From the Editor

Read the introduction to the May issue from editor-in-chief Deborah Thomas. An excerpt:

Recently, I gave the distinguished lecture for the National Library of Jamaica in commemoration of its fortieth anniversary. This is a biennial event, and I was invited because my collaborators and I have made extensive use of the library’s audio‐visual archives for our films about state violence in Jamaica. The library staff, who are continually asked to justify the expenditures their existence requires, wanted me to talk about the importance of archives generally, and, implicitly, their relationship to nation‐building. I began the talk with Michel‐Rolph Trouillot’s (1995) important critical insights about archives: his insistence that we position archives not as static sources of information, but as dynamic spaces where knowledge is produced. Trouillot’s argument, of course, was that both the materiality of history and the interpretations of that materiality are constructed. By this, he meant that archives are mediated rather than transparent, and that they are mediated by the particular historical conjunctures in which we find ourselves. Archiving, when understood in this sense, produces silences and absences as well as presences. I went on to discuss the disavowals these silences and absences can maintain—in this case, regarding the relationships among slavery, coloniality, and contemporary state violence. I used this discussion as a platform to consider our film work and its attempt to bring these relationships to light by generating affective responses to the various forms of violence that condition our attentiveness to those most affected by violence. Our aim, I asserted, has been to cultivate a sense of mutuality that would expose the ways we are complicit in the perpetuation of violence and that would demand collective accountability.

This year, the library also wanted to do something different. While the event usually features a speaker followed by a question‐and‐answer session, they wanted to use this year’s lecture to provoke a broader conversation, so they organized a panel discussion to follow my talk. The panel included Major General Anthony Anderson, currently the commissioner of police and formerly the deputy director of the Jamaican Defense Force (the army); Paula Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions; and Reverend Dr. Devon Dick, past president of the Jamaica Baptist Union. While I was making a case for us to think differently about the place of the past in the present, and how the past conditions the ways we address people living in politically volatile communities in downtown Kingston, two of the panelists sought to justify the forms of police and military action that build on and create the conditions of insecurity in these spaces and to highlight the urgency of the violence facing the society as a whole. The police and the lawyers were in the trenches (indeed, they are), and I, in their view, had the luxury of academic distance, and thus the inclination to believe the “lies” people told us, “lies” that also appeal to foreign donors funding nongovernmental projects oriented toward putting an end to extrajudicial violence. In the audience, there were representatives from a number of civil society organizations that have worked extensively on violence prevention and community development, yet during the panel, there was little space for reflecting in more complex ways about the broader forms of historical and structural violence that create the conditions for criminal involvement or for the ways these limit our ability to apprehend current events in terms other than blanket designations of criminal and innocent, law‐breaking and law‐abiding, lies and truth. The event itself thus instantiated the deep divisions within Jamaican society. It highlighted the problems of translation between and among representatives of the state and civil society, the government and the people.

Translation is, in fact, a central concern among many of the pieces in this issue, and has sometimes been seen as the bread and butter of anthropology itself—making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, or, in other language, making non‐Western societies legible to Westerners, either for purposes of governance, or, in more contemporary contexts, to create sustainable biomedical, historical, or environmental interventions. Indeed, a number of the pieces in this issue interrogate the following questions: What kinds of knowledge does collaboration produce? How is expertise defined and made legible to various stakeholders? Who is foregrounded and what is erased in the processes of translation that must accompany collective knowledge production? What kinds of projects do these processes serve?

You can find the full introduction here.

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