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Taylor, E.B. 2012. “Review of Life in Debt. Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile by Clara Han.” Social Anthropology, 20(4): 506-507.

Taylor, E.B. 2012. “Review of Life in Debt. Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile by Clara Han.” Social Anthropology, 20(4): 506-507.
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  Reviews Bornstein, Erica. 2012. Disquieting gifts:humanitarianism in New Delhi. Palo Alto:Stanford University Press. 232 pp. Pb.:$22.95. ISBN 978–0804770026. Erica Bornstein’s insightful and beautifullywritten analysis of diverse forms of aid in NewDelhi lies at the intersection of two bodiesof anthropological inquiry: gift-giving (one of anthropology’s most enduring subjects) andhumanitarianism (one of the most rapidlyemerging areas of interest in the discipline).The author makes a compelling case fordismantling the categorical divisions betweensmall-scale, anonymous donations and insti-tutionalised philanthropic interventions, andseeks instead to identify commonalities be-tween diverse forms of giving and the impulsesthat animate them.The book is organised in five chapters,each with an overarching theme. The first,‘Philanthropy’, situates the specificities of giv-ing in India within the larger context of gifttheories and globalised forms of philanthropyand humanitarianism. The second chapter,‘Trust’, addresses issues of suspicion, corrup-tion and trust that influence various types of giving in India, and the ways in which donorsand recipients, both active and prospective,evaluate each others’ intentions and moralcredibility. The following chapter, ‘Orphans’,describes the prominence this category has inhumanitarian discourses and representations,and discusses the sacred and suspect dimen-sions that characterise interventions targetingorphans and orphanages. The fourth chapter,entitled ‘Experience’, focuses on the varioustypes of experiences associated with voluntaryor humanitarian work in India, as well as casesin which aspirations towards a particular kindor quality of experience remains unsatisfied.The final chapter, ‘Empathy’, introduces theconcept of ‘relational empathy’, in contrastto liberal altruism, inasmuch as those whopractise the former attempt to ‘make othersrelational in the model of kin’ (p. 149). Thiscontrast reflects a tension that is presentthroughout the book, between aid given toabstract, anonymous others, versus aid giventhroughexistingnetworks,suchasthosebasedon kinship, religion denomination or otheridentity markers. The author lives these ten-sions herself: as the American wife of anIndian sociologist, her status in India is boththat of relative and of foreigner. The book’swealth of rich ethnographic vignettes attests tothis dual role, with Bornstein’s insights drawnfrom participant observation as an orphanagevolunteer, a member of expatriate women’sgroups and as a daughter-in-law.Bornstein is best known for her workanalysing transnational faith-based devel-opment projects in Zimbabwe (2005). In Disquieting gifts she is attentive to inter-national interventions, with discussions of the work and values of foreign missionaries,volunteers and organisations. However, theauthor centres much of her analysis on themeanings associated with d ¯ an (roughly trans-lated as donation) and its manifestations inHindu practice. Supplementing her researchwith scholarship on d ¯ an both in historicalcontext and as a range of contemporary phe-nomena, Bornstein explains that d ¯ an is distinctfromtheMaussiangiftinthattheformer’sverynature requires a refusal of debts or reciprocalgifts. As an ideally ‘disinterested’ gift, d ¯ an must occur without regards for its eventualoutcome, and offers the giver the potentialfor a release from social obligations. Withthe dominance of Judeo-Christian influencesin representations of contemporary aid andhumanitarian movements, the careful descrip-tions of  d ¯ an provide opportunities to reflecton other traditions of giving and the logics andvalues they espouse and engender. Bornstein’s 502 Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale (2012) 20 , 4 502–508. C  2012 European Association of Social Anthropologists.doi:10.1111/j.1469-8676.2012.00222.x  REVIEWS 503 analysesof  d ¯ an alsoserveherstatedpurposeof bringing into relief the more subtle, informaland unmediated forms of aid that take place inIndia and elsewhere, aid that is both habitualand spontaneous, and which Bornstein neithercondemns as counterproductive nor lauds assaintly.Throughout the volume, Bornstein drawson a number of vivid case studies, which allownot only for a fine-grained analysis of thenuances and details of aid, but also highlightthevariedformsofgivingthatsheencounteredduring her research. From a knitting groupof expatriate women that crafts sweaters forslum children, to programmes that send elite,urban youth into rural parts of India, we see adiversityofvoluntary,philanthropicandchari-tablepractices,andcaneasilyrelateBornstein’sobservations and reflections to other sites. Thebook’s accessible and engaging tone makes itappropriate for use in anthropology courses of varying levels, while its innovative approachandreformulationofclassicconceptswillmakeit of great value to specialists working in theareas of gift theory, ethics, humanitarianismand South Asian studies. Reference Bornstein, Erica. 