The Masque of Undergrounder and Spy: Ubiquitous Addressivity, Dependent Social Roles, and Panopticism among Nineteenth Century Mormon Polygamists


Department of Anthropology
University of Alabama at Birmingham
322 HHB
1407 University Blvd.
Birmingham, AL 35294


As newspapers and rumors reported the presence—apparent, actual, or potential—of federal agents charged with surveillance of polygynous Mormons, the undergrounder emerged in the 1880s as a figure sharing the spy's metapragmatic register: namely, concealment of role-indexical signs. Seeming ubiquitous address by unseen but always possible agents of the law riveted the spy to the body of undergrounder. Bound to a spiraling play of reveal-and-conceal, the undergrounder's presence also summoned an “abduced” imaginary called “the underground.” Here suspicion was general; forms were questioned, disarticulated, assigned provisional indexicalities. Every sign could suggest an observer, a secret code, a warning to hide. The paranoid undergrounder thus was discursively incarcerated and panoptically triangulated as a modern subject. The underground ironically splintered the Mormon resistance, and realized the Supreme Court's decree that, in short, the citizen's body be severed from the colonized subject's imagination. [panopticon, mass media, secrecy, paranoia, modernity]