I am going slightly out of depths with this post, traversing into the territory of yet-to-be-formed thoughts, which could either be speculations or reflections; responses, or idiosyncratic musings. Part of it emerges with the experience I’ve had so far working ethnographically, and from my previous research encounters and readings; but the other part is deeply contemplative, troubling even. Here, I wish to work with another concept that can be read along with ‘subalternity’ as I discussed in the last post – that of ‘margins.’
Therefore, I would like the reader to be aware of the tentative nature of the thoughts expressed in this post, and the assumptions that guide them, and the delicate nature of the interventions that I make.
I began to think of margins more concertedly after I attended a lecture by Pnina Werbner recently, where she spoke about political revolution in the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements in 2011, and the aesthetics of effervescence and despair. She spoke of how such movements needed to be backed by politics so as to materialize the changes that guide them in the first place. Despite apparent failures, she argued that such movements do have an impression on the world: narratives, strategies, and so forth, which steer and shape protest politics in the world. While I am in agreement with her argument, I do think one element that was left relatively under-theorized – and one I think is crucial – is that of the margins of such politics. Continue reading →
The NGOs and Nonprofits Special Interest Group held its second biennial conference before the AAAs last week. It’s designed to give anthropologists and practitioners working in and with NGOs a chance to engage with each other in a more intimate, focused way before diving into the chaos of the AAAs. Entitled “NGOgraphies,” this year’s conference explored the dual meaning of the term, coined by Steven Sampson and Julie Hemment in 2001, which refers both to critical ethnography of NGOs in general and to analysis of the human geography of NGOs in particular. The conference attracted 112 attendees from 13 countries, and session organizers were encouraged to use alternate formats to engage participants, ranging from workshops to roundtables. Rather than a general report on the conference, this post is a reflection on some of the specific conversations and lines of thought the conference generated for me.
I might have been interested in participating, but will likely be traveling overseas for humanitarian work at the time. I have worked for international NGOs and aid agencies for 30 years, as I do now. However, I must say that the title of the session troubles me. As a long-time member and leader of such organizations, I have never known our community to “fetishize” local knowledge. I think the term is disrespectful to my colleagues and their work and insights. This seems like some sort of construct or perception of research-based academics.
Author: Hsiu-Hsin Lin
Translators: Renée Salmonsen & Chuan-Wen Chen
Translator’s note: Contemporary youth and amateur politicians are taking an increasingly active interest and role in Asian politics. We feel it is important to translate this article because the result of Taipei’s mayoral election last year was a significant milestone for Taiwan. This article was written in the month leading up to the election. Many people view the result, independent candidate Wen-je Ko winning the capital city mayoral election, as a reflection of voters seeking change and expressing their dislike for both major political parties, the Kuomintang party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The election was held on November 29th, 2014. The two most popular candidates were Wen-je Ko and Sheng-wen Lien. Neither of the leading candidates had previous significant administrative or management experience in government institutions. Ko, a former surgeon, won the election with 57.16% of votes. Sheng-wen Lien, a.k.a. Sean Lien, is the son of Lien Chan, the former Chairman of the KMT and the Vice President of Taiwan. Sean Lien won the KMT mayoral primary, but lost the 2014 Taipei City mayoral election with 40.82% of votes.
The idea for this article stems from a class discussion. Taipei’s mayoral election has been the hot topic for weeks now. Anything seemingly unrelated to the election is now related. Due to recent circumstances, I haven’t logged-on to Facebook or watched TV lately which has enabled conversations with my students to skip over the hot, trending topics of the election and return to the greater issue of the “Sheng-wen phenomenon”. In other words, whether Sheng-wen is elected or not the emergence of a figure like Sean Lien is a very important phenomenon for the social sciences.
[Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Donna Goldsteinas part of our Writer’s Workshop Series. Donna is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado. She is the author of Laughter Out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown (University of California Press). She is currently writing about pharmaceutical politics, bioethics, regulation, and neoliberalism in Argentina and the United States, and is investigating the history of genetics, Cold War science, the health of populations, and the future of nuclear energy in Brazil.]
“Going through the Brazilian Portal. Hold on! We are heading into Porto Frade, a gated community of the rich and wealthy! Everything functions here!” These are the words of my Brazilian research co-pilot, Nelson Novaes Pedroso Junior, during our recent field excursion to Angra dos Reis to explore perceptions of risk and the role of the nuclear energy plants in the region. Together with doctoral candidate Meryleen Mena, our research team entered Porto Frade, a securitized community not far from the Angra I and II nuclear complex in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is a gated community and a world of yachts, million dollar homes, mostly empty streets (in March of 2015, at least), and security apparati just within the five-kilometer mark of the emergency evacuation plan of the nuclear plant.
