Category Archives: Invited post

The Stories We Tell about Resettlement: Refugees, Asylum and the #MuslimBan

By: Nadia El-Shaarawi

As a volunteer legal advocate working with refugees who were seeking resettlement, I learned to ask detailed questions about persecution. These were the kind of questions you would never ask in polite conversation: Who kidnapped your best friend? Were they wearing uniforms? What did those uniforms look like? Where did they hit you? Did you pay a ransom for her release? How did you identify her body? Questions like these, which refugees are asked over and over as part of the already extreme vetting that they undergo to be granted asylum and resettlement, are personal, intimate, painful. They demand a precise and consistent command of autobiographical detail and the strength to revisit events that one might otherwise want to forget. They try to get to the heart of what happened to a person, what forced them to leave everything behind.

On a more cynical level, these questions try to catch a person in a lie, to identify those who are not “deserving” of refuge. The answers are checked and cross-checked, asked again and again across multiple agencies and organizations. In separate interviews, family members are asked the same questions. Do the answers match up? Do the dates and places make sense? Were you a victim of persecution? Are you who you say you are? While these questions and their answers shape the narrative of an individual resettlement case, there is a way in which they don’t get to the heart of what happened to a person, why someone was forced to flee, cross at least one border to enter another state, and is now seeking resettlement in a third country.

Vetting, extreme or otherwise, is about inclusion and exclusion. But before someone even gets to the arduous, opaque process of being considered for resettlement in the United States, decisions are made at the executive level about who to include in a broader sense. While the Refugee Convention provides protection for any person with a “well-founded fear of persecution” on specific grounds, this has never been the full story of the US refugee program, where a presidential determination each year decides how many refugees will be resettled, and from where. Some die-hard advocates and detractors aside, refugee resettlement has historically had bipartisan support and mostly stays under the radar of public attention, except, it seems, in moments where it becomes a reflection of broader anxieties and struggles over belonging and exclusion. Continue reading

Hannah Arendt and Martin Luther King Jr.: The Next #AnthReadIn on February 17, 2017

By: JC Salyer and Paige West

On January 20, over one thousand anthropologists came together to read Michel Foucault’s lecture eleven in “Society Must Be Defended.” What began as a simple blog post became a global showing of scholarly solidarity and transnational anthropological community building in the wake of the disastrous presidential election in the United States. Groups in sixteen countries convened to both read aloud and discuss Foucault’s analysis of biopower, racism, and the state. Some of these groups were based in university settings but many were not. We had readers in pubs, museums, living rooms, on a live radio broadcast, and in front of Trump Tower in New York City. After the events on January 20 people contacted us through e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, to describe the sense of collective scholarly engagement that this event provided. Many said that the feeling of anthropological community in the face of this disastrous political change grounded them.

In the wake of this extraordinary response to the initial Read-In idea, we now propose along with co-sponsors Savage Minds and the journals American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Environment and Society, and Political and Legal Anthropology, and based on hundreds of suggestions from anthropologists, a monthly global Anthropology Read-In.

Here is how it will work: On the third Friday of every month for the next four years (or as short or long as necessary), using the new #AnthReadIn on Twitter and utilizing the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/170068806806067/, we will come together to read and discuss a single text or a few short texts. Anthropologists will curate the monthly reading lists with each curator, or curatorial collective, assuming responsibility for three months’ worth of readings. At the end of their tenure as curators, they will then pass the responsibility on to another individual or group. Hence, we will provide readings for February and March and then pass the responsibility onto someone else who will provide readings for April, May, and June. We are hoping that this method (a kind of snowball sampling method of editorial control) will move the privilege of choosing the readings around through a broad network of anthropologists and through a range of perspectives and expertise.

