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A Quadrant Book

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Bamako Sounds

The Afropolitan Ethics of Malian Music

Ryan Thomas Skinner

Bamako Sounds tells the story of an African city, its people, their values, and their music. Centered on the music and musicians of Bamako, Mali’s booming capital city, this book reveals a community of artists whose lives and works evince a complex world shaped by urban culture, postcolonialism, musical expression, religious identity, and intellectual property.

Drawing on years of ethnographic research with classically trained players of the kora (a twenty-one-string West African harp) as well as more contemporary, hip-hop influenced musicians and producers, Ryan Thomas Skinner analyzes how Bamako artists balance social imperatives with personal interests and global imaginations. Whether performed live on stage, broadcast on the radio, or shared over the Internet, music is a privileged mode of expression that suffuses Bamako’s urban soundscape. It animates professional projects, communicates cultural values, pronounces public piety, resounds in the marketplace, and quite literally performs the nation. Music, the artists who make it, and the audiences who interpret it thus represent a crucial means of articulating and disseminating the ethics and aesthetics of a varied and vital Afropolitanism, in Bamako and beyond.


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Building a House in Heaven

Pious Neoliberalism and Islamic Charity in Egypt

Mona Atia


Charity is an economic act. This premise underlies a societal transformation—the merging of religious and capitalist impulses that Mona Atia calls “pious neoliberalism.” Though the phenomenon spans religious lines, Atia makes the connection between Islam and capitalism to examine the surprising relations between charity and the economy, the state, and religion in the transition from Mubarak-era Egypt.

Mapping the landscape of charity and development in Egypt, Building a House in Heaven reveals the factors that changed the nature of Egyptian charitable practices—the state’s intervention in social care and religion, an Islamic revival, intensified economic pressures on the poor, and the subsequent emergence of the private sector as a critical actor in development. She shows how, when individuals from Egypt’s private sector felt it necessary to address poverty, they sought to make Islamic charities work as engines of development, a practice that changed the function of charity from distributing goods to empowering the poor. Drawing on interviews with key players, Atia explores the geography of Islamic charities through multiple neighborhoods, ideologies, sources of funding, projects, and wide social networks. Her work shifts between absorbing ethnographic stories of specific organizations and reflections on the patterns that appear across the sector.

An enlightening look at the simultaneous neoliberalization of Islamic charity work and Islamization of neoliberal development, the book also offers an insightful analysis of the political and socioeconomic movements leading up to the uprisings that ended Mubarak’s rule and that amplified the importance of not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also the broader forces of Islamic piety and charity.

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Fiery Cinema

The Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915–1945

Weihong Bao

What was cinema in modern China? It was, this book tells us, a dynamic entity, not strictly tied to one media technology, one mode of operation, or one system of aesthetic code. It was, in Weihong Bao’s term, an affective medium, a distinct notion of the medium as mediating environment with the power to stir passions, frame perception, and mold experience. In Fiery Cinema, Bao traces the permutations of this affective medium from the early through the mid-twentieth century, exploring its role in aesthetics, politics, and social institutions.

Mapping the changing identity of cinema in China in relation to Republican-era print media, theatrical performance, radio broadcasting, television, and architecture, Bao has created an archaeology of Chinese media culture. Within this context, she grounds the question of spectatorial affect and media technology in China’s experience of mechanized warfare, colonial modernity, and the shaping of the public into consumers, national citizens, and a revolutionary collective subject. Carrying on a close conversation with transnational media theory and history, she teases out the tension and affinity between vernacular, political modernist, and propagandistic articulations of mass culture in China’s varied participation in modernity.

Fiery Cinema advances a radical rethinking of affect and medium as a key insight into the relationship of cinema to the public sphere and the making of the masses. By centering media politics in her inquiry of the forgotten future of cinema, Bao makes a major intervention into the theory and history of media.

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The Folklore of the Freeway

Race and Revolt in the Modernist City

Eric Avila


When the interstate highway program connected America’s cities, it also divided them, cutting through and destroying countless communities. Affluent and predominantly white residents fought back in a much heralded “freeway revolt,” saving such historic neighborhoods as Greenwich Village and New Orleans’s French Quarter. This book tells of the other revolt, a movement of creative opposition, commemoration, and preservation staged on behalf of the mostly minority urban neighborhoods that lacked the political and economic power to resist the onslaught of highway construction.

