All posts by Carole McGranahan

I am an anthropologist and historian of Tibet, and a professor at the University of Colorado. I conduct research, write, lecture, and teach. At any given time, I am probably working on one of the following projects: Tibet, British empire, and the Pangdatsang family; the CIA as an ethnographic subject; contemporary US empire; the ongoing self-immolations in Tibet; the Chushi Gangdrug resistance army; refugee citizenship in the Tibetan diaspora (Canada, India, Nepal, USA); and, anthropology as theoretical storytelling.

Revolutionary Time: First Thoughts on a Concept

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Melissa Rosario who is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at Bowdoin College. Melissa is a cultural anthropologist interested in the politics of autonomy for Caribbean peoples and marginalized U.S. groups, particularly Puerto Ricans. She is currently writing a book tentatively titled Revolutionary Time: A Treatise on the Cultural Logics of Resistance in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.]

These days, I have been thinking a lot about revolution. Names of places—Ayotzinapa, Ferguson, Staten Island—now immediately trigger an affective response in me as evidence of the unbroken chain of state repression against black and brown and indigenous bodies. I don’t want to rehash all the extremely apt analyses of all that has remained the same—women’s bodies remain marginal to our collective outrage; the prison industrial complex operates as the new Jim Crow; we are waking up to the violence of the status quo; there is an ironic distance between Obama’s position on Mexico as a uncivil state who must be held responsible for killing innocent youth while remaining silent on the murders of unarmed black youth—but rather to think about what has changed. To do that, we have to turn to the mass mobilizations themselves, the creative responses, the emotional outcry and think about how they move us towards another way of imagining our present predicament and our collective future. As a Diasporican and scholar of the Caribbean, I know that others have been spending their time trying to unthink concepts like revolution and sovereignty. While I agree that the way we understand these concepts need to be redefined, I want to push us in another direction, and ask, what might it mean to reclaim them through communal presence even amidst today’s radical uncertainty?

This riff is a collection of first thoughts on the concept of what I call revolutionary time. I started playing with this idea in 2010, when I was in Puerto Rico doing research on antiprivatization struggles on the island. I arrived in 2009, just after then Governor Luis Fortuño passed an emergency law that authorized an austerity plan for the island, laying off thousands of workers, reducing the funds given to the public university by approximately 25%. These moves led to a truly radical moment: marked by mass protests as well as a sense of dissatisfaction with politics as usual. While a large scale general strike never materialized, these events helped catalyze the first system-wide strike in the University of Puerto Rico. This was a belated “coincidence,” that led many (myself included) to experience an embodied sense of political possibility—a revolution—that made intentional intimate politics a viable avenue for protest and transformation.

These witnessing-experiences led me to the idea that revolution is ultimately a temporal project: one that requires a continual practice of delinking from systemic logics—of recognizing ultimately that both linear and cyclical understandings of time are insufficient for achieving liberation. I am not only positing that we think of revolution in a more holistic way but also that we see it as a practice of unfixing the future from a knowable thing to malleable thing.

I’ve been ruminating over the truth of my own claims about what makes a revolution. 2010 was in many ways, a more hopeful moment. And yet, the current conjuncture seems to be providing us with a less naïve, and more robust revolutionary time. I am physically dislocated from the epicenters of protests, but even from here—temporarily housed in the whitest state in the country—I can feel something shifting. Both in the negative sense—the perfunctory grand jury process has become contentious, the difference between corrupt state and extrainstitutional forms of power are untenable—we are now inhabiting the ruins of our past possibilities, only thinly veiled by a postracial narrative propped up by a stubborn belief in individualism and the symbolism of the first black president. But I can feel changes in a positive sense too—in the images being shared of the marches, take overs of streets/highways/bridges, enacting symbolic spaces of social deaths that help protestors to reflect on and feel blackness as a zone of nonbeing. These are practices that not only signal resistance, they help us to remember what is always in danger of being forgotten. We know this is wrong. We feel it in our bodies. And this knowledge itself appears to be a great possibility and potential vehicle for healing.

I think that as scholars, we must reject the pessimism that normally shapes our analysis. We need to become vehicles for other visions being crafted in the streets. The better we are at paying attention to these subtle signs, to cultivating compassion for ourselves and our feelings, the better we will be at facing those that tear us apart with their blind acceptance of the status quo.

