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Disjunctive comparison: citizenship and trade unionism in Bolivia and Argentina


S ian L az ar University of Cambridge
In this essay I undertake an ethnographic analysis of the notion of comparison through a discussion of comparative research on the role of trade unions in the constitution of citizenship in El Alto, Bolivia, and in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Based on eldwork with street traders in El Alto and public-sector workers in Buenos Aires, the essay introduces the notion of disjunctive comparison as an intrinsically anthropological mode of comparison. The article then puts into play my propositions about the specicity and validity of disjunctive comparison, by way of an ethnographic exploration of union membership as a creation of self and political agency. I conclude by connecting that analysis of self and political agency to citizenship in my two eldwork sites.

The comparative method is often considered one of the constitutive elements of anthropology as a discipline (e.g. Detienne 2008; Radcliffe-Brown 1952). Yet, comparison as an aspect of ethnographic method has not received much sustained discussion since one version or set of versions of it fell out of fashion in the 1960s and 1970s (Fox & Gingrich 2002). Here, I attempt an ethnographic analysis of the notion of comparison itself by reecting on one comparative research project, on the role of trade unions in the constitution of citizenship and political agency in El Alto, Bolivia, and in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My point of departure is that we can understand citizenship as a series of practices associated with the individuals relationship with the state, and thereby construct an ethnography of citizenship (see Lazar 2008). One constellation of those practices constitutes liberal citizenship: the right to vote and be elected; citizenship as the legal status of belonging to a specic nation-state; representative politics based on political parties, and so on. However, that is only one possible constellation, and the central objective of an ethnographic approach to citizenship understood in this way is to examine what kinds of citizenship practices constitute a persons relationship with the state in any particular context. Here, I suggest that comparison facilitates such a process of inquiry through exposing differences and similarities across two quite different contexts. The article explores this theme with respect to the connections between collective organization and political subjectivity among street traders in El Alto, Bolivia, and
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public-sector workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It begins with a discussion of comparison, introducing the notion of disjunctive comparison. The article then puts into play my propositions about the specicity and validity of disjunctive comparison, by way of an ethnographic exploration of union membership as a creation of self and political agency. I conclude by connecting that analysis of self and political agency to citizenship in my two eldwork sites. The research presented here compares two sets of union activists: street traders in El Alto, Bolivia, and public-sector workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina.1 My main informants in El Alto were both ordinary inhabitants of the city residents of a small neighbourhood, and students of the public university and leaders of the Federation of Street Vendors and member associations. El Alto itself is a very poor and indigenous city: the majority of its residents are rst- to third-generation rural-urban migrants from the Aymara-speaking countryside, and, according to the census of 2001, 65 per cent live in either moderate poverty or extreme poverty, with 25 per cent on the verge of poverty.2 In Argentina, my main informants were union leaders from the two main unions of public-sector workers, the Union del Personal Civil de la Nacion (National Union of Civil Servants, UPCN) and the Asociacin de Trabajadores del Estado (Association of State Workers, ATE). They were union delegates at the level of the administrative unit (e.g. government department) and those with positions in the central ofces of the sections pertaining to the city of Buenos Aires. I conducted extensive interviews with delegates and leaders from the two unions in both their workplace and the union ofces, attended plenaries, assemblies (at the level of the Sectional ofce and at the workplace), and other meetings; attended classes for new delegates run by both organizations; and attended demonstrations, press conferences, and other public events associated with union activity. Although to me initially it seemed that the fact that both sets of research subjects were unionists meant that comparison was relatively unproblematic, during the course of my later eldwork and as I present the ndings of this research I have continually needed to justify that comparison. Scholars, particularly in Argentina, frequently ask me why I conducted comparative research with public-sector workers and not Argentine street vendors or informal sector organizations, or Bolivian migrants in Buenos Aires, many of whom are also street vendors. The two groups, of informal-sector indigenous workers in one of the poorest cities of the region and middle-class state employees in one of the wealthiest, seem to them incommensurable (see Handler 2009). There was some discomfort even about the possibility of comparing Bolivia with Argentina, which may have something to do with an Argentine narrative of advancement relative to poorer countries in the region (see also ODonnell 1999: 92). Indeed, when I presented an early draft of this article at a seminar in Buenos Aires, a senior anthropologist commented explicitly that perhaps some of the concerns about the comparison I was attempting to make reected an unwillingness on the part of publicsector workers in Buenos Aires (i.e. academics) to be somehow made equivalent to indigenous informal-sector workers in El Alto. Comparison therefore arose as an issue during the course of my research, as I explained myself to informants and peers, and as I argued that comparison of what were felt to be very different groups is possible and valuable. One issue was the necessity to assert that comparison does not mean rendering the two equivalent; as Richard Handler points out in an important article on comparison in anthropology, in common usage, the verb to compare has two distinct
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meanings: on the one hand, to liken, to describe as similar; on the other hand, to note similarities and differences (2009: 627, original emphasis), and the dual meaning colours understandings of comparison. To begin with the similarities in this specic case, both sets of informants are sindicalistas or trade unionists operating in the context of a Latin American tradition of tension between corporatism and militant union activity. Both have their citizenship (relationship with the state, political agency) in some way mediated through their membership of corporate entities understood as trade unions. Moreover, I would argue that the differences between them do not in any case preclude comparison. The key is to be clear about what form of comparison is being attempted and under what conditions. I suggest that there is much to be gained by conducting a kind of comparison more like by what Strathern calls placing one thing next to another (2002: xvi), and attempting to get the data thus placed to talk to each other. When the things that we place next to each other are on the face of it very different, I call it disjunctive comparison. Disjunctive comparison is the notion that, methodologically, it is possible to compare unlike with unlike: in Michel Detiennes words, compare the incomparable (2008), in Handlers, the exploration of not just difference, but incommensurable difference, where incommensurability refers to the situation of phenomena that are, ostensibly, impossible to measure or compare in terms of the same metric (2009: 627, original emphasis). This kind of comparison is a feature inherent to anthropology: that which enables anthropologists to engage in a cultural dialogue between their own society and societies in the Trobriand Islands, Sudan, Northern Potos, and so on. Handler describes two main epistemological traditions of comparison within anthropology, the positivist and the interpretative. In the former, phenomena for comparison are understood as given and therefore available for comparative study across societies, a study which then tends to lead to conclusions about common causality, attributable perhaps to universal aspects of human nature (a question I discuss below). The more interpretative tradition decides on categories of comparison to orientate research, but approaches them as open questions. Thus, cross-cultural anthropological study of a category like the family leads to a reinterpretation of it as a model, both in the anthropologists world and in that being studied (Handler 2009: 627-9). Actually, both comparative traditions have had some deleterious effects, among them the exaggeration of difference and attendant exoticization of primitive societies, and the construction of units of comparison as bounded cultures with little to no direct interaction between them. Conversely, where due attention has been paid to these risks it has been very productive: for example, leading from early on to a discussion of implicit cultural assumptions in Western societies in the work of Mead and Benedict (Handler 2009). We might wish to be guarded about the politics of the ows of interpretation (using native philosophical understandings to better interpret or somehow improve Western ones), but there is no doubt that, as Handler argues, comparative studies of different kinds of incommensurability do open up possibilities for questioning our own assumptions (2009: 644). Marilyn Strathern herself is perhaps the mistress of disjunctive comparison, comparing as she does new reproductive technologies in the UK with Melanesian practices of exchange and kinship (Strathern 1992); even defending her comparison of contemporary English kinship with practices from 1970s Hagen that no longer exist today (see Holbraad & Pedersen 2009; Strathern 1999). While most anthropologists do not take it to that extreme, in practice most do some
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form of disjunctive comparison. Indeed, it is perhaps one of anthropologys most important contributions to social science method more widely.
Comparison: scientic and historical method

