Virtual Issues

The first virtual issue of Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR) came out in 2010 as a companion to its symposium issue on NGOs (Volume 33, Issue 2). Featuring nine articles published between 1998 and 2009, this issue highlighted the growing role of international and private organizations in changes all over the globe — from Nepal to Zimbabwe to Mexico. Additional virtual issues are in the works for 2012 and beyond, so check back for updates!

In 2012, Political and Legal Anthropology Review launched its Digital Editorial Fellows Program for graduate students interested in enhancing their knowledge and experience in the areas of academic publishing and digital studies. The program is part of an effort to expand Political and Legal Anthropology Review’s virtual presence and foster dialogue among members, while continuing APLA’s tradition of graduate student mentorship in the field. Working with Online Content Editor, Kate Henne, inaugural cohort will develop themes for  virtual issues, initiate new spillover conversations, and collaboratively create new initiatives with colleagues in other disciplines and countries. At the end of the program, Fellows have the opportunity to meet with PoLAR editors and reflect on the program as well as their future academic goals.

For additional information and application, click here.

Transparency, writes Andrea Ballestero S. in her introduction to the 2012 PoLAR symposium on transparency (Issue 35, Volume 2), is “a political and legal device” that is “intended to correct the democratic deficits of existing forms of law, bureaucracy, and even subjectivity.” Transparency is premised on the belief that making otherwise unseen processes and information visible in the public arena offers a corrective tool to “check” governance practices.

The articles featured in this virtual issue complicate this premise by exploring transparency as an object of anthropological inquiry. They collectively illustrate the material practices, negotiations, and even impossibilities of transparency as revealed by the actions and reflections of those who encounter and wrestle with its terms in a variety of contexts. These analyses not only document actions and rituals that emerge from pursuing transparency, but they also illuminate the legalistic and political contours that inform expectations of transparency. In sum, this virtual issue takes readers “deep into the trenches of a transparency-obsessed world,” yielding important observations that Kregg Hetherington critically discusses in his commentary on the original PoLAR symposium.


• Gerhard Anders and Amy Levine reflect on developments since their articles’ publication.
• 2012 APLA Student Paper Prize winner Rachel Dotson discusses politics of transparency in Guatemala in an essay entitled, Auditing Mi Familia Progresa: Transparency and Citizenship in Guatemala.


Transparency-making Documents and the Crisis of Implementation: A Rural Employment Law and Development Bureacracy in India
Nayanika Mathur in Volume 35 Issue 2. November 2012

This article examines an attempt by the Indian state to render its developmental operations “transparent” by tracking the implementation of India’s ambitious social security legislation, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA). On the basis of long-term immersion in government offices, I argue that transparent governance is, quite literally, made by documents.


Black Boxes of Bureaucracy: Transparency and Opacity in the Resettlement Process of Congolese Refugees
Marnie Jane Thomson in Volume 35 Issue 2. November 2012

This article focuses on the official documents Congolese refugees collect as evidence of their persecution to bolster their resettlement claims. I trace one family’s story as it is folded, literally and metaphorically, into an envelope delivered to a UNHCR resettlement official, arguing that the apparent transparency of the resettlement process facilitates and justifies its concomitant opacity.


Activating Citizens, Remaking Brokerage: Transparency Activism, Ethical Scenes, adn the Urban Poor in Delhi
Martin Webb in Volume 35 Issue 2. November 2012

This article explores their attempts to help Delhi’s poor engage with the state as active citizens claiming their rights to welfare. I argue that the work of transparency activists is directed at producing an “ethical scene” in which their poor clients are encouraged to understand themselves as potentially empowered citizens of a nation wounded by corruption and bad governance.


DSCN1744Transparency Short-Circuited: Laughter and Numbers in Costa Rican Water Politics
Andrea Ballestero S. in Volume 35 Issue 2. November 2012

Between 2006 and 2009, Costa Rican NGOs, an aid agency, and local residents were entangled in the pursuit of transparency as a means to allocate funding for their “human right to water” project initiatives. The aid agency conditioned funding to honest and correct implementation as revealed by indicators. This article examines the building of that indicator system, informants’ fascination with producing “speaking numbers,” and the role that laughter played in the process.


The Normativity of Numbers: World Bank and IMF Conditionality
Gerhard Anders in Volume 31 Issue 2. November 2008

Good governance reforms aim at transforming African state bureaucracies into efficient, transparent, and accountable institutions. A close reading of loan documents signed by representatives of IFIs and the government of Malawi demonstrates how responsibility for such reforms is ascribed to the government of Malawi, which “owns” the reforms. The article shows how the conditionality attached to loans fuses legal logic and economics in a characteristic “normativity of numbers.”


The Transparent Case of Virtuality
Amy Levine in Volume 27 Issue 1. May 2004

This paper employs cross-instrumental borrowing to describe the way in which, circa the 2002 election, South Korean NGO activists and President-elect Roh seemed to be exchanging methods for crosspurposes, particularly around demands for increased “transparency” (tumyeongseong). My aim is to ethnographically access transparency’s defining mode of emptiness, or virtuality, and how it operates through the movement between being a tool and being ontologically real.


Experimentality: On the Global Mobility and Regulation of Human Subjects Research
Adriana Petryna in Volume 30 Issue 2. November 2007

The outsourcing and offshoring of clinical trials has generated an unprecedented global field of experimental activity. This essay charts the mobility of the clinical trials industry and its move into low- and middle-income countries, illuminating the scientific, economic, and regulatory mechanisms by which this experimentality takes form. It shows the transparency of this experimental enterprise and how it molds itself to international norms and national politics.


Life Stories, Disclosure and the Law
Michelle McKinley in Volume 20 Issue 2. November 1997

This paper addresses the use of personal narratives in refugee women’s applications for political asylum, which recount past experiences of sexual abuse, intimate battering, and the persecutory nature of cultural practices affecting women. My concern here is to examine how legal advocates elicit and use their clients’ personal narratives for persuasive and programmatic purposes, contemplating a possible synthesis between legal and anthropological modes of “interrogation.”

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