Now, only a few days before the largest gathering of anthropologists in the world, it’s time to take up again the banner of the well-prepared, well-written, well-presented conference paper, writes Rex in his post Defending the form at Savage Minds .
In the following text, antropologi.info contributor Tereza Kuldova and Jan Martin Kvile explain why we need more spectacle in academic presentations:
Tereza Kuldova & Jan Martin Kvile
PhD Fellow in Social Anthropology at Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo & The Ultimate Math Teacher, Holmen High School
Have you been recently at a conference? How many people could you count dozing off at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the presentations? Or maybe, you too were dozing off, unable to even count your fellow colleagues who shared that miserable state of existence at an utterly boring presentation…
Or, maybe, you are one of those who really try to give people a chance and engage with their ideas, but you are on a verge of becoming disinterested in even the most spectacular and thought provoking subjects just because the presentations kill it? Or maybe you are the presenter who makes people doze off? In that case, you need to learn something from wrestlers.
So here we are, at yet another anthropological conference. We, anthropologists, write about incredibly interesting, exciting things in the world, cultures, myths, religions, hierarchies, imaginations from all corners of the world. Yet, when you come to an anthropological conference, with some exceptions that merely confirm the rule, you will see a room full of people with almost disinterested expressions on their faces - these are possibly intended to signify the seriousness and depth (oh yeah, the anthropological obsession with ‘depth’) of their intellectual endeavor (however, it is enough to wait for the dinner and a little wine and, before you know it, you are listening to stories from the very same people’s bedrooms /possibly a way how to get ‘deeply’ familiar with each other/).
Better to get back to the conference room now. So they have a script and a plan. Each gets 20 minutes to present a paper. For some reason very few understand the simple concept of 20 minutes (yet all of them seem to be heavy users of watches) and for some even more miraculous reason most do really believe that presenting equals reading. Some basic arithmetic would make this clear immediately, if 2=2 and an apple is an apple, then presenting and reading can hardly be equal. These are namely two very different concepts.
Reading ≠ Presenting
Reading means comprehending and understanding the written word, deciphering its meaning and interpreting it while engaging with the text and its ideas. It is a relation between the reader and the text, a private and intimate relation too. Reading paper out loud disrupts this. It intends to invite the listener in, yet at the same time it never really succeeds, and by the very nature of this awkward relationship it cannot. Reading out loud does not invite the listener into a dialogue, the listener is not part of that exclusive bond between the reader and the text, and is rather ambivalently included and dis-included at the same time.
Presentation on the other hand stands for performance, act, demonstration, display, exposition, giving. Reading a paper out loud is hardly a performance (if it is, then it must be a really bad one), it is not a demonstration, not an exposition, not a show that invites participation.
And so we are sitting in the conference room, another speaker is being introduced. Interesting topic, the title sounds amazing. We sit back on our chairs and wake up a little. Then the word goes to the speaker himself.
First thing that he says, “eergh, I was rushing to the airport yesterday, was a bit delayed and had to catch the flight, so it happened I forgot my USB somewhere, still have not figured out where and with it the presentation, and it is not even in my laptop or on my email, so I am left without it, but I will really try to make up for that, I promise” (‘so you promise, eh’, we think to ourselves).
And he goes on (as if this was not already enough), “my paper is a little longer, so maybe I talk into the discussion time, but that is fine I guess, it is important” (we are beginning to sense frustration, which is the first stage of dozing off later on). So he sits down (‘oh no, not one of those again’, crosses our minds), and puts his paper right in front of his face and starts reading, as if reading for himself, no intonation, no enthusiasm.
We try really hard to follow with the fast flow of unintelligibly long sentences, five minutes into the reading we lose it, look out of the window and watch the birds outside, think of our lovers or our deadlines, suddenly our minds re-enter the room and we try to re-focus. Impossible, we lost it. This ‘reader’ does not know what highlights and repetition are, we are done and our imagination flies back to our lovers (or deadlines). Thirty minutes into the talk we start wondering, wasn’t he supposed to be finished by now, hell, what’s the time.
Around the 35th minute the speaker starts blabbering something about finishing off soon, we sharpen our ears, we get one sentence. We match it fast with the title of the paper, get the picture of what was probably going on and then we manage to formulate few relevant questions. Then one of us says, “thank you for the very exciting and stimulating lecture” (though the only thing that in reality really excited and stimulated us was probably the thought of our lovers) and add, “I have one little remark…”.
And so we go on with the theatre.
After the speaker is done the others start coming to him, “very good presentation, you have some nice points, see you at the dinner”. Do you want to know what they really think? “It sucked and I am definitely not going to read your paper, but I am going to pretend I will”.
Good reasons for that, the moment our speaker stepped in on the stage and wasted five minutes on diminishing himself giving us a story of lost USB, he was doomed to fail. The moment he started reading while hiding himself behind the paper, he confirmed that. The moment he went over his time, he showed he does not care for others. Yes, it is disrespectful. And yes, it shows your disinterest in discussion. Creating engaging dialogue should be the aim, yet, instead you fear, fear the questions. Grow up, the questions are there for you, through engaging with others’ reflections you will emerge as a transformed person! Stop fearing what others have to say! Embrace it instead.
‘Argument is war’ is one of the famous metaphors we live by (Lakoff and Johnson 2003). It is through dialogue and juxtaposition of different voices that meaning emerges (Bakhtin 2004). In knowledge, disruption is the goal! If dialogue ends, everything ends, as Bakhtin says. What is the ultimate spectacle of violent conflict, the ultimate metaphor of an argument? Wrestling! Yes, we should learn from wrestling and that too on more than one level!
