EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


The politics of brokerage: intimate interconnections and spaces of collaboration

Location S-403
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Martijn Koster (Radboud University ) email
Yves Van Leynseele (University of Amsterdam) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel discusses the variegated settings in which contemporary brokers thrive. It aims to reinvigorate the classic debate on brokerage as traditional politics toward analyzing it as producing complex intimacies, novel collaborations and material spaces in an interconnected world.

Long Abstract

In an interconnected world, brokerage processes become increasingly valuable in order to gain access to resources, technologies and value-imbued networks. Brokers are mediators, translators and mergers who fill the gap between actors, discourses and moralities, whilst constructing their identities and reconstituting spaces of collaboration. They may mobilize relational spaces for enhancing broad-based participation, but may equally appropriate space in a bid for closure of practice.

Brokers may give expression to a community logics centering on intimate and informal relationships. Brokers may be part of "traditional" politics, in which they draw on their vested authority to bridge the sociopolitical distance between power-holders and constituencies. In other settings, they have entered or reclaimed their position in political fields typified by political disorientation and pluralism, occupying tasks and voids left by a retreating state.

We welcome papers on the politics of brokerage in different settings across the globe. Papers may focus on brokerage as producing complex intimacies and novel collaborations between different groups. They may zoom in on the, often ambivalent, role of the broker. They may deal with recent changes in which brokerage has (re)gained a foothold where new technologies evolve or the state retreats, e.g. in the field of welfare provision, development and citizenship. We envisage the rethinking of classic anthropological themes of brokerage, clientelism and patronage towards analyses of brokers' cultural backgrounds, styles and repertoires and an understanding of the materiality and spatiality of brokerage as it shapes specific sites of engagement and constructs boundary objects.

Discussant: Deborah James (The London School of Economics and Political Science)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Indebtedness in South Africa: mediated capitalism

Author: Deborah James (LSE)  email

Short Abstract

Indebtedness in South Africa occurs in a setting where forces of state and market intertwine to create a redistributive neoliberalism, in which opportunists and intermediaries insert themselves into the cracks and charge interest in the process.

Long Abstract

Borrowing possibilities expanded rapidly after South Africa's democratic elections. This credit/debt revolution did not uniformly intensify the character of capitalism in that country, but mediated it: forces of state and market intertwine to create a redistributive neoliberalism, making "money from nothing" means people insert themselves into the cracks and charge interest in the process. In the process of over a century of the country's rapid transition, spaces have continually opened up for opportunists, brokers and intermediaries. In an era when the race-based separation of the population into discrete spatialised territories was proceeding apace, there was extensive reliance by traders and commercial operators on agents who bridged the gap between the white-owned world of increasingly formal business and the rural/township world of economic informality. Often these chameleon-like figures were difficult to classify or pigeonhole since they assumed the features of those employing them (or those to whom they were representing their employers). As time passed, agents started setting up on their own, trying to peddle a range of goods to others from similar backgrounds, and always relying on credit to do so. The paper illuminates this situation; illustrating how difficult it is to separate "bad" from "good" protagonists; "perpetrators" from "victims," or "benefactors" from "beneficiaries." Many who lend money borrow it as well; borrowers are also lenders. Intermediaries have a key role in establishing current credit landscape. If financialisation is to be held to account for the situation, it is also a kind of "financialisation from below".

Negotiated sovereignties and community land administration in Yei, South Sudan

Authors: Mathijs Van Leeuwen (Radboud University Nijmegen)  email
Yves Van Leynseele (University of Amsterdam)  email
Marlie van de Kerkhof (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on land administration in Yei, South Sudan. It explains how traditional leaders, chiefs, military and state actors reposition themselves and renegotiate authority over land.

Long Abstract

This paper, based on 5 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Yei, South Sudan, focuses on the negotiation of authority over land. War, displacement and recent speculations about land-grabbing by foreign investors have resulted in confusion regarding authority over land, opening up an arena in which diverse public authorities reposition themselves. In this post-conflict setting land governance relations are being renegotiated.

