Thinking in an Emergency Or, Free Tents as a Cautionary Tale

The seduction against thinking in an emergency comes, as we have seen, from two sources: first, from a false opposition between thinking and acting; second, from a plausible (but in the end, false) opposition between thinking and rapid action.

—Elaine Scarry, Thinking in an Emergency (2011: 14)

It was a rushed decision to accept the tents. But when Ngawang called me – he in New York, his family in his village in northern Nepal – his voice cracked. My mother is cold. She is sleeping on the ground. Not minutes later, news flashed across the Facebook feed: an old friend was organizing a massive effort to send donated tents to Nepal from the US and to work with Indian and Nepali manufacturers to make as many durable if impermanent shelters as quickly as possible. I reached out, asking if perhaps twenty of the donated tents could be set aside for this village in need. I mentioned that someone from my small New England town was heading to Nepal next week. There had been talk of baggage waivers –promissory notes against suffering.

And so I accepted the donation of twenty six-person tents. Send them to my office, I said. We’ll get them there next week. If they hadn’t been donated, I would call them an impulse buy.

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I Will Not Call Her Name: An Ethno-poem on Racial and Gendered Violence

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this ethno-poem by L. Kaifa Roland who is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Kaifa is the author of Cuban Color in Tourism and La Lucha: An Ethnography of Racial Meaning (OUP, 2010) “T/racing Belonging in Cuban Tourism” (Cultural Anthropology, August 2013), and “Between Belonging and the F/Act of Niggerisation” in Trayvon Martin, Race, and American Justice: Writing Wrong (Sense Publishers, 2014). Currently, she is doing ethnographic research with Black women entrepreneurs in Havana.]

I will not call her name

There are other names to be called

In this prematurely labeled epoch of post-racial America

Our children lay dead in the streets

At the hands of authority figures who see their color

and gender as a threat

Shoot to kill not to stop or inquire

Call their names.

Like Emmett Till before them,

young black men keep falling:

From Amadou Diallou

to Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant

and Sean Bell and Eric Garner,

Tamir Rice and Michael Brown

and on and on it seems… Continue reading

Who benefits from the ‘internet space race’?

In the film Elysium, the ultra-rich have left an apocalyptic Earth ravaged by global warming and overpopulation. Their utopian colony orbits high above Earth which festers below. Science fiction, but Silicon Valley techno-utopians also dream of rising above the planet’s problems.

The Seasteading Institute, for example, seeks to create floating cities far enough from land as to be outside of any regulatory jurisdiction. There, farseers such as the likes of Google CEO Larry Page might be able to innovate, untethered by regulations. At Google’s annual developers’ conference in 2013, Page said: “I think as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out.”

The seas of Earth appeal to some while the dry seas of Mars attract others: Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, is at the forefront of commercial space travel for the ultra-rich. At a cost of US$36 billion he hopes his company SpaceX can start a Mars colony. Space tourist tickets come in at a mere US$500,000. He also plans to provide planet-wide internet access, beamed from 4,000 satellites. Continue reading

Thinking about race like a cataloger

In librarian parlance entities, whether books or journal articles or whatever, can be said to have an “aboutness.” And as a cataloger its my job to describe that aboutness with subject headings. I’m working in an archives setting now and my job, essentially, is to sit down with photos such as the one below and, following strict rules, create a digital record that will help researchers find it in the future.

US Army Signal Corps Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Photographs

Because we place a premium on organization and arrangement only authorized subject headings are permitted, something called a “controlled vocabulary.” In the work I’m doing now our controlled vocabulary comes from the Library of Congress. One of the defining characteristics of the LoC subject headings is that they are hierarchical, broad terms are subdivided into narrower terms, which are further divided and modified in rather rigid ways.

So those are the basic rules of the game. The objective is to describe the item so that others will find it, but within the constraints set out by the LoC (typically there are in-house rules you have to take in to consideration too, etc). Alright, given all that: What is this picture about?
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Reckonings: Participant-Observation from a Distance

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Sienna Craig.

I am going to use this space as a Savage Minds guest to sort through some of the images, questions, and emotions unearthed over these past six weeks or so, as communities across Nepal have lived and died under the weight of falling buildings, landslides, floods, trauma, and homelessness brought about by massive seismic shifts across the Himalayan belt. Given the dizzying pace of news cycles and our collectively short attention spans, those for whom Nepal is not an important place will refer to this disaster as an earthquake, singular. But this is no singular disaster. The country has experienced about 300 seismic events since April 25, 2015. For thousands, the initial 7.8 earthquake was sufficient to kill them. But the remains of that day rumble on and people are now living to the rhythm of expected surprise. Ayo ayo ayo. A lament. A modicum of pain. But also, simply, it has come.

