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  17:51:26, by admin   . Categories: politics, Northern America

"Similar to the Third World debt crisis" - David Graeber on 'Occupy Wall Street'

(UPDATE:) David Graeber: Occupy Wall Street rediscovers the radical imagination (Guardian 25.9.2011)

While the Guardian is sending an anthropologist on fieldwork among bankers to give us insight in the destructive culture of finance, thousands of people in New York are occupying the Wall Street, “the financial Gomorrah of America” and “greatest corrupter of our democracy”.

Inspired by the massive public protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Madrid’s Puerta del Sol Square, hundreds have slept outside near Wall Street for the past three nights. The campaign “Occupy Wall Street” began on Saturday when thousands gathered in New York City’s Financial District.

As Egyptian researcher Maha Abdelrahman said a few months ago, we might be witness to a global revolutionary movement against neoliberalism.

Most protesters are under 30, and “over-educated and under-employed” according to the Guardian.

“We have a president who tells us to do the right thing, to go to school, to get a better life, but I’m not getting a better life. I am a new college graduate and I have $50,000 of college debt built up while studying business management at Berkeley. I can’t find a job to pay it off”, says one of them, 26 year old Romeo.

“Who is here? Young people and students with college debts. They want to talk to the people who took away their future”, explains anthropologist David Graeber who is one of the protesters.

Graeber has just a few weeks ago published his new book Debt: The First 5,000 Years where he highlights the exploitative nature of debts and “virtual credits”. According to a review in the Financial Times by anthropologist Gilian Tett:

Graeber insists that debt is intrinsically linked to power, since credit can be used to exploit or control people. And the power is doubly effective, he adds, because debt is so overlaid with moral context. There is no better way to justify unequal power relations than “by reframing them in the language of debt … because it immediately makes it seem that it’s the victim which is doing something wrong”

In an interview with Democracy Now Graeber compares the current economic crisis in Europe and the U.S. with the so-called Third World debt crisis.

The austerity regimes that are being imposed now on Europe and on America are remarkably similar to what happened—you know, what used to be called the Third World debt crisis. First you declare a financial debt—a financial crisis. You bring in these people who are supposedly neutral technocrats, who are in fact enforcing this extreme neoliberal ideology. You bypass all democratic accountability and impose things that no one ever possibly have agreed to. It’s the same thing.

And one reason it’s happening to us now is that there was really successful mobilization around the world against those policies. In a lot of ways, the global justice movement was successful. The IMF was kicked out of East Asia. It was kicked out of Latin America. And now it’s come home to us.

After quick googling it seems that American mainstream media covers the protest mainly as a police story with focus on arrests, see New York Times or CBS or Business Week.

So we have to turn to Russia Today: Occupy Wall Street – America’s own Arab Spring? or the Guardian: Wall Street protesters: over-educated, under-employed and angry and The call to occupy Wall Street resonates around the world.

Or of course to alternative media and the official website of the campaign https://occupywallst.org/

For more information on Graebers new book see his essay Debt: The first five thousand years (Mute/Eurozine) or an interview with David graeber: Debt’s history, implications, and critical perspective (No Borders) and Debt Came Before Money: An Interview with Economic Anthropologist David Graeber (Naked Capitalism)


“Egyptian activists are lending their support to a planned protest in Washington, DC, which US activists hope will become an open-ended sit in modeled on the Tahrir Square protests that helped bring down former President Hosni Mubarak", according to the newpaper Al-Masry Al_Youm:

The demonstration, which is being organized under the banner “human needs not corporate greed,” will be held on 6 October, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the start of the US occupation of Afghanistan and as the recently passed US budget takes effect.

Egyptian activists plan to hold a concurrent protest in Tahrir Square.


