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Editorial Foreword

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

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Editorial Foreword
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History

THE VARIETIES OF MYSTICAL ISLAM Mystical states are never merely interruptive, wrote William James; their memory continues to inflect subjective experience and modify inner experience and social practice. Such states take many forms, “all sorts of gradations and mixtures,” yet can be made partly legible, argued James, by being placed in series. The two essays joined under this rubric plot two unlikely forms of Islamic mysticism in series, one born of ecstasy gained through grapes, the other of a Sufi take on Marx. Pooyan Tamimi Arab’s essay, “Can Muslims Drink? Rumi Vodka, Persianate Ideals, and the Anthropology of Islam,” challenges a version of the study of Islam that privileges orthodoxy, by including drinking and intoxication as worthy of close attention. We linger in the store called Wine Shop the Philosopher, run by a former Afghan refugee in the Netherlands, to sample the wares and gain a taste of the relationship of Persianate culture and Islam. Clashing “drink regimes,” Tamimi Arab shows, reveal key points of friction between distinct national versions of Islam.

In “The Sufi and the Sickle: Theorizing Mystical Marxism in Rural Pakistan,” Shozab Raza points to a quite different form of mystical experience. Raza explores the tensions but also the bridges between Marxism and certain versions of religion—“mystical Marxism,” so to speak—as deployed by subaltern actors in the context of political struggles. To show how this works, Raza reconstructs the life of Sufi Sibghatullah Mazari, a locally influential communist from Pakistan who equated an insurgent Sufism with Mao-inflected Marxism, as overlapping versions of communist universalism.

NAMES, NARRATIVES, AND HIDDEN TRANSCRIPTS Stuart Kirsch’s “Scientific Ghostwriting in the Amazon? The Role of Experts in the Lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador,” recounts a 2011 case on the environmental impact of Chevron’s operations in lowland Ecuador. The article treats legal transcripts and depositions as examples of “life-writing” to examine the contribution of experts to environmental litigation and the uses of ghostwriting. The pharmaceutical industry employs ghostwriters to conceal harmful consequences of its products, while scientists contributing to the case against Chevron seek to make the company’s environmental impacts visible. Kirsch’s article shows the need for better accounting of scientific research undertaken in support of environmental litigation in which corporate fortunes, human lives, and the fate of the environment are contingent on their technical expertise.

In “Naming Others: Translation and Subject Constitution in the Central Highlands of Angola (1926–1961),” Iracema Dulley proposes an ethnographic theorization of the relationship between naming, translation, and subject constitution via the analysis of forms of interpellation in colonial Angola. Focusing on core signifiers in Portuguese and Umbundu, the paper describes the iterative chain of substitutions through which subjects have been constituted; that is, reduced and transformed. How, for example, are the Umbundu status signifiers ocimbundu and ocindele reduced in their respective translations as “black” and “white”? How can translation both re-enact and challenge the constitution of racialized and ethnicized categories of difference? Dulley shows how such translations and reductions have played an important role in Angolan history. Even more, she argues that the performativity of naming and translation constitutes subjects in durable, consequential ways. Naming and social positioning are integral to subject-constitution and sociopolitical life.

Alp Yenen’s article, “The Talat-Tehlirian Complex: Contentious Narratives of Martyrdom and Revenge in Post-Conflict Societies,” examines the role of a single key event in the generation of long-enduring narratives. The assassination of Talat Pasha by Soghomon Tehlirian in 1921, in Berlin, contributed to the formation of conflicting legacies of the Armenian Genocide. The event and its reimagination in competing narratives have shaped Turkish-Armenian relations even since. In the imagination of rival groups, Talat and Tehlirian compete for the very same normative categories of hero and victim, in rival tales of martyrdom and revenge. The dueling narratives mutually buttress one another, generating a solid framework of sensemaking that diminishes hopes of historical reconciliation. The case shows how a martyr-avenger complex at once demands solidarity, sustains grievances, and sacralizes violence in post-conflict societies.

