The next meeting of the History of Anthropology Working Group hosted by the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine will be held on Wednesday, November 2, 2022 at 12:00pm ET via Zoom.
Matthew C. Watson joins us from Mount Holyoke College to workshop a chapter from his new book project, tentatively titled The Whiteness of Method: Racial Infrastructures of Harvard Ethnography and Mexican Sovereignty.
“The Ethnographic Drive: Interviews and the Racial Erotics of a Harvard Land-Rover in Chiapas”
In 1951, Mexico’s Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI) established a coordinating center for a pilot development project in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. INI administrators sought to draw Tzotzil- and Tzeltal-speaking indigenous communities that radiated around San Cristóbal into identification with the Mexican state and its political mythology of racial-cultural mixture, or mestizaje. To do so, the INI built roads. This essay stories the conjuncture of this state investment in the transportation infrastructure of indigenous Chiapas and the attendant geographical mobility of scores of U.S. anthropologists and students who used these roads to access “closed corporate communities” such as Zinacantán during the late-1950s and 1960s. I focus particularly on Harvard Chiapas Project founder Evon Vogt’s early project interviews conducted on these roads in a Land-Rover. Reading the Land-Rover as a space-making technology of ethnographic rapport, I ask how such vehicles have structured ethnographic forms of homosocial intimacy and attachment within a racial erotics of empiricism that renders the interview space a site of capitalist capture. Finally, through a cross-reading of mirror scenes reflecting encounters with Land-Rovers across the Harvard Chiapas Project and the Harvard Kalahari Project, I refract this critique of the interview form’s capitalist coloniality through a weak-theoretical evocation of the Land-Rover’s social, technological, and symbolic indeterminacy.
Discussants: Hilary Morgan Leathem (Maynooth University); Karin Rosemblatt (University of Maryland)
Additional details about the group, access to the readings, and information on how to attend may be found on the Consortium website.