In the Journals, What's going on in Ukraine?

In the Journals – August 2014

Welcome back to In the Journals, now a bi-monthly look at the recent academic publications that have come within anthropoliteia’s orbit. Summer is drawing to a close and many of us head are undoubtedly heading back to the slog of the academic year, but should you find yourself with a free moment here are some recent articles and reviews dealing critically with issues of law and order, policing, crime and the state.

American Ethnologist‘s August issue includes a special forum on the “Ukraine Crisis”, with three analyses by anthropologists from very different perspectives on recent events in the country. First, Elizabeth Cullen and Michael Bobick’s ‘The empire Strikes Back: War without War and Occupation without Occupation in the Russian Sphere of Influence’ argues that Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine constitute a new form of warfare distinctly suited for a 21st-century battlefield. Through a comparative analysis of the political technologies it has deployed there and in two other conflict zones, Georgia and Moldova, they maintain that Russia is implementing a new political strategy that utilizes fear and intimidation to thwart a further eastward expansion of the European Union and NATO. Ultimately, they argue that the pervasive fear created by Eurasia’s frozen conflicts constitutes a new form of post-Soviet liminality that challenges the norms of the international system.

By contrast, Sarah D. Phillips’ article The Women’s Squad in Ukraine’s Protests: Feminism, Nationalism, and Militarism on the Maidan’ examines the role of women in Ukraine’s 2013–14 Maidan protests, their modes of participation in and their exclusion from the Maidan and the creative responses of feminists to this exclusion, including creation of so-called Women’s Squads. Their creative responses to the challenges of the protests have potentially paved the way for broadening the base of Ukrainian feminism, introducing women’s rights principles to segments of the population previously reluctant to embrace feminism.

Finally, Catherine Wanner’s ‘“Fraternal” Nations and Challenges to Sovereignty in Ukraine: The Politics of Linguistic and Religious Ties’ examines the regional diversity and strong local identities of Ukraine, as social differences understood in terms of ethnicity, language choice, and religious affiliation have become less defined, as Ukrainians have embraced fluid linguistic and religious practices that defy easy characterization. On the basis of long-term fieldwork in Ukraine, I argue that “non-accommodating bilingualism” and “ambient faith” characterize everyday linguistic and religious practices in this postcolonial, post-Soviet-socialist space. Paradoxically, this diversity contributes to the vulnerability of Ukrainian sovereignty when polarizing, politicized categories based on supposedly identifiable cultural attributes inject a spurious precision into everyday practices with the aim of redefining state sovereignty.

Recent months have also seen two very interesting articles dealing with the role of the anthropologist as ‘expert witness’. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute‘s most recent July edition includes an article by Gerhard Erners entitled ‘Contesting Expertise: Anthropologists at the Special Court for Sierra Leone’, examining how social anthropologists’ expertise was employed in the international war crimes trials heard at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. It tracks how the anthropologists challenged the prosecution experts by raising concerns about their methodology and advancing a fundamental critique of abstract legal categories. The analysis of the experts’ testimonies shows that the anthropologists were engaged in an epistemological contest with the prosecution experts. Beyond the courtroom, it also speaks to the general debate about expertise and ways to study it.

In a similar vein, the summer edition of HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory includes an article by Joost Fontein entitled ‘“She Appeared to be in Some Kind of Trance”: Anthropology and the Question of Unknowability in a Criminal Trial’. Fontein describes a recent criminal trial in the United Kingdom in which he himself spoke as an expert witness, involving a young Zimbabwean woman who attacked her mother with a knife, when she (as she, her mother, and relatives claimed) was possessed by an evil spirit as the result of another family member’s witchcraft. With a nod to Harry West’s notion of “ethnographic sorcery,” this unusual court case illustrates how anthropological expert evidence can be constrained by courts constructing their own kinds of certainty, and yet still have efficacy in unintended ways.