We initially chose lecture eleven from “Society Must Be Defended” because we had both been trying to think through how the election did and did not alter the United States as a nation-state. In the two months following the election we watched in horror as hate crimes increased in the United States and as it became even clearer than it had been in the months leading up to the election that the new administration was going to focus on representing Black Lives Matter protesters, migrants, and other people of color as enemies of the state. Therefore, we wanted to read Foucault to consider how racism is the dividing practice par excellence of the modern biopolitical state. But we also wanted to remind ourselves that the state itself is grounded in, and literally built on, racism and dispossession. Specifically, it is on the land of indigenous peoples and it was built with and through the labor of slaves.

Sadly, the first week of the Trump administration has proved to be as much of an assault on principles of equality, democracy, and humanism as was feared, if not more so. Because we believe it is important that the #AnthReadIn be primarily about providing an intellectual response to the Trump presidency, we have tried to select readings that directly address that actions of the administration and that challenge us to consider what is actually mandated in terms of a moral response. Therefore, for February 17 we propose to read Hannah Arendt’s “The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man,” which is the ninth chapter of The Origins of Totalitarianism as well as Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Personally, we will both be reading, discussing, and sharing our thoughts through social media. We invite you to do the same.

 

Paige West is Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College and Columbia University

JC Salyer is Term Professor of Practice, Barnard College

Society Must Be Defended: Join us for a Read-In on 20 January 2017

By: Paige West and JC Salyer

 

In the wake of the 2016 US presidential election scholars across the country and internationally have worked to understand the drivers for the election outcomes. We have tried to foresee the potential consequences of a Republican party domination of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government for vulnerable populations, for the environment, and for the economy. And, we continue to grapple with the serious threats the president elect and his cabinet nominees pose to the freedom of the press, to citizen’s rights to free speech, and to the various protections that scholars receive through university systems of academic freedom and tenure. At most universities there have been teach-ins, learn-ins, and panels, as well as emergency meetings of departments, faculty action groups, student groups, and other concerned parties. What more can scholars do?

Since the election, one statement we have heard repeatedly from some academics, pundits, journalists, and bloggers who write about academic life, is that scholars need to somehow change what they are doing, and how they are doing it, in order to face this seemingly new political reality in the Unites States. While the latter part of this argument has been addressed by numerous scholars and activists who write and think about race, class, sexuality, and inequality more generally – with clear and compelling arguments about how this is not a “new” political reality for many but rather a kind of contemporary culmination and re-entrenchment of the structures of power and oppression that underpin the entirety of the national political project – the former part of the argument has been allowed to stand with little critique. Do we need to change what we do and not just how we do it? Not necessarily. Continue reading

Why Anthropologists Failed to Boycott Israeli Academic Institutions

By: Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar

In 2016 the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions for their involvement in the illegal occupation of Palestine both gathered significant steam and faced a huge roadblock. In the United States, the country that largely underwrites and funds the Israeli occupation, the call to boycott initiated in 2004 by Palestinian civil rights organizations movement has had some impressive successes, with eight associations endorsing it thus far, notably in academic fields that challenge Eurocentrism.[1] The movement continued to grow last year as scholars across disciplines learned more about the Israeli occupation and its consequences. Several larger academic organizations discussed or voted on the boycott call, including the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA). As criticisms of the Israeli state and Zionist ideology spread, backlash intensified.

We are part of the diverse group of anthropologists of different backgrounds, including Israelis and Palestinians, who have organized a movement to convince the AAA membership to adopt the boycott. For several years, we have worked to educate our colleagues about both Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and the boycott as an effective tactic by which to support those rights. We’ve done this through panels, roundtables, dozens of op-eds, videos, webinars, teach-ins, email outreach, and canvassing on the floors of various anthropology conferences. As the MLA begins its discussions of the boycott, we offer this retrospective on the AAA vote last spring. Continue reading

Pokemon GO comes home: Manners pedagogy in the Japanese linguistic landscape

[This is an invited post by Debra J Occhi, Miyazaki International College (aka Hyuga Natsuko1, yellow team). Debra is a linguistic anthropologist employed at Miyazaki International College. Her current research interests include leisure, gender, cuteness, characters, and regionality.]

