1894 cited in Cohart 1957: 11).
Gamble suggested that females exhibited traits that allowed for progression, and that “...from instinct
of nurture and protection for her
young come the social instincts writ
larger and from these habits the origin of moral sense and conscience”
(Hoeveller 2007:171). For her, the
construction of female inferiority
in social evolution was the result of
two processes; one was the result of
biological processes and the other
was situated in what she termed the
“doctrine of male superiority” (Gamble 1894 cited in Cohart 1957: 11). I
will elaborate on both.
Gamble conceived two foundational
points for conceptualising the biological evolution of sex differentiation. The first point posited that the
lowest forms of a species displayed
little sexual differentiation and females in these forms tended not to
participate in or acknowledge courtship displays. In these instances,
the onus was on males to persuade
females to participate (Hoeveller
2007:170). The second point asserted that in the higher forms, males
displayed elaborate features to entice females, who tended to favour
these features (Hoeveller 2007:170).
This evidence, she held, suggested
that the improvement and progress
of human societies rested heavily
on female participation in selecting
mates (Hoeveller 2007:170). Gamble
believed that this evolution of sexual differentiation in males was located in their “...greater aggression
and competition for females and
a greater disposition to individual
self-preservation and a greater habit of sexual gratification” (Hoeveller
2007:170). This excess of sex characteristics, as argued by both Darwin
and Gamble, had the potential to disadvantage males. While Darwin considered natural selection a means
to prevent this excess, Gamble believed that sex differentiation “deprived males of a progressive role
in evolution” (Hoeveller 2007:170).
Gamble came to see the development of aggression in males as a
means of survival and a reinforcement of dominant male traits; thus
men’s strength manifested itself in
their roles as hunters and warriors
(Hoeveller 2007:172). Through this
process, women became increasingly economically dependent on
men. Gamble reasoned that through
this evolution of differentiation the
sex roles of men and women became
ordered and perverted in contemporary Victorian society (Hoeveller
2007:172). Marriage exhibited this
unequal differentiation between the
sexes, where men had control over
women. Gilman theorised that “so
long as woman was the selecting
agent in evolution, sexual differentiation had manifested itself in the
male. After the reversal, woman, in
her subjection to the male, had assumed the burden of pleasing him
through the senses...” (Hoeveller
2007:175). Woman’s fundamental
role in mate selection thus became
the “primary cause of the very
characters through which man’s
superiority over women has been
gained” (Gamble 1894 cited in Cohart 1957:16)
The “doctrine of male superiority,”
similar to Gilman’s “androcentric
culture,” was situated within preevolutionary inquiries of man’s superiority. These inquiries were based
on theological dogmatism and metaphysical speculation (Gamble 1894
cited in Cohart 1957:12). Gamble
argued that the “doctrine of male
superiority” accorded man as “...the
real or direct object of special creation, while woman is only an afterthought—a creature brought forth in
response to the needs of man” (Gamble 1894 cited in Cohart 1957:12).
Gamble envisioned scientific inquiry
as a means of repudiating the theological and metaphysical prejudice
of male superiority. She saw the
authority of science, through its objectivity and rationality, as a way to
invalidate the constructed authority
of theology. Evolutionary science
would allow for the use of facts,
and deductions from those facts, to
diminish the theological and meta-
physical theories that insisted on
privileging men over women. But,
even within the positivism of science, Gamble ardently contended,
“...we find that prejudices which
throughout thousands of years have
been gathering strength are by no
means eradicated, and any discussion of the sex question is still rare in
which the effects of these prejudices
may not be traced” (Gamble 1894
cited in Cohart 1957: 12). While male
scientists continued to construct
the inferiority of women through
biological processes, Gamble argued
that the female, not the male, was
the primary unit of creation. Males
were simply “supplementary or
complimentary” (Gamble 1894 cited
in Cohart 1957:17). She envisioned
evolutionary science as a means to
substantiate the idea that females
were more highly developed than
males. While men in contemporary
Victorian society dominated women,
Gamble asserted that the evolution
of male dominance was stagnating
and would go no further (Gamble
1894 cited in Cohart 1957:176). Indeed, she believed that humankind
would never advance or progress
until “...women recover their original liberties, until, that is, they bring
their ‘natural instincts’ into every
department of human activity” (Hoeveller 2007:176).
Like Gilman and Gamble, Antoinette
Brown Blackwell disputed evolutionary science’s androcentric construction of female inferiority. Blackwell
mobilised Spencer and Darwin’s theories of evolution to argue that sex
differentiation between males and
females did exist, but challenged
the reified inequality their theories
created. She disputed the unequal
roles between men and women, arguing that sex differences should
represent an equilibrium (Munson
& Dickenson 1998:118). Darwin and
Spencer’s theorization of human
evolution emphasized the necessity
of women focusing their energies
on fulfilling their natural reproductive role. Women were expected to
produce and nurture healthy infants
to advance the human race. This
demanded that women limit their
physical and intellectual endeavours.
Blackwell challenged this scientific
discourse by claiming that male scientists were biased and women’s
personal experiences provided an
integral role in revealing that bias
(Munson & Dickenson 1998:110).
Blackwell incisively responded to
this discourse by arguing that men
had no authority to write about the
realities of being a woman. Scientists
had no authority to construct arguments about women’s social and
biological roles because they had
never experienced what it meant to
be a woman (Munson & Dickenson
1998:116). For Blackwell, the dominant social evolutionary theories
regarding women’s roles had not
been deduced scientifically, rather
they had been constructed dogmatically (Munson & Dickenson 1998:117).
She asserted that women’s perspective could serve as a“...corrective to
the illogic of contemporary science,”
because it was the gendered biases
of male scientists that led them to
make unsubstantiated claims (Munson & Dickenson 1998:117).
Blackwell contested the denial of
women’s access to education because it not only limited the potential of each individual woman, it also
limited the progress of the entire
human race (Munson & Dickenson
1998:119). She believed that if women could exercise their intellectual
abilities, they would improve their
minds. Those improvements would
become biologically imprinted and
thus passed on to their offspring
(Munson & Dickenson 1998:119). Ultimately, she premised that women’s
inferior intellectual abilities were
not products of innate, biological differences. Rather, she declared that
this “impoverishment of women”
was a result of Victorian patriarchal
society and utilised the construction
of androcentric scientific knowledge
as an illustrative example (Munson &
Dickenson 1998:119).
The Authority of Science
and the Social Production
of Knowledge
The mobilisation of scientific discourse by feminists at the turn of the
twentieth century provides an arena
in which to conceptualise the social
production of scientific knowledge.
Not only were feminists embracing
the rhetoric of evolutionary science,
they were simultaneously utilising it
to challenge masculinist authoritative knowledge and privilege. Social
evolutionary scientists responded
to feminist challenges with “...a de72
tained and sustained examination
of the differences between men and
women that justified their differing
roles” (Russett 1989:10). This examination was in one regard, an endeavour to simultaneously concretise
valued Victorian gender roles and to
measure the progress of all other societies in relation to these roles. The
reification of scientific knowledge
as objective and rational enhances
its authority. Historical and social
processes between the late-1800s
and early-1900s serve to highlight
the constructed reality of the science of human evolution. Situating
evolutionary science historically and
socially enables us to recognize the
tacit and embedded structures of
power, inequality and politics. It also
enables us to conceptualise how
scientific knowledge is constructed
in different ways and by different
people. Scientific discourses are
discourses of power and, as such,
privilege some while disadvantaging others. For white, middle-class
Victorian men, evolutionary science
legitimised gender inequalities privileging male authority and power. For
white, middle-class Victorian women, evolutionary science provided a
space to refute gender inequalities
and to argue for the recognition of
female authority and power. Within
this debate, the tacit assumption
was that scientific knowledge was
the knowledge of undisputed facts.
Yet, the production of social evolutionary theories cannot be removed
from the context and conditioning of
“personal and family, history, class
and personal identification, and re-
ligious, marital, and social concerns”
(Stocking 1987:233). Thus, while
scientific knowledge is assumed to
be objective, I argue that it is constructed, contingent and positioned
knowledge. By emphasising larger
social processes of Victorian society,
we can begin to deconstruct the articulated authority of evolutionary
Stocking argues that social evolutionism has been conceptualised
as “ ideological reflection of
economic exploitation and class
conflict in an age of rapid capitalist
economic development and imperial expansion” (1987:187). Victorian
values of sexuality were simultaneously bound up in morality and
economics. The moral valuation of
abstinence from sexual activity, exclusion from procreation, and chastity were mobilised in evolutionary
thinking (Stocking 1987:200). The
relationship between sexuality and
economics manifested itself in the
necessity of suppressing sexual
desires. Energy focused on sexual
gratification could not be directed
toward economic productivity. Thus,
as a reflection of capitalist economic development in Victorian society,
“...progress consisted not simply in
a growth of reason, but in the repression of sexual instinct” (Stocking 1987:220). Social evolutionary
theories did not construct the importance of domesticity as signifier
of both morality and social progress;
rather they reflected entrenched
Victorian values. Indeed, Stocking
suggests “the respectable middle-
class ideology of economic sexuality
did not of course emerge full-blown
in the 1850s. Well before Victoria assumed the throne, Victorian sexual
morality was already a powerful cultural force...” (Stocking 1987:217).
Victorian sexual repression manifested itself in the value of female
domesticity, which was in turn, was
emphasized as the “...high point
of evolutionary progress” (Stocking 1987:205). Social evolutionary
theories were constructed from and
served to maintain the status quo of
middle-class Victorian society. Social evolutionists worked to fit their
data of sexual differentiation into a
larger theoretical framework so as
to construct a universal law to humankind (Russett 1989:49). Yet, as
Levy claims, social evolutionary theories, particularly within anthropology,“ consort with sociology and
domestic fiction, contributed more
to the definition of middle-class
[Victorian] family than to that of the
family of man” (1991:50).
By conceptualising the way in which
social knowledge informs scientific
knowledge, we begin to recognize
how social inequalities are embedded within scientific discourse and
practice. The construction of scientific laws in relation to the progress
of human kind cannot be removed
from the context of “middle-class
power” (Levy 1991:32). The professionalization and industrialisation
of sciences, in relation to economic
development, resulted in women
becoming“...systematically and sequentially excluded from the new
occupational structures which, at
their apex, were linked to new forms
of economic and social power”
(Rose 1994:100). Because middleclass women were particularly relegated to the domestic sphere, as
science increasingly represented
the public sphere, women could no
longer participate in the same ways.
The “gentlemanly scientific culture”
(Rose 1994:100) actively worked
to emphasize the importance of
the separation between the sexes.
Reed argues that “since men hold
the dominant place in all spheres of
modern social and cultural life, while
women have been reduced to a narrow, dependent life in home and family, a false proposition has been set
forth to account for this” (1975:44).
As such, the reproductive work of
women was mobilised by scientists
to keep middle-class women within
the domestic sphere. Though, “scientists never engaged in a conscious
conspiracy against women, and they
were by no means uniformly misogynistic” (Russett 1989:190). Rather,
as Gilman, Gamble, and Blackwell
suggested, science was based upon
a foundation that was in itself androcentric and patriarchal. The desire to
disregard women as individuals was
not isolated solely within scientific
discourse. Yet, as Russett maintains,
“...the normal practice of science itself strongly reinforced this stance.
Scientists classify and categorize
and generalize and this often means
that the scientist’s vision is fixed on
the larger collectivity rather than
on the single individual” (1989:193).
Because the science of social evolu74
tion was situated with the classification of humankind as a whole, men
and women were separated into
homogenous groups, comprised of
basic elements (Russett 1989:193).
This classificatory scheme and the
necessity of generalisations justified the construction of fundamental gender differentiations on a
grander scale (Russett 1989:194).
The stratification of middle-class
men and women was held up as an
example of the evolutionary progress of Victorian society, as though
it reflected inherent biological differences between men and women
(Hubbard 1990:123). Arguably, these
gender differentiations were based
on constructions of those in power
and those who had the authority to
conceptualise and reify these ideas.
Thus, male scientists used what
they conceived of as innate biological differences to rationalise, but not
explain, social differences between
men and women and the inequalities borne out of them (Hubbard
1990:124). As Russett succinctly
In denying to women a coequal role in
society, scientists sought to stabilize at
least one set of relationships by inserting lesser orders [women and savages]
between themselves and the apes, to distance themselves from the animality and
erosion of status that Darwinism seemed
to imply...women and the lesser races
served to buffer Victorian gentlemen
from a too-threatening intimacy with the
brutes. (1989:14).
