(Hatiain Children up in the mountains. Image: Matt Dringenberg, flickr)
(post in progress about anthropological perspectives in Haiti and how to help) “Anthropology to me is all about human connexions, about a common humanity", said Dai Cooper from the Anthropology Song. “Being an anthropologist means that when a natural disaster occurs somewhere in the world, a friend may be there", is a quote I found on the blog by urban anthropologist Krystal D’Costa.
“The recent catastrophic earthquake in Haiti has turned my thoughts to our global levels of connectivity", she writes and adds:
Web 2.0 technologies have been activated to create impromptu support networks and share what little information people may have heard. They are proving integral to the management of disasters. And perhaps creating a global community so that when natural disasters strike, anthropologists aren’t the only ones wondering and worrying about the fate of friends.
I had similar thoughts today: First, on facebook, lots of friends posted stories about the earthquake and explained how to help. Browsing the web, it is overwhelming and touching to read about all the activities by people who help. Even without web2.0, people care for each other. True everyday cosmopolitanism.
GlobalVoices - my favorite source for international news - has lots of great overviews, among others about help from the region around Haiti (Dominican Republic / Caribbean) where many bloggers have been active. The Haitian Diaspora has also been active.
This kind help is often invisible in mainstream media. Here in Norway, the focus is of course on Norwegians (or Americans) or other rich countries’ help.
José Rafael Sosa for example writes (translated by Global Voices):
The Dominican people have bent over backwards to help Haiti. What happened in Haiti has no precedent. There is too much pain. Too much suffering. The absurd differences stop here and solidarity is imposed, pure and simple, openly and decidedly. This is the right moment to help our brother nation. Let’s give our hand and our soul to a people that do not deserve so much suffering.
Anthropologists have also contributed online. At Somatosphere, medical anthropologist Barbara Rylko-Bauer explains why helping through Partners in Health might be a good idea. One of the founders of Partners in Health is another medical anthropologist: Paul Farmer who currently is the U.N. Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti.
One year ago, Farmer was interviewed about the hurricane disaster in Haiti where as many as 1,000 people have died and an estimated one million left homeless. Farmer stresses that natural disasters are not only natural but also social or political disasters, they are partly man-made. He addresses Haitis ecological crisies and the way the US has destabilized Haiti. In another interview he challenges Profit-Driven Medical System (more see wikipedia and videos below).
Yes, why is Haiti so poor? Why is Haiti one of the poorest countries on this planet and therefore more vulnerable to disasters like earthquakes? Two anthropologists answer this question. They suggest links between the disaster and colonialism.
Haiti actually has been a rich country, Barbara D Miller at anthropologyworks explains. Haiti produced more wealth for France than all of France’s other colonies combined and more than the 13 colonies in North America produced for Britain. So why is Haiti so poor:
Colonialism launched environmental degradation by clearing forests. After the revolution, the new citizens carried with them the traumatic history of slavery. Now, neocolonialism and globalization are leaving new scars. For decades, the United States has played, and still plays, a powerful role in supporting conservative political regimes.
James Williams at Discovery News interviews anthropologist Bryan Page. Page gives a similar explanation.
After 1804, Haitians were discriminated against by not only the United States, but all the European powers, he says:
That discrimination meant no availability of resources to educate the Haitian population, no significant trade with any polity outside of Haiti. Also, the break up of the plantations into individual land parcels meant there’s no longer a coherent cash crop activity going on within Haiti.
These conditions persisted into the 20th Century:
You still have a population that was 80-90% illiterate – a population that didn’t have any industrial skills, a population that wasn’t allowed to trade its products with the rest of the world in any significant way.
What that isolation essentially meant was that Haiti never had a chance to progress alongside the surrounding civilizations in the region. Complicating the picture even more was a series of despotic rulers that added to the country’s struggles.
[Haiti was] seen increasingly as a benighted, terrible place, in part also because of the collective racism of the white-dominated nations that surrounded them, including Cuba, the United States and the Dominican Republic which occupies the other side of Hispanola.
UPDATE 1: More on Haiti, colonialism and racism on the blog The Cranky Linguist by anthropologist Ronald Kephart
UPDATE 2: Statement by the American Anthropological Association (AAA): The Haitian Studies Association has begun to develop strategies to help Haiti, Haitians, Haitians in the diaspora, and the Haitian academic community. The AAA will provide more information about how to respond to the disaster and ask the Haitian anthropological community for advice.