This is not only a less well-known Monaco or Sausalito, but also a community of second homes that are underutilized by their wealthy Brazilian owners. The homes are perfect, the gardens well-kept, and the yachts are supersized. In Porto Frade you can find restaurants with French names and menus that would please the most discerning cosmopolitan foodie. If I had no social conscience at all, I could probably have enjoyed my late Saturday lunch that much more. But knowing a tiny bit more about the broader context made enjoyment somewhat difficult. One needs a good sense of humor and sense of the absurd to work in Brazil and to write about its contradictions. Continue reading →
The title of this piece comes from a conversation I had with a senior unelected official for the city of Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. As he described the planned sprawling 18-hole golf course in a village on the outskirts of town, I asked him what would happen to the poor people who currently used the land for small-scale agriculture. “The city is no place for poor people!” he told me. His perspective, in direct conflict with discourses of international development, demonstrates a key tension between the objectives of poverty reduction and economic growth.
My dissertation project investigates that tension via the logics and impacts of a major land reform project in Lesotho. My presentation at the AAG meeting in Chicago will focus specifically on the uses of mapping and other technologies in Lesotho’s land reform, while other elements of my work focus on gender and authority. For this piece, however, I want to talk about my project more broadly to investigate what “development” means in the context of Lesotho’s land.
Land Act 2010 is the centerpiece of legislation that sets the rules for land reform in Lesotho. Together with several other laws, the Land Act set out to make land a more legible and exchangeable resource. The biggest element of the law was that it eliminated customary tenure in urban areas and instead mandated leaseholds (de facto titles). As the government minister responsible for the execution of the law phrased it, “The current land reform program in Lesotho is driven by the desire to achieve social growth and development on the one hand and economic growth and development on the other” (Sekatle 2010). The text of Land Act 2010 is nearly identical to its predecessor, but Land Act 1979 failed to successfully disempower customary authorities in land matters.
The reason Land Act 2010 has been successfully implemented is that a $363 million grant from the U.S.’s new development wing, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), provided the funding to measure, map, adjudicate and deliver the leaseholds that the law requires. In 1979 these expensive logistics were left to individual landholders. Together with wording that removes land allocation power from unelected local chiefs, who were seen as potentially capricious and unsanctionable by their constituents, Land Act 2010 successfully moved urban land tenure to the hands of the market. The goal of making Lesotho’s land an engine of economic growth is consistent with other MCC projects and with the MCC motto – “Poverty reduction through economic growth.” How this market-led land reform works toward economic growth is clear. However, its work toward the goal of poverty reduction is murkier.
The questions I have asked about this reform are rooted in a framework of access. In short, vulnerable people have been granted the right to benefit from their land, but have they been granted the ability to benefit? (Ribot & Peluso 2003). What my work demonstrates is that legal frameworks are necessary but insufficient to provide true land access to vulnerable land users. It is the institutions that govern the execution and application of the laws that are most important. They are the ones who can determine who truly benefits. In Lesotho, the beneficiaries of land reform do not appear to be the poor and vulnerable people said to be targeted by the MCC’s development plans.
That leads to a final point: who are the true beneficiaries of Lesotho’s Land Act 2010 if not the vulnerable people ostensibly targeted? In my research village, two real estate developers are reaping the benefits of secure and exchangeable land tenure. One is building the aforementioned par-71 golf course on half of the village’s former agricultural fields, the other is building a 700-home suburban development on the other half of the fields. Two things are notable about this. First, these developers are empowered by bureaucrats, who are able to influence the votes of the elected officials who are supposed to determine land allocation. The bureaucrats are, like the chiefs before them, unelected officials who can be capricious or corrupt with little ability for public sanction. Second, discourses of “development” that privilege economic growth as the driver of poverty reduction need to be more explicit in how poverty reduction will happen. All the good intentions in the world have not kept economic growth at my research site from trampling on the land access of the poor.
If a development project is to be truly pro-poor, the poor need to truly be at the forefront of planning and execution. These concerns are hardly academic: the MCC is planning a second grant for Lesotho, and their initial plan identifies “Poor land management and allocation systems” as a “binding constraint to economic growth” in Lesotho. A further U.S.-led redefinition of the social relations that govern land access may lie ahead. Poverty reduction and economic growth are very different things. To truly reduce poverty, institutions and development agencies must target reforms and projects that directly help poor people rather than waiting for the fruits of trickle down to accrue to the poor. Trickle down development like Lesotho’s can create a situation where security of land tenure is for golf courses, not the vulnerable, and the city is truly not a place for poor people.
