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The Workshop

Juan Obarrio

Research Interests
The political, law and temporality, theology in relation to state and the economy, memory and subjectivity, magic, violence, value, experimental writing. Southern Africa, Latin America.

Current research
Juan's main current project is a historical ethnography of the postcolonial state in Mozambique. Focusing on issues of law and justice, the state is here understood as an entanglement of temporalities, collective memories and versions of national history. The project's main object is one of the current key political processes in Africa: the status of "customary law" and "traditional chieftaincy" in a context of post-civil war and post-Socialist transition to neo-liberal "rule of law". Moving from ritual and kinship to state reform, and from chiefs and people's courts to multilateral donors, the study engages with an elusive, metaphysical kernel of the law's legitimacy and its ambiguous relation with violence, revealing the aporias in the "democratic" project of a politics of recognition. The project analyzes the state not simply as a unitary institution of sovereign power  governing a territory or a population, but rather in its original sense as status or condition:  a mobile assemblage of authorities, rythms, imaginaries, subjectivities, norms and desires. The study is based on two years of field research funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Social Science Research Council.

Another broad set of interests is gathered under the rubric of "The Gift of Justice". Combining anthropological theories of the gift and philosophical conceptions of justice,  I study circulation and reciprocity as frames for a central concern with the issue of political community, in relation to topics such as state, labor, contract and development.