2023 SEA 43rd Annual Meeting

Wellbeing and the Common Good

May 18 to 20, 2023
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

Unless otherwise noted, all events take place at the Norris University Center, Northwestern University, 1999 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208. Click here for an interactive map of campus.

Conference Chair: John Millhauser (millhauser@ncsu.edu)
Department of Sociology & Anthropology, North Carolina State University

Conference Host: Hirokazu Miyazaki
Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University

Click here to download a PDF of the final program or jump ahead for a summary of the schedule and a list of meeting papers and abstracts.

The registration portal for the spring meeting is now open on the AAA website. Registration rates are:

  Standard Un/Underemployed Student
In person $100 $70 $40
Banquet (in person) $25 $20 $15
Virtual $40 $30 $20

Travel and Accommodations


We are not reserving a room block for the conference because there are many hotel and Air BnB options in Evanston and Chicago.

The two hotels closest to the conference are:

The Graduate Hotel, 1625 Hinman Ave.
Singles from $213/night, doubles from $248/night

The Orrington Hotel, 1710 Orrington Ave.
Singles from $177/night, doubles from $203/night

Air Travel

The closest airport to Evanston, IL is Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD). Chicago Midway is slightly less convenient to Evanston (MDW). There are several ways to reach Evanston from O’Hare and Midway:

  • Taxi
    American Taxi
    O’Hare to Evanston/Northwestern ~ 1 hour, flat rate $31
    From the airport, call 847-255-9600 as soon as you deplane. The company will text you with your taxi number. (Please only take that taxi.) Taxis are waiting in a nearby lot and will proceed to the terminal to meet you for pick-up. Please ask for the flat rate to Evanston. American Taxi also has an app that allows you to pre-book.
    Airport Express Shuttle
    Reserve a seat online from the web at least 24 hours in advance. Costs $30. http://www.airportexpress.com/
    Taxi stands at the airport
    O’Hare to Evanston/Northwestern ~1 hour, $50 to $60
    Taxi stand is situated at the lower-level curb front outside of baggage claim at each terminal

  • Rideshare
    If you prefer to use a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft, please look for signs for the designated “Rideshare Pick-up” zone for your terminal.

  • Public Transit
    Chicago Transit Authority (E1)
    O’Hare to Northwestern’s Evanston campus ~ 1.5 hours, costs $5
    The CTA blue line station is situated on the lower level of Terminal 2. You may walk to the station or use the Airport Transit System to get to the station. Take the blue line train and switch to the red line at the Jackson Station downtown. From Jackson, take the red line in the direction of Howard, and then at Howard, switch to the purple line (direction of Linden) and the purple line will bring you to Evanston.
    Midway to Northwestern’s Evanston campus ~ 1.5 hours, costs $5
    Take the CTA Orange Line toward the loop to Harold Washington Library-State. Change to the Purple Line north in the direction of Linden. Exit Purple Line at Davis.
    For more information, visit https://www.transitchicago.com/
    Pace Bus
    O’Hare to Northwestern’s Evanston campus ~ 1 hours , costs $1.75
    Take Pace Bus Route 250, which leaves the O’Hare “Kiss-n-Fly” station at long term parking lot E.
    After arrival, take the Airport Transit System from your terminal to long-term parking. Then get on Pace Bus 250 (Dempster St), which drops off at the CTA Davis station in Evanston. For more information, visit https://www.pacebus.com/route/250.

Conference Program:

Click here to download a PDF of the final program

Thursday, May 18

  • ~5 to 6:30 Keynote speaker: Kathleen Millar (Simon Fraser University)
  • 7:00 to 8:00 Reception, location TBD

Friday, May 19

  • 7:30 to 8:00: Registration, coffee, pastries
  • 8:00 to 8:20: Introductory remarks by John Millhauser and Hiro Miyazaki
  • 8:20 to 12:00: Session 1
  • 12:10 to 1:30: Business lunch and presentation by winner of Browne award
  • 1:30 to 5:10: Sessions 2a and 2b
  • 5:20 to 6:00: Presentation by winner of Schneider award
  • 6:00 to 8:00: Poster session and reception (appetizers and bar service)

Saturday, May 20

  • 7:30 to 8:00: Registration, coffee, pastries
  • 8:00 to 11:40 Sessions 3a and 3b
  • 11:40 to 1:00 Lunch on your own, possible SEA-sponsored mentoring event
  • 1:00 to 4:40 Session 4
  • 4:40 to 5:30 Wrap up conversation with John Millhauser and Hiro Miyazaki
  • 6:00 to 8:00 Banquet at Mount Everest restaurant (buffet and cash bar)

SESSION 1: Definitions and Disparities
Session chair: Lisa Cliggett

Erik Bähre (Leiden University) virtual
Quality of life and care: Dilemmas of working in public and private healthcare in Brazil

Working in private healthcare is a vastly different experience than working in public healthcare. How do healthcare professionals reflect on these experiences? What are their aspirations and which decisions do they make when attempting to move their career into a certain direction? Physicians, nurses and assistant nurses told me how their professional lives developed. They reflected on how they considered what they could do for patients and how this impacted upon their own life. Care was generally evaluated as something meaningful and valuable, but healthcare professionals sometimes also found care to be degrading for the patients and for themselves. Was the toll of working in public healthcare not too high? Were the inferior working conditions and the risk of becoming traumatized by one’s work all worth it? Professional healthcare workers explained to me how they struggled with the tensions that were inherent to the public and private system in Brazil; that public and private healthcare had a distinct understanding of quality that had major consequences for their income and notions of self. Sometimes, working in healthcare gave meaning to the lives of healthcare professionals while others experienced it as humiliating. Professionals redefined their values in the course of their career or searched for a new balance between taking care of others and taking care of oneself. Others grappled with how to combine the utilitarian and moral values that are inherent to care. In this paper I use Tronto’s approach to care as a starting point to explore the tensions that emerged around the quality of life and care. I gain insight into the have many different definitions and meanings that quality has and how these definitions and meanings hinge upon very specific contexts and social configurations, the institutional characteristics of public and private healthcare, as well as notions of personhood in relation to the state and the market.

Olivia Norma Jørgensen (Copenhagen Business School / PricewaterhouseCoopers Denmark)
The CSRD will change our understanding of what a sustainable business is

Accountancy firms are among some of the most reviled businesses. In the past years the critique against the firms has intensified as they have embarked on offering sustainability services. They are accused of not wanting to do good, but only seeing the business case in the new hot topic. How the accountants understand their role in the green transition and as part of the challenges the world is facing with floods, violations of human rights and the climate change impacting unequally, this paper seeks to portray. Based on 12 months of fieldwork in the sustainability team in PricewaterhouseCoopers Denmark, the paper gives an insight into the conversations on and understanding of assurance around sustainability. In the team people are employed in the hope of being able to make a change in the current landscape of businesses. Several people chose to go into the firm to have a broader impact than just through one single company, and others to learn the broad challenges to one day go into the industry to make a difference. An understanding of impact which in 2022 was based on the ongoing negotiations of the European Union’s legislative act called the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). There was a strong belief that this act was what would make companies embark on the “green growth adventure”, several employees in the team had hoped for, for years.

Ben Eyre (University of East Anglia) virtual
Rendering social: Exploring preferences and power by pluralizing the anthropology of the good

Development and conservation instigators have long rendered social phenomena technical in order to justify and rationalize their own vision for (and trustee role in creating) positive change in the lives of people whose perspectives and preferences they simultaneously tend to ignore. However, a new breed of actor claims to reject technocratic planning, explicitly critiquing ideas such as “fortress conservation” and the neo-colonial gaze of development. Instead, they have created new initiatives focused on shifting power, embracing community participation, and amplifying beneficiary voice and agency. Perhaps they are (finally) rendering development social? Such a move is complex, of course, and herein may lie a role for anthropologists. It also asks questions of anthropological engagement: how do we relate to diverse interlocutors when studying their (different) ideas about well-being and common good…. Tracing the creation of a ‘forest bond’ that aims to benefit rural Kenyans, protect biodiversity, and create risk-adjusted investment opportunities for US financial institutions, this presentation explores how different visions of ‘the good’ come together through an innovative financial instrument: how they inhibit and enable each other. This neither lapses into a representation of a ‘suffering slot’ nor obfuscates questions of power but engages with the opportunities and limitations of ‘doing well and doing good’ for multiple parties linked by financial innovations created in the name of sustainable development.