Critical Sociology has published its September issue with a special focus on debt. Of particular interest for anthropoliteia’s readers is Adrienne Roberts’s Doing Borrowed Time: The State, the Law and the Coercive Governance of “Undeserving’ Debtors”’, which documents the shift toward increasingly coercive means of collecting debt from working class and poor borrowers, with a specific focus on incarceration. Placing this trend within an historical trajectory, it is argued that the law has always been central to creating and securing the social relations of debt as class relations. The resurgence of debtors’ prisons in the contemporary era is understood through (1) changes to bankruptcy legislation that have given creditors greater power over debtors, (2) the emergence of the debt-buying industry and (3) the growing privatization, decentralization and commercialization of the state, which have transformed it into a creditor that relies on its power to punish to compel payment from some of the poorest debtors.

The latest European Journal of Cultural Studies issue includes an article by Darshan Vigneswaran examining ‘Protection and Conviviality: Community Policing in Johannesburg’. The article addresses a commonly-levelled criticism of conviviality as a superficial phenomenon by attempting to define the meaning and purpose of convivial exchanges in a context characterized by high levels of violence: policing culture in Johannesburg, South Africa. Using ethnographic methods, the study illustrates how convivial practices often stem from individuals’ sense of insecurity and the search for protection in public settings. The article uses these findings to rethink the extent to which convivial practices might resolve social differences.

As always, the July issue of Punishment and Society contains a number of interesting articles on questions of law, punishment and incarceration. Kristian Mjåland’s article ‘“A Culture of Sharing”: Drug Exchange in a Norwegian Prison’ takes the author’s ethnographic fieldwork in a closed Norwegian prison to examine how prisoners share their drugs, rather than selling them. In this article, Mjåland describes and triesto explain this ‘culture of sharing’. Drawing on anthropological theories of exchange, drug sharing is understood as continuous gift-giving. The gift perspective allows us to see how sharing is shaped by motives of caring, compassion and solidarity, while it simultaneously emphasizes the self-interest embedded in such drug exchanges. The article argues that sharing is a highly effective form of drug exchange because there is a strong commitment to reciprocate when a prisoner receives drugs.

The Summer also saw a special edition of Law & Social Inquiry dealing with ‘The Negotiated Expansion of Immigrant Control’. In the article ‘Crimmigration in the Netherlands’, Maartje A. H. van der Woude, Joanne P. van der Leun and Jo-Anne A. Nijland’s discuss how the Netherlands has been internationally known for its tolerant and humane environment for first- and second-generation migrants. However, as in many European countries, over the past few decades the political debate on immigration has gradually grown more negative. Links between crime, security, migration, and integration have become more established, resulting in a series of policy and legislative reforms targeting migrants in the country. These developments seem to fit into the broader trend for which scholars have coined the term crimmigration, the intersection of crime control and immigration control. In the article, using crimmigration as a sensitizing concept, they seek to gain insight into the governance of migration and crime in Netherlands.

Thesis Eleven‘s June edition features two critical review essays of the work of Loïc Wacquant’s work on penality and the state, including Pat O’Malley’s ‘Prisons, Neoliberalism and Neoliberal States: Reading Loïc Wacquant and Prisons of Poverty. O’Malley criticizes Loïc Wacquant’s attempt to render punitive penality integral to neoliberalism, and to regard both as being strategically exported from the US. For O’Malley, neoliberalism is a fluid and variable political formation, both over time and internationally, and is impossible to reduce to a few primary characteristics such as a specific penal policy. Correspondingly, neoliberal doctrines and regimes appear to be consistent with many forms of penal policy other than punitive imprisonment. Not only theoretically but also politically, Wacquant’s thesis remains of questionable strategic utility although evidently valuable in consciousness raising.

Finally, summer has also seen a number of other reviews on academic books of recent years. Some noteworthy examples include Oliver Owen’s review of Didier Fassin’s ‘Enforcing Order: an Ethnography of Urban Policing’ in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, as well as Clarissa Aguilar’s review of Rebecca Trammell’s ‘Enforcing the Convict Code: Violence and Prison Culture’ in the Criminal Justice Review.

As always, we welcome your feedback.  If you have any suggestions for journals we should be keeping tabs on for this feature, or if you want to call our attention to a specific issue or article, send an email to with the words “In the Journals” in the subject header.

One thought on “In the Journals – August 2014

  1. Pingback: DragNet: September 1 – 7, 2014 | Anthropoliteia

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