We need a revolution capable of healing our wounds. We can and should rage. We can and should reject calls for peace that are meant to pacify us, that are meant to keep us off the streets. But we also must recognize that battle is an untenable position in the long run. What I want to call for is an exploration of tools for staying present to the vastly unjust realities that we inhabit while we envision new ones. Like song. Like the altar for the 42 still missing in Ayotzinapa, composed of empty chairs and candles on a basketball court outside the school.

I am especially inspired by the queer Black and Latina feminists healing artists who are leading us towards healing justice.   Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ reminder that we C(h)ant.Breathe Black feminist visions to make space for more of us to breathe and to burn up this rage. We breathe together, or not at all.

This Thursday, December 18, I invite you to join the healing justice movement. Many radical healers will donate all proceeds generated on this day to the Black Lives Matter Ferguson Bail and Support Fund. If you want to donate yourself, click here. To find healers in your area, click here.

Whether you participate or not, I encourage you to reflect on what it might mean to find a sense of ease in your daily resistances—knowing that these practices, when paired with collective forms of action are already anchoring a new vision of interbeing into our present(s) and future(s).

 

 

Reflections on the AAA Die-in as a Symbolic Space of Social Death

[Savage Minds is honored to publish this essay by Faye V. Harrison who is currently Professor of African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and President of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including the landmark volumes Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology for Liberation (American Anthropological Association, 1994) and Outsider Within: Reworking Anthropology in the Global Age (University of Illinois Press, 2008).] Continue reading

#BlackLivesMatter and #AAA2014: Die-In, Section Assembly Motion, and the ABA Statement Against Police Violence and Anti-Black Practices

On Monday, December 8, 2014, the Association of Black Anthropologists issued a Statement Against Police Violence and Anti-Black Practices. The Statement followed from recent events in the USA discussed and acted upon at last week’s annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC (#AAA2014): a die-in held on Friday, December 5 at 12:28 pm in the main lobby of the conference hotel, and later that same day, a section assembly motion on Michael Brown and Eric Garner, racialized repression and state violence was presented and approved by the AAA membership at the AAA business meeting. The die-in was planned and motion drafted Thursday by a group of anthropologists at special sessions on Ferguson, racism, and violence; this organizing work continues at the #BlackLivesMatterAAA website. Both the Statement and the Motion are published in full below.  Continue reading

Racism is Real, and Colorblindness is Racism: Truths from a Black Feminist Anthropologist

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Bianca C. Williams. Bianca is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, and holds a PhD in anthropology from Duke University. She is the author of “Guard Your Heart and Your Purpose: Faithfully Writing Anthropology,” and of the forthcoming Duke University Press book Exporting Happiness in which she examines how African American women use international travel and the Internet as tools for pursuing leisure, creating intimate relationships and friendships, and critiquing American racism, sexism, and ageism.)

After weeks of traveling for conferences, and finally getting to my sister’s home for the holiday, I’ve been trying to relax. To peacefully give myself over to this season of thanks. Even now, after the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, there is plenty for which to be thankful. However, watching the coverage of the protestors on television and observing conversations on social media has been anything but peaceful. I spent a day and a half trying to find an effective way to communicate the pain, frustration, anger, sadness I was feeling to my friends, peers, and colleagues online, particularly those that seem to live in an alternate reality. They live in a reality where privilege, or at least blissful ignorance, keeps them from seeing how racist institutions and a “race-neutral” criminal justice system continues to oppress their friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Below, I include a modified excerpt of the message I wrote to my Facebook community, and then I offer how my thoughts might be relevant to my beloved discipline of anthropology: Continue reading

Tear Gas, Ferguson, and Anti-Black Racism: Interview with Kalaya’an Mendoza, Amnesty USA Senior Organizer

“Rage. Tears. Grief. Rage.” These are the words of Kalaya’an Mendoza, Amnesty USA Senior Organizer. Kalaya’an was on the advance team supporting the work of Human Rights Observers in Ferguson since Michael Brown was shot in August. On the night of the no-indictment verdict in the Michael Brown shooting case (Monday, November 24), Kalaya’an and other members of the Amnesty staff wore bright yellow shirts that were clearly marked “Human Rights Observer.” Around 1:30 am, they were with community members and protestors in MoKaBe’s coffee shop when they were tear gassed by police. Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Kalaya’an about the rage and tears and grief. And the rage. With gratitude and respect, our conversation: Continue reading

