Norms in the Margins and Margins of the Norm

The Social Construction of Illegality


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Abstracts Panel 8

Panel organizer: Cristiana Panella (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium)

Sustainable (Il)legalities. Daily Life Interstices of the Law, Chains of Arrangement and Gradients of ‘Loss’

Over the last fifteen years, social sciences have approached legal/illegal dynamics focussing mainly on the interfaces between shadow and official networks and on the role of the State in managing frontiers of ‘legality’ in shifting social and legal landscapes (Bayart, Hibou & Ellis 1997, Heyman 1999, van Schendel & Abraham 2005, Comaroff & Comaroff 2006). A second set of studies has focused on the role of informal and liminal actors as social networks of squeezing in citizenship claims and economic resistance to the State (Tripp 1997, Tranberg Hansen & Vaa 2004, Fernandez-Kelly & Shefner 2006, Meagher 2010, Titeca & De Herdt 2010).
This panel presents a new perspective, with shadow spheres seen as systems of flows in contested arenas of commodity chains pertaining to heterogeneous spheres of value. In the Nineteen-Eighties and Nineties, sociological and economical approaches to commodity circulation through the ‘Global Commodity Chains’ (GCC) or ‘Global Value Chain’ (GVC) models, have sketched out a model of a globalized market chain focused on sequential processes of production, trade, and consumption (Hopkins and Wallerstein 1986, Gereffi and Korzeniewicz 1994). A ‘bottom-up’ approach (Dicken et al. 2001, Bair 2005, 2009, Brewer 2011) has recently enriched this vision, taking into consideration network dynamics, trust/risk relationship and informal codification (Gereffi 2005). Complementing the ‘risk society’ model (Beck 1992 Adam, Beck & Van Loon 2000) and the risk/trust analysis (Gambetta 1988), social anthropological approaches to the ‘risk’/’loss’ dynamics have considered a multi-faceted vision of ‘value’ within the theoretical framework of exchange, personhood and representation (Douglas & Wildavsky 1982, Douglas 1992) and its considerations on economic ‘moralities’ (Guyer 1998, Maurer 2009, Fassin 2009, Browne & Milgram 2009) and, more generally, on the “human economy” paradigm (Hart et al. 2010). This approach could be applied to a large spectrum of circulation dynamics, as, for instance, recent transversal approaches to ‘thingness’ and value have shown (Myers 2001, Miller 2005, 2008, 2008a, 2009, Keane 2006, 2008).
In relation to the ‘value chains’ empirical and theoretical perspectives, this panel focuses on concepts of ‘arrangement’ and ‘compromise’ seen as principles of hidden rules shared by social actors acting in intertwined fragmented temporalities. Through qualitative, ‘in-depth’ case-studies and innovative theoretical perspectives, this panel will evidence the social production of daily life chains of arrangement within an on-going interconnection between official and underground spheres of public and market spaces (urban and local policies, global markets, micro-economies, etc).
Intercourses between heterogeneous ‘value chains’ happen in a global world where individual/collective perceptions and juridical statements of ‘loss’ are growing in different domains (‘loss’ of: security, ethics, purchasing power, culture, political visibility, social status). A focus on heterogeneous value spheres and trajectories underlying multi-oriented gradients of ‘loss’ and social mechanisms of arrangement could thus reveal empirical imbrications, embodiment dynamics and norms linking heterogeneous but intertwined categories, groups and individuals.
At the empirical level, panellists will outline practices of compromise in relation to interfaces between public discourse and shadow spheres. In this frame, they will stress the analysis of strategies of arrangement based on a segmentary social organization and temporalities (Herzfeld 2009). At the theoretical level, panellists are expected to propose innovating frames as - just for giving some not exclusive examples - praxeological or semiotic approaches (see, for example, Warnier 2001 and Keane 2008) applied to shadow relationships, new orientations and applications of the GVC Theory in social sciences, or theoretical extensions of the moral economy patterns in relation to materiality issues and their relation to shadow spaces of exchange.


  • Bjørn Thomassen (University of Roskilde, Roskilde, Denmark)
    Begging Rome. Norms from the Margins, Norms of the In-between

    In this paper I argue that begging and the wider phenomenon of beggary must be analyzed through a twofold prism: as a particular economic exchange taking place at the margins of the market economy and as a cultural exchange pregnant with value in which crucial norms are negotiated and established. The beggary scene in Rome is used as ethnographic platform. Involving a plethora of different activities, "beggary" is one example of how the market oriented economy intertwines with underground networks and "informal economies", and how these interconnections produce implicit and explicit norms. Beggary creates moral reciprocities that go along with an economic exchange. It is one of those "micro" activities indicated by the organizers of this conference; but it also belongs to the macro economy. The paper will also address how the phenomenon of beggary throws light on disciplinary debates in economic anthropology and the anthropology of religion.
  • Andrew Walsh (University of Western Ontario, Canada)
    Lost and/or Left Behind: Compromising Responsibly in a Malagasy Mining Town

