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Trauma, Bureaucraft and the Politics of Aid in Haiti

Lecture by Erica James, Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Thursday, April 15, 2010
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Haines 352
Los Angeles, CA 90095

There has been a proliferation of discourses and practices of “witchcraft” in societies undergoing uncertain transitions to democracy and capitalism, transitions that are frequently brokered by transnational actors through vehicles of humanitarian and development aid. Political and economic insecurity flourishes, producing anxieties about the distribution of resources and wealth and accusations about illicit accumulation in occult economies. Despite rhetorics and practices designed to be transparent, rational, and accountable, the aid apparatus in Haiti displayed the features of what the speaker terms “bureaucraft” during and after the 1991 to 1994 period of political conflict. Prof. James defines bureaucraft as the interactions between phenomena of witchcraft, sorcery, magic, and bureaucracy in the social life of humanitarian and development assistance. Her article presentation will discuss the unintended consequences of humanitarian and development aid provided to traumatized “victims of human rights abuses” in contemporary Haiti, arguing that alongside phenomena of “witchcraft,” bureaucraft has emerged within the aid apparatus in Haiti – exposing the contradictions in rhetorics and practices of transparency and accountability in western bureaucratic institutions.

Cost : Free and Open to the Public

Jorge Marturano

Sponsor(s): Latin American Institute, UCLA Culture, Power, and Social Change, the UCLA Mellon Faculty Seminar on Caribbean Cultural History

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