AES in Boston

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

At the 2014 AES conference, I organized a panel titled: "Visibilization and Concealment: Social Critique and Anthropologies of Value.” Panelists include: Daniel Souleles, Lucy Norris, Nusrat Chowdhury, Ping-Ann Addo, Nina Sylvanus, and Mrinalini Tankha. Elizabeth Ferry and Caitrin Lynch will serve as discussants. My paper is titled: “It’s almost like paying for praying:” Alternative Economies of Blessings and Valuation Practices.

Abstract: Ritual exchange practices in church and among kin is on of the institutional ways that families and networks are sustained and created in Samoa. However, church-based gift giving is critiqued in whispers, editorial articles, and in evangelical sermons. In this paper I ask why is reciprocity criticized now? Why do people feel vulnerable? Why is church reciprocity to blame for such a host of social ills? Contrasting the church’s capacity to be a burden and a blessing articulates a conflict between value and values in Samoa today. Value, as Miller and Graeber note, has two contrasting meanings: value as price and economic worth, which is measurable, and values as proper and good, which is priceless. Contestation emerges as how to best practice and create value that serves values. I trace “what value does” (Miller 2006: 1122) in gift-exchange and tithing to bring different values into being. I also draw from Graeber’s distinctions between open and closed reciprocity to examine why church-gift-giving is problematized and tithing is an attractive contrast. I argue that a sense of social decline across Samoa encourages many to re-conceive the church from an indigenous social structure, requiring the same kind of exchange and valuation practices as chiefs and the village, to the church as a social welfare institution that provides prosperity and alternative possibilities and modalities for achieving authority.