Transparency and Conspiracy

Ethnographies of Suspicion in the New World Order

Transparency and Conspiracy

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: Published: April 2003

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies

Transparency has, in recent years, become a watchword for good governance. Policymakers and analysts alike evaluate political and economic institutions—courts, corporations, nation-states—according to the transparency of their operating procedures. With the dawn of the New World Order and the “mutual veil dropping” of the post–Cold War era, many have asserted that power in our contemporary world is more transparent than ever. Yet from the perspective of the relatively less privileged, the operation of power often appears opaque and unpredictable. Through vivid ethnographic analyses, Transparency and Conspiracy examines a vast range of expressions of the popular suspicion of power—including forms of shamanism, sorcery, conspiracy theory, and urban legends—illuminating them as ways of making sense of the world in the midst of tumultuous and uneven processes of modernization.

In this collection leading anthropologists reveal the variations and commonalities in conspiratorial thinking or occult cosmologies around the globe—in Korea, Tanzania, Mozambique, New York City, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nigeria, and Orange County, California. The contributors chronicle how people express profound suspicions of the United Nations, the state, political parties, police, courts, international financial institutions, banks, traders and shopkeepers, media, churches, intellectuals, and the wealthy. Rather than focusing on the veracity of these convictions, Transparency and Conspiracy investigates who believes what and why. It makes a compelling argument against the dismissal of conspiracy theories and occult cosmologies as antimodern, irrational oversimplifications, showing how these beliefs render the world more complex by calling attention to its contradictions and proposing alternative ways of understanding it.

Misty Bastian, Karen McCarthy Brown, Jean Comaroff, John Comaroff, Susan Harding, Daniel Hellinger, Caroline Humphrey, Laurel Kendall, Todd Sanders, Albert Schrauwers, Kathleen Stewart, Harry G. West


“This edited volume brings together transparency and conspiracy, two subjects that are receiving a great deal of attention both inside the academy and outside, in an effort to capture contemporary operations of power.” — Amy Levine , PoLAR

"[A] series of diverse cases drawn from the long-term, intensive projects of anthropologists who bend and lend what they know from their wideranging and deep knowledge of their subjects to the topic in question. . . . [A] fascinating cabinet of curiosities. . . ." — George E. Marcus and Michael G. Powell , Anthropological Quarterly

"All of the essays are of high quality. . . . [They] present a potential path-breaking model for social scientists to use in uncovering the complex realities that bring culture and global structures to become mutually constitutive." — William Biebuyck , Utopian Studies

"Although this volume will be of special interest to anthropologists, a wider audience will be interested in discussion of the devastating impact of structural adjustment programs (SAPS) on the poor living in developing countries. Highly recommended." — L. O. Imade , Choice

"Not a single chapter disappoints. . . . [The editors] have achieved the uncommon distinction of the cogent edited volume. This book could be used in any classroom setting in which students need to be quickly disabused of the boundaries between the spiritual and the political." — Bruce Grant , American Anthropologist

"The strongest quality of the book . . . is its attention to the complexity and depth of interpretive frameworks held by relatively powerless people. . . ." — Josiah McC. Heyman , Journal of Anthropological Research

"The studies are richly informative. They show a side of humanity often overlooked in straight-laced standard overviews of finance, law, and living conditions." — Bertil L. Hanson , Perspectives on Political Science

"This volume provides thoughtful discussion and rich evidence of popular efforts to conceptualize powers beyond local control." — Paul Clough , Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"There are few topics of more profound and immediate significance than transparency and conspiracy, the twin specters of contemporary globality. Harry G. West’s and Todd Sanders's collection displays the virtues of analyzing the particularities of experience in different places while, at the same time, treating this topic as one with general implications and transnational origins. This is what anthropology does best, and this group of essays does it very well indeed." — Rosalind C. Morris, Columbia University

Transparency and Conspiracy connects with a central question presently before the field of anthropology and globalization studies: how to interpret the varied cultural forms which alienation from modernity is taking today.” — Don Robotham, City University of New York Graduate Center


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Harry G. West is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the New School University. He is editor of Conflict and Its Resolution in Contemporary Africa.

Todd Sanders is University Lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. He is coeditor of Magical Interpretations, Material Reality: Modernity, Witchcraft, and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa and Those Who Play with Fire: Gender, Fertility, and Transformation in East and Southern Africa.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Power Revealed and Concealed in the New World Order / Todd Sanders and Harry G. West 1

1. Gods, Markets, and the IMF in the Korean Spirit World / Laurel Kendall 38

2. "Diabolic Realities": Narratives of Conspiracy, Transparency, and "Ritual Murder" in the Nigerian Popular Print and Electronic Media / Misty L. Bastian 65

3. "Who Rules Us Now?" Identity Tokens, Sorcery, and Other Metaphors in the 1994 Mozambican Elections / Harry G. West 92

4. Through a Glass Darkly: Charity, Conspiracy, and Power in New Order Indonesia / Albert Schrauwers 125

5. Invisible Hands and Visible Goods: Revealed and Concealed Economies in Millennial Tanzania / Todd Sanders 148

6. Stalin and the Blue Elephant: Paranoia and Complicity in Post-Communist Metahistories / Caroline Humphrey 175

7. Paranoia, Conspiracy, and Hegemony in American Politics / Daniel Hellinger 204

8. Making Wanga: Reality Constructions and the Magical Manipulation of Power / Karen McCarthy Brown 233

9. Anxieties of Influence: Conspiracy Theory and Therapeutic Culture in Millennial America / Susan Harding and Kathleen Stewart 258

Transparent Fictions; or, The Conspiracies of a Liberal Imagination: An Afterword / Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff 287

Contributors 301

Index 305
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3024-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3036-3
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