Can We Academics Learn Something from Wrestling?
A wrestler is charismatic, has a stage presence, he is there to please the audience and that is how his success is determined. His performance is designed to create desired effects. He is a “a self-promotional device to draw the crowds and build reputation that would precede his entrance in the town” (Mazer 1998: 24) – not unlike an academic in this respect. Now don’t you want to be more like that? And less like the one who makes the audience doze off?
Did you know that young wrestlers have only twenty minutes in the program of the day to impress the audiences and create ‘heat’? Well, they happen to stick to the time. And most of them create considerable amounts of ‘heat’. Now next time you go out there, think about your audience first and about yourself as a wrestler! You want your audiences’ brains to heat up! You want them to focus their attention on you and what you have to say! Talk briefly but with impact, like a wrestler – Bang! Get your point across – Bang!
You have been researching for ages and you know your stuff, so how come you have to read it (that is just suspicious by the way)? Talk to your audiences, get them engaged in your ideas and thoughts, and create a dialogue instead of killing it. Maybe you are the enemy of yourself in this staged performance that we call ‘presenting a paper’.
Our whole endeavor in anthropology is like wrestling. We wrestle with others and their ideas, for ourselves and for others and when it comes to presenting we have to wrestle with ourselves for others, for the audience. Show the world the power of your ideas, be bold, talk loud and rehearse your stage performance, give us the spectacle! We want to remember what you say and we want to get interested in what it is you do. Get me interested and I read your work, those 20 minutes, those are a teaser, a commercial, an advertisement. So start writing down your punch lines (it is not a coincidence it is called a punch line, come alive wrestler!).
Now to the more profound importance of ‘wrestling’, Roland Barthes once said that “wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result” (Barthes 1993).
Maybe, we should like a wrestler turn our presentations into a sequence of little spectacles, open these up with a puzzle, engaging paradox or ambiguity. Maybe the inevitable ambiguity of the worlds we research and try to describe and thus the ambiguous nature of our findings should be understood as a productive force. The world is dirty and fuzzy; full of artificial categories we create to grasp this fuzziness and mess. Oh yes, and to top it, we create other categories intended to describe these ambiguous cases, such as hybridity and creolization.
We should get rid of those statements beginning with “I argue that” or “I conclude that” (note that wrestling is not about winning, it is about the process) and maybe we should instead open possibilities and let ambiguous voices speak. We are dealing with dialogical materials we are in dialogue with, how can the product be anything else than an invitation into that dialogue, a dialogue that is a part of the ongoing dialogue of humanity?
Maybe loose ends should never be really tied up, never really resolved for the sake of further dialogue and for the sake of knowledge, which itself is only a sort of metadialogue. Words are power and they can carve us versus them very easily, they objectify and transform what is fluid into something static. Categories thrive on pollution and love for purity. The more pollution the stronger the desire for purity (Douglas 2002).
But can it be that tidying all dirt is not such a good idea? Maybe we need to deal with garbage and dirt differently (Eriksen 2011). This struggle for perfect labels and neat categories is no more than an act of violence against life that is an unending and ambiguous dance of merger and division (Anton 2001). If that is so, the question is, could we think of hypocrisy and wrestling as a virtue?
Anton, C. 2001. Selfhood and authenticity. State University of New York Press.
Bakhtin, M. M. 2004. The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Barthes, R. 1993. Mythologies. London: Vintage.
Douglas, M. 2002. Purity and danger: an analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. Routledge.
Eriksen, T. H. 2011. Søppel: avfall i en verden av bivirkninger. Oslo: Aschehoug.
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. 2003. Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mazer, S. 1998. Professional wrestling: sport and spectacle. University Press of Mississippi.
Sources of original images: unknown
They beat children and adults during apprehensions and in custody, they deny people with life-threatening medical conditions treatment, separate family members and confiscate their belongings.
“We were held with another woman who was coughing so badly that she threw up violently, over and over. The others in the cell called for help. An officer came over and said, ‘Que se muera!’ - ‘Let her die!’”
Two months ago anthropologists Rachel Stonecipher & Sarah Willen alerted the public on the Access Denied blog about the abuse of migrants on the U.S–Mexican border.
Now, anthropologist Randall McGuire draws our attention to a recently published report “A Culture of Cruelty” that documents the “systematic abuses of human rights” by U.S. Border Patrol along the U.S.-Mexican border.
McGuire, who is the author of Archaeology as Political Action, writes:
This report demonstrates that the Border Patrol systematically abuses people in short-term custody and that existing policies and standards inadequately address a culture of impunity within the agency. Rather than these abuses being the work of a few rogue agents, the Border Patrol has become a rogue agency. The report draws on interviews with almost 13,000 deportees conducted over 2.5 years. (…)
Despite this fact, inadequate procedures exist within the Border Patrol for identifying and correcting systematic abuse. The abuses continue as part of United States border policy. The border wall forces migrants into perilous deserts and mountains.
Since 2008, the number of migrants crossing the border has fallen precipitously. But, the number of people dying in the desert has remained constant. The systematic abuses of human rights and the culture of cruelty in the Border Patrol directly reflect a border policy designed to maximize the risks to migrants’ health and lives.
The report was produced by the organisation No More Deaths. One of its members is anthropology student “Corbett” who on his/her (really good!) blog “The Wild Anthropologist” gives us a summary of the findings.
The whole report can be downloaded from the website http://www.cultureofcruelty.org
It hasn’t received much attention from mainstream media. And when Reuters writes about the report, they use the authorities’ perspective and describe the victims of abuse as “illegal migrants”, as criminals. The difference to the coverage in the independent media publication In These Times is striking.