The idea of disjunctive comparison allows me to propose a comparison between street traders in El Alto and public-sector workers in Buenos Aires not because they are each a representative sample of some set of workers, or because they are similar in some way, but because it is possible to set two groups (or cultures, societies) alongside one another and see what comes out of an examination of their similarities and differences. This play with disjunction occurs where such a comparative project is at rst sight jarring, and I suggest that it can be thought of as an anthropological approach to comparison, in contrast to a more sociological one, which would be to compare the El Alto street traders with market women in Buenos Aires, or at least with informal-sector organizations. Indeed, my comparison between two different Argentinean public-sector workers unions is perhaps more sociological in that it compares (more) like with like.3 As such, it could perhaps be called a representative form of comparison, and it has also proven a very useful heuristic tool. In this article I do not claim that one form of comparison (disjunctive or representative) is better analytically than the other. Rather, I suggest that disjunctive comparison has the potential to raise questions that may not emerge through a more strictly representative form of comparison. I do not propose it as a pre-existing model that might direct comparative research from a projects inception. Instead, I want to suggest it as a concept that aids in thinking through ethnographic research and analysis, a process that is ongoing and responsive to the kinds of ethnographic material that many anthropologists gather over the course of their research careers. Despite the fact that the relationship between social anthropology and comparison is one of the most important constitutive elements of anthropology as a discipline, it is probably fair to say that most contemporary anthropologists have not interrogated comparison as rigorously as they have other aspects of method (although see Gingrich & Fox 2002 and Handler 2009 for important exceptions to this). One has only to think of the prominence given to ethics, for example, in postgraduate methods courses today in contrast to that accorded to comparison itself, despite the fact that many Ph.D.s have an explicitly comparative focus. Where social scientists, including anthropologists, have explicitly discussed comparison, they have generally approached it in one of two main ways. Either they equated comparison with large-scale and more explicitly scientic projects (e.g. Evans-Pritchard 1964 [1951]; Gingrich & Fox 2002; Murdock 1949; Radcliffe-Brown 1952), or they pointed to the almost literary comparisons of Frazer, Morgan, or Lvi-Strauss (e.g. Detienne 2008). Jean-Claude Passeron makes this differentiation explicit in his proposition of a distinction between forms of sociological reasoning organized according to a matrix where one pole, called historical narrative, is contrasted to the opposite pole of experimental reasoning, which runs from statistical reasoning to comparative reasoning (1991: 74).4 The large scale has been a feature of comparative history, too, such as in contemporary discussions of global history, or histoire croise (Kocka 2003; Werner & Zimmermann 2006). Within history, since Marc Blochs famous essay Toward a comparative history of European societies (1953 [1928]), tensions about comparison have been articulated as those between national historical traditions (specic) and ones that emphasize more global interactions (comparative) (Detienne 2008).
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The tension between small- and large-scale research focuses has been constitutive of the often tentative attempts to construct comparative social sciences and histories since their inception. Although perhaps the most important advocate of comparative history, Bloch himself was fairly restrictive about what he thought could be compared principally, neighbouring societies with connections that pre-existed national boundaries; and he emphasized the importance of single-subject monographs as a prerequisite for effective comparison. Like a majority of historians, many anthropologists have instinctively turned away from large-scale comparative work in recent decades. Yet this move may have been something of a mistake, for several reasons. First, the turn to highly specic contextual analysis may have thrown the baby (explicit comparison) out with the bathwater (the possibility of scientic objectivity). As Fox and Gingrich (2002) point out, not all comparison is necessarily bad. Second, forms of comparison other than a restrictive notion of large-scale, statistical, and so on, are must be possible, as the Gingrich and Fox (2002) collection amply demonstrates. In practice, there is of course a very distinguished tradition of late twentieth-century comparative anthropology that does not conform to this caricature.5 Third, and more pragmatically, current trends in research funding may encourage anthropologists down an even more comparative route. More explicit crosscultural comparison or comparison within a culture area is one of the potential outcomes of current Research Council-led research agendas for the social sciences, at least in the UK. The demands for interdisciplinarity and for collaborations between different institutions with which we are by now familiar require or facilitate different kinds of comparisons: cross-disciplinary if not cross-cultural. While there are obviously enormous problems with research being led by Research Council and not scholarly priorities, reacting to these trends either by submitting blindly or by resisting unthinkingly represents a lost opportunity in my view. Instead, I would like to propose that we take it as an opening to reect on precisely what is anthropological about anthropological comparison, and what its specic contribution to social science method might be.
Comparison, historicity, and scale