Financial crisis: Anthropologists lead mass demonstration against G20 summit

UK Riots: Let's talk about class and oppressive states

From Tahrir to Israel: "Protest movements inspire greater human understanding"

How anthropologists should react to the financial crisis

Anthropologist uncovers how global elites undermine democracy

Saba Mahmood: Democracy is not enough - Anthropologists on the Arab revolution part II

Thesis: Neoliberal policies, urban segregation and the Egyptian revolution

– Use Anthropology to Build A Human Economy

  14:17:44, by admin   . Categories: politics, culture traditions, Europe

Guardian sends anthropologist on fieldwork among bankers in London

Can you make a complex subject like the world of finance accessible to outsiders? What about sending an anthropologist into the world of bankers in London’s financial district and let him blog his findings?

That’s the new project of the Guardian. They have engaged Dutch anthropologist Joris Luyendijk who has also a background as a journalist (perfect combination) to start an anthropological banking blog.

It’s a project in the spirit of public anthropology and anthropology 2.0 - at least in theory.

The anthropologist explains in his introductory post:

When I started interviewing financial workers this summer, I knew as little as the average Guardian reader. So I plan to start at the beginning. Every interview will be posted on the web, with comment threads open to let other outsiders to ask questions and, who knows, to let insiders to elaborate on the material. Over time I hope to build an intellectual candy shop full of interesting stuff about the world of finance, stuff that will then help you as a reader make better sense of the news.

It is important for outsiders to learn more about this sector, he stresses:

Finance directly affects everyone’s interests, but many have a hard time maintaining their interest in it. But as the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the following three years have shown, the financial world is too important to leave to the bankers – in fact in some countries democracy is beginning to look like the system by which electorates decide which politician gets to implement what the markets dictate.

The people in this very powerful sector are worth learning more about. And the good news is, when you listen to them in their own words, that can actually be pretty entertaining. And humanising.

But how anthropological are portraits of bankers? And does “humanising” mean depoliticising or even legitimizing their actions? Do we get a better understanding of the political economy of finance?

So far he has posted around ten portraits of financial workers, no analysis so far. The project has just started.

What I find striking: The financial workers don’t reflect about the consequences of their work. They seem to be obsessed with pleasing their clients, in making their clients more successful and richer.

You’ll find critical reflections in the comment sections only - like here

..and to generate wealth you have to generate poverty. Success?

It might sound as if anthropological studies of bankers are something extraordinary. No longer. There has been surprisingly much interest among anthropologists for the world of finance. Karen Ho for example has been on fieldwork in the Wall Street: Anthropologist Explores Wall Street Culture. Another anthropologist, Gillian Tett, who works in the Financial Times, explained three years ago that she used anthropology to predict the financial crisis and that it’s important to understand the tribal nature of banking culture.

See also How anthropologists should react to the financial crisis and – Use Anthropology to Build A Human Economy. Check also David Graeber’s comments on the current Occupy Wall Street Protests


New Open Access Journal: Nordic Journal of Migration Research

While George Monbiot is right when he is attacking the academic publishing industry, it is important not to forget the positive developments.

More and more journals go open access. A few days ago, the first issue of the Nordic Journal of Migration Research was launched.

It is a continuation of two well known journals, the Norwegian Journal of Migration Research (paper only) and the online Finnish Journal of Ethnicity and Migration. These journals chose to close down their independent activities in favour of this larger international venture that gives free access to all their articles.

Nordic Journal of Migration Research will publish three or four issues per year. It is peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary, and focuses on migration theory and analyses of migratory processes, integration policies and intercultural relations. The journal prioritizes Nordic issues, but in a global perspective, and therefore also welcomes comparative studies in Nordic and non-Nordic countries.

Here is an overview over the first issue:

On the Birth and Profile of the Nordic Journal of Migration Research (Ulf Hedetoft and Hakan G. Sicakkan)

The Ethics of Immigration Policy (Nils Holtug)

Migrants in the Scandinavian Welfare State. The emergence of a social policy problem (Grete Brochmann and Anniken Hagelund)

The Multilingual City. The cases of Helsinki and Barcelona (Peter A. Kraus)

Stationarity and Non-Stationarity in Immigrant Problem Discourse. The politics of migrant youth (Yngve Lithman)

Book reviews (including a review of Paradoxes of Cultural Recognition: Perspectives from Northern Europe edited by Sharam Alghasi, Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Halleh Ghorashi

See also an overview over anthropology open access journals

"Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist": A call for action

Who are the most ruthless capitalists in the western world? The banks? Oil companies? No, academic publishers! In an article in the Guardian, George Monbiot explains why academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist.