I think there are two very different ways of talking about race and racism which frequently get conflated, and I think this confusion is responsible for a lot of wasted energy in various online debates. The same goes for discussions about gender and sexism. On the one hand we have a moralistic view of racism/sexism. This view seems more likely to be held by people who are decrying accusations of racism/sexism than by those who try to call attention to them, but not exclusively. Those who call out racism/sexism, on the other hand, are more likely to be talking about race/gender as technologies of power which work to systematically marginalize certain voices (and certain lives) than they are to be accusing anyone in particular of being immoral.
Almost five months into the epidemic, on August 8, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a “public health emergency of international concern.” Military and police responses — both international and national — played a crucial role in responses to the epidemic. A few weeks later, on August 20th, the Liberian military quarantined residents of West Point in the capital city of Monrovia without advance warning, essentially cutting them off from food and supplies and causing thousands of residents to clash with troops and riot police. Images surfaced of troops firing live rounds and tear gas and viciously beating back residents who challenged the lockdown. Military-enforced quarantines around entire districts of Sierra Leone and the shift of power from the ministry of health to the ministry of defense were key features of its Ebola response.
Across the Atlantic, on August 9, 2014, 18-year old unarmed Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Peaceful protests and civil disorder ensued in the following weeks, prompting the governor to declare a “state of emergency” and call on local police and the National Guard to control protests and maintain curfews. Greater public attention was placed on the increasing militarization of local police forces as the grand jury, which was convened to hear evidence of the circumstances surrounding the death of Michael Brown, reached a decision not to indict Officer Wilson. Continue reading →
He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
-From the popular children’s song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
The tension. Stress. Anxiety! It was the night before Christmas and I couldn’t sleep. I knew he was watching. I was about six years old. My bedroom was right next to the living room, where the tree and the presents awaited morning light. I could hear the slightest noise that emitted from the room where our frenetically decorated electric masterpiece awaited its midnight visitor. I was sweating. I knew the rules. He was due to arrive at any moment. I knew that I was supposed to be asleep, and that I was running the risk of forfeiting all of my materialistic goodies if I failed to fall in line. It was hell. I just wanted to find a way to pass out so that I could sleep my way into the glory of Christmas morning.
Of course, the entire scenario was all in my mind; a cruel joke that my parents had played on me in order to control my behavior. It’s a little ridiculous, and a little insidious, this widespread cultural phenomenon known as “Santa Claus.” It’s ridiculous because year in and year out parents around the country tell stories about a white-bearded individual who flies through the air on a magical sleigh, pulled by flying reindeer, no less, delivering free stuff to kids around the world. The most unbelievable part? The magic sleigh? No. The flying reindeer? Nope. It’s the fact that this dude does all of this work without any expectation of getting paid. That, especially these days when money seems to rule above all else, is about as incredible as it gets.
But then we get to the insidious part. The whole idea of Santa Claus is twisted, if not a little cruel, because it is used as a form of social control. Kids are taught about the wondrous generosity of the old man who breaks into houses to leave free stuff…but then the carpet is pulled out from under them when they learn the catch. If you’re bad, you don’t get anything. The worst part of this is the fact that this form of social control is directed at our youngest members of society—those innocent, starry-eyed little angels that make up the lower ranks of our social order. All year, they are subjected to the watchful eye old a jolly old man who sees their every move. Santa Claus is the epitome of Foucault’s panopticon, embodied in a cheap red suit and a long white beard. Continue reading →
Earlier this month I sat down with Eduardo Kohn to talk about his amazing book How Forests Think. We started out discussing his intellectual influences and ended up ranging widely over his book, the status of Peirce as a thinker, what ‘politics’ means, and a variety of other topics. Thanks to the hard work of our intern Angela, I’m proud to post a copy of our interview here. I really enjoyed talking to Eduardo, so I hope you enjoy reading it!
Wisconsin and the Amazon
RG: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk. I really enjoyed How Forests Think. When I started it I was a little on the skeptical side, but I ended up thinking it was a mind-blowing book. I thought we could begin by discussing the background for the book and your training. I see the book as mixing biology, science studies (especially Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour), and then some sort of semiotics. It seems like there are a lot of influences there. You got your PhD at Wisconsin, so how did that work out? Can you tell me a little about your background?