Donna Nash (UNC Greensboro)
Imperial policies and well-being in the prehistoric Andes: Poverty vs. social exclusion as mechanisms of political control

At European contact the Andes were home to the New World’s largest polity, the Inka Empire. Several ethnohistorical accounts praise the just administration of the Inka because extraction was largely based on labor performed on state-owned lands, rather than a form of taxation that removed resources directly from household holdings, and other policies that seemingly assured that citizens were consistently fed. For this reason, social theorists such as Baudin argued that the empire was free from poverty. A closer consideration of Inka policies and the social values of subjugated groups challenges this picture of imperial beneficence. In this paper, I explore two different types of well-being, health and mental stress, where the former is impacted by labor demands and the latter stems from social exclusion, particularly in the form of cosmological terror. Rather than subjecting populations to starvation, Inka agents could create a sense of deprivation and vulnerability among subject populations through removing resources from communities to build sociality with neighbors and more importantly supernatural entities, such as ancestors. Positive relationships with such entities were viewed as vital because they controlled environmental fecundity and could be vengeful when angered. Assessing well-being requires that archaeologists consider the values of a community and what resources are considered necessary to meet social norms and participate in society. These needs exceed basic human survival in terms of water, food, and housing, and should encompass what Adam Smith described as the things required to meet culturally contingent concepts of ‘decency.’ In the prehistoric Andes this would include the access and means to venerate patron supernaturals. Ethnohistoric accounts of Inka policies reveal that some communities were burdened with onerous labor demands, which caused premature arthritis among other health stressors, while others were deprived the role and means to venerate regional supernaturals with offerings of food and other goods. Archaeological data from household excavations, human remains, and landscape transformations for both the Inka (ca. 1400-1532AD) and earlier Wari (ca. 600-1050AD) empires provides a means to assess the well-being of subjugated groups and determine if economic poverty, labor-induced health stress, or social exclusion were deployed as mechanisms of political control.

Brandon D. Lundy (Kennesaw State University)
Contested values and sustainable livelihoods of artisanal alcohol in Cabo Verde

Portuguese comerciantes established sugarcane proto-plantations in Cabo Verde by the fifteenth century. A transatlantic entrepôt, the creole population grew as the archipelago prospered from the transatlantic trade in enslaved peoples. By 1747, the arid islands had been deforested, overgrazed, and were hit with the first of many droughts and famines that plague the islands. During this time, grogue, an artisanal spirit distilled from sugarcane, transformed from a heritage commodity into polyvalent forms of community identity and care, stores of value, and mediums of exchange and social relations. This artisanal alcohol endures as a co-opted colonial commodity serving as a quintessential and enduring example of both a cultural asset and liability. Grogue ensures the livelihoods of many and is celebrated as a taste of the islands and symbol of home. It is also a drug used to numb difficult circumstances. This study examines grogue as a bellwether of social well-being or discord. How is this craft defined as a common good? Who proclaims, listens to, and defends its cultural value and protects against associated harms? This study explores the shifting nature of artisanal alcohol as a valued yet contested cultural asset with the potential to both empower and imperil reciprocal rural livelihoods. To better understand contemporary concerns, this paper examines both the historical and contemporary record to document this ongoing contest over the future of grogue and its production in Cabo Verde through a consideration of recent policies and public reporting.

SESSION 2a: Livelihoods
Session chair: Laura Cochrane

Riddhi Bhandari & Siddhi Gyan Pandey (O.P. Jindal Global University)
Self-help gurus–Mediating well-being and work in post-liberalization India

This paper will examine the digital self-help industry in India as a site for socialization where concepts of work and well-being are negotiated and gain materiality. We analyze the content put out by the self-help gurus in their social media forum and platforms (Instagram, YouTube, FB) to understand the ideas of work, well-being and aspirations for the good life that are increasingly becoming popular in urban India, and the role that the self-help gurus play vis-à-vis these. We argue that the role of the self-help gurus is twofold. First, they help shape and popularize these ideas of well-being for their audience that center on cultivating an entrepreneurial self that is curious, driven, action-oriented, not afraid to experiment or fail, and always willing to work towards skill-accumulation and self-improvement. Second, self-help gurus also mediate the tensions that emerge when there is a disjunct with the material conditions of an economic field and people’s aspirations therein. Drawing from Bourdieu, our work examines the generative role of the self-help gurus in shaping an entrepreneurial self and managing individual expectations by doing, what Bourdieu refers to as the “work of mourning” (2005).

Data for this paper draws from early findings of our research on the self-help industry in India that aims to understand how this industry is enfolded with the twin processes of economic liberalization and digitalization. Neoliberalism, the politico-ideological force behind India’s economic liberalization, has long been recognized both as a “mode of labor and way of life” (Freeman 2014, 16), that has created the context for an emphasis on the “self” as a site for cultivating a desirable personhood. As a mode of labor, neoliberalism has promoted flexibility, creativity, adaptability of/to work, and a shift away from collective action to individualized forms of entrepreneurialism, work and responsibility. This mode of labor has accompanied economic restructuring, some key aspects of which include increasing contractualization of work, and shrinking social welfare schemes (Harvey 2005; Gupta and Sivaramakrishnan, eds. 2010). In the resulting precarity of work and labor, the onus of well-being is on individuals and individualized strategies, and life and career coaches are central to help improve this work-worker relationship (Pagis 2021). Flexibility, skills, and the demonstrable willingness to constantly work on improvement and upgrading, are not merely limited to neoliberal conditions of work but have become an integral aspect of a desirable neoliberal self (Gershon 2011; Freeman 2014), and the self has become a site of labor, branding, and constant improvement.

The self-help gurus that this paper focuses on have emerged in this churn of neoliberalism, post-liberalization conditions of work, and digitalization. In the aftermath of the COVID -19 pandemic, facing an increased engagement from India’s youth amidst a decline in employment in traditional salaried jobs and a mushrooming of online platforms to support self-employment, self-help gurus have cultivated their “self” as a desirable, emulatable brand, that they subsequently market as their work. They mobilize the digital affordances to offer their example, their journey, and advice learned on the way, to enable others to work on their “self”. However, a potential contradiction remains: how far can one market the idea of the “self” that is supposed to bring economic stability and success in an economy with shrinking secure jobs and jobless growth? Self-help gurus must navigate these pathways in search of their own economic viability, and in the process, help manage individual expectations to better align with their material, structural conditions.

This paper attends to these tensions, to understand the generative process through which post-liberalization concepts of work, self, and well-being in India gain shape and form through digitally mediated presentations of the self and everyday socializations between the self-help gurus and their followers.

Nick Welna (CUNY Graduate Center)
Good jobs, logistics labor, and the common good in Memphis, Tennessee

The pursuit of “good jobs” has shaped visions of collective well-being in Memphis, Tennessee, for the last fifty years. Most infamously, in 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis while organizing a nationwide Poor People’s March around the city’s striking sanitation workers. Since that tragedy, an interracial coalition of local elites has re-organized the Memphis economy around logistics labor. FedEx led the way, starting in 1973. The sector has grown steadily for decades, with the arrivals of Target, Nike, Amazon, and an array of third-party logistics firms. Today, out of the fifty largest U.S. metropolitan areas, Memphis has the nation’s highest concentration of logistics workers. The local logistics industry has mostly white executives and shareholders, while it relies on predominantly Black rank-and-file employees.

To some, the warehouse boom is a blessing, because it brings thousands of entry-level jobs to a city struggling with racialized poverty, white flight, deindustrialization, and declining tax revenue. For others, the modern logistics industry is an insidious inheritance of the region’s old plantation economy, extending racist exploitation into the twenty-first century. In this contentious context, the meaning of a “good job” is crucial for Memphians making claims about the common good. This keyword circulated in the early 1970s, when Black journalists published dozens of articles encouraging economic development through entrepreneurship. Today, veteran logistics workers reflect on “good jobs” in oral histories, as they express gratitude for decades of steady employment, but also disclose their anger at discriminatory employers. The phrase reappears in present-day policymaking, too. Last year, two local nonprofits secured a combined $37 million in grants from the federal government’s “Good Jobs Challenge.”

Taking up texts like these from the last fifty years, this essay reflects on the significance of good jobs for people in Memphis, centering the compromises and conflicts that arise around the logistics industry. It uses archives and interviews to address three questions: (1) What distinguishes a good job? (2) How can individuals and communities get good jobs? (3) How do goods jobs relate to various visions of the common good?

Through the focus on good jobs, this essay engages recent reflections on the anthropology of the good (Robbins 2013) and classic commentaries on moral economies (Thompson 1971). It follows Ilana Gershon’s (2017) study of job seekers and the contradictions of neoliberal subjectivity. More specifically, it identifies how the pursuit of good jobs is entangled with global economic trends, like inter-urban competition (Harvey 1989), as well as the intimate and immanent processes that Veronica Gago (2017) calls neoliberalism from below. Focusing on a logistics, a sector that drives economic restructuring (Levinson 2006; Cowen 2014), this paper presents the struggle for good jobs as both cause and effect of late capitalism transformations. Finally, following from my focus on Black workers, it considers how racial capitalism (Robinson 1983) constrains certain conversations about the common good.