MEMORY ECONOMIES AND MORAL ECONOMIES In 1971, the historian E. P. Thompson used the phrase “moral economy” to describe a popular consensus on what was considered right and wrong in economic behavior. An implicit notion of such a moral economy motivated the eighteenth-century English poor to engage in crowd-based political action. For Thompson, like the many scholars who have invoked moral economy in his wake, questions of economic ethics invariably arose against a shifting historical horizon evaluated as “better” or “worse” than the present. In that sense, memories like morals take on a given value that can be traded on and exchanged, inflated or debased. Moral economies and memory economies intersect and blur in social practice and individual experience.

In “Building Merit: The Moral Economy of the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Rural, Post-Socialist Eastern Mongolia,” Hedwig A. Waters builds on Thompson’s idea to describe the development of the moral economy of merit among the fishermen and rural poor of post-socialist eastern Mongolia, who have their own ideas of what is considered legitimate (“merit-making”) versus what is illegitimate in economic behavior. These judgments regulate their illegal wildlife procurement, selling, and smuggling activities, in a context of outrage over the encroachment of a market economy and the loss of the commons. In this situation, Waters shows, the moral economy is manifested as a set of exchange practices from the commons, envisioned as promoting group wellbeing rather than individual accumulation.

Edward Murphy’s “Putting Neoliberalism in a Place: A Memory Site, Urban Restructuring, and Property’s Entanglements in Chile” analyzes a modernist housing project in Santiago, Chile that now lies in ruins. The project remains as a contested memory site. once part of President Salvador Allende’s (1970–1973) plan for homeless squatters, its demise is emblematic of the neoliberal urban restructuring that marked the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990). Efforts to memorialize the site are filled with silences and gaps that reveal the complex nature of liberal property relations in Chile. These property relations underscore the ways squatters have historically been able to gain housing rights and a foothold in the city, or not. The remains of the project provide a key location through which to understand the specific contours of neoliberalism’s trajectory, including its haunted forms of ruination, its points of tension, its limits, and the making of its counterpublics.

In “The Things They Carried (and Kept): Revisiting Ostalgie in the Global South,” Christina Schwenkel ponders the legacies of East Germany’s material culture and the fates of “socialist things,” as they index notions of race. In her study of foreign students and workers from the global South who lived for extended periods in East Germany, Schwenkel troubles the implicit whiteness of cultural memory in the GDR. Popular identification with GDR goods extended beyond the borders of Germany to newly decolonized countries that were the beneficiaries of the GDR’s solidarity policies. Focusing on Vietnam, she challenges formulations of Ostalgie as a site of white German memory production, highlighting consumption of East German products by racialized “Others.” In examining the objects that Vietnamese migrants amassed and transported back to Vietnam, and their subsequent use and circulation through today, she evaluates the value and agency attributed to imported socialist things, and the logics of space, memory, and materiality that animate them. Among other things, Schwenkel deciphers why in Vietnam, unlike in reunified Germany, East German products retained their associations with modernity.

Jean-Baptiste Pettier investigates controversies within Chinese practices of matchmaking. In “‘A question of bank notes, cars, and houses!’ Matchmaking and the Moral Economy of Love in Urban China,” Pettier reveals a nexus of sentimental and material dimensions in the marriage-decision process, and the complex negotiations undertaken between families to find and choose proper candidates. The balance between personal sentiments, concrete considerations, and the desire for success, simultaneously with the invocation of “love,” renders marriage a fraught endeavor. Moral debates around the interests of wealth, family, social capital, and many other variables, have reverberated through the public sphere over the last decade. They show how “love” acts as a tool of social reproduction while it also expresses sincere aspirations for an emotionally satisfying life. In comparative perspective, the complex of romantic love examined here reveals the friction and static that arise between traditions of parental arrangement, economic considerations, individual sentiments, and socio-political questions of the place of love in modernity.

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