Ferguson: Anthropologists Speak Out

Race and injustice and anger and fear. All of these and more in the wake of the grand jury decision in the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. What do anthropology and anthropologists have to say about all of this? What can we say? What must we do? We have research and writings, personal and professional experiences to draw upon, we have suggestions to make, students to teach, and together a world to remake into a more racially just society. With all of this in mind, we invited a group of scholars to share their thoughts on Ferguson, Michael Brown’s death, the legal process, police violence, racism, and being present right now as anthropologists. Below are responses from Lee Baker, Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Lynn Bolles, Agustín Fuentes, and Alvaro Jarrin. Thank you all.

Lee D. Baker, “Obama, Race, and Privilege”

On the evening of November 24, 2014 President Barack Obama addressed the nation in the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown to death on that fateful evening in Fergusson, Missouri last summer. President Obama had to strike a delicate balance between supporting the legitimacy of the grand jury decision and supporting the legitimacy of the anger and frustration ignited by police brutality that all-too often targets young black men. Continue reading

Thinking through the untranslatable

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to post this essay by guest author Kevin Carrico as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Kevin is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for US-China Issues, having completed his PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology at Cornell University in 2013. His research focuses upon the implications of Han nationalism for ethnic relations in China. He is a contributor to Cultural Anthropology’s special issue on Self-Immolation as Protest in Tibet, and his translation of Tsering Woeser’s Self-immolation in Tibet is forthcoming from Verso Press in 2015.)

I recently finished translating a book, Tsering Woeser’s Self-Immolation in Tibet (Immolation au Tibet, la honte du monde), in a project that combines the two main components of my career path thus far: translation and anthropology. Prior to my graduate work, I was a translator of Chinese and French documents in Shanghai. And now as an anthropologist, I still engage in the occasional translation of texts that I consider uniquely insightful. This brief essay is an attempt to think through the relationship between these two activities via my recent work on self-immolation in Tibet. Continue reading

On Ethnographic Unknowability

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to post this essay by guest author Catherine Besteman as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Catherine is Francis F. Bartlett and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology at Colby College. She is author of numerous books and articles, including Unraveling Somalia: Race, Violence, and the Legacy of Slavery (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), Transforming Cape Town (University of California Press, 2008), and co-edited with Hugh Gusterson, Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong: Anthropologists Talk Back (University of California Press, 2005) and The Insure American (University of California Press, 2009). Her most recent book Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine is forthcoming from Duke University Press.)

What if I told you to write what you don’t know?

I ask this because I find the oft-offered advice to “write what you know” both alarming and silencing. Isn’t ethnography at least partially about unknowability? If we acknowledge that textual recording is a form of fixing knowledge, how does one write what one doesn’t know? How can our writing play on the edge between knowing and not knowing, refusing to fix the unknown by writing it into existence? Exploring this playful and vexing tension in ethnographic writing is my current preoccupation.

A story might help illuminate my query. Continue reading

Writing to become…

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to post this essay by guest author Sita Vekateswar as part of our Writer’s Workshop seriesSita is a Social Anthropologist at Massey University, Aotearoa/New Zealand. She is Associate Director of the Massey chapter of the recently established New Zealand India Research Institute (NZIRI). Her ethnography Development and Ethnocide: Colonial Practices in the Andaman Islands (2004) is based on her Ph.D. fieldwork in the Andaman Islands and her co-edited book, The Politics of Indigeneity: Dialogues and Reflections on Indigenous Activism (2011) is published by Zed Books. Her current research on the implications of climate change for food production takes a political ecology approach to follow the fortunes of millet cultivation in India.)

I write to become.

Through writing, I accumulate more being since I am more than I was when I materialise the ephemeral.