The term “Illegal” serves to dehumanize people who, even though they are within the country without the approval of the US, are guaranteed human rights by the 14th Amendment: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.
By Aleksandra Bartoszko. Oslo University Hospital, Equality and Diversity Unit
Nancy Scheper-Hughes is currently working on finishing her book, which will summarize more than ten years fieldwork on organ trafficking. In this interview she tells us about A World Cut in Two: Global Justice and the Traffic in Organs and she shares her reflections on challenges of doing and disseminating multi-sited research.
AB: What is your upcoming book about?
– It’s about trafficking - trafficking kidneys and other organs and tissues from people living on the edges of the global economy.
– There is also a chapter on the body of the terrorist, which is about cases of the medical abuse of enemy bodies harvested for usable tissues and organs at the Israeli forensic institute, as well as in Argentina during the dirty war and in South African police mortuaries during the anti-apartheid struggle when Black bodied piled up in the morgues.
– So I’m looking also at the harvesting of the dead body during periods of warfare and other conflict, a story that is a hidden subtext of modern warfare. Sometimes this is done as a kind of retaliation or retribution or as a punishment or as way to reinforce the fabric of individual bodies and the Body Politic.
– Since Margaret Lock did such a wonderful work on brain death, I also tell some stories about the very different ways that brain death is calibrated and understood from country to country. You can be brain dead in one country and not in the country next door. Or in US, you can be brain dead in one state, but not in another.
– So this is a very indeterminate form of death and this continues to contribute to people’s anxieties about donating organs. People sense this indeterminacy. How do you know he’s really dead? And the answer might be: “It depends on whether you are in Philadelphia or in New York City how dead you are”. And that is not very consoling answer.
AB: When can we expect your book?
– I am completing two books next year, one in January and the other in June. Right now I am working on a small monograph based on one of the chapters, which was too big for the organs trafficking book. It is about a war within the dirty war in Argentina, a war against the population of mentally and cognitively impaired at the war national asylum, Colonia Montes de Oca. It is called: “The Ghosts of Montes de Oca: Naked Life and the Medically Disappeared”.
AB: The working title of your trafficking book, “A World Cut in Two”, which refers to the countries of buyers and the countries of sellers, the rich and the poor, but also the world of the body, as you said. Speaking of body – if we move back to your article on three bodies you wrote with Margaret Lock in 1987. Has your view on the body in anthropology changed after your work with organ trafficking?
– Well, I always said that three was simply the magical number. People remember it. But I liked what Per Fugelli said – about the “missing body” in anthropological writings – the body in nature. And that would be not a naturalized, universalized body but the body as it is lived /interpreted in different times and places, as part of, and responding to, the given natural world. And I think that’s more important than all the promises inherent in genomics, biotechnologies and biosocialities.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes. Photo: UC Berkeley
– Nonetheless there was a truly radical breakthrough on the particular day in Berkeley that Paul Rabinow had an a-ha! moment when he recognized following a particular class meeting on the AIDS epidemic as it was emerging in San Francisco that people in afflicted communities, who grappling with an epidemic that was not yet well understood, were forming social movements, alliances, identities, and affinity groups based on their T cell counts, that is on something that was invisible and unknown to them about human biology prior to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Thus, bio-sociality.
– So these other understandings of the body go beyond the ‘three bodies’ that Lock and I wrote about in ‘The Mindful Body’. Foucault anticipated it, of course. But I think that were I to revise the ‘Mindful Body’ today it would definitely include the body in nature, as both Per and Benedicte Ingstad have paved the way in their writings.
– And of course I would have to talk about biopolitics and biosociality and its effects. The advent of genomics, personalized medicine which also connote a different kind of body, a body that is potentially infinitely malleable. And in case of organs and organs transplant, which has been with us already quite a long time, the idea of the body is seemingly endlessly renewable.
– My colleague Lawrence Cohen refers to bodily “supplementarity”, this is the idea that I can supplement my body with your body parts and with all the bio-available materials I can get, legally or not, ethically or not, from the living or the dead.
– Bio-supplementarity is a more theorized version of what I called neo-cannibalism, to refer to the conditions under which I may have permission or assume the right to cannibalize you. While neo-cannibalism or compassionate cannibalism derives from a long anthropological tradition, it proved quite offensive to some readers, as you might imagine.
– And I suppose if I wanted to add a fifth body, it would probably be the body in debt. Because everywhere I go on behalf of the Organs Watch project I find that debt, debt peonage, debt to family, debt across generations is the cause of the redefinition of the duty to donate organs while still living, a phenomenon I have called the “terror and the tyranny of the gift”.
– The duty to survive and the duty to deliver organs has created a new and alarming form of embodied debt peonage. The debtors are the kidney sellers who, even as they dispose of their organs, no longer feel that they own them, there are claims being made on their bodies that they are unable to resist.
AB: Do you think these books will change anything or you feel that you’ve done enough and people who should know about the situation of the organ trade already have this knowledge?
– Well, I don’t know. What I really wanted to challenge and to change was the international transplant profession. I wanted them to acknowledge what was happening within their field, how it was being transformed by organs markets. And I think that that I have accomplished that.
– Indeed, I know I have gotten the profession to move beyond its initial denials – first that it was an urban legend that did not exist at all; then that it was the result of a few bad apples in the field; and third, and the most dangerous, the problem is small and we have corrected it.
