Tag Archives: Middle East

Ephemeral Layers: Coffee, Snapchat, and Violence

For decades, ephemeral layers at archaeological sites have been the bane of my existence. The moment I read, hear, or have to confront it at an excavation, my soul does a smh. How can we reconstruct anything meaningful in this ephemerality? To be honest, that frustration is simply a privileged standpoint of archaeologists who work in ancient cities, towns, or any mostly permanent settled space – which is where my training and research has focused. Ephemerality is a challenge and requires me to contend with materials and surfaces in a way I am only starting to understand.

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Why Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS: SMOPS 14

I’m happy to announce the next number of the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series, “Why Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS”. This number of the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series is unusual for two reasons. First, this is the first SMOPS that is not a reprint of early pieces in the history of anthropology. Secondly, I am not the author of this piece, although the authors have assigned their copyright to me in order to give this piece a Creative Commons license. This piece presents in expanded and revised form material which originally appeared on the Savage Minds blog in June and July 2014. These guest blog entries, composed by two people writing under the pseudonym ‘Isaiah Silver’, are part of a wider discussion regarding the American Anthropological Association’s stance towards Israel. As such, this SMOPS is meant to provide a convienient, downloadable, citeable explanation of their position.

Divestment is an emotional — even explosive — topic for many anthropologists, and especially for Jewish anthropologists. To me, the most valuable contribution this SMOPS makes is not in arguing one side of divestment or the other. Rather, its value comes from the fact that it presents a picture — almost a mini-ethnography — of Israel that varies greatly from what Jewish American anthropologists such as myself were told about our homeland growing up. Regardless of where one stands on the issue of Israel, I believe that we as anthropologists have a professional obligation to see and know the full reality of life in Israel today, including evidence that contradicts many of our taken-for-granted ideas about that country. Challenging preconceptions in the name of truth is, after all, the fundamental duty of anthropological ethnography. As Jewish American anthropologists, we must work through these issues the ethnography presents. An incurious and uninformed support of Israel does not fulfill Jewish American anthropologists’ obligation to anthropology or Israel — and refusing to engage the issue at all is simply to give up on one’s identity altogether.

Why Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS, by Isaiah Silver,  Edited by Alex Golub

Studying Arabic in Wartime Israel

[The following is an invited post by Arpan Roy. Arpan is a student of anthropology and currently an instructor of English and linguistics at An-Najah National University in Nablus. His research interests are activism and dual narratives in Israel/Palestine.]


Although I was instantly moved by the Palestinian narrative from the moment I learned of it, it would be years before I knew any Palestinians. Nor did I know any Israelis. Yet, in the bohemian subcultures of urban America, you could say that I, in the ironic words of Najla Said, ‘grew up as a Jew.’ Jews were friends, ex-girlfriends, band mates, co-workers, classmates, bosses, and professors. Some broke from the dominant Zionist narrative, while others did not. Usually we didn’t talk about it. There was enough going on with my own coming of age to get into world politics. Somehow I missed the second intifada.

Soon I’d have more to say. Once, in San Francisco, a band I was playing in broke up when the harmonium player stormed out of practice after I debuted a new song about Palestine. A few months later, in 2006, I was traveling in South America when the Second Lebanon War broke out. I was surrounded by herds of Israeli backpackers fresh out of the military. It was difficult for me not to separate the scenes of destruction I read in the news from the aloof and giddy young ex-soldiers let loose on the streets of Cuzco and La Paz. More than a few conversations went late into those nights.

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Some Questions Only Seem Reasonable Because You Don’t Know The Answer

As scholars and/or scientists, we believe that no question is out of bounds. Is the bible a literal description of the creation of the universe? Does owning guns make people safer? Scientists think these questions can and should be investigated by anyone who feels like doing so. We disagree, then, with the people who think that some questions should be off limits. There are many reasons why: they seem so unintuitive they couldn’t possibly be true; they challenge existing authorities; the truth is not in the interests of the powerful, and so forth.