I wear the traces of various Englishes, strung like so many iridescent pearls within the necklace of language adorning me. The lilting singsong of Anglo-Indian first granted me tongue, irrepressible, undaunted by the pristine elegance of Queen’s English. As I collided with the unabashed assertiveness of American idiom, I learned the discipline of anthropology. I discovered my place in the world from the antipodes, in encounter with the laconic, self-deprecating humour of New Zealand vernacular. A clamour of tongues finds expression through me to constitute the anthropologist I have become. Continue reading

Writing Anti-Racism

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to post this essay by guest author Ghassan Hage as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Ghassan is the Future Generation Professor of Anthropology and Social Theory at the University of Melbourne. He is author of numerous books include White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society (Heibonsha Publishers, 2003), Against Paranoid Nationalism: Searching for Hope in a Shrinking Society (Pluto Press, 2006), Waiting (Melbourne University Press, 2009), and with Robyn Eckersley, Responsibility (Melbourne University Press, 2012). His most recent book is Writings in Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Racism (Australian Society of Authors, 2014) and forthcoming in February 2015 is Alter-Politics: Critical Anthropology and the Radical Imagination (Melbourne University Press).

 To the people of the bus.

In my recent work on racism I have differentiated between the ‘racism of exploitation’ (e.g. towards slaves and migrant workers) and the ‘racism of exterminability’ (e.g. anti-Semitism). I argue that the latter is prevalent in the racist modes of classification of Muslims in/by the non-Muslim West.

Inspired by certain dimensions of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s multi-realism, and the teaching of a seminar around Mauss’ The Gift, I have tried to show that the racist experience of the other as exterminable involves the projection of complex layers of affective and existential angst that takes us beyond the dominant domesticating mode of existence in which we live, and where instrumental classification thrives. It invites us to perceive the experience as pertaining to a multiplicity of other realities or human modes of existence. The first is the reciprocal mode of existence classically explored in the work of Marcel Mauss on the gift. I read The Gift as pointing to a whole order of existence where people, animals, plants and objects stand as gifts towards each other. The second is what I will call, after Marshall Sahlins, the mutualist mode of existence. It highlights an order of existence where others are ‘in us’ rather than just outside of us. Central here is Lucien Lévy-Bruhl’s work on ‘participation’: a mode of living and thinking where the life-force of the humans and the non-humans that surround us are felt each to be contributing to the life-force of the other. Continue reading

Mourning, survival and time: Writing through crisis

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to post this essay by guest author Adia Benton as part of our Writer’s Workshop seriesAdia is an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University. She has worked in and studied the fields of development and global health since 2000, and is a contributor to Cultural Anthropology’s recent special issue on Ebola in Perspective. Her book HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone is forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press in 2015).

“Everyone identifies with the survivor.” The man, whose name I have yet to learn, wore a sage-colored newsboy cap. We were sitting next to each other at my neighborhood café. A half-hour before, he was several feet away, sketching, occasionally eyeing my copy of The Wretched of the Earth. “Pardon me,” he said, as he approached my table. “I couldn’t help but notice that you’re reading…” Within minutes, our conversation about radical anti-imperialist writing and secret societies had devolved into a meditation on how humans cope with tragic and sudden death.

“Everyone identifies with the survivor,” he repeated, as he adjusted his sketchpad in his lap.

“I don’t,” I said. Continue reading

Ethnographic Fiction: The Space Between

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to post this essay by guest author Roxanne Varzi as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Roxanne is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Irvine. She is author of Warring Souls: Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution Iran (Duke University Press, 2006). Her ethnographic research in Iran spans multiple genres, from the ethnographic monograph to ethnographic fiction to the film Plastic Flowers Never Die (2008) and on to the sound installation Whole World Blind (2011). Her current research is on Iranian theater.)

Fiction, for me, like ethnography, has always melded with a deep desire to understand and explain the world around me. As an eight-year old in Iran I wrote stories to either escape or explain the Revolution that had turned my country into an Islamic Republic and had turned my single identity as a dorageh, or two-veined Iranian, into half-American, half-Iranian, forcing me to either choose one identity or to stay in-between. Writing helped me to make sense of the in-between, to make sense of my new life while holding on to the one that was already becoming a dream — unreal.

