Around the Web Digest- July 31

Hi everyone, hope the first week of August is not beating down on you too hard! Here are your readings for the week.

As the 2016 Summer Olympic games begin this week, Gregory Mitchell observes the effects of mass sports tourism on the lives of sex workers in Brazil.

Durkheim and the “collective effervescence” has picked up some steam to explain the popularity of Trump. However,  Religion Dispatches looks at the Scottish anthropologist James Frazer and The Golden Bough to explain Trump as a magician-king.

When kawaii becomes kawai. The immaculate construction and cuteness of bento lunch boxes are used as markers of social status among Japanese parents and a source of shame for more humble lunches.

The linguistic diversity of indigenous people in Mexico is gloriously animated in several short films that seek to preserve endangered languages.

The Nation profiles the lives of several Korean adoptees in America and the struggles that follow. Alyssa Jeong Perry cites University of California, Irvine anthropologist Eleana J. Kim and her book Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging (which I am currently reading and highly recommend).

See you next week!

Writing About Violence (Part II)

After nearly three years of eating almost nothing but the watery beans and undercooked rice I was served while conducting research in Brazilian prisons, I couldn’t wait to hit the restaurants of New York City when I returned from the field. I was surprised to find that even the spiciest chana masala tasted bland. I was numb. Kind neighbors had to remind me to put on a coat when I left my apartment to walk to the library, even though the sidewalks were covered with ankle-deep snow. My nose didn’t even twitch when I was forced to wait for a train on a piss drenched subway platform.

Well-meaning friends recommended therapy. Graduate advisors suggested writing as a strategy for self-care. I watched movies instead.

One night, I went out to see Ônibus 174, a slick documentary directed by José Padilha that tells the story of a Rio bus robbery that turned into a nationally televised hostage situation. The film manages to vilify poor black youths who turn to violence out of desperation, and the police officers who are tasked with keeping such violence out of the neighborhoods where privileged Brazilians like Padilha live. I left the movie theater with hot tears in my eyes and cried for six hours. Then I opened a brand new notebook and, for four straight hours, wrote about the seemingly endless reasons my fieldwork experiences led me to despise Padilha’s film.

No one but me will ever read those pages. The writing they contain is too raw to share. I confirmed this a few weeks ago, when I pulled out that notebook to verify that the writing was as awful as I remembered; it was. Sure, I’d vividly described a few places and had jotted down the kernels of thoughts that have since ripened, or that I am still cultivating. But, overall, the prose was too emotional and self-absorbed to be ethnographic.

I’ve thought of that private notebook when reading the texts of some emerging ethnographers who have recently studied violence in the field and have rushed to write publicly about their experiences before they’ve had the time to really think them through. While I commend such individuals for having the courage and the discipline to write, I also invite them to pause before publishing. Ethnographic writing can be a therapeutic exercise, but to be effective it must also be more.

Ethnographers of violence who are far, far more accomplished than I have argued that writing can help an anthropologist who has been emotionally taxed by fieldwork to recover. Even as the act of writing plunges the anthropologist back into the field, it also offers him or her a way to move beyond personal experiences of horror or fear to arrive at larger conclusions about the human condition. But the movement from therapy to theory is not as simple as this statement implies. It is only over time, and via multiple drafts, that writing permits the ethnographer to tease out the ways that intensely felt personal experiences of fear or suffering jarred their previous understanding and challenged them to rethink troubling problems and uncomfortable truths from unexpected angles.

When we read Philippe Bourgois, Mick Taussig, or Donna Goldstein—or many, many others who write about violence with style and grace—we don’t always notice the intellectual labor that went into producing their work. The grit and urgency of the writing belies its polish. Many of us aspire to write so vividly, so personally. Yet, it is crucial to note that when we read texts like In Search of Respect, Law in a Lawless Land, or Laughter out of Place, even though we feel the immediacy of the ethnographic encounter by being privy to the author’s thoughts and emotions while in the field, the enduring contribution of these texts lies in what their authors have told us about the people and the places they have studied, not in what the authors have revealed to us about themselves.

