ASA Conference 2004, Durham - Locating the field

Constructing the local

The vicissitudes of locality in late modernity: remembered, imagined, privatised

Mobility and locality in Isluga, northern Chile

Dr Penny Dransart, University of Wales, Lampeter

As llama herders who followed/follow horizontal and vertical cycles of movement, Isluga people in the highlands of northern Chile have long been nomadic. More recently greater numbers of families have acquired trucks and family members have travelled as far as the Netherlands in order to purchase lorries. Isluga families have started to employ Chilean creoles to assist in the transportation of goods to Bolivia, and Bolivian herders to care for their herds during their absences from the highlands. Many Isluga people now have residences in other communities, e.g. in Iquique or in a new town called Alto Hospicio, where their children attend school. This paper examines the travels of Isluga people in the context of their constructions of locality. In the Andes, concepts of space and time have long been blurred. The paper investigates Isluga notions of ‘space-time compression’ in the light of people’s mobility. It is based on extensive and intensive periods of fieldwork carried out over fifteen years, and it demonstrates that reports of the death of conventional fieldwork have been greatly exaggerated.

The view from the verandah: locality, fieldwork and the production of knowledge in a South African city

Dr Leslie Bank, Visiting Research Fellow, Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge

The paper revisits and updates the Xhosa in Town Trilogy, a set of classic urban anthropological studies based on research in the African locations of the coastal city of East London in South Africa during the 1950s. The paper is particularly interested in the relationship between locality, fieldwork and the production of knowledge in these studies. The main aim of the original Xhosa in Town project was to explore the social and cultural consequences of urbanisation on the Xhosa-speaking African residents of this South African city. The studies describe two diametrically opposed responses to urbanisation in East London’s African locations. They suggest that not all urban residents and labour migrants embraced modernisation, European values and Christianity, as some scholars were suggesting, but that there were many long-term city migrants, who openly rejected European and Christian values. This grouping, known as the Reds (or abantu ababomvu, also amaqaba), were said to actively reconstruct a rurally-orientated Xhosa sub-culture in the city, which was diametrically opposed to the cultural orientation of the School people (or abantu basesikolweni). The books illustrated both the resilience of rural values and outlooks in an urban context, as well as the speed and determination with which many urban Africans embraced new cultural influences. They became anthropological classics in the 1960s and were reprinted several times before being updated in the 1970s.

Since the 1960s, the Trilogy has generated intense debate within anthropology, especially in southern Africa, and has also attracted strong criticism for certain quarters. The Mayer’s detailed and fascinating account of Red migrant life in East London’s locations was seen by some as an endorsement of Apartheid since it seemed to suggest that the enduring attachment of Red migrants to their rural homestead was simply a matter of personal choice, rather a consequence of a racially enforced system of labour migration. But while debates have raged about the theoretical and political underpinnings of this work, no-one has ever tackled this work from a methodological point of view and returned to the old locations of East London where the original research was undertaken to assess the original research. This is where my paper hopes to makes a contribution. It attempts to re-assess the 1950s field research of the Trilogy contributors by exploring their spatial and social strategies as fieldworkers in a attempt to discover why these studies produced the kind of knowledge they did. Why did these anthropologists see certain things and not others? And what did they not see and why? I attempt to show in the paper that the view of the city developed in this work was essentially a view from the house and the yard and that a very different understanding of the urban dynamic of these township might have been accessible to these researchers has they spent more time in the public spaces of the verandah, the street, the tearooms, and the dancehall.

Somali-Scandinavian dreaming: visions of home and return in Somscan and UK Cooperative Associations

Nauja Kleist, Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen; Visiting Research Student, Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex

The paper focuses on the Somali-Scandinavian-British project called ’Somscan and UK Co-operation Associations’. The Somscan project is a transnational umbrella organisation, which stated aim is to rebuild and return to Somaliland through the collective acquisition of land and the establishment of a new ‘Scandinavian’ neighbourhood just outside the town of Burao. The paper explores the organisation of Somscan and their visions, dreams and problems in relation to the establishment of this new neighbourhood and their possible return. The main questions I raise here concern how the interviewed Somscan members engage in the project and why they do it – or rather how they articulate their reasons and dreams of return and their fields of belonging. Another set of questions concern the Scandinavian context: how does the status and standing of Somalis in the country of residence shape or influence their transnational engagement? As the Somalis as a whole constitute a very marginalised group in Denmark and more generally in Scandinavia and the UK, the question is whether and how these processes of marginalisation relate to their engagement in rebuilding Somaliland. These issues both relate to discourses of gender and issues of status in Denmark and within the diaspora. The paper is based on interviews with Somalis in Denmark, Somaliland and the UK.