Executive Committee; Faculty Associate; Harvard Academy Senior Scholar. Khalid Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulrahman Al Saud Professor of Contemporary Arab Studies, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University.
Research interests: Linguistics; cultural studies; gender; Yemeni poetics and politics; US men's movement; and water sustainability.
Meritocracy and Its Discontents investigates the wider social, political, religious, and economic dimensions of the Gaokao, China's national college entrance exam, as well as the complications that arise from its existence. Each year, some nine million high school seniors in China take the Gaokao, which determines college admission and provides a direct but difficult route to an urban lifestyle for China's hundreds of millions of rural residents. But with college graduates struggling to find good jobs, some are questioning the exam's legitimacy—and, by extension, the fairness of Chinese society. Chronicling the experiences of underprivileged youth, Zachary M. Howlett's research illuminates how people remain captivated by the exam because they regard it as fateful—an event both consequential and undetermined. He finds that the exam enables people both to rebel against the social hierarchy and to achieve recognition within it.
In Meritocracy and Its Discontents, Howlett contends that the Gaokao serves as a pivotal rite of passage in which people strive to personify cultural virtues such as diligence, composure, filial devotion, and divine favor.
Businesspeople run for and win elected office around the world, with roughly one-third of members of parliament and numerous heads of states coming directly from the private sector. Yet we know little about why these politicians choose to leave the private sector and what they actually do while in government. In Politics for Profit, David Szakonyi brings to bear sweeping quantitative and qualitative evidence from Putin-era Russia to shed light on why businesspeople contest elections and what the consequences are for their firms and for society when they win. The book develops an original theory of businessperson candidacy as a type of corporate political activity undertaken in response to both economic competition and weak political parties. Szakonyi's evidence then shows that businesspeople help their firms reap huge gains in revenue and profitability while prioritizing investments in public infrastructure over human capital. The book finally evaluates policies for combatting political corruption.
In 1949, at the end of a long period of wars, one of the biggest challenges facing leaders of the new People’s Republic of China was how much they did not know. The government of one of the world’s largest nations was committed to fundamentally reengineering its society and economy via socialist planning while having almost no reliable statistical data about their own country. Making It Count is the history of efforts to resolve this “crisis in counting.” Drawing on a wealth of sources culled from China, India, and the United States, Arunabh Ghosh explores the choices made by political leaders, statisticians, academics, statistical workers, and even literary figures in attempts to know the nation through numbers.
Ghosh shows that early reliance on Soviet-inspired methods of exhaustive enumeration became increasingly untenable in China by the mid-1950s. Unprecedented and unexpected exchanges with Indian statisticians followed, as the Chinese sought to learn about the then-exciting new technology of random sampling. These developments were overtaken by the tumult of the Great Leap Forward (1958–61), when probabilistic and exhaustive methods were rejected and statistics was refashioned into an ethnographic enterprise. By acknowledging Soviet and Indian influences, Ghosh not only revises existing models of Cold War science but also globalizes wider developments in the history of statistics and data.
Anchored in debates about statistics and its relationship to state building, Making It Count offers fresh perspectives on China’s transition to socialism.
Before Colombia became one of the world’s largest producers of cocaine in the 1980s, traffickers from the Caribbean coast partnered with American buyers in the 1970s to make the South American country the main supplier of marijuana for a booming US drug market, fueled by US hippie counterculture. How did one of the poorest and most isolated regions of Colombia become a central player in the making of an international drug trafficking circuit? Marijuana Boom is the untold story of this forgotten history. Combining deep archival research with unprecedented oral interviews, Lina Britto deciphers a puzzle: Why did the Colombian coffee republic, one of Latin America’s models of representative democracy and economic liberalism, transform into a drug paradise, and at what cost?