Moving from therapy to theory in writing about personal experiences of violence is intellectually demanding work. The difficulty of the task is exacerbated by the imperative to publish quickly and often. When still overwhelmed by the stresses and emotions of recent fieldwork, it is often easier (and more immediately rewarding) to write about the personal effects of what we experienced in the field. But allowing time and reflection to intervene between our ideas and the visceral and the emotional aspects of certain ethnographic encounters can enable us to better think through the ways that personal experiences of fear or suffering can illuminate larger patterns or problems. To put it simply: while ethnographic writing can offer catharsis, it should also offer critique.

References

Bourgois, Philippe. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Goldstein, Donna. Laughter out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown. University of California Press, 2013.

Taussig, Michael. Law in a Lawless Land: Diary of a Limpieza in Colombia. University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Theidon, Kimberly. “‘How was Your Trip?’ Self-care for Researchers Working and Writing on Violence.” Drugs Security and Democracy Program DSD Working Papers in Research Security. New York: Social Science Research Council, 2014.

Journey between Two Languages

By Asmeret Ghebreigziabiher Mehari

As a non-native learner and speaker of Amharic, English, and Swahili, I have taken several journeys between these languages and my mother tongue, Tigrinya. Considering geopolitical domination and subordination, the passages between Amharic and Tigrinya or Swahili and Tigrinya are fewer than between English and Tigrinya. However, all crossings have similar purposes: to improve my comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing skills of these languages. In writing this post, I have taken a journey that merges Tigrinya and English in the service of two critical questions: 1) what role would a journey between two languages play in the process of thinking and writing about decolonizing archaeology?  2) What would the traveler feel and experience?

This journey took a few days to begin answering these two questions, but the first two days make the foundation of this and any future journeys.

Continue reading

Ramadan Diaries: Week Three

[Note: Ramadan is long over, but due to some technical difficulties, our weekly entries were interrupted. With this entry on not fasting during Ramadan, we pick up where we left off.] 

Ramadan Diaries takes you into the Ramadan experience of two students of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Oguz Alyanak and Dick Powis. They will be fasting amongst Muslims in two Francophone contexts, Strasbourg, France and Dakar, Senegal, respectively. By sharing brief notes on the fasting experience, the aim is to provide a reflexive account of participant observation as it is undertaken by two scholars with distinct backgrounds and field sites. This is the fourth entry in the series, you can read the Introduction, Week One, and Week Two here. 

Oguz Alyanak: Last week, I took the overnight bus from Strasbourg to Paris to attend a two-day conference. The six-hour bus trip, on Wednesday (to Paris) and Friday (back to Strasbourg), started at midnight. I boarded the bus less than two hours after breaking fast, and skipped my last meal of the day (sahur) because I fell asleep during both legs of the trip. So far, fasting has not been physically demanding. However, I was not sure whether my body would handle it while attending a conference tired and sleep-deprived. Hence, for the first time, I thought about skipping. The idea led me to think of my Ramadan experience, and particularly of its purpose, and what I made of it as part of my fieldwork. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest- July 24

Hi everyone, I apologize for the delay but here is this week’s readings for you!

With Hamilton, the musical sensation soon traveling to different cities in the U.S., Current Affairs questions its revisionist portrayal of European colonists and downplaying the history of slavery.

Pokemon Go has millions of players exploring their neighborhoods and ending up in interesting situations in the past few weeks. However, not everyone with disabilities can go out and catch them all. How does the rise of augmented reality technology ignore the needs and embodied experiences of different groups?

Have you noticed your Chinese takeout getting more expensive? Joe Pinsker examines a “global hierarchy of taste” that relates the price and prestige of cuisine to a nation’s political and economic influence.

Anti-Black racism does not only take the form of police brutality. City Lab connects the militant policing of Black neighborhoods with environmental pollution that contribute to higher rates of conditions such as asthma and cancer in Black populations.

Two-Spirit indigenous populations in North America have a complicated history with anthropologists. In recent years, more non-indigenous people have claimed two-spirit as part of their identity. Black Girl Dangerous interrogates the violence of colonialism when non-indigenous people claim to be two-spirit. 

See you next week!

Writing About Violence (Part I)

Writing is never easy. Writing ethnographically about people who perpetrate violence is exceptionally difficult. Not only does the ethnographer have to cautiously avoid slipping into what we call “pornographic’ representation, she (or he) must find a way to convey the humanity of people who do “inhuman” things, while also doing justice to the victims of their violence. Writing in the first person compounds these difficulties. How does one insert his or herself, as ethnographer, into such a narrative?