Montserrat Pérez-Castro (Dartmouth College)
Sustainable hope: Affect and labor in corporate sustainability

Working on corporate sustainability [CS] requires hope. Hope that measuring, reporting, and making projects in the present will make a better future. But there is also critique and hopelessness. It’s difficult to implement projects in large companies and complex supply chains. In this presentation, I discuss how hope is experienced and mobilized by different actors involved in making sustainable palm oil. From high-level executives to smallholders and industrial workers, I describe moments of hope in the practices involved in making CS. I draw on my experience as a sustainability analyst and preliminary ethnographic fieldwork with people from the palm oil industry in Mexico and the Netherlands. I suggest we conceptualize hope (and critique) with a perspective of labor to problematize differences in such unequal and diverse supply chains. I build on ethnographic approaches to corporations and supply chains to ask how is hope enacted and what social and material relations are shaped by it. How can hope sustain or transform the political ecologies in which it unfolds? In parallel, I reflect on anthropology’s focus on the otherwise as a mode of hope that can facilitate a methodological attunement while it can also reify hope as “good”. I draw from Trouillot’s critique of the savage slot to argue that anthropology’s demand for a hopeful subject requires critical analysis. What and whose utopias of sustainability are we mobilizing in our critique? The presentation aims to question how we locate “the good” in anthropology and the political imaginaries that it sustains or transforms.

Aaron Pitluck (Illinois State University; University of Illinois-Chicago)
“Sometimes it looks fake”: Wrestling with authenticity and hiyal in Islamic banking and finance

On one hand, Islamic banking and finance is a radical aspiration to globally and nationally transform banks and the financial system to conform with interpretations of Islamic ethics and morals. On the other hand, such high aspirations patently conflict with the existing global, $3.3 trillion market dominated by profit-oriented private banks. These aspirations also conflict with the technical details of how financial products are constructed to avoid interest-based debt financing. Many well-informed critics interpret Islamic financial products as disguising interest-based debt financing, but with higher transaction costs and increased legal and financial risk. How do informed Islamic financial practitioners reconcile their vision of the Islamic Good Society with the products and processes that they observe at work?
Financial practitioners in Malaysia view Islamic finance as authentic and improving, even as they perceive it as falling short of their ideals. One particularly widespread theological tool with which practitioners and Shariah scholars interpret Islamic financial products is that they rely on hiyal, a legal stratagem used to provide remedies and alleviate predicaments, to provide an escape from the unlawful to the lawful. The paper summarizes how thinkers have used the concept of hiyal to either critique or promote the Islamic banking industry. The paper concludes by exploring how the concept of hiyal, and the diverse ways that my interlocutors deployed it, can help us create an “anthropology of the good.” In particular, the paper can help us explore the patent gap between our own economic behaviors and our (often high) aspirations for what a Good Economy should look like.

Claudia Strauss (Pitzer College)
Positive affects of precarious workers in the U.S.

Since the early 1980s, employers in wealthy, industrialized countries have been replacing full-time, permanent employees with workers on short-term contracts or independent contractors, trends that are increasing with the platform economy. These trends have been analyzed as the outcome of neoliberal ideologies and current capitalist strategies of flexible accumulation (Harvey 1989). Those theories, however, do not help us to understand the affects or “structures of feeling” (Thompson 1963) that accompany work. We need other theories to understand why some U.S. workers in such precarious employment may like their jobs. To understand how workers feel about precarious jobs, we need to consider what alternatives are available and what workers accept as normal (Ferguson and Li 2018); the type of precarious work (e.g., differences among “temps,” “independent contractors,” and “dependent contractors”); and what matters to a worker about their job, which can vary even among those doing the same kind of work. I illustrate these variations with examples from my interviews with southern Californians in a wide range of occupations, as well as other anthropologists’ research in South Africa (Dawson 2021, Jeske 2020), Italy (Molé 2012), and elsewhere. Analyses of precarious work are also shaped by scholars’ assumptions about what work should mean. There is a key divide among progressive scholars between laborist left analyses arising from classical Marxism and postwork approaches based on autonomist Marxist theories. I will introduce the often-overlooked perspective of contributive justice theories of what makes jobs meaningful (Sayer 2009) and some policy implications of this research.

SESSION 2b: Claiming Responsibility
Session chair: Amy Stambach

Benjamin R. Burgen & Meredith G. Marten (University of West Florida)
Translocal healthcare provisioning and the common good in smalltown Senegal

Senegal has long relied on local communities to expand universal health coverage (UHC) and improve health outcomes for its citizens. Indeed, the strength of community-based healthcare was lauded as a primary reason for Senegal’s relative success in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. In this paper, we examine how community healthcare emerges “on the ground” in Keur Toma, a rural Wolof town in the Senegal River Valley which relies on a global network of labor migrants to fuel its remittance-based economy. Largely through its hometown association and the migrant men abroad who fund it, Keur Toma has built and sustained the local health infrastructure and staffing essential to achieving UHC, providing both consistent investment and critical stop-gap funding when government assistance falters.

Following Robbins’ (2013) call for investigating “an anthropology of the good,” we highlight the deeply rooted sense of care and obligation to kin and community that fosters the translocal ties that make Keur Toma’s healthcare possible in the state’s absence. We highlight what Ngom (2016) calls “sanctified suffering” – which valorizes personal fortitude and the ability to endure hardships in service of family and community, shaped by local traditions of solidarity, mutual aid, and Islamic morality. We also outline inequities in care that emerge in the community when a small cohort of economically successful migrant men are empowered to make community decisions for all. The successes and ambiguities that arise while residents “improvise” healthcare while waiting for state funding illuminates one way in which UHC emerges in the Global South.

Ursula Dalinghaus (Ripon College)
Unsettling claims: Situating central banks and physical cash as arbiters of the public good

This paper places engaged research on “cash as a public good” in conversation with the anthropology of central banks to explore the politics of central banks as institutions that issue and arbitrate the trustworthiness of state-issued currency. I consider practical and ethical stakes in applied work advocating on behalf of physical cash: the only form of “public money” currently issued by central banks. I argue that physical cash—as a claim upon central banks—enables access to reliable money as a critical public infrastructure that serves a common good. But, this claim relies on central banks as arbiters of the common good and is unsettled through the politics of payment that central banks also downplay in claiming independence from politics. With cash-use declining in many developed economies, access to central bank (public) money is at risk. To what extent do people see central banks as trustworthy arbiters of the common good via money’s forms, especially as everyday payment? I draw on three forms of ethnographic evidence to develop this argument: 35 months of ethnographic research with communications specialists on public outreach at the German Central Bank during the early years of the euro (2005-2010), policy writing and research with currency professionals since 2016, and pedagogically-informed research on payments and cash handling practices in a US rural midwestern town since 2021. By exploring how cash is differently defined by diverse stakeholders, I demonstrate how attention to money forms contributes to an “anthropology of the good” with the potential to impact wellbeing.

Joe Quick (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee)
Accounting for the good life in highland Ecuador

Much of the infrastructure of the rural Andes has been built and maintained through systems of labor taxes levied on indigenous workers. At different times and places, and under different social-political circumstances, labor tax systems have been known variously as mit’a, minga, or faena. They have been implemented by governments and institutions operating at all scales, and they have been used to create and maintain public, private, and common-pool resources. Despite significant variability in the implementation of labor taxes in the Andes, a few characteristics have been consistent across time and space. First, labor taxes have always been levied primarily on indigenous commoners rather than non-indigenous commoners or indigenous elites. Second, participation has always been compulsory. Third, participation has always been carefully recorded, even if the sophistication of accounting techniques has sometimes been relatively simple.

This paper explores the history and use of ledgers in highland Ecuador through account books kept by the Green Lake Quilotoa Community Tourism Center. I explain how accounting has transformed tourism into a limited commons for Quilotoan entrepreneurs, and how collective management supports individuals’ aspirations for a better life. I also reflect on how the significant drop in tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic weakened the power of account books as a tool of management, and prompted a new wave of labor out-migration by Quilotoan youths.

Nithya Joseph (Princeton University)
Gold exchange as collective intelligence: Ornaments and coping during the Covid-19 pandemic in rural South India

Indian households together own as much gold as the combined national reserves of the ten countries with the highest treasury holdings – largely in the form of ornaments – and continue to acquire more. The state has been preoccupied with discouraging this ‘hoarding,’ seen as keeping capital idle and unproductive. Yet gold ornaments are constantly moving in multiple circuits. They are mortgaged at pawn shops and banks for cash loans, lent to kin and friends for them to borrow against, and exchanged at ceremonies. This paper draws from longitudinal research carried out through the Covid-19 pandemic, by the phone during lockdowns and in-person when travel was permitted. It demonstrates the complex relationship between ornaments, fiat currency, capital in circulation, kinship ties, and economy. Considering gold ownership and exchange as acts of ultimate value (Weber 1949), shaping the life-world (Abramson and Holbraad 2012) in India, I respond to Robbins (2013) call to bring back to anthropology, understandings of the ‘profound differences between human lives lived out in different cultural surroundings’. Then, seeing the calculations with regard to gold as speculation in a cosmopolitan and cosmological substance (Ferry 2020; Truitt 2018), I consider gold ownership in India in terms of the histories that produce the contemporary transnational value of gold. I ask how the call by Robbins (2013) to center ‘value, morality, imagination, well-being, empathy, care, the gift, hope, time and change’ in anthropology and the framework he offers to do this, can strengthen the study of gold in the transaction systems of India.