    In the once booming, but now slumping, northern Malagasy sapphire mining town of Ambondromifehy, people make do in the face of uncertainty.  As a place of internal migrants organized around the mining and trade of a commodity destined for complex and fickle foreign markets, this town features a wide range of distinctive arrangements and compromises.  Of special concern here are the arrangements through which people strive to live responsibly – in accordance with traditional Malagasy norms of sociality – while still managing to make a living through work that can lead them astray.  I argue that such distinctive arrangements owe a great deal to the particular articulations of place and mobility one finds problematized in a context like this one.  The first articulation is well encapsulated in the experience of what Malagasy people term being “very” or “lost”, a condition of mobile people who either don’t know or have no hope of returning to the places from which they have come.  The second articulation is apparent in the experience of being “tavela” or “left behind”, the condition of people who find themselves staying put while the things, people and possibilities they value flow away from them.  For the many people in Ambondromifehy who are managing either or both of these conditions and the circumstances that come with them, idealized systems of social and moral exchange – systems of responsibility – are inevitably forums for compromise.
  • Cecilie Ødegaard (University of Bergen, Norway)
    Sovereign Loss, Sovereign Things: The Smuggling of Energy Resources between Bolivia and Peru

    The smuggling of energy resources from Bolivia to neighbour countries has increasingly become a problem for Bolivian authorities. A great part of these resources is smuggled into Peru, where people involved in this traffic generally regard the official attempts on both sides of the borders to interfere as illegitimate, and where the circulation of commodities is ascribed value independently of its illicit/illegal character. The official interferences have also been few or random, and the authorities on both sides of the border have more or less closed their eyes to the cross-border trade, that is, until the smuggling of energy-resources became sufficiently problematic. A form of informal sovereignty has thus characterized this cross-border trade, related to 1) the bribing of public functionaries, 2) the justification of smuggling due to poverty, 3) the historical and cultural interconnections between people across the border, and 4) the embeddedness of smuggling in alternative sources of authority. For producer countries such as Bolivia, the smuggling has increasingly represented not only economic loss, but also a challenge to state sovereignty, and since 2010, the government has introduced several measures to reduce the problem. The smuggling actualizes questions of ‘loss’ in a range of different ways, and the paper will explore the smuggling as expression both of ‘losses’ and of gains for the different actors and institutions involved. The contested character of these heterogeneous value chains will further be discussed in relation to the materiality of the goods smuggled, and a central concern will be the usefulness of a notion about the sovereignty of things.
  • Rivke Jaffe (University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
    The Hybrid State: Crime and Citizenship in Urban Jamaica

    This paper explores the complicated relationship between the Jamaican state, criminal leaders (known as “dons”) and the urban poor. These various actors have been joined in a system known as “garrison politics”, a type of electoral turf politics achieved through communal clientelism. Based on their role as brokers between politicians and inner-city residents, dons came to preside over politically homogenous enclaves known as “garrisons”. In these marginalized urban areas, dons have increasingly taken on functions and symbols associated with the state, and their authority is considered legitimate by many inner-city residents. I argue for an analysis of donmanship through the concept of a “hybrid state”, in which criminal organizations and the formal state are entangled in a relationship of collusion and divestment, sharing control over urban spaces and populations. Extending recent scholarship on fragmented sovereignty and mixed forms of governance, I show how the hybrid state exists in a mutually reproducing relationship with a hybrid form of citizenship, in which multiple practices and narratives related to rule and belonging are negotiated from the ground up. The distribution of rights and responsibilities is grounded in a system of exclusion and inequalities, in which social value is assigned according to hierarchical relations of race, class and urban space. Jamaica’s hybrid forms of statehood and citizenship entail arrangements of compromise and coercion that connect differently valued people and places, even as they perpetuate these uneven valuations.
  • Dario Gaggio (University of Michigan, USA)
    Valuing Place/Placing Value: The Elusive Normativity of Landscape in Rural Tuscany

    How do places and landscapes accrue value, and what are the hierarchies of norms, knowledges, and negotiations that preside over these processes of valorization? Landscapes are simulaneously “representations” that can be placed in a competitive global market to attract tourists and investment, and “ways of being-in-the-world” that defy codification and commodification. These two dimensions of landscape lead to conflicts between proponents of (and stakeholders in) different understandings of place and temporality, but “successful” places find complex ways of framing and diffusing these tensions. In this paper, I will address these issues by examining the historical construction of rural Tuscany as an iconic landscape and paragon of beauty. When they do not resort to essentialist notions of taste, many commentators are prone to explain the “preservation” of Tuscany’s countryside as the outcome of locally rooted legislative interventions meant to prevent “speculation” and “debasement” (scempio). Tuscany is indeed the site of layers of normative constraints and guidelines, ranging from local zoning regulations to the expectations associated with UNESCO’s World Heritage Site status. But in Tuscany, like everywhere else, preservation is always already ongoing reinvention. Landscape, like the nation, is a daily plebiscite. By focusing on a valley in southern Tuscany which obtained the status of World Heritage Site in 2004 (the Val d’Orcia), I will show the power of the circumventions, negotiations, and reinterpretations rural Tuscans engage in on a daily basis as they navigate and emplace the alternative temporalities of global validation, national legitimation, and local belongings.

Discussant: Josephine Smart (University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada)

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