In writing up my research on prison rapes and murders, I struggle with the competing desires of wanting to present myself as a likeable protagonist and wanting to honestly relate the ways that my ethnographic practice cannot help but become entwined with the forms of violence that I study. I also worry that as I try to navigate between these two treacherous poles of representation, my writing will be either disastrously self-exculpating or unnecessarily self-flagellating.

One solution to this problem might be to consider the ethnographer in the stories I write about violence as a character, rather than a robust and authentic representation of me. But, would doing so necessitate writing the violent events of my fieldwork as fiction? And would turning into ethnographic fiction events that I experienced as being too-real (and as having too-real consequences) be just another way to avoid confronting their ethical ramifications?

A simpler solution would be to pretend that the violence I either witnessed or experienced in the field did not happen at all. I would not be the first to elide physical violence in my ethnographic writing. In fact, I’ve admittedly written much less about the violent events that were central to my fieldwork than I have about the forms of structural violence that have shaped the ethnographic contexts in which I study because I find doing so to be less fraught than writing about specific instances of physical aggression or pain. But blood, bullets, and torn flesh were so prevalent in my fieldwork, I would feel dishonest if I wrote them out of my work.

Another course I could steer in writing about my ethnographic encounters with perpetrators of violence would be to unequivocally position myself as observer rather than participant. But, to me, this would hearken back to the late nineteenth century, when ethnography was decidedly about “the other,” not about the complex relationships that entangle us with people we might—especially when acts of murder or torture are involved—prefer to refer to as “them.”

The choice I have made is to directly acknowledge both my discomfort with and my complicity in the violence that I study. The subsequent challenge I face is how to write this way without dipping into the egocentrism that, as my next post will discuss, sometimes plagues writing about ethnographic encounters with violence.

REFERENCES

Fassin, Didier. 2014 “True Life, Real Lives: Revisiting the Boundaries Between Ethnography and Fiction.” American Ethnologist 41(1): 40-55.

Nader, Laura. 2011. “Ethnography as Theory.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 1(1): 211-219.

Taussig, Michael. 2010. “Viscerality, Faith, and Skepticism: Another Theory of Magic.” Walter Benjamin’s Grave. University of Chicago Press, p. 121-156.

A Question of Politics, not Agency

My as work has an anthropologist in Brazil has drawn me into an historically layered matrix of racial, class-based, and gendered violence that I did not sufficiently understand when I entered the field. I am still working to understand it now. In my previous post I described how, when an off duty police officer held a gun to my temple, he made it impossible for me to claim that I stood fully outside that matrix because I was a light-skinned foreigner. Still, I could not claim that I stood fully within the matrix because I was an anthropologist. The threat I faced was an exceptional moment in my life; such moments were likely to become quotidian to the three little boys who knelt with me in the cane.

In writing about the event, my goal was to foreground the matrix in which the violent encounter I described unfolded and to think through my liminal place within it. While I do assume responsibility for making the event I described possible, I am more interested in examining the larger structures and forces that create the conditions in which violence occurs than I am concerned with assigning individual blame for particular acts of violence.

Admittedly, it would have been expedient to cast myself as an innocent victim of an “other’s” violence. But to me, the more productive question to ask is: How have innocence and complicity become intertwined in a context where murder is too often understood to be an acceptable response to perceived disrespect?

Fractal Kinship: Europe 2016

Political conflict can create deep turmoil within families. Marina lost her only son to fighting in eastern Ukraine. He died while fighting in a Ukrainian airborne division that was attempting to regain territory lost to separatists. The magnitude of this loss becomes more palpable if we consider Marina’s family as a whole: her mother had welcomed the separatists and supported them in their fight. Her sister was politically active and took a leadership position in one of the breakaway republics. So as Marina sees it, her mother and sister helped facilitate the death of her only son.

The EU referendum results have also thrown families into upheaval. The title of a recent article sums it up well “I can barely even look at my parents.” In the aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, a generation gap between the millennials and the older generation has widened. Young people report having heated arguments with their parents, being hung up on, and even being told to leave Great Britain if it is so wonderful in the EU. A primary issue is that the younger generation has been planning for a future that as a result of the vote to exit the EU, is out of reach. One man summed up his feelings toward his parents by saying “I feel betrayed.” https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jun/27/brexit-family-rifts-parents-referendum-conflict-betrayal

Photo of maternity ward in Donbas by Olexandr Danylov

Betrayal. It is a commonly used word within families affected by the war in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine as well. I am calling this phenomenon, that seems to be a part of conflict in many places and times, fractal kinship. A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale. Fractals are useful in modeling structures like coastlines and snowflakes, in which similar structures recur at progressively smaller scales.

