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The Seeing Eye is the Organ of Tradition

By Paul Ryer, Consumption & material culture, Cultural production, daily life, Globalization, greater Cuba, Miami, urban life, youth cultures No Comments »

Since the 1990s, U.S. flag-themed hats, shirts, pants, and especially bodysuits have seemingly been popular fashion among ordinary Cubans. More precisely, given that the Cuban flag has a white star on a red background, with blue stripes, it is at minimum clear that this fashion does not signify Cubans’ own national banner, and while conceivably referencing Puerto Rico’s bandera, it is fair to say that both foreign visitors and Cuban residents interpretNYT-image-12-14 CROPPED the symbolic referent to be Old Glory. And this, I think, is where things get interesting, since images of U.S. flag-wearing Cubans are a recurrent feature of stories of post-Soviet Cuba in the U.S. media and press, as if to visually confirm pro-U.S. popular sentiments among the population, Q.E.D., obviously political, no further exegesis necessary. One can find this pattern from the cover of Christopher Hunt’s superficial travelogue Waiting For Fidel in 1997, right to the present day. Consider, for instance, the framing of “If Not David to the U.S. Goliath, Cuba Asks What Its Role Is Now,” by Damien Cave and Victoria Burnett, published in the New York Times on December 20, 2014 as part of the barrage of that month’s NYT-led diplomacy. As seen here in cropped form, the lede image of the accompanying slide show, “Cuba Braces for the Winds of Change,” I submit, was carefully chosen to evoke exactly this sort of reading in the U.S.-based readership of the Times.

A century ago, the founder of American anthropology, Franz Boas, taught his students that we see what we are prepared to see: the seeing eye is the organ of tradition. When I first encountered U.S. flag-themed sartorial choices throughout Cuba as a novice ethnographer living in Havana in the mid-1990s, I also initially read them this way, as startlingly clear and overt statements of personal political preference.  What else could they possibly mean, in a context in which images of both Cuban and U.S. flags had for decades saturated state media in clearly politicized ways? And yet… and yet, the more I learned about the people and contexts in which these styles appeared, the more inadequate that initially obvious reading seemed. Not necessarily (or always) wrong, but certainly partial, superficial, and misleading. Many pro-revolutionary grandparents, Party members, and apolitical youth were equally crazy for this stuff!  Over time, I became both more interested in and puzzled by the possible meanings of this style, until one day in 2002 in a small town in central Cuba, I ran into two eight or nine year old girls, holding hands; one was wearing a new-to-me variant of the U.S. flag-themed shirt (see Ryer 2006). I stopped them to ask where the shirt was from, and the girl wearing it beamed and said: “Oh, I am from here, and this is my cousin visiting from Florida, and she brought it for me as a gift, isn’t it great?” (my translation). This simple exchange highlighted an overlooked if obvious point: all of this U.S. themed clothing is imported not in official state-controlled shops, of course, but is hand-delivered by close family or friends abroad. In other words, wearing it also marks one as having familia en exterior, family abroad. As I have argued elsewhere, beyond symbolizing the United States, since the 1990s wearing Stars and Stripes apparel in Cuba is a marker par excellence of one’s privileged access to increasingly important transnational remittance circuits.

Even long before the work of Victor Turner, anthropologists have understood that there are multiple meanings to any symbol, and that is certainly true in the case of enduringly popular U.S. flag-themed apparel in post-Soviet Cuba. But to only see the political, pro-American image as intended by the U.S. popular press, generates, I believe, a dangerously simplistic and even misdirected reading of the sort which once led American planners to anticipate massive Cuban popular support for their epically misjudged Bay of Pigs invasion. Even in 2014, not all meanings are global, nor are they necessarily obvious to the casual observer or photographer.

 

UPDATE:

The re-opening of the embassies and ongoing limited rapprochement between the two governments has kept up the drumbeat of these sorts of images, including more from the New York Times, but also from the international press.  Consider, for instance, this story & images from the Guardian, and this recent cover from the Mexican edition of Revista Letras Liportadamexico_1000_1bres.

Health Travels: Cuban Health(care) On and Off the Island, edited by Nancy J. Burke

daily life, Globalization, greater Cuba, Health, new book No Comments »

Edited by Nancy J. Burke and including contributions by many ethnographers and EC scholars, Health Travels: Cuban Health(care) On and Off the Island, UC Medical Humanities 2013, is now available for purchase or full-text download via this link.

