On Conjuring Property: An Interview with Jeremy Campbell

Photo: Forest fires near Castelo de Sonhos (Jeremy Campbell, 2013).

This article originally appeared on the Anthropology and Environment Society blog. This post is part of the series on Settler Colonialism: Life on the Frontier

Theresa Miller (Postdoctoral Fellow, Smithsonian Institution) spoke with Jeremy Campbell (Associate Professor, Roger Williams University) about his recent book on political economy in formation in the Brazilian Amazon.

conjuringproperty

As an “ethnography of political economy in formation” (p. xiii), your book stands out in its focus on the temporality and dynamism of property and the state for settlers in Western Amazonia, concepts that are often categorized as fixed or static. Could this approach be applied to other contexts of settler colonialism throughout the world, or do you think the political economy in formation in western Pará state is unique to that particular context?

Political economies are constantly taking shape, so the study of one “in formation” can be attempted in nearly infinite contexts, contemporary or historic. The challenge is in crafting the boundaries of study: what, exactly, is subject to creative labors and thus taking shape in interesting and impactful ways? In rural Amazonia, property (itself a cornerstone of political economy) is the focus of ideological and material labors for colonists and the state, so there exists an opportunity to track, in real time, the contradictions and surprises that attend to its creation. I think that paying attention to property’s arrival in the hands of colonists—those who have no official backing but who aspire to incorporate themselves and “their” lands into the economy of a nation-state—sheds light on the broader dynamics of settler colonialism. So often the story of landed property’s creation is occluded from the histories that settler colonial states tell themselves—try asking the typical American about the Yazoo land frauds, for example—that I thought it crucial to document the violence, fraud, and confusion through which this mundane cornerstone of social life emerges. Property and the state are always dynamic; much can be learned from seeing them as moving in our analysis, rather than fixed.

Your book centers on the “world-making qualities of property,” as you put it: “how it comes into existence as an institution to order territorial, social, and even historical relations between the colonists who are active agents in its creation” (pp. 18-19). Would you say that your book engages with the recent “ontological turn” in anthropology? If so, would you say that your approach deals with the recent critiques of the “ontological turn” (Bessire and Bond 2014) that maintain it often lacks attention to history and political economy?

I suppose that it’s hard to be an anthropologist these days and not take a position on the ontology debates (though it does seem to be a dust-up that is winding its way towards familiar impasses). But as an Amazonianist, there is nothing either novel or controversial about “the ontological turn.” For nearly thirty years, the key points of this perspective have been discussed, elaborated, and critiqued, perhaps resulting in the feeling among Amazonianists that an ontological approach is, like a feminist or a Foucauldian or a Marxian approach, a set of tools that may or may not be appropriate for a given intellectual task. Amazonian anthropologists—excited as any anthropologists are about the novelty of ontological precepts—have had more time to domesticate them, to find room for them in the cluttered toolbox. In my view, what’s been so breathlessly exciting about the turn is this: since its inception, anthropology has been premised on the idea that there are multiple ways to see and interact with the (singular) world; the ontological turn insists that in fact multiple worlds exist, and that the task of the anthropologist is to translate across the boundaries of worlds that have altogether distinct natures. This is an interesting provocation, but I agree that it can be difficult to see the politics of such an approach (as Bessire and Bond 2014 contend, and as Ramos 2012 does even more forcefully in an Annual Review article). In my effort to understand property speculation in Amazonia, the idea of property as a world-making institution was important, since it seems to me so self-evident that property—both as a concept and a set of material and habitual practices—is infrastructural to the day-to-day operations of the world. Or, if you like, any given world, since I have no need to forestall the possibility of multiple, ontologically divergent worlds.