The possibility of comparison raises questions about history, relativism, and universalism debated within anthropology at least since Boass time (Boas 2006 [1940]). Most anthropologists today maintain a Boasian commitment to a detailed study of customs in their relation to the total culture of the tribe practicing them, in connection with an investigation of their geographical distribution among neighboring tribes (Boas 2006 [1940]: 61). But implicit in their commitment to such a position is, I think, also a commitment to the part of that quote which follows, where Boas argues that such a detailed construction of customs affords us almost always a means of determining with considerable accuracy the historical causes that led to the formation of the customs in question and to the psychological processes that were at work in their development (2006 [1940]: 61). Notable here is the view of history as causal and teleological, which was dominant in Anglo-Saxon narratives until historians own reaction against Whig versions of history in the mid-twentieth century. This version of history as the cause of cultural variation is also constitutive of twentieth-century American comparative anthropological studies of historical transformations, from Boas through to Wolf and Mintz (Fox 2002). Such a view, albeit itself transformed, may be at the root of the tendency of mid-century British social anthropologists to
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place history and comparison on either side of a mutually exclusive divide, along with, on one side, ethnology and anthropology as a humanities subject and, on the other, social anthropology and anthropology as science.6 Even though Leachs blistering attack on the structural-functionalist approach in his introduction to Political systems of Highland Burma (1954) steps back from both static universalism and an assumption of history as progress or teleological development, it retains a notion of history as process, as cause and effect. Perhaps ironically, though, anthropology also provides some of the tools to imagine a vision of history that is neither causal nor processual. This is evident not least in the ethnographic literature about indigenous understandings of history, as cyclical, place-based, or organized around conceptions of rupture (Harris 1995; Hill 1988; Rappaport 1994). The (AngloSaxon) lay notion that history repeats itself is another kind of comparison across time that does not necessarily require causality in order to work. Certain problems may be understood to recur through time say, the parallels between the 1929 stock market crash and the recent nancial crisis. However, we need not necessarily assume that the recurrence of these problems or events inevitably means that the causal relations that they reveal are exactly the same at different points in time or that the recurrences are themselves linked. In point of fact, in my view we need only assume this if at the same time we assume a thick version of a universal and unchanging human nature. Thus the assumption of history as process is conceptually linked to the assumption of a universal human nature. Yet I would argue that comparison across either space or time does not inevitably require us to accept either causality or a strong notion of universal human nature. The project of comparison I present here explicitly avoids the construction of general theory. It is neither quite so ambitious as to attempt conclusions about what might or might not be universal about human nature, nor does it posit causal relations. Undoubtedly, postmodernism and/or epistemological crises have done their work, and the universal conclusions that anthropologists can now allow themselves to make must be very limited. Michael Scotts proposition that humans seek to make order out of chaos is one such example (2005). Therefore, and as a good postmodernist, I intuitively reject universalism and so began my comparative project with much more afnity to the American notion of comparison across a cultural area (Benedict 1934; Boas 2006 [1940]), or perhaps Eggans controlled comparison, which seeks to compare phenomena at the middle range of theory: the utilization of the comparative method on a smaller scale [in comparison to Radcliffe Browns proposal in the 1951 Huxley lecture] and with as much control over the frame of comparison as it is possible to secure (Eggan 1954: 747-8). In that spirit, I am comparing trade unionists in Bolivia with trade unionists in Argentina. As thus formulated, the project compares similar groups of people within one cultural area South America. Rooted in a discussion of differing political-economic contexts, this research is therefore in one sense an investigation of historical variation in the connections between unionism, self, and citizenship, a project along the lines of those described by Fox (2002) inspired by the work of Eric Wolf (1997 [1982]) and Sidney Mintz (1985). However, I maintain a thin conceptualization of causality, keeping myself to a discussion of similarities and differences and making limited conclusions about their causes. Part of the comparative methods of Wolf and Mintz requires investigation of the explicit interactions between the two groups under discussion; an approach that such anthropologists have in common with the advocates of histoire croise. Apart
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from the fact that I never heard of direct interactions between the Bolivian street vendors associations and the Argentine public-sector workers unions, the question of interaction itself assumes a theory of history as causality that I nd restrictive and circular. If history is approached as causality and little else, we are conned ultimately to speculation about the reasons for similarities and differences, with, effectively, history as the explanation. Similarities become possible either through diffusion across a cultural area of a specic set of cultural techniques which are responses to the environment or to historical transformation, or because historical change itself provokes the same kind of response because of universal aspects of human nature. Differences can only be explained as a result of historical transformation itself: at one level a reductionist argument which posits that the differences between Bolivian street vendors and Argentine public-sector workers can be attributed largely to different political cultures in the two countries. In my view, this approach restricts the capacity of comparison to contribute in other ways to the understanding of different societies. However, neither is this research a scientic project of cross-cultural comparison. Indeed, I would argue that ethnographic data are not really suited to comparative methods inspired by the experimental mode of scientic comparison. This usually requires the use of some kind of control group, the theory behind which is, of course, that the careful selection of what to compare so as to identify common factors will make it easier to explain the differences. But in practice the complex relationship that ethnographic data has to scale makes such a strategy difcult, if not almost impossible. In Partial connections, Marilyn Strathern points out that one thing observed close to appears as perplexing as many things observed from afar ... The amount of information remains ... despite an increase in the magnitude of detail (2004 [1991]: xv-xvi; see also Holbraad & Pedersen 2009). With ethnographic data, the level of complexity is maintained as one zooms in. So, for example, in my case, although I have selected similar groups of informants because both call themselves or are called sindicalistas, what sindicalista actually means varies considerably between the two settings according to the different political contexts and historical trajectories of trade unionism in each country. Understanding this variation is combined with a direct comparison between the two situations that highlights some more general issues for the ethnography of citizenship. Although typically in Latin America trade unions have been mechanisms for governmental control of the working classes through corporatism, Bolivia has a notable history of oppositional trade unionism, from 1920s anarcho-syndicalism to the leading role of the Miners Federation in the revolution of 1952, followed by a brief period in government and then a much more oppositional stance from 1964 onwards (Lehm & Rivera Cusicanqui 1988; Lora 1977). The miners unions, and consequently the traditional workers central they led (the COB), were severely weakened as a result of the structural adjustment policies of the 1980s. These led to the ring of around 20,000 miners, and their relocalization to coca-growing areas or the migrant city of El Alto. As a result, the peasants are a group of workers who have re-emerged as key to Bolivian politics in recent years. The cocaleros that is, those peasants who farm coca have been particularly noticeable; their leader is Evo Morales, the current president. Others include the peasants of the high plain in the Peasant Confederation and the residents of El Alto. Importantly, all these groups are predominantly Aymara or Quechua, in a country where over 60 per cent of the population self-identies as indigenous.7 They
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combine union-based forms of collective organization with indigenous communitybased forms and practices of the Andean high plains.8 And the locus of political opposition and social movement organization has largely shifted to these new groups. But the different groups organize themselves very much along trade union (sindicalista) lines, explicitly so in the case of the cocaleros and the peasants, even where they combine such trajectories with an analysis of the political situation that privileges ethnicity as well as class. In contrast, the Argentine labour movement has a striking history of corporatism, having been intimately linked to the development of peronism since the mid-twentieth century, and despite an even more inuential anarcho-syndicalist movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Juan Perns close alliance with the labour movement represented by the ofcial Confederation (the CGT) and positive response to their demands for labour rights bears all the hallmarks of the classic corporatist state. Then and subsequently, organized labour became the spinal column of peronism, and after Perns exile in 1955, labour unions were at the forefront of the resistance to the military regimes of the time. After Perns brief return to power in 1973, his death in 1974, and the military coup in 1976, unionists maintained their oppositional position. ODonnell (1999) has described the horizontal mobilization of the popular sectors as a kind of anarchic corporatism, an aggressive assertion of egalitarianism within a situation of deep divisions and social hierarchy. As in Bolivia, neoliberal economic policies enacted both during the military regime and the 1990s represented a signicant attack on organized labour in Argentina (Munck, Galitelli & Falcon 1987). Carlos Menems government instigated a broad raft of structural adjustment policies, incorporating labour exibilization measures, decentralization, and the privatization of state enterprises. Concurrently, the peronist Justicialist Party de-unionized so that more household-based clientelistic relationships replaced corporatist ones as the link between the party and the poor (Auyero 2000; 2001; Levitsky 2003). Despite this, some factions of the CGT remained loyal to Menem, while others opted to take a critical position from within a broadly peronist tendency. In 1991, these broke away to form the CTA (Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina, Argentine Workers Central), a part of the labour movement that has sought to dene and maintain a position autonomous from the state. Of the two unions with which I conducted eldwork in 2009, one (UPCN) has remained in the CGT, while the other (ATE) is one of the most important unions in the CTA. The neoliberal period of the 1990s culminated in economic and social crisis in 2001-2. Yet, the subsequent recovery of peronism, in the person of, rst, Nestor Kirchner, then his wife, Cristina Fernndez de Kirchner, relies greatly on good relations with traditional labour organizations. As a result, there has been somewhat of a revitalization of the classic peronist trade unions in the CGT, as successive governments refuse to recognize the CTA and build neo-corporatist structures suitable to the contemporary political and economic climate (Etchemendy & Collier 2007). That said, as in Bolivia, there have been some shifts in the inuence of particular sectors and unions, which mirror global trends, where the move of manufacturing to different regions has combined with mechanization of manufacturing processes to mean that political protagonism has shifted to different groups of workers (Silver 2003). In the Bolivian case, this is the informal-sector workers, such as the El Alto street traders, the cocaleros, and the peasants. In Argentina, the truck-drivers now lead the CGT, and service-sector
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workers, including public-sector workers, have increased their political inuence signicantly.
Union membership as a creation of the self