EK: The way I got into anthropology was through research, by which I mean fieldwork. And I was always trying to find ways to do more fieldwork. I saw Wisconsin as an extension of this. When I was in college I did some field research in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I had a Fulbright to go back and do research after college, and only then did I go to grad school. Although How Forests Think aims to make a conceptual intervention in anthropology, I think of our field as a special vehicle for engaging intensely with a place in ways that make us over and help us think differently. Continue reading →
Afghanistan’s upcoming elections have received a lot of coverage here in the United States, and all over the world. But did you know that one of the leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani, is an anthropologist?
[This post is part of a two-week series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]
SILVIA LINDTNER. DIY maker, hacker, and ethnographic design researcher.
ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.
Many disciplines and fields often work with competing notions of what counts as design, claiming authority over the term, practice, and definition. Think for instance about efforts in critical design (e.g., Dunne & Raby 2007) and the strong oppositions its practitioners often make to product design. Critical design is aimed at engaging people in critical ways with commonly used products. As Jeff and Shaowen Bardzell illuminate, critical design is positioned in opposition to affirmative design—the latter considered as “the common practice, and this practice is amoral and ultimately a dupe for capitalist ideology, while critical designers are described as moral agents who seek to change society for the better” (Bardzell & Bardzell 2013).
It is important to not shy away from the politics of design, or to brash aside such heated debates over definitions, terms, and authentic practices–many of which are legitimizing efforts of new approaches in an overly competitive market (both industry and the academy). The question is how to engage the politics of design in a way that remains open to multiple viewpoints and approaches. At numerous times in my research, I have heard people argue that the process of making and designing itself is apolitical. There is much that refutes such statements–think for instance of questions of labor when we turn towards sites of production that manufacture the technological products we use on a daily basis, or listen to debates of hackerspace members over what counts as hacking versus making versus product design. What is important here is to consider the differences that lie in designing as a mode of inquiry, a leisure practice, or central to one’s profession and livelihood.
It’s been a week now since US representatives Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith published an article on USA Today about “rethinking science funding.” Their main point is supposedly that we need to take a closer, critical look at how we fund science through grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). On the surface their argument seems reasonable, even “common sense.” Below the surface, it’s little more than a disingenuous, ideologically-based attack on the social sciences. And it’s nothing new from Cantor, Smith, and their cronies. As a graduate student in anthropology–and a recipient of a dissertation grant from the NSF–it’s pretty infuriating to see these two politicians trying to intervene so recklessly into the funding process.1
I understand the need for both accountability and clarity in the whole grant process. Are there things that need to be changed? Problems that need to be addressed? Absolutely. There are always ways to improve how things work. Definitely. But what Cantor and Smith are proposing, despite some of their benign-sounding rhetoric, is not just some altruistic attempt to “help” make things better. In fact, what they are doing is more like a witch hunt than the “we’re doing this for the people” line they’re trying to sell to the US public. Continue reading →
The University of Chicago’s Workshop on Science, Technology, Society & the State is hosting a follow-up to last year’s “Anthropology and Counterinsurgency” conference next week. Entitled “Reconsidering American Power“, the conference aims to expand beyond questions related to the militarization of anthropology to consider more generally the relation between the social sciences and the American state.
I’ll be presenting a paper during Friday’s panel session, “Uses and Abuses of Social Sciences: Disciplines of and for What?” Entitled “Are We Ready Yet for Action Anthropology?”, my paper is intended to counter arguments that anthropologists’ refusal to cooperate with military and intelligence efforts like HTS, PRISP, and the Minerva Consortium necessarily condemns anthropology to irrelevance. My hope is that by examining the model of action anthropology, which has gained little traction in academic anthropology in the 50 years since Sol Tax and his students proposed it, a way of meaningfully engaging contemporary issues might emerge that avoids the troubling issues raised by direct subordination to military and intelligence agencies.
Other participants include David Price, Catherine Lutz, Hugh Gusterson, Jeff Bennett, Robert Vitalis, Matthew Sparke, Sean Mitchell, Kevin Caffrey, Amahl Bishara, Rochelle Davis, Roberto Gonzalez, Keith Brown, Chris Nelson, and a variety of U of Chicago folks from anthropology and the other social sciences, including honorary Savage Mindster Marshall Sahlins. (Note: I’m listed as “editor” of Savage Minds, a title I neither asked for nor knew was being ascribed to me! I’m also listed as an “independent researcher”, despite my 6 years affiliation with the College of Southern Nevada…)
On a related note, the paper I presented last year will be out early 2010 from University of Chicago Press in a collected volume of essays from the conference. (Can we talk some time about academic publishers demanding all copyrights? For free?) As far as I know, the book will be titled following the conference, that is Anthropology and Counterinsurgency. Look for it in an academic bookstore near you!