During fieldwork, however, it became abundantly clear that colonists were engaging property in an effort to make a world that would be recognizable to and eventually subsumed by the already extant world of the Brazilian nation-state. So even though it makes some sense to say that Amazonian colonists inhabit a different world from residents of Rio de Janeiro or Belém, the categories governing what is real are broadly shared among these groups. Colonists are aspiring to join what they perceive to be the modern Brazil that has left them behind or betrayed them, and although property is wildly unstable and generative, all concerned see property as a means to “settling” the universe of possibilities into a singular one in lockstep with Brazilian norms. It’s at this point that the ontological approach hits an analytic dead end when it comes to my material.  My point is to show how property does not pre-exist the labors that bring it into existence, and that if we pay attention to these labors we can understand how productive the instability of categories that are often taken for granted (class, gender, territory, and history) can be. This then enables a critique—and a politics—in which we can gauge to what extent terms (like “sustainable development”) and actors (e.g. colonists, the state) circulate, proliferate, and create stark inequalities and power imbalances. I am sympathetic to the point that political economic norms—which are the focus of my work, showing how they stabilize out of fits and starts and reversals in one particular place, over time—themselves constitute a particular way of being in and generating knowledge about the world. In other words, the concept of divisible and salable property may be construed as constitutive of an ontology that pulls individual persons out of the networks of energy and matter that sustain and create them, networks that could be (and are) understood and occupied with a radically different set of terms and habits. But here’s the point: Amazonian colonists are yearning to be so pulled out of what, for them, is the messy and indeterminate mash up of territories and claims that lack order; they already see the forest like the state does (or “like it should,” in the words of one settler), and not in the same manner as the Amerindians who Viveiros de Castro, Descola, and others have made famous as the exemplars of ontologically-divergent practice. Rather than engaging the ontological question—which generates only a shallow or obvious answer in the case of property dynamics in Amazonia—I erred on the side of staying close to the trouble, and tried to grapple with how property conjuring fuels inequality and environmental destruction.

document-forging-2007
Document forging (Jeremy Campbell, 2007).

Throughout the book there is an emphasis on the creation of boundaries, borders, and lines to support overlapping, contingent, and in many cases fraudulent property claims. As you maintain, frontiers are emergent as “world-making cultural objects” (p. 30). Yet settlers, both grandes and pequenos, are in a constant process of attempting to solidify the boundaries they have created through government approval and regularization. How do you reconcile this apparent contradiction between the reality of boundaries always in formation and contested, and the “ideal” of fixed boundaries that settlers pursue?

The relationship is fundamentally dialectical. In rural Amazonia, the law—the status of being recognized as in keeping with formal regulations—only takes shape through foundational acts which are illegal, illicit, and opportunistic. I don’t think this is unique to my field site, by the way. In Amazonia, part of the problem is that there have been so many distinct policies and regulations governing and encouraging colonization of the region. Colonists thus believe their actions have the force of law even if contradictory regulations also exist. Another factor is the relative weakness of the federal government in Brazil in terms of material presence in rural communities: there are no courts, few police, and all land registry offices are actually private businesses. Yet, in another sense, government is everywhere, in that colonists are working to bring about structures—property foremost among them—that will be acknowledged and regulated by the state in the future. The boundaries that these colonists cut through the forest, and the title documents they confect to their bolster claims, are real and impactful acts, but they are also notional expressions, speculation as to what might be recognizable as legal in the future.

There’s a great phrase that I heard often in Pará, and which gives a sense of how colonists think about the mercurial quality of law: “se a lei pega,” or “if the law sticks.” Colonists are aware of the letter of the law—and as I said, there are often contradictory precepts in law anyway. But colonists also understand, on a practical level, that law is a social construct that can be shifted in meaning and application. I heard “if the law sticks” often as colonists discussed new land regularization policies emerging from far-off Brasilia. The phrase reveals how the new law might not “stick,” and opens the possibility that policies might be able to be molded to “fit” preexisting practices. It’s at this moment that we see colonists as active agents in turning illicit and speculative activities into the settled and predictable ones that form the basis of political economy and become routinized as law. They are not trying to evade law, to get away with something without getting caught. They recognize, rather, that different governmental plans have come and gone, have been more or less “sticky,” and that this represents an opportunity to be creative in anticipating and trying to shape what comes next.

