RuiNation: Identity, Culture, and Colonialism
Discussant: Prof. Sandra Hyde
10:50 am – 12:20 pm
Progress Derailed: Ethnographic Notes on Railway Ruination in Argentina
Stephanie McCallum, University of California, Santa Cruz
Keywords: railway landscapes; ruins; materiality; affect; Argentina
My doctoral project explores progress and decay in Argentina through an analysis of the social and material life of trains. In Argentina, trains play a central role in national imaginaries and everyday life, and are often described as the veins of the nation, connecting people and bringing life to out-of-the-way places. Yet these trains are dilapidated, causing all-too-frequent accidents, and in some parts of the country they have stopped running altogether, leading to accusations of “ferricide”, the killing of the
national railroad system. Railway landscapes, marked by rusty wagons, rotting sleepers, overgrown tracks, and ghost stations, are described by commuters and railroad workers in terms of desidia (abandonment) and desguace (gutting out, stripping bare). Trains
themselves are both sites and vectors of ruination, wreaking havoc in people’s lives through accidents, delays, and dis-connection. While a recently launched “railway revolution” has begun to replace aging trains with new rolling stock from China, obsolete
infrastructure has been left largely intact. As railway workers are prone to say, “Fierros (metals) have memory”. These projects of progress are thus haunted, and sometimes outstripped, by the rhythm of decay. Based on 13 months of ethnographic work in the
city and province of Buenos Aires, in this paper, I explore the histories –and futures– inscribed in decaying railway infrastructure, and trace the affective and material contours
of desguace and desidia. I ask: How are trains both mobilized as projects of progress and experienced as sites of ruination? What political work is done by and with railway ruins? What are the possibilities of repair?
Ruination and Construction: The Past and Present of the City of Cusco
Sandy Hunter, University of Chicago
Keywords: Cusco, ruination, temporality, archaeology
The city of Cusco is a site of interwoven histories and ideologies. The contemporary city rests upon both literal and metaphorical Inka foundations, and within its space Indigenous pasts that stretch centuries prior to the 1533 Spanish conquest collide and converge with Colonial pasts in synchronous movements that merge into the present. Maps of the city from its Early Colonial period betray the processes that layered time and materiality, demonstrating how an actual and conceptual ‘city’ of regimented ‘civilized’ space was constructed from the recent ruins of the Inka capital. Such maps are projections of a particular vision of a new Spanish city, superimposed upon the recent ruin of an old Indigenous centre. A history of superimposition is not confined to the past of Early Modernity, but vibrate into the present and future as each contemporary excavation unearths ruins from Colonial, Inka, and older periods. Melding temporalities are emphasised by the proliferation of tourism and both historic and archaeological work that tacitly renders certain ruins mute while highlighting others. This work intersects with Cusco bureaucracy to regulate future construction as well as protect, restore, or ignore the remains of the past, rendering Cusco a city physically shaped by its ruins.
Baka Culture “In Ruins”: Challenging Degradtion Narratives In The Anthropology Of Central Africa “Hunter-Gatherers”
Nicholas Barber, McGill University
The word “ruin” implies degradation. Narratives that characterize particular objects as “ruins” or “ruined” evoke a prior version of that object that is not ruined—which is realized, accomplished, pristine. Narratives of ruination, furthermore, are often applied not only to physical structures, but to peoples, communities, and cultures. Such narratives of cultures “in ruins” are prevalent in anthropology, perhaps nowhere more so than in the study of African “hunter-gatherer” societies. Frequently the work of anthropologists working with groups such as the San and the so-called “Pygmies” of the Congo Basin rainforest mobilize narratives of degradation in order to speak about contemporary social problems, human rights violations, land loss, and other serious issues (Frankland 1999). While well-intentioned, these narratives often rely on idealized portrayals of “pre-contact” societies, oversimplifying complex processes of cultural change and running dangerously close to the “noble savage” portrayals critiqued by Said (1978), Mudimbe (1988, 1994), and many others.
Drawing on my ethnographic research with a Baka development organization in southeast Cameroon, this paper will critique the use of degradation narratives in anthropological writings about African “hunter-gatherers.” I will argue that these narratives have significant negative impacts on the communities they describe, and are often more interested in reaffirming anthropological category constructions than in grappling with the complex and dynamic processes of social change experienced by these communities. These processes of change comprise both positive and negative developments—as well as many things that cannot easily be reduced to either of these categories.
“They’re not the Boss, They’re Just Visitors”: Indigenous Persistence and Futurity in the ruins of the Canadian settler colony
Margaux L. Kristjansson, Columbia University
Abstract soon to come…