Anthropologist

SCA in Detroit

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

At the 2014 SCA conference, I will be giving a paper on the panel, "Cajoling Crisis: The Uses and Abuses of a Slippery Concept" organized by Daniel Souleles. My paper is titled: "Critique and the (un)Productivity of Wealth: Gift-giving, Tithing and Christian Debate in Samoa."

Abstract: In Samoa, as elsewhere in Oceania, there is a sense of decline iterated by diverse Samoans. Strikingly, evangelical Christians share a critique with (often mainstream Christian) urban elites who both identify a “false economy” operating at the level of government, chiefly leadership, and church institutions. The critique draws attention the importance of publics in the performance of wealth and a corollary lack of productive or redistributive wealth. For evangelical Christians, in particular, mainstream church giving is problematized. The logic of mainstream church giving is that congregants publicly serve God by giving to/through the pastor. The pastor acts as a mediator between congregants and God. Evangelical churches posit giving is personal and direct between individual Christians and God. The productivity of wealth is predicated on individual giving that is ethically motivated; this stands in contrast to giving that is publicly motivated. Corollary critiques are made of government spending and chiefly ritual exchange by evangelical and mainstream Christians. In this paper I analyze newspaper-based debates about offerings, tithing, and gift-giving in church to parse how the (un)productivity of wealth is imagined in relation to discourses of decline. These debates articulate what Elizabeth Povinelli calls “ordinary, chronic, and cruddy rather than catastrophic, crisis-laden and sublime” suffering (2011: 3). I argue that critique as a cultural practice is part of an everyday politics/practices of crisis.