– Now, since the Istanbul Summit on Organs Trafficking in 2008 (in which I, as director of Organs Watch, participated) the transplant world reached a consensus that accepted the reality of human trafficking in organs and the role that surgeons have played, knowingly or not, in its development. They acknowledged that trafficking in humans for organs is not like other forms of medical migration or medical tourism. It is unique.
– But as for the general public, so to speak, I think there are many people who still think this trafficking in organs is surreal, that is grist for horror movies not for scientific study. I have worked on several excellent documentaries on various dimensions of human trafficking in organs, but many people say: “I’m so surprised”.
AB: Who do you see as readers of your upcoming book?
– We used to say that we wanted to aim for a broadly educated public, “the readers of the New Yorker Magazine”. Easier said than done because we have dual obligations to write for anthropologists and social scientists, to develop social theory, and at the same time to educate and engage the public. To be a good citizen, to be a public intellectual. And these dual obligations often come into conflict.
– So, my book combines narratives within narratives, some aimed for the anthropologist and some for the public. It has plot, character development and is an anthropological detective story, you might call it a social thriller, perhaps. A new genre of ethnography. And why not?
– As in my previous ethnographies, Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics and Death without Weeping, I want there to be food for thought for people who want to read ‘thick description’, thick interpretation, and others who will skip that and go for the action. I hope they will enjoy reading about some of the unforgettable characters that I have had the good fortune to meet along the organs trafficking trail.
– The hardest thing for me was that there were so many sites and so many countries I visited that the book was fragmented. Is there such a thing as a multi-sited over-load factor? If so, I have certainly suffered from it. And then, the world of transplant trafficking was always in flux, always moving to new sites, new organs, new arrangements. So I have written the book three times. I am now revising a fourth version. And some of it is still a bloody mess because I am jumping from Turkey to Israel or to the Philippines, to Europe.
– It’s like seeing the world through the animated kidney. Part of the book is also a reflection on the role of the anthropologist in studying organized crime and kidney pirates.
– A friend and former owner of a famous book store, Codys, in Berkeley, that (like so many other bookstores) collapsed under the pressure of Amazon.com suggested that I change the title of my book to “Kidney Hunter”. That is with reference both to the kidney traffickers and to the anthropologist who is another sort of kidney hunter. Or Notes of an Apprentice Anthropologist-Detective”. So I am playing with writing a sequel along those lines.
AB: But aren’t you afraid that when you are jumping from one place to another that we don’t get enough knowledge of each of these locations?
– You get to know enough about what you need to know to understand the meaning of transplant and the body in that particular location or country. I am not an ethnographer of Turkey or of Israel or Moldova, or of Argentina, or South Africa but I am an ethnographer of global organized crime, an ethnographer of global outlaw transplant. So perhaps it’s not traditional ethnography but it is anthropology, if you can accept that distinction.
– It is not a Malinowskian ethnography and has no pretence to be that. But it is using all the tools of anthropology and of ethnography, which is approaching people as having local worlds, local ethics, local morals, local bodies, and those are the ones that I have to understand, having at least minimal empathy for everyone involved which I always have.
AB: In many occasions you, as well as other anthropologists doing multi-sited fieldwork, have been accused of not being anthropologists for that anymore. How do you meet these comments?
– The problem for traditional ethnography is globalization, of course, which impacts all of our former research sites and populations. The people want to study are in movement, small communities are in flux, they are influenced more by what goes on outside their villages and slums and cities than what goes on inside them. So, we follow different objects.
– If I am following kidneys, others are following migrant labor, or looking at other forms of border crossing, at tourism, or financial markets, or humanitarian workers, or soldiers of fortune, all the ways that people are involved in maintaining lives at all levels of society.
– What’s happened to the practice of traditional ethnography is also the legacy of the savage attacks on the authority of the anthropologist and on the history of our discipline and its links to colonialism and, in USA, the relationships of some anthropologists with defense work and collaborations with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and so forth. We weren’t always on the right side of things.
– Beginning in the late 1960s we tried, my generation in particular, to “reinvent” anthropology, to address colonialism and imperialism and the Vietnam War as critics. Then, in the 1980s we began to turn those critics on ourselves as agents and to engage in brutal self-critical reflexive writings, deconstructing the objects and aims of anthropology.
Video: Already in 1998 George Marcus wrote a book about multi-sited research: “Ethnography through Thick and Thin”
– In the end we were deconstructing ourselves, as anthropologist, as Americans, as gendered persons, as social classes, to the point that we became so self-conscious of our personal, cultural baggage that many anthropologists simply gave up doing ethnography and became moral philosophers of a different sort.
– The idea that fieldworkers could, in fact, become friends, co-producers, co-workers, colleagues and even comrades, was thrown out as an affectation an artifice of the anthropologist. How could you really develop anything more than methodological empathy with the people you were studying? Younger scholars became uncomfortable with the idea of the anthropologist as both “stranger and friend”, as my mentor, Hortense Powdermaker put it. Where does the authority of the ethnographer come from, what gives one the right to infiltrate a community and to use intimacies to generate theories?
– Well, I still think that doing traditional fieldwork is essential, but I would say in the last few generations of our graduate students think that ethnography is an archaic approach. The world is no longer localized. There are always local communities but they are more influenced by what goes on outside of it than what’s going inside of it. So you have to engage these communities through what my colleague Laura Nader calls vertical slice, that is looking at power relations, at relation to the state, global relations.
– Today, in medical anthropology many graduate students now do science studies and they do so for variety of reasons. They believe that biotechnology is totally transforming bodies, psyches (the inner life), what is means to be human. Ethics, power, meaning – all of these seem linked to the possibilities of biotechnology. They also feel, following Paul Rabinow, that the only way to truly have a friendship with ones informants is to share knowledge experience and a social class relation.