Pokemon GO, one of the big waves in summer 2016 media-mix pop culture, was released July 20, 2016 in Japan, immediately triggering warnings about personal safety and public manners. I downloaded it and embarked on participant observation ethnography for the next three weeks in Tokyo, and have played it in various parts of Kyushu since then. From the start, news from various countries of the changes wrought by Pokemon GO framed it as both a new source of social mayhem and conversely, a boon to the sedentary, depressed gamer. Yet here in its birthplace, Pokemon GO is just one of the summer events centered around this franchise. In the late 1990s Pokemon had entertained my kids while we were living in Sendai during my dissertation fieldwork. Back then the original media consisted of the card-based game, Game Boy games, and the summer’s movie, all based on the anime. I was downtown teaching English conversation when that notorious episode triggered epilepsy in some viewers; fortunately my kids were safe at the neighbor’s. From then on, all anime contain warnings at the start of each show to viewers to maintain distance from the screen and watch with lights on. While Pokemon has been misinterpreted as the devil’s temptation by some in the USA, it seems to me that in its home country Pokemon has continued to inspire personal safety instructions, and public manners training as well.

Continue reading

When Cultural Anthropology Was Popular: A Quiz

Guest post by Paul Shankman

Cultural anthropologists are often concerned that their work is not getting the public attention that it deserves. Yet just a few decades ago, cultural anthropology was familiar to a broad audience who thought it to be interesting, thought provoking, and even life changing. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the work of a number of cultural anthropologists found an appreciative public, and their books sold well. These anthropologists wrote in plain English, on eye-catching subjects, and for commercial presses rather than academic presses. Looking back, their work may elicit a mixture of admiration, amazement, embarrassment, and even dismay. Can you identify these anthropologists? (Answers follow the questions.)

THE QUIZ: Continue reading

A Letter to the AA Regarding its World Anthropology Section on Israel

[Savage Minds welcomes the following invited post by Matan Kaminer. Matan is a doctoral candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is working on his dissertation, an ethnographic exploration of the conjunction between settler colonialism and global migration on the farms of Israel’s Arabah region, where the majority of the workforce is made up of migrants from Northeast Thailand (Isaan). He has been active in the Israeli conscientious objectors’ movement, in national and municipal politics and in migrant solidarity work in Israel for the past fifteen years.]

The Spring 2016 issue of American Anthropologist carried a World Anthropology section on Israel. Unlike previous installments, this issue featured a series of written interviews with former and current heads of the Israeli Anthropological Association, many of which used the opportunity to weigh in against the academic boycott of Israeli universities. Matan Kaminer, a young Israeli anthropologist, wrote the following response, which was rejected for publication by Anthropology News. It is reproduced here verbatim. Continue reading

Israel’s Foreign Policy in Latin America — Another Reason to Take the Call to Boycott Seriously

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Les W. Field. Les is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at U New Mexico. He pursues collaborative research projects in South, Central, and North America, and in Palestine. Field has also co-organized two field schools for UNM undergraduates and graduate students in the occupied West Bank.]

Many Latin Americanist anthropologists and other scholars are unaware of the state of Israel’s substantial, long-term relationships with certain forces and governments in Latin American countries. Yet knowing of these relationships will aid scholars seeking more background information as they consider their position within the AAA debate over whether the Association should boycott Israeli academic institutions. Israel’s involvement in Latin America initiated quickly after its 1948 establishment, after which it built alliances with right-wing and military regimes that have consistently displayed anti-left, anti-indigenous and anti-democratic characteristics. The comparative thrust of the discipline of anthropology should lead Latin Americanist scholars to ask whether Israel’s record in Latin America is consistent with Israeli policies towards Palestinians inside Israel and the Occupied Territories. As an ethnographer of social change in Nicaragua during the 1980s, it was Israeli support for the Contra insurgency that first led me to read widely and critically about the question of Palestine. I came to see important resonances between Israeli foreign policy in Latin America, on the one hand, and the systematic dispossession of Palestinians from their lands and other resources, including the implementation of apartheid-like policies in the lands controlled by Israel, on the other.