Hope is not something that one often associates with Haiti. An anthropologist and critic of representations of the island, I have often questioned narratives that reduce Haiti to simple categories and in the process dehumanize Haitians. Yes, we may be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, but there is life there, love and an undeniable and unbeatable spirit of creative survivalism.
I am worried about Haiti’s future. In the immediate moment we need help, rescue missions of all kinds. I am concerned about weeks from now when we are no longer front-page news. Without long-term efforts, we will simply not be able to rebuild. What will happen then?
UPDATE 3: Great post by Kerim Friedman at Savage Minds where he explains why New York Times columnist David Brooks is wrong who claims that “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences.”
UPDATE 4: Haiti: Getting the Word Out - Janine Mendes-Franco at GlobalVoices gives an overview over bloggers in and around Port-au-Prince who “are finding the time to communicate with the outside world".
UPDATE 5 (16.1.10): Anthropologist Johannes Wilm: Who really helps Haiti? An overview of money given to Haiti: While USA give most per person affected, Norway, Canada and Guyana give most per citizen and (again) Guyana gives most in percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). His main message is that the aid from Western countries is “close to nothing".
Alert by Naomi Klein: “We have to be absolutely clear that this tragedy—which is part natural, part unnatural—must, under no circumstances, be used to, one, further indebt Haiti and, two, to push through unpopular corporatist policies in the interest of our corporations. This is not conspiracy theory. They have done it again and again.”
UPDATE See also post by Keith Hart: Is Haiti to be another victim of disaster capitalism?
UPDATE 7: GlobalVoices: Instances of “Looting,” but Little Confirmed Evidence of Post-Quake Violence: When the media reports on disasters, they’re inevitably going to focus on the dramatic and antisocial, even if it’s one percent of the population committing these acts.”
Here is what poor Haitians define as elements of a good society:
1. relative economic parity
2. strong political leaders with a sense of service who “care for” and “stand for” the poor
3. respe (respect)
4. religious pluralism to allow room for ancestral and spiritual beliefs
5. cooperative work
6. access of citizens to basic social services
7. personal and collective security
UPDATE 10: Harvard and Haiti: A collaborative response to the January 12 earthquake: Video with Paul Farmer and his colleagues from Harvard Medical School, Partners In Health
and Brigham and Women’s Hospital
And here an overview about the current situation:
and a lecture by Paul Farmer (first introduction, lecture starts after 8 minutes):
As Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology.net, I was kept awake until late at night by an article in the New York Times Magazine - yesterday for reading, today for writing. It is a fascinating article about a kind of globalisation that isn’t talked about much outside the university, written by Ethan Watters, author of Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, released two days ago. It’s about the globalisation of the Western conception of mental health and illness
“We have for many years been busily engaged in a grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of mental health and illness", he writes. “We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.” And the idea that our Western conception of mental health and illness might be shaping the expression of illnesses in other cultures is rarely discussed in the professional literature.”
Western conceptions of mental health? Well, as anthropologists stress, illness is not only about biomedicine. It’s not only about parts of the body that no longer work. Our brain is not a batter of chemicals that “needs a fine chemical balance in order to perform at its best” (advertisment for the antidepressant Paxil).
Illness, maybe especially mental illness, is also about culture:
(M)ental illness is an illness of the mind and cannot be understood without understanding the ideas, habits and predispositions — the idiosyncratic cultural trappings — of the mind that is its host. (…)
What cross-cultural psychiatrists and anthropologists have to tell us is that all mental illnesses, including depression, P.T.S.D. and even schizophrenia, can be every bit as influenced by cultural beliefs and expectations today as hysterical-leg paralysis or the vapors or zar or any other mental illness ever experienced in the history of human madness. (…)
In any given era, those who minister to the mentally ill — doctors or shamans or priests — inadvertently help to select which symptoms will be recognized as legitimate. Because the troubled mind has been influenced by healers of diverse religious and scientific persuasions, the forms of madness from one place and time often look remarkably different from the forms of madness in another.