– So the idea of studying up as Lauren Nader called it many years ago became the fashion. You studied Wall Street, insurance companies, bankruptcy courts, and global pharmaceutical companies, not the underdog, the exploited and the oppressed. But that was a misrepresentation of what Laura Nader was really saying. She said, study both. Don’t just study sugar cane cutters. Study the owner of the sugar plantations. Don’t just study the sweat shops workers in Asia. Study the American corporations that are using, buying and consuming their products.
– So as result of all these different forces, how you situate yourself, who you are, your class position, your historical background, it almost naturally emerged that people would do much more fragmented, partial and mobile approach to ethnography.
– So maybe the idea that we now engage in studying global assemblages and leave behind traditional ethnography is an over reaction. But it’s a real reflection of what the world looks like now. And, personally, I think it would be completely tragic to give up the Malinowskian approach altogether. I tell that to my students all the time. Some of the students of Benedicte Ingstad said: “What I learned from Benedicte was to write about what you know, and what you know well”.
– In that empirical, interpretive and Clifford Geertzian notion of thick description you cannot do thick description doing multi-sited anthropology. You can do thick theoretical analysis, you can do a lot of analytical work, but the thick description requires that you just dig in your heels, as we say, and stay. Stay as long as necessary. With many happy returns.
By Aleksandra Bartoszko. Oslo University Hospital, Equality and Diversity Unit
Scars after removal of a kidney. Photo: bee free patrrizia grandicelli, flickr
Spring 2011 I attended seminar “Engaging medicine” at the University of Oslo in honor of one of the most prominent medical anthropologists in Norway - Benedicte Ingstad. One of the speakers was Nancy Scheper-Hughes with a paper “Medical Migrations – From Pilgrimage and Medical Tourism to Transplant Trafficking».
Scheper-Hughes is professor of anthropology and director of the program in Critical Studies in Medicine, Science, and the Body at the University of California at Berkeley. She is known for her research on structural and political violence, anthropology of body, illness, suffering, maternity and poverty. Her most famous publications are monographs Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland and Death without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil.
Since I got engaged in medical and critical anthropology, Scheper-Hughes has been to me a constant source of inspiration and provocation. As an anthropologist who supports and has been doing public and applied anthropology she co-founded Organs Watch, a medical human rights project focusing on organ trafficking. In more than ten years she has been working on the global organ trade. Following the illegal flow of kidneys, she has mapped the tragic network of rich buyers and poor sellers all over the world.
I always wondered how her adventure with kidneys started. She answers:
– It was a very different kind of a project and it was not one that I ever could have imagined spending so much time on.
– I wrote an article that emerged from chapter 6 of my book “Death without weeping” where I write about bodies in dangers, the dead body and favela residents’ fears and their feelings of ontological security or insecurity of the body. And I was studying the emergence of local death squads that were operating after the end of the military period, taking the place of the militarized state. I found that there was real medical mistreatment of poor bodies in clinics, in forensic institutes, and in the graveyard. And above all of this was hovering a terror that people had that their bodies would be used for organs. So I wrote some articles trying to explain why people thought they would be subject to kidnapping for the purpose of organ theft.
– At the time I still thought that this was mainly an urban legend. But then underneath the legend were these real experiences that poor people encountered in forensic medical institutes or police morgues where the unidentified, unclaimed body was, in fact, state property, and (to be crude) chopped up and harvested. So the people were right in fearing that their bodies were not safe.
Antropologi.info contributor Aleksandra Bartoszko has recently met medical anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes. In an interview in three parts, she talks with her about the neo-cannibalism of the global organ trade, about her forthcoming book, an anthropological detective story, and about new ways of doing fieldwork in a world where local communities are more influenced by what goes on outside of it than what’s going inside of it.
By Aleksandra Bartoszko, Oslo University Hospital, Equality and Diversity Unit
Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA) focuses on the power relations within health context and political economy of health and health care. It asks why so many people die when there is a cure? Why will I live 20 years longer than my friend from Nicaragua? How do global pharmaceutical markets exclude poor populations? Which body is more worth to be saved? Who decide if you have access to necessary care? What are human rights in every day life, in practice, not on paper?
Critical anthropologists seem to unanimously agree and point out the significant role of neoliberal politics in the construction of inequalities in society. A lot of CMA-writing end up as harsh (and unfortunately often uncritical) critique of “neoliberalism” and “capitalism”.
Reading, listening and talking to critical anthropologists has always left me with a feeling that this part of our discipline is dominated by one political view (which is never good) and every researcher focusing on inequalities is a leftist. Reasons for that can be discussed, but this unwritten agreement has been troubling me for years
I was always wondering if people who grounded CMA think it is possible to do CMA without being a leftist. I asked Nancy Scheper-Hughes. She replied:
Nancy Scheper-Hughes. Photo: UC Berkeley
– Well, that’s a great question, I mean we can always be critical in the scholarly sense, obviously, which can mean critical theory as produced by the Frankfurt school, the new left, Marxists, Neo-Marxists, Gramsci, anarchist socialist, or whatever, but I think that in the anthropological sense critical means essentially realizing your positionality, understanding power relations as outsider looking or as an insider looking out. It means taking these radical juxtapositions of making the familiar strange and making the strange familiar. I think all of that is radical critical without necessary being leftist. These definitions of left and right are not so useful. I simply say, often to raised eyebrows, that I am radical. Take it or leave it.
– Paul Rabinow once said to me, he always plays devil’s advocate, and once he said when he taught about public anthropology: “Well, then, what is private anthropology?” My answer is that private anthropology is anthropology written for 50 people who understand what you are talking about and excludes everybody else.