Science, as a product of social practice and discourse, veils power differentials in the rhetoric of biology.
Through the process of transforming
social values, practices, and beliefs
into scientific knowledge, structures
of power are naturalised and made
invisible. Thus, “differences, be they
biological or psychological, become
scientifically interesting only when
they parallel differences in power”
(Hubbard 1990:129)
Throughout this paper, I have discussed the ways in which social evolutionists at the turn of the twentieth
century, particularly Charles Darwin
and Herbert Spencer, utilised scientific discourse to concretise differential gender roles in Victorian society. Spencer and Darwin provided an
arena in which gender inequalities
were not only naturalised, but necessary for the survival of the human
species. At the same time, middleclass Victorian feminists countered
the naturalisation of gender inequality within the same scientific
arena. Gamble, Gilman, and Blackwell utilised the language of evolutionary science to dispute the dominant androcentric explanations for
male superiority. Gamble, Gilman,
and Blackwell contended that it was
not biology that was accountable for
gender inequality; rather, it was the
androcentric interpretation of scientific facts that rendered women inferior. Indeed, they believed that evolutionary science would provide a
legitimate space in which to redress
these inequalities. Social evolution,
for feminists, provided an arena to
argue for women’s rights, where religious dogmas had silenced them.
I have established within this context, that scientific knowledge and
discourse can never be neutral or
apolitical. Rather, by focusing on the
production of scientific knowledge
within a particular social and historical moment, I hope to have demonstrated that scientific theories are
always constructed within larger
social processes. While the authority of science is situated within its
perceived neutrality, my analysis of
social evolutionary theories in Victorian society demonstrates that
scientific knowledge can serve a
powerful political role. For Victorian
feminists and male social evolutionists, it was the tacit neutrality and
objectivity of science that legitimised their divergent political agendas.
While I have attempted to provide
an analysis of the science of social
evolution as it impacted Victorian
women, there is much that I have
not addressed in this paper. In particular, I have not addressed the
way in which middle-class Victorian
feminists relied on and perpetuated constructions of “primitive”
people to“...create an effective and
persuasive body of feminist theory”
(Bederman 1995:122). Gilman, in particular, utilised the notion of civilisation and civilised people to demonstrate that“...human advancement
was not a matter of gender difference but of racial difference” (Bederman 1995:124). It is important to
acknowledge here that while Victorian feminists strove to question and
problematise the tacit superiority of
men, they relied on racialised constructions of civilised and primitive
societies to do so. Feminism, within
Victorian society, focused narrowly
on the rights of middle-class Victorian women. In this regard, an
in-depth analysis of class-based differences is necessary to understand
the inequalities perpetuated within
and between classes, particularly inequalities between women.
This essay was originally submitted
for a seminar in the history of anthropological theory. I am indebted
to Lisa Mitchell for her guidance in
helping me narrow my research focus. Marjorie Mitchell is an expert in
slashing and burning in the fields of
verbiage, as she once eloquently put
it. Her linguistic prowess and keen
eye have helped to make the arguments in this paper stronger. I am
grateful to the reviewers of this paper, for their constructive feedback
and editing.
References Cited
Bederman, Gail
1995 Manliness & Civilisation: A
Cultural History of Gender and
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Chicago Press.
Darwin, Charles
1890 The Descent of Man and
Selection in Relation to Sex.
London: John Murray.
Deutscher, Penelope
2004 The Descent of Man and
the Evolution of Woman. Hypatia 19(2):35-55.
Fee, Elizabeth
1975 The Sexual Politics of Victorian Social Anthropology. Feminist Studies 1(3/4): 23-39.
Gamble, Eliza Burt
1957 [1894] The Evolution of
Woman. In Unsung Champions
of Women. Mary Cohart, ed.
Pp. 9-24.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins
1911 The Man-Made World or Our
Androcentric Culture. New York:
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Hoeveller, J. David
2007 The Evolutionists: American
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Hofstadter, Richard
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Hubbard, Ruth
1990 The Politics of Women’s
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Levy, Anita
1991 Other Women: The Writing of
Class, Race, and Gender, 18321898. New Jersey: Princeton
University Press.
Munson, Elizabeth and Greg
1998 Hearing Women Speak:
Antoinette Brown Blackwell
and the Dilemma of Authority.
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10(1): 108-126.
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Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal
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Press, Inc.
Rose, Hilary
1994 Love, Power and Knowledge:
Towards a Feminist Transformation of the Sciences. Indiana:
Indiana University Press.
Russett, Cynthia Eagle
1989 Sexual Science. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Spencer, Herbert 1895 Principles of Biology, vol. 2. New York:
D. Appleton and Company.
Spencer, Herbert
1895 Social Statistics and The
Man Versus the State. New
York: D. Appleton and Company.
Spencer, Herbert
1900 Principles of Ethics, vol. 2.
London: Williams and Norgate.
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Stocking, George W.
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Michelle Hardy
Re-representing Rwandan Child Headed
Households: Observations on Community
In this article I touch on one aspect of my research with orphans living in
rural Rwandan child headed households. Images of children living without
adult caregivers prompt perceptions of vulnerability and victimization, perspectives often supported in popular and academic literature. While this
article does not seek to refute these perceptions, I suggest that a purposeful investigation into the children’s social context illustrates what types
of support are available to these households from the members of their
local community, and how the nature of that support is linked to the social
position of the community member. This, in turn, provides significant contextual information on the lived reality of the children that is useful for
strengthening existing support and encouraging new efforts.
Image 1. Photo editing allows for the removal of any context information that signifies support to orphans.
Photo by author. ©2008
Representations depicting vulnerable children in low-income contexts abound in advertisements by
aid organisations soliciting funding. Some of these ads center on
orphans, a social group that I have
focused on in my own anthropological research. Over the course of
four months in 2008, I conducted
research with children who were living without adult caregivers in rural
child headed households (CHH), who
have been orphaned because of civil
unrest, genocide and AIDS in Rwanda, Central East Africa. I focused primarily on the children’s perceptions
and experiences of health, and how
these differed depending on their
access to resources, their age, their
position in social and household hi-
erarchies, and their gender. However, a minor focus of this project was
the nature of support or care given
by community members to children
living in CHH.
I had noted the political representation of the CHH in the literature I
reviewed before leaving for Rwanda.
Research sponsored by nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and
multi- or bilateral organisations emphasised the social marginalisation
of children living in CHH (Thurman
et al. 2006; Veale 2000, Veale et al.
2001). Andrea Veale’s (2000:236)
research indicated that Rwandans
saw the previous societal norms of
collective care and responsibility for
children as having changed. In the
workshops Veale (2000) facilitated,
many people stated they felt their
situation, their poverty and their daily responsibilities prevented them
from caring for vulnerable children
such as those living in CHH. Participants also pointed to the marked rise
in societal distrust since the genocide, conflict over land and inheritance, and family restructuring due
to the death of some members, all of
which resulted in diminished collective support (Veale 2000:236). Prior
to the genocide, children had been
integral to community life; however,
due to widespread community distrust, children had since lost their
“unifying central place in society”
(Cantwell 1997:57).
I do not dispute the literature’s representation of children living in CHH
as marginalised; however, perpetuating the image of the vulnerable orphan is necessary to maintain funding for NGOs. After the genocide in
Rwanda in 1994, there was an influx
of NGOs into the country. Many organisations still operate in Rwanda,
addressing multiple issues such as
AIDS, malaria, or poverty, as well as
the many CHH. Attentiveness to the
complexity of the social context of
the CHH would help to understand
the resources that are available to
them, and could assist with supporting greater community involvement
in the lives of children living in CHH,
rather than perpetuating a continued reliance on NGOs. Furthermore,
as community relations continue
to shift and are transformed over
time, new analysis into forms of
support are necessary in order to
ensure that programs and policies
are based on current social relationships. For example, there has been a
shift from patrilineal to bilateral inheritance of land, which means that
girls living in CHH are now entitled
to inherit land. This has resulted in
increased tension in rural communities and among families, where access to land is increasingly limited.
In this article, I focus on the forms
of community support that were
available to the children I conducted
research with, and how that support was associated with the social
position of the community member
providing support. While I anticipated finding a great deal of diversity in the children’s perspectives
and experiences of their health, the
variation in the nature of support
among community members, their
perceptions of CHH, and how this
was associated with the community
member’s positionality was an interesting discovery. I use “positionality” in reference to what Donna Haraway (1997:304, n. 32) describes as
standpoints: “cognitive-emotionalpolitical achievements, crafted out
of located social-historical-bodily
experience—itself always constituted through fraught, non-innocent,
discursive, material, collective practices.” A full and rich standpoint
analysis is beyond the scope of this
article, but I use this approach to examine how the social position of the
community member involved with
the CHH provides a particular perspective on the life of the children.
My findings suggest a somewhat dif-
ferent conclusion than that reached
by the literature I had reviewed, and
provide further insight into the contextual reality of the CHH.
Anthropological Critique
of Identity Making
Anthropology is highly critical of
practices and policies that are based
on assumptions of homogeneity within social groups (see Farmer
2005; Warren and Bourque 1989).
These assumptions serve to strip
people of identities, of context, of
position, and of the complex array
of power differentials in which they
are situated. Jean-Pierre Olivier de
Sardan (2005), a social anthropologist who offers a critically engaged
analysis of development projects in
low-income contexts, examines the
assumptions of homogeneity that
underlie the programs of NGOs. For
example, participatory rural appraisal methods rely on focus groups,
which are used to elicit community
perspectives. These groups are
formed on the basis of simple social
criteria such as “youth”, “women”,
or “rural farmers”. Olivier de Sardan
(2005) argues that this approach
does not consider the nuances
and politics within social groups,
and that we should instead seek to
recognise and acknowledge the social dynamics and strategies within
communities, and how social knowledge is complex and diverse. People
hold multiple and shifting identities
that serve to both constrain and enable them. For example, in Rwanda,
although in principle women have
full legal status under Rwandan law,
they are in practice wards of their
husbands, fathers or brothers. Unmarried mothers are considered
“femmes libres”—loose women, and
their families have no obligation to
provide for them. Their socioeconomic situation may be very different from married women, who
derive wealth and power from the
position of their husbands (Jefremovas 1991:383, 390).
Defining groups as homogenous allows for the organisation of people
into identifiable social groups associated with a list of specific needs,
in order to legitimise program outputs or justify the implementation
of policies. Identity and roles are
ascribed and enforced through multiple forms of governmentality, and
serve as a way to manage human
conduct (Foucault 1991). This allows
for the justification of the interventions that have been chosen by the
state, or institutions and agencies
(Ferguson and Gupta 2006:114-115;
Nguyen and Peschard 2003:456459). However, attentiveness to the
multiple roles and identities within
social groups should not be reduced
to a “simple, romantic argument
about ‘giving the people a voice’”
(Malkki 1996:398). Underneath the
repressive nature of programs and
policies is a deeper history of layers
of silencing (Malkii 1996:398) that
has roots back to colonisation. Global socioeconomic practices and politics underlie the current situational
framework of CHH in Rwanda today.
Discussion on these issues, however,
is beyond the scope of this article.
Instead, I focus primarily on the heterogenic nature of social support of
children living in CHH.
Characteristics of Social
In nine of the fourteen CHH I interviewed1, at least one of the children
identified a community member
who assisted them in some way.2
With the consent of the children, I
interviewed these community members, asking them further questions
about the nature of their support
to the CHH and their perceptions of
the children. Of the nine community
members I interviewed, one was involved in local leadership within the
community, another was a volunteer
mentor for CHH associated with an
NGO, some were relatives who live
close by, and others were neighbours of the children. The interviews
revealed that the role and status of
the community member, as well as
their gender, influenced their perspective and response to the CHH.
Other themes that emerged touched
on societal tension and social ideas
about age and gender that influence
societal attitudes and responses to
Christophe3 was a volunteer leader
of an umudugudu.4 Claudine, the eldest in a CHH of three orphans, had
mentioned that he had given her
and her siblings health insurance.
He emphasized the formalized community structures and governmentsponsored initiatives that were sup82
posed to offer support to the CHH.