Contrary to popular belief, “Western” biomedicine is not culturally neutral either:
The ideas we export often have at their heart a particularly American brand of hyperintrospection — a penchant for “psychologizing” daily existence. These ideas remain deeply influenced by the Cartesian split between the mind and the body, the Freudian duality between the conscious and unconscious, as well as the many self-help philosophies and schools of therapy that have encouraged Americans to separate the health of the individual from the health of the group.
“Western mental-health discourse introduces core components of Western culture, including a theory of human nature, a definition of personhood, a sense of time and memory and a source of moral authority. None of this is universal,” Derek Summerfield of the Institute of Psychiatry in London observes.
Ethan Watters explains why have American categories of mental diseases become the worldwide standard:
American researchers and institutions run most of the premier scholarly journals and host top conferences in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. Western drug companies dole out large sums for research and spend billions marketing medications for mental illnesses. In addition, Western-trained traumatologists often rush in where war or natural disasters strike to deliver “psychological first aid,” bringing with them their assumptions about how the mind becomes broken by horrible events and how it is best healed.
The export of Western biomedical ideas, Watters explains, can have “frustrating and unexpected consequences", for example marginalization of people with “mental heath problems". People with schizophrenia in some developing countries appear to fare better over time than those living in industrialized nations.
Several studies, Watters writes, suggest that we may actually treat people more harshly when their problem is described in biomedical disease terms, when we treat mental illnesses are “brain diseases” over which the patient has little choice or responsibility, when the disease has according this model nothing to do with factors in the outside world like unemployment, racism, larger societal structures that lead to loneliness, despair, depressions:
It turns out that those who adopted biomedical/genetic beliefs about mental disorders were the same people who wanted less contact with the mentally ill and thought of them as more dangerous and unpredictable. This unfortunate relationship has popped up in numerous studies around the world. (…) “irrespective of place . . . endorsing biological factors as the cause of schizophrenia was associated with a greater desire for social distance.”
In Zanzibar, in a group of people with “Swahili spirit-possession beliefs", the illness was seen as the work of outside forces, it was understood as an affliction for the sufferer but not as an identity according to research by anthropologist Juli McGruder:
For McGruder, the point was not that these practices or beliefs were effective in curing schizophrenia. Rather, she said she believed that they indirectly helped control the course of the illness. Besides keeping the sick individual in the social group, the religious beliefs in Zanzibar also allowed for a type of calmness and acquiescence in the face of the illness that she had rarely witnessed in the West.
The article was published last Saturday. The same day, Greg Downey wrote Exporting American mental illness, an example for great anthropology blogging. And the day after another fascinating blog post by Eugene Raikhel at Somatosphere: The globalization of biopsychiatry with lots of links to related medical anthropology studies.
Nearly at the same time, medical anthropologist Michael Tan has written about the same topic in his column Pinoy Kasi in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He writes about “special children", children with what Americans call “global developmental delay” or GDD. This diagnosis does not make sense in the Philippines:
The problem here is defining a delay. (…) For example, around the area of language development, you will find books that say a child should have a vocabulary of around 200 words by the age of 2. I can imagine some of my readers beginning to panic now, as I did when I first heard that standard. Imagine me in the middle of the night doing an inventory of my son’s vocabulary and not even reaching 50 (…)
But the anthropologist in me protested that we don’t have studies in the Philippines that established the norm, and given that all our children are growing up in households with at least two, and often more, languages, there’s bound to be some “delay.” As you might have guessed, my son, who is now 4, cannot stop jabbering, and in three languages at that.
Happy New Year to everybody with a firework from Sydney (photo by Rajwinder Singh, flickr) and thanks for reading antropologi.info, commenting and contributing to this blog and other blogs!
In 2009, when antropologi.info turned five years old, I was especially happy about contributions from you, from readers. In March, Tereza Kuldova has started writing book reviews - the first one about Hindu Divorce: A Legal Anthropology by Livia Holden. The most recent one went online just a few days ago: Photography, anthropology and history by Christopher Morton and Elizabeth Edwards.
Karstein Noremark wrote an report about the Open Access Week in Wellington, and Siham Ouazzif sent me her thesis “Veiled Muslim Women in Australian Public Space: How do Veiled Women Express their Presence and Interact in the Workplace?”. I also received a text by Lykke V. Bjørnøy: Are homosexuals impure according to Sunni Islam?. I was also glad over that I could interview Dai Cooper about her Anthropology Song
On the 1st of May, we celebrated the first Open Access Anthropology Day. Sara at Sara Anthro Blog has taken the initiative to this event. For this occasion, I’ve made a new overview over open access anthropology journals.