– So I feel that there is a place for that, there is a time, and where it’s absolutely necessary to speak in an encoded language – it’s a form of shorthand, just like the physicists do or mathematicians do. The audience will be small and a closed circuit one. It would be critical, but private, undemocratic because so many are excluded from participating in the conversation.
– But public anthropology doesn’t only mean making things more readily available to the layman, let’s say. To me it means like making things public that are private. Making invisible things into public issues, making visible secrets that empower some and disempower others who are not privy to the information.
– So I think that part of being a critical anthropologist is getting to the underside of things, the dimensions of social and political life that people cannot ordinarily see. In the end, I see the critical anthropologist, medical or cultural, as necessarily alienated, as politically situated class traitors, race traitors, national traitors and gender traitors. But lets leave that for another discussion.
Anthropologists should send a thank you to the Govenor of Florida, Rick Scott, who a few days ago in a radio show said “We don’t need anthropologists in the state”.
We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job.
What an unique opportunity to promote anthropology!
Daniel Lende at Neuroanthropology gives you an all-inclusive overview over the reactions to this attack on anthropology and the social sciences.
Anthropologists love talking about themselves and the importance of their discipline, so Lende’s list is long.
Personally, I think the students at the University of South Florida gave the most powerful response. They put a slide show together with short portraits of anthropologists and their work and put in online at prezi.
“This is absolutely a brilliant presentation. The American Anthropological Association should use it as a model for communication, education and lobbying”, commented Jonathan Hass, and it’s difficult to disagree with him.
Even anthropologists will be impressed and maybe also surprised about how diverse their discipline is - and how “relevant” and “useful” from the perspective of state bureaucrats.
Their presentation is still in the making, more and more slides are being added.
Two years ago, Canadian anthropology student Dai Cooper became a YouTube star with another innovative introduction to anthropology. She explained anthropology in her anthropology song
(preliminary notes, still in progress, last updated 16.10., 00:30 ) As everybody else, I am trying to make sense of Sunday night’s outbreak of violence in Cairo. While I was - unsuspectingly - walking through the streets of Cairo, trying to find the pasta stand I stumbled upon a week ago, the military was massacring protesters less than ten minutes by foot away from me at the Maspero State-TV building. At least 27 people were killed, more than 300 were wounded during a protest against religious discrimination and a recent destruction of a church in Upper Egypt.Army vehicles run over protesters
It is both interesting and disturbing to see how the event has been covered by international mainstream media in comparison to local and social media.
International media has framed the clashes mainly as a religious conflict while they also could have chosen a totally different perspective: instead of “Muslims against Christians”, they could have chosen “the army against the people”. They could have described the clashes as conflict between forces who support the pro-democracy revolution (the people) and those that rather oppose it (the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, SCAF), as a conflict more of power than of religion.
UPDATE:“The atrocious killings in Maspero are not so much sectarian as a staging point in a full-scale counterrevolution“, writes sociologist Mona Abaza in Ahram Online
UPDATE: This sectarian language in Western media is, as Paul Sedra explains on Jadaliyya, not only inappropriate but dangerous.
As several local commentators stated, the protesters who were attacked by the military were not exclusively Christians.
Many Muslims joined the clashes, and fought against the army and police. At one point a Muslim cleric carried a cross over the 6 October Bridge, leading Coptic protesters in marching on Maspero [the TV-building].
The demonstrators chanted repeatedly: “Muslims, Christians.. One hand!” and denounced Mubarak’s minister of defence, who is controlling the country now - Field Marshal Tantawi.
El-Hamalawy sees the current attacks on the Copts as an “attempt by the ruling military generals to split the ranks of the Egyptian poor and pit them against one another”. The presence of Muslim protesters alongside Copts are according to him “a hopeful sign”.
Al-Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros has made similar observations:
“There were people on the streets from all different sectors of society. Copts, Muslims, other Christians, secularists, even Salafists. ”What united them was not anything to do with sectarian issues or demands but actually a frustration directed at the army for what they feel is the army’s betrayel of the revolution."
Social justice for all, including religious minorities, was one of the demands of the january revolution.
Omar Tarek, an activist and journalist, was one of the Muslim protesters. Around 300 Muslim and Coptic protesters were gathered at state TV-building Maspero, holding candles, chanting and calling for unity according to Daily News Egypt .
Omar Tarek told the newspaper that the Coptic cause is the same as the Muslim cause.
You can’t demolish a house of worship. (…) I am here as an Egyptian, supporting an Egyptian cause.
Headlines like BBC’s Copts mourn victims of Cairo unrest suggest that Muslims or secularists don’t care which is not true. Many muslims joined the Copts at funerals.
Amira Abdel Hamid was one them. He said to Daily News Egypt:
I am here supporting the families of the martyrs and I was hoping that a lot of Muslims would make it to show the whole world that it is not sectarian strife, but an army against its people.
During their march from the Coptic Hospital to the largest Coptic cathedral in Cairo, protesters chant, “Muslims and Christians are one hand!”, reports newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. And: “Down with military rule!” “This is not a sectarian conflict, this is a military massacre.”
Ahram Online writes about the funeral for Mina Daniel, a young Christian revolutionary “who never forgot the importance of Muslim-Christian unity”:
A Muslim girl who came to support her Christian friend after her brother was killed during the battles Sunday night. Photo: Lilian Wagdy, flickr
Hundreds of Egyptians who had never met Mina Daniel – or, in many cases, had even heard of him before his death – attended the young man’s funeral, chanting, “We are all Mina Daniel.” (…)
Following the funeral, hundreds of mourners, including both Christians and Muslims, solemnly headed to Tahrir Square bearing Mina’s coffin.
