Updated June 2018
The 2017-2018 academic year was busy and productive, as I have been completing old research and writing projects and starting new ones, teaching and advising undergrads and graduate students, reading proposal drafts and dissertation chapters, traveling to conferences and engaging in fieldwork, though not all at the same time.
In Fall 2017, I taught both graduate and undergraduate versions of my course “The Social Life of Food: Raising, Killing, Cooking, Eating, Feeding,” covering topics such as sacrifice and religious feasting and fasting, the peculiar and perishable commodity of foodstuffs, the place of consubstantiality in the production of kinship, the human/animal divide, global food regimes and the ownership of life, terroir and shared microbiomes, etc. In Spring 2018, with the help of preceptors Leili Srebreny-Mohammadi and Ximena Málaga Sabogal, I taught a freshman-level course titled “Spanish Modernity From the Mediterranean to the Atlantic,” tracking the Islamic contribution to Renaissance and Enlightenment thought and practice, with special emphasis on architecture, the novel, sexuality, and notions of civitas within urban life that became central to Spain’s imperial designs overseas. At the same time I again taught a graduate seminar on “Memory, Patrimony, and Personhood,” with the usual nice mix of bright students, exploring together how time condenses and adheres in the narrative organizing schema and the materiality of the spaces of social life and the forms of trans-individual personhood that are those spaces’ fourth dimensions. I look forward to teaching the core seminar in CLACS next fall, and the Urban Anthropology course “City and Country: Bio-Geo-Social Being” in Spring 2019.
Working with graduate students on a variety of topics, I read and commented on drafts of second-year papers, research proposals, and dissertation chapters. I remained in contact with graduate advisees engaged in fieldwork or writing their dissertations. I celebrated with new Ph.D.'s their successful dissertation defenses, and subsequent jobs and postdocs, weddings and babies. And along with trying to learn something about all of these things, I wrote a lot of letters for much deserved summer grants, dissertation fellowships, post docs, and jobs, many of which were happily forthcoming.
On the writing front, my book Passing to América: The Transgressive and Transatlantic Life of Antonio (Née María) Yta at the Twilight of the Spanish Empire went into production at Pennsylvania State University Press (due in November of this year). The book follows the life of a trans man avant la lettre, whose extraordinary confession on being “outed” by an angry wife in 1803—an involuntary autobiography—provides the through-line for a study of sex/gender in a context of rampant social climbing. It makes use of Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, schema, and field, combined with a Peircean approach to performativity and deep attention to the materiality and spatial emplacement of social drama, to untangle the intersectionality of sex/gender and other forms of social hierarchy at a key historical moment in the passage to modernity at the end of the eighteenth century.
Now that is out of the way, I am turning toward completion of another book, Ghosts In the Ruins: Geo-Bio-Social Entanglements in the Global City, Mountain, and Heritage Site of Potosí (Bolivia), 1545-2018. It provides a biography of the first global city and the “global mountain” it eviscerated, and examines global flows of persons, silver, and commodities as the metabolism of this industrial complex of early extractive capitalism. Taking account of the mountain/city’s imbrication in and exploitation of a vast “resource basin” of human/animal/plant ecosystems, the book also traces city’s built infrastructure and its functionality as a stage for cultural performances through which the semiotic ideology of Christianity and capitalism (divorcing society from nature, spirit from matter, God from Satan) was imparted to the indigenous people whose labor and lives turned the mountain into money. Drawing on ethnography of the cooperatives that took over mining after privatization in the mid-1980s, the book also examines the transformation of this mountain and mining city into a UNESCO heritage site, and desperately poor miners into tour guides of a hecatomb commemorating colonial exploitation.
During sabbatical last year, I further developed a new project in Toro, Spain. There I am again focused on property and patrimony, particularly the development of Toro’s monumental heritage as visit-able tourist commodity, but also on the PDO/PGI designation of wine and cheese as very special kinds of material signs, veritable “unfestishes” that foreground rather than concealing the relations of production that make them in order to provide the added value needed to compete with globalized industrial agriculture. Tying communities of producers to place and to plant/animal/microbial ecologies, such systems recreate the “commons,” but in capitalist mode. Over tapas in the plaza and visits to some of Toro's fifty-some bodegas I have been discovering how this new attention to patrimonio connects not only with the current economic crisis (hinging as it does on mortgages and patrimonial property) but with the region’s marketing strategies in the EU and the emergent Castilian nationalist movement.
I look forward to completing Ghosts in the Ruins over the coming year or so, while thinking through wine fermentation via shared microbiomes, with the help of students and colleagues at NYU. ¡Salud!