The past was a place where “Bombs were flying through the air, the sky was ablaze, there was no night.” My American high school teacher read this opening of one of my stories and said, “Write what you know.” She smiled at me and told me to try again. I explained that I had seen bombs and that the sky was ablaze and night or not I couldn’t sleep for days as a child because I was so scared about what was happening in the streets. At least that’s how I remembered it.   I came to see early on that we cannot fully replicate reality—even and especially in ethnography—in film, text or sound (the mediums I work in), nor is fiction purely a figment of its writer’s imagination. Was I writing fiction or ethnography and did the distinction really matter? Continue reading

Writing to be Read

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Mary Murrell as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Mary is a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She received her Ph.D. in 2012 from the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently writing a book about books entitled The Open Book: The Entanglements of Digitization. Formerly, she was the acquisitions editor for anthropology at Princeton University Press.)

In the midst of my fieldwork into the “future of books,” I encountered an equally familiar and unfamiliar character: the academic author. Certainly, I knew a thing or two about such a figure. During my many years as an acquisitions editor at a university press, I had published an awful lot of them, and, as a graduate student doing dissertation fieldwork, I was in preparation to become one myself. As they say, some of my best friends are academic authors! Yet, at the same time, this new academic author, this ethnographic datum before me, was curiously distinct.

The context was the proposed conclusion to litigation over Google’s book digitization program, announced in 2004 and quickly the object of legal dispute. In 2005, author and publisher trade groups had banded together into one large class-action lawsuit, charging Google with massive copyright infringement. For two years, author and publisher representatives negotiated and, in late 2008, they revealed a settlement that resolved their differences. Their plan was essentially to turn Google’s database of digitized books into a commercial product sold by subscription to libraries. This way there would be money for everybody: authors, publishers, and Google—in what was called a “win-win-win.” Despite their confident sense of achievement, opposition to the settlement slowly grew, from expected and unexpected quarters until, in February 2011, the judge in the case finally rejected it. Despite its defeat, the maelstrom it put into motion was productive, and one such product was the “academic author.” Continue reading

Writing to Live: On Finding Strength While Watching Ferguson

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Whitney Battle-Baptiste as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Whitney is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, and is a historical archaeologist specializing in race, gender, and cultural landscapes. She is the author of Black Feminist Archaeology (Left Coast Press, 2011), and of articles on slavery in the southern USA including “Sweepin’ Spirits: Power and Transformation on the Plantation Landscape.”  Her latest research is at the Millars Plantation on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas.)

I am a writer.

This simple statement is a recent revelation. Although I am a scholar who reads and interprets, thinks critically about theory and teaches many aspects of writing, those actions have never made me a writer. Claiming “writer” was never something I thought about. The strength I pulled from writing was from reading the words of others, not writing my own. As a child, books kept me grounded and helped me to imagine. As I matured, books became a source of the familiar, tools I used to orient myself and keep connected after I left home. I was born in the early 1970s, on the island of Manhattan, and grew up in the shadows of tall buildings with concrete at my feet. I read about survival, never wrote about it. I was one of those folks who could never maintain a journal for more than a week. I always leaned on the strength of others to work through life’s ups and downs. These words were always healing, grounding, necessary for survival. Continue reading

In Dialogue: Ethnographic Writing and Listening

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Marnie Thomson as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Marnie is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado currently finishing her dissertation “Solutions and Dissolutions: Humanitarian Governance, Congolese Refugees, and Memories of a Neglected Conflict.” Her research focuses on refugee experiences of violence and dislocation to reveal the politics of humanitarian intervention in both Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is the author of “Black Boxes of Bureaucracy: Transparency and Opacity in the Resettlement Process for Congolese Refugees” (PoLAR, 2012), and was the winner of the first SfAA Human Rights Defender Award.) 

“How do we write anthropology in a way that does justice to the stories we tell?” It weighs on me, this question. There it is, staring at me from the introduction to this Writers’ Workshop series. It is the question that paralyzes me when I sit down to write. Sometimes it prevents me from even making it into the chair. How can I portray the complexities of the stories people have shared with me?

I have convinced myself that I am a better listener, a better researcher, than I am a writer. I have been cultivating this research persona since 2008, when I first visited my primary fieldsite, a UN camp for Congolese refugees. I have spent years listening and dutifully recording what I heard. Yes, I was an academic writer long before that first trip but now it feels different. I have never written a dissertation before. I have never had to distill so many personal and cultural details into a document that will do justice to the many stories I have collected. Continue reading