Personally, my most important blog post was about The Anthropology of Suicide. It was also the most personal blog post I’ve ever written.
2009 was a very interesting blogging year, and anthroblogging hasn’t stopped during the holidays and new year. Several bloggers ended 2009 or started 2010 with lists. Here are some of them:
Greg Downey has compiled an impressive list of suggestions for how to organize better conferences. His list should be compulsory reading for all conference organizers. He is as he writes “a big fan of the good conference, but I’ve also been traumatized at academic conferences".
Maximilian Forte is “almost ready to resume winding down” his blog Zero Anthropology (started as Open Anthropology) and sums up with Zero/Open Anthropology Top Posts 2009.
Barbara Miller from AnthropologyWorks has written several lists, one of them is Anthropologyworks 10 best of 2009.
“One useful thing about blogs is that they also serve as a kind of ‘digital memory’", writes Julian Hopkins in his post My 2009.
Anthro Turbo-blogger Erkan Saka collected some interesting happy new year images. I really like his introduction:"Special days like New Year’s Eve make me so tense. Social pressure. Such alienation, such loneliness. It all comes back to Durkheim’s arguments in Suicide. I hope it passes very quickly.”
While Language Log discusses the question How to pronounce the year 2010 (67 comments so far!), Gabriele Marranci turns to the anthrosphere with a New Year wish.
In his post Selling lives: Rohingyas face deportation from Bangladesh, he invites his colleagues to focus more on the Rohingya, “highlighting their inhuman condition in Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh, as well as their status of the “gypsies” of Asia":
Bangladesh has signed a deal with Burma to import gas and electricity and export back Rohingya:
Today is the first day of 2010. Many of us have celebrated the new year while 9000 Rohingya, the first of many more to come, are not able to oppose the Bangladeshi decision of deportation without any safeguard to their original home, which, like Nazi Germany for the German Jews, has decided that they are aliens who are as ‘ugly as ogres’. This time, however, it is not the shape of the nose to be singled out, but rather the Hindi features, particularly the skin colour.
Tragically, convoys starting from the Bangladeshi border will soon deport the Rohingya, men, women, young, old, healthy, and unhealthy to a uncertain destiny. No external body, agency or Red Cross will be there to witness the deportation. There only exists the indifference of a world increasingly ready to sell souls for more profitable commodities.
UPDATE: Of course Savage Minds has made a great list, published just a few seconds ago: Savage Minds Rewind: The Best of 2009
Here is the second part of the review of the book Photography, Anthropology and History, edited by Christopher Morton and Elizabeth Edwards.
This time, Tereza Kuldova reviews Ka F. Wong’s article about one of the first Japanese anthropologists, who became popular in Japan because of his use of photography: Torii Ryūzō.
Wong shows in his article how Ryuzo’s photographs illustrate the colonial relationships at that time. Ryuzo went on fieldwork two decades before Malinowski in order to document the indigenous Taiwan population.
Tereza Kuldova questions some of Wong’s conclusions:
Review (Part II): Photography, Anthropology and History: Expanding the Frame (eds. Morton, Ch. & Edwards, E.), Ashgate. 2009. ISBN 978-0-7546-7909-7.
Tereza Kuldova, PhD fellow, Museum of Cultural History, Oslo
The article Visual Methods in Early Japanese Anthropology: Torii Ryuzo in Taiwan by Ka F. Wong discusses the beginnings of the Japanese anthropology and the personality of one of the first Japanese anthropologists, who became popular in Japan because of his use of photography, as a ‘scientific’ method of investigation and documentation of the Other, during his fieldwork.
We are talking here about Torii Ryuzo, a truly self-made anthropologist, born in 1870 in Tokushima in Shikoku, he received only second-grade education, but that did not prevent him from reading and educating himself on his own.
Torii was hired as a specimen classifier in the Anthropology Research Institute at the Tokyo Imperial University by the professor in physical anthropology Tsuboi Shogoro. “Under his mentor’s patronage and encouragement, Torii began his anthropological career, first as a fieldworker, and eventually as one of the most prominent Japanese anthropologists of the twentieth century” (Wong 2009:173). Eventually, “in 1922, he became associate professor at the Tokyo Imperial University and succeeded Tsuboi as the second chair of the Anthropological Institute” (Wong 2009:185).