The need for open access publishing has been one of the most debated topics in the anthropological blogosphere. Monbiot has done a great job in transfering the debate into the general public. He shows that the current models represent a democratic problem:

Everyone claims to agree that people should be encouraged to understand science and other academic research. Without current knowledge, we cannot make coherent democratic decisions. But the publishers have slapped a padlock and a “keep out” sign on the gates.

You might resent Murdoch’s paywall policy, in which he charges £1 for 24 hours of access to the Times and Sunday Times. But at least in that period you can read and download as many articles as you like. Reading a single article published by one of Elsevier’s journals will cost you $31.50. Springer charges €34.95, Wiley-Blackwell, $42. Read 10 and you pay 10 times. And the journals retain perpetual copyright. You want to read a letter printed in 1981? That’ll be $31.50.

Murdoch pays his journalists and editors, and his companies generate much of the content they use. But the academic publishers get their articles, their peer reviewing (vetting by other researchers) and even much of their editing for free. The material they publish was commissioned and funded not by them but by us, through government research grants and academic stipends. But to see it, we must pay again, and through the nose.

What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning.

Monbiot’s piece has received lots of attention, the reactions have been mostly positive, including over at Savage Minds.

Some researchers call for action.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes calls for civil disobedience:

What, if anything, can we do about the tyranny of academic publishers? Here’s an obvious suggestion: so far I’ve been very ‘obedient’ and have never put final versions of my papers online (It’s always the pre-print version, uncorrected proofs etc.), as required by the copyright transfer agreement. But now I’m thinking that that’s not the way to go; and if we all start putting final versions of our papers online, what are they going to do? Are they going to sue everybody, install a special department just to keep track of who has been posting ‘their’ valuable papers online for free?

Moreover, open access journals should receive all our support. Especially established academics who do not need to ‘score points’ with ‘fancy’ publications would do well to contribute to open access journals so as to increase their reputation. If we all do it consistently, the day will come when publishing in a highly regarded open access journal will give you more ‘points’ than publishing in one of the overpriced journals published commercially.

We need a call to arms", Martin Paul Eve writes on the phd2published blog:

Monbiot’s article has served as an excellent wake-up call to researchers, but an alarm clock is not what is needed. We need a call to arms. Researchers: get yourself a copy of Open Journal Systems installed. Get your journal set up and ask your library for support! This game has gone on too long and only through action can the system ever be changed.

Maybe more easily said than done? On his personal blog he explains why he still publishes in closed journals:

I am not a tenured professor. If I had academic job security, I could afford to publish purely in open access destinations, preferably Gold, Libre. As it is, I am still at the mercy of the metrics and systems that make publishing in closed venues a requisite for obtaining long term employment. Academic freedom is the freedom to hold a view; it does not extend to implementing the view. However, those who can afford to do so, should.

Immanent critique has value. The people who solely value closed-source journals (who I would argue are unaware of the constraints they place upon themselves through such behaviour) undoubtedly perceive OA publications as being of less worth. By publishing critiques of the system they value, within a framework valued by that system, the message can be heard in places it would not otherwise reach, avoiding the “fringe looney” accusation.

By the way, at the UK Scholarly Group conference next year – the biggest gathering of librarians and academic publishers - he will argue for that we don’t need academic publishers!

Open access anthropology needs a civil service, a staff, a personnel, argues Alex Golub at Savage Minds. “Serious institutionalization is a necessary next step for the movement.”

Jon Butterworth points to a different culture of publishing in particle physics:

In particle physics, everything worth reading is posted on the arXiv server, which is why I am able to link original articles from my blogs and you are able to read them free. No one I know would consider publishing in a journal which didn’t allow this.