In what follows I offer significant examples of Israel’s involvement in parts of Latin America where I and many other anthropologists have worked, often with indigenous peoples. In the conflicts of which this involvement is a part, the AAA took significant stands in defense of human rights.[i] I argue that if in Latin America, successive Israeli governments have supported brutally violent even genocidal campaigns against indigenous peoples (which the AAA has often opposed) and also supported the most right-wing even anti-Semitic regimes, pay attention to what Israel does in the Occupied Territories because foreign and domestic policies are, I would argue, part and parcel of the same nationalism.  Latin Americanist anthropologists, indeed all anthropologists, should learn about the effects of Israeli foreign policy upon the places where they work, then learn about the parallels with Israeli domestic policy. This knowledge is critical when making any decision to boycott or not, because as anthropologists, we know that states operate in complex international arenas but often reproduce their own exclusionary nationalisms in doing so. I decided to support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions on the basis of what I have learned, and I submit the following aspects of Israeli foreign policy in Latin America since the 1980s, that may similarly educate other anthropologists. Continue reading

Public Statement on Zika Virus in Puerto Rico

This call to action was written by Adriana Garriga-López, Ph.D. (Kalamazoo College), and Shir Lerman, M.A., M.P.H., PhD Candidate (University of Connecticut), with Jessica Mulligan, Ph.D. (Providence College), Alexa Dietrich, Ph.D., M.P.H. (Wagner College), Carlos E. Rodríguez-Díaz, PhD, MPHE, MCHES (University of Puerto Rico), and Ricardo Vargas-Molina, M.A. (University of Puerto Rico). The authors are members of the Society for Medical Anthropology’s Zika Interest Group.

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We write out of our shared concern over the current Zika virus epidemic in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in the hopes of making useful interventions. Because of Zika’s adverse effect on fetal development and potential link to Guillain-Barré syndrome, the virus poses serious concerns for public health. The World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency in Brazil following the outbreak of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome cases, strongly suspected to be associated with Zika.

Puerto Rico is already in a state of political-economic emergency, while burdened with a preexisting Chinkungunya epidemic, as well as endemic Dengue virus. All three viruses share the same mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti. In late January 2016 an influenza epidemic was also declared on the island.

Because the main vector is an anthropophilic (domestic) mosquito, well adapted to the human made environment in areas where there are multiple opportunities for water to collect, we find the issue of access to clean water and waste management (especially plastic) to be of great urgency and importance in containing viral spread. We call on the government, as well as agricultural corporations and water-intensive industries in Puerto Rico to share responsibility for the ecologically sustainable restructuring and management of the public water systems, especially in view of the historic drought of 2015 on the island, during which Puerto Ricans suffered unprecedented water shortages for several months. Continue reading

Inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone: Place and Memory after Disaster

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Pablo Figueroa. Pablo is an assistant professor in the Center for International Education at Waseda University in Tokyo. In this position, he teaches courses on globalization, leadership, and disasters. His anthropological research is centered on risk communication, citizen participation, and cultural representations of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. His most recent publications are two book chapters, Subversion and Nostalgia in Art Photography of the Fukushima Disaster and Nuclear Risk Governance and the Fukushima Triple Disasters: Lessons Unlearned, both forthcoming in 2016.

All images copyright by Pablo Figueroa.

