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All things being equal: uncertainty, ambivalence and trust in a Namibian conservancy

Laws, Megan (2019) All things being equal: uncertainty, ambivalence and trust in a Namibian conservancy. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis is about how experiences of uncertainty shape the way people share with one another. It is an ethnographic study of a rural conservancy in north-eastern Namibia, the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, and the urban town at its centre, Tsumkwe—between which people “roam in order to live”. The people at the centre of this study are the Ju|’hoansi (meaning “true people” or “people of proper custom”), known to anthropology both as hunter-gatherers and as a famously “egalitarian society”. In Namibia, they are a “traditional community” with ancestral rights to a communal land region that they now manage largely as a commercial enterprise. In doing so, they aim to perform the complementary work of conserving their ancestral way of life and the diverse fauna and flora they share it with, and enticing tourists, entrepreneurs, and trophy-hunters to provide the cash now necessary to do so. This work only goes so far in making people self-sufficient, however, giving rise to a regular push and pull between their territories and town. These movements reflect broader shifts towards informality, precariousness, and rising inequality across southern Africa, but they are also extensions of a much longer history of “roaming” that has been the subject of extensive writing within the discipline on hunter-gatherers and their fiercely egalitarian values. This writing sees roaming as a practice circumscribed by the assumption that those who have more than they can immediately use or consume will give in to the demands of roaming others without expecting repayment. In its contemporary guise, however, roaming necessitates encounters not with “true people”, like themselves, whom they expect will share without hesitation, but with “other people” who “want to refuse you”, “want to ruin you”, or who “cannot be trusted”. This thesis takes this nexus—between the values ordinarily associated with egalitarianism and the contemporary social context—as a productive space within which to explore the way that people go about sharing in the face of uncertainty and negotiating the ambivalence that emerges in the process. This thesis is based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the Nyae Nyae conservancy between October 2014 – December 2015. It contributes to current debates within the anthropology of value on redistributive regimes and within the anthropology of ethics on experiences of moral ambivalence, and to broader fields of research on the relationship between state processes and informal economies in southern Africa.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Megan Laws
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: James, Deborah and Engelke, Matthew

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