The Guardian has collected some comments on Monbiot’s pice in a follow up post.

Christoph Stueckelberger and Dr Stephen Brown add an important aspect Monbiot didn’t mention:

If subscriptions to academic journals in Britain consume 65% of library budgets, and three giant commercial publishers from Europe and the US control 42% of scientific journals, imagine what this means for libraries and institutions in developing countries. Not only can it be prohibitively expensive to gain access to the results of research but such practices also accentuate a “knowledge divide” between the global north and south.

Addressing such a divide was one of the reasons for the Geneva-based Globethics.net Foundation setting up a digital library on ethics, which has more than 750,000 full-text articles and books available free of charge. Such initiatives offer a modest but determined attempt to redress the balance in global knowledge transfer. Fair publishing models by commercial publishers and open access efforts are needed to promote benefit sharing in knowledge production between north and south.

Strangely enough, the internet has worsened the situation, Patricia de Wolfe from London comments:

I am a member of the group Sociologists Outside Academia. Our major problem is access to materials. The advent of the internet has worsened the situation because many libraries subscribe to online versions of journals only. So whereas in the past a vacation ticket issued by a sympathetic librarian might enable you to catch up on your reading, it now does not because the relevant journals are not on the shelves, and nobody will give a visitor an electronic log-in. Anyone who is not a member of a university is excluded from academic debate.

While Jason Baird Jackson regards Monbiots piece as “a single article explaining much of what motivates me to work on reform in scholarly communications and academic publishing”, Kent Anderson on the blog by the Society for Scholary Publishing describes Monbiots article as uninformed, unhinged, and unfair.

Important to note: Much what is said here applies to the English speaking world only. In Brazil for example, and Portugal, a large degree of social science articles are available open access online.

As Maximilian Forte pointed out three years ago, innovations in the dissemination of anthropology are coming in large part from the so-called periphery, from the outside of the disciplinary centre of gravity.

See the antropologi.info overview of open access journals and repositories.

And don’t forget, it’s soon time for the global Open Access Week! (24.-30.10.2011)


Danah Boyd on Open Access: "Boycott locked-down journals"

Is it time to boycott SAGE?

Interview: Self-publish your thesis!

Anthropology and the challenges of sharing knowledge online: Interview with Owen Wiltshire

antropologi.info survey: Six anthropologists on Anthropology and Internet

Here they are: Open access anthropology books!

Democratic Publishing = Web + Paper

Open Access: New alliances threaten the American Anthropological Association

George Marcus: "Journals? Who cares?"

Book and papers online: Working towards a global community of anthropologists

  01:50:51, by admin   . Categories: politics, Us and Them, Africa, poverty, Middle East

The misconceptions of slum life

More and more people are living in slums. What can be done about it?

A few weeks ago I blogged about Safaa Marafi’s thesis about neoliberal policies, urban segregation and the Egyptian revolution. Now she has published a newspaper article that is a good example of public anthropology: Living in Slums … A Historic Dilemma that Needs to be Resolved!.

Here she explains one of the most important anthropological insights. If you work with people, you need to understand their point of view. In order to solve the problems of slum life one needs to listen to the voices of the people who live there.

Efforts to develop Egypt’s slums have been going on for several years, yet without tangible change. The key aspect that is missing in these projects is getting close to these people, understanding their priorities and way of life and meeting their expectations, she writes:

Understanding their culture, needs and way of life is essential to help provide them with the necessary resources they need, whether proper education, job, medical assistance. Moreover, do they need small shops, kiosks, or commercial areas?

From this stand point, I stress on the need to conduct serious research by social scientists to understand the culture of these people through one-to-one interviews and giving them the chance to express their needs and voice their concerns. Thus, this will assist in tackling the slumization phenomenon from its grass-roots.