Despite such different historical trajectories, placing data from these two contexts side by side calls forth insights that would not be available through a study of either one place or the other by itself. Here, I want to focus on one aspect of that, which is the relationship between union activism, particular kinds of creation of the self, and citizenship. Union activism both creates and requires particular forms of political subjectivity, which in turn impact upon citizenship experience and quality differentially in Bolivia and Argentina. In this article, I approach this question with respect to the generation of collective and/or individualistic senses of self. Importantly, I nd that there are different ways that the collective self is constructed in both El Alto and Buenos Aires, a difference that I suggest has implications for how we understand citizenship in the two spaces, and that would not be as evident in a study of either society on its own. In this section of the article, I discuss this through an exploration of the ways that unionists in both cities express their motivations for joining and taking an active role in their organization. Leaders of the El Alto Federation of Street Traders and other collective organizations in the city spoke of their leadership in a number of idioms, emphasizing hardship, sacrice, an ethic of serving the membership, the fact that it was their turn, and also a sense of pride, largely connected to their ability to serve their community. I want to group these values together as expressing the compulsory aspect of activism or leadership. Becoming a leader of an organization was often somehow taken for granted, as a move that is simply part of being a full adult person. For example, leaders frequently commented that they could not refuse the position when offered. Doa Antonia Narvaez said that she took up the position of Secretary General of her association, which was formed by residents of her neighbourhood who sell outside their houses, for the following reason: Since I had never done anything for the neighbourhood or for the association, well, all of a sudden they nominated me Secretary. In another context, this was the account of the newly instituted Secretary of Sports and Young People in the Junta Vecinal of the neighbourhood of Rosas Pampa:
They gave me the position of Sports Secretary because I, well, Ive lived in this neighbourhood it must be since about 76. Im really one of the rst residents [of the neighbourhood] and since I get on pretty well with the young people, for that reason they gave me this position.