As Wong notes, he was a rather special occurrence in the Japanese anthropology, because he was “a Japanese anthropologist working in the manner of a European ethnographer within a colonial context” (Wong 2009:180).
His popularity and rise as an anthropologist can be related firstly to his use of photography, in the manner of the Western anthropologists, as a tool of scientific understanding and documenting of the Other and secondly it can be related to the emergence of Japan as a colonial power.
Wong focuses on the analysis of the photographic legacy of Torii Ryuzo in the context of the modernization of Japan and the era of Japanese colonization.
Wong tries to view the photographs in the light of their own ‘agency’ and thereby to understand the nature of the contact between Ryuzo and the indigenous Taiwanese. When Japan became colonial power it could “count itself a member of the once exclusive Western club of colonial empires, and the native population of Taiwan provided fresh material for Japanese anthropologists to exhibit their intellectual virtuosity” (Wong 2009:175). Ryuzo thus set out for a fieldwork in Taiwan, two decades before Bronislaw Malinowski, and began documenting the indigenous Taiwan population, mostly within the Western style framework, using the methods of natural sciences, such as anthropometric and statistical techniques. “The camera was Torii’s tool for disseminating a vision of indigenous life of this newly colonized island to wider Japanese public” (Wong 2009:177).
Drawing on the western scholarship Torii divided the indigenous people of Taiwan “along perceived racial lines – such as by physical type, language, costume, body, decoration, architecture and material culture – into nine major groups: the Ami, Bunun, Yami, Paiwan, Tayal, Tsou, Siuo, and Salisan” (Wong 2009:177). Most of the photographs that he took were of anthropometric imagery, but he took pictures of people in various social contexts, pictures of landscape and houses, of material culture and the Japanese presence, as well.
Wong shows in his article how the photographs illustrate the colonial relationships. He points out the anthropologist in Western clothes standing and posing with the natives mostly sitting or squatting dressed in indigenous clothing. He argues, in rather classical manner, that “Torii’s anthropometric images mirrored a legitimized racial superiority in the name of scientific representation, and the subjects thereby became ‘dehumanized’ as ‘passive objects of the study’” (Wong 2009:179-80). He observes that the natives “seem to be purposely lined up in formation or staged for display, implying a power relation at play for the camera. Even those pictures that were meant to capture the natives in their natural milieu seem to project rigidity and theatricality” (Wong 2009:180).
Wong shows how photographs can be perceived as ‘social artefacts’ that convey political and personal agendas of their creator. In case of Torii the visualization of himself on the photographs with the natives certainly helped to establish him as a professional anthropologist.
This being said, I believe that there is one dimension of the analysis of photography that Wong presented, which is missing. That is the consideration of the technical and practical dimension of taking photography at that point of time. Imagine a heavy machine which for a photography to be taken needs immovable objects. If we think about the ‘theatricality and rigidity’, which Wong describes and attributes it to the demonstration of colonial power over the subjects, is it not also a natural consequence of the nature of the technology used in capturing of the natives?
Further, Wong focuses for example on the clothes worn by the anthropologist as compared to the clothes worn by the natives and interprets this in terms of power relations. At this point, the images from my own fieldwork in the 21st century India came to my mind. When looking at them, you can see me definitely dressed differently that the most of the women in India did. On photographs with them, I definitely look as a foreigner. In the end my photographs are not that different from those of Torii, though maybe his are more ‘rigid’ because of the technology he used, while mine may seem more spontaneous, taken in between conversations.
When turning the attention to the ‘postures’, which Wong notes, when I look at my photographs in that way, I must say that I tend to sit with my leg over the other, while some of the women I was working with tended to sit on the bed or floor with their legs crossed under themselves. However, I cannot claim that any of that, can from my viewpoint be interpreted in terms of power relations (at least in the sense of oppressive type of colonial power relations), though someone may frame it within west vs. rest dichotomy and draw some conclusions from that. At the same time, I believe that these would have little to do with my own relations to the people on the photographs.
