The moral economies of material things

May 24th 2014

The concept of moral economy is a natural fit to analyses of material culture. In this working paper, I show how the concept has applications to all three research projects that I have carried out on the island of Hispaniola since I began conducting fieldwork there in 2004.

In Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (2004-2012), I researched the relationship between materiality and poverty in a squatter settlement. There, materiality (particularly the built environment and consumption) are integral to the self-definition of residents people as poor, is implicated in their stigmatization by outsiders, and also provides a way to create a positive community life and transform the future.

The curation of the self in the age of the Internet

May 16th 2014

In his famous 1936 essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin describes how art was historically used for ritual purposes. Because the ritual value of art was tied up with its uniqueness, it was unthinkable to reproduce a work of art.

In some respects, this phenomenon continues to exist today, particularly in religious contexts. Every year, up to a million pilgrims walk to the town of Fátima in Portugal to witness a parade in which the statue of Our Lady of Fátima is displayed.

The development of technologies of mechanical reproduction means that it would technically be possible to produce a close copy of this statue, and of course, with photography, millions of images of the Lady circulate around the world freely.

New article on art markets in Hispaniola

May 12th 2014

It's been many years since I swapped my fine art studies for anthropology and economics, but my interests are now converging. I've just published a paper about the trade of paintings in Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the journal Visual Studies.

My paper, called "Why the cocks trade: what a transnational art market can reveal about cross-border relations," is part of a special issue addressing the relationship between ethnography and art.

New chapter on mobile money aesthetics

May 9th 2014

Heather Horst and I are happy to announce that our foray into exploring the aesthetics of mobile money is now in print. Published in The Routledge Companion to Mobile Media (edited by Gerard Goggin and Larissa Hjorth), our chapter is called "The Aesthetics of Mobile Money Platforms in Haiti."

We examine the design, aesthetics and use of Digicel's TchoTcho Mobile and Voila's T-Cash in Haiti. While mobile money is largely understood through a lens of poverty and economic transactions, in this chapter we suggest that people’s relationship to mobile money has as much to do with the aesthetics of mobile money as a designed environment and platform that goes far beyond the user interface.