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Cloaks and Veils: Countervisualizing Cigarette Factories In and Outside of China
Journal Article

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Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 88, page(s): 32

Fall 2015

In this article, I consider what a casual observer can see of a notorious product’s primary place of fabrication. Few products have been criticized in recent years more than cigarettes. Meanwhile, around the world, the factories manufacturing cigarettes rarely come under scrutiny. What have been the optics helping these key links in the cigarette supply chain to be overlooked? What has prompted such optics to be adopted and to what effect? I address these questions using a comparative approach and drawing upon new mapping techniques, fieldwork, and social theory. I argue that a corporate impulse to hide from public health measures, including those of tobacco control, is not the only force to be reckoned with here. Cigarette factory legibility has been coproduced by multiple processes inherent to many forms of manufacturing. Cigarette makers, moreover, do not always run from global tobacco control. Nor have they been avoiding all other manifestations of biopolitics. Rather, in various ways, cigarette makers have been embracing biopolitical logics, conditioning them, and even using them to manage factory legibility. Suggestive of maneuvers outlined by Butler (2009) and Povinelli (2011) such as “norms of recognizability” and “arts of disguise,” cigarette factory concealment foregrounds the role of infrastructural obfuscation in the making of what Berlant (2007) calls “slow death.” Special focus on manufacturing in China illustrates important variations in the public optics of cigarette factories. The terms cloak and veil connote these variations. Whereas tactics currently obscuring cigarette manufacturing facilities generally skew toward an aesthetic of the opaque cloak in much of the world, there are norms of recognizability and arts of disguise applied to many factories across China that are more akin to a diaphanous, playful veil. I conclude with a discussion of how this article’s focus on factory legibility gestures toward novel forms of intervention for advocates working at tackling tobacco today, offering them an alternative political imaginary in what is one of the world’s most important areas of public policy making.

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