Austin Bryan (Northwestern University)
“It’s our aid”: Community led monitoring in Uganda’s HIV economy

In Uganda, where queer people are regularly arrested by the Uganda Police Force (UPF), sex workers are murdered and disappeared, and the operations of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are raided and halted, criminalized communities are sustaining the politics of their broader movements for liberation by affixing their work to Uganda’s largest annual development aid budget: HIV. In 2019 Uganda’s annual budget for HIV alone was over $490 million (1882.4B UGX), while its general healthcare budget was a mere $318 million (1220.9B UGX). Using disease to gain a seat at the table of state agencies that previously ignored their struggles, a national network of community-based organizations serving “key populations” engages in high-level technical meetings with the Ugandan Ministry of Health, Uganda AIDS Commission, and officials of development aid agencies where they advocate for access to therapies, but also accountability of funding and investment in the “full financing” of HIV. Drawing on long term ethnographic fieldwork from Kampala, Uganda (2015-2022) with “key population” HIV activists and workers of NGOs and state aid agencies, this paper traces the way HIV exceptionalism, in its second decade, has transformed social relations and notions of the “common good” in Uganda’s social movements for liberation. HIV exceptionalism, in which HIV is positioned as an exceptional disease requiring a unique health and socio-legal response, has garnered funding that has saved millions of lives and sustained grassroots community-based organizations working to end transmission of HIV, and in the process, transformed communities, their politics, and their social relations. The ethnography highlights the weeks before, during, and after a “Community Led Monitoring” workshop (2022) where for the first time criminalized “key population” HIV activist assembled and presented publicly their accounting on where multi-million-dollar HIV funds targeting “key populations” in the country were invested.


Elizabeth Adeyemo (University of Notre Dame)
Craft production and shifting economies: Socioeconomic complexities in the organization of the Igbo Ukwu (9th-12th Century CE) ceramic industry

At Igbo Ukwu, there exists at least a 1000-year interaction between the intersecting economies of production, distribution and utilization of ceramics evolving over centuries. The site, excavated between 1959 and 1964 dates to between the 9th and 12th century AD has produced some of the most exquisite archaeological materials in the Sub Saharan African region dating to between the 1st and early 2nd millennium AD. Archaeological excavations at Igbo Ukwu Anambra State, Nigeria conducted at three locales (Igbo Richard, Isaiah, and Jonah) between 1959 and 1964 revealed remarkable copper-based objects, over 165,000 beads, 21,000 highly decorated pottery, and some organic remains. However, despite the quantity and quality of the archaeological materials, the larger socio-economic contexts within which they existed remain largely unknown.
This research adopts a multidisciplinary approach to the investigation of Igbo Ukwu, with emphasis on the role of potters in the development and management of regional economies in precolonial Sub Saharan African history. In this regard, this project explores the rich socio-economic complexities in the ancient Igbo Ukwu community of the 9th Century, South Eastern Nigeria, Africa. I aim to explore the emergence and sustenance of the ceramic industry of the region, with the goal of exploring Igbo Ukwu interactions in regional and pan regional socioeconomic networks. Specifically, I am interested in examining the emergence and development of proto-industrial ceramic production among the ancient Igbo Ukwu potters as they responded to the demands from commercial trade, demographic migration, and social-ritual exchange contexts. This paper reports findings from the preliminary analyses of ceramics across the three sites, Igbo Isaiah, Igbo Jonah, and Igbo Richard. It highlights use/function patterns across the three sites, underscoring specificity in vessel types across varying contexts of usage. This lays the foundation for the investigation of the production processes of the ceramic items spatially and temporally, hinged on the dynamics of the organization of the Igbo Ukwu ceramic industry within broader economic and sociopolitical shifts of the 1st and early 2nd Century Millenium CE in West Africa. This research further situates west African exchange systems wishing global studies of ancient economies, highlighting how potters negotiated the issues of scale, distribution, and demand as actors within the broader framework of exchange in antiquity. Findings from this research will also advance knowledge about West African occupation and interactions with the emergent global trade system of the 1st millennium CE via the Sahara.

Dean M. Blumenfeld & Christopher T. Morehart (Arizona State University)
Debt, labor, and social transformation at the Colonial Latifundia: The archaeological investigation of Hacienda del Rincón de Guadalupe, Mexico

This poster presents preliminary results from a pilot survey of Hacienda del Rincón de Guadalupe, a late colonial mining hacienda located in the contemporary municipality of Apaxco, Mexico. To many, the hacienda of colonial Mexico represents the emergence of commercial enterprise through privately owned landed estates. These estates drastically reshaped local communities and relationships, often through coercive systems of debt. Credit lines were frequently extended to workers by the hacienda’s tienda de raya (company store) which effectively tethered them to the estate. Through both archival research and archaeological reconnaissance, this project identifies future directions for archaeological investigations and presents new historical information regarding the hacienda to investigate the issues of debt, labor, and social transformation in colonial Mexico.

Rae Gordon & Nicole Peterson (UNC Charlotte)
State of the plate 2022: A current assessment of food insecurity In Mecklenburg County with a closer look at causes other than money

Food insecurity has become a prominent public health issue for many high-income countries such as the US. Often, intersections of social, physical, and economic disparity correlate to the unequal ability of some individuals to meet basic needs like healthy or attainable food. Yet, current USDA assessments focus primarily, if not entirely, on food insecurity related to the ability to pay for food (Peterson & Freidus, 2020). To assess the current trend on food insecurity. in collaboration with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council, Loaves & Fishes, Mecklenburg County Health Department, Farmers Market Management Services, and many other local organizations, we have surveyed about 260 respondents above the age of 18 living in Mecklenburg County. The primary intention was to extensively analyze factors relating to food security, the reach of local food programs utilized, and the efficacy of local food systems. This is a part of a much larger ongoing project aimed at identifying the most common elements involved with the threat of food scarcity and inaccessibility with a focus on those aspects not directly linked with money or finances. Armed with this insight, we hope to propose new recommendations, and facilitate better access to collaborating organizations, with the end goal of assuaging the problem of food insecurity in the county.

Jessica Ham & Lydia King (Emory University)
Cutting through the weeds: Student perceptions of farm work and its connections to wellbeing

College farms continue to grow in popularity, in large part due to the experiential learning that they offer. Much of the research on college farms addresses their role relative to pedagogical and disciplinary objectives or to the consumption related benefits for the communities (college and otherwise) who get to eat what campus farms grow. Little, to date, has been said about the ways in which working on a campus farm shapes student perceptions of wellbeing. While many students hold jobs on campus, student farmworkers experience a mode of work that is distinct from typical student work. They learn to participate in all parts of the farm’s operations, therefore becoming enmeshed in an extensive and complex work environment that is located outside and oriented in physical labor. These dimensions of student farm work are, we argue, foundational to providing a consistently contrasting backdrop to the normative undergraduate experience. Given the heightened concern about mental health in higher education, the goal of our poster is to question whether student farm work has the potential to (re)shape student awareness of how their health is achieved and maintained against the backdrop of the pressures of undergraduate life. By drawing from interview data with current and former student workers of the Oxford College Organic Farm, this poster will examine how the farm has molded their perceptions of value/s and how those perceptions may relate to overall sense of wellbeing.