Your ethnography is incredibly nuanced in its ability to show the unequal yet overlapping realities of “conjuring property” for both small-scale, poor settlers (pequenos) and landed elites (grandes). Can you describe in more detail how you came to approach writing the book without falling into the common trope of victims and villains (p. 23)? In addition, how have you been able to conduct research with individuals from both groups who are often at odds with one another?

I find the victims/villains trope a bit cartoonish and ultimately unhelpful for the task of taking colonists’ lives seriously in Amazonia. Within anthropology, it has sometimes been fashionable to see colonists as demons of one shape or another, with the harshest opprobrium reserved for loggers and ranchers. I was curious to know how these very “villains” saw the world, to be sure, but I was also interested in telling the overlooked story of land-grabbing and speculation. Often, land-grabbers (grileiros) and the “big guy” (grandes) ranchers or loggers are one and the same, and if that were the whole story I’d certainly measure these folks for villainous garb. But property conjuring exerts a centripetal force in colonial Amazonia, drawing in small famers and landless workers (pequenos) as well. Though smallholders did not have the sophisticated document-forging capacities of their grande counterparts—nor did they have connections with dubious real estate firms in southern Brazil which sold land to third parties illegally—pequenos also crafted methods to claim property without official sanction from the state. Though the game was lopsided in favor of grandes from the start, pequenos co-opted elements of socio-environmentalism to take possession of land and anticipate that it would be deeded to them. This is clearly shady stuff too—maybe even villainous—but if we stop the analysis here, no texture or distinction is possible. People are so often more complicated than the one-dimensional props that we use to animate our stories. Furthermore, I feel that any principled defense of indigenous Amazonians’ land rights—a defense that I am directly engaged in and morally in favor of—needs to understand the outlooks and methods of those colonists that are, very rapidly, coming to speak for Amazonian forests as wholly-owned parcels of private property. The steps between terra nullius and deforested ranchlands are many, the set of characters is diverse, and the stakes for Amazonian peoples and places are too high for shoddy social analysis.

It took a lot of time, and many false starts, before I gained sufficient trust of both grandes and pequenos. I was a suspicious character—why would a North American be living in a colonial outpost unless he worked for the CIA or was a spy for an arch-enemy type (insert Greenpeace or any other prominent environmental organization here; I was called ‘em all). Grandes were doubly skeptical of my motives, since I first arrived in the region through contacts with the landless workers’ union. As I explain in the book, though, the line between pequeno and grande dissolved in moments of crisis—when both sides felt that the land claims they had curated would be rejected entirely by the state. Parties on both sides collaborated and colluded, and many were happy to have a researcher documenting what they were up to. It was another potential source of validation—we’re here, see, this guy is writing about us! I think that, over time, the people with whom I worked allowed their suspicions of me to subside (though I’m not sure that the elites ever truly let them go), since I was, for good or ill, sticking around. Anyone who has done research in Amazonia can attest that “researcher” (pesquisador) can be a difficult label to bear, and can muck up relationships before they’re even able to materialize. There are important reasons for this suspicion, and it is also important to recognize the considerable differences between, say, the suspicion of researchers exhibited by indigenous peoples concerned with how “research” can be marshalled to take away their lands and, on the other hand, the suspicion of land-grabbers towards researchers who might reveal their scheming. In my experience, the most potent feeling for settlers in Western Pará was one of being willfully misunderstood by outsiders, conveniently villainized when not altogether forgotten. My prolonged presence in Castelo de Sonhos activated these concerns. Interviews ended abruptly, people gave me the cold shoulder, and I spent close to a year on repeat, explaining myself, sometimes to amazed disbelief. But unlike other researchers who may have passed through the village or stayed for a week or two, I simply didn’t leave. I realize now that I was incredibly lucky to not have been chased out! So, for many people, I think I became the guy who was going to tell their story. I hope I did it justice.