Now, using the medium of photography, which at that time needed immovable persons, and objects in front of the objective, and thus necessarily appeared more rigid that nowadays, how could Torii possibly otherwise represent what he encountered? Whatever picture he would have taken would be by Wong and possibly by others necessarily interpreted in the context of the era of Japanese colonial power.
Now I do not want to say that this critique or line of thought is unproductive. What I want to point out is that, instead of looking at the photographs of the anthropologist and the natives and judging from his and their clothes or postures, when trying to understand the messages of the photographs which Torii took, we have to look firstly at what he did not take photographs of as compared to what he wanted us to see, as it is there, where the agenda and context lies. This line of thought is somehow present in Wong’s text, but in my view it should have come out stronger, as it is this what gives us the insight into the practices of representation.
Three weeks ago, anthropologists from all over the world met in Philadelphia at the annual meerting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). What did all those anthropologists talk about during the largest anthropology meeting in the world?
This is no easy thing to find out. I haven’t found many newspaper articles about the conference. Conferences aren’t media-friendly. For the first time, the AAA encouraged to blog and tweet about the conference. But you won’t find many references to the conference on leading anthropology blogs. Savage Minds for example has only one (semi-ironocal) post: “Overheard at the AAA“.
The most informative post about the conference can be found on a totally new blog called Life at the Interface. In her first blog post AAA Round-up part I, Erica gives us an impressive summary of lots of panels she’s attended: “Creativity and Labor: Artists, Anthropology, and Knowledge-Making”, “Intellectual Activisms and the Making of the New Europe” and “Reflections on Subjectivity, Psychoanalysis, the Virtual, and the Imaginary” and “Are the Sacred Tropes of Anthropology Worth Keeping? Lessons from Information Technology Studies”.
One issue that received some mainstream media attention (New York Times, Time etc) is the AAA-report on the collaboration with the military in the Human Terrain System program. The AAA’s Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) concludes that engagement between anthropology and the military is incompatibie with disciplinary ethics:
When ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review, where data collection occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment – all characteristic factors of the HTS concept and its application – it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology.
More controversial political issues: Members at the AAA Business Meeting passed a resolution that condemns the coup d’etat by the military in Honduras. The reolution urges President Barack Obama and members of the US Congress to among other things to “condemn the human rights violations that have been committed by the de facto government in Honduras” and “join most Latin American countries in withholding recognition of individuals selected in the election held on 29 November 2009.”
Can also research about forest management be controversial? It seems so. The day after Eric John Cunningham had returned to Japan from Philadelphia, he received a phone call from the Forestry agency. “We’re interested in hearing about your paper presentation", officials said. Cunningham argues for more local involvement in forest governance in Japan. Am I being monitored, he wonders:
I’ve used the word “monitor” in the title of this post and I intend the full range of meaning that the word embodies–from innocent watching to menacing surveillance. It seems to me this is the nature of monitoring; one never knows how closely they are being watched, or to what ends. In this instance monitoring came to mind for two reasons: 1) the swiftness with which the Forestry Agency suddenly expressed interest in my research, and 2) the sense I gained of the Forestry Agency’s desire to closely control information about National Forests.
Eugene Raikhel at somatosphere has written an inspiring post about the Society for Medical Anthropology’s awards for 2009 that were announced at the conference. You’ll find lots of sugggestions for books to read or papers to check out. Most of the research isn’t available online, though. Exceptions: Sera Lewise Young who won the MASA Dissertation Award, has put several papers online. One of the best articles that were published in the preceding volume of the Medical Anthropology Quarterly is also freely available: “The Coproduction of Moral Discourse in U.S. Community Psychiatry” by Paul Brodwin ("honorable mention", Polgar Prize)
Another award: Anthropology Professor Maria Vesperi received the 2009 Oxford Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Vesperi is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in the analysis of contemporary social issues and the communication of anthropological ideas to the public.
“Anthropology of institutions” was one of this year’s “in” topics, writes Pál Nyiri in his post “Back from the AAA” Both of his new books – Cultural Mobility and Seeing Culture Everywhere - made their debut at this AAA – the latter even sold out, he writes.
“Seeing culture everywhere” seems to be the English version of a book that was previously published in German: Maxikulti (together with Joana Breidenbach). The book is a response to Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations:
“Seeing Culture Everywhere” challenges the misguided and dangerous global obsession with cultural difference and directly critiques the popular notion that world affairs are determined by essential civilizations with immutable and conflicting cultures. The book offers an alternative view of a world in which cultural mixing, not isolation, is the norm, but where several historical trends have come together at the beginning of the twenty-first century to produce the current wave of “culture think.”
