Previous Events, 2009

Graduate Student Roundtable

-Moving Margins-
Strategies and Meanings

Thursday, November 19, 2009
Kaleidoscope, Newcomb Hall

Katey Blumenthal, Department of Anthropology
“Impurities Inside and Out: Social Segregation and Religious Integration of Himalayan Mon Musicians”
Julie Starr, Department of Anthropology
“Han Othering, Othering the Han”
LuAnn Williams, Department of Anthropology
“At the Margins: Immigrant Women’s Health Narratives and the Politics of Belonging”
Haiming Yan, Department of Sociology
World Heritage in China: Constructing a National Past through Global Discourse”

Ravindra Khare, Department of Anthropology

Discussion Panel

Suspicion , Transparency, & the Uses and Meanings of Secrecy

Thursday, April 16, 2009
4:00-6:00 pm , Newcomb 389

Kent Wayland, Department of Science, Technology, & Society
David Strohl, Department of Anthropology
Roberto Armengol, Department of Anthropology
Holly Donahue Singh, Department of Anthropology

R.S. Khare, Department of Anthropology, Moderator

In the wake of the notoriously secretive Vice-Presidency of Dick Cheney, some Americans have expressed their distrust of secrecy with renewed calls for transparency in the workings of government. This makes sense given that social scientists studying the social cultural uses of secrecy – whether in Cheney’s tenure as vice-president or the religions of Melanesia – have long noted that hiding knowledge is one way for elites to maintain power. But need we remain suspicious of people who conceal things from others? Secrecy is also a way for people without power to hide information, religious rites, or social practices from the gaze of powerful others, who might find these things controversial. This round-table discussion explores the ways that people, ranging from women seeking infertility treatment in India to vendors in Cuba, give meaning to practices of concealment. In the process, we examine a range of related questions: Is transparency always a good thing? How do people practicing concealment deal with the suspicion of others? Does the very act of hiding information make it seem more valuable? If so, how do people let others “in on” secrets as part of a strategy for re-creating boundaries around friends, loved ones, or communities?

The Acceptance of Known Unknowns: The Nonopticon of Google Surveillance
Kent Wayland. Department of Science, Technology and Society, UVA

Google’s surveillance of its users is an open secret. That is. a number of people know about it: there is no great barrier to preventing it: but it still takes place at a massive scale. After brietly outlining this surveillance and some of the risks it poses, I explore the structural barriers to knowing about it. I then move on to explore the basis for acquiescence to this surveillance. for the acceptance of the open secret. Even users who know about Google’s surveillance do not necessarily know, or even care, what it does with those collected data. In essence, Google surveillance is an open secret that they allow to stay secret. Here I note two aspects of the logic that would say that Google “must have a good reason” for collecting this information: first, the users’ notion of utility, and second, the logic of consumerism. Finally, whether, given this way of thinking, transparency makes sense as a remedy for this surveillance.
“They Won’t Tell You about the Money:” Voluntary Donations and Trust among the Ismaili Khojas of Mumbai.
David Strohl. PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, UVa

This paper examines the issues of transparency and suspicion as they emerge in informal talk about religious donations among members of the Shia Ismaili Khoja community in Mumbai (Bombay), India. Khojas have a long-standing practice of voluntarily tithing a portion of their income to their living Imam (“spiritual leader”), the Aga Khan. While knowledge of the amount and exact usage of these donations is limited to a very few, it is widely believed that donations make up part of the Imam’s wealth and, more importantly, that he also uses this money to fund a large, trans-national network of charitable development organizations. Although the use of this money constitutes a public secret, some members of the community object to the lack of transparency surrounding the use of these funds. In this talk, I examine conversations with Khojas about the use of voluntary donations to argue that, for many Khojas. the secrecy surrounding these funds is an indication of trust and intimacy with their Imam. Finally, I consider the implications of the public character of secrets tor thinking about why and how secrecy and concealment engenders suspicion.
Buying Chicken Under the Counter and Other Ethnographic Problems
Roberto Armengol, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology

Keeping secrets is an integral part of life in urban Cuba. especially among market vendors and other self-employed workers who participated in my field research. As one of them told me, if the chicken vendor tells you where he got his chicken, you wouldn’t have to buy it from him. My remarks will explore how this kind of secrecy stands in relation to local knowledge about the secretive torces of state power that it’s meant to underline or touch on two ways in which such secrets complicate – and potentially enrich – the ethnographic project. one of them fairly obvious. and one of them (maybe) not so obvious.
Intimate Secrets: Infertility and Women’s Strategies in North India

Holly Donahlle Singh, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, UVa
The secrecy surrounding infertility was a recurrent theme in my fieldwork in Lucknow, India. In interactions with women seeking intertility treatment in biomedical clinics, however, I found that this secrecy was far from absolute, and that women strategicallyconcealed and revealed details of their treatment. particularly to family members. in ways they hoped would help them in their quests for children. My presentation will examine the levels at which secrecy prevailed in women’s narratives, how women facilitated their treatment regime by selectively intorming others of their situations, and the implications that secrecy in cases of intertility might entail tor families.

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