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Inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone: Place and Memory after Disaster

by Pablo Figueroa

1 Pablo Figueroa
A street of Namie Town in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone, May 2015.

FROM BEHIND THE WINDSHIELD of the moving car the landscape looks exuberant, unpolluted. Warm morning sunlight bathes the forest to the side of Tomioka highway, a 69 km stretch of pavement also known as National Road 114 that connects Fukushima with the town of Namie. It’s a Sunday morning and few people can be seen. The feeling of emptiness is vast and real. From time to time, large plastic bags appear along the road, neatly stacked one on top of the other. The orderly layout obliterates a much more messy reality: The bags contain highly radioactive soil that was removed from villages and fields during the so-called “cleanup efforts” following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Their final destination undecided, the ominous recipients are a painful reminder of what happens when trying to decontaminate the environment after a nuclear catastrophe. You can scrape topsoil and wash the surface with pressure hoses as much as you like but Cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years, will keep coming down from hills along with other radioactive isotopes, carried by rain and wind, dispersing in manifold and uncontrollable ways. Continue reading

Hunting as an Indigenous Right on Taiwan: A Call to Action

[The following is an invited post by Scott Simon. Scott is Professor in the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies at the University of Ottawa, Canada. Having conducted research in Taiwan for nearly two decades, he specializes in indigenous rights, hunting life-ways, and human-animal relations. His most recent book is Sadyaq Balae! L’autochtonie formosane dans tous ses états.]

Photo by 林秀玉 (Loking) 2015
Photo by 林秀玉 (Loking) 2015

In mid-December 2015, indigenous social activists protested across Taiwan with urban demonstrations and lighting of solidarity bonfires in rural communities. They were angry about the case of Tama Talum (Wang Guang-lu), a 56-year-old Bunun man slated to begin a 3.5 year prison sentence on December 15. In July 2013, at the request of his 92-year-old mother who wanted to eat traditional country food, he had hunted one Reeve’s muntjac (a small deer) and Formosan serow (a mountain goat).1 He was arrested and convicted in a Taitung court for illegal weapons possession and poaching. On October 29, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled against his appeal. Tama Talum’s case merits international attention for humanitarian reasons, but also because it reveals deeper human rights issues.

Continue reading

The Privacy Paradox: IRBs in an Era of NSA Mass Surveillance

[This invited post was written by Daniel O’Maley, who recently graduated with a PhD in cultural anthropology from Vanderbilt University. His research focuses on the global Internet freedom movement and the link between digital technology and new forms of democratic participation. You can read more about him and his research here]

Increasingly, our lives are mediated by the Internet and other digital technologies. For anthropologists like myself, this presents new opportunities for research, but the digitization, exchange, and storage of personal data also generate new privacy concerns for our participants. During my research on Brazilian Internet freedom activists, I learned about both the potentials of the Internet, as well as the way that digital technology can, and is, being abused to violate civil liberties. What I call the “privacy paradox,” refers to the situation in which the U.S. government at once defends research participants’ privacy through Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) while it simultaneously violates their privacy on a massive, global scale through mass surveillance national security apparatus.

The privacy paradox become apparent to me in July 2013, just a month after the Snowden leaks that exposed NSA mass surveillance, when I sat down to interview a high-level official of a Brazilian IT firm. Before the interview, I detailed the measures I was taking to ensure that his personal data would be protected and I explained that this was required by Vanderbilt’s IRB per U.S. law. Upon hearing this, the IT official looked at me incredulously. Over the previous two months the front pages of newspapers had been plastered with articles detailing U.S. government surveillance projects with codenames like PRISM, XKeyscore, and Stellar Wind that used the global telecommunications infrastructure to collect personal data on people around the world. My interviewee was well-versed in issues of privacy in the digital age, so to hear me state that the U.S. government was concerned with his privacy was laughable.