2005. The spirit of development:Protestant NGOs, morality, and economicsin Zimbabwe . Palo Alto: Stanford Univer-sity Press.PIERRE MINN UCSF/UC Berkeley (USA) Chu, Julie. 2010. Cosmologies of credit:transnational mobility and the politics of destination in China. Durham and London:Duke University Press. 360 pp. Pb.: $24.95.ISBN-13: 978–0822348061.  Julie Chu’s Cosmologies of credit is framedby two moments. Beginning with the youngFuzhounese woman, Deng Feiyan – headedfor New York, suitcases long packed butawaiting a ring from a ‘snakehead’, a humansmuggler, with a cue to start a journey out of China via routes unknown – we are caughtin the suspension of her forward movement.Ending with daily gatherings over a fast-paced game of  mahjong , we pause around thefavourite pastime in the village transformed byoutmigration, to appreciate rules of the gamethat seem to award not so much a calculus of risk and gain as the feel for the shifting natureof luck.Luck instructs local desires to migrate tothe United States. Around Deng Feiyan’s de-ferred departure and the more general ‘frenzy’of illicit migration that has caught the Fuzhoucountryside, Chu asks about this desire tomigrate,‘itsconditionsofpossibility,itsentail-ments as embodied value’ (p. 4). Consideringthe costs and risks of the venture – snakeheadscharge from US$60,000 to US$100,000 andthe journeys regularly end in delays, detours,deportations or deaths – the question is acompelling one. ‘The costs and benefits didnot seem to add up in a rational, calculativemodel of “risk”’(p. 261), Chu writes towardsthe end of her gorgeously written and theo-retically subtle, sophisticated ethnography, tosuggest attention to the embodied desires forcosmopolitan mobility and the local modesof value transformation. She paints the ‘edgydisposition’ of subjects who are on the vergeof leaving the country – making plans, tak-ing lessons in restaurant English, collectingpaperwork, mobilising creditors, intimate net-works, smugglers, and gods – but are mooreduncomfortably, in the meantime, in officialcategories of ‘bad subjects’. Chu is particularlyinterestedinthe‘pragmaticsofdesire’,thezoneof indeterminacy between potentiality and itsactualisation(p.5)whennotonlyanythingcanhappen but where mobility is painstakinglyorganised and luck improved by means of ritual technologies.In-between the two framing moments,Chu investigates ‘mobility’ as an aspired,modern quality achieved via all sorts of plainand odd agents. Reading, we are caught up inthe motion of village landscape, shipping con-tainers, human bacteria, language manuals andconsular forms, remittances, rumours, spirits C  2012 European Association of Social Anthropologists.  504 REVIEWS and a funeral procession littering the streetswith spirit money. Among the ritual currency,Chu finds bills of US$100, counterfeit with amimetic logic perfectly attentive to detail andconfidentaboutthesourceoftheunderwritingauthority: the issuer is the Bank of Heaven andHell, presided by Jade Emperor who firmlysupports the gold standard.Askedwhytheywantedtomigrate,Chu’sinterlocutors often answered: ‘8:1 ( bi yi )’(p. 166). The code stands for the exchangerate between Chinese RBM and US Dollars.Chu looks beyond such frankly economicsense at the more convoluted ways in whichmigrants transform the money earned abroadinto wealth that displays moral valence of cos-mopolitan modernity, social creditability andaccomplished masculinity. At the same time,Chu shows that aspiring migrants computewith the uncertain and shifting balance of humandebtsanddivinecreditthatfiguresbothin the odds of achieving the status of ‘overseasChinese’ and securing comforts of ancestralafterlife with cosmic solvency.Chu thinks in the anthropological tradi-tionattunedtothequalitativeaspectsofmoney(Parry and Bloch 1989; Keane 2001), andprovides an excellent reading of its materialityandmeaning.HereIwishedChuwouldputtheFuzhoucosmo-logictotheworkofreadingtheglobal capital, which is not only undeniably atwork in valuing mobility and favouring theform of US Dollar since the 1970s, but isalso an equally fast-paced gamble since theintroduction of the floating exchange rates.What transactions and translations operatebetween the global currency exchange marketand the bank of Heaven and Hell? This maybe a misplaced desire given that Chu uses‘cosmologies’ with a nod to Marshall Sahlins’s(1994) famous critique of a certain trend inanthropological theory that seems left withnothingelsetodobutanethnographyofglobalcapitalism.Chu is decidedly not doing that. To beginwith, she suspends conventional analytics –such as market and capital (p. 7) – in favourof credit as a more polyvalent domain of value production and personal creditability.Nonetheless, for those of us familiar withdreams of migration dreamed in some otherplaces or attentive to the consumer-creditthat underwrites the American