When asked if he could have refused the job, he said not really: Also, people know you ... I dont think that you can refuse because when someone speaks, I think that also if youre going to talk you have to respond by working too. As well as indicating that he had to take up the leadership position because he had talked (i.e. criticized the previous leaders), the passive voice he uses hints at the fact that if you are apt for the job, at some point it becomes your turn. This is particularly the case for ofce-holding in neighbourhood associations, but it is also true for trade unions. It reects leadership processes in the countryside, where positions in both community organizations and peasant unions rotate between households (Abercrombie 1998; Carter & Mamani 1989; Klemola 1997).
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Andean ethnographies tend to view community leadership in the countryside as an obligation that is usually very expensive: prestige and duty prevail over material interest (Abercrombie 1998; Carter & Mamani 1989; Klemola 1997). In interviews, street traders spoke to me of leadership at both association and Federation level as very difcult. Both men and women talked of nancial hardship, and of the amount of their time that was taken up with leadership responsibilities, sometimes taking them away from their families. They also pointed to criticism from afliates as a constant problem for them. However, for many, being a leader was also a source of pride (orgullo):
The only thing is that it brings pride, the pride of saying I, as a leader, I achieved this, I defended that person, or I spent time with that person ... There are times when one says Id like to stop being a leader. But you cant. Many times when you hear some problem that is happening in some place, or someone is working against the traders, or an authority is wanting to attack them, you say why can they attack? If I were a leader, I could defend [the traders]. So, theres no chance of easily letting down our comrades in the streets.

Many of the leaders stressed that they were proud to work for the Federation, even if it was at times difcult for them. They had been nominated for that position, and so they were committed members of the executive committee. For them, the one followed from the other, and the ethical value that made it possible was pride, not individual selfinterest; pride (orgullo) is the prestige that comes from fullling an obligation to the community. I should stress that the dominance of this discursive construction does not mean that there are no tensions or problems between afliates and the leaders in El Alto; quite the opposite. Indeed, the emphasis on the obligatory nature of leadership and on the fact that leaders must serve their membership is in itself a means of asserting those values in the face of leaders who do not live up to them. It is accompanied by constant rumours of corruption, accusations that leaders are personalist (personalistas), (self-)interested (interesados), that they seek to full their personal appetites (buscan sus apetitos personales), or have sold themselves for a plate of lentils,9 of which the leaders are acutely aware. For the purposes of my argument here, though, I want to highlight the fact that the idiom of the relationship between leader and members relies upon the construction of a collective sense of self which itself has a compulsory quality. In contrast, my interviews with trade unionists in Buenos Aires and my experience of training programmes for new delegates bring out a different constellation of values, motivations, and understandings of leadership, in which individual will (voluntad) takes much greater prominence. In this section, I want to highlight how this works with respect to an ethic of militancy militancia. Here, notions of individual and collective selfhood operate differently from the Bolivian case, with the main axis of difference being the role that will plays. In interviews, delegates from both trade unions spoke in terms of vocation, commitment, a desire to help, to change society, or simply liking being in collective contexts. The repetition of the notion of vocation in particular gives an insight into interviewees understanding of the dominant narrative of motivation for belonging, one that they considered acceptable for consumption on the record by a foreign researcher. The idea of vocation was constantly reiterated in the introductory training
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sessions run by one union for new delegates; and placed against the backdrop of family, friends, and colleagues not understanding and even stigmatizing their participation in trade union activity. An equally common concept was that of militancia, which was used in interviews to name an activity rather than justify it, as the idea of vocation does. For a signicant proportion of delegates, the trade union is a space in which they can enact their political or social militancia. This may be as a peronist, or as a member of other more centre-left political coalitions. Beyond the realm of electoral politics, the concept of militancia also evokes a more diffuse notion of a kind of leftist political or social activism, which has signicant historical resonances. There is a strong connection between the notion of militancia and Argentinas history of dictatorship through the association of the concept with leftist activity in the 1970s, and pro-human rights activism thereafter. One particularly inuential work on militancia is based on oral histories of leftist activism from 1966-78, and is even called La voluntad (Anguita & Caparrs 1997-2001). For my informants, militancia referred to a wide range of political activity. For most, it simply denoted active membership of a trade union, in other words being a delegate as opposed to an afliate. Indeed, union delegates were possibly a larger proportion of the militantes disappeared by the military dictatorships of 1976-83 than the more romantic guerrilla ghters (CONADEP 1984; Mason 2007). Some of the older interviewees talked of their militancia in various unions according to where they had worked. Miguel Romero, for example, practised his militancia in two unions and a Catholic youth organization before coming to ATE.
OK, how can I put it? I come from the industrial unions, I was a delegate in the cobblers union [Sindicato del Calzado], in the 60s. After that I worked in General Motors, in Mechanics, the Mechanics Union here, is the Union of Mechanics and Related Workers, and the Metallurgy Workers Union [Sindicato de Mecnicos y Anes y la Unin Obrera Metalrgica] ... I worked in General Motors, and so we militated [militamos] but in the base, not the union. I was national president of the Catholic Workers Youth [Juventud Obrera Catlica], in the period from 67 to 70 ... And I came to militar in ATE, not as an old man, but yes after passing through various unionist experiences in other organizations (Romero, 8 April 2009).