Michelle: Does anyone teach them
(Claudine and her younger siblings)
how to take care of their health, how
to take care of their body, to make
sure they do not get sick?
Christophe: In the umudugudu committee leadership, there is one that
is responsible for the welfare of the
community. He teaches them to take
care of themselves, to leave bad
habits, so they may go to school and
leave bad things.
Michelle: How does the umudugudu
help them?
Christophe: We prevent ourselves
from backbiting5 them, so they
will not be traumatized. When it
is time for cultivating, we prepare
umuganda6, and people go and cultivate for them. Another thing is putting them on the list of the poor, so
they get help. They get mutuelle.7
And if there is any food from the
high leadership, they can easily be
the first to receive the food.
Michelle: So the poor in your umudugudu receive mutuelle for free?
Christophe: Yes, free – no price.
The criteria we follow is that we
start with the orphans, then we start
with those who don’t produce: widows, old women and old men. We
have a limit; we can only give out 23
mutuelle cards.
I took note of the theme of self-care:
according to Christophe it was the
children’s bad habits that affected
their health. This theme of individual
responsibility for health emerged in
some of the other interviews with
community members as well. Epiphanie was a volunteer mentor for an
NGO and was teaching children in
one of the CHH to care for themselves. She was also the community
health promoter in her umudugudu,
and regularly taught government
sponsored health messages.
Michelle: What should children do to
stay healthy?
Epiphanie: Maintaining their health
and their body weight, following the
government orders—the government
is sensitizing people to construct
shelves to put their plates on, that
can prevent their utensils from getting dirty, and to build beds, so they
sleep on a bed. And even using a
mosquito net—it can prevent them
from getting sick.
This idea of being responsible for
one’s own health did not mean that
Christophe and Epiphanie were unaware of the challenges facing the
children. They did identify some
barriers to health care associated
with the children’s impoverished
environments. However, as people
in leadership positions, they influenced community interaction with
children living in the CHH. If their
perceptions of health were founded
on self-care, and associated with
formalised avenues of support such
as through NGOs or umudugudu
initiatives, they might do little to
mobilise informal support of sick
children in CHH. Kleinman et al.
(1997:1x) have noted that “forms
of power themselves influence responses to social problems.” The reliance of Rwandan communities on
formal, authoritative and hierarchical forms of social relations inhibits
spontaneous and collective communal efforts to interact, or to support
children whose family structure is
tenuous (Veale 2000:237).
A few of the community members
identified as sources of support by
the children were relatives. One was
the uncle of a household of boys
and was their oldest paternal male
Image 2. With Christophe, a volunteer community leader, under a photo of President Kagame. Photo by author. ©2008
relative. The two oldest boys were
trying to pay off debts incurred by
their father during the genocide,
and were selling off family land to
gain some disposable income. This
had created tension between the
boys and their older siblings who
had since married and moved out
of the house. The uncle, Remy, gave
advice regarding the land and mediated between the boys and their older siblings. He shared with me some
of the challenges that he saw in this
Remy: The problem that they are
facing is that there are many in the
house, and they don’t have enough
food. The other thing is that people come and attack them and say
“your father destroyed this and
these things, we need payments
for them.” You can never say that
you don’t have anything when you
have land, a cow. However, you
need these things to live, you can’t
sell them. It is a challenge. In most
cases, they charge them the animals
their father ate, or the tiles he took.
But in most cases, it is the animals
that he ate.
From Remy I learned that the repercussions from the 1994 genocide
were still being played out in the
lives of the children living in CHH. I
also noted how he was called upon to
settle disputes in the family, indicating that paternal lineage relations
persist in rural areas. The head of
a patrilineal group is the father of
brothers, or his successor whom he
designated before his death. Households belonging to the same lineage
usually live near one another, unless one member has acquired land
outside of the succession process.
Lineages typically have a two to
three-generation history (de Lame
What I learned from my conversations with the household of boys,
and from Remy, had particular relevance for the analysis of marginalization of the children in CHH. I
had noted that households headed
by girls, who had less access to land
than those households headed by
boys, were also more likely to say
they had little social support. Until
very recently, patrilineal inheritance
was practiced in rural Rwanda, and
land was divided up among male
descendents. Women who married
normally moved onto their husband’s property. Most of the children in the sample lived in close
vicinity to their paternal relatives,
and had little contact with their maternal relatives. The paternal relatives may have felt little responsibility for the households headed by
girls, because they assumed these
girls would move away when they
got older, and the girls did not represent the permanence of the lineage.
Now, with the imposition of bilateral
inheritance, the households headed
by girls may represent an additional
stress on limited resources, and provoke more tension and animosity
from paternal relatives.
Image 3. Rwandan agricultural landscape. Photo by author. ©2008
Among the children I talked to, a
few of them from three different
households identified their aunts as
sources of practical support when
they were sick, and assisting them
with their basic needs. Two were
widowed with children, and the other, an unmarried mother of two children, was dependent on her parents,
and lived with them. As single mothers, all the women were vulnerable
members of Rwandan society. One
told me that she was in conflict with
others in her community because
they wanted her to return to the
area of her birth so they could take
her land. The aunts were responsible for the care of their children and
their households, as well as trying to
earn a living. All the women lived in
close proximity to the children, and
saw them on a regular basis.
The perceptions that these three
women had of the children in CHH
underscore the poverty faced by the
children. They were deeply aware of
the children’s extreme lack of food,
material items and economic resources, perhaps because they too,
had little access to these resources.
Grace: The biggest problem that
they have is the standard of living. There are four things that they
struggle with. They need clothes,
they need medical insurance, they
need to have a house and food, and
they need someone to be near them
to advise them and to encourage
them. This is the same struggle for
all children without parents.
The women talked about the prac85
tical support that they gave to the
children. Their responses reflected
what the children had told me about
the type of assistance they received
from their aunts.
Rachel: I help them in different
ways. If they come from school, and
they don’t have any food, I give them
food to eat. I give them water if they
don’t have water. Or on Sundays,
when they do not have firewood,
I go with them to collect firewood
so that they won’t be lonely, and so
they won’t say “If we had someone
to help us, I could do it quickly.”
Mechthilde: I see them every day.
When they fall sick, I come to visit
them; I cook porridge for them, so
that they will feel better. When their
parents died, I tried to teach them
how to cultivate. They would come
to my house, and cultivate, and I
would come to their house to cultivate.
However, one of the women told me
how her own poverty and circumstances constrained her in the type
of support that she could give to her
nieces, Cesarie and Yvette.
Grace: Sometimes they do not
have enough food, or ask for advice
about a problem. Cesarie works at
the market, and many times she
has no money, and many times she
comes here and says she has no
money. She came here asking me
for 1,000 RWF ($2 CAD) today, and
I didn’t have any to give her. She
left and she was furious. Generally,
I help with food. But when they
have visitors, like boys, they come to
me and ask me for advice, because
they know their behaviour. If they
have problem with wood, I give them
some wood to cook with, or when
they have conflict between themselves, I try to help them to resolve it
together to unite them. Food is the
biggest problem I help them with.
I may have sweet potatoes in the
field, and I give some to them. Or
perhaps they come here and there
is food, and they eat them, and it is
finished, and so we have none.
This theme of lack and the difficulty in sharing what little one has
with CHH is a significant barrier
to community assistance of CHH.
Widespread poverty may result in
communities projecting the responsibility of CHH onto relatives, or associating assistance with charitable
acts done by “Christians,”8 as one
community member told me. Others
see the children as the responsibility
of the government.
Grace’s comment on her nieces’ male
visitors touches upon the vulnerability of females orphans in rural Rwanda. Other studies in Rwanda have
indicated that female orphans are
susceptible to sexual abuse by male
community members (ACORD 2001;
Veale et al. 2001). Consequently,
girls may then be confronted with
health challenges related to sexual
and reproductive health in a context
that often does not provide acces-
sible and adequate health care. A
neighbour of another CHH talked at
great length about the vulnerability
of girls in CHH who were living in
her area. Esperance noted that the
constraints of their circumstances
had prompted them to engage in
health-risk behaviour.
Esperance: Sometimes when she
(one of the girls living in a neighbouring CHH) does not have enough
money, she goes to engage in prostitution to make money in town. In
general, something that causes a
girl like that to go to town and to
make money through prostitution, is
because of a lack of money. She is
living badly at home, there is nothing to eat at home, so she prefers to
go where she can find money. It is a
bad life here in Rwanda.
Esperance showed significant sensitivity to the influence of scarcity
on the girls’ decision to enter the
sex trade. This awareness is significant and is in contrast to what
Christophe said about “bad habits.”
She also talked about gender roles
in rural Rwanda, and the particular
constraints placed on rural women.
Esperance: The man is the leader
of the house. The woman cooks,
she makes the husband’s bed, she
sweeps. The man controls the house.
If necessary here in Rwanda, a woman can work to get money to buy
clothes for her husband. Girls must
cook, wash dishes, girls sweep and
wash clothes. The boys get firewood,
and both children get water.
In contrast to men who have more
opportunity to engage in rural society outside of the household, rural
women’s household roles isolate
them from interaction in the community. Consequently, because girls
have been associated with household chores and nurturing activities
in rural Rwanda, females living in
CHH may not have appeared to need
as much assistance as boys. In fact,
girls that headed households were
less likely than boys to say community members assisted them with food
preparation when they were sick.
They also appeared to be more susceptible to isolation, because they
had less opportunity to connect with
people outside of the family home,
and because community members
assumed they were capable of doing
household chores.9
Representations that generalise and
homogenise ignore particular barriers that face certain social groups.
These representations serve to legitimize interventions that often
do not address the particular constraints faced by vulnerable people.
Earlier research on Rwandan CHH
has offered a politicised view of
the orphans, characterising them
as vulnerable, and without support.
This research (Thurman et al. 2006;
Veale 2000; Veale et al. 2001) has
also detailed how community suffering has led to the marginalisation of
CHH. This article does not discount
Image 4. A kitchen area/stove in one CHH, with a pot full of sweet potatoes. Photo by author. ©2008
this representation, as I also found
evidence of this marginalisation
among the CHH in my research focused on the health concerns of the
children. It was apparent that some
community members who I interviewed continued to place the locus
of responsibility for CHH on the government, on the relatives of CHH,
or on church-based initiatives. However, some community members are
involved in supportive relationships
with CHH. Attentiveness to the nature of their support, their positionality and the social ideologies they
held, provided particular insight into
contextual factors and socio-economic dynamics that mitigate children’s ability to access health treatment and prevention.
Practical support for CHH was especially evident among those community members who were living in
similar resource-scare conditions as
the children. In my research, these
were the aunts of some of the children, who were all single mothers,
and who not only were actively involved in caring for their nieces or
nephews, but they were more likely
to identify the specific barriers to
the children’s health. This was in
contrast to the community members
who were in positions of leadership
in rural communities, who suggested
that the children living in CHH were
responsible for their own health. A
discourse of self-care serves to place
the blame for poor health on the individual, and may overlook the barriers to health care. This perception
is in contrast to that articulated by
one woman, a neighbour of a CHH,
who noted how a lack of economic
resources influenced one of the girls
to enter the sex trade. In this case,
attentiveness to gender suggests
that this woman’s own positionality may have given her particular
insight into the constraints in her
younger neighbour’s life.
The diversity of support and the
perceptions of community members
regarding CHH is influenced by social position and social ideologies,
as well as social tension associated
with land scarcity and widespread
poverty. Further research into community support is integral to understanding the CHH’s social context,
and to furthering local government
and NGO efforts at enabling CHH’s
access to community based resources. This research might examine the
long-term impact of NGOs on community initiatives aimed at CHH,
and explore community reliance
on formal initiatives to assist CHH.
Understanding these issues better
could lead to improvements in how
communities are mobilised to support CHH. Efforts that ignore these
factors offer “neither protection for
individual children nor the potential
to transform the relationships of
inequality that dominate their lives
and produce their suffering” (Mitchell 2006:367).
This article is based on fieldwork
conducted in rural Rwanda over
the course of four months in 2008.
Funding for this research was provided by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
of Canada, and the University of Victoria through financial awards and
scholarships. I am extremely grateful for the enthusiastic participation
of the children living in CHH who
participated in this research project
and welcomed me into their homes;
the community members who answered my many questions; and to
Joseph and Beth for their translation and valuable insight. I also wish
to acknowledge the Republic of
Rwanda, and in particular, the district office in the South Province, for
granting me permission to conduct
this research. Lastly, I acknowledge
the valuable critique given by two
reviewers of this article.
