Days and weeks before the launch of the new book by anthropologist Akbar Ahmed called Journey into America: the Challenge of Islam, it was already reviewed in major Pakistani newspapers. “Usually it is Western anthropologists who study Muslim societies. It is encouraging to see a Muslim scholar returning the compliment by studying American society", Maleeha Lodhi writes in The News.
Accompanied by several researchers, Akbar Ahmed travelled for a year to over 75 cities across the U.S., meeting a diverse array of people and visiting more than a hundred mosques.
After (too?) much research on muslim issues and media focus, it seems that eveything has been said. But his book does not seem to be one of those numerous studies on “the integration of immigrant women". His book is also an ethnography of today’s America.
In an article in the Guardian, the anthropologist writes that he “realised that it was impossible to study Islam in America without studying America itself and its identity.”
This “reinterpretation of the competing influences that have shaped American identity” is, writes, Maleeha Lodhi, “fascinating":
Americans, Ahmed says, need to make a choice between the concept of the country fashioned by its Founding Fathers - universal, pluralist and tolerant - , or the post-9/11 vision “which is aggressive, self-centred and suspicious of, if not hostile to, “the other":
He traces the first and dominant primordial identity to the original white settlers of the 17th century. Fashioned by white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) settlers, this vision of a society based on justice and a rule-bound charter was however exclusionary, meant only for Christians, not Native Americans or those who were forcibly brought from Africa.
From that period also emerges a secondary identity from the pluralist tradition. This foreshadows the vision of the country’s Founding Fathers based on equality between and respect for all citizens, democracy, religious freedom, and rejection of slavery.
Dr Ahmed identifies a third identity with origins in the 17th century. This is the predatory identity which unleashed an aggressive impulse that saw Native Americans as heathens who had to be eliminated. It also justified slavery. This established the notion of zero tolerance: that any threat to society had to be permanently decimated by the full use of force. Compassion was seen as weakness and compromise as defeat.
This identity, Dr Ahmed argues persuasively, asserted itself in the post-9/11 period when America under Bush embarked on two wars and a path that saw it compromising its own laws and ideals and justifying torture and Guantanamo in the name of protecting the nation. The invasion of Iraq, the Patriot Act and secret detention centres were all actions consistent with the old predatory identity.
The book also includes a “thought-provoking comparison” between two founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, writes Rafia Zakaria in The Dawn. “Sadly it seems both Americans and Pakistanis are only too willing to eviscerate the commitments these two founding fathers made towards tolerance and religious pluralism.”
The anthropologist is according to Maleeha Lodhi “just as forthright in identifying the weaknesses and problems in the Muslim diaspora". He distinguishes between three traditions: mystic (Sufism, emphasises universal humanism), modernist (balance modernity with religion) and literalist (Salafis, adhere strictly to tradition) and concludes that “modernist Muslims have provided neither leadership nor a critical mass to change the community, while mistakenly dismissing literalists as being of no consequence.”
In order to “recreate the community?s self-image and extricate it from persistent identification with 9/11 and terrorism", Muslim American leaders need to look to the African American community. he recommends.
According to the reviewers (somehow I have the impression they’re a bit too positive…), this is a well-written book, and Daily Times reviewer Mahjabeen Islam even things it will be the “talk of the town“.
Anthropologist Maximilian Forte continues his analysis of the “predatory” elements of American culture in his recent posts on Zero Anthropology, among others Team USA at the 2010 FIFA World Cup: Motivation Unthinkable without the Military and Militainment: U.S. Military Propaganda in the News Media, Hollywood, and Video Games
?The Eurovision Song Contest is torture to my ears?, was one of my recent Facebook status messages. But as I learnt, the mega event is not primarily about music, it?s a ritual, a transnational social event that connects people and that - according to a recent paper “produces a new form of unity among people in Europe".
In her view, the ESC is a good place to discuss potentials for creating a critical, post-national and cosmopolitan European public sphere that challenges the governing paradigms of identity and belonging.