Yutong Han (CUNY Graduate Center)
Selling security as reasonable care: Towards an economic anthropology of security

This research aims to examine how value is imagined to be generated by the practitioners in the private security industry. Specifically, I focus on contract security service that are hired to protect various kind of workplace including office buildings, hospitals, and higher education institutions in the U.S. Rust Belt urban area. By working with both educators from security management programs in colleges and analyzing webinars podcasts and articles from Security, a major magazine in the industry, I inquire upon how they, the major knowledge producers in the industry, envision the value – in both monetary sense and ideological sense – of the private security industry. Two major ways of generating value in the private security industry are selling foreseeability and providing the reasonable care. I borrow the latter phrase, “reasonable care”, from one of the webinars as the major analytical concept to understand the value generated from the performance of the affective labor of the security guards. The kind of care performed by the private security companies to “add value” to the security companies and the contractors alike. Moreover, I situate my questions under the social and historical context of the revitalization of the deindustrialized Rust Belt area in the U.S. and interrogate the value of the private security in the process of attracting jobs and (re)investment in the urban revitalization process. This research attempts to address the necessity to examine the private security industry and the larger security/policing matrix from an economic perspective. The anthropology of security has been largely approached through the theoretical lens of power and control and by looking at the subjectivities of the policed and the surveilled. Extrapolating Chen Kuan-hsing’s insights from Asia as Method that the making of the subjectivities on both sides of the imperialization process need to be examined and to focus solely on the making of subjectivities of the oppressed – “the suffering slot” as Joel Robbins describes – means that the deimperialization process can never be completed, I argue for the same for the securitization processes. The expanding securitization regime cannot be fully understood without more studies on the making of the securitizing (rather than securitized) subjects; and the securitizing subjects cannot be fully understood without and economic anthropology’s perspective that addresses the expanding security regime simultaneously as an expanding market. This research on how value is imagined to be generated is an initial attempt of such inquiry.

Leksa Lee (Denison University)
The history of business: A design firm in Postsocialist China’s culture boom

In the mid-2000s the Chinese state suddenly began issuing statements that the “people’s spiritual and cultural demands” must be met. Overnight, local governments began pouring money into new museums, exhibition centers, and history-themed tourism developments, fueling a boom in China’s exhibition industry. One small advertising firm changed its name to Jiangnan Design, reinvented itself as a museum design firm, and started bidding for the new projects. China’s “exhibition fever” has often been analyzed as a project to expand soft power. Yet Jiangnan Design’s experience in the exhibition industry points to how the boom is driven not only by politics, but economics as well. For example, local governments contracted with the firm to build these tourism developments in order to drive economic growth. And although Jiangnan Design pitched exhibits and themes that would appeal to the politics of the day – such as exhibits providing historical support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative – the firm directors’ own motivation in these pitches was to win project bids and make payroll. In this research I argue that the recounting of history is shaped not only by politics, but by budgets, contracts, and timelines as well. I show how it is in the design process itself that designers grapple with their ethical duty to the public, their own cosmopolitan aspirations to “good design,” the shifting political terrain, and their own aspirations for their firm’s success in the culture boom economy.

Andrew Mitchel (The Ohio State University)
Culinary Violence: How Oaxacan Chefs Persevere in the Midwest

Culinary violence emerges as chefs balance their ability to cook what they know against the need to conform to consumer expectations. Chefs filter their efforts along a continuum that allows innovative cookery at one end and simplified versions of their foods at the other. Using examples from ethnographic work with the Oaxacan community in Columbus, Ohio, I show how chefs persevere in the midst of consumer expectations and manage the impact of popular representations of Mexican food.

First, I define culinary violence and explore how Oaxacan chefs are transformed from trusted experts into translators who must cook a recognizable, approachable menu for consumers who are the arbiters of taste that shape ingredients, dishes, and flavors.

Second, I show how culinary violence does not prevent chefs from establishing a loyal following or running a lucrative business. Successful chefs constantly negotiate what is acceptable and package their creativity in ways that suit consumer demands.

Thirdly, culinary violence is a dynamic continuum which responds to what chefs want to cook and consumers’ expectations. As consumers learn the nuances of Oaxacan cuisine, their expectations shift. In response, chefs can innovate and bring the dishes of their culture to new audiences. In the Oaxacan case, mole replaces dollops of sour cream and quesillo mounds of shredded cheese.

In conclusion, I argue that chefs gain agency and succeed as they introduce new foods to consumers. The perseverance they demonstrate chefs celebrates their adaptability in the face of challenges to their culinary traditions.

Jack Mullee (University of Chicago)
The impossible mathematics of being collective: Logistified economies of health in Brazil

How does a national collectivist movement imagine “health for all” in a global capitalist context of hyper-medicalization? In Brazil, the health system is fragmented into several sectors: public, insurance-based, out-of-pocket and low-cost (“popular”). While the collective health movement (movimento sanitário) is credited with having transformed Brazilian healthcare in the 1980s — leading to the founding of a national healthcare system (“SUS”) in 1990 — it has struggled in recent years to “defend” the public sector from funding cuts, material shortages and creeping privatization. Meanwhile, the imperative for private healthcare sectors to grow means that healthcare in general becomes more complex and commodified over time. In this context, public healthcare shrinks at the same time that it is tasked with doing more. Movement activists confront this impossible mathematics by reimagining both health and collective life as what I call ‘logistified economies’. That is, activists conceive health and collective life as co-constitutive systems subject to logistical principles. In order to realize collective health (saúde coletiva), they deploy logistics as a critical analytic — aiming not to turn a profit (i.e. capitalism) but to realize a stable collective health assemblage. In this regard, activists seek to uproot logistics from its commercial and military foundations and recast it as a core technoscience of collectivist life. Based on two years of fieldwork in São Paulo (2016-18), and in conversation with the SEA theme of “common good”, this paper will celebrate the efforts of movement activists to cultivate egalitarian social systems by focusing on recent instances of experimentation with logistics.

Heather O’Leary (University of South Florida)
The transfixion of roti and champagne dreams: Pursuits of the good life through Delhi’s bread and water

Bread and water—ubiquitous staples with vast socio-cultural variety—are the satiating foundations of a good life. Everyday economic relations in India can be measured by vastly different, yet intertwined, standards of living and aspirations for people’s bread and water. In 2011, in the midst of decreased water allocations, crop-failures and rural disinvestment, India’s ten-year farmer-suicide count reached 200,000 deaths. Many smallholders, unable to themselves eat, were pushed to the city to pursue labor opportunities and with this new values for labor and these staples. That same year, the song Brown Rang, spliced tropes of elite consumption (champagne, diamonds, luxury vehicles, glass skyscrapers) with titillating visual consumption of a “brown color [skinned]” woman, and a life that “stopped people from eating their roti-paani.” The good life, rapper Singh and his millions of listeners argued, was no longer a stark choice between foreign opulence or domestic stagnation, rather, Indians were now able to have their nationally-rooted roti bread and drink it too—in the form of champagne. Ten years later, challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, relations to bread and water entered a new form of transfixion through changing individual and collective economic practices surrounding these basic consumptives (e.g. roti and rice banks) with greater implications for notions of dependency and intervention in the city’s economy. Within the commonplace politics of roti-paani are tacit ideological models for value-laden judgments about neoliberal development’s failures and successes and future models for nexus-integrated pathways to sustainable development.

Caroline Owens (Emory University)
Taking Care: A semiotics of well-being and health disparities in the United States

Anthropological research on how the distribution of and access to resources shapes human well-being has a long and fruitful history, particularly among biocultural anthropologists and scholars of political economy. Amid a growing landscape of social and economic inequities in health, locally grounded understandings of well-being are paramount for shaping programs and policies operating at the interface of social determinants of health. Using a food security intervention program in Georgia (US) as a case study, this article explores how narratives of well-being are revealed, negotiated, and contested in the context of interventions targeting social determinants. Specifically, I examine concordance and discordance in programmatic measurement and notions of “being well” evident in individuals’ stated accounts. While improvements in physical health are central to intervention activities, other notions of well-being ensconced in the importance of caregiving, work, and sociality emerge in individuals’ encounters with the program. As is similarly evident in these encounters, a myopic focus on physical health undercuts the myriad economic, social, material, and embodied components of well-being integral to individuals. A focus on the semiotics of well-being, therefore, reveals potentially novel opportunities to address disparities in wealth and health as defined by those who encounter intervening programs and policies. Through this case study, I argue for the added value of qualitative approaches that seek to understand and improve upon well-being “from the ground up,” revealing what may be otherwise concealed impacts. Further, I build upon the semiotic framework applied to this case study to explore how anthropology advances theorization and measurement of well-being and identify ways that economic anthropologists can provide novel contributions to this literature and its applications in practice.

Nicole Peterson & Andrea Freidus (UNC Charlotte)
Understanding student well-being through food security action research

Despite a proliferation of assessment activities by administrators, it seems that student well-being is poorly conceptualized in at least two ways: (1) in terms of a focus on money and academic performance, such as through assessment measures, and (2) as the responsibility of the student, rather than one shared with the institution, in terms of how students and others envision wellbeing. This has implications for how student needs are addressed, which currently is through programs like food pantries and academic support which students must seek out if needed. Examining interviews and survey data with students collected between 2016-2019 and 2020-2022, we show the limitations of monetary assessments for understanding food insecurity, which involves time, transportation, and other aspects. In addition, we demonstrate that ideas around food insecurity often highlight individual responsibility and action, such as the expectation that students take care of themselves and the university’s limited role in student success. We conclude that looking at student well-being requires a holistic view of student experiences, rather than metrics that only capture part of these. In addition, solutions like food pantries put the onus on individuals to act, and do not address the root causes of student food insecurity, which we have shown are systemic and intersectional. We conclude that effectively addressing student food insecurity requires a model of well-being that includes a holistic view of experiences, resources, and the broader context beyond the individual, including understanding the university as an interconnected community embedded in the surrounding area.