Within the context of the larger historical forces of the 1960s and 1970s, Eric Avila maps the creative strategies devised by urban communities to document and protest the damage that highways wrought. The works of Chicanas and other women of color—from the commemorative poetry of Patricia Preciado Martin and Lorna Dee Cervantes to the fiction of Helena Maria Viramontes to the underpass murals of Judy Baca—expose highway construction as not only a racist but also a sexist enterprise. In colorful paintings, East Los Angeles artists such as David Botello, Carlos Almaraz, and Frank Romero satirize, criticize, and aestheticize the structure of the freeway. Local artists paint murals on the concrete piers of a highway interchange in San Diego’s Chicano Park. The Rondo Days Festival in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Black Archives, History, and Research Foundation in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami preserve and celebrate the memories of historic African American communities lost to the freeway.

Bringing such efforts to the fore in the story of the freeway revolt, The Folklore of the Freeway moves beyond a simplistic narrative of victimization. Losers, perhaps, in their fight against the freeway, the diverse communities at the center of the book nonetheless generate powerful cultural forces that shape our understanding of the urban landscape and influence the shifting priorities of contemporary urban policy.

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HIV Exceptionalism

Development through Disease in Sierra Leone

Adia Benton

In 2002, Sierra Leone emerged from a decadelong civil war. Seeking international attention and development aid, its government faced a dilemma. Though devastated by conflict, Sierra Leone had a low prevalence of HIV. However, like most African countries, it stood to benefit from a large influx of foreign funds specifically targeted at HIV/AIDS prevention and care.

What Adia Benton chronicles in this ethnographically rich and often moving book is how one war-ravaged nation reoriented itself as a country suffering from HIV at the expense of other, more pressing health concerns. During her fieldwork in the capital, Freetown, a city of one million people, at least thirty NGOs administered internationally funded programs that included HIV/AIDS prevention and care. Benton probes why HIV exceptionalism—the idea that HIV is an exceptional disease requiring an exceptional response—continues to guide approaches to the epidemic worldwide and especially in Africa, even in low-prevalence settings.

In the fourth decade since the emergence of HIV/AIDS, many today are questioning whether the effort and money spent on this health crisis has in fact helped or exacerbated the problem. HIV Exceptionalism does this and more, asking, what are the unanticipated consequences that HIV/AIDS development programs engender?

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Improper Names

Collective Pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous

Marco Deseriis

Improper Names offers a genealogy and theory of the “improper name,” which author Marco Deseriis defines as the adoption of the same pseudonym by organized collectives, affinity groups, and individual authors. Although such names are often invented to pursue a specific social or political agenda, they are soon appropriated for different and sometimes diverging purposes. This book examines the tension arising from struggles for control of a pseudonym’s symbolic power.

Deseriis provides five fascinating and widely varying case studies. Ned Ludd was the legendary and eponymous leader of the English Luddites, textile workers who threatened the destruction of industrial machinery and then advanced a variety of economic and political demands. Alan Smithee—an alias coined by Hollywood film directors in 1969 in order to disown films that were recut by producers—became a contested signature and was therefore no longer effective to signal prevarication to Hollywood insiders. Monty Cantsin was an “open pop star” created by U.S. and Canadian artists in the late 1970s to critique bourgeois notions of authorship, but its communal character was compromised by excessive identification with individual users of the name. The Italian media activists calling themselves Luther Blissett, aware of the Cantsin experience, implemented measures to prevent individuals from assuming the alias, which was used to author media pranks, sell apocryphal manuscripts to publishers, fabricate artists and artworks, and author best-selling novels. The longest chapter here is devoted to the contemporary “hacktivist” group known as Anonymous, which protests censorship and restricted access to information and information technologies.

After delving into a rich philosophical debate on community among those who have nothing in common, the book concludes with a reflection on how the politics of improper names affects present-day anticapitalist social movements such as Occupy and 15-M.


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The Interface

IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976

John Harwood

In February 1956 the president of IBM, Thomas Watson Jr., hired the industrial designer and architect Eliot F. Noyes, charging him with reinventing IBM’s corporate image, from stationery and curtains to products such as typewriters and computers and to laboratory and administration buildings. What followed—a story told in full for the first time in John Harwood’s The Interface—remade IBM in a way that would also transform the relationships between design, computer science, and corporate culture.