My thesis is that both the ESC and the strategies of Serbia?s participation in this event present attempts to move on from bipolarisation (East/West on the geopolitical map of Europe and First Serbia/Second Serbia in Serbia), respectively, to turn bipolarisation to multiplicity ? and through that, paradoxically or not, to produce a new form of unity.
The Western, more ironic stance towards the competition can be seen as opposed to a more strategic attitude of the Eastern European participants, she writes. Similar observations were made by Onnik Krikorian at Global Voices. “While some media reported lagging interest in the 54-year-old competition", he writes, “countries such as those in the former Eastern bloc continue to take it seriously.”
Popular culture events such as the ESC have according to Marijana Mitrovic “the power and ability to reshape the geopolitical map of Europe and are also used in this way by the new and aspiring member states of the European Union":
Those are mostly countries that are undergoing a post-socialist transition. Participation in the ESC and a potential victory are a chance for them to invert the social and economic order, on a symbolic level. But paradoxically or not, with that inversion, they also integrate into Europe and inscribe themselves into its symbolic map. Thus rite de passage becomes a transition ritual indeed.
The contributers used the ESC to transform the image of the Balkan/Serbian from a militant and non-cultivated savage, into someone civil, emotional, yet archaic - while at the same time promoting a ?certain level of (Balkan?) universality?. The “new face of Serbia” is “pacified and friendly” and “meets both European and local values". This new Serbia “is a ?country in the Balkans, a country of peasants?, but peasants who recognise European values.”
An example is the performance of Zeljko Joksimovic (2004)
The anthropologist comments:
Visual identity, crucial for the whole construction, is almost entirely recycled form the ?memories? of medieval Serbia. The members of his ad hoc orchestra are dressed in quasi medieval garments, while Joksimovic?s suit is modern, white and minimalist, but with an impressive ?ethno? accessory ? modification of the belt typical of Serbian costume with an attached golden needle. He has a perfect haircut, his beard is tidy, he is sophisticated, reserved, unobtrusive and somewhat apart from the scene.
By means of a minimalist and modernised wardrobe, accessories and make-up which strongly referred to the medieval tradition of Serbia, the Balkans, but also the Byzantine Empire (not the Ottoman, although the Balkans are often associated with the Ottoman legacy), the Serbian team tried to transform the image of the Balkan/Serbian male, and people for that matter, from a militant and non-cultivated savage, or brute, always ready to fight, into someone civil, emotional, yet archaic
The recipe, she writes, was followed by the Croatians in 2005 and 2006, the Bosnians in 2006 and 2007, and peaked in the winning solution in Serbia?s 2007 winning song Molitva.
Many different groups, including socially marginalized groups, ethnic and sexual minorities invest their expectations and cultural preferences in this spectacle. Gay organisations are among the greatest fans of the event. They see this event as a symbolic representation of differences that guarantees the possibility of their social visibility according to Marijana Mitrovic:
Although some have derogatively proclaimed Marija Serifovic?s performance as an overtly lesbian one, that did not prevent their countrymen from awarding her a maximum 12 points. (?)
Preparing her ESC performance, her creative team reached the solution intentionally offered to be read as gay (with five female backing vocalists dressed in male suits the same as that of the lead singer, one of them locking hands with Marija to connect two halves of the heart tattooed on their hands). The symbolic value of her victory gained special weight through the association of her performance with lesbians and her origin with Roma communities in Serbia. It was argued that this was a victory for Serbian minorities as well.
But the problem with the new politics of Serbian identity is according to the researcher that the last revision of the past has erased all recent past, more than half a century of the region?s history:
Instead of continuity, ?a time hole? is opened up. This was reflected in the performances chosen to represent the state. For the turbulent sociocultural Serbian history, identity constructions based on the recycling of different memories turn out to be some of the main mechanisms for the construction of potential ?new? identities. Music themes and the way they are performed, as part of the representational and signifying system, manage to evoke and embody the nostalgia for the memory of the past in rational and affective ways; nonetheless, they also shape and direct the process of building and performing the national identity in the present and for the future.
I just picked some parts of her paper that is only available for subscribers.