But scholars also believe that certain questions are not worth asking. Sometimes, its for the same reasons that I’ve listed above — after all, academics are people too. But there is another reason that scholars and scientists roll their eyes when certain questions get asked, or certain answers are proposed: history.

People have been asking questions for a long time, and have been coming up with good answers for just as long. Specialists in a field remember this history: we were taught it as students, and we make it as researchers. We’ve seen answers to questions come and go — often after the real answers are more or less established.

Consider, for instance, the settlement of Polynesia. How did all of those islands in the Pacific get populated when they were in the middle of the ocean? Polynesian voyaging is one of the great triumphs of our species, and the prehistory of the Pacific is now relatively well understood. But that doesn’t stop people from asking the question afresh. A few years ago I was talking to someone about their recent trip to Morocco, where they noted that Berber languages sounded suspiciously like Hawai‘ian. Could Polynesians have migrated from the old world?

Sure they could have. Or they could have migrated from the Americas — Thor Heyerdahl proved that the voyage was possible. In fact, it was once a going theory that they migrated from Egypt. So if you are a non-academic and google for Polynesian origins in the Middle East, you will in fact find books on this subject.

It’s just that those books are out of date and wrong. Polynesians could have come from Egypt or Morocco. However, they did not. And as for similarities in language, well, with a little ingenuity, and given languages with reasonably compatible phonologies, you can find a ‘cognate’ between two unrelated languages about once out of every two words you try.

Isn’t the earth obviously flat? Couldn’t vaccines be dangerous? Why do people ignore the clear evidence the Bible gives us about the creation of the world? People ask these questions all the time, and feel slighted when professors respond by rolling their eyes and assigning remedial reading rather than taking them seriously.

Sure, we could be wrong. Our explanations could be mistaken, and it takes people being mavericky to shake us up from time to time. But — let’s face it — most of the time when people start demanding new answers to settled questions, this demand only seem reasonable to them because they don’t know how good our established answer is. When we dismiss new answers to old questions, we are not abandoning the fundamental tenet of open inquiry. We just want to get back to doing research on problems without good answers. Is complacence and self-certainty a danger? Yes. Is reinventing the wheel in the name of open mindedness a scientific virtue? No.

Lawrence of Arabia as anthropologist

To be honest, I was surprised how much attention Peter O’Toole’s recent passing received. We all knew he was famous, but we also learned this week how deeply he was loved. Many people loved him because he had that one thing that is so hard to find in the entertainment industry today: charisma. But anthropologists loved him for something else: Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence of Arabia is central to anthropology, and ought to be more even more central than it is. It is about fieldwork, intimacy, impersonation, and colonialism. It puts on display the complexity, ambivalence, and often ugliness that comes with anthropological fieldwork.

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I Got Remixed by a Palestinian Hip-Hop Activist

A while back I wrote an incendiary post Remix Culture is a Myth that got me accused of elitism and other signs of unhipness. Stepping off of a tweet by Andrew Keen (“remix is a myth. … Barely anyone is remixing…”), I claimed remix culture receives way more academic attention than it’s small examples deserved. Biella Coleman and others correctly reminded me that it isn’t its quantity or quality but its challenge to legal institutions and liberal philosophy, as well as novel modes of production within and maybe beyond capitalism that make remix important. They convinced me of these points but I am still reeling from a new experience that added another perspective to my understanding of the impact of remix culture. My footage just got remixed by a Palestinian activist. 

A little over a month ago I uploaded 24 minutes of raw footage of the Palestine/Israel Wall I shot in 2009. This is footage for a documentary I am making about divided cities. I’ve finished the sections on Nicosia, Cyprus and Belfast, North Ireland and I’ve finished shooting but not editing this story on East Jerusalem. Unedited and with its natural sounds I thought it was gritty and evocative enough to stand alone on YouTube. I uploaded it and titled it “Palestine Apartheid Wall Raw Footage.” Last week I got a YouTube message from user WHW680 who kindly informed me that he remixed my footage into the French pro-independent Palestine hip-hop video “the Wall of Zionist Racist Freedom for Palestine.” Shocked and honored I watched the video.

