Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In a situation like Cuba’s, in which the optimistic effervescence of revolution has long since dissipated into the institutionalized apparatus of a ‘revolutionary state’, people’s lives are shaped by continual comparisons between the revolutionary ideals the state is meant to embody and promote (the ‘ought’) and the lived realities citizens experience as normal (the ‘is’). The revolution (la revolución), understood in Cuba as a still ongoing project of socio-political transformation, thus unfolds as the ‘afterlife’ of an originary revolutionary event – an afterlife that people tend to cast in the language of cynicism, disappointment and dejection. What happens, however, when these dismal comparisons of revolutionary ideals and realities are upended? This paper presents the remarkable story of a man’s on-going struggle to rebuild his home following its partial collapse (an all-too-common occurrence for the ageing housing stock of Havana), and how this has propelled him into a daily encounter with the state’s housing structures and regulations. Refusing to temper expectations of how things ought to be with an acceptance of how they actually are, the man is steadfast in his conviction that state structures can yield to his own designs. This conviction, it turns out, stems from the man’s idiosyncratic practice of Cuban Spiritism, which involves intimate relationships with spirits who inhabit his derelict home and guide his daily bureaucratic manoeuvrings. The upshot is a cosmology of power and care that is quite different from the one the state promulgates, recasting the man’s relationship to the state-revolutionary project.