There is no doubt that Reuters and others are right when they write that Copts are discriminated. Even tourists like me are realising that the Muslim-Christian relationship is a sensitive issue. But the news agencies neglect to mention that many conflicts have been initiated and provoked by the regimes in power (“Divide and rule”).
Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor at Reuters, for example went so far to claim the following:
The clashes, in which Christians say they were fired on and charged down by armored vehicles, highlighted an irony of the Arab Spring that the region’s dictatorships may have been better guardians of minorities than budding democracies.
But in Egypt, many believe the recent clashes are a result of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s policies, which nurtured sectarian strife, writes Heba Fahmy in Daily News Egypt.
As Omnia Al Desoukie stresses in another Daily News Egypt article::
While many are quick to point out the marginalization of Egypt’s Copts, less are inclined to label the country as a sectarian state.
Many observers have said that these underlying issues are often manipulated by authorities seeking to cling to power, an accusation often leveled against the Mubarak regime. Incidents such as Sunday night’s events are usually followed by widespread calls for national unity and shows of solidarity between Muslims and Christians.
“We now know a previous massacre, the bombing of the Church of the Two Martyrs in Alexandria in December, in which 21 were killed, was the work of Mubarak’s ministry of the interior”, explains Egyptian short story writer Ahdaf Soueif in the Guardian.
It was beyond sickening that a government would kill its citizens in an attempt to turn them against each other – and Muslims flocked to stand with their Christian friends at Christmas mass.
The attack on Egyptian Christians last Sunday “was not sectarian”, she writes, “this was the army murdering citizens.”
So instead of accompanying their articles with background information about Christians in the Middle East (BBC) or Christians under siege in post-revolution Egypt (AP / ABC News), international media could have chosen to highlight the role of the military generals in Egypt as for example CBS’ 60 minutes did. As bonus track one could add a feature about the role of the West, especially the U.S. as sponsor.
Here, the media, especially state media, seems to play a crucial role.
Zeinab El Gundy writes in Ahram Online:
A number of critics say that Egyptian state television not only failed to help resolve the crisis, but actually played a role in aggravating the already-tense situation.
In an unprecedented move, broadcasters on state television at one point called on the Egyptian public to head to Maspero en masse to defend Egyptian soldiers from angry Christian protesters, thereby further fuelling the sectarian flare-up.
On top of this, Issandr El Amrani writes at the Arabist, the military cut off the live TV feeds of several satellite TV stations, including Al Jazeera.
Some more observations at the end
Foreign media relied largely on accounts by the large international news agencies like Reuters and ap. Few journalists bothered to launche their web browser and do some research on their own. Egypt has an impressively large English language blogger og twitter scene, but only few of their accounts make it into mainstream news. One of them who took a look - Robert Mackey from the New York Times had to conclude “Social Media Accounts of Violence in Cairo Challenge Official Narrative“
International media treated Egyptian state and military officials as trustworthy sources. Manar Ammar from the Egyptian news site BikyaMasr had to conclude that "international media outlets largely reported on Sunday night Cairo what state television was reporting.
At the end of this already too long post, I’d especially like to recommend the analysis The Last Choice by Mahmoud Salem aka Sandmonkey, one of Egypts best English language bloggers I’ve read so far. He not only analyses the massacre but also discusses possible local and global consequences. Sandmonkey is ending optimistically with an account from the Sunday night clashes:
After engaging in a street brawl where not a single person could tell who is with who or against who, they stopped a started chanting. One team started chanting “The People and the Army are one hand” and the others started chanting “Muslims and Christians are one hand”, thus providing us with the choices that we as Egyptians were told to make yesterday.
And then, strangely, both sides at the same time changed their chants to “One hand”, and both sides started chanting that fiercely, stopped fighting each other, and joined each other into one big marsh chanting “One hand, One hand”, and thus showing us that they made the right choice. They were presented with the choice between the Army and National Unity, and they refused to make that choice and collectively and organically made the only correct choice: Each Other. Egypt.
In the midst of the battle, they realized on a very basic level that they can’t chose one over the other, and that, even if they have prejudices, they really do not want to fight each other. There is a lesson in that incident for all of us, and it may just hold the key to our salvation.
“What was schemed as sectarian vandalism and a plot against the unity of Egyptians", writes Nermeen Edrees on Global Voices, has turned out to be “a unifying force and a concrete wall to prove that what happened on the night of Black Sunday in Egypt is a Governor versus People clash rather than Christian versus Muslim one.” She quotes Sandmonkey’s tweet: “Don’t say the army killed Christians. Say the army killed Egyptians.”
Hanna Yousef posted a picture with two grieving mothers, one Christian, the other Muslim, supporting each other and writes:
I am so angry. I can’t get over it. How dare they? I mean the shooting, the snipers, the crushing by tanks, the torture and the horrible ugly abject poverty are already too much to handle, and now I am supposed to hate Copts? Now, I am supposed to define them as the other. the other who is different than me, the other I should protect myself against? Well, I won’t. I refuse. (…) The God I believe in doesn’t like fascists.
Today, Friday, people chant for Christian-Muslim unit at Tahrir Square and after the Friday prayers, a march is taking place from Al-Azhar Mosque to the Abbassiya Cathedral where the funerals for Sunday’s victims were held.
SEE ALSO:The dubious behaviour of Western researchers sightseeing the “Arab Spring”
Egyptian sociologist Mona Abaza has written an interesting article about “growing inequalities” between researchers from the Middle East and the West.