For most of Nepal’s roughly 30 million people, living uncertainty is old hat. Consider the legacies of civil war and political instability, the dynamics of moneylending, wage labor abroad and the weight of debt, questions of when the rains will come or when they will stop. But the spring of 2015 has cracked open new forms of vulnerability, ripped into the seams of lives and landscapes, and at once exacerbated forms of inequality even as it prompts new forms of Nepali collectivity. More than half a million homes have been destroyed or are precariously habitable. This equates to about 2.5 million people for whom ‘home’ has become a place of desperate refuge or a village now longed for among the tent cities of the urban refugee. More than 3,500 schools have been destroyed. The wind and water of one’s place, and one’s ancestor’s place, may now be nowhere to settle and perhaps an environment to which one should not return, the vertiginous threats of dislodged rock and snow, glacial lake outburst flooding and landslides being what they are. As the skies begin to crackle and roar, as clouds bloat and groan like bellows, millions of Nepalis may look up and wonder what is next. And there becomes an eerie symmetry to it all. Avalanche as downpour. Thunderstorm as quake.

Monsoon began officially last week. Continue reading

The Limits of the Virtuoso

Via @jbouie
Via @jbouie

Pierre Bourdieu, in his famous critique of structuralism from Outline of a Theory of Practice, says:

only a virtuoso with a perfect command of his “art of living” can play on all the resources inherent in the ambiguities and uncertainties of behavior and situation in order to produce the actions appropriate to each case, to do that of which people will say “There was nothing else to be done”, and do it the right way.

Two recent headline-grabbing stories, Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover and Rachel Dolezal getting outed by her parents as “white,” have served to highlight the limits to virtuoso performance: the boundaries our society places over the individual’s ability to perform gender and ethnicity. Continue reading

Anthropology and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: Is an academic boycott effective?

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to present this final essay in a series dedicated to the issue of the boycott.  Previous essays by Talal Asad, Mick Taussig, J. Lorand Matory, Rosemary Sayigh, and Brian Boyd reflected on the decision to boycott such institutions. This piece considers whether such decisions will have the desired effect.  The evidence thus far says: yes.

 

Is an academic boycott effective? Ask Israeli leaders

I. ben Alek

I. ben Alek is a pseudonym for an anthropologist and long-time student of Israeli politics

“Israel has been blessed with a lot of talent that manufactures many excellent products. In order to export, you need good products, but you also need good relations. So why make peace? Because, if Israel’s image gets worse, it will begin to suffer boycotts.”

 —Then President of Israel Shimon Peres, quoted in the Belfast Telegraph, May 18th, 2012.

How can an academic boycott of Israeli institutions be effective? While debating the issue at the 2014 Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, several colleagues insisted it could not be effective. This was a central criticism they had of the Statement of Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions. After all, critics said, a potential AAA boycott resolution would only be boycotting some hundred or less anthropologists that work or study at Israeli institutions of higher education. Further, they argued, many of these scholars are on the left side of the Israeli political spectrum, and are finding little room to maneuver at a time when Israeli leaders are fanning the militarization of public opinion. Isn’t it counterproductive to undermine their position, as well as that of other dissident scholars, living and working there? A statement against boycott of Israeli academic institutions signed by some four hundred anthropologists claims also that such a boycott would “collectively punish” academics for the decisions of their government, and further that “A boycott of anthropologists and academic institutions plays into the hands of those supporting the current political stalemate.”
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Around the Web Digest: Week of June 7

I love when good online content finds me! Keep submitting links to me at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com and I’m happy to feature them on here.

The title of this Washington Post article is pretty self-explanatory: Why Congress Should Not Cut Funding to the Social Sciences. Takeaway? Aside from having any intrinsic value, understanding social phenomena is important for shaping public policy.

My friends and I were just comparing notes on Ph.D. research with some people we know from the biology department, and they couldn’t understand our view of research as a basically solitary activity in anthropology. This post on the Global Social Media Impact Study Project Blog addresses that very perception: A Methodological Case of Comparative Anthropology 

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Anthropology and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: Brian Boyd

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to present the latest in a series of essays reflecting on the decision to support the boycott until Israeli higher education ends its complicity in the violation of Palestinian rights (including academic rights).