Artistically, WHW680 doesn’t use the shots I would; he doesn’t get the projection ratios right; I wouldn’t quite be so intense with the title; and he cuts the edits too early or too late, making the viewing experience choppy. I am being intentionally superficial here for a reason, as I am trying to express the first round of mental dissonance experienced when remixed. As a cinematographer it is an enlightening if challenging ordeal. It gets deeper, too, when your work is not only remixed in a way that challenges your technical and artistic vision but is used politically in surprising ways.

The footage was used to make a music video for the track “Palestine” by Le Ministère des Affaires Populaires, a popular Arab-French hip-hip group in Paris, off of “Les Bronzés Font du Ch’ti” described as “an album that sounds like a call to rebellion, insurrection and disobedience but also solidarity.” They tour Palestine, including Gaza. The music is fantastic, mixing breaks, good flows, meaningful lyrics, and longing violins. Obviously I can get behind the activism of a liberated Palestine but becoming a tool for propaganda, despite my agreement with it, without my vocal consent, is a creatively dissonant experience.

Political semiotic engineering for the right causes I can dig, but agency denying actions are experienced as a type of cognitive violation nonetheless. The quintessential sign of this is the final few second of the video. After the footage ends and while the music still lingers, the words “Freedom, Return, and Equality,” and “Free Palestine-Boycott Israel,” and www.bdsmovement.net circle a Palestinian flag. This final frame essentially brands this video for the BDS Movement, a civil rights organization focused on “boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”

This isn’t “my” footage anymore, WHW680 generously cites me in the description, but the semiotic potential of the footage previously shot by me is mobilized for the BDS Movement. The aesthetic and the political fold into each other in remix activities in which preceding agencies, my own as cameraman, is incorporated or replaced by the technical agencies of the French remixer, WHW680, and reformulated into the political vision of the pro-Palestinian BDS Movement. Which is all good, but it gives me a new look at remix culture.

This experience has forced me to eat some of my words. Remix culture isn’t a myth. I agree with my earlier detractors who stated that it isn’t about the volume of the activity nor the impact of this remixed song or that music video. I would add something more. Being remixed is personally transformative for those being reformatted by values and practices beyond their control. Not only does remix challenge jurisprudence and liberalism, and present new modes of knowledge production, it also modifies the subjective constitution of agency in artistic and political social sphere.

What Tim Hetherington Offered to Anthropology

Tim HetheringtonOn March 15th, I moderated a panel at RISD called Picturing Soldiers: The Aesthetics and Ethics of Contemporary Soldier Photographs featuring photographers Lori Grinker, Jennifer Karady, Suzanne Opton, and Tim Hetherington, who as killed today in Libya.

One of the amazing things about the work of each of these artists is how resonant it is with what we do as anthropologists. Like ethnography, their images are not simply about ‘documentation.’ They are about conveying something of lived experience that allows us, provokes us, to ask questions about how some particular lives come to look they way they do. They invite us to linger on the lives of soldiers long enough to think about how they are, and also are not, like others.

It strikes me that in our disciplinary conversations about what various modes of anthropological engagement might look like, we often fail to recognize the possibilities of such resonances. These possibilities are especially promising when the lives we explore are characterized, in one way or another, by war. Here, issues of politics and ethics lie both close to the surface and close to the bone. Tim Hetherington’s work was powerful proof of these possibilities.

For example, he said many times that he hoped Restrepo, his thoroughly ethnographic Afghanistan war documentary, co-directed with Sebastian Junger, would offer a new and more productive starting place for thinking about the war and US military intervention.

As Tim put it in an excellent interview at Guernica where he responds to Leftist criticism of the film:

While moral outrage may motivate me, I think demanding moral outrage is actually counter-productive because people tend to switch off. […] Sure, the face of the U.S. soldier is the “easiest entrée into the Afghan war zone” but it has allowed me to touch many people at home with rare close-up footage of injured and dead Afghan civilians (as well as a young U.S. soldier having a breakdown following the death of his best friend). Perhaps these moments represent the true face of war rather than the facts and figures of political analyses or the black and white newsprint of leaked documents.