From the publisher:

This collection of essays challenges static and binary discourses regarding the Cuban healthcare system, bringing together papers that paint a nuanced and dynamic picture of the intricacies of Cuban health(care) as it is represented and experienced both on the island and around the world. Health Travels is the first collection of its kind to map the recent history of the Cuban healthcare system in rich ethnographic detail. This collection of essays challenges static and binary discourses regarding the healthcare system, bringing together contributions that paint a picture of the nuanced and dynamic intricacies of Cuban health(care) as it is represented and experienced both on the island and around the world. In each instance, papers address macro-forces – national policies and global strategies – as well as micro-practices that at times counter, and at other times support, state-level programs. Exploring the praxis at the juncture of daily bodily practices and global representations this collection highlights how the Cuban state is instantiated in different contexts and for various purposes. Illuminating the complexity of the divide between the state and el pueblo, contributors to this volume highlight contradictions in daily living and the “success” of the Cuban health care system.

Paperback | 978-0-9889865-1-0 | Spring 2013 | 279 | 24.95

In Foreign Fields: The Politics and Experiences of Transnational Sport Migration, by Thomas Carter (2011)

Globalization, new book, Sport No Comments »

Here is another volume by a long-time colleague in which, although traveling beyond national or regional borders, Cuban research figures centrally–as the cover image certainly illustrates.  In Foreign Fields: The Politics and Experiences of Transnational Sport Migration, by Thomas Carter, Pluto Press 2011.

From the publisher:

In Foreign Fields examines the lives, decisions and challenges faced by transnational sport migrants — those professionals working in the sports industry who cross borders as part of their professional lives. Despite a great deal of romance surrounding international celebrity athletes, the vast majority of transnational sport migrants — players, journalists, coaches, administrators and medical personnel — toil far away from the limelight. Based on twelve years of ethnographic research conducted on three continents, Thomas F. Carter traces their lives, routes and experiences, documenting their travels and travails. He argues that far from the ease of mobility that celebrity sports stars enjoy, the vast majority of transnational sports migrants make huge sacrifices and labor under political restrictions, often enforced by sport’s governing bodies. This unique and clearly written study will make fascinating reading for anthropologists, sociologists and anyone interested in the lives of those who follow their sporting dreams.
Table of Contents:
Preface
Introduction: Sowing Transnational Sport Fields
1. Routes & Strategies of Transnational Sport Migration
2. Striding Across the Fields of Global Sport
3.  Sport and the State: Tensions of Sovereignty and Citizenship
4. NEOsport and the Production of Transnational Sport Migrants
5. Family Matters: risks and costs of mobility
6. Illegal Motion: Undocumented Migration and the Production of Illegality
Closing Comments: Experiencing the Politics of Transnational Sport Migration

Music in the Hispanic Caribbean, by Robin Moore (2010)

Cultural production, Globalization, music, new book No Comments »

  In case you have missed it, Robin Moore has a new book exploring the music of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.  Rather than focusing narrowly on a single island nation, the wider Caribbean focus is welcome, and as always, he writes elegantly and succinctly.  And the book includes a sleeve with full-length CD as well!  Music in the Hispanic Caribbean: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture, 2010, Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s description:

The Spanish-speaking islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic make up a relatively small region, but their musical and cultural traditions have had a dramatic, sweeping impact on the world. The first brief, stand-alone volume to explore the music of these three islands, Music in the Hispanic Caribbean provides a vibrant introduction to diverse musical styles including salsa, merengue, reggaeton, plena, Latin jazz, and the bolero.

Ethnomusicologist Robin Moore employs three themes in his survey of Hispanic Caribbean music:

  • The cultural legacy of the slave trade
  • The creolization of Caribbean musical styles
  • Diaspora, migration, and movement

Each theme lends itself to a discussion of the region’s traditional musical genres as well as its more contemporary forms. The author draws on his extensive regional fieldwork, offering accounts of local performances, interviews with key performers, and vivid illustrations.

A compelling, comprehensive review, Music in the Hispanic Caribbean is ideal for introductory undergraduate courses in world music or ethnomusicology and for upper-level courses on Caribbean and Latin American music and/or culture.

Packaged with a 70-minute CD containing musical examples, the text features numerous listening activities that actively engage students with the music. The companion website (www.oup.com/us/globalmusic) includes supplementary materials for instructors.