There are other pertinent examples of fractal kinship in more distant history. Abraham Lincoln warned in 1858 that a “house divided against itself cannot stand.” This notion became part of the American political vocabulary. The American Civil War pitted brother against brother and father against son. As Taylor (2005) points out, the division of families in the Civil War shattered expectations and beliefs about the meaning of family at the time, prompting people to step back and think. Continue reading

Teaching Decolonizing Methodologies

By Paige West

For about a decade I have been teaching a graduate seminar in anthropology at Columbia University called “Decolonizing Methodology” which takes Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s groundbreaking book Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples as its starting point and also draws on other key texts focused on research methodologies specifically (Denzin et. al. 2008; Kovach 2010). In the course we tend to start with Smith’s work and then use her careful analysis to guide us in taking apart the various traditional methodologies that anthropologists tend to rely on in their research and the various theoretical frames that are of-the-moment within the field. This means that the course moves back and forth between “decolonizing methodology” and “decolonizing theory”.

Continue reading

Anthropologies #22: Some thoughts on food, animals, and anthropology

Here it is: the long-awaited first installment of the anthropologies issue on food. We kick off the issue with a short essay by James Babbitt, who is a graduate student in cultural anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. Babbitt’s main research interests are animal agriculture and affect in the United States. He is currently confused by the complexities of human-livestock worldings. –R.A.

Right now, I am on a farm in rural New England where hundreds of meat chickens and turkeys are being raised. About a mile down the road is a dairy where a couple dozen cows are milked twice daily. I study animal agriculture in the United States. This summer I am conducting preliminary fieldwork. Animal agriculture is not new to Anthropology. Steven Striffler’s Chicken, Timothy Patchirat’s Every Twelve Seconds, and Alex Blanchette’s article, “Herding Species”, in a recent issue of Cultural Anthropology, are all worth checking out if one is interested in how the majority of meat in America is industrially produced. However, these studies do not look at small-scale production. It is the smaller scale operations that I am most familiar with, having worked as a killer on a small organic chicken farm. But before I discuss, that I will provide a bit of background to flesh out where I am coming from. A good place to begin is vegetarianism.

As a teenager, I was introduced to vegetarianism through punk bands like Propagandi, and was an on and off again vegetarian throughout my twenties. Without punk I probably would have never seriously thought about what I put on my plate and in my mouth. In this I am not alone, for punk seems at least partially responsible for the diets, politics and worldviews of many of my peers. At DIY punk shows there would occasionally be food and it was always vegetarian. To do otherwise would be taboo or heretical. There are a number of great songs about animal rights, animal liberation and vegetarianism/veganism by punk and hardcore bands. My personal favorites are Mob 47’s “Animal Liberation” and “Stop the Slaughter”. Continue reading

Situational Awareness

This morning I was taking notes on my laptop as an officer from the NYPD counter terrorism department’s SHIELD unit gave a room full of academic staff ‘active shooter’ training. As the first video was rolling, he walked over and stood behind me to see what I was typing and almost inaudibly asked the young man from IT who was sitting behind me what I was up to. “She’s taking notes,” he whispered back, loud enough for me to hear. My first instinct was to think that maybe buying a bright red laptop was a bad idea, followed quickly by a wish that I had had enough time before the session to run to my office to drop off my stuff and pick up a notebook. My heart was pounding loudly; this person had taken over my safe space rendering it anxious and forced my body to feel defensive when all I had been doing was taking notes. I did not flinch or acknowledge his existence as he paced around me. Even though I like to pretend it does not matter, I know that it was not the red laptop that was the trigger for his suspicion, but rather my hijab. I watched the screen as Derrick O’Dell told us what he did in 2007 during the Virginia Tech mass shooting. I thought of the many students I taught. I thought of the kids in the neighborhood schools. I thought of my young daughter. I thought about what I could do to make it past an ‘active shooter’, and I realized I would have to have a second plan in place as well: how to make it past law enforcement without them thinking it was me.