1. I interviewed the children in the
households as a household unit
and individually.
2. However, not all the children in
the household identified the
same member, and not everyone
in the same household identified
someone as a source of support.
3. To ensure confidentiality, I have
given pseudonyms to all research
4. A collection of 50 houses, governed by locally elected unpaid
5. “Backbiting” is a term used to describe malicious talk.
6. Community work projects.
7. Government health insurance.
8. By using the term “Christian”,
the community member was referring to Rwandans who were
involved in church-based groups
that may offer support to vulnerable groups in their communities.
9. Ethnographic research (de Lame
2005) which discusses Rwandan gender roles indicates that
throughout their childhood, girls
are taught to care for the household.
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Robin Smith
Exotic, Spectacular Dirt: Archaeology
and Tourism
With the recent growth of the archaeological tourism industry archaeologists
are facing new issues arising from the intersection of scientific research and
commercial tourism. Often these include physical danger to sites, threats to
scientific integrity from new and powerful stakeholders and concerns about
commercial repackaging. Though it is generally thought that site tourism
is intrinsically at odds with conservation some teams have found innovative strategies to circumvent the potential pitfalls and turn tourism to their
advantage. This paper examines some of these strategies, their successes
and failures, and some of the issues surrounding contemporary archaeological tourism. It also explores two different major types of tourism. While
archaeological tourism can undoubtedly pose many challenges it also offers a unique opportunity for research, and researchers, to engage with a
wider community, and the most successful projects seem to be those that
are most willing to embrace this prospect with sensitivity and enthusiasm.
Cultural tourism has existed in various incarnations since at least the
time of the Roman Empire (McKercher and du Cros 2002:1). In the
nineteen-nineties, the intersection
of cultural tourism with the newlyestablished, hugely profitable adventure travel industry gave rise
to the field of archaeological tourism. Archaeology, its practise and
findings, has been associated with
glamour and excitement since its
early days a century or more ago,
when archaeologists were more
often relic hunters and explorers
than scientists and academics. In
the eighties this was reflected in
the Indiana Jones movies; today TV
shows such as Digging for the Truth
attest to the fact that this image is
alive and well. Visitors have been
paying to tour archaeological sites
since the nineteenth century (McKercher and du Cros 2002:2), but with
the development of archaeological
tourism these tours became more
than simple sightseeing and expeditions that focussed almost exclusively on cultural remains, archaeological findings and the practise of
archaeology itself were established.
Tourism has brought enormous
amounts of revenue to archaeological projects and spread awareness
of conservation efforts globally. It
has also created a huge, demanding, profitable, and therefore powerful industry with vested interests
in many archaeological projects
that often run counter to those of
researchers and conservationists,
which has left in its wake disasters
such as an Incan city with a highway
running through it (see below) and
fleets of visitors scrambling over the
crumbling remains of Stonehenge
and Great Zimbabwe. Inevitably,
tourism and archaeology make an
uneasy pairing, and archaeological
tourism is an industry fraught with
Despite the fact that the tourism
industry is fast becoming one of
archaeology’s most influential and
important partners, it is only recently that academics have begun
to pay serious attention to the issues surrounding archaeological
tourism. Very few books and papers
have been written on the topic, and
those that have are rare and difficult
to come by: the UVic library, for example, does not stock any titles specifically dealing with archaeological
tourism and even the inter-library
loan service only has access to two
or three, each of which required
transfer from a different university.
Apparently, UVic’s collection on this
topic is not much smaller than the
average public or university library.
In the past few years, publications
by Philip Duke (The Tourists Gaze,
The Cretans Glance: Archaeology
and Tourism on a Greek Island) and
Uzi Baram (Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of
the Past) have addressed this topic
more directly. Despite its size, archaeological tourism is still emerging as an industry; it is still engaged
in the act of defining itself. Additionally, tourist companies and ex93
pedition operators are increasingly
making use of the internet to advertise their trips and put themselves
in contact with prospective clients.
Like all web-based resources, then,
these tours, their marketing and,
consequently, their portrayals of
archaeology are changing rapidlyperhaps faster than the speed of
publication, which may go some way
towards explaining the dearth of academic resources on the topic. Thus,
in order to present an up-to-date
account of the interplay between archaeology and tourism, I have done
much of the research for this paper
myself. In doing so I have made use
of relevant websites and brochures
for tourist companies in addition to
academic sources. I have endeavoured to examine the portrayals of
archaeological tourism presented to
the public as well as the views of archaeologists and researchers. Many
of the conclusions are my own.
In researching websites and brochures offering archaeology-based
vacations and tourist destinations I
have come across two major types
of tourism. The first I have termed
the Exotic Spectacular type, because almost all advertisements
for this type of tourism make copious use of these adjectives, and the
other I have been referring to as the
Dirty Fingernails type, as advertisements almost always use the phrase
“get dirt under your fingernails” or
“get your hands dirty.” The Exotic
Spectacular type of tourism usually
involves long-distance travel, and is
in practise a type of cultural tour94
ism to which archaeology is largely
incidental. Dirty Fingernails tourism is usually local, emphasizes the
practise of “authentic” archaeology
rather than its findings and markets
itself as a chance to experience a
fantasy vocation for a short time.
Exotic Spectacular archaeological
tourism is marketed in exotic, spectacular locations. The most common
destinations for tourist packages
which I have classified in this designation are Mexico, Jordan, Turkey
and Greece, and some sample destinations might include Petra and
Machu Picchu. The bulk of “archaeology” in the tours involves visiting
monuments and physically large, visually impressive archaeological remains. Especial emphasis is placed
on monumental architecture. This
type of tourism is perhaps closest to
the earliest archaeological tourism,
where the touring is simply a form
of sightseeing. Despite the focus on
impressive remains this type of “archaeological” tourism is in fact cultural tourism, though the cultures in
question are no longer extant and so
are filtered through the lens of archaeological interpretation. Several
companies advertise tours guided
by “noted scholars” or “hieroglyphic
experts,” for example. The “people
of the past” and the “great civilizations of the past” are a recurring
theme in promotional brochures:
tour operators market the vanished
inhabitants of the sites as another
exotic, spectacular attraction. This
appears to be enabled by an implausibly complete account of the culture
and daily life of the past populations
in question. One of the great disadvantages of the post-mortem retailing of a culture appears to be that
the populations in question receive
considerably rougher treatment
than those that are still able to monitor the ways in which they are represented. The “othering” processes
directed at extinct populations are
blatant and intense, occasionally using language and descriptions that
would not be acceptable were they
directed at living populations (“barbaric,” “warlike” etc.). This othering
could potentially lead to a feeling of
disenfranchisement with the past,
as tourists are shown only the ways
in which past populations differed
radically from living ones; there is
little sense of human history as the
ongoing account of a single species.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect
of this othering is the frequent combination of exotic past cultures and
exotic present cultures. Because
Exotic Spectacular tourism usually
takes place in geographically distant
destinations, many tour companies
advertise local festivals, vibrant
markets, or distinctive local cuisine
as part of the “experience” of a new
cultural setting. A little exoticising
is probably to be expected in vacation and tourist advertising, as few
people are likely to select a place to
visit based on its similarity to the
place they are already in. However,
the affiliation of extant cultures with
intensely-othered past civilizations
could lead to tremendous degrees
of direct and indirect othering of the
present populations.
I have nicknamed the second type
of archaeological tourism the Dirty
Fingernails type. It is cheaper, more
local and concerned with the process of archaeology as much, if not
more, than the artifacts which are
recovered. It often involves day trips
to sites or active excavations and
stresses “hands-on” participation.
The distinction between this type
of tourism, as I have classified it,
and what Hester Davis calls “avocational archaeology” (Davis 1990) is
blurry and difficult to pinpoint. Avocational or community archaeology
is archaeology which is practised or
supported by laypeople in their local
area and is not for profit. It is usually
organized by non-profit community
associations (Davis 1990). Avocational archaeology and Dirty Fingernails tourism have a common aim:
both attempt to introduce laypeople
to the basic method and practise of
archaeology. However, avocational
archaeology differs from tourism
in that it is also intended to provide
long-term support to the archaeological project and provide engagement with perceived stakeholders.
Though tourism can provide volunteer labour and revenue for projects,
the ultimate aim of tourism is benefit to the visitors, rather than the
site. Dirty Fingernails tourism, as its
name implies, also places disproportionate emphasis on particular types
of research: I came across no brochures or websites that advertised
time spent in laboratories or with
artifact catalogues, for example, yet
these are as important to the practise of archaeology as fieldwork.
It seems that this type of tourism
ultimately benefits archaeological
projects more through generating
revenue and spreading awareness of
site conservation than through the
actual work done by tourists.
Though the boundaries are fuzzy
between Exotic Spectacular tourism
and cultural tourism, and between
Dirty Fingernails tourism and avocational or community archaeology,
I have drawn fairly blunt divisions.
My first criterion for the classification of specific activities as “touring archaeology” rather than “doing archaeology” was the lack of a
long term commitment to the site or
to the archaeology of the area. For
example, community archaeological associations are established to
monitor and participate in local archaeology indefinitely (Davis 1990),
whereas participants in Dirty Fingernails tourism often tour sites of
which they have no previous knowledge, limit their involvement to several hours or a day and rarely return:
the short time spent on site is not a
means to an end but an end in itself.
My second reason for the labelling
of an activity as “tourism” was the
tendency of the two types of tourism
fall to either extreme of what could
be termed a Spectrum of Missing
the Point. Exotic Spectacular tourism places disproportionate emphasis on monumental remains (which
are, again, approached as an end in
themselves, rather than a means to
the collection of information) and
completed, comprehensive historical accounts. At the other end of the
spectrum, Dirty Fingernails tourism
is obsessed with the actual practise
of fieldwork: the dirt, the scenery,
the hiking boots, the level lines and
excavation units, the soggy cheese
sandwiches in paper bags and smug
satisfaction of telling everyone the
next day where the crick in your
back came from. Though these elements are undeniably important to
the practise of archaeology, they are
almost incidental to the actual pursuit of information which is at the
heart of archaeology as a discipline.
There are obvious dangers associated with archaeological tourism.
Sites are often sensitive environments, facing preservation challenges and ill-equipped to handle hordes
of untrained visitors with big feet
and runny noses. Even making site
locations known to the public carries associated dangers of increased
vandalism and looting. Vandalism
can pose an especial threat in areas
of political or national significance,
as for example at Dombashava in
Zimbabwe where a man destroyed
a large panel of rock art paintings
by covering them with paint. The
vandal, a former National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe
employee, was making a statement
about his own and his community’s
frustration over the failure of the
site and its museum to share their
income with the community (Deacon
2006:380). Such incidents highlight
the heightened need for sensitivity
to local and descendant groups as
a site becomes more profitable and
well-known. Vandalism can also be
unintentional, as when site visitors
inadvertently exacerbate the natural factors that threaten sites. At
the site of Lascaux in France, rock
art in a publicly displayed cave was
jeopardized when algae and microorganisms introduced on the shoes
and clothes of site visitors began
to colonize the cave walls (Deacon
2006:382). In this case, the site was
preserved while still meeting the
needs of the local tourist industry by
closing the cave to the public and instead directing visitors to a facsimile
of the cave. However, it took fully
twenty years to construct the replica, and a fungus outbreak threatened the cave for a second time in
2001 with the introduction of a new
air conditioning system. In Spain,
the rock art site Altamira also has a
replica open to the public, and many
other sites in Europe have experienced success with visitor information centres that combine reproductions with interactive elements that
would be impossible on the actual
site. Such centres can offer richly
educational experiences and, with
the digital technology now available,
replicas do not have to be inferior to
their originals, and can in fact offer
new information about, for example,
the techniques used in cave paintings (Deacon 2006:381).
The practical requirements of accommodating large numbers of
people often require modifications
to a site such as signs and walkways,
and these too can pose a threat to
site preservation. Machu Picchu became perhaps the most infamous
example of this, when outcry erupted over the construction of a cable
car service and a luxury hotel on
the site, among other amenities, in
the 1990s. In September 2000 the
Intihuatana sundial was damaged
when a crane being used to film a
beer commercial on the site fell on
it. This incident became a focal point
for local groups who felt that the exploitation of the site had progressed
out of control; many groups accused
the Peruvian government of knowingly endangering the site in order
to maximize tourist revenue. Many
of the sites on the UNESCO List of
Endangered World Heritage Sites
are threatened by tourist activity.