Some other ATE delegates, especially younger ones, articulated their militancia as participation in the CTA. The CTA is the workers central founded in 1992 that rivals the ofcial peronist CGT.10 Marina Girondo, for example, came to ATE from a militancia rst in HIJOS, the organization of children of those disappeared during the military dictatorship of 1976-83, and then in the CTA. From there she moved to ATE, a move she attributes to personal connections made during her militancia at the CTA. Delegates from the other union, UPCN, tended to focus their description of their militancia more tightly on their membership of the union, but also commonly talked about their militancia for political parties, including both the Justicialist Party and the Radicals. Another common idiom of political membership for them was the expression soy peronista, I am peronist. In part, it is the use of the verb ser (as opposed to estar) which indicates that being a peronist is an essential characteristic of the speaker.11 This impression is also conveyed by the way it is spoken: either in a very matter of fact, almost throwaway tone, in the same way that one would say Im Argentinean; or contrastingly with conviction, to make a point and stress the essence of being peronist.
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In both formal interviews and informal conversations, people spoke passionately about being peronist as an identity. In a training session, one facilitator attributed her peronism to the fact of being born on 17 October, the day which commemorates mass demonstrations led by Evita to demand the release of Juan Pern from prison in 1945. Sometimes people spoke of being peronists with quite a defensive tone, as if it were something they needed to assert in the face of perceived antipathy; at other times they were proud of their peronist identity. On still other occasions, it just was presented as fact, such as when workshop trainers asked peronists in the audience to identify themselves by raising their hands in order to frame a discussion about how peronist UPCN was as a union.12 But being a peronist is always a matter of essence, never simply the decision to join an organization or to place a cross next to a particular name during an election. Being peronist is more often than not depicted as transcendent, beyond individual choice. Militancia and related concepts (such as vocation or voluntad) are ethics of creation of the self and of political subjectivity. Peoples experience and creation of their own miltancia is cross-cut by individuality and collectivity: because militancia is expressed as individual will or political conviction, or with a strong component of basic and interior identity, but it is experienced as part of a collective. Informants expressed desire to change society or the state, their need to do something, was crucially linked to a conviction that the impetus for change must come through collective organization. Of course, someone convinced of the need for change but not convinced of the need for collective organization would probably not be a trade union delegate, and therefore would not feature in my sample of research participants. However, it is noteworthy that the form through which many Argentines including signicant numbers of young people choose to express that conviction and thereby exercise their citizenship collectively is the trade union form. Even the CTA is essentially structured along the lines of a trade-union-like federation of different civic organizations, with trade unions at its core. Militancia should be understood as an ethics of activism that is about an affective attachment to either a philosophy/politics or an organization or group of people. It is about the interior lives of activists, but also completely collective, in the sense that it is enacted collectively, through the union. It is not presented as purely an individual choice but considerable rhetorical emphasis is placed upon individual will, articulated often as a liking for union activity or a passionate commitment to a specic political project. In contrast, in El Alto, the decision to become a leader is very much naturalized as something that one does at a particular stage of ones life. As in the Andean countryside, a leadership position is supposed to ow from full adulthood. It is an obligation rather than a choice, but an obligation that is experienced as non-coercive, as with the obligation to participate in community work projects discussed by Olivia Harris (2007). The challenge is to unpick the kinds of collectivity, obligation, will, and selfhood implied in the different discourses about membership, and thence to work through how that affects citizenship.

What does this comparison have to say about citizenship?