middle-classdreamworlds, the temptation is to ask whethermastery of  mahjong resonates with wayspeople elsewhere embody uncertainties andcourt credit? And can we even know withouta more pedestrian (drably critical?) sense of the ‘Market’ and ‘Capital’ that moves in andas swiftly abandons local horizons? And the Jade Emperor, I wonder, has he got stakesin the Chinese-held foreign currency reserves,the world’s largest, or a hand in accountingthe Chinese-held US Treasury Securities? Thisis a deliberately literalist reading of spiritualeconomies that Julie Chu masterfully bringsinto the text well worth readers’ attention, thatsimply wants to hear her work speak moreand further, even if in disagreement, abouttransnational and metaphysical intersectionsbetween credit and dispositions. LARISA JASAREVIC University of Chicago (USA) References Keane, W. 2001. Money is no object: materiality,desire, and modernity in an Indonesiansociety, in F. R. Myers (ed.), The empire of things:regimesofvalueandmaterialculture, 65–90. Santa Fe, NM: School of AmericanResearch Press.Parry, J.P. and M. Bloch. 1989. Money and the morality of exchange. Cambridge: Cam-bridge University Press.Sahlins, M. 1994. Cosmologies of capitalism: thetrans-Pacific sector of ‘the world system’,in N. B. Dirks, G. Eley and S. B. Ortner, Culture/power/history: a reader in contem- porary social theory, 414–16. Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press. Gusterson, Hugh and Catherine L. Beste-man. 2009. The insecure American: how we got here and what we should do about it. Berkeley: University of California Press.xiv + 371 pp. Pb.: $24.95, £16.95. ISBN:9780520259713. The insecure American consists of eighteenprovocative essays that collectively survey the C  2012 European Association of Social Anthropologists.  REVIEWS 505 landscape of contemporary American soci-ety. Taken together, the contributions offer asweeping, and rather disturbing, portrait of American life in the early years of the newmillennium. The essays are loosely organisedaroundthethemeof‘insecurity’,aconceptthatis used to describe the cumulative effects of 20 years of neoliberal economics, militaryrecklessness, corporate malfeasance and my-opic social policy on Americans of all socialclasses. The essays touch on various dimen-sions of American life, but they are boundtogether by a shared critical stance and adesire to inform a wide readership about thesocial consequences of ‘the aggressive, increas-ingly unregulated form of capitalism that hasproduced insecurity for a growing majorityaround the world in the contemporary era of globalization’ (p. 4). Through a combinationof long-term ethnographic studies, personalnarratives and synthetic critical essays, thebook offers an impassioned, at times militant,example of engaged social science.The essays are divided into six thematic sec-tions: fortress America; the new economy; in-security as a profit center; the most vulnerable;insecurity and terror; and insecurities of bodyand spirit. Unlike many edited collections, thisvolume is best read in its entirety. As theeditors write in their introduction, ‘Ameri-cans sense that something is terribly amiss,even if the full picture is not entirely clear’(p. 6). The book provides a full picture by con-nectingthedotsbetweendisparateexamplesof insecurity in American life: from fears aboutcrime and terrorism, to the economic effects of globalisationontheworkingclass,toanalmostpervasive sense of unease caused by a paranoidand, at times, inhumane health care system.By skilfully combining the work of seventeenethnographers into a comprehensive treatmentof an emergent cultural disposition (Americaninsecurity), the book provides a model of howto study large, diverse nation-states ethno-graphically. Moving from Setha Low’s studyof gated residential communities, to PhillippeBourgois’ ethnography of mentally ill drug-addicts, to Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ blisteringcritique of end-of-life decisions in nursinghomes, the reader is left with an alarmingimpressionofasocietythathaslosttouchwithbasichumanvalues.Althoughthetitlesuggeststhatthebookwill‘telluswhatwecandoabout’the social ills it so convincingly diagnoses, thevolumeislongoncritiqueandshortonpositiverecommendations for change. Fittingly, thefinal chapter of the book (by Susan Hard-ing) contains a discussion of evangelical andsecular jeremiads, finding elements of apoc-alypticism in narratives of impending envi-ronmental catastrophe. The insecure American might best be described as an ethnographic jeremiad.Debt looms large in this discussion. Debtinfluences the behaviour of actors at all scalarlevels, from students facing increasingly largeloan debt, to countries enacting austerityprogrammes to comply with IMF structuraladjustment programmes. At the national level,the United States’ external debt rises inex-orably, adding to a diffuse sense of insecurityabout the country’s economic future. Personaldebt ‘greases the wheels of consumerism byenabling Americans to stretch to the edge of their means; it is also an apparatus for trans-ferring wealth, via foreclosures and interestpayments, from