Site commodification poses another
concern when archaeological excavations become tourist attractions.
Site visitors often bring with them
a market for gift shop baubles and
souvenirs which can be difficult to
resist for an archaeological investigation in need of funds. Ethical issues arise, especially when the sites
in question have spiritual or religious significance to past or extant
cultures: how can site managers
determine what is or is not an appropriate image to put on a t-shirt?
In his account of the conflicts that
arose around Çatalhöyük, Ian Hodder discusses the endorsement of
the excavation team by a credit card
company and the concessions that
had to be made to accommodate
this sponsorship (Hodder 1998:134).
Some, like wearing hats with the
company logo at press conferences, appear relatively inconsequen97
tial, while others seem to border
on a warping of the truth to fit the
sponsor’s mandate. Hodder gives an
example of this; a museum exhibit of
“Credit cards through the ages” at
Çatalhöyük which began with obsidian recovered at the site. The exhibit
was proposed by a major sponsor
of the site, a credit card company
which took the opportunity to advertise their services to the local
community. He mentions that both
he and the obsidian specialist were
embarrassed by the description of
obsidian as a “credit card” (Hodder
1998:134). It was, they both admitted, a bit of a stretch. Though this is a
relatively benign example, it is clear
Hodder was uncomfortable with the
exhibit as he felt it represented a bit
of tampering with the truth in order
to secure the sponsor’s support.
Projects can come under enormous
pressure to find the funds to continue their research, and the ability of
museums and tourist attractions to
quickly disseminate information to
large numbers of people magnifies
the effects of any distortion of the
Generally, many researchers involved in tourism seem to agree that
the problems that arise at the intersection of archaeology and tourism can be reconciled or avoided by
approaching both the past and the
present with sensitivity, and by bearing in mind that archaeology is ultimately the study of people, not pots.
Many sites around the world have
established a variety of ways to address the problems posed by tourism, such as the construction of replicas or limits on the number of site
visitors. With the accommodation
of tourism at archaeological sites
being limited mostly to forms of
damage control, little attention has
been paid to the potential benefits
of archaeological tourism beyond
the obvious advantage of increased
revenue. Though notoriety is often
associated with the dangers of increased vandalism and looting (see
above), greater awareness of a site
on a local or international level can
also have its advantages. At the local level, site awareness can draw
attention to conservation issues for
the site in question and others like it,
and educating the public about the
nature and needs of local archaeological sites can reduce the risk of
inadvertent destruction or damage.
Awareness can also yield a greater
interaction with and pride in local
heritage, as people become active
participants in the construction of
their regional history. Beyond the local level, when archaeological sites
become important sources of tourist
revenue their conservation becomes
the focus of more governmental attention and it becomes a possibility
to have legislation enacted which
will protect other sites as well (Davis 1990). Thus, the exploitation
of a single site- even at the risk of
damage, vandalism or looting- could
potentially benefit many others. In
some cases, where the site in question has been plumbed of as much
information as it can possibly yield,
it may be a worthwhile forfeit in order to preserve many others which
have yet to be fully studied.
Ultimately, however, the greatest
asset of archaeological tourism is
its ability to act as a vehicle for the
rapid dissemination of information
to the wider populace. Research
money is intended to purchase the
higher consciousness and greater
awareness of the human species in
general, not sets of dusty facts available only to that tiny segment of
the world familiar with JSTOR. Ultimately we are all descendant communities and so it is our story, our
heritage, our historical context, our
identity as a single population that is
at the root of archaeology as a discipline. “Historical fact” exists only in
the past, and so archaeology, working as it must with material remains
in the present, faces at all times a
gap of interpretation that separates
what it is possible to know from verifiable fact (Johnson 1999:13). In the
absence of the existence of the past
as tangible, knowable fact, archaeological conclusions are relevant only
as they interact with, and are constructed by, people in the present.
Therefore, the greater the number
of participants in this construction, the more relevant the data becomes. When all people interact with
findings about their collective past,
that past is then created, constructed and interpreted by the entirety of
the descendant community. Scholars who jealously guard information
out of fear of misrepresentation or
misunderstanding on the part of
untrained “laymen” should instead
adopt the responsibility for educating the public (perhaps through
institutions such as avocational organizations or even tourism) in basic archaeological theory to enable
them to draw responsible conclusions of their own. Words in books
that go unread are useless; archaeologists should have a responsibility to disseminate information to as
many people as possible. Though
tourism is often sneered at by “serious scholars” and “serious travelers” alike as being vapid or “dumbed
down,” it is a fast, effective way to
bring large numbers of laypeople
in to direct contact with researchers and their work, to educate them
and invite them to participate in the
active construction of their past. It
is this interaction with history- the
lessons we choose to draw, its reflection in our present- that takes
archaeology from an academic interest to a vital, contributing part of
present society and our collective
consciousness. Perhaps the recognition of a common past will even
bring about a greater awareness of
our common present.
References Cited
Deacon, Janette
2006 Rock Art Conservation and
Tourism. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Hodder, Ian
1998 The Past as Passion and Play.
In Archaeology Under Fire. Lynn
Meskill, ed. 124-139. New York:
Johnson, Matthew
1999 Archaeological Theory: An
Introduction. Malden: Blackwell
McKercher, Bob, and Hilary du Cros
2002 Cultural Tourism: The
Partnership Between Tourism
and Cultural Heritage Management. New York: The Howarth
Hospitality Press.
Web Resources
Davis, Hester A.
1990 “Avocational Archaeology
Groups: A Secret Weapon for
Site Protection.” Online. Internet. Accessed: 03.07.08. Available: <
Ancient World Tours.
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Andante Travels.
Homepage. Online. Internet.
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Archaeological Adventures Arizona.
Homepage. Online. Internet.
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Arkansas Archaeological Survey.
Archaeological Parks in the US.
Online. Internet. Accessed:
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Archaeological Tours.
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BBC News online
2003 “Row erupts over Peru’s
tourist treasure” BBC online.
December 27. Online. Internet.
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CNN online
2000 “Sacred stone in Machu
Picchu damaged during beer
commercial” CNN online edition. September 12. Online.
Internet. Accessed: 03.04.08.
Available: <http://archives.cnn.
ap/ >
Far Horizons Archaeological and
Cultural Trips Inc.
Homepage. Online. Internet.
Accessed: 03.04.08. Available:
htm” http://www.farhorizon.
Hirst, K. Kris
Hobbyist Archaeology: Getting Your Hands Dirty.”About.
com. Online. Internet. Accessed:
03.06.08. Available: <http://
Maya Expeditions.
Homepage. Online. Internet.
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US Department of the Interior Archaeology Program.
Visit Archaeology” National
Park Service. Online. Internet.
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Peter Sommer Travels.
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Sommer, Peter.
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D’Ann Owens
The Other Self of Landscape: Considering
the Temporality of Lekwammen Territory
In the past decade, academic publications relating to indigenous archaeology have been numerous yet, rather than writing an archaeology which
integrates indigenous knowledge, most publications tend to be about
indigenous archaeology—its practice and criticisms. With reference to
Central Coast Salish perspectives of time and space within the local landscape, this paper considers the past in the past and the implications such
a point of view can have for approaching and interpreting the archaeological record. It is argued that consideration of the temporal dimension of
the cultural landscape is more in keeping with indigenous perspectives
and can provide for challenging research and a richer understanding of
archaeological findings.
Although Western theory frequently treats space as time’s antithetical ‘Other,’ time’s Other turns out
somewhat embarrassingly to be its Other Self. In a lived world, spatial and temporal dimensions cannot
be disentangled…
Munn 1992:94
After the Flood when Raven, Mink and the Transformer Hayls (Xε.ls) were traveling around teaching the people how things were to be done, they came to this place, and found a young girl and her
grandfather. The girl, Q’ama’ sen, was sitting in the water, crying. “Why are you crying?” asked Xε.ls.
“My father is angry with me, and won’t give me anything to eat.” “What would you like?” he asked,
“Sturgeon?” “No.” “Berries?” “No.” She refused a lot of things, and that is why these are not found
along the Gorge. “Ducks?” “Herrings?” “Cohoes?” “Oysters?” These she accepted, and that is why they
are plentiful here.
“You will control all these things for your people”, said Xε.ls. Then he turned her into stone, sitting
there under the water, looking up the narrows. Her grandfather’s name was Snukaymelt (sn•k’•m•lt)
“diving”. Since she liked her grandfather to be with her, he was also turned to stone, as if jumping in
carrying a rock to take him to the bottom.
Jimmy Fraser in Duff 1969:36>
Indigenous perspectives on archaeology and archaeological practice
garnered widespread, public attention with the discovery of ancient
human remains along the Columbia
River near Kennewick Washington
in 1996 and with the subsequent legal challenges and ethical debates
relating to their study and disposition. Since that time, academic
publications on issues relating to
indigenous archaeology have been
numerous. Yet, despite the apparent
interest in incorporating indigenous
perspectives in archaeological investigations, the majority of publications appear to be about indigenous
archaeology, and in particular the
process of indigenous archaeology, rather than archaeology which
incorporates indigenous perspectives and knowledge into research
design and implementation, and
the interpretation of archaeological
Not surprisingly, topics in indigenous archaeology are as potentially
varied as archaeology itself. Yet a
survey of publications suggests that
archaeologists—indigenous or otherwise—are only infrequently publishing studies that incorporate an
indigenous perspective. Possible
explanations for the dearth of publications are many and varied: the desire to maintain an “objective” and
“scientific” approach to the data; a
reluctance to tackle the challenges
which may arise from differing archaeological and indigenous interpretations; the fear of being labelled
a “relativist”. Or perhaps, given the
political and legal climate, indige103
nous people are reluctant to share
the results of their findings with a
broad public audience. Whatever
the reasons, it seems likely that archaeology is less as a consequence
of its rather univocal approach; as
pointed out by Whitely (2002) and
as evidenced from the studies that
do include indigenous viewpoints,
the perspective and knowledge of
indigenous people coupled with archaeological inquiry can provide
impetus for challenging research
and a richer understanding of
archaeological findings.
In light of this awareness, this paper
considers the potential of a local indigenous perspective of the past in
the past and the implications such a
point of view can have for approaching and interpreting the archaeological record. However, because of
the potential breadth of the topic, it
is important to make explicit what
this paper does not address. It provides no debate as to the definition
of “indigenous” nor does it argue
the politics or ethics of an archaeology of indigenous cultures or of colonial archaeology. It does not detail
issues relating to the management
of indigenous heritage sites or the
rise of indigenous heritage management offices. There is no detailed
discussion of archaeological theories of memory, landscape or space
and place, all of which are relevant
to the discussion but are papers
unto themselves.
A cursory overview of the current
themes and key concepts in indigenous archaeology is presented as
context for the discussion that follows and the reader is referred to
additional readings. The temporality
of the landscape is reviewed from a
theoretical perspective and with particular reference to indigenous perspectives and Coast Salish peoples.
It is argued that practice theory provides a theoretical framework within
which to investigate the role of the
past in the creation of the archaeological record. This paper argues
that consideration of the temporal
dimension of the cultural landscape
in the practice of archaeology and
in archaeological interpretations
within the traditional territory of the
Songhees and Esquimalt Nations is
more in keeping with indigenous perspectives and can provide a valuable
contribution to the interpretation
of observable archaeological patterns. Drawing on the author’s experience, the paper concludes with
a discussion of how consideration of
an indigenous understanding of the
past can be (and is) applied during
archaeological studies and can further the understanding of the local
archaeological record.
Central Coast Salish
The Victoria area, on which this paper focuses, is within the territory
of the Lekwammen whose descendants are members of the Songhees
First Nation and Esquimalt Nation.
Traditionally, the Songhees and Esquimalt spoke the Lekwammen dialect of the Northern Straits Salish
language family. Speakers of this
and four other languages are collectively known as the Central Coast
Salish and share broadly similar
cultural practices (see Suttles 1990
for additional information on the
Central Coast Salish). Other Central
Coast Salish peoples mentioned in
this paper include member bands of
the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group (Cowichan, Penelekut, Lyackson, Lake
Cowichan, Halalt, and Chemainus)
whose territories extend over Vancouver Island from south of Duncan
to south of Nanaimo, the southern
Gulf Islands and up the Fraser River.