Thomas Carter speaking at UC Riverside Tues, Nov. 2

By Paul Ryer, Calendar, Globalization, greater Cuba, Seminars & talks, Sport 2 Comments »

To Follow the Bouncing Ball – Transnational Ethnography and the Experiences of Cuban Transnational Sport Migration. Dr. Thomas F. Carter, Senior Lecturer University of Brighton.

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010. 5:00 – 7:00 pm. Department of Anthropology, University of California at Riverside. INTS 1113

Thomas Carter is Senior Lecturer in anthropology at the Chelsea School at the University of Brighton in Eastbourne, United Kingdom.  He was previously a Research Fellow in the School of Anthropological Studies at Queen’s University of Belfast.  He has written extensively on Cuba, sport and politics, including his ethnography, The Quality of Home Runs: The Passion, Politics and Language of Cuban Baseball (Duke University Press 2008) on the historical and current discourses of cubanidad embodied in the national sport of baseball.  His forthcoming book, In Foreign Fields, uses the politics and experiences of sport-related transnational labor migration to both critique globalization-based models explaining the movements of sport-related labor and call for greater anthropological attention to sport (Pluto 2011).

Ariana Hernández-Reguant’s “Copyrighting Che” in The Anthropology of Globalization

By Paul Ryer, Cultural production, Globalization, new chapter/edited volume 1 Comment »

140513612xNote Ariana Hernández-Reguant’s article “Copyrighting Che: Art and Authorship under Cuban Late Socialism” in The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader, 2nd Edition, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.

New Book: CHE’S AFTERLIFE

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cultural production, Globalization, new book 1 Comment »

Che’s Afterlife. The Legacy of an Image. By Michael Casey Random House (forthcoming April 15th)

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I was interviewed by the author at one point. It sounds like the book might be useful for undergraduate classes on globalization, cultural circulation and the like. I copy the following from the book’s marketing webpage.

<<Part travelogue, part historical documentary, part social commentary, Che’s Afterlife traces the Korda image’s passage from casual snapshot to international symbol of rebellion as it evolves inexorably into a copyright-contested brand stamped on everything from T-shirts to condoms. With an eye for detail and for the forgotten moments of history that are all but lost on the cutting room floors of photography studios and newsrooms, Casey unravels the myths behind the image – not so much as an iconoclast unveiling an elusive truth but as a probing investigator who is mapping the icon’s DNA. As he follows it across the Americas and through cyberspace, he shows us why, after so many years, the mercurial Che icon still ignites passions, and then presents the image as a reflection on how we view ourselves. Che’s Afterlife is a unique, insightful commentary on the global capitalist economy and our information age, one that demonstrates the supremacy of images and brands within that system.>>

50 years of Revolution. Special Issues and Recent Ethnographies

Consumption & material culture, Cultural production, daily life, Gender & sexuality, Globalization, greater Cuba, Health, History, media, Miami, music, new article, new chapter/edited volume, Race, Religion, Sport, Tourism No Comments »

Journal of Latin American Studies

Latin American Perspectives

In addition you might want to check out the following recent publications:

* By Ruth Behar and Lucia Suárez, an edited volume: THE PORTABLE ISLAND: Cubans at Home in the World.  Palgrave 2008.

* By Ivor Miller, a book: Voice of the Leopard: African Secret Societies and Cuba, University Press of Mississippi.

* By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant:

Special guest edited issue of the Journal of Latin American Anthropology, including introduction (“Alternative Geographies”), and articles by Laurie Frederik Meer, P. Sean Brotherton, Kenneth Routon, and Helen Safa.

“Radio Taino and the Cuban Quest for Identi…que?“, in Doris Sommer’s Cultural Agency in the Americas, Duke University Press, 2006.

“Havana’s Timba. A Macho Sound for Black Sex.” In Deborah Thomas and Kamari Clarke. Globalization and Race. Duke University Press, 2006.

* By Kenneth Routon. “Conjuring the past: Slavery and the historical imagination in Cuba.”  American Ethnologist (p 632-649), Volume 35 Issue 4

* By Laurie Frederik MeerPlayback Theatre in Cuba: the Politics of Improvisation and Free Expression,” in The Drama Review, Winter 2007, Vol. 51, No. 4, Pages 106-120

* By P. Sean Brotherton.  “We have to think like capitalists but continue being socialists”: Medicalized subjectivities, emergent capital, and socialist entrepreneurs in post-Soviet Cuba.  American Ethnologist, Vol. 35, Issue 2, pp. 259-274.  June 2008.