In a more personal mode, Tim offered the experimental film Diary, which reflects something of the compulsions, rhythms, and senses of his movement into and out of ‘zones of killing’, as he suggested we might think of such spaces. Here too, we can find resonances with anthropological explorations of the particular vertiginous experiences of being in and out and in such spaces of violence, and of the uneven geographies of deadly violence.

News continues to unfold about the incident in Libya that may have also killed photographer Chris Hondros, and that seriously injured photographers Guy Martin, Michael Christopher, among others. And as we continue to hear more of Tim Hetherington’s death, and more remembrances of his life and work, I’ll also be thinking about what his work, and the work of other artists and journalists, has to offer us anthropologists; the places where our various projects meet, and the possibilities for thinking and acting that might begin from there.

Thinking about the importance of communications “revolutions.”

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There has been a lot of talk about the importance of social media in recent world events. See for instance, here, here, and here. Some of the more astute commentators have referred to earlier technological revolutions and their impact on television: usenet, fax machines, television, cameras, telegraph, and even the printing press. One technology, however, always seem to get left out, maybe because it seems too “obvious,” and that is literacy.

This is too bad because there is a great literature on the subject. A user named “dinalopez” has put together a wonderful bibliography on WorldCat – a list which contains many of my favorite articles on the subject, as well as many I haven’t read. I wanted to draw upon this critical literacy studies literature to make three points about technology and social change.

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Sexual Revolution, Social Change, Political Reform in Iran – Complicated Intersections

(an occasional piece by Pardis Mahdavi)

Exactly one year ago this week, my first book, Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution was published. The book, based on fieldwork conducted between 2000 and 2007 with Tehrani youth, looked at ways in which the discourse on sexuality was changing and how these changes in sexuality were linked to a larger social movement as articulated by the Iranian youth themselves. When I began reading the reviews of my book (not recommended for the thin-skinned first time author), my stomach churned. “Is sexuality really political?” some reviewers asked, “do the sartorial changes in youth fashion or behavior have deeper reaching impact?” others wrote, “how deeply do these sexual behaviors penetrate Iranian society?”, “could sex unseat the Mullahs?”  while still others asked (on Savage Minds in fact) “is ‘pretty’ the new protest?”. When I talked about my research with my students, some of the same questions came up. At first, I was frustrated, angry even. What part of my clarifications and caveats had readers and students missed? Then I realized, my mistakes were twofold: 1) I had conflated the idea of a sexual revolution (think sexual revolution a-la 1960s Greenwich Village) with the social movement that was inspiring young people to lobby for social change, and 2) I was describing only a few appendages of a larger “body that was then searching for a head” (as Robin Wright has said) – which it found this past summer in presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mussavi. But let us start with the first problem.

The phrase “sexual revolution” or enqelab-i-jensi (in Persian) was one that came organically from my interlocutors, and was not one that was placed on them by me or any other academic or journalist. Young people and their parents would talk about a change in the discourse around sexuality and heterosexual and heterosocial relations. This was referred to as their sexual revolution. Thus, when talking about “Iran’s Sexual Revolution” the focus must remain on the phrase ‘sexual revolution’ without detaching the words to ask “is sex revolutionary?” Sex, in itself, is not leading to a revolution. Neither I, nor my interlocutors were trying to claim this, however, a “sexual revolution” refers to a revolution, or perhaps more accurately put, a change, in the way in which we think, act, or talk about sex. To that end, young people and many others in Tehran had achieved their goals in that sex was talked about and thought about in different ways than it had been in the decades before. What is important to note, however, is that this sexual revolution was just one part of a larger movement that my interviewees referred to as a sociocultural revolution or enqelab-i-farhangi. This social movement encompassed behaviors such as pushing the envelope on Islamic dress, sexual behaviors, heterosocializing, driving around in cars playing loud illegal music, partying, drinking, dancing, the list goes on to include basically, young people doing what they aren’t supposed to do under Islamic law. But, many people ask, don’t youth everywhere do these things? What sets youth in Iran apart from their counterparts say in Texas? The answer is this: 1) the stakes are much higher – in Iran, you could get arrested for engaging in these behaviors and the consequences could include long term imprisonment, lashings and other abuse, 2) engaging in these behaviors are often a step for many to becoming politically active. Everything in Iran is political and politicized. The regime in power has politicized Islamic dress, certain types of music, even certain websites. Those violating its rules are harassed, punished, sometimes forced to leave the country. Many young people in Iran have become inspired to engage in political activism through their involvement in these social movements.