On her webpage you can read a related paper about music and the “new face of Serbia": Serbia ? from Miki and Kupinovo to Europe: Public Performance and the Social Role of Celebrity (pdf).
Marijana Mitrovic is by the way member of the Eurovision Research Network.
Check also the overview over the ESC 2010 by anthropologist Erkan Saka
Links updated 23.5.2014
Is this one of the first real web2.0-journals in anthropology? A new Open Access journal was launched: Anthropology Reviews: Dissent and Cultural Politics (ARDAC)
It is no traditional journal. ARDAC was developed from within a social network site (Ning) and its aim is to incorporate web 2.0 technologies, photography, video, internet‐based content as well as traditional text (not in the first issue, though). In addition to traditional abstracts, the articles have their own “word clouds” (see example on the right - from the review of the film Avatar).
Interesting: The journal was inspired by our first Open Access Anthropology Day in 2009 and “is released this month to commemorate the young history of open access anthropology and to join the many new publications under the practice of open access", as editor Àngels Trias i Valls writes in her editorial Open Access Anthropology 2.0 as a type of altermodern experimentation.
The journal is innovative in another way as well: It is more inclusive towards anthropologists outside of the English speaking world: Non‐English speakers are allowed to express themselves in the kind of English that they feel familiar with rather than the kind of edited English that is standard in publications. The journal takes submissions in other languages as well. Work from individuals at early stages of their academic career are welcome as well as more senior academics and inclusive of the academic community at large.
Here a short overview over this issue from Àngels Trias i Valls’ editorial:
- (T)he first contributor, Veronica Barassi, send us an article that ethnographically narrated understandings of dissent and cultural politics through the analyses of discursive technologies and political action.
- Nick White looked at the pertinent issue of ?copy? and the issues of legality and illegality in music filesharing on the Internet.
- Hagai van der Host produced a fascinating review of the film Avatar, mirroring some of the ways in which film mythologies correspond to political realities, and how the levels of allegory and projection spoke for discursive discussion on orientalism, the morality of counterfeit and cultural imperialism in the American / Iraqui conflict.
- I was thankful of the opinion articles, from Clare Perkins and Stavroula Pipyrou, because they made distinctive points about the possibility of ?re‐ directing the ethnographic lense? (in Clare?s case of using anthropology to think about genetically modified products) and re‐telling the social appropriation of violence (in Stavroula?s Calabrian Mafia) in a way in which both articles convinced me of the possibility of using anthropology to re‐ position ourselves theoretically and in research practice in larger communities of knowledge.
- At the closing of this number Maria Paulina de Assis and Maria Elizabeth Bianconcini de Almeida brought an article that looked at the relationship between education and digital exclusion from an educational perspective and on the possibilities of multi‐ educational strategies for global educational contexts that have now consolidated through the Internet.
Even (seemingly?) rather conservative organisations are able to act and protest: In an official resolution, passed on Saturday, The American Anthropological Association has condemned the new immigration law in Arizona.
The association will refuse to hold scholarly conferences in Arizona until the law is ?either repealed or struck down as constitutionally invalid?, as we read in the AAA blog:
?The AAA has a long and rich history of supporting policies that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or sexual orientation,? AAA Executive Board Member (and resolution author) Debra Martin said in a statement issued today. ?Recent actions by the Arizona officials and law enforcement are not only discriminatory; they are also predatory and unconstitutional.?
The AAA describes the so-called Arizona Senate Bill (SB) 1070 as ?the broadest and most strict law on immigration enacted in generations?. The organisation sees the law as a movement to target and harass Arizona?s large population of Hispanic immigrants.
In December, the AAA condemned the coup in Honduras. And in 2006, the AAA stood up against torture and the occupation of Iraq
See also the post at Savage Minds: Whiteness as Ethnicity in Arizona?s New Racial Order
“Beyond postsocialism? Creativity, moral resistance and change in the corners of Eurasia” is the title of the new issue of Durham Anthropology Journal.
The authors want to give us alternative views on so called postsocialist societies.