* By Mette Berg:

Between Cosmopolitanism and the National Slot: Cuba’s Diasporic Children of the Revolution, Identities (vol. 16, issue 2), Pages 129 – 156.

“Homeland and belonging among Cubans in Spain.”  Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, Vol. 14 no. 2, (pp. 265-290)

* By Katrin Hansing, (2009). “South-South Migration and Transnational Ties between Cuba and Mozambique,” in Transnational Ties: Cities, Migrations, and Identities. M. P. Smith and J. Eade. New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers: 77-90.

* Even if you are already familiar with Todd Ramón Ochoa‘s article, “Versions of the Dead: Kalunga in Cuban Kongo Materiality,” in Cultural Anthropology Vol. 22, No. 4, November 2007, you should check out this link from C.A., which includes study questions and an embedded video clip.

*By Kristina Wirtz:

Her book is entitled Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santería: Speaking a Sacred World University Press of Florida, 2007.  (only on hard cover).

See reviews: McIntosh, Janet. “(Book Review) Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santería: Speaking a Sacred World. University of Florida Press, 2007.” by Kristina Wirtz. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology vol. 18(1) 2009: 163-4. And a review byElina Hartikainen (citation only, full-text not available), in the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, Volume 13, Number 2, November 2008 , pp. 461-462(2). Also, here is another link to a review (again, citation only) by Paul Christopher Johnson in the Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 64, no. 4.  If you know of other reviews, or have your own comments, please take a moment to leave an update or comment!

Kristina Wirtz, “Hazardous waste: the semiotics of ritual hygiene in Cuban popular religion,” in JRAI vol. 15, pp. 476-501, 2009.

Kristina Wirtz:  “Divining The Past: The linguistic reconstruction of “African” roots in diasporic ritual registers and songs,” in Journal of Religion in Africa Special Issue: “African diasporic religions.”  27(2): 240-272, 2007.  Introduced by Stephan Palmié.

Wirtz, K. (2007) Deep language and diasporic culture: Learning to speak the ‘tongue of the orichas’ in Cuban Santería. American Ethnologist 34(1): 108-126.  Her abstract:

“Enregistered memory and Afro-Cuban historicity in Santería’s ritual speech,” in Language & Communication special issue: “Temporalities of Text.” 27(3), 2007.

Finally, check out two related pieces by Wirtz, “Introduction: Ritual Unintelligibility” (pp. 401-407. Read introduction) and “Making sense of unintelligible messages: Co-construction of meaning in Santería rituals,” (435-462. Abstract) in a special issue of the journal Text & Talk on “Ritual Unintelligibility,” 27(4), 2007.

* By Tom Carter

(1)  “New Rules to the Old Game: Cuban Sport and State Legitimacy in the Post-Soviet Era,” in Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. 15 (2): 194-215, 2008.

(2)“Pitén en la Plaza: Some preliminary considerations on spatializing culture in Cuba” in Image, Power and Space: Studies in Consumption and Identity. Alan Tomlinson and Jonathan M. Woodham (eds). Aachen: Meyer & Meyer. Pp. 97-112.

(3)  “Of Spectacular Phantasmal Desires: Tourism and the Cuban State’s Complicity in its Commodification of its Citizens,” in Leisure Studies. 27 (3): 241-257, 2008.

(4) “Family Networks, State Interventions and the Experiences of Cuban Transnational Sport Migration,” in International Review of the Sociology of Sport. 42 (4): 371-389, (2007).

(5) “A Relaxed State of Affairs?: On Leisure, Tourism, and Cuban Identity” in The Discipline of Leisure: Embodying Cultures of “Recreation”. Simon Coleman and Tamara Kohn (eds). Oxford: Berghahn, pp. 127-145 (2007).

* By Martin Holbraad:

Definitive evidence, from Cuban gods,” in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, special issue The Objects of Evidence,vol. 14, issue s1, April 2008. Based on evidence collected during fieldwork among practitioners of Afro-Cuban religion in Havana, this paper seeks ‘recursively’ to redefine the notion of anthropological evidence itself. It does so by examining ethnographically practitioners’ concern with the ‘evidence’ deities give (e.g. successful divinations, divine cures, etc.), by virtue of which people’s relationships with deities are cemented. To the extent that this indigenous concept of evidence is different from notions of evidence anthropologists take for granted in their own work, it occasions the opportunity to transform those very assumptions. But such a procedure is itself evidential – pertaining to the relationship between ethnography and theory. The paper sets out the virtues, both ethnographic and theoretical, of this circularity.

Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically, ed. by Amiria Henare, Martin Holbraad and Sari Wastell.  Routledge 2007.  The volume, as well as this exchange about the book between Martin Holbraad and Daniel Miller, is surely of general interest to those of us with an interest in consumption, goods, and so-called material culture.  Additionally, Holbraad’s chapter, “The Power of Powder: Multiplicity and Motion in the Divinatory Cosmology of Cuban Ifá (or mana, again)” also ought to be of interest for many ethnocuba readers. The book is also reviewed at Savage Minds, here.

Roulette anthropology: the whole beyond holism,” in Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 32 (2). pp. 29-47 (2007). The paper builds an argument about holism in anthropological theory by drawing an ethnographic contrast between divination and gambling in Cuba.  Outlining the contrasting modes of prediction in each case, it is shown that while diviners’ predictions draw on cosmological models of the world, gamblers’ seek to source the cosmos itself.  Their concern with going beyond cosmology is bound up with their orientation (obsessive sometimes) towards what they call ‘cábalas’ – attention-grabbing coincidences of everyday life.  A similar contrast can be drawn with regard to anthropological notions of ‘holism’.  Available versions of holism are ‘cosmological’ inasmuch as they pertain to the role of models in anthropology.  Nevertheless, anthropologists too are as concerned with accessing the cosmos, allowing ‘the field’ to speak for itself in ethnography.  Like the gamblers (and unlike colleagues in more disciplined disciplines), anthropologists find that it is only when they stop reasoning in terms of pre-conceived cosmologies that worlds begin to reveal themselves as such.  So anthropology goes beyond holism by becoming more holistic than it already thinks it is: from cosmology to the cosmos.  It is oriented towards the underbelly of reason par excellence, ventriloquising itself into the cosmos at ‘ethnographic moments’ – coincidences – that can only register as ‘alterity’.  So a defence of radical ‘holism’, it is argued, is also a defence of a radical ‘exoticism’.

Expending Multiplicity: Money in Cuban Ifá Cults,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute vol. 11 (2), pp. 231-254.  2005.

* By Maria Gropas

“Landscape, Revolution and Property Regimes in Rural Havana,” 2006. Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 33 issue 2, pp. 248-277

The Repatriotization of Revolutionary Ideology and Mnemonic Landscape in Present-Day Havana,”  in Current Anthropology 48 (4), 2007. Includes commentaries by Virginia R. Domíguez, Nadine Fernandez, Martin Hall, Martin Holbraad, and Mona Rosendahl, as well as a reply by the author.  The conversation has an amplified on-line version, with additional color images, here.
*By Matthew Hill, “Re-Imagining Old Havana: World Heritage and the Production of Scale in Late Socialist Cuba” in Deciphering The Global: Its Scales, Spaces and Subjects, ed. by Saskia Sassen (2007).
* By Miguel de la Torre. 2003. La Lucha for Cuba: Religion and Politics on the Streets of Miami, University of California Press, by Miguel A. De La Torre. Reviewed Here by Laurie Frederik Meer’s in e-misférica.
* By Amalia Cabezas.  “The Eroticization of Labor in Cuba’s All-Inclusive Resorts: Performing Race, Class and Gender in the New Tourist Economy,” in Social Identities, Volume 12, Issue 5 September 2006 , pages 507 – 521.

* By Amy L. Porter, “Fleeting Dreams and Flowing Goods: Citizenship and Consumption in Havana Cuba” in PoLAR vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 134-149.  May 2008.
* By Noelle Stout.Feminists, Queers and Critics: Debating the Cuban Sex Trade,” in the Journal of Latin American Studies, vol 40, pp. 721-742 (2008).
* By Rogelio Martínez Furé. 2007. Eshu (oriki a mi mismo)  y otras descargas.
* By Valerio Simoni, “‘Riding’ Diversity: Cubans’/Jineteros‘ Uses of ‘Nationality-talks’ in the Realm of their Informal Encounters with Tourists” in Tourism Development: Growth, Myths and Inequalities, ed. by Peter M. Burns & Marina Novelli, CAB International, 2008, pp. 68-84.
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