This leads us to the second problem, the body looking for the head. During the time I conducted my fieldwork in Iran, a generational shift was taking place. The momentum was building for something, but none of us could quite put our finger on what. Young people seemed to be coming together, deploying 21st century tools around them such as the internet, facebok, Twitter, and seeking to organize through networks around the world. But no one knew exactly what they were organizing for, and what kind of social/political movement they were constructing. What we knew was this: the majority of Iran’s population – urban, educated youth – was disenchanted with the regime. Whether they came to this sentiment through their frustration at not being able to wear what they want, socialize with who they want, prey how they want, or engage in civic society the way they want, they had all come to the conclusion that the current regime was: 1) not representative of them, and 2) was not always acting in their interest. “Why don’t they work on solving this horrible unemployment problem instead of cracking down on what we wear?” asked one of my interlocutors, articulating a sentiment shared by many young Tehranis with whom I spoke. People were frustrated. Educated, restless, youth began turning to the tools they had around them, honing their skills, looking to communicate their sentiments to each other and the world around them through blogs, music, films and a presence in cyberspace. Those of us writing about this large body of Iranian youth focused on different appendages. Some wrote about Iranian bloggers and the blogosphere (Alavi 2005), some looked at music (Levine 2008), some, astutely, tried to look at larger social change amongst the youth (Molavi 2005, Khosravi 2007) For me, I wrote about the sexual revolution, just one part of a larger movement for social and political change.

This past summer, in June of 2009, the body of social change that had been searching for a head finally found one: the fraudulent election of Ahmadinejad, and the figurehead of Mir Hossein Moussavi. Young people (the same ones that spoke of sexual and social revolution a few years ago) began organizing, pouring into the streets in an organized fashion, using their bodies and strategically deploying technology such as camera phones, twitter and facebook to both organize and to speak to the Iranian regime and the rest of the world. Earlier today thousands of protesters marched the streets of Tehran, pumping their fists into the air and chanting “Coup! Government resignation”. Some wore green (to indicate their allegiance to Mir Hossein Moussavi) many did not. Up until now, much of the recent media depictions of the situation in Iran paint a picture of a stolen election, and a discontented public demanding a recount at least, and the installation of their preferred candidate. While the election has presented frustrated Iranians with a catalyst and a reason to protest, what we are witnessing in Iran is not a simple protest over election fraud. Rather, disenchantment with the regime, and the desire to mobilize a civil rights type movement in Iran has been building for many years, encompassing, but not limited to movements such as the sexual revolution, internet revolution and . This election, the overt nature of repression and fraudulent behavior has given many people the window they were looking for to mobilize a movement that goes beyond election politics. While some protesters are in fact expressing frustration at the election fallout, many are asking for an entire overhauling of the system. Would they be happy if Moussavi were installed? Perhaps. But many want more than this, they want to change the system of Islamic jurisprudence, and fundamentally, they want their rights back. While some might see the protests as “calming down” or “dying down”, the reality is that people have tasted the sweetness of voicing their discontent, and they have no plans of backing down easily. We need to listen to the calls made by the chanting protesters, “Coup! Government resignation”.