The book is also unique in its sustained focus on fraud – through doctoring paperwork to make it appear older, forging picada border trails, violence and intimidation, and the interesting system of laranjas, wherein grandes use the names of pequenos to register land parcels that they actually own, initiating a system of essentially debt peonage (pp. 74-75). How did you come to discover these different types of fraud during your extensive fieldwork?

picada-trail-property-boundary-2007
Picada trail property boundary (Jeremy Campbell, 2007).

Again, it took a lot of time and many errors on my part to uncover how property conjuring works in practice. I know for sure that, without the backing of a well-liked radio DJ who doubled as a self-styled community activist, I would never have made the progress I did. This DJ was friendly with both grande ranchers and pequeno workers, and also had a keen understanding of the local economy. Gold and lumber had each boomed and busted by the time I arrived in Castelo de Sonhos, and understanding the remnants of these economic activities—the firms and workers and dreams left behind—provided crucial context for understanding the rise of property speculation and land grabbing. One of the most shocking things to me was that, after about a year or so of establishing rapport (I spent nearly three years in the field), my timid questions about land fraud were not met with anger or denial as I expected. Rather, informants responded with detailed descriptions of how fraud was actually carried out—the document forging, trail management, illicit sales and phony registrations. Everyone was really open about land fraud, since they figured (correctly) that just about everyone else was doing it too.

Despite the surprising frankness about property games, there were still several vexing puzzles that took me years to figure out. The laranja scheme, in which grandes use the good names of pequenos or other third parties to consolidate massive properties for the grande, was particularly difficult to understand. Only when I discovered multiple examples of grandes “giving” land to pequenos—properties that the latter thought were theirs but which lacked any reliable documentation—did I finally piece together how it all worked. I had to learn how to listen to grandes and pequenos from where each sat in a patron-client network; descriptions of land claims might change depending on who was in the room and who was in debt to whom.

You mention that women often held positions of authority in certain settlers’ movements such as the Rural Worker’s Union (STR; p. 87). Could you elaborate on the role of women in the practices of conjuring property? For example, do women ever take on the role of cutting picada trails?

landless-workers-in-western-para%2c-2008
Landless workers in Western Pará (Jeremy Campbell, 2008).

I never observed women involved in cutting trails (picadas) through the woods to mark property limits. In truth, though, this is but one technique for making property “show up” to others in rural Amazonia. Women do walk property lines as a means of surveying whether other trails have been cut—and they often do this in mixed-gender groups. But far from the trails that define claimed parcels, women are deeply involved in other techniques of property conjuring, which include the falsification of deeds and the curation of intricate chains of title, receipts of sale or mortgage, and the like. Women and men alike do this sort of paper-making labor. Women also, it should be noted, do most of the food-production and other domestic labors that sustain colonial outposts in Amazonia. But what I found most at odds with the typical gendered division of labor is also what I think is most important about the question of gender in conjuring property: more often than not, it was women who were leaders in linking property claimants along, and even across, class lines. This was true for pequenos—the most effective leaders of landless worker organizations were all women—and for grandes, among whom women were most likely to organize meetings or to propose and discuss strategies. Women in rural Amazonian colonial settlements are the key entrepreneurs—this term is imprecise, but gets at both the leadership roles women took on and the considerable risk they were willing to bear when coordinating, for example, across class lines. We see this most clearly in the “paper settlements scandal” (described in Chapter 4), when smallholder farmer associations colluded with powerful loggers to take possession of agrarian reform settlements for the purpose of profiting off of logging the forests. Women leaders negotiated that “deal” on both sides of the pequeno/grande divide. Why this would be the case—why women would be the most effective and creative coalition-builders when it comes to the Brazilian “settling” colonial frontier—is a question of huge importance, though unfortunately beyond the scope of the book.