Postsocialist studies, David Henig explains in his editorial, have been dominated by Western perspectives (the East as the “Other") and also by discourses of capitalist ?triumphalism? (from socialism or dictatorship to liberal democracy, from plan to market economy).
The reality is different. Anthropologists have found important continuities between socialist and post-socialist eras.
Míriam Torrens has been on fieldwork in rural Romania. Instead of postsocialism or new capitalism", she writes, “what we find in these communities is the prevailing picture of a traditional peasanthood with some ?innovations?":
(B)oth socialist and liberal economists (…) have failed in taking into account the strength ? and the reasons for this strength ? of social institutions such as the family and the community, their customary law and the broad impact of communal and cooperative action.
Durham Anthropology Journal is an open access journal
For some reason this journal has hardly been mentioned on anthropology blogs. But Anthropology Notebooks is actually one of the few serious traditional anthropology journals with free access to all articles for everybody (from 2005). And it is an expanding journal: While promising recent open access initiatives like After Culture have shut down, Anthropology Notebooks has started publishing three issues instead of one issue per year.
The journal has an international editorial board, it is peer reviewed, and it is abstracted and indexed in international bibliographic databases. All articles are in English.
The most recent issue was published a few weeks ago and is about Contributions to Anthropology of Tourism. Example: Emilio Cocco: Performing Maritime Imperial Legacies: Tourism and Cosmopolitanism in Odessa and Trieste
A quick look revealed a wide rage of topics and locations, we find articles like:
Five years ago people from all over the world protested against the “African Village” in the zoo in Augsburg, Germany. Now, a new campaign is being planned against “The African Forest“, a $50 million project in the Houston Zoo, where “African culture” is on display together with chimpanzees and giraffes.
The 6.5-acre exhibit is designed “to give patrons the illusion they are strolling through an open landscape populated with chimpanzees, giraffes and other equatorial animals". “Through presentations and artifacts, human cultures of the equatorial forests will be included in the exhibit” , landscape architect Jim Brighton told the Houston Chronicle. “Houses fashioned from tree leaves ? a form of temporary housing ? will be constructed for children’s activities.".
“This is indeed like the African village in Augsburg - except this is a project that costs tens of millions of dollars and will be permanent - and some of the same anthropologists who protested that human zoo are onboard to protest this one such as Nina Glick Schiller and Data Dea", explains Shannon Joyce Prince, Dartmouth Lombard Fellow and citizen of Houston, in an email to me.
The Zoo is according to Prince “only showing aspects of Africa that fit Western stereotypes of cultural anachronism and primitivism. It “falls neatly into the contemptible tradition of its human zoo predecessors, replicating a non-white village, a place where non-white humans live, in a zoo among the habitats where animals live".
“The African Forest is about exhibiting and teaching inaccurate Western conceptions of African indigenous cultures in a place designed to exhibit and teach about animals. The African Forest is also about making and keeping African indigenous peoples conservation refugees. The African Forest and the practices it promotes are neither about respecting Africans nor protecting animals. They?re about claiming authority over African land, wildlife, and human lives", Shannon Joyce Prince writes in a paper.
In the Zoo’s view, Africans are in conflict with wildlife, she writes. Therefore, African Forest plans to promote ecotourism as a way to “help” Africans and African wildlife. But the consequences of such conservation activities are often devasting specifically for central Africans and pygmies. For in Africa it?s common for conservationists to create refuges to conserve wildlife by simply kicking Africans out. The Zoo is funded by corporations like Exxon, Chevron, Shell that have are involved in this business:
Basically, among the corporations that fund the Houston Zoo are some of the most human and wildlife rights abusing corporations in existence. These same businesses try to clean up their images by creating wildlife refuges ? but they create those refuges by forcing indigenous people off their land. Then the Zoo, which receives funding from those corporations, claims that the indigenous people who are getting kicked off their land are the ones who harm wildlife and promotes conservation and conservation refuges.
Shannon Joyce Prince sent a letter to the Houston Zoo several weeks ago which has not received a response.