Yukun Zeng (University of Chicago)
Good to bank and good to digest: The Monetary and digestive metaphors behind the logic of Dujing (reading classics) education investment in China

Gearing with anthropological orientations of wellbeing, good, and striving, this paper offers an ethnographic analysis of the cultural logic behind radical alternative education in China and radical alternative logic in general. Based on data collected in my dissertation fieldwork, I focus on dujing (读经, reading classics) movement, a grassroots Confucian educational movement that demands children reading Confucian classics aloud repetitiously, without understanding. Given the legally mandatory official education in China, it is worth noticing the radical form of full-time dujing school, in which children read more than eight hours per day, for years. Why do they do so? How do their parents think? What is the logic behind the radical educational investment in dujing? In this paper, I respond to these questions via dissecting two series of metaphors that configure the logic of investing in dujing education: monetary metaphors like banking, and digestive metaphors like cramming-duck. By doing so, I not only articulate the logic of dujing education investment but also shed light on the economic anthropological methods on education investment and provoke the knowledge theory of education metonymic to the labor theory of value.

SESSION 3a: Land and Body
Session chair: Nora Haenn

E. Paul Durrenberger (University of Iowa, Penn State) & Suzan Erem (Sustainable Iowa Land Trust)
Building the common good from the ground up: Land reform in Iowa

We discuss land trusts that seek to decolonize access to land for food production and begin the process of land reform to re-distribute access to farmland. Because capitalism transfers wealth from those who produce it to those who control it is not conducive to the promotion of the common good. That is nowhere more apparent than American agriculture with its concentration of land wealth, cooptation of the land grant university system and state political systems, land erosion, and rampant pollution of water and air. One countervailing force is the land trust movement that removes land from the market to make it a common good instead of a commodity.

Land trusts are organized to protect land for the common good. That might mean for the public to enjoy as a nature preserve, to protect agricultural land from development, or for the enjoyment of the inhabitants. Many US land trusts are united in the Land Trust Alliance which is devoted to promoting, protecting and educating land trusts. It doesn’t take long at an LTA meeting to discern that land trusts are a wealthy person’s game. One land trust is dedicated to preserving an island for its wealthy owner. Others protect privileged access for suburban dwellers. Many are organized to protect natural areas and environmental causes that wealthy and middle-class patrons promote.

The institutional form of land trusts is the non-profit organization. This immediately throws them into the scramble of the non-profit-industrial-complex (NPIC)* in which a plethora of organizations vie with one another for limited grant funds, turf, personnel, and press. In the process, the goals of the common good are often subverted while the strength, passion and vision of their personnel are diverted from growing the movement.

Even with these challenges, land trusts devoted to making agriculture accessible to young, immigrant, and minority farmers can make a difference for entire communities by making available healthy, locally-produced food through access to affordable farmland.
We have devoted the past eight years to founding and growing the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust and have experienced first-hand the travails of the NPIC. Still, we have protected 16 farms from industrial farming and development and provided accessible farming opportunities for 30 farmers.

Immigrants, refugees, working class and urban farmers with secure access to affordable land to grow fresh food will be less likely to succumb to the obesity epidemic caused by highly processed foods. They can help create a demand – today largely experienced among the wealthiest Americans – for fresh, culturally-relevant foods for their families. We will discuss how SILT and other land trusts can contribute these solutions well as to global climate change, food insecurity and other positive dimensions.

* See Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. 2007. The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Cambridge. South End Press.

Christopher Hernandez (Loyola University Chicago)
Wellbeing and the common good in the context of Indigenous heritage management: A perspective from Mensabak, Chiapas, Mexico

In this paper I examine what wellbeing and common good mean in the context of collaborative heritage management with Indigenous partners in Mexico. At the request of Mayas who live in Puerto Bello Metzabok, Chiapas, Mexico, in 2019 I initiated a program of archaeological consolidation in order to promote tourism and sustainable economic development. This collaboration has raised a series of ethical and practical questions of how to give back as an archaeologist to a marginalized community. Addressing these issues has become even more pressing as the Mexican President’s signature infrastructure project, “Tren Maya/Maya train”, is aimed specifically at promoting nationwide development via increased heritage tourism in Chiapas and other parts of Mexico. Through critical reflection on my experiences with local Mayas, I unpack the eurocentrism at the heart of many conversations surrounding development to think of wellbeing and common good from an Indigenous Maya perspective. Via this critical perspective I examine the possibility of decolonizing development. Akin to countermapping, I argue a decolonial project can use the tools of the colonizer to create a place for Indigenous wellbeing and common good.

Xinyan Peng (Sun Yat-sen University) virtual
Dancing away from precarity and towards hope: Bodily and emotional labor of Latin dancers in Guangzhou, China

Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork in a Latin dance studio in Guangzhou, one of the megacities in mainland China, this paper argues that learning to dance, a technique of bodily training, has become an embodied form of self-development among some young women in urban China. Dance practice provides for young urban Chinese women the opportunity to “invest in themselves” and learn to take control of one’s body in ways that had felt culturally unfamiliar to them, and in this process enables them to gain a sense of autonomy. Such sense of autonomy achieved through embodied self-development turned out to be especially important during precarious and challenging times such as the Covid-19 pandemic, when life was made uncertain and an individual was made responsible for her own well-being. Not only is embodied self-development a gendered project among young urban Chinese people, but it also often takes place in group settings and serves as a channel for cultivating collective well-being and pursuing the common good in corporeal fashions among young urban Chinese women. Existing scholarship has not paid sufficient attention to the embodied forms that self-development takes, especially among women. Building on and departing from existing literature, ethnographic description and analysis in the paper demonstrate how embodiment has become central to projects of self-development and its implications among young women in urban China. Moreover, embodied self-development cultivates collective well-being and the common good in a crucial time when, paradoxically, individual responsibility for well-being is put under the spotlight.

Alex Webb, E. Christian Wells, R. Zarger, & M. Trotz (University of South Florida)
Wastewater development and care for the common good on the Placencia Peninsula

There are few development issues that conjure the “common good” more than human waste management. On the Placencia Peninsula, Belize the complex ecological, social, and political dynamics of human waste management have collided in the pursuit of idealized futures. As rapid tourism development transforms the peninsula, the consequences of management strategies are provoking complicated ethics around what, and whose, well-being is at stake. This work examines how differently situated actors enact different “Matters of Care” animating a moral economy of how and why human waste should be managed. Matters of Care are the ethical configurations of people, things, and biotas, informing conceptions of the “common good.” Framed as compositions, the results of 56 interviews and 1,280 hours of participant observation illustrate how and why residents, consultants, and state actors arrange the environment, equity, and economy in the evaluation of particular management futures. The complex entanglements of well-being, hope, and care highlight the centrality of ethical considerations and the explication of values when taking human waste management into account.

SESSION 3b: Identity and Ideology
Session chair: Richard Wallace

Erika Kuever (University of Southern Denmark)
The legacy of lockdown: Provisioning practices and wellbeing in urban China after Zero Covid

What does wellbeing mean for Chinese urbanites marked by the experience of long lockdowns and the sudden end of China’s ‘Zero Covid’ policy? During the 2022 lockdowns, millions of residents of Chinese cities unable to leave their homes engaged in group-buying, entrusting a tuanzhang, or residential coordinator, to arrange bulk purchases, organize interested buyers, and facilitate payment, delivery, and distribution. Residential cooperation was an important part of life under socialism, but the experience of collective organizing to benefit the community was new to the majority of those participating in these schemes. Rojas (2016) has argued that China is “haunted” by its socialist legacy, and we might follow this line of thought and search for the ‘ghosts’ of lockdown in the well-stocked pantries of the present. Robbins’ (2013) ‘anthropology of the good’ steers our inquiries away from a focus on the suffering subject, and towards an exploration of how these new and old practices are in part an effort to live well and care for each other. This paper investigates the legacy of lockdown through visual documentation and interviews with urbanites in Shanghai and Beijing. It explores the provisioning practices Chinese citizen-consumers engaged in during lockdowns and examines their effects. How have citizens’ engagements with collective buying changed their relationships with their communities? And what can we learn if we try to understand Chinese urbanites not as haunted by the experience of scarcity but as imagining possibilities for an individual and common good grounded in new forms of sociability and sharing?