Your application of Tim Ingold’s (2000) concept of “sentient ecology” to describe working on conjuring property in the local landscape (pp. 78-79) was quite interesting, especially because Ingold’s theories on environmental knowledge are typically applied to indigenous or other “traditional” communities. Would you say that the “sentient ecology” of cutting picada trails can be applied to all settlers, or is this more of an expert knowledge acquired by certain people?

Intimate knowledge of forests is acquired by those who first “mexer com terra” (“mess with land”) among Amazonian colonists. This includes those who cut picada boundary trails and people who patrol these trails or scout out new territories for land-grabbing. Knowledge of soils and forest fauna is also acquired by homesteading farmers who emigrate to the region with little capital and no experience with the Amazonian biome. So this knowledge is hard-won, though even a colonist-made-knowledgeable through experience in the forest is not guaranteed to be a successful colonist. Ingold’s idea of “sentient ecology” seemed apt because, as colonists learned to read, use, and move through an alien environment they also came to understand how their actions—cutting trails, setting fires, and opening farms—were messages that other forces (human and non-human) could decipher and respond to. Making a move on land—by sending a message with a trail or with a homestead—was always riddled with the risk of failure: environmental conditions could doom a farm, a wildfire could swallow up a homestead, and an ill-timed opening of a new boundary trail could be met with violent reprisals from a neighbor. Listening to one’s surroundings—and “speaking” intelligently so that your actions might incur less risk—became crucial skills for self-styled pioneers.

However, this “sentient ecology” seems only to be an important circuit of careful listening-acting-speaking for those who initially “mexer com terra,” the very first to open up homesteads and boundary trails. Maintaining these labors requires careful skill and attention, but the very point of these activities is to settle and civilize the territory. Which is to say, those who learn to listen to and engage with an alien environment are simultaneously fiercely dedicated to diminishing the utility of these newly acquired skills. Speculators, ranchers, and other colonists who move to Pará after some semblance of colonial territoriality has been established need not acquire the skills necessary to walk or “read” a boundary trail, or to find cultivars that grow in Amazonian soils. These later arrivals still must learn skills, but they are coming into a country already transformed enough to resemble, at least aspirationally or proleptically, the industrial agricultural lands of Brazil’s south and center-west.

Settlers are constantly reshaping history through forging property documents, and as you convincingly argue, are living “proleptically” (p. 129) – representing themselves as inhabitants of the land before they actually were. Can you elaborate further on this interesting concept of settler prolepsis? Do you think it could be applied to other contexts of settler colonialism as well?

I do see prolepsis as having greater analytical purchase beyond land dealings, and far beyond the lowland South America context I explore. In my use of the term, prolepsis gets at how people attempt to occupy a rhetorical stance that inoculates them from criticism. It’s a kind a preemptive changing of the script, a prophylaxis against counter-arguments. The temporal effect of this is what I wanted to show in Conjuring Property: prolepsis has effect of sowing things back in time that didn’t really happen, as a way of blunting an anticipated criticism. As in rhetoric or debate: “I was already anticipating your thought…so here’s how you were always wrong about the matter…” In Amazonian land disputes, the “already” is entailed with how colonists narrate the past, whereas the anticipation is oriented towards what the state might ratify as viable claims on land at some point in the future. To prolept the state’s moves (and those of other potential claimants) is to guess what future regulations might dictate about the historical profile of viable claims. That is, a claimant has to be ready to fit with what will be considered lawful occupation of the place at a given time in the past and under certain conditions. To prepare their claims, colonists make their forged deeds look older than they really are, but they also assume the rhetorical stance of being already owners, already old and established in this place, even though they are anything but. It’s a political tactic meant to bend the regularization process towards honoring colonists’ claims. At base, prolepsis tries to turn into a fait accompli something that is still very much subject to dispute and interpretation by removing it—in this case property and its legitimate establishment in time—from the realm of debate. I do think there is something specific and important to how faits accomplis are “weaponized” in lowland South America as a cultural-cum-political style. Using prolepsis, ranchers and loggers can anticipate and deflect environmental regulations by making themselves into environmentalists, as I show in the book and as is happening in Peru, Ecuador, and Paraguay, far from the western Pará case.  But I imagine that the rhetorical stance of being “already with the program” would be recognizable to scholars and activists working in resource frontiers throughout the world. In the end, prolepsis is a strategy for speaking about resources in a way that naturalizes their ownership by particular parties—the details can differ, but the end result is to forestall debate about whether such resources should indeed be owned at all.