So, reflecting on the questions “is pretty the new protest?” or “could sex unseat the Mullahs?” some might say no, but a macro look at the situation reveals that this is all part of a process. It is unclear what the future will hold for Iran. What I do know is that these avenues of pushing for social change are roads that lead to networks pushing for political change. I don’t know what the outcome of this post-election aftermath will be, but what I do know is that I need to look more at the big picture, and I need to learn to ask bigger and better questions.

“Pretty” is the protest?

Jezebel has an interesting post, entitled “In Iran, “Pretty” Is Sometimes The Protest.” She writes:

So, when you see this woman with red fingernails, she’s not just risking arrest for holding that sign, she’s risking it for the shade of her nail polish.

It relates to a Juan Cole piece, “Class v. Culture Wars in Iranian Elections” in which he pointed out that “the Iranian women who voted in droves for Khatami haven’t gone anywhere…”

I don’t know enough about class and gender politics in Iran to say much about this. The fact that the women in these pictures often conform to Western notions of glamor, including fair skin, had struck me in the media coverage about the elections, but I hadn’t thought about it beyond that until I read Jezebel and Juan Cole’s posts. What do you think?

UPDATE: Thanks to Gregory Starrett for mentioning Pardis Mahdavi’s new book, Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution. Here is an interview with her:

Viagra soup: a photo essay

In an earlier post, I wondered: Why are there a dozen local brands of sildenafil (the generic name for what’s in Viagra) available in Egyptian pharmacies, and only one brand of emergency contraceptive pill (ECP)? I’m not sure that I have a wholly convincing answer to this question, but I’ll lay out some parts of the puzzle. Jump in with a comment if you have other ideas.

Some Egyptian brands of sildenafil: Viagra, Virecta, Erec, Kemagra, Vigorama, Phragra, and Vigorex

Local brands of sildenafil available in Egypt, including: Viagra, Virecta, Erec, Kemagra, Vigorama, Vigoran, Phragra, and Vigorex. Photo by Lisa Wynn

First, Americans might think of erectile dysfunction drugs (EDDs) as somewhat shameful (think about mocking attitudes towards Bob Dole’s decision to do Viagra ads), but they have a more positive connotation in Egypt. Two reasons:

  1. As I’ve written elsewhere, in Egypt these drugs seem to be associated as much with the promise of exuberant, excessive sexuality rather than a shameful lack of erection. Maybe it would be more accurate to call them erection enhancement drugs rather than erectile dysfunction drugs. Continue reading

Why is there no official EC fatwa in Egypt?

Now in the last post on the topic, I mentioned that EC website that Princeton runs, http://ec.princeton.edu. There’s an NGO in Cambridge, MA called Ibis Reproductive Health that got a grant to make EC information and educational materials available in Arabic. A significant chunk of that grant was dedicated to creating an Arabic language version of the EC website. At Ibis, Angel Foster led this project and I took on the job of putting up the Arabic text that she created (with translator Aida Rouhana) online.

These days it’s not that hard to do websites in Arabic, but six years ago, it was a real puzzle. I couldn’t find any Arabic language plug-ins for DreamWeaver or FrontPage, so as I cut and pasted the Arabic text into the HTML programs, it wouldn’t display the Arabic properly, so it was really hard to do the links on specific words. The Arabic phrase for emergency contraception, which looks like this in Arabic:

منع الحمل الطارئ

looks like this in HTML code:

&#1605;&#1606;&#1593; &#1575;&#1604;&#1581;&#1605;&#1604; &#1575;&#1604;&#1591;&#1575;&#1585;&#1574;

So I just had to muck around, highlighting different phrases, counting off letters or doing searches for strings of HTML code like that above, putting in links and then seeing where the links showed up in the Arabic texts, and then shifting the links around accordingly. It was a stupidly slow process. There was probably a better way to do it, but I wasn’t able to figure it out, so I slogged through the slow way.