Christine Jeske (Wheaton College)
How to hope without commensurability: White Christians entering the long-term struggle for racial justice

In a mid-2020 national survey, only nine percent of white Christians indicated that they were very motivated to address racial injustice. In comparison, twice as many white non-Christians and five times as many Black Christians were very motivated (Barna Group, Race Today). Drawing on interviews and participant observation with more than 70 BIPOC Christians and white Christians whom they identified as long-term allies, in this talk I consider how a slim minority of white Christians develop conceptions of hope and the good life that sustain antiracist engagement. I argue that the transformation of white Christians to become long-term allies involves reorienting many aspects of their ways of hoping, including warrant, telos, and tenacity. I focus on a trend in the ethnographic data in which this reorientation of hope was catalyzed by particular kinds of interactions with people of color. Specifically, as white would-be allies became highly aware of the systemic nature of racial injustice, their own whiteness, and their harmful expectations of forgiveness from BIPOC acquaintances, they attached new meanings to interactions in which they did receive indications of belonging, welcome, or care from BIPOC. Their journeys were marked by a growing consciousness of undeserved, unrepayable debts. As economic anthropologists from Marcel Mauss to David Graeber have elaborated, structures and moral grounds of gift-giving reveal and define relationships, and relationships are often maintained through permanent mutual indebtedness. People’s experiences and imaginations of exchange relationships, in turn, often shape the ways people hope. In this research, when white people realized the often emotionally and socially costly nature of people of color’s interactions with them, such interactions became touch points in a kind of unreciprocated exchange that bound them in lasting relationships and propelled them into unresolvable pursuits of reform and reparations. Christians in the study conceptualized such exchange relations using the term “grace,” meaning an undeserved gift of infinite or unrepayable value that anticipates future relationship. Building on the incipient typology of hopes I laid out in my introduction to the 2022 issue on Hope and Whiteness in the Journal for the Anthropology of North America, I suggest that by building shared narratives around grace, multiracial Christian communities embraced practices of highly tenacious radical hope grounded on the warrant and telos of grace. By reimagining themselves as recipients of grace, they adopted new visions of what social relations are possible and desirable in society. Namely, their hopes coalesced around visions of a society in which struggle is inevitable but human relations can exist or even thrive within the unresolvable tensions of treating others better than deserved.

Wei Gan (Princeton University)
Claiming power: Philanthropy and Asian American activism

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian American nonprofit and community-based organizations have mobilized to speak out for the Asian American community. One key angle that Asian American activists take is highlighting and addressing the imbalance in funding that supports Asian American wellbeing. An oft-cited report found that only 0.2% of foundation funding is allocated to Asian American causes — or twenty cents of every $100 given — and this statistic has become a rallying cry. In response, Asian Americans have convened their own philanthropic platforms while also urging other groups to reconsider their giving practices and attend to the needs of Asian Americans.

This paper explores the ways in which these efforts toward achieving racial justice via the redistribution of capital sit at the nexus of racial capitalism and philanthropy and reconfigure and redeploy them in interesting ways. While it remains important to recognize exploitative mechanisms underlying both, their recombination at the center of Asian American activism — what I call philanthroactivism — disrupts conventional critiques as it provides a practical and meaningful mode through which Asian Americans experience and claim their value. Based on my fieldwork with Asian American organizations in Washington, D.C., I argue for an analysis of the social effectiveness of practices that fall under these terms, rather than categorical excoriations dismissing them as morally corrupt, to account for the ways in which people incorporate those practices into their everyday lives as they seek to build better communities.

Steven Schwartz (Colorado College)
The ethics of transition: Renewable energy, climate justice, and the politics of “Living Joyfully” in Colombia’s progressive turn

In the summer of 2022, Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez were sworn in as President and Vice-president of Colombia, marking the first time in its modern history that a leftwing platform governs the country. Backed by Black, Indigenous, and peasant organizations, the “Historical Pact” popularized the concept of “Living Joyfully” (Vivir Sabroso), as a political philosophy for reimagining the relation between Colombian society, the economy, and nature. Animated by this and other political forces, Petro’s administration has proposed reorienting Colombia’s nascent wind energy economy away from corporate and profit-driven ends and closer to the ethical principles of “Living Joyfully.” Drawing on Robbins’ call for an “anthropology of the good” (2013: 458), this paper examines what it means to carry out an energy transition when built around the framework of “Living Joyfully.” What forms of well-being and environmental care might be enacted by this shift? Based on long-term research in La Guajira – the ancestral land of the Indigenous Wayúu people and the site of nearly 60 wind farming projects– I analyze the limits and possibilities of “Living Joyfully” in supporting Wayúu visions of climate justice amid a wind energy economy that is still dominated by foreign capital and corporate desires. Despite its challenges, I argue that the discourse of “Living Joyfully” has reinvigorated efforts to map a low-carbon economy that makes life worthwhile, especially for Indigenous communities whose windy land is at the heart of Colombia’s climate agenda.

Seyma Kabaoglu (Northwestern University)
Money and Hijab: Politics of inequality within Islamic banking and financialization in Turkey

This paper follows the life histories of Muslim women employees at Islamic financial institutions in Turkey before and after lifting the public ban on Islamic headscarves (or hijab) during the last few decades. To understand the interplay of gender, Islam, and economy, I propose a parallel reading of the political histories of hijab and Islamic finance in Turkey between 1923 and 2023. Islamic clothing and economic action have been at the center of public controversy since the late Ottoman era and the establishment of the republic in 1923. This paper traces the transformation of how state bureaucracy envisions “a proper modern Turkish citizen” in the public sphere: What should they wear? How should they deal with money? I argue that what is considered “modern” and “progressive” in the early republican era in terms of modern clothing and economic action has become “threatening” and “reactionary” following the rise of Islamist movements in the second half of the century. This resulted in the ban on Islamic headscarves in universities and public buildings (during the 1980s) and limited the expansion of Islamic banking throughout the country (during the late 1990s). Since their election in 2002, the pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party has slowly lifted these bans. However, party leaders refused to make legal changes that would ensure these liberties, tying the fate of Islamic clothing and economic action to the fate of their reign in the government. Against this backdrop, this paper examines how the Islamic financial industry helped promote religious and gender equality while creating new inequalities based on class and nationality.

SESSION 4: Redefining the Good
Session chair: John Millhauser

Cristina Cielo (FLACSO sede Ecuador)
Yuca in Ecuador: Gendered food systems in living well, living forests and 21st-century crops

Ecuador’s progressive 2008 Constitution enshrines ““Buen Vivir”“ – “Living Well” – as one of its principal objectives, a notion that emerges from the indigenous concept of ““sumak kawsay,”“ the harmonious coexistence of people, communities, and nature. Among the constitutionally guaranteed “rights to living well” is the “right to safe and permanent access to healthy, sufficient and nutritious food, preferably produced locally and in accordance with diverse identities and cultural traditions” (Art. 13).

Yuca, also known as manioc and cassava, has been fundamental in the food and cultures of indigenous groups in the Amazon since its domestication over 3000 years ago. The cultivation and processing of yuca in the region is almost exclusively assigned to women and is an integral component of the Amazonian biodiverse and cyclical agricultural system. Yuca is considered kin, and more specifically, is understood to be one’s own progeny; women’s caring for yuca is affective labor that is indissociable from caring for one’s own and collective well-being.

Yet Yuca’s importance also derives from its characteristics of resilience and adaptability to diverse ecologies. Requiring limited capital and labor, it nevertheless efficiently produces energy, yielding more calories per hectare than rice, wheat, or corn. This paper examines yuca’s role in well-being and gender relations through transformations in its cultivation, production, and consumption in Ecuador, within different frameworks of what it means to live well and in the context of the tuber’s growing importance globally.

Rachael Goodman (Mercer University)
Development and the pursuit of the good life

Despite decades of failures, controversies, and changes in approach, at base the project of global development is about helping people achieve good lives. This may seem a controversial statement for those familiar with development’s many shortcomings. However, most development practitioners maintain that better lives are their aim. Taking seriously the claims of development workers that they intend to “do good,” we can see a pursuit of the good life animating the design of development projects, the metrics of success used, and the struggles of implementation. While most development workers acknowledge that there can be variations in what a good life means, for most practitioners—or at least most project designers—the means to achieve that good life are fairly narrow. A belief that increased income or economic returns will lead to a better life underlies a huge variety of project designs with seemingly opposite goals. This specific vision of how to achieve a good life not only animates development projects, but also the many issues that practitioners encounter in implementation. While development leaders view income as a universal means to the good life, many of the people they work with believe that the path to a good life must be paved with more than money. Economic resources alone are rarely enough for people to survive in the circumstances where development projects intervene. The different values that project participants and project designers place on the pursuit of income underlies many of the conflicts that cause development projects to fall short of expectations.