What was perhaps most surprising in the book was the settlers, both grandes and pequenos, co-opting the language of Brazilian socio-environmentalism for their own purposes, seen especially in the argument that “production” (ranching, logging, farming) was akin to “protecting” the environment (pp. 140-141, 153). As you state, this co-optation ended the era of socio-environmentalism projects in the region, that only lasted for 2 years (2006-2008). Do you think that settlers would respond to environmentalist projects differently in the future, especially if pursued differently by outsiders?

My current work with indigenous peoples engaged in anti-dam activism in the Tapajós Valley has brought me at the question of territorial disputes from a slightly different vantage, only to see similar things. Miners, ranchers, and loggers have persistently tried to cloak their activities in the trappings of sustainable development. They also hardly hide their efforts to shape land use policy through direct manipulation of government entities at the local, state, and federal levels. Activities like mining, ranching, and logging need a lot of land to generate profits, and the vast majority of land in Amazonia falls under a federal- or state- protective designation. National forests are a great example: these are protected lands that are open to logging and mining (and, in some cases, even ranching) provided that the “producer” has a land-use protocol approved by the state. Big businesses—Brazilian and foreign—are best situated to develop these protocols, and it is precisely these firms that are attracted to the region due to the low start-up costs of doing “productive” activities in greenfield sites as opposed to buying up land that has already been deforested. So the last obstacle for well-capitalized firms to work in the region is appearing to be respectful of the environment. This is greenwashing for the sake of government types and for local settler communities, who constitute a labor reserve for such “productive” projects. These laborers need to be “equipped” to see themselves as environmentally-conscious miners, ranchers, or loggers. In this rendering, environmental engagement is turned into something very specific: a way to speak about territories so as to commoditize them. And everyone from capital to labor to the state is in on the farce of “sustainable development,” making the role of environmental organizations and activist (like the ones I discuss in Chapters 4 and 5) all the more difficult in the Brazilian Amazon.

It’s also important to note that this nature-as-commodity logic emerges not in the absence of regulations or as the result of conflicts about the meaning of environmental protection. Rather, the very regulations posit that the way to protect the environment is to sell it. Outside firms, government agencies, and the vast majority of colonial settlers come to a sort of negotiated settlement that free markets will ensure profits, preservation, and the establishment of law and order on the frontier. Smallholders and native communities are often subject to divide-and-conquer techniques as developers try to win locals to their cause; many of these locals then speak, in their own terms but in ways that parrot the greenwashers, a version of market environmentalism. The tragic results of this dividing-and-conquering can be seen in the case of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Complex, in the Xingu Valley just to the east of where I work (see Laura Zanotti’s [2015] and Eve Bratman’s [2014] great work on this case). So, no, I’m not hopeful that colonist populations will respond differently to future environmental projects in the region; these communities understand their “productive” work to be already green, in both senses of the word.

You conclude the book with some indication of what may lie ahead in land-grabbing in Western Pará, especially as Brazilian governmental policy shifts toward the market-driven “environmental governance” (p. 158-159). Could you speculate further here on the future of settlers’ future-oriented speculative accumulation?