This piece by Israel-Palestine archaeologist Brian Boyd joins earlier statements on Savage Minds by Talal Asad, Mick Taussig, J. Lorand Matory, and Rosemary Sayigh.

Archaeology and the BDS/boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: some personal fragmentary reflections

Brian Boyd
Columbia University

Reflecting on why I support the proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions, I found myself looking back through fieldwork diaries I made while I was an undergraduate student in the late 1980s. The first set dates from early July to late September 1988, the second from the same period in 1989: the early years of the First Intifada. My fieldwork was as a volunteer on a French-Israeli archaeology project in western Galilee. In 1988, the team consisted of a French director, a Palestinian assistant, and around 20 students, almost all European and one or two Israelis. In 1989, the situation was similar, with the addition of one Palestinian student. The project was mainly funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs/CNRS and the excavation license granted by, as with all archaeological projects in Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority. All archaeological licenses granted to a non-Israeli project director must bear the name of an Israeli co-director, despite that person not being an active daily member of the project team.

During those six months, the archaeological team lodged in the old youth hostel in the Arab area of the northern Mediterranean coastal town that Arabs call ‘Akka and Israeli Jews call ‘Akko. A Christian Arab family ran the hostel, and the town itself was part-Arab (the Old City), part-Israeli (the New City). At that time, I knew little about the Israel/Palestine situation beyond UK media reports, but clearly the recently announced Intifada (late 1987) was on everyone’s minds, especially in a town with Akka’s/Akko’s demographic. I befriended a local Arab café owner, who said he worked for “the labor party”. One evening, a few of us diggers visited his café to find it full of tourists of different nationalities – Japanese, American, British, French. The owner had gathered them together from a number of tour parties and had given them cold-water melon on this hot day. After talking with us all about the Intifada situation, he orchestrated an international chorus around his tables – “We want peace! We want peace!”, over and over. This was, I guess, my first “political” encounter with an Arab person, and one which has stayed in my mind because of the contrast I was seeing between (a) this spontaneous Arab-led international “happening”, particularly hearing the call for peace, and (b) the fairly heavy Israeli police and military presence that I had seen everywhere since my arrival in the country only a few days before. Continue reading

Anthropology and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: Rosemary Sayigh

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to present Part 2 of our series of essays. This piece by Beirut-based anthropologist Rosemary Sayigh joins earlier statements by Steven Caton, Talal Asad, Mick Taussig, and J. Lorand Matory in support of the boycott until Israeli higher education ends its complicity in the violation of Palestinian rights as stipulated under international law.

Why I Signed
Rosemary Sayigh
Visiting Professor at CAMES, American University of Beirut
Beirut, Lebanon

I have long supported the BDS campaign because I believe in its principles and aims. I do so in three capacities: i) as a citizen of the country that promised Palestine to representatives of the Zionist movement as a national home for Jews; and ii) as a resident in Lebanon, living close to Palestinian refugees, and witness of the ‘ongoing Nakba’; iii) as an anthropologist.

As a British citizen I feel obliged to work against the morally wrong and politically shortsighted decision taken by the British government when it issued the Balfour Declaration. By pledging itself itself to facilitate” “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, Britain initiated the displacement of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants, a process it continued after gaining the mandate over Palestine.  Betraying its promise of national independence to Arabs who helped the Allies to defeat the Turks in World War 1, Britain also backed out of the promise made in the Balfour Declaration to do nothing  “which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. Though the Declaration’s definition of Arab Palestinians as “non-Jewish communities” was a first step towards their displacement, yet the statement contains a promise of protection that was betrayed throughout the Mandate, and particularly by the way it was terminated. By supporting the BDS campaign I hope to bring nearer the time when a broad segment of the British people will acknowledge a historic mistake and need to make amends.

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Around the Web Digest: Week of May 31

It’s unofficially archaeology week here at the headquarters of the Around the Web Digest… Send me anything I need to feature on here at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com.

Past Horizons: Adventures in Archaeology features this attractive post about the excavation of a drover’s track and inn from the 18th-19th centuries: Ancient Routeway Revealed in Argyll

The crew at DigVentures obviously loves and hates clickbait as much as I do… Check out these 7 Medieval Medicines Dug Up By Archaeologists – the third one will change the way you see medieval medicine forever!

