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"Finding Rhythms in the Road":
Ethnography of Road Experiences in Central America

   The purpose of this project is to conduct 14 days of follow-up fieldwork this summer in preparation for my dissertation research. My specific goals for this trip are to 1) conduct follow-up research at my primary field site of Paso Canoas, Panamá 2) strengthen institutional contacts and conduct library research at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí and 3) conduct non-participant observation at the field site of Yaviza, Panamá. This follow-up fieldwork will secure the logistical foundations for a multi-sited dissertation project that examines social interactions between border community residents, border crossers, and state officials along the Pan-American Highway system in Central America. These relationships, I argue, offer vital insights for a nuanced understanding of globalizing policies and the ways that border communities positively affect the flows of people and cargo that are critical for the economic development of Central American countries. 


   My doctoral project seeks to contribute to anthropological studies of the state that analyze how individuals perceive themselves and are perceived within neoliberal forms of governance. This specific literature identifies the necessities provided by the state and the methods that individuals employ to achieve them (Foucault 1991; Sayer 1994; Petryna 2002) and the role of informal labor within the state structure (Hart 1973; Soto 1989; Galemba 2008). A second aspect of my research draws upon themes central to anthropological studies of borders; including the growth of culture on the border (Nordstrom 2000; Poole 2004), the pursuit of illegal activities (Roitman 2004; Abraham and van Schendel 2005), and the importance of the social relationships of state agents (Blundo and Olivier de Sardan 2006; Chalfin 2010). Each of these approaches contributes perspectives that, when combined, help to guide the questions raised within this project.

   The proposed preliminary fieldwork entails three tasks. First, I will conduct follow-up research at the field site of Paso Canoas- located on the border of Costa Rica and Panamá. The research will provide time to re-establish contacts that were made during exploratory field research and to conduct further participant observation of informal work within the border community. Second, I will proceed with a follow-up visit to the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí in David, Panamá. The visit will be used to strengthen institutional contacts that were made during exploratory field work and to collect sources on the history and examination of the Paso Canoas border community from the library at the University. Third, I will employ non-participant observation at the field site of Yaviza, Panamá. Data collected at this location will provide valuable insight to the state of informal labor in a community that occupies the end of the Pan-American Highway in Central America. The information gathered from the three proposed tasks will contribute to the planning and implementation of long term dissertation research.


   My project has direct relevance to applied anthropology because it analyzes how border crossing processes are both perpetuated and altered through the ‘unofficial’ practices of border residents. As a result, the project re-orients social perspectives of informal laborers to acknowledge their critical role in maintaining border community stability. The critical question of my research is: how does the informal work of border residents facilitate the increasingly global flows of goods and people along international infrastructure; i.e. the Pan-American Highway?


Abraham, Itty and Willem van Schendel

   2005     Introduction: The Making of Illicitness. In Illicit Flows and Criminal Things: States, Borders, and the Other Side of Globalization. Willem van Schendel and Itty Abraham, eds. Pp. 1-37. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.


Blundo, Giorgio and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan

   2006     Everyday Corruption and the State: Citizens and Public Officials in Africa. London: Zed Books.


Chalfin, Brenda

   2010     Neoliberal Frontiers: An Ethnography of Sovereignty in West Africa. Chicago: Unversity of Chicago Press.


Foucault, Michel

   1991     Governmentality. In The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Graham Burchell, ed. Pp. 87-104. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Galemba, Rebecca

   2012     Taking Contraband Seriously: Practicing Legitimate Work at the Mexico-Guatemala Border. Anthropology of Work Review 33(1):3-14.


Hart, Keith

   1973     Informal Income Opportunities and Urban Employment in Ghana. The Journal of Modern African Studies 11(1):61-89.


Nordstrom, Carolyn

   2000     Shadows and Sovereigns. Theory, Culture, and Society 17(4): 35-54.


Petryna, Adriana

   2002     Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Poole, Deborah

   2004     Between Threat and Guarantee: Justice and Community in the Margins of the Peruvian State. In Anthropology in the Margins of the State. Veena Das and Deborah Poole, eds. Pp. 35-66. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.


Roitman, Janet

   2004     Productivity in the Margins: The Reconstitution of State Power in the Chad Basin.  In Anthropology in the Margins of the State. Veena Das and Deborah Poole, eds. Pp. 191-224. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.


Sayer, Derek

   1994     Everyday Forms of State Formation: Some Dissident Remarks on “Hegemony.” In Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico. Gilbert M. Joseph and

Daniel Nugent, eds. Pp. 367-378. Durham: Duke University Press.


Soto, Hernando de, and Instituto Libertad y Democracia (Lima Peru)

   1989     The Other Path : The Invisible Revolution in the Third World. New York: Harper & Row.

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