I wrote this book to explore a puzzle: Brazil has progressive environmental laws, but bad outcomes.  Deforestation has spiked again recently, native peoples’ lands are in peril, and indigenous leaders and environmental activists are in constant danger of assassination. Understanding the disposition of land—who controls it, comes to speak for it, and how rules are selectively marshalled or bent to sure up claims—seemed like crucial things to understand. But I wanted to avoid reductionist or silly tropes that often guide what we think is going on with deforestation or environmental change more generally. So, this is a story about colonialism, and specifically the socio-cultural dimensions of colonialism, the set of habits of mind and daily practices that amount to normalization of destruction and dispossession. I think there are three take-away messages from this sustained examination of property conjuring in Amazonia: first, claims-making is all about the metaphorical emptying of land—of its indigenous histories and ecological networks—so that it might be filled up with property, which both propels and is propelled by a normative faith in “settling the frontier.” Second, the frontier dreams draw so many to Amazonia become ensnared in a system that, by manipulating of the hopes of the poor to own land, actually delivers more land to the rural elite. Property conjuring and land speculation offer hope to the marginalized, but only accelerate environmental destruction and the concentration of wealth. Finally, through all of this we can see that deforestation is not a technical matter of “poor incentives” or a lack of “command and control.” Rather, environmental change is thoroughly tied up with, and a result of, the elaboration of a cultural outlook on land and economy: property is the bridge between these two, but property emerges from the actions and aspirations of people. We need to see those people, and their habits and practices, if we’re ever going to understand what’s going on in Amazonia and work to change it.

Change is possible, and victories can be won. My current work with the Munduruku and their river-dwelling allies (ribeirinhos) in the Tapajós is a case-in-point. These communities were (and remain) threatened by land-grabbers and their allies in government who backed the “development” promised by hydroelectric dams in the region. Among the dams’ backers were Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector, which sees expansion into Amazonia as crucial for continued profitability in commodity exports (soy chief among them). Add to this an array of smallholders and ranchers who see themselves as “green,” and who describe hydroelectric energy as the clean and responsible way to grow the region. So here is the entire settler machine—its consciousness, proleptic strategies, and tremendous material power—focused on the Tapajós Valley. What chance do the Munduruku and ribeirinhos have? Shockingly, in August (2016), the largest proposed dam in the valley was cancelled due to a judicial suit brought by these traditional communities. The suit—and the well-organized social movement which drove it forward—argued for a different, non-commoditized view of territory and described how this territoriality has sustained differentiated cultures for generations. And they won, at least for now, by entering the space of politics proleptically: they knew their opponents, anticipated their moves, and firmly repudiated them. This victory gives me cautious hope, because it demonstrates that the state can yet be a tool for reigning in the settler ethos and for guaranteeing traditional peoples’ constitutional rights. Such work is difficult, and requires allies within and outside government offices willing to harness, cajole, or embarrass the state to get results, but it can be done.


Dr. Jeremy Campbell has conducted ethnographic research in the Brazilian Amazon since 2005, where he has focused on land conflicts, forest governance schemes, and indigenous rights movements. Campbell teaches at Roger Williams University, where he also coordinates the program in Sustainability Studies. He also serves as a member of the executive board of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America (SALSA).


Works Cited:

Bessire, Lucas and David Bond. 2014. Ontological Anthropology and the Deferral of Critique. American Ethnologist 41(3): 440–456.

Bratman, Eve. 2014. Contradictions of Green Development: Human Rights and Environmental Norms in Light of Belo Monte Dam Activism. Journal of Latin American Studies 46: 261-289. DOI: 10.1017/S0022216X14000042.

Ingold, Tim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. New York: Routledge.

Ramos, Alcida. 2012. The Politics of Perspectivism. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 481-494. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145950.

Zanotti, Laura. 2015. Water and Life: Hydroelectric Development and Indigenous Pathways to Justice in the Brazilian Amazon. Politics, Groups, and Identities 3(4). DOI: 10.1080/21565503.2015.1080621.

One thought on “On Conjuring Property: An Interview with Jeremy Campbell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s