Indigenous archaeology
Watkins (2005) defines indigenous
archaeology as archaeology done
by and for indigenous peoples.1 In
practice, indigenous archaeology
ranges from limited involvement in
the archaeological process through
to archaeological research initiated,
designed, and conducted by First
Nations. The majority of indigenous
participation in the archaeology of
BC falls in the former category, although the number of First Nations
seeking a greater role appears to be
increasing.2 First Nations members
participate as field crew on archaeological survey and excavation projects, First Nations operate heritage
management offices and companies staffed by both indigenous and
non-indigenous people (e.g. Haida
Heritage Guardians; Katzie Development Corporation), have implemented permitting processes (e.g.
Stó:lo—see Nicholas (2006) for ad-
ditional First Nations with permits),
and have incorporated archaeological considerations in land codes and
bylaws (e.g. Sechelt).
Publications on indigenous archaeology are numerous of late, with
entire issues of American Indian
Quarterly (2006 Vol. 30 No.3) and
Public Archaeology (2005 Vol. 4),
and the 2003 Chacmool Conference Proceedings devoted to the
subject. Common themes in these
and other works include the definition of indigenous peoples, the
colonial legacy in archaeological
practice and interpretation, the relationship between “scientific” and
indigenous knowledge, archaeology and education, the treatment
of human remains and the curation
and display of items recovered from
archaeological contexts.3
Many criticisms of the discipline offered by indigenous archaeologists,
which have been summarised by
Watkins (2000; 2005) and Nicholas
(2006), stem from the political and
legal context in which archaeological practice operates and the materialist focus of the discipline. Archaeology is frequently viewed “as
a colonialist enterprise with continuing political undertones” (Watkins
2005:441), a viewpoint reinforced by
requirements for “proof” of aboriginal history according to non-indigenous criteria and the privileging of
material evidence over other ways
of knowing the past. First Nations’
members often point out that ar105
chaeology alone is unable to recognise or protect heritage sites such
as landforms created by or associated with ancestors or areas used
for activities that do not leave material evidence (Watkins 2005, 2000;
Nicholas 2006). Within BC, the
Heritage Conservation Act (1996)
provides automatic protection to
archaeological sites predating 1846
but there is no equivalent protection
for traditional resource gathering
areas, sacred sites, ancestral sites,
etc. Recent protests in opposition to
developments at Bear Mountain, located west of Victoria, highlight this
point. According to First Nations oral
evidence, the cave is a scared place
and one which should be protected
despite the absence of physical
evidence indicating use of the area
(Dickson 2006; Dickson and Watts
2006; Shaw 2006).
Other criticisms relate to the traditional practice of archaeology
and archaeological interpretation.
Traditional approaches to the archaeological study of indigenous
peoples have tended not to recognize the impact of archaeological
assessments of site significance
(Nicholas 2006) or of archaeological interpretations for indigenous
people (see for example Trigger
1980; Nicholas 2006). Many indigenous people are also critical of the
tendency for researchers to interpret archaeological data without
detailed reference to cultural setting
in which they are situated. Nicholas
(2006: 364) notes that for many indigenous peoples site context is “a
dynamic link between past and present.” These latter two points reflect
a significant difference between a
western worldview, still very much
prevalent in local archaeological
practice, which focuses on the results of actions – artifacts, sites, patterning, chronology—over the cognitive and social processes involved in
their creation.
Despite the volume of published material, the literature on indigenous
archaeology provides relatively few
examples of archaeology for indigenous people. Rather, the bulk of literature presents either critiques of
traditional archaeological approaches or guides to the in-field conduct of
archaeology of indigenous cultures.
Meaningful consideration of indigenous perspectives in the interpretation of the archaeological record
is far less frequent. Several of the
most notable examples of the integration of indigenous perspectives
are from the American southwest
and Australia, where strong oral traditions provide fertile ground for the
development of indigenous oriented research objectives. Within BC,
Nicholas (2006) notes the efforts
of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en
and of TmixW Research in addressing the gap between western worldviews and those of the Wet’suwet’en
and Nlaka’pamux peoples respectively. The Stó:lo Nation and the
Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group (HTG)
are two additional First Nations with
strong research oriented heritage
programs. The Stó:lo have incorporated archaeological findings in
their Stó:lo-Coast Salish Historical
Atlas (Carlson 2001), a seminal document which provides both contextual and cartographic information
for a number of resource gathering
areas, trail networks, archaeological sites, ancestor sites, etc. While
not interpretive per se, the content
of the atlas is reflective of a holistic
worldview which sees archaeological sites as one aspect of indigenous
heritage. Academic research supported by the HTG (Thom 2005) has
been particularly useful for the consideration of local Coast Salish views
of the landscape.
Temporality of the
One of the criticisms leveled at archaeology by indigenous peoples is
that it tends to separate archaeological sites from their cultural context.
Archaeology by its nature charts
culture in a linear fashion through
time, with that which has gone before viewed as inactive, as time past
forever, a perspective not in keeping
with many indigenous perspectives
of time. This chronological blind
spot has until recently focused local archaeological investigations on
the development of complex chronological sequences in which the influence of the past is limited to the
extreme periphery, if considered at
all. Even in cultural anthropology,
temporality has “often been handmaiden to other anthropological
frames and issues” (Munn 1992:93)
with vigorous theoretical consideration of the topic a relatively recent
consideration (Munn 1992).
Theoretical arguments relating to
time and the landscape within the
scope of this paper cannot do justice
to the complexity of the concepts or
the content of previous works. The
temporality of landscape has been
discussed by numerous cultural
anthropologists from a theoretical
perspective (e.g. Gell 1992; Mizoguchi 1993; Bender 2002; Ingold 1993;
Casey 1996; Munn 1992; Halbwachs
1980 [1950]) and from the perspective of First Nations and other indigenous peoples (e.g. Harkin 2000;
Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2006; Cooper 1993; Basso 1996;
Million 2003; Thom 2005; Morphy
1995; Thornton 1995). Only a very
cursory discussion of a few of the
key points relevant to the archaeological consideration of the Lekwammen landscape is presented here.
Crucial to the discussion is the argument that separation of time
and space is an artificial, western
based distinction, one that is under significant review in cultural
anthropology. Bender (2002:106)
states: “Landscapes refuse to be
disciplined; they make a mockery
of the oppositions that we create
between time (history) and space
(geography) or between nature (science) and culture (anthropology).
Academics have been slow to accept this…” Archaeologists, perhaps
more than most, have been particularly slow to revise their thinking
about time in their analyses. Yet,
Ingold (1993:152) argues that “Time
and landscape… are to my mind the
essential points of topical contact
between archaeology and anthropology.” Human lives involve the
passage of time and these lifetimes
create the landscape (Ingold 1993).
As such, the landscape “is constituted as an enduring record of—and
testimony to—the lives and works of
past generations who have dwelt
within it, and in doing so, have left
there something of themselves…To
perceive the landscape is therefore
to carry out an act of remembrance”
(Ingold 1993:152-153). Halbwachs
(1980 [1950]) also suggests that the
past is remembered through landscapes, social relations, and objects
endowed with social meaning. Landscape is something that becomes
embodied through living: “the landscape becomes part of us, just as
we are part of it” (Ingold 1993: 154).
As Bender (2002:107) notes, actions are “both ‘of the moment’ and
something that extends forward and
backward in time and place.” Time
encompasses the past and imparts
to the future (Bender 2002; Ingold
1993). To privilege space over time,
as is often the case in archaeology,
is to deny that “time’s pervasiveness is an inescapable dimension of
all aspects of social experience and
practice” (Munn 1992:93).
Examples of indigenous perspectives of time and the landscape are
provided by a number of researchers working outside the current
study area, most notably in the
American southwest. In his ground108
breaking studies among the Western Apache, Basso (1996; 1988)
explored the relationship between
landscape, social wisdom and morals of ancestral teachings, revealing
how the landscape is both socially
constructed and imparts social constructs by evoking memory and history. In their archaeological investigations of tribal ethnohistory in
the San Pedro Valley, Ferguson and
employ a theoretical framework
which is “predicated on understanding cultural landscapes as history
and archaeological sites as monuments.” Colwell-Chanthaphonh and
Ferguson (2006:150) state that “not
every social group seeks knowledge
of past events that perfectly maps
onto Cartesian notions of time and
space”, noting that many First Nations arrange material time and
space in a complex manner with
the symbolic and representational.
Closer to the current study area,
Harkin (2000:49) observes that for
the Heiltsuk of BC’s mid-coast, time
and landscape are intimately connected and “ancestral acts are not
restricted to the distant past, but
resonate through time, which is in
any case recursive. Simply reading
such referents onto a linear temporal scale is clearly impossible… past
events are imminent in the lives of
the contemporary Heiltsuk…”
Given the above discussion, it’s
not surprising to learn that time is
an important aspect of the Central
Coast Salish landscape. Building on
many of these earlier works, Thom’s
(2005) analysis of Hul’qumi’num
sense of place references the temporality of the Central Coast Salish
landscape through its connection
with the ancestors. Thom (2005:15)
notes that for the Hul’qumi’num,
spirits and ancestors form part of
the experienced world and their
“potential to dwell in places guides
human actions”. Oral traditions
record the places that ancestors
originated or used their powers,
and the First Ancestors “provide
a spatial and temporal source for
present-day structures” (Thom
2005:84). For the Hul’qumi’num
and, Thom (2005:77) argues, for the
Coast Salish in general:
Oral traditions about the First Ancestors
of local communities and the mythic journeys of the Transformer who travelled the
land, provide some of the basic cultural
material by which people develop and
express their relationship to the land.
Through these stories, ancestors are associated with and embodied in the land.
Thom argues further that places become the ancestors, not resigned to
the past but rather with agency in
the present. By extension therefore,
the landscape also embodies temporal aspects of society though its association with the ancestors. For the
Central Coast Salish, the associations
with place are “foundational to their
social organization” (Thom 2005:1),
are important to both personal and
community identity, and are key to
property and territorial aspects of
culture that underlie the Coast Sal-
ish economy and inter-community
relations. Places, objects, dances,
and ancestral names provide a dynamic link with the past. They are a
means through which the past resonates and is reproduced in contemporary social life. Places—and all that
they entail —are a social structuring
of the landscape.
Recognizing temporality
in the archaeological
If associations with time and place
are foundational to Coast Salish
identity, social organisation, property rights and territory then it is reasonable to hypothesize that the material record and the organization of
space will reflect this importance.
The importance of time and its recursive properties are key aspects
of the theory of practice outlined by
Bourdieu (1977). The basic premise
of Bourdieu’s theory is that the arrangement and structure of space
is reflective of the organizational
structures of society; daily activities
express and reinforce this underlying cultural schema. Relationships
“with the past, and the extent to
which practices repeat earlier practices as a form of memory of them”
(Hodder and Cessford 2004:18) are
an important aspect of theories of
practice. As with Ingold’s (1993) argument for temporality, practice
theory holds that any particular
moment, action, or practice is contingent on what came before and
what will come after (Mahar, Harker,
and Wilkes 1990; Bourdieu 1977). As
an example of the importance of
this concept, Hodder and Cessford
(2004:19) argue that in order to “understand the daily social practices
of the Neolithic we need to examine both their spatial and temporal
dimensions.” Practice theory provides a robust framework in which
to investigate the importance of the
past in the past.
Practice theory provides a middle
ground between agency and structure in the development, maintenance and perpetuation of society.
As people move through structured
space and conduct daily or repeated
activities such as food gathering,
dancing, and socialising with others,
they are habituated to specific cultural dispositions. These dispositions
or habitus—the social constraints operating within society, ways of doing
things, demeanour—become embodied in both the individual and the social group. The structural properties
of society are reflected in everyday
activities and people acquire an unconscious (non-discursive) awareness of these through socialization.
But habitus and societal structure
do not operate in polar opposition
to each other; rather, habitus is
learned through socialization and is
reinforced and perpetuated through
activities conducted in the course
of daily life with structured settings
(Bourdieu 1977; Mahar, Harker, and
Wilkes 1990; Hodder and Cessford
Theories of practice have particular
appeal for archaeologists because
of their material applications. If
embodied cultural patterns are expressed and reinforced on a daily
basis then they can be uncovered
archaeologically through analysis
of material goods and spatial arrangements. Practice theory has
been employed in archaeological
studies of mortuary practices (e.g.