Citizenship can be analysed as a bundle of practices that constitute encounters between the state and citizens (Aretxaga 2003), rather than purely a legal status accorded to those who are full members of a community, in T.H. Marshalls now
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normative denition (1983 [1950]). Anthropologists are not alone in suggesting that the constitution of any given community requires a considerable amount of work, and that meaningful membership is more than just the possession of a particular status or set of rights and responsibilities. Political and social theorists have also viewed citizenship as a set of practices, especially related to participating in politics (Lister 1997; Oldeld 1990; Turner 1993). If this argument is accepted, the processes and practices that make someone into a full member of a given community become at least as important as the end result itself. We can understand citizenship to be about not just the individual-state relationship, but also, crucially, political agency, not least because we are then able to take into account the dynamism and particularism of citizenship quality. Citizenship quality has something to do with the nature of the political agency of different citizens: common notions such as full citizenship or active versus passive citizenship turn on the ability of citizens to affect politics, namely to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. My contention in this article is that articulations of union activism are important for understanding citizenship practices because in both El Alto and Buenos Aires citizenship as political agency is to a large extent mediated by collective organizations. This pulls against liberal formations of citizenship as universal, individual, and therefore unmediated, whereas comparing Bolivia and Argentina shows us that both societies have important citizenship formations that are collective in nature. It would be possible to stop there, and make this article an investigation of different forms of mediated citizenship in Latin America, which we could posit has something to do with common historical causal factors, such as experiences of corporatism, dictatorship, Spanish conquest, US imperialism, or somehow being Latin American. In my view, highlighting the similarities between Argentina and Bolivia is important given a widespread idea in Argentina that society is more individualistic and more European than other parts of Latin America, particularly areas with large indigenous populations such as Bolivia. However, I think that the comparison does something distinctive in addition, which is to explore how notions of the self mediate collective citizenship in both cases. It does so through the analysis of a difference between the two groups, namely in the way that will (voluntad) is articulated at the heart of constructions of political selfhood. In the city of El Alto, individual citizenship is mediated through membership in different corporate entities (Lazar 2008; see also Wanderley 2009). Because many of these, including trade unions, bring together people who are self-employed, the state (rather than their employer) is their principal interlocutor. The experience of citizenship for citizens of El Alto is therefore utterly entwined with practices of collective organization on the basis of residence or occupation (Lazar 2008). This is especially so because membership of these organizations is not precisely voluntary: all parents of the children at one particular school are members of the school parents council; all those who sell in a particular street are members of the relevant street vendors association; all minibus drivers who drive a particular route are members of that union. The environment in Buenos Aires in terms of the level and importance of collective organization is more variable than El Alto: for example, the level of trade unionism is difcult to calculate, but may be 39 per cent among registered (i.e. formal) workers in the private sector and over 60 per cent in the public sector, varying between the different administrative entities.13 But formal-sector trade unions have been crucial for citizenship in Argentina since the mid-twentieth century, when full citizenship was
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most readily available to formal-sector workers. This is especially evident with respect to social rights, which were granted on the model of the male breadwinner in a registered job and administered by the trade unions (Grassi 2003; Usami 2004). Since the rst regime of Juan Pern (President 1946-55, Minister for Labour 1943-6), the political participation of non-elite men and their families has been articulated principally through the organized labour movement or the military (James 1988). And even Carlos Menem was unable to fully dismantle the basic citizenship equation whereby (a) full citizenship rights are recognized by the government for formal-sector workers and (b) the articulation between the workers and the state is mediated by trade unions. The combination of these two factors means a highly collective form of substantive citizenship for a signicant proportion of those who have the formal status of citizen. Thus, in both El Alto and Buenos Aires, signicant numbers of citizens actualize or experience their citizenship through membership of collective organizations. And one issue that comes out very strongly as a result of the comparison between the two spaces is that of will, choice, and obligation. As the above analysis has shown, voluntad plays a crucial role in Argentina in the creation of the self through the practice of militancia. This sense of the self as political activist, with all its historical resonances, gives meaning to delegates political activity, and helps them continue in the face of societal scepticism about them and their organization. It is the foundation of their practice and selfperception as agentive citizens within a collective organization. The formation of political agency (citizenship) through particular understandings of the self operates in a different way in El Alto, largely through the naturalization of leadership and membership placing both beyond choice, even will. In El Alto, one simply is a member of a determined number of political collectivities. Leadership is in practice less compulsory, since people can be absent from the meeting that votes in a leader, or, once voted in, they can (and frequently do) not full their leadership responsibilities. But it is spoken of as something natural, that comes in the course of ones life and that one simply does, or is. In Buenos Aires, there are shades of such compulsory political activism in the way that peronists talk about being peronist, but not about union leadership per se. The second sense in which choice is important is the breadth of membership understood as a proportion of the possible members of collective organizations. This question is important for assessing the extent to which any given citizenship formation is mediated, and there is a clear difference between El Alto and Buenos Aires. It is almost impossible for citizens of El Alto to be citizens without being members of some kind of collective organization, both because of a general orientation towards collective mobilization, and because of the ways that membership is structured that is, you cannot do some jobs (which are, incidentally, some of the most important sources of employment in the city) without being a member of a union.14 In contrast, in Buenos Aires, there is a much greater premium placed on individual will when it comes to membership of a political collectivity. Afliation to a union, and thereafter the level of active participation (agentive citizenship), are both perceived as a commitment that public-sector workers make.15 It is important that signicant numbers of middle-class public sector workers do take such a decision.16 So how do the different versions of decision-making (will, choice, obligation) impact upon citizenship experience or quality? I would argue that the fact that citizens of El Alto do not have much individual choice about whether to join some kind
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of civic organization and that a minimum level of participation is expected from members means that those collectivities have a considerable amount of political power at particular historical conjunctures. This was especially evident in October 2003, when the Bolivian president was forced to resign by massive popular protest. But that political power must be articulated through mass politics, specically street demonstrations. With respect to public-sector workers in Buenos Aires, their citizenship certainly can be articulated through the mass politics of street demonstrations, but that form of politics is viewed as a means of last resort by UPCN in particular. ATE delegates are out on the streets all the time, but their demonstrations are small and they have very little general political power as a result. It is also the case that potential afliates are put off from joining ATE because they see it as too radical, too quick to take to the streets with drums, or too draining of their personal energy. So the possibilities for collective political agency that is, collective citizenship are shaped by and in turn shape understandings of group membership. There is also the peculiarity that membership of collective organizations at the level of the popular classes was especially strong in Bolivia at a time when central government was widely perceived as utterly distant from the popular classes, even antagonistic towards them. The divisions fell along ethnic grounds, with indigenous highlanders feeling and being utterly excluded from government, which was run by white elites. Collective organizations were the only way that people could be heard by the state, as Fernanda Wanderley (2009) has convincingly demonstrated. In contrast, the situation for the middle classes in contemporary Buenos Aires is a fairly widespread apathy towards the government, but not outright rejection, and certainly not the active rejection of early 2000s El Alto or of the 2001 crisis in Argentina. Perhaps one could suggest that among groups with a reasonably strong identication with those who govern them, active membership of a trade union is something that must be consciously worked on, by the emphasis on will and political commitment, and via the explicit provision of services to afliates and training for delegates. Where that identication is weak, membership may be felt as more of a necessity and therefore more naturalized. In these two situations, then, the relationship between the representativity of central government and the vibrancy of the labour movement should be put into question as one of the fault-lines of citizenship. It would be too easy to make too neat a set of causal connections and argue that unrepresentative government will necessarily correlate with vibrant social/labour movements, whereas societies with more representative governments will exhibit general apathy towards collective mobilization. Certainly, historical experience plays a part, as do cultural matters such as the long-standing tradition of community organization in the Bolivian Highlands. In Argentina there is a different but also substantial tradition of mobilization (and militancia), and a favourable legal environment for unionism. But it is true to say that the outcomes of political apathy are less damaging for middle-class citizens of Buenos Aires than for poor rural-urban migrants in El Alto at the beginning of the twenty-rst century, who did not see any part of themselves reected in central government before Evo Morales assumed the presidency at the beginning of 2006. The comparison undertaken here also leads to some propositions about senses of self in the two political contexts. Exploring the different forms of collectivity operating in discourses and processes of leadership and membership within trade unions leads me to distinguish both the El Alto and Buenos Aires forms from another narrative of