Iraqi people wave their flags during celebrations after the Iraq soccer team won the Asian Cup, in streets of the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (AP Photo via Yahoo)
In a true sports story that seems like a script to a Hollywood movie, the Iraqi Men’s soccer team beat Saudi Arabia in the finals of the Asian Cup on July 29th in Jakarta, with the winning goal in the 71st minute headed in by the Sunni team captain from Kirkuk, off a corner kick by Kurd teammate from Mosul. The Iraqi team was as diverse as anything Disney could think of, with Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds mixed in together under a Brazilian coach. Political leaders throughout the world all had something to say about one of the few instances of good news coming from Iraq; even General David Petreus, commander of American forces in Iraq, took the time to celebrate.
Can sports triumph over politics? Or is it yet another arena to be politicized. The ability of sports to bring together a social group is not just the main message of movies like Remember the Titans or The Mighty Ducks; it is also a main point in many of the anthropological studies of sports. There are a number of good reviews of the anthropological literature on sports. In no particular order, I would recommend Noel Dyck’s introduction to a 2000 edited volume entitled Games, Sports, and Cultures, Kendall Blanchard’s 1995 book The Anthropology of Sport (more like a textbook), or Thomas Carter’s 2002 article in Identities. There are numerous ethnographies that also have a good introduction to the field, including those written by Susan Brownell, Alan Klein, Eduardo Archetti, and Joseph Alter (to name only a few). There are many good ethnographies and edited volumes on all the major global sports such as soccer, baseball, track and field, and basketball, as well as interesting studies on more regional sports.
Much of the contemporary study of sports (especially in European circles) is based upon the seminal work of Norbert Elias, who approached sports as a necessary product of modernity by what he refers to as “the civilizing process.” From Elias’s perspective, a key component of sports is the bureaucratic control of violence through the establishment of rules and organizations that enforce them. Elias further added that sports, as an element of leisure, are an outcome of industrialization, in that work becomes increasingly differentiated from leisure in a dialectical manner. Work in modern societies imposes a rigorous restraint on individuals, increasing a sense of alienation that, according to Elias, is relieved by the “quest for excitement” in leisure (think of Victor Turner’s communitas). Sports are therefore a necessary part of modernity that provides society with a mimetic excitement that gives individuals a liberating, cathartic experience within the iron cage of modern life. Sports, however, must have the same kind of restraints as wider society for society to maintain its cohesion; they are a part of the Weberian process of rationalization. The anthropological literature on sports can be roughly divided into different topical categories, and later this week I will discuss some of them.
Sports and Identity. Sports are presented as a key cultural arena in which a multiplicity of identities (such as ethnicity, nationalism, gender, or class) are created, performed, and essentialized. Sports provide people with bodily means to differentiate themselves from others latitudinally or hierarchically (see Jeremy MacClancy’s edited volume). The connection between sports and identity is most visible in various public spectacles such as the Olympic Games or World Cup Soccer. These studies have showed how sports serve as a double-edged sword – like the example of Jackie Robinson breaking the racial barrier in baseball, sports can both divide and unify, flatten or exacerbate differences. Pierre Bourdieu has an interesting set of articles that lay out a program for the study of sports, especially as a means of understanding social class dynamics.
Nation-states are heavily involved in the use of sports for unifying diverse cultures and communities within its borders (think of the recent victory by the Iraqi men’s soccer team in the Asian Cup), and through its patronage can transform sports into a political arena. In a study of Indian wrestlers, Joseph Alter, for example, demonstrates how wrestling spread an ideology that on the one hand is critical of the Hindu caste system through its interpretation of the body, but on the other hand is critical of the social conditions created by the modern Indian state. In some of these studies, the successes and failures of individual athletes in competition are social projections of regional and national pride and can help integrate diverse societies through an imagined community generated by athletes and teams that physically represent the nation.
Paradoxically, sports also provides a way to transgress national boundaries by re-drawing boundaries based upon the shared practices of a particular sport. Alan Klein’s 1997 ethnographic study of a binational professional baseball team demonstrates not only the possibilities of this transgression, but also its limits. Again, the recent triumph of the Iraqi national team — composed of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds — brought fans out into the streets to celebrate the victory, a celebration later marred by renewed violence. And the Sunni team captain who scored the winning goal stayed in Syria while the rest of team returned to Iraq because of the threat of violence precisely for his brining a little joy to Iraqis; not quite a good Hollywood ending.