IBM’s program assembled a cast of leading figures in American design: Noyes, Charles Eames, Paul Rand, George Nelson, and Edgar Kaufmann Jr. The Interface offers a detailed account of the key role these designers played in shaping both the computer and the multinational corporation. Harwood describes a surprising inverse effect: the influence of computer and corporation on the theory and practice of design. Here we see how, in the period stretching from the “invention” of the computer during World War II to the appearance of the personal computer in the mid-1970s, disciplines once well outside the realm of architectural design—information and management theory, cybernetics, ergonomics, computer science—became integral aspects of design.

As the first critical history of the industrial design of the computer, of Eliot Noyes’s career, and of some of the most important work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames, The Interface supplies a crucial chapter in the story of architecture and design in postwar America—and an invaluable perspective on the computer and corporate cultures of today.

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Landscape of Discontent

Urban Sustainability in Immigrant Paris

Andrew Newman

On a rainy day in May 2007, the mayor of Paris inaugurated the Jardins d’Éole, a park whose completion was hailed internationally as an exemplar of sustainable urbanism. The park was the result of a hard-fought, decadelong protest movement in a low-income Maghrebi and African immigrant district starved for infrastructure, but the Mayor’s vision of urban sustainability was met with jeers.

Drawing extensively from immersive, firsthand ethnographic research with northeast Paris residents, as well as an analysis of green architecture and urban design, Andrew Newman argues that environmental politics must be separated from the construct of urban sustainability, which has been appropriated by forces of redevelopment and gentrification in Paris and beyond. France’s turbulent political environment also provides Newman with powerful new insights into the ways in which multiethnic coalitions can emerge⎯even amid overt racism and Islamophobia⎯in the struggle for more just cities and more inclusive societies.

A tale of multidimensional political efforts, Landscape of Discontent cuts through the rhetoric of green cities to reveal the promise that environmentalism holds for urban communities anywhere.

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Last Project Standing

Civics and Sympathy in Post-Welfare Chicago

Catherine Fennell

In 1995 a half-vacant public housing project on Chicago’s Near West Side fell to the wrecking ball. The demolition and reconstruction of the Henry Horner housing complex ushered in the most ambitious urban housing experiment of its kind: smaller, mixed-income, and partially privatized developments that, the thinking went, would mitigate the insecurity, isolation, and underemployment that plagued Chicago's infamously troubled public housing projects.

Focusing on Horner’s redevelopment, Catherine Fennell asks how Chicago’s endeavor transformed everyday built environments into laboratories for teaching urbanites about the rights and obligations of belonging to a city and a nation that seemed incapable of taking care of its most destitute citizens. Drawing on more than three years of ethnographic and archival research, she shows how collisions with everything from haywire heating systems and decaying buildings to silent neighbors became an education in the possibilities, but also the limits, of collective care, concern, and protection in the aftermath of welfare failure.

As she documents how the materiality of both the unsuccessful older projects and the recently emerging housing fosters feelings of belonging and loss, her work engages larger debates in critical anthropology and poverty studies—and opens a vital new perspective on the politics of space, race, and development in urban America

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Life, Emergent

The Social in the Afterlives of Violence

Yasmeen Arif

How does an inquiry into life as it lives (or dies) amid mass violence look like from the perspective of the “social”? Taking us from Sierra Leone to India to Lebanon, Life, Emergent challenges conventional understandings of biopolitics, weaving a politics of life through the lens of life, not death.

Arguing that the “letting die” element of biopolitics has been overemphasized, Yasmeen Arif zeroes in on biopolitics’ other pole: “making live.” She does so by highlighting the various means and the types of life configured in the aftermath—or afterlives—of violent events in contexts of law, justice, community, and identity. Her analysis of the social repercussions is both global and local in scope. Arif examines the convictions made in the Special Court of Sierra Leone, the first hybrid court of its nature under international criminal law. Next, she explores the making of a justice movement in the context of Hindu-Muslim violence in 2002 in the state of Gujarat, India. From there she revisits the Sikh carnage in Delhi of 1984. Finally, she explores a span of civil violence in Lebanon, and particularly, its effects on the city of Beirut.

This rigorously argued book brings together the various strands of life and the social that each chapter have disentangled—and in doing so it begins to frame a politics of, and for, life.

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