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union membership which is much more common (if not dominant) in the UK. That is one of an exchange of participation in return for individual benets: participation in the union bringing benets in terms of increased labour protection and rights. This parallels how citizenship is popularly conceptualized in the UK. Similar narratives do exist in El Alto or Buenos Aires, as the benets of union membership or leadership might be attained through corruption, or perceived as access to services, or formalization of work contracts. However, the importance of the group in both contexts is qualitatively different from the UK, where it is more common to assume that individuals make interest-based calculations of the benets of belonging to the group against the costs of afliation.17 Such an analysis is certainly possible for both El Alto and Buenos Aires; indeed, unionists often complained that prospective members were only ever interested in what they might get out of membership. None the less, in my initial comparison between El Alto and the UK, I found the cost-benet explanation I was most familiar with inadequate. I responded by arguing that it relies upon a notion of the person as interest-bearing individual, the possessive individualism (Macpherson 1962) of liberal ideas of citizenship, which rely upon a commoditized vision of the person (Strathern 1988) as a bounded individual who owns a set of rights, responsibilities, and interests, and that such conceptions did not work in El Alto because of a more relational, collective sense of self there, which contrasts with Western possessive (and bounded) individualism (Lazar 2008). The research in Buenos Aires explored a different form of collectivity, one based on choice and will, which operates within a context that is more Western than in El Alto. The contrasting ways that will, choice, and obligation construct political agency highlight a difference in how mediated citizenship is shaped by notions of the self. A study of either El Alto or Buenos Aires on their own would in practice have meant that the implicit comparison with UK, liberal notions of the self and citizenship would have taken precedence, missing this aspect. Thus, through an explicit strategy of comparison, my initial contrast between individual and collective-relational conceptions of self and citizenship is being rened into one that takes into account different kinds of relationality in the construction of self and citizenship. In this article I have offered a modest contribution to the wider project I advocated at the beginning: namely a reection on precisely what is anthropological about anthropological comparison, and what its specic contribution to social science method might be. I have done so through the exploration of the following set of questions: what is the nature of citizenship in two quite different places, what does the comparison itself illuminate, and what does this show about comparison as method? At its most minimal, the process of comparison described here has led to the identication of questions for further research: into the nature of political activism as different forms of creation of self and group, and how different understandings and practices of will, choice, and obligation relate to citizenship. What, then, does this show about comparison as method? First, I want to reiterate the basic argument of this article, which is a call to value but also to reect upon comparison as a constitutive part of the discipline of anthropology. Second, I want to argue that comparison should not be automatically placed upon one side of a line that divides it from rigorous historicity and the development of contextual knowledge; but neither should it be assumed to be inherently more scientic than the latter. Careful attention to context can be put into play with comparison to call forth insights and questions into, in this case, the collective self
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and mediated citizenship and the relationship of that to particular political contexts, alongside a deeper appreciation of different forms of collective self.
NOTES Field research in Argentina on which this article is based was funded by a grant from the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research; that in Bolivia by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and the University of Cambridge Centre of Latin American Studies. I am grateful to Henrietta Moore, Harri Englund, and the Editor and anonymous readers of this article for their very helpful comments on earlier drafts; and also to participants in research seminars at IDES, Buenos Aires, and the universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Liverpool, and St Andrews. 1 Here, the phrase public-sector workers covers a wide range of occupations civil servants in ministries and municipal departments, also hospital workers (including nurses but not doctors), lab-workers, technicians and artists employed by state-run theatres, academics, and some educational workers (although not teachers). 2 48 per cent moderate poverty, 17 per cent in extreme poverty. Source: Estadsticas e Indicadores Socioeconmicos del Municipio de El Alto. Nota de Prensa no. 20. Instituto Nacional de Estadsticas (INE). In the 2001 census, 74.25 per cent of residents of El Alto self-identied as Aymara. Information available at http://www.ine.gov.bo. See Lazar (2008) for a detailed description of the city. 3 I am grateful to Maria Ines Fernandez for this observation. 4 Rcit historique: histoire histoirienne and synthse historique; raisonnement exprimental: raisonnement statistique and raisonnement comparatif (Passeron 1991). 5 For example, Kapferer (1988), Parry & Bloch (1989), Taussig (1980). 6 Evans-Pritchard, for example, argued for the importance of historiography-like methods within social anthropology when maintaining that anthropology was properly viewed as belonging to the humanities rather than the natural sciences (1964 [1951]). 7 Source: Census 2001, National Institute of Statistics. 8 The relative balance between the two forms varies according to geographical location, with some communities incorporating unionism to a much greater extent than others. Some academics view Western unionism as antagonistic to indigenous communitarian traditions (Rivera Cusicanqui 1990), while others propose a mixing between the two (Garcia Linera 2001). 9 One Argentine academic wryly commented to me that the leaders of Argentinean trade unions are basically the same, just more expensive. 10 The CTA is constructing a political project to rival the peronist CGT, based on a kind of social movement unionism. The two main unions are ATE and the teachers federation, and it includes youth groups, neighbourhood- and territory-based groups, unemployed workers, and small unions that rival the ofcially recognized one in their trade. 11 Spanish has two forms of the verb to be, which denote condition (estar) and essence (ser) for example, soy feliz means I am happy by nature, whereas estoy feliz means Im happy now. 12 This is a much more complicated and contested issue for UPCN unionists than that of their individual peronist or non-peronist identity. 13 Adriana Marshall and Laura Perelman (2004) estimated a rate of unionization in the public sector of 64.5 per cent in 2001; but estimates generally are difcult to achieve, and unionization varies according to administrative entity. In the private sector, approximately 39 per cent of registered workers are unionized (Senn Gonzalez, Trajtemberg & Medwid 2009). In the city and the peri-urban surrounding areas, levels of neighbourhood organization differ according to the neighbourhood, but consist of cultural and social centres as well as local political organizations, including those of the unemployed workers as well as the Partido Justicialista the peronist political party (Auyero 2000). 14 Public-sector work is not one of these, ironically, but corporate membership is still of consequence in El Alto, indeed crucial, but the relevant collectivity is the political party rather than labour union. 15 The choice is conditioned also by the fact that they can choose which union to join, in contrast to private-sector workers, where there is a monopoly of union representation by occupation. 16 This recognition comes from the comparison between the two Latin American countries and the UK. Many Argentines think that unionization is low, especially among the middle classes, whereas actually it compares very favourably with the UK, where unionization is, by one estimate, 27 per cent of the whole workforce: 16 per cent in the private sector and 57 per cent in the public sector: http://www.workerparticipation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations/Countries/United-Kingdom (accessed 1 February 2012).

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17 Note: this proposition does not come from ethnographic eldwork in the UK; rather, it is from a native understanding of my own professional and local context.

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Comparaison disjonctive : citoyennet et syndicalisme en Bolivie et en Argentine


Rsum Le prsent essai constitue une analyse ethnographique de la notion de comparaison travers lexamen dune recherche comparative sur le rle des syndicats dans la constitution de la citoyennet El Alto, en Bolivie, et Buenos Aires en Argentine. partir dun travail de terrain men auprs des marchands de rue El Alto et des employs du secteur public Buenos Aires, lauteure introduit la notion de comparaison disjonctive comme mode de comparaison intrinsquement anthropologique. Larticle met ensuite en application ses propositions sur la spcicit et la validit de la comparaison disjonctive, par le biais dune exploration ethnographique de lappartenance syndicale comme mode de cration du soi et de lagencit politique. Lauteure conclut en reliant cette analyse du soi et de lagency la citoyennet sur ses deux sites de terrain.

Sian Lazar is a Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Division of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, UK. She is the author of El Alto, rebel city: self and citizenship in Andean Bolivia (Duke University Press, 2008). University of Cambridge, Department of Anthropology, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF, UK. sl360@ cam.ac.uk

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 18, 349-368 Royal Anthropological Institute 2012