Reconfiguring authority over land is an incremental part of statebuilding. This paper shows that this process of 'statebuilding from below' goes beyond a state-customary divide. In trying to secure authority, diverse sovereignties legitimize their own claims over land, while delegitimizing the claims of others. As the Government of South Sudan claims to acknowledge tradition by incorporating chiefs into local land governance structures through their decentralization efforts, other traditional leaders enact their authority less in provided state spaces. This paper illustrates how traditional leaders invoke tradition and claim authority more at village level.

In the dynamic process of constant negotiation and reordering of authority, this paper argues, tradition and the notion of community is reinvented in ways that beg critical questions as to what type of citizenship rights and tenure arrangement are unfolding.

[please, notice that Marlie van de Kerkhof is first author, though in her absence I submit on her behalf]

The identity politics of brokerage: community workers dealing with unruly youth in the Netherlands

Author: Sabah Chalhi (Utrecht University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on how a community worker operates as a broker, working with youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods. It zooms in on how the worker and unruly youth negotiate their identities in their relationship.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the complex situation of professional brokers when their position staggers and their influence towards their clients decreases. I will look at community workers who, representing a government subsidized welfare organization, work with youth in a disadvantaged neighborhood. Fundamental changes in welfare policy, together with financial cutbacks, affect the resources of the workers. Trips to amusement parks and going camping were once common activities but are now deemed too costly.

We look at one specific story of a 13-year old unruly boy and the way he and a worker negotiate the boy's need for access to resources, when the boy starts 'hunting' for resources by stealing money from the workers' organization. The boy's delinquent practices coincide with his withdrawal from the activities the worker organizes for youth. This makes it difficult for the worker to fulfill his role as a broker and exert influence, since the structural meeting points with his client are lost. It also affects his identity as a broker because the boy's withdrawal, hinders the worker from fulfilling his role as a broker. This situation produces a complex intimacy between broker and youth because of the evasive yet confrontational practices of the boy.

In this paper we explore what happens to brokers' identities, positions and practices when confronted with unruly clients. We argue that while the boy is 'hunting' in an attempt to build his street-identity, the broker is hunting for his client in order to rehabilitate his professional identity and position as a broker.

When the shepherds meet Mr Billionaire: rebellion, collaboration, and public intimacy in Sardinia

Authors: Filippo Zerilli (University of Cagliari)  email
Marco Pitzalis (Università di Cagliari)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on fieldwork with a social movement of Sardinian shepherds, this paper focuses on their association with Flavio Briatore (aka Mr Billionaire), and explores tensions, ambiguities, opacities and mysteries it has generated outside and inside the movement itself, affecting its ‘public intimacy’

Long Abstract

While the public protest of 'Movimento Pastori Sardi' (MPS) was reaching its peak (June 2011), a delegation of its members arranged a meeting at VIP seaside resort Porto Cervo with internationally famous Italian businessman Flavio Briatore (aka Mr Billionaire). MPS, a social movement of sheep herders in search of social and political legitimacy, expected from Mr Billionaire financial support in order to send a legation of shepherds to European institutions in Brussels, providing international exposure for their struggle.

Based on fieldwork within the shepherds' movement, this paper focuses on the 'bizarre alliance' (as the media described the event) and examines tensions, ambiguities, opacities and mysteries it has generated outside and inside the movement itself. Relying on conversations with sheep herders we explore how collaboration with Briatore intersect with multiple dimensions of the movement's claims, notably in the economic, political and cultural sphere. While in the opinion of few sheep herders the circumstance was simply a business opportunity to consider, according to many it was morally bankrupt and produced disrupting effects on the movement's public intimacy.

Drawing on recent discussion and critique of cultural intimacy we suggest that 'public intimacy' is a useful notion in order to frame the complex interplay between conflicting images of the Sardinian shepherds, and how these are appropriated and manipulated for different purposes by diverse subjects, including the shepherds themselves, the local political elite, and eventually an Italian billionaire keen on new business transactions. We finally ask who has brokered what, how, and to which extent.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.