She asks for “opposing The African Forest, human zoos, and the creation/perpetuation of the conservation refugee crisis in one or more of the following ways":
1. Tell the Houston Zoo you are against The African Forest human zoo and the creation of conservation refugees as well as the continuation of the conservation refugee crisis by contacting the Houston Zoo here: http://houstonzoo.com/contact/. Tell the Houston Zoo that you will boycott zoos that host human zoos and/or make/keep Africans conservation refugees. Please mention your affiliations. Be sure to send a copy of your message to nohumanzoo (AT) yahoo.com so that we have a record of your letter in case the Zoo doesn?t respond and to prevent the Zoo from deciding to claim that no one is protesting.
2. Send your name and affiliation to nohumanzoo (AT) yahoo.com if you want to be put on a petition stating, ?We, the undersigned, do not support The African Forest human zoo, the creation of conservation refugees, or the continuation of the conservation refugee crisis.”
3. Raise awareness about The African Forest through your blog and encourage others to write the Zoo and sign the petition.
Please be aware that, naturally, the letter you send or your signature on the petition may be made public.
“The racialization processes facilitated by the Augsburg zoo and other zoos are not benign because they can lay the ground work for discrimination, barriers to social mobility, persecution, and repression", anthropologists Nina Glick Schiller, Data Dea and Markus Höhne wrote in their report African African Culture and the Zoo in the 21st Century: The ?African Village? in the Augsburg Zoo and Its Wider Implications (pdf)
Such “ethnological exhibitions” or “Völkerschauen” have a long history, linked to colonialism. For more than half a century - from the beginning of the 1870s to the end of the 1930s - the exposition of so-called exotic peoples in zoological gardens** and international expositions attracted a huge public.
UPDATE: Interesting debate and round-up at ZooChat: Cultural Zoo Exhibits = Racist? » Houston Zoo
Public anthropology does exist. There are lots of anthropologists who write for the wider public and not only for other anthronerds. Here’s another example: The Polynesian Tattoo Today by Tricia Allen, doctoral candidate in anthropology at the university of Hawai’i.
In an interview with Honolulu’s Star Bulletin, she explains:
“The first book did well; it is now in its third printing. Its primary readership was those with a specific interest in Hawai’i and history. The new book will reach a larger audience, as it is far more general – covering all of Polynesia – and is primarily photographs. Anyone can enjoy looking at beautiful photos of artful bodies!”
The book was not launched in a traditional academic way with a seminar. The publishers hosted a “Tattoo Contest". Tricia Allen and several Polynesian tattoo artists were “on hand to autograph books – or your arm".
Allen is by the way not only anthropologist but tattoo artist herself and has tattooed over 8000 members of the Polynesian community. She completed her Master’s thesis at the University of Hawai?i at Manoa in 1992 on the early practice of tattooing in the Marquesas Islands. For her doctoral thesis, she is researching the revival of the arts in the Pacific. “In the last few years a pan-Polynesian style has gotten incredibly popular", she says.
“Many tattoos featured in the book are a mixture of styles? Hawaiian, Maori, Samoan. Polynesian tattoos are increasing in popularity and many traditional designs have been revived", writes M.L. Sanico i his review in the Hawaii Book Blog:
What I especially liked about the book is seeing the diversity of people who have these tattoos, and who are tattoo artists themselves. Each photo has a short caption with the person or tattooists name, where they?re from and a little bit about the tattoo or what it means to them.
In an earlier interview, Tricia Allen tells us more about the revival of Polynesian tattoos:
There is a revival of all of the ancient arts: tattooing, tapa making, weaving, carving, dance, chanting and firewalking. There is a whole resurgence of Polynesian culture, and tattooing is just a part of that. In my mind it is one of the most significant parts of the revival because it’s such a permanent statement: “I’m Polynesian.” And to some degree in many cases it is a political statement, or a statement of allegiance to the traditional culture.
Also check her own website with more tattoo infos and pictures.
The recent example of public anthropology was my blog post Anthropologist uncovers how global elites undermine democracy and one of the most read posts ever.