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Clandestine Transactions

Concourse at Detroit International Airport Photo by Sowparnika Balaswaminathan, Concourse at Detroit International Airport

The Clandestine Transactions Working Group seeks to provide an opportunity for scholars interested in exchanges of commodities through extra-legal means under conditions of of contestation, marginality and exploitation.

Transactions are a foundational aspect of socioeconomic relations in society, which can provide an index of the governing systems of value, power, and ethics, as well as their limits. 

Rooted at the intersection of anthropology, Indigenous studies, museology & art history, legal studies, religions, media cultures, and international relations, our working group explores themes related to sovereignty, secrecy, illegality and crime, peripheral networks and alternative modalities of globalization.

With the material and the semiotic intertwined, smuggled commodities offer an imaginative and resistant framework to examine the processes of colonialism, capitalism and globalization. 

The Clandestine Transactions Working Group examines the following: 

  • We ask what structures are reified and challenged through extra-legal transactions, and how centering such exchanges can make power and resistance visible.
  • We explore the epistemic violence of the legal order, and their ability to illegalize living persons, and legalize material things. 
  • Furthermore, we consider commodity migrations in terms of their ability to engender emotional resonances and the implications of the inevitability of escape. 


  • David Howes (Sociology & Anthropology)
  • Sowparnika Balaswaminathan (Religions & Cultures)


  • Thomas Seibel, PhD Candidate, Religion

If you would like to join this working group, please contact Thomas at

Group Members

  • Ishita Tiwary (Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema)
  • Firat Bozcali (Sociology & Anthropology)
  • Allan Lumba (History)
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