those who need money tothose who already have more’ (p. 7). In BrettWilliams’ chapter on poor neighbourhoodsin Washington, DC, people are constantly‘awashindebt’(p.225).Pawnshops,predatorypayday lenders and collection agencies are allover, and ‘your credit report becomes youridentity,yourrighttobeanadult,yourrighttobeacitizen’(p.229).Intheneoliberaleconomy,debt is the instrument of social control parexcellence.One drawback of this book is the editors’failure to specifically address when, in fact,Americans felt secure. The theme of risinginsecurity is based on an implicit contrast withother historical periods, but one wishes formore explicit comparison. The editors pointto ‘the years of economic growth betweenWorld War II and the 1970s’ (p. 2) as a time of relative security, but this was a period in whichsocioeconomic stability was accompanied bythe unprecedented political and cultural tu-mult of the sixties. The editors’ introductionmight have addressed this obvious concern C  2012 European Association of Social Anthropologists.  506 REVIEWS early in the volume. Despite this criticism, The insecure American is an important, eye-opening treatment of contemporary Americanlife that will resonate inside and outside of anthropology. DANIEL REICHMAN University of Rochester (USA) Han, Clara. 2012. Life in debt: times of careand violence in neoliberal Chile . Berkeley:University of California Press. 298 pp. Pb.:$26.95, £18.95. ISBN: 9780520272101. What is a debt? Is it an abstract monetaryfigure or a social obligation? In this fine-grained ethnography, Clara Han demonstratesthat the fiscal and social properties of debtintertwine inseparably for the residents of apoor neighbourhood, La Pincoya, in Santiagode Chile. Based on ethnographic fieldworkconducted over 13 years, the book demon-strates how indebtedness comprises far morethan the sum of one’s monetary debts. Due toa range of personal circumstances, from mem-ories of torture under Pinochet, the disruptiveeffects of structural readjustment on families,drug addiction and ‘neoliberal depression’,Han’s characters play fiscal and social debtsoff each other as they attempt to achievepositions of relative security and well-being.Favours granted to family and friends, pilingcredit card bills and state reparations form alandscape of debt that is historically consti-tuted and infuses the everyday lives of theprotagonists.An important contribution of the bookis its subtle analysis of how violence and carework together in relation to debt. For Han,the state is not merely an impersonal entitythat enforces property relations. Nor doesthe community hold a monopoly over thepractice of reciprocal obligations. Rather, howindividuals, families and state bodies care forone another, or deploy violence against eachother, depends on relations and circumstancesthat change markedly over time. This is adifficult subject to tackle without makingmoral judgements or relativising interpersonalviolence as a product of past abuse, yet Hanlargelymanagestoavoidbothofthesetrapsbyshowing how her characters – including stateactors – reflect upon their changing roles in aweb of social obligations.Within this climate of violence and care,being indebted can have positive and negativeconsequences. On the one hand, fiscal andsocial debts cause stress and suffering in thelives of poor people who struggle to meet theirobligations. Physical and structural violenceis visited regularly on those who fail to meettheir debts. On the other hand, getting intodebt can smooth the rough edges of poverty,fulfil personal desires and allow one to expresscommitment to family and friends. That isto say, regardless of its consequences, indebt-edness underscores the fabric of social life.The protagonists are constantly developingstrategies to play their social and fiscal debtsoff each other, in an attempt to harness theenabling qualities of debt and keep violenceat bay.Meanwhile, the Chilean state struggleswith its own fiscal and social debts. From theopening scene of the book, in which the policeenact a ritualised oppression of protesters, thestate waivers between approaching its citizenswith violence and attempting to provide themwith care (such as through mental healthclinics) to attempt to heal the ruptures of thenation’s past. The state owes its citizens asocial debt for the violences visited upon themunder Pinochet’s dictatorship. Interestingly,its efforts to make amends consist primarilyof giving monetary payments to those whowere tortured. In contrast, its fiscal debts aredealt with through austerity measures thatinvolve the cutting of social spending. Hencethe illusion of separation of fiscal and socialdebt is unmasked.Throughout the book, the state is pre-sented in an ambivalent light. Perhaps this am-bivalence stems from the fact that state actorsand bodies have their own sets of relationswith the global economy and polity that areout of the scope of the book. Han’s methodof analysing of debt relations could be put togood use to examine the state’s relationship C  2012 European Association of Social Anthropologists.
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