Continue reading

Encrypting Ethnography: Digital Security for Researchers

(This invited post comes to us from Jonatan Kurzwelly. Jonatan is a a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of St. Andrews. You can email him at kurzwelly@mailbox.org . his PGP fingerprint is: 1B4B 89B4 DD31 B05E 949A E181 B51C CA99 2FD6 6382 -Rex)

Imagine a situation in which everything you do on your computer, tablet or telephone is easily available to local authorities, criminal organizations, corporations or even your neighbors or their teenage children. Imagine that your electronic diary is public and anyone can read everything you have written about the people you work with. Every piece of secret, confidential information you have been entrusted with is being read. It doesn’t matter if you use nicknames and codewords – someone who knows the context of your fieldsite will figure it out. With the use of special software, all your text, photographs, videos and sound recordings can be quickly and automatically analyzed, regardless of the language you write in. Moreover, imagine that all of your communications with your colleagues, sponsoring institutions or supervisors are also publicly available. This includes field reports, emails, video conversations, instant messaging, phone calls.

These are not fantasies but real threats if you are not taking additional measures to protect your data and are using a computer! The aim of this post is to introduce the problem of digital threats for sociocultural anthropologists and their informants. My intention is to bring this issue into public debate within the discipline and suggest introduction of appropriate security training into research preparation. I then describe some free-of-charge methods and tools that increase protection from Internet surveillance and data theft. I focus on the need to protect researchers’ personal computers, as well as the benefits of increasing the digital protection, privacy and anonymity of their informants. Continue reading

Jack Goody (1919-2015): an oral history

[The following is an invited post by Keith Hart, Centennial Professor of Economic Anthropology in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and International Director of the Human Economy Program in the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria.]

It impressed me that in one version of the [myth of the] Bagre God and the spirits had organized life. Another version was about how the water-spirits, the fairies had helped mankind to invent culture. And in a third version man himself had gone out and invented how to build a house and the rest. All these were within the same myth, theological and humanistic versions together. It gave me a different idea about human beings, that the LoDagaa were always thinking “Was it god or was it mankind that invented this?”

It was very important to me that some of my friends could become university lecturers, having been brought up in a small, oral village and now learn everything from books. Certainly they lost a lot on the way, they lost the Bagre because Goody’s written version was the real one, done with old men whom they hadn’t known. I had to explain to them that my version was chance, I could have written down a hundred other versions if I had the time, the money and the energy. The written version was only one of many (J. Goody 1972, The Myth of the Bagre, Cambridge).1

So what follows is mostly based on oral memory. I have published four essays on Jack Goody’s writings and this one is something else.2

Continue reading

Partha Chatterjee: Why I Support the Boycott of Israeli Institutions

[Savage Minds is honored to publish this essay by Partha Chatterjee, Professor of Anthropology and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University, and of the Centre for the Studies of Social Sciences in Calcutta. He is a founding member of the Subaltern Studies Collective.]

Having taught for a lifetime in Indian institutions and, alongside, about two decades in US universities, I have a position on this question that is somewhat unusual from the point of view of most American anthropologists. My political views were formed in the course of growing up in a country that was once the classic colonial possession of the British Empire, achieving its independence in the year of my birth. I grew up with the marks of colonial rule scattered all around me – equestrian statues of colonial governors and generals at street corners, all-white sporting clubs and swimming pools where native youngsters were shooed away by turbaned gatemen, rows of office buildings with names like McKinnon and McKenzie or Jardine and Henderson whose top officers, I was told, were still spotlessly white. I went to an elementary school run by an English couple whose son – I still remember his name, Stephen Hartley – was routinely awarded the top prize by our Indian teachers at every school competition. Ever since, no matter which country I have visited, I have rarely failed to recognize the signs of colonial superiority.

I first came to know about the fate of European Jews in a roundabout way. Sometime in my childhood, I came to hear the phrase notun ihudi – the new Jews. It was probably the title of a movie. It referred, I was told, to people like us, thrown out of our homes in the eastern half of Bengal which had now become part of another country called Pakistan. Both my parents came from there. Once every few months, I would wake up in the morning to find the house full of strangers – relatives from Pakistan who stayed with us for a few days and then moved to a more permanent dwelling. We were, I heard, the new Jews – refugees, forced to make a new life in a strange land. Continue reading