Dolores Koenig (American University)
Evaluating well-being after compulsory resettlement: Livelihoods and standards of living in Manantali, Mali

People forced to move by large infrastructure projects, such as dam construction or urban renewal, are usually impoverished if nothing is done to avoid it. Thus, international organizations like the World Bank have instituted involuntary resettlement policies that require projects to include plans to improve, or at least restore, livelihoods of the resettled. Sometimes, reference is made jointly to livelihoods and standards of living. Nonetheless, the concept of livelihood remains muddy; do policies refer to the actual mix of activities in a particular livelihood, or do they refer to the well-being and standards of living produced by that livelihood? Might resettled people improve their standards of living more by creating new livelihoods rather than reconstructing their old ones? Do assessments of standards of living include local notions of well-being?

This paper will evaluate well-being in light of the emphasis of involuntary resettlement policies on livelihood improvement and standards of living. I will use a case study of the people of the Bafing valley forced to move by the construction of the Manantali dam to highlight local and external understandings of well-being and how assessments of them have changed in the approximately thirty years since resettlement. The data range from the early 1980s, before resettlement, through the mid-1980s, when people moved, to a recent study in 2016-19, which considered people’s lives some thirty years after they resettled. Core data from field research by the author and colleagues will be complemented by data from other sources.

How people of the Bafing define well-being has changed substantially over thirty years, despite the fact that older people still refer to their pre-resettlement villages as a kind of benchmark for the good life to which they aspire. They now live in a situation that includes opportunities, including commerce, transport, mobile communication, participation in democratic government, and access to health care, that were unimaginable before resettlement, when people lived in very isolated area. At the same, they face challenges that they did not foresee, including the need to pay taxes or purchase consumer goods, to prepare children for new employment opportunities, and to support community efforts in health, education, and development.

Customary quantitative measures of standards of living fail on several grounds to capture the general well-being of compulsorily resettled people, especially their own understandings of long-term well-being. First, they are biased toward external standards, only some of which also reflect local standards. Some local measures, such as livestock ownership by farmers, are not usually taken into account. Second, they are biased towards tangible measures, such as amount of land owned, rather than intangible ones, including remunerative skills, knowledge of local and national community, viability of social networks, and diversity of individual and household livelihoods. Third, they do not usually consider different local understandings of well-being, for example, between elders and younger people. This paper will discuss the relevance of overlaps and differences in understandings of well-being used by external evaluators and the local population.

Jessica Munson (Lycoming College) & Jonathan Scholnick (Bucknell University)
Archaeological perspectives on household wealth, wellbeing, and political change in ancient Maya society

Archaeological studies of inequality commonly privilege economic indicators of wealth due to widely available material evidence. While these approaches facilitate comparative analyses across broad regions and over long periods of time, such methods are limited in their ability to capture the more richly textured social lives and overall wellbeing of people in the past. Drawing upon Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach, this paper introduces quality of life (QOL) as a formal and more holistic framework for archaeological investigations of socioeconomic disparity. Emphasizing the material, social, and somatic means by which people could have achieved “a good life” requires that archaeologists attend to the macro-level structures of society, but also to the material activities of everyday life. At the intersection of these domains, we can examine how quality of life is mutually shaped by relations of power, inequality, and broader political dynamics. Cross-sectional household and burial data collected by the Proyecto Arqueológico Altar de Sacrificios (PAALS) in the western Maya lowlands, combined with multiproxy data from legacy projects, allow us to examine these dimensions of QOL and address questions about lived experience in a precarious and changing political world (ca. 250-950 CE). Tracing the disparities in material wealth, social well-being, and health through time enables a more detailed analysis of the specific contexts and historical processes that gave rise to varying degrees of inequality in the past.

Richard Wilk (Indiana University)
Beyond the suffering subject: Towards an economic anthropology of pleasure

Anthropology has had a commendable focus on what Robbins calls “the suffering subject.” We have been much slower to appreciate and study experiences like joy, pleasure, happiness, entertainment and fun, all components of what heterodox economists call “the good life” or “well-being.” Our tendency is always to find functional explanations for experiences of pleasure; typically social integration and cohesion, solidarity or resistance. Like the Frankfurt school theorists, we often find domination and discipline lurking behind entertainment and fun. We rarely address or explore the possibility that people engage in economic activities and social life simply for pleasure. In this paper I contend that this blindness has crippled our ability to understand a global economy largely based on the pleasures of consumption and entertainment. Economists tell us that consumer spending 70% of the US economy, and a good deal of that is motivated by entertainment, tourism and the pursuit of pleasure. But framing this giant segment of the economy as simply the pursuit of “happiness” or “well-being” does not do justice to ethnographic reality. It also elevates what McCloskey calls “the bourgeois virtues” of thrift, rationality and prudence, while denigrating the entertainments that drive many people to seek other kinds of pleasure.

Call for Papers

In our third year of a global pandemic, we are stretched thin, suffering touches us all, and our wells of empathy seem to be running dry. And yet, despite this suffering many of us are also paying closer attention to our own well-being and to the well-being of those around us. In this spirit of exploration and cautious hope, the theme of the 2023 Society for Economic Anthropology meeting will be “Well-Being and the Common Good.” Drawing in part from a growing “anthropology of the good” (coined by Joel Robbins), we seek papers that challenge us to rethink the economy as one part of a total experience aimed at making life worthwhile. The anthropology of the good asks us to reflect on the values we hold as economic anthropologists and how these values lead us to investigate (or set aside) topics like well-being or the common good. Bringing these topics to the foreground of economic research can help us understand where we have fallen short and where we might succeed in efforts to study, reveal, highlight, and perhaps help people to achieve well-being and the common good.

In this light, the 2023 Society for Economic Anthropology meeting will explore capabilities, opportunities, and hope in the practice of economic anthropology. Drawing in part from a growing “anthropology of the good” (coined by Joel Robbins), we seek papers that challenge us to rethink the economy as one part of a total experience aimed at making life worthwhile. The anthropology of the good asks us to reflect on the values we hold as economic anthropologists and how these values lead us to investigate (or set aside) topics like well-being or the common good. Bringing these topics to the foreground of economic research can help us understand where we have fallen short and where we might succeed in efforts to study, reveal, highlight, and perhaps help people to achieve well-being and the common good.

Please join us to explore this topic at the SEA’s annual meeting from May 18 to 20, 2023 at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

The Society for Economic Anthropology welcomes and encourage papers that showcase the range of anthropological efforts, including the work of archaeologists, linguistic anthropologists, biological anthropologists, medical anthropologists, and applied anthropologists among others.

You may choose to submit your abstract for a paper, a poster, or both. Papers will receive 20-minute presentation slots and will be considered for inclusion in the 2024 special issue of Economic Anthropology dedicated to the conference theme. Posters will receive space in an in person or virtual poster session. If your abstract is not selected for a presentation slot, it will be considered for the poster sessions.

We aim to review all abstracts and return decisions by January 31, 2023 and to create a program by February 15, 2023.

The official registration portal for the conference will be hosted by the American Anthropological Association and will open in early 2023.

Economic anthropologist work across all of the sub-disciplines and specializations of anthropology. We welcome and encourage papers that showcase the range of anthropological efforts, including the work of archaeologists, linguistic anthropologists, biological anthropologists, medical anthropologists, and applied anthropologists among others.

Suggested Paper Topics

  • How are well-being and the common good defined, measured, and compared within and across cultures, economies, time, and space?
  • How do different kinds of evidence (archaeological, biological, linguistic, etc…) affect our ability to study well-being and the common good?
  • How are ideas related to well-being, such as care, the good life, quality of life, livelihood, and standards of living, defined, measured, and contested?
  • How do hope and aspiration shape present experiences and imagined futures?
  • How are notions of well-being and the common good related to identities and intersectionality in different cultural and historical contexts?
  • What happens when one group imposes their ideas of well-being or the common good on another group (from the welfare state to global development)?
  • How do more individualized (well-being) and more collective (common good) ideas and efforts relate to and affect one another? How do caring economies come into play?
  • How is well-being variable across the human lifecycle, from infancy to old age?
  • How do ideas regarding the temporality of well-being and the common good (imagining them in the future) influence decision making and behavior?
  • How does dependency, or intervention, among different groups (within and among nations) play out in terms of well-being and the common good?
  • How does a focus on well-being reveal and address disparities of wealth, health, etc.?
  • How does economic anthropological research impact the well-being of others?
  • In what ways do notions of making a living, work-life balance, forms of living, etc. encode or mystify ideas of well-being? What projects of future well-being do the enable?
  • What sorts of well-being have been of particular concern to anthropologists? How might they reflect the anthropological milieu, framed by ethical orientations, available research methodologies, and the audiences to whom we speak?
  • What narratives of well-being do qualitative and quantitative ways of investigating and comparing favor? How do particular methodologies reveal hidden suffering? How do they reveal hidden thriving or things that are going right?
  • How has the pandemic shaped/changed our notions of well-being and common good?
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