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Writing Good Anthropology in a Time of Crisis: Lessons from the Nepal Earthquake

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by guest author Heather Hindman. Heather is Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book Mediating the Global: Expatrias Forms and Consequences in Kathmandu (Stanford University Press, 2013) explores the employment practices and daily lives of elite aid workers and diplomats over the last several decades of changes in the development industry, with a critical analysis of human resources management and cross-cultural communication. She is also co-editor of Inside the Everyday Lives of Development Workers (Kumarian Press, 2011). Her recent publications explore Nepals elite migration practices, the rise of voluntourism and the shifting interests of aid donors in Nepal. Currently, she is researching youth activism and labor, particularly among elites with overseas experience.]

How do scholars balance the need to write quickly and the need to write well? Pressures to “publish or perish” and the rise of “visibility indices” have led many of us to write in ways that will be recognized by our institutions, rather than in the other ways we also think and reflect. Some academics now are calling for a turn to slow scholarship, but this may be a luxury only the elite can afford. In a time of crisis, writing slowly does not work; instead, we need to write swiftly. Recently, I and many people who have conducted research in Nepal found ourselves under pressure to write quickly while still maintaining our academic integrity.

Organizing relief AYON Bijaya
AYON/Association of Youth Organizations Nepal organizing earthquake relief. Photo by Bijaya Raj Poudel.

 

The April 25th earthquake in Nepal proved devastating for the country and spurred many in the anthropological world to action and comment. In the days after the quake, and propelled forward by the major May 12th aftershock, academics in the US, Europe and Asia found themselves overwhelmed by requests for interviews and op-eds, and many of us were eager to do something. I felt paralyzed and incompetent, sitting in Austin, Texas, trying to finish the semester, working closely with local student groups and NRN (Non-Resident Nepali) organizations and operating at a high level of distraction. Social media was afire with check-ins of who had survived, where the greatest damage had occurred and what resources were needed to keep people alive on a day-to-day basis. I found myself pulled into the social media world and addicted to email and messaging as I had never been before. Many of us sought to raise funds and awareness in our own communities, to establish contact with those we care about in Nepal, and to write brief articles as we felt able for media venues. After the initial flurry of media contacts, several of those who had written about the disaster were contacted by Anthropology News to write an article for their online forum. We hoped to get someone familiar with facts on the ground, yet many anthropologists who were in Nepal were dealing with everyday needs of seeking shelter, looking out for loved ones and trying to provide basic relief as they were able. AN Managing Editor Amy Goldenberg posted a brief piece that collected links to essays written by North American-based anthropologists for other venues, and there were promises from others to write more substantive articles when more research and reflection was possible. Then, Anthropology News—an official publication of the American Anthropological Association—found a respondent in anthropologist David Beine, Professor of World Missions and Evangelism at Moody Bible Institute. Continue reading

Anthropology and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: Mick Taussig and J. Lorand Matory

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.

We are pleased to present the following two reflections by Mick Taussig and J. Lorand Matory as part of a two-week guest blog series entitled Anthropology and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions. These reflections on why anthropologists should support the boycott join similar statements by Steven Caton and Talal Asad.

 

Why I Urge Support for BDS
Mick Taussig
Class of 1933 Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

The issue seems not so much why support; but how could you not?

The situation in the US has gotten to the point where the slightest criticism of the Israeli state’s ugly excesses is taken as heresy and this applies with stinging force to university life. Trustees of US universities are on record now as firing or quietly threatening hires of professors.

How dare they! And we are punished for asking for divestment and boycotts!

Untenured and even some tenured professors are afraid to sign petitions or get involved in pro-Palestinian activities, student councils are charged, predictably, as “anti-semitic” if they challenge the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and Students for Justice in Palestine groups are targeted and banned by college presidents as causing “discomfort” to Jewish students. That is why it is so important that academic associations weigh in loud and clear as counter-voices to create, at the least, a level playing field.

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‘academia has its own set of rules': Jenny Davis on language revitalization and Indigenous gender and sexuality in North America

Today is a tough day for many Indigenous people in Canada. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its findings from its years of work collecting testimony from survivors of the Indian Residential School system in Canada.

In a way, I am thankful that I get to finish my guest blog post with Savage Minds on a day that is so important for Indigenous people across Canada. And I am thankful I get to sign off by sharing an interview with a brilliant Indigenous scholar, Jenny Davis.

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