More books: Obama’s mother’s dissertation was launched. As most of you know, Stanley Ann Dunham was an (economic) anthropologist. She died in 1995. “Surviving against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesia” is a revised and edited version of her 1992 University of Hawaii dissertation on metalworking industries in Java, Indonesia. You can watch a video of the book launch.
When filming people became possible, anthropologists began to drift away from it. Though better off than at the beginning of the 20th century, the visual anthropology today is still perceived as a marginal discipline, Tereza Kuldova writes in the first part of her review of Photography, Anthropology and History: Expanding the Frame.
The topics of the eleven articles range from the discussion of mappaemundi and panoramas as first ethnographic images, to the discussions of the beginnings of the cinematic representations in anthropology, of Evans-Pritchard’s photographs of an initiation ritual, all the way to the discussion of photographs taken by Kathleen Haddon in Papua New Guinea and the tricky relationship between colonialism, photography and anthropology.
Tereza Kuldova is going to write about selected articles, the first one is Anthropology and the Cinematic imagination by David MacDougall. (Update: Here is part II: Colonialism, racism and visual anthropology in Japan)
Review (Part I): Photography, Anthropology and History: Expanding the Frame (eds. Morton, Ch. & Edwards, E.), Ashgate. 2009. ISBN 978-0-7546-7909-7.
Tereza Kuldova, PhD fellow, Museum of Cultural History, Oslo
David MacDougall presents in his article Anthropology and the Cinematic Imagination a rather brief discussion of the relations between anthropology and the cinematic. He relates the beginnings of the cinematic imagination to the use of stereograph and after that pinpoints the interest and enthusiasm of the 19th century anthropologists with the new media of photography and motion pictures, which was followed by the ‘dark age’ of visual anthropology in the first half of the 20th century.
At that point of time anthropologists began to be reluctant to publish photographs in their monographs and ethnographic filmmaking has become a “sideline of anthropology, practiced more by amateurs, adventurers, missionaries, journalists and travel lecturers than anthropologists” (ibid:57). As a reasons for this he identifies the ‘contamination’ of the photographic media by popular entertainment; photographic media “were considered vulgar and exuded aura of the musical hall” (MacDougall 2009:57).
He further argues that also the practices of anthropologists and their methodologies have become more logocentric. The anthropological knowledge itself was changing, it was “shifting away from the visible worlds of human beings and their material possessions towards the invisible world of abstract relations such as kinship, political organization and social values”. However, “if observation was so important, you would think that filming people in their daily interactions would have become increasingly useful.
Yet, it was just at this time, when filming people became possible, that anthropologists began to drift away from it. The human body, which had excited so much interest in the 19th century, when it was constantly being measured and photographed, had ceased to be a site of meaning” (ibid:57). Film images and photographs were rather objects you would put in a museum; they were placed at the margins of anthropology.
However, the first glimmer of hope came after the second world war in the 1930s with Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead and their Balinese project and later on with Jean Rouch, who was using light-weight camera as a kind of personal writing instrument. Here you can view a sequence from Jean Rouch’s Chronique d’un été, 1960
Together with John Marshall – all of them reinvented the ethnographic film and revived the interest in the possibilities of visual anthropology.
“Beginning in the 1950s they began to demonstrate that cinema had more to offer anthropology than a technology of note-taking or a means of popularization. Their films tried to enter into the thoughts and feelings of their subjects and the physical spaces in which they lived” (MacDougall 2009:58), exploring interpersonal relationships with the camera.
MacDougall thus concludes that “anthropologists and filmmakers invented, more or less separately, a way of looking at the world that involved repositioning themselves and their audiences imaginatively in relation to their subjects; and second, that as far as visual anthropology was concerned, these two inventions remained almost completely isolated from one another for a very long period, until they began to converge after the Second World War” (MacDougall 2009:61). “Rouch and Marshall believed that visual anthropology could and should do more than simply record what was in front of the camera. They were after the invisible content of the scenes they filmed, both in terms of the sense of space they conveyed and the experience of individuals” (MacDougall 2009:62).