“While the Arab Spring has enhanced global interest in the Arab world, local academics have often been reduced to service providers for Western ”experts“ who jet in and jet out”, she writes in the Egyptian news site Ahram Online.
Many belonging to our scientific community have recently felt somehow “misused” through being overwhelmed by Western tourist-revolutionary academics in search of “authentic” Tahrir revolutionaries, needing “service providers” for research assistants, for translating, and newspaper summaries, for first hand testimonies, and time and again as providers of experts and young representatives for forthcoming abounding conferences on the Arab Spring in the West.
These Western experts “typically make out of no more than a week’s stay in Cairo, a few shots and a tour around Tahrir, the ticket to tag themselves with the legitimacy and expertise of first hand knowledge":
Many overnight Middle East experts show a remarkable tendency to pursue sensational and market-driven topics and readily switch interest as the market forces fluctuate. One day they are self-proclaimed experts on “political Islam” or “Islam and gender” and another, they are authority on “the Arab Spring” and “pro-democracy revolutions”. This superficial and business-oriented handling of crucial developments and changes in the area affects how the peoples of the region are perceived and how policies are shaped in the West.
She adds that “there is nothing wrong with providing services, had the relationship been equal, which was unfortunately never the case":
Without sounding xenophobic, which is a growing concern that personally worries me more than ever, there is much to say about the ongoing international academic division of labour whereby the divide between the so called “theoreticians” of the North and the “informants” who are also “objects of study” in the South continues to grow.
There’s still a lot of orientalism in sociological textbooks as Malaysian sociologist S Farid Alatas pointed out, Abaza stresses:
Namely, that European thinkers remain pervasively as the “knowing subjects” whereas non-Europeans continue to be the “objects of observations and analyses of European theorists”.
Unless these issues are not brought up on the table of research agendas I am afraid that much will be said in the name of the revolution while perpetrating the same inequalities and Orientalist attitudes that are mostly felt in the job market, and in evaluating “whose knowledge counts more” in academe.
PS: “Service providers” is a term she borrowed from her colleague, political scientist Emad Shahin
UPDATE: Interesting comment by a reader at Ahram Online:
Thank you Mona Abaza for having the courage to speak on behalf of local academics like yourself and journalists as well who are expected to offer their insight, information, years of hard work with the western tsunami that’s bombarding them (us). I’m personally sick and tired of having to do their homework for them. Where where they before the revolution and why do I have to give them my ideas?
Her article about this dubious academic tourism was also published in the magazine Jadaliyya. A Egyptian-American researcher writes she has “mixed feelings about this article” and notes among others:
Judith Orr, a British leftist academic said earlier this year that the Egy revolution is a monumental historic event that will be studied for generations. So whatever difficulties in the relationship with Western academics exist, they will need to be worked out somehow. Or maybe not.
UPDATE 2 (30.9.11): “The frustrations expressed by Mona Abaza and her colleagues in Egypt are also shared by a good number of scholars from the region who currently live and teach in Western universities” according to a commenter on Ahram Online
Great comment by Kevin at the Arabist blog. Kevin, a “(white) PhD candidate in History at the University of Michigan working on modern Iraq, suggests the following to American/European academics working on the Middle East:
(1) Reject the practice of organizing your bibliography around the three categories of archival sources, Arabic/Persian/Turkish sources, and secondary sources in European languages. Arabic sources should not all be lumped together - the primary sources of Arab ’subjects’ should be listed alongside those of European subjects and the secondary/theoretical writing of Arabs should be listed alongside that of Europeans and Americans, not in its own special category.
(2) Take Arabs seriously as not only ‘informants’ but also ‘theoreticians.’ As Chakrabarty said, Indians feel compelled to site the authority of Western theorists (Marx, Gramsci, etc.) while Westerners writing on India never feel the need to site Indians AS theorists. For my part, I’ve learned a great deal by seriously reading the work of Iraqi historians and thinking about what their insights can add to the historiography in English and French. (I’ve been particularly struck by the significance of poetry as an historical source and the poet as an historical agent - something totally elided by white men and women.)
Another commenter linked to a text on academic freeloaders that was posted on the Arabist blog four years ago.
What expertise I have was won by extended research in the country over time–but I’ve not been back since 2010. Yet because my book (set in pre-revolution times) just came out, and because I maintain a blog in which I speculate on what’s going on in Egypt, the media contacts me and asks me to pontificate as an expert. It’s one thing when it’s local news media–many companies are trying to survive by “localizing” even the international news–but just this week I was contacted by a European journalist stationed IN CAIRO calling me to speak as an “expert.” I did redirect her to AUC [American University in Cairo] and to a colleague at Cairo University, but clearly many in the media privileges our academic affiliations in North America above people with greater immediate expertise in the region.’
UPDATE 4 (3.10.11): David Judson comments on Abaza from a Turkish journalism perspective in the Hürriyet Daily News: Citing the sightseers ogling the Arab Spring
Similar points about inequalities can be made about anthropology. As Brazilian antropologist Gustavo Lins Ribeiro pointed out six years ago:
Globalisation in anthropology has mirrored unequal relations existing within larger structural processes. Theory, for instance, has flown from metropolitan centers to non-metropolitan centers while the flow of “raw data” makes the opposite movement.
In order to trancend ethnocentrism and orientalism, he and several others edited the the book World Anthropologies. Disciplinary Transformations within Systems of Power .
Kenyan anthropologist Mwenda Ntarangwi discusses similar questions in his book Reversed Gaze. An African Ethnography of American Anthropology.