Mathews 2006; Mizoguchi 1993),
culture contact and identity (e.g.
Lightfoot, Martinez, and Schiff
1998; Deagan 1995; Jones 1997),
settlement practices (Mackie 2001)
and examinations of social memory (e.g. Joyce 2003; Hodder and
Cessford 2004), among others.
Victoria’s Temporal
Discussions and ritual events shared
with indigenous people in the local
area and the available ethnographic
data indicate that the Lekwammen
landscape was and is one imbued
with cultural meaning within which
time is a significant feature, a perception consistent with both theory
relating to the temporality of the
landscape and research among
other Central Coast Salish people.
The temporality of the Lekwammen
landscape has not been the focus of
specific anthropological or archaeological study; however it is evident
that consideration of this temporality is key to an archaeology reflective of indigenous perspectives both
in its practice and in interpretation.
Given the poignancy of the past
in the present, recognition of the
temporal facets of the Lekwammen
landscape through both explicit and
unconscious practices would seem
essential to sensitive investigation and meaningful interpretation
of the archaeological record of the
area. The legend of Camossung presented at the beginning of this paper provides a clear moral to guide
people’s behaviour: greed is not acceptable. Camossung is also known
to have bestowed powers to those
who conducted themselves appropriately and who bathed in a pool
located close-by (Keddie 2003). It
is clear from this story that Camossung continues to act in the present
as a caretaker for several resources
found in the Gorge and as a source
of personal power. Camossung herself was situated at a significant narrowing of the Gorge Waterway (she
was destroyed in the early 1900s to
facilitate boat traffic) and in immediate proximity to several archaeological sites which, with deposits
extending 4000 years before present (to bring this discussion back to
a linear temporal model with which
archaeologists are so comfortable),
share at least some contemporaneity with the ethnographically recorded legend. Oral histories record
that the people who lived on the upper part of the Gorge were known
as Swengwhung. Songhees elders
Jimmy Fraser, Sophie Misheal and
Ned Williams, interviewed by Duff
in the 1950s (Duff 1969), reported
that these people maintained a village on the little bay. The remains
of this village have been recorded
archaeologically. It is difficult to
imagine living at these camps and
villages and not being affected by
the presence of Camossung in both
thought and action.
The narrative of the wives of the
stars, recorded by Boas in the late
1800s (Boas et al. 2002), is another
example where place, practice and
the past intersect. Two sisters were
taken into the sky during a break
from salmon fishing. While harvesting camas in the sky they dig a hole
through which they see the earth far
below; they subsequently fashion a
rope and lower themselves from the
sky, landing on Ngak’un (Knockan
Hill). It is said that young men who
behave properly, bathe regularly
(purify themselves) and avoid women can see the rope the women used
leading up to the sky.
There are no known archaeological sites directly associated with
Ngak’un, although a number of sites
are recorded in the surrounding
area. Oral histories record several
use areas and place names in the
vicinity of Ngak’un, reflecting the
importance of the area to its indigenous inhabitants. Game and birds
were hunted in the region and fish
were taken from Portage Inlet and
the streams and creeks which empty
into it. Nearby Craigflower Creek,
Stillwater Creek, and Colquitz Creek
were three primary fishing streams,
particularly during the annual salmon runs. Elders Edward Joe and Martha Guerin identified Pulkwutsang
(Craigflower Creek) as “place of
ghost” or “haunted by ghost”, and
the bay south of Craigflower Creek
as Shtchaalth, meaning “to squeeze
something through” in reference to
the portage to Thetis Cove on Esquimalt Harbour. In making journeys to
Portage Inlet for refuge or for hunting or fishing expeditions, people
would have passed by Ngak’un or
at the very least it would likely have
been visible along the travel corridors, a reminder of shared history
and, for men at least, appropriate
behaviour with the potential for
powers in the present.
Places such as those discussed above
undoubtedly influenced movement
and settlement of the landscape. As
Bender (2002: 104) states, a “place
inflected with memory serves to
draw people towards it or keep them
away, permits the assertion or denial of knowledge claims, becomes a
nexus of contested meaning.” Camp
locations, ritual sites, villages and
trail networks are just some of the
possible archaeological site correlates of this influence.
The temporality of the landscape
through its connection with creator
spirits and ancestors, “those who
have gone before”, also has significant implications for an indigenous
approach to the practice of archaeology. The author’s experience with
spiritual advisors of the Songhees
and Esquimalt communities indicates that, just as proper behaviour
in the course of daily activities en112
sures that contact with the spirit
world is regulated to avoid potential
harm to those in the material world,
an awareness of these sensitivities
in archaeological practice alleviates
anxiety regarding the welfare of the
crew and the local community. The
potential for disruption to the sense
of well-being is most in evident to
non-indigenous peoples when ancient burials are encountered or at
funerals and memorials. Protocols
for excavation of human remains
and subsequent reburial ceremonies
include use of protective items by
field crew and specific behavioural
expectations. Excavations are also
confined to early in the day when
the spirits are less active; by contrast ceremonies such as “burnings”
at which food and clothing is transferred to the deceased are conducted in the late afternoon when contact with the spirits is heightened.
While the immediacy and influence
of temporal aspects of their culture is most poignant when burials
are encountered, the connection
extends to the landscape and to artifacts recovered archaeologically.
Because the ancestors and nonhuman beings dwell within the animals and vegetation which inhabit
the landscape and often in the landforms which characterise it, modifications to these have very significant potential to impact the present.
The need for a cleansing ceremony
given recent impacts to the cave on
Bear Mountain is in recognition of
this possibility (Dickson, Cleverley,
and Rud 2006). In some cases, the
protection and practices employed
with respect to those who have gone
before are extended to the excavation of deposits not known to contain human remains and to artifacts;
at the very least recognition of the
people whose artifacts are being
collected is considered appropriate. This practice is consistent with
Nicholas’ (2006:363) observation
that for many First Nations in BC,
artifacts and sites are “entities that
bridge past and present on a timeless cultural landscape.”
The archaeology of BC is dominated by a culture historical approach
which favours consideration of the
where and when of the record over
questions of how and why. Given the
above discussion, consideration of
landscape and time from an indigenous perspective is fundamental
to any meaningful movement away
from this culture historical paradigm. While the importance of time
has been debated and discussed for
some time in the field of cultural
anthropology, these debates have
as of yet had little impact on the
archaeology of indigenous cultures
in the local area (exceptions include Mackie 2001; Mathews 2006).
Achieving this shift will require
archaeologists to re-examine our
conceptions of time.
Yet the potential of such consideration for interpretation of the archaeological record is considerable.
Contemplation of the temporality of
landscape through practice theory
may contribute to an enhanced understanding of the social structure
and organisation of those who have
gone before. As the preceding discussion has demonstrated, the power of place and time clearly influence behaviour. The role of memory,
landscape and time may even shed
light on some unresolved aspects of
the local culture historical sequence
and site distribution. For example,
spatial analysis with reference to
these could contribute to our understanding of the transition from the
Locarno/Bowker Creek archaeological culture (3400-2400 years BP) to
the subsequent Marpole Culture.4 At
the very least it may provide texture
to often nondescript renderings of
the Lekwammen past, ones which
serve to distance the observer from
the observed.
Consideration of indigenous views
of time does not require the abandonment of scientific rigour. Nor
is it necessary to fix First Nations
peoples and cultures in an essentialist, unchanging state or assume
“unique qualities and abilities that
set Indigenous peoples apart from
European and Euro-American populations”, as suggested by McGhee
(2008), in order to question how the
past influenced the practices of people in the past. As Whitley (2002)
has argued, there is a middle ground
position that incorporates indigenous knowledge and results in richer interpretation and explanation of
rigorously acquired archaeological
data. Ferguson and Colwell-Chan113
thaphonh (2006) have demonstrated the possibilities of such an
approach with their research in the
San Pedro Valley.
The challenge for local and regional
archaeological practice with respect
to the temporality of landscape is
considerable given both indigenous
criticisms of the discipline and
the dogmatism of the cultural historical paradigm. However, it also
provides opportunities for archaeologists to engage in a meaningful
way with descendant communities
and offers considerable potential for our understanding of the
people who have gone before.
This paper is dedicated to Songhees
member Eva George, who helped
to shape D’Ann’s archaeological
practice and her experience of Victoria’s landscape.
1. For the purposes of this paper,
Sylvain’s (2002) definition of
indigenous is accepted. Indigenous peoples: have historical
continuity with prior occupants;
are politically, economically or
structurally marginalized; are
distinct from the dominant culture; and, are self identified. Under this definition, members of
the Esquimalt Nation and Songhees First Nation are considered
2. Based on the author’s experi114
ence in the field of consulting
3. Also see Nicholas, G. P. and T. D.
Andrews 1997 At a crossroads:
archaeology and First Peoples
in Canada. Archaeology Press,
Burnaby, B.C.
4. Hypothesised as a population
replacement by Burley and Beattie (1987).
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Niki Thorne
(In)Visibility & (Mis)Representation: First
Nations and Social Justice
This paper, based on summer fieldwork made possible through the auspices of an undergraduate student research award, examines the following
themes: 1) the construction of First Nations activists as the Dangerous Other, delegitimizing calls for social justice; 2) the construction of indigenous
people as helpless victims in need of saving by a colonial government,
drawing attention away from centuries of colonial interference in almost
every aspect of life; and 3) how patriotism relates to these issues. It is a
preliminary work that forms the basis for later graduate work, focused on
community organizing and deconstructing delegitimizing representations
of First Nations activists.
CA: Alta Mira Press.
Whiteley, Peter M.
2002. Archaeology and Oral Tradition: the scientific importance
of dialogue. American Antiquity
67 (3):405-415.
Much of Canadian patriotism is built
upon the policy and mythology of
multiculturalism, which is defined
in official government ideology as a
fundamental characteristic of Canadian heritage and identity (Mackey
1999:2). Canada’s ideology of multiculturalism, however, is dangerous, in that it renders invisible past
and ongoing injustices, and hides
structures of differential power. In
the case of First Nations in Canada,
many injustices are made invisible
through the discourse of multiculturalism, and when these issues are
made visible, indigenous people are
often constructed as either dangerous Others, such as ‘terrorists’ or
‘insurgents’, or as victims in need of
saving. Broadly put, the topic I am
concerned with in this paper is how
indigenous people in Canada are understood and represented, or rather,
misunderstood and misrepresented,
and the impact of these representations regarding struggles for social
I begin by briefly outlining my position and research. Next I explore the
concept of invisibility and some of
the effects of the myth of multiculturalism, followed by a look at two
types of misrepresentation that arise
when attempts are made to make
these issues visible: the constructions of native as victim and native
as dangerous Other. As attempts are
made to make injustices visible, they
are subsumed under these misrepresentations. My argument is that
actual indigenous peoples in Canada
are rendered invisible through the
myth of multiculturalism1 or constructed as dangerous Others or
victims, thereby hiding injustices.
When made visible, they are misconstrued and issues of social injustice
are made invisible through these
A brief background: My
position & research
This paper is based on undergraduate archival and field research from
2006 to the present. Since 2006, I
have been actively researching the
Caledonia land dispute—not only the
‘reclamation’/’occupation’, but also
reactions, backlash, and representations. My undergraduate research
has been framed as an independent
study course for Eva Mackey, and
then later as full time paid summer
research under the auspices of an
undergraduate student research
award (USRA) through the McMaster
Experiential Education department.
My research has involved analysis
of visual media, newspaper articles
and editorials (both dominant news
sources such as The Globe and Mail
and the Hamilton Spectator, as well
as alternative sources such as The
Turtle Island News and the Tekewen119
nake, printed on Six Nations of the
Grand River Reserve). I’ve also conducted ‘field research’, at the reserve, and during anti-‘occupation’
rallies at Queen’s Park. During this
research, I have been an active
member of Hamilton Solidarity with
Six Nations, and participated in a
number of information sessions at
Gore Park in downtown Hamilton,
and at James St. North (Hamilton)
during several of the Friday night art
crawls. Since this time, I have moved
to Toronto and become involved with
CUPE 3903’s First Nations Solidarity
Working Group out of York, and remain engaged in this solidarity work.
