A Mediating Capacity: Amandla, sustenance, and transformations of labour in the contemporary South African countryside

Please note new start time of 12.30pm

In this presentation, I would like to sketch the outline for a book project in which I examine the emergence of the gut as a new epistemic object in postcolonial South Africa by means of which life, labor, and value are constituted, mediated, and transformed. The narrative moves between fine-grained ethnographic description of a group of women who live and labor in the timber plantations of northern KwaZulu-Natal, and an emerging regime of knowledge of HIV, the immune system, the body and its absorptions. By paying close ethnographic attention to the practices and transformations surrounding nutrition, timber production, and relatedness, the argument I develop turns on the mediations performed by the gut that I understand in terms of a series of imminent semiotic operations. How does value (its production, circulation, absorption, and transformation) intersect with emerging regimes of knowledge of the population and the regulation of health in the ordinary practices of plantation laborers? I trace the emergence of the gut as a new epistemic object through four threads: labor and endurance; substance and kinship; epidemic and evidence; the grammar of hunger; in order to make the case for an anthropology of the gut.