There are two points in MacDougall’s argument which might have been elaborated further and which I find interesting. The first one is that of ‘contamination’ of the photographic media by popular entertainment, which was possibly one of the reasons why anthropologists tended not use this media at the beginning of the century. For me this line of thinking resembles the discussion about the concept of ‘culture’, which is not only criticized for being essentializing and bounding, but is also portrayed as being misused, meaning anything and everything and thus turning into a ‘lay’ concept.
This is, I believe, one of the core problems. As anthropology struggles continually with the problem of its own authority, it necessarily creates boundaries between the ‘commonsense’ and the ‘scientific’. Once ‘culture’, ‘photography’ or ‘motion picture’ is connected with the masses or ‘laymen’, the ‘science’ tries to distance itself from it, implicitly claiming a superior ‘scientific’ version of reality.
However, I believe that this attitude can turn out to be counterproductive. What is rather the issue in the case of anthropological or ethnographic photography and film is how to transmit the ethnographic knowledge pictorially and how to rethink the modes of representation, while not merely reproducing the archetype of the ‘documentary film’.
The visual anthropology today, though better off than at the beginning of the 20th century, is still perceived as a marginal discipline. Nevertheless, I believe that anthropology has a lot to gain from the visual field of experience and from rethinking of the visual modes of its representation.
The second point which MacDougall makes and which I find important is that of the turn towards the focus on the abstract structures and relations of social systems, which have dissociated them from the obvious relationships with the material, which led to the surpassing of the material in anthropological writings. Though the focus on the social dimension is no doubt the core of anthropology, I believe that we can get more of it by acknowledging the material and visual dimension of our social lives and by trying to use the methods of visualization innovatively when writing our monographs.
At the same time, I believe that we have to be cautious when dealing with the visual, so that it does not become overwhelming, and in turn reducing the focus on the social. What we need to focus on is rather the dialectics of the social and the material, depicting it in terms of both writing and visualizing.
This was the first part of the review of Photography, Anthropology and History. To be continued during this week! (Update: Here is part II: Colonialism, racism and visual anthropology in Japan)
Interview with Jean Rouch
In memory of John Marshall
Film by David MacDougall
How can businesses profit from social media? How does social media challenge what is regarded as “value” in the business world? Anthropologist Lene Pettersen discusses these and other questions in her paper “The impact of social media for business“.
Lene Pettersen, one of the few web2.0-anthropologists in Scandinavia, sent me this article that she previously has published on Slideshare
‘Value’ in a strong economic sense is challenged by social media as a door opener for influence that the organizations should take seriously. (…) The market is a part of individual and collective projects where emotions and identities are expressed, and can therefore not be defined by monetary values alone (Olsen 2003). (…)
The virtual market isn’t a huge collection of passive consumers; it is represented by networks of people having meaningful dialogues and interaction with both each other and the businesses as such, and represents new ways of market power. (…) By mapping different social media applications that are used for interaction we will receive great insight of benefits from different social media tools, technology as such and give important knowledge of how social media can be used by companies and organizations for innovation.
For businesses to be successfull they have to establish a good reputation. She quotes anthropologist Tian Sørhaug who states that “we no longer can divide production from consumption, because it is difficult to separate the person and the product. In these online times we all are dependent on our reputation.”
Pettersen draws our attention to a kind of “honor culture” among bloggers and compares it to the Kula exchange:
In social media we can recognize how highly respected bloggers receive respect from others. In parallel to honor cultures, where public reputation is more important than one’s self esteem, bloggers achieve huge respect within their community (Pettersen 2009). Anette Weiner showed in her studies of the Trobriand people how transaction of the kula (a type of shell) with people’s kula network didn’t have a solely economic value, but that knowledge, high status, and even sorcery help kula players claim success and circulate their fame (Weiner 1988:156).
>> download the paper (pdf)
Hi, I’m back again. Sorry for the long break!
I’m still here, not at the same place as last time, though. I’ve moved to a new place outside of Oslo into a tiny little house (see picture) - during the busiest time of the year. I had to prioritize spending my time on activities that I get paid for.
But expect more activity here on antropologi.info from now on, among other things Tereza Kuldova’s review of “Photography, Anthropology and History: Expanding the Frame” in several parts and some round-up after the AAA-conference!