Translation vs adaptation
I’m getting off the topic. Angel had decided that we couldn’t simply translate the existing website into Arabic. It had to be adapted to fit the social and cultural context of the Arabic speaking world and meet users’ needs. So, for example, she decided to include specific questions in the FAQs section on the interpretation and acceptability of EC in Orthodox Christianity and in Islamic jurisprudence. We hunted around for any fatwas on EC, both in published compendia of fatawa as well as in online databases, but we couldn’t find any. In fact, in the past 5 years, I have only found 1 fatwa on EC in an one of the many online fatwa databases.

That’s where interest in this Egypt research project came from. What did it mean that there were no fatwas on EC? Either it meant that EC wasn’t on anyone’s radar screen and was so totally unknown that nobody was asking about its status in Islam – hard to believe since there were dedicated products available in several Middle Eastern countries (including Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon) – OR it meant that EC was just wholly uncontroversial and subsumed under jurisprudential discussions about pre-coital hormonal contraceptives. Continue reading

New Reproductive Health Technologies in Egypt

Thanks to Kerim and Savage Minds for inviting me to contribute. I thought I’d write something about a new research project I’ve recently started on new and emerging reproductive health technologies in Egypt. This project looks at Egyptian interpretations of four technologies: emergency contraception, medication abortion, hymenoplasty, and erectile dysfunction drugs.

Some interesting paradoxes to contemplate:

  • Why are there at least a dozen local brands of sildenafil available from Egyptian pharmacies, and “Viagra sandwiches” or “Viagra soup” is on the menu at almost every restaurant that specializes in seafood, but there is only one brand of emergency contraceptive pill in Egypt, which is sold by an NGO because it’s not considered commercially viable enough for the mainstream pharmaceutical companies to bother with it?

The tap in the bathroom of the apartment where I stay when I’m doing research in Egypt. My roommate and I have often wondered where these came from. Was it a marketing campaign by Pfizer during the era when they weren’t allowed to engage in direct-to-consumer advertising for their product? Or did some sink manufacturer just think it would be cool to put Viagra on the handles?

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More anthropologists in the news: Abu El-Haj in the New Yorker

Certainly more promising in its tone and affect than Strong’s recent case of anthropology villification is Jane Kramer’s New Yorker article about Nadia Abu El-Haj’s tenure case at Barnard (it’s not up on line yet, but I’ll post the link when it is). I think the article is well done, given the near impossible noise to signal ratio that develops around such issues, and especially in Morningside Heights. It gave me a sharper sense of just how powerful Edward Said’s legacy has become in the years since his death. It is, however, a bit light on explaining why her book, Facts on the Ground is innovative, or why it might be interesting to those who want to understand the situation in Israel and Palestine from a new perspective. Although it mentions the basic outlines (the something-more-than-ironic intertwining of Israeli archeology and Zionism), it doesn’t go very far towards contextualizing why anthropologists are doing this kind of work now, and why the reaction represents not only the ideological extremism of the people who deliberately misinterpret it, but also the failure of anthropology and anthropologists to get their messages out.

I think this is a shame, because the book really could be an authoritative one, and I don’t really understand why everyone (including Abu El Haj herself) just sort of wilts and defends, not the book, but the right for academics to decide tenure amongst themselves (which I completely agree with, of course, I have to). But this instead of coming out with a forceful statement of the content and substance of the book? I think there must be something interesting to say about the inability anthropology has of defending itself against the contemporary blog-mediated, 72-hour news cycle, personal-attack media ecology we live in. Note the total absence of the AAA in this article, save a mention of our president-elect, Virginia Dominguez, who was Abu El-Haj’s advisor. Why shouldn’t the AAA step in and fight this fight on behalf of Abu El-Haj? Is there as choice other than responding to idiotic, personlized, ideological attacks and sticking one’s head in the sand? Clearly institutions like Columbia are too economically and politically captured to do it for their faculty, should our professional society be helping?

Anthropologists on Pakistan

Cultural Anthropology is currently hosting a forum and a collection of articles on Pakistan, offered by Veena Das and Naveeda Khan. It contains a number of short pieces, an article from CA by Khan and a forum and blog on the CA website (registration required). It looks like they’ve had no discussion so far, so for those of you with Pakistanimania, head on over…