It has become commonplace in anthropology to negotiate one’s own
position within research, to account
for unavoidable subjectivity, rather
than attempting to hold on to the
notion of objectivity (See for example Scholte 1972, Salzman 2002,
& Robertson 2002). Additionally,
there has been much debate in the
field regarding the appropriate role
of the anthropologist. My position
with regards to the Caledonia land
dispute is that of solidarity. I feel as
though this position is an appropriate role for an anthropologist, and
fits well within the call for an ‘engaged anthropology’ (See for example, Scheper-Hughes, Bourdieu).
& Invisibility
It is important to begin by outlining what it is I mean by ‘invisibility’.
What does it mean to claim that First
Nations become ‘invisible’ through
the myth of multiculturalism? When
I talk about First Nations as invisible,
what I mean is: How much do Canadians actually know about the histories, treaties, ‘culture’, for example,
of the indigenous people who live
here? How many Canadians refer to
all of the varied and diverse nations
as ‘natives’, not realizing there is any
difference at all between, for example, Mi’kmaqs on the eastern coast
of Canada and Six Nations of the
Grand River? I suppose, what I am
getting at is how much do Canadians
know about First Nations, other than
what they read in the news? In terms
of my own personal experience, as
an anthropology student engaged
in research regarding the Caledonia land dispute, and as an active
member of Hamilton Solidarity with
Six Nations, it seems to me many
Canadians know very little about
Six Nations treaties, history, and
governance. This is what I mean by
invisibility: histories, and historical
and ongoing injustices are erased,
not seen, not known. Many aspects
of First Nations history, and even existence, are rendered invisible, even
in dominant systems of education.
What do kids learn about natives in
school? What are they taught about
“Canadian History”? How does this
lack of understanding play into the
discourses that circulate in terms of
the ‘white backlash’ surrounding the
reclamation of Kanonhstaton?
The next obvious question is: What
does multiculturalism have to do
with this? The policy of multicultur-
alism is actually defined in official
government ideology as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian
identity and heritage (Mackey 1999:
2). One important aspect of the policy of multiculturalism is ‘tolerance’.
It is interesting, and absolutely baffling to me, that somehow the mythology of multiculturalism can conjure up images of equality, while the
very language used to describe this
notion reveal differentials of power. What does it mean to be ‘tolerant’? Or, as Mackey asks, “How does
‘tolerance’ for ‘others’ work in the
construction of an unmarked and
yet dominant national identity?”
(Mackey 1999:3)
Though there are many questions
to ask about multiculturalism, for
the sake of scope, I am going to
concentrate on how a policy of multiculturalism affects the visibility of
social justice when it comes to First
Nations. The problem with the myth
of multiculturalism is that it leads
many to believe that everyone who
lives in Canada is equal, regardless of their background or culture.
However, although Canada certainly
is not homogenous in terms of its
population, there is no doubt that
the white Anglophone majority have
cultural, economic, and political
dominance (Mackey, 1999:12). When
those who are dominant convince
everyone else that we are equal,
where does that leave those who
are in situations of social injustice?
If we are made to believe we are all
equal, how can we see those experiencing structural inequalities? This
leads me to my next section: What
happens when those injustices are
made visible?
Visibility #1: The
Dangerous Other
The examples of natives depicted
as the dangerous Other abound. I’ll
focus on Caledonia (Kanonhstaton)
in my discussion, though numerous
others come to mind, such as Oka
(Kanesatake), Ipperwash, Gustafson
Lake, for example. There are many
ways indigenous protestors are constructed as the dangerous other. In
this section, I will begin with a brief
discussion of discourse, which is
to say how language represents a
particular kind of knowledge about
a topic (Hall 1992). Following this, I
will give some examples of how this
discourse has been used, drawing
upon the words of members of the
Caledonia municipal government at
a Queen’s Park Rally in May of 2007.2
In, The West and the Rest: Discourse
and Power, Stuart Hall writes, “When
statements about a topic are made
within a particular discourse, the discourse makes it possible to construct
the topic in a certain way. It also limits the other ways in which the topic
can be constructed” (Hall 1992:291).
When natives are constructed as
dangerous others as opposed to justified protestors, key words follow, as
part of the discourse. To begin with,
is it a ‘reclamation’? Or an ‘occupa121
tion’? One word connotes definitive
rights to the land while the other
indicates a sense of illegality and
danger. Hall writes: “The language
(discourse) has real effects in practice: the description becomes ‘true’”
(Hall 1992:292). Additionally, rather
than focusing on truth or falsity it is
important to consider the effect of
a given discourse. In this case, constructing the native protestor as the
dangerous other is effective in subsuming inconvenient issues of social
injustices under a rhetoric of fear.
Using the word ‘occupation’ communicates a sense of illegality. Whether
the occupation/reclamation is illegal
or not, using the word ‘occupation’
limits the topic such that its legal
status is not up for debate.
On May 2nd, 2007, residents opposed to the ‘occupation’ of Douglas Creek Estates (‘reclamation’ of
Kanonhstaton) drove in a slow moving convoy to Queen’s Park, rallying to encourage government support in stopping the ‘occupation’.
There were a number of speakers.
I brought a video camera, and later
transcribed some of these speeches and the crowd’s response. Craig
Grice, a member of the Haldimand
Council, was one such speaker who
received a lot of support from the
gathered crowd. To much cheering,
Grice says, “The people of Ontario
and the nation need to recognize
that we have witnessed police inaction and been subjected to acts
that have caused a very real sense
of community panic.” He mentions
the “threat” of blockades, and the
“anguish” of community members,
calling for “an immediate end and
resolution to the occupation” (my
emphasis). To more cheering, Grice
says, “Truly stated the residents of
Caledonia are the victims”. He depicts the community as threatened
by the dangerous other, saying, “we
must be allowed to return to our
lives, free of intimidation and immediate concern for family safety.”
Grice talks also about “the harmful
impact of this occupation” and questions “the reliability of the police to
protect us”.
Grice is not the only one to depict unarmed native protesters as
dangerous and threatening. The
mayor of Caledonia, Marie Trainer,
in her speech at the Queen’s Park
rally states, “People of Caledonia
need normalcy back in their lives.
Children need to be able to splash
in their backyard pools and camp
out in their tents and the sixth line
needs policing.” The mayor depicts
the children of Caledonia as threatened by the dangerous natives. She
speaks of the “fear, intimidation,
helplessness” of the Caledonians.
The dangers inherent in this type of
misrepresentation are fairly obvious.
Constructing natives as dangerous
and threatening within a discourse
of fear invalidates claims to social
justice. In making natives visible as
the dangerous other, the actual issues, such as the legitimate claim to
the land in question under the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784, or the
ongoing history of colonial violence,
are subsumed and made invisible.
Visibility #2: The Victim
Since much of my research has focused on media analysis, the first
thing that comes to mind when I
think of First Nations portrayed
as the victim is Kashechewan. The
Kashechewan reserve is near James
Bay in northern Ontario. Kashechewan has been plastered over all of
the major newspapers because of
problems with flooding, water contamination, and suicide rates. These
are problems. They should be in the
news. Where things become problematic, however, is the portrayal of
these entire communities as victims,
with no regard for the wider historical or political implications. By depicting these communities in such
a way, attention is actually drawn
away from the wider historical and
political implications. In this section,
I will begin by outlining a few portrayals of natives as victims in mainstream Canadian newspapers. I will
then discuss how these portrayals
are problematic with respect to Lila
Abu-Lughod’s comments regarding
the rhetoric of salvation.
Begin by considering a Toronto
Star article entitled, “Reserve residents stay put; Ottawa not prepared to spend $500 million to
move Kashechewan despite earlier
promise.” The author refers to the
Kashechewan reserve as “remote”
and “flood-prone”. He talks about
the “plight of the native community”
and the “desperate conditions on
the reserve”. He also mentions the
unemployment and suicide rates,
and alcohol and drug problems. The
Toronto Star is known for sensationalism, however, so consider the following comment column from the
Globe and Mail entitled, “Trapped
in the aboriginal narrative”. Much
could be said about the tone and
content of this article, however,
for the sake of scope, I will focus
on the word use. The author says,
“You’d have to be brain dead not to
be aware of the poverty of the reserves, the awful housing, the bad
water, the sickness, the suicides, the
hopelessness.” Also consider the
title of this Globe and Mail article,
“Spring flooding worries Kashechewan community” (my emphasis).
The very title of this article depicts
Kashechewan as helpless and devoid
of agency. Saying that the community is ‘worried’ connotes a sense of
not being able to allay those worries.
It connotes a lack of empowerment
to do anything about their ‘plight’. It
makes the community sound helpless and in need of saving.
While it is certainly true that there
are problems in Kashechewan that
need to be addressed, construing
natives as victims, as in the case
of Kashechewan is problematic because it negates the agency of First
Nations. It depicts natives as acted
upon, rather than as actors. The
newspaper articles I have surveyed
give no consideration of the community’s agency, but rather depict
the community as in need of saving.
Lila Abu-Lughod (2002) raises some
important considerations about the
rhetoric of salvation in her article,
“Do Muslim Women Really Need
Saving?” She argues for vigilance
regarding the rhetoric of saving
people, because of what it implies
about our attitudes. She writes:
When you save someone, you imply that
you are saving her from something. You
are also saving her to something. What
violences are entailed in this transformation, and what presumptions are being made about the superiority of that
to which you are saving her? Projects of
saving other women depend on and reinforce a sense of superiority by Westerners, a form of arrogance that deserves
to be challenged. All one needs to do to
appreciate the patronizing quality of the
rhetoric of saving women is to imagine
using it today in the United States about
disadvantaged groups such as African
American women or working-class women. (Abu-Lughod 2002: 788-789)
The problem with constructing
victims in need of saving is twofold: that they are stripped of their
agency, and also in the relations of
superiority of those doing the saving. Additionally, by focusing on the
community as victims, attention is
detracted from wider issues and
historical implications regarding issues in Kashechewan. The suicide
and alcohol rates are brought up to
show the community as in need of
saving, but they are not brought up
to examine historical injustices that
could be contributing to a sense of
despair. Lila Abu-Lughod brings up
parallels to this as well. With respect
to Muslim women, she writes, “the
question is why knowing about the
‘culture’ of the region, and particularly its religious beliefs and treatment of women, was more urgent
than exploring the history of the development of repressive regimes in
the region and the U.S. role in this
history” (Abu-Lughod 2002:784).
Similarly, depicting natives as victims in need of saving by Canada is
more urgent than exploring the histories of injustice and Canada’s role
in this injustice.
Throughout this essay, I have discussed issues regarding the misrepresentation of First Nations, and the
impact of these misrepresentations
on struggles for social justice. I have
argued that the varying constructions all negate issues of social injustice. The myth of multiculturalism
perpetuates a stereotype that we
are all equal, with equal opportunities, on an equal playing field. This
makes historical and ongoing injustices invisible. Two common portrayals of native communities seeking
social justice are that of the victim
and that of the dangerous other.
Portraying natives as victims is inappropriate both because it reinforces
structures of superiority with one
community in need of saving, and
another capable of doing the saving.
It negates agency, portraying First
Nations as passive, rather than active in creating their own ongoing
histories. The representation of native as victim is detrimental to so-
cial justice in that it draws attention
away from the wider historical and
political implications. Constructing
Natives as the dangerous Other subsumes injustices, drawing attention
away from social inequalities.
1. Though they are indeed reified
through stereotypical images
to serve a nationalist project.
This, however, is a topic for
another paper.
Similar sorts of discourses,
around the rights of Caledonian
citizens, and the ‘oppression’
of mainstream white people in
Caledonia is still prevalent, and
most recently these discourses
have been mobilized around the
formation of the Caledonia ‘militia’, or ‘peacekeepers’. For background on this, and links to news
coverage, see the First Nations
Solidarity Working Group website.” http://6nsolidarity.
I would like to extend a sincere and
heartfelt thanks to Eva Mackey
and the Experiential Education
Department at McMaster University for making this research possible through an undergraduate student research award (USRA). I am
also incredibly appreciative of my
friends involved in this social justice and solidarity work—you inspire
me (: Thanks also to my anonymous
reviewers for your helpful feedback
and suggestions.
References Cited
Abu-Lughod, Lila
2002 Do Muslim women really
need saving? Anthropological
reflections on cultural relativism and its others. American
Anthropologist 104(3): 783-790
Bourdieu, Pierre
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