Although comparative politics is conventionally seen as the study of politics across countries, the field has a longstanding and increasingly prominent tradition in national contexts; focusing on subnational units, institutions, actors and processes. This book offers the first comprehensive assessment of the substantive, theoretical, and methodological contributions. With empirical chapters from across the contemporary Global South, including India, Mexico, and China, as well as Russia, the contributors show how subnational research provides useful insights about substantive themes in political science, from regimes and representation, to states and security, to social and economic development. In addition to methodological chapters with specific guidance about best practices for doing subnational research, this volume also proposes a set of strategies for subnational research, assesses their strengths and weaknesses, and offers illustrative empirical applications.
While much has been written about the 1979 Islamic revolution and its impact on life in Iran, discussions about the everyday life of Iranian women have been glaringly missing. Women in Place offers a gripping inquiry into gender segregation policies and women’s rights in contemporary Iran. Author Nazanin Shahrokni takes us on a ride in gender segregated buses, inside a women-only park, and outside the closed doors of sports stadiums, where women are banned from attending men’s soccer matches. The Islamic character of the state, she demonstrates, has had to coexist, fuse and compete with technocratic imperatives, pragmatic considerations regarding the viability of the state, international influences, and global trends. Through a retelling of the past four decades of state policy regulating the gender boundary, Women in Place challenges notions of the Iranian state as overly unitary, ideological, and isolated from social forces, and pushes us to contemplate the changing place of women in a social order shaped by capitalism, state sanctioned Islamism, and debates about women’s rights. Shahrokni throws into sharp relief the ways in which the state strives to constantly regulate and contain women’s bodies and movements within the boundaries of the “proper,” but simultaneously invests in and claims credit for their expanded access to public spaces.
When it comes to extending citizenship to certain groups, why might ruling elites say neither 'yes' nor 'no', but 'wait'? The dominant theories of citizenship tend to recognize clear distinctions between citizens and aliens; either one has citizenship or one does not. This book shows that not all populations are fully included or expelled by a state; they can be suspended in limbo - residing in a territory for protracted periods without accruing citizenship rights. This in-depth case study of the United Arab Emirates uses new archival sources and extensive interviews to show how temporary residency can be transformed into a permanent legal status, through visa renewals and the postponement of naturalization cases. In the UAE, temporary residency was also codified into a formal citizenship status through the outsourcing of passports from the Union of Comoros, allowing elites to effectively reclassify minorities into foreign residents.
In the late nineteenth century, Latin American exports boomed. From Chihuahua to Patagonia, producers sent industrial fibers, tropical fruits, and staple goods across oceans to satisfy the ever-increasing demand from foreign markets. In southern Mexico's Soconusco district, the coffee trade would transform rural life. A regional history of the Soconusco as well as a study in commodity capitalism, From the Grounds Up places indigenous and mestizo villagers, migrant workers, and local politicians at the center of our understanding of the export boom.
An isolated, impoverished backwater for most of the nineteenth century, by 1920, the Soconusco had transformed into a small but vibrant node in the web of global commerce. Alongside plantation owners and foreign investors, a dense but little-explored web of small-time producers, shopowners, and laborers played key roles in the rapid expansion of export production. Their deep engagement with rural development challenges the standard top-down narrative of market integration led by economic elites allied with a strong state. Here, Casey Marina Lurtz argues that the export boom owed its success to a diverse body of players whose choices had profound impacts on Latin America's export-driven economy during the first era of globalization.
Out of War draws on three decades of ethnographic engagements to examine the physical and psychological harms produced by the 1991-2002 Sierra Leone civil war. The book analyzes the relationship between violence, trauma, and the political imagination, focusing on “war times”—the different qualities of temporality shaped by conflict. Colonial and Precolonial histories and figures of sovereignty were reactivated during the civil war. Rumors and neologisms circulating during different phases of the decade-long conflict froze in time collective anxieties surrounding particular dangers, producing veritable “chronotopes” for organizing memories of the war. These include the juridical creation of new figures of victimhood in the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to bring about accountability for war crimes committed during the civil war. Beyond the expected traumas of war, the book focuses on the loss of intergenerational transmission of farming knowledge and farming techniques in rural areas, which produced lethal effects of its own. Throughout, the book examines strategies of survival and material dwelling amidst massive population displacements and humanitarian intervention.