Continue reading

Participant Outsider?

During my first research trip to northeastern Brazil, an off-duty police officer took me and three local homeless boys to the middle of a sugar cane field and held a loaded gun to each of our heads. He thought we had stolen his wallet, which contained three credit cards, a few bills, and his badge. The boys and I insisted upon our innocence and begged for mercy. In the end, we survived because I was eventually able to help the officer recover his belongings.

Until now, I’ve only shared this story with a few of the anthropologists and writers I consider to be trusted friends. So far, people have responded to the tale in one of two ways: Some believe that story affirms the power of white skin and an American (or European) passport to cast a protective shield over researchers who study violence in contexts where the primary victims are poor and black. Others understand the event to have been my Balinese cockfight: a shared moment of danger that not only positioned me as in league with my interlocutors, but also illuminated for me many of the subtle and shifting local relationships between violence and order.
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The Museum of Corruption

During the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, protestors streamed into the residence of former President Yanukovich at Mezhyhirya reclaimed it. The hat thief who became Head of State is charged with squandering billions of dollars during his years as President. Ukrainians are still asking how to repair the political culture that made it possible to elect this man.

The Yanukovich estate has been turned into a “Museum of Corruption.” Vans with the “Museum of Corruption” placards fill with passengers on the outskirts of Kyiv about every twenty minutes and careen to the estate where visitors can gawk and repent. Like the Museum of Terror in Budapest that explores fascist and communist terror in Hungary, Yanukovich’s estate exposes the idiocies of modern leadership through bizarre inversions. This is a place where animals lived better than many Ukrainians. Museums of corruption may become a thing of the future: one opened in Thailand in June 2015.

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/thailand-launches-museum/2136102.html.

Tourists can leave Ukraine’s Museum of Corruption with souvenirs like refrigerator magnets in the shape of a golden toilet (Yankovich reportedly had golden toilet fixtures) or toilet paper printed with the face of the latest political bad boy.

IMG_1158 IMG_1153

A paradoxical layer here is the humanitarian purpose his estate now serves. People who have been displaced by the war in eastern Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea were granted permission to live here. Yes. This is a good thing, sort of. Continue reading

Danger and the Rio Olympics

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Kristen Drybread.]

The 2016 Olympics in Rio are fast approaching. For the past two months, people I haven’t seen in years—and people I have never even met—have been emailing to ask if I can help them find an affordable and, above all, safe place to stay during the Games. Never mind that I haven’t been to Rio for four years. Never mind that “affordable” and “safe” are relative terms. The assumption is that, having spent several years conducting fieldwork in northeastern Brazilian prisons (most recently in 2014-2015), I’m a better guide to Rio than the Lonely Planet. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest- Black Lives Matter

Hello everyone.

I woke up this morning feeling heavy with sadness. Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A day after Philando Castile was murdered in Falcon Heights, Minnesota by the police. Social media has become a never ending stream of images and text that position black bodies as a moral panic, an echo chamber of violence. The debates over the structures of racism and the police have reached a national arena; we as anthropologists can no longer stand silent.

Instead of a normal Around the Web Digest, I offer readings by anthropologists and critics about the role of the field in dismantling structures of oppression.

Cultural Anthropology offers many readings from a variety of scholars on the intersectionality of Black life in America. Pieces on the experiences of living in constant violence from the state, survival strategies, gendered aspects of policing, international perspectives, and the role of systemic economic disenfranchisement.

Anthropod interviews Yarimar Bonilla, Laurence Ralph, and Mark Auslander on their views of recent #Blacklivesmatter protests.

Shay Akil on Decolonize All The Things criticizes anthropology on it complacency on anti-blackness in academia. Our research and theory will do nothing if it is not translated into practice.

In 2014, we witnessed anthropology face new crossroads in how we contribute to everyday life with coalitions being built across Gaza and Ferguson. I wonder where our discipline stands today with state violence still encroaching in marginalized communities and counter-movements against Black Lives Matter movements.

Here are some earlier resources for teaching from American Ethnologist  about Black Lives Matter protests. (Here) (Here)

Savage Minds has written extensively on the role of racism and anthropology. I compile a list here to better read through.

Not only do anthropologists research these communities, I believe we have the moral responsibility to practice informed activism for these communities in order to heal.

I will return next week with a regularly scheduled digest.

Peace and Love,

Eddie