In Islands of Sovereignty, anthropologist and legal scholar Jeffrey S. Kahn offers a new interpretation of the transformation of US borders during the late twentieth century and its implications for our understanding of the nation-state as a legal and political form. Kahn takes us on a voyage into the immigration tribunals of South Florida, the Coast Guard vessels patrolling the northern Caribbean, and the camps of Guantánamo Bay—once the world’s largest US-operated migrant detention facility—to explore how litigation concerning the fate of Haitian asylum seekers gave birth to a novel paradigm of offshore oceanic migration policing. Combining ethnography—in Haiti, at Guantánamo, and alongside US migration patrols in the Caribbean—with in-depth archival research, Kahn expounds a nuanced theory of liberal empire’s dynamic tensions and its racialized geographies of securitization. An innovative historical anthropology of the modern legal imagination, Islands of Sovereignty forces us to reconsider the significance of the rise of the current US immigration border and its relation to broader shifts in the legal infrastructure of contemporary nation-states across the globe.
Improvisational Islam is about novel and unexpected ways of being Muslim, where religious dispositions are achieved through techniques that have little or no precedent in classical Islamic texts or concepts. Nur Amali Ibrahim foregrounds two distinct autodidactic university student organizations, each trying to envision alternative ways of being Muslim independent from established religious and political authorities. One group draws from methods originating from the business world, like accounting, auditing, and self-help, to promote a puritanical understanding of the religion and spearhead Indonesia’s spiritual rebirth. A second group reads Islamic scriptures alongside the western human sciences. Both groups, he argues, show a great degree of improvisation and creativity in their interpretations of Islam.
These experimental forms of religious improvisations and practices have developed in a specific Indonesian political context that has evolved after the deposal of President Suharto’s authoritarian New Order regime in 1998. At the same time, Improvisational Islam suggests that the Indonesian case study brings into sharper relief processes that are happening in ordinary Muslim life everywhere. To be a practitioner of their religion, Muslims draw on and are inspired by not only their holy scriptures, but also the non-traditional ideas and practices that circulate in their society, which importantly include those originating in the West. In the contemporary political discourse where Muslims are often portrayed as uncompromising and adversarial to the West and where bans and walls are deemed necessary to keep them out, this story about flexible and creative Muslims is an important one to tell.
Across the world, many politicians deliver benefits to citizens in direct exchange for their votes. Scholars often predict the demise of this phenomenon, as it is threatened by economic development, ballot secrecy and other daunting challenges. To explain its resilience, this book shifts attention to the demand side of exchanges. Nichter contends that citizens play a crucial but underappreciated role in the survival of relational clientelism - ongoing exchange relationships that extend beyond election campaigns. Citizens often undertake key actions, including declared support and requesting benefits, to sustain these relationships. As most of the world's population remains vulnerable to adverse shocks, citizens often depend on such relationships when the state fails to provide an adequate social safety net. Nichter demonstrates the critical role of citizens with fieldwork and original surveys in Brazil, as well as with comparative evidence from Argentina, Mexico and other continents.
Citizens around the world look to the state for social welfare provision, but often struggle to access essential services in health, education, and social security. This book investigates the everyday practices through which citizens of the world's largest democracy make claims on the state, asking whether, how, and why they engage public officials in the pursuit of social welfare. Drawing on extensive fieldwork in rural India, Kruks-Wisner demonstrates that claim-making is possible in settings (poor and remote) and among people (the lower classes and castes) where much democratic theory would be unlikely to predict it. Examining the conditions that foster and inhibit citizen action, she finds that greater social and spatial exposure - made possible when individuals traverse boundaries of caste, neighborhood, or village - builds citizens' political knowledge, expectations, and linkages to the state, and is associated with higher levels and broader repertoires of claim-making.