>> read the whole article in Al-Masry Al-Youm

Anthropologists have stressed the importance of the “native’s point of view” in development projects for many years. Nevertheless, not only in Egypt, but also in Europe, people living in poorer neighborhoods are often stigmatized. Politicians and mainstream media tend to portray them as lazy and often criminal people that have to be “civilized”. So therefore, the poor are in policymakers’ view not worth to be listened to?

Marafi’s piece reminded me of some articles about slum life that have been published recently. All of them attack these misrepresentations.

One of them is the fascinating but sad story The life and death of Khanoufa: A personal account of Cairo’s “most dangerous thug”, written by Mohamed Elmeshad.

Egyptian police claim to have captured a man they called “Cairo’s most dangerous criminal”. Elmeshad questions these and gives us the perspective from his neighborhood where some of them see him as a victim of the system he was born into. A system where being associated with a slum area limits your opportunities in life.

“He turned out how he did because the police left him no other path in life,” Khaled, one of Khanoufa’s neighbors, said. At the age of 14, after participating in a neighborhood brawl, Khanoufa spent the first of a series of six-month stints in juvenile hall for youth misdemeanors. He became “marked” by police as someone they could pin crimes on or extort for money with the threat of imprisonment.

When his father, Abdel Shakour, passed away, Khanoufa’s family could no longer afford to pay-off the police, and he began spending more and more desperate nights in prison.

“That is when he turned to a life of crime. When he realized that he would be treated as a criminal for the rest of his life, no matter what. He reached a level of despair and said, ‘They’d take me in and put me in prison, regardless,’” Khaled said. He ended up spending half of his life in prison, from his teenage years until his death.

Mohamed Elmeshad has written another article from the same neighborhood (Ezbet Abu Qarn): Cairo’s poorest residents help the less fortunate in Somalia – a powerful story about cosmopolitanism from below.

A group of young men were moved by the images they saw in the media, and decided that the famine in Somalia must become a priority during Ramadan. Within four days, they were able to gather a large sum money among the poor people to the relief effort in Somalia.

“There are old widows who rely solely on charity to stay alive, who donated what I know is a really large amount for them,” said Sayed Kamal, one of the organizers.

“We don’t have people dying from hunger in our parts, but we do know poverty better than anyone else in Egypt, and we know about the fear of going hungry,” said Gamal Abdel Maqsood, a scrap metal dealer.

People in poor areas are no passive victims but do fight for their rights. In her story Popular committees bring true spirit of democracy to the streets, political scientist Rana Khazbak describes a campaign in another poor area in Cairo, Imbaba. Ehab Ali, a member in the popular committee in Imbaba, sounds like an anthropologist when he explains their campaign:

“We wanted to do field work in the streets among people. The piece of bread we eat every day is politics, the traffic congestion is politics, and the garbage in the streets is politics. That’s why in order to solve these problems and for Egypt to become a better place, we have to start from the bottom at the grassroots level.”

The popular committees were formed during the Januar revolution to protect neighborhoods when police withdrew from the streets in the midst of nationwide protests that toppled former President Mubarak.

Alia Mossallam, PhD student at the London School of Economics, explains in her article Popular committees continue the revolution:

Born out of a moment of chaos and fear, [the popular committes] proved themselves to be capable of self-organization in the days that followed. But most importantly, they proved to people that the end of “government” did not mean the end of the world.
In this surge of grassroots activism lie potential forms for popular governance. The committees not only teach us about the specific issues facing each neighborhood, but together they can teach us something about how political representation, accountability and local governance work on the ground.

Finally, just one week ago, Amnesty International has released a report about Egypt’s slums: ‘We are not dirt’: Forced evictions in Egypt’s informal settlements.


Slum research: "Anthropology needs to engage in an activist way"

Poverty and health policies: Listening to the poor in Bangladesh

Anthropologist calls for a greater appreciation of child labor

Urban anthropologist: "Recognize that people want to come to the big cities"

Owen Sichone: Poor African migrants no less cosmopolitan than anthropologists

Why social scientists failed to see the Egyptian revolution coming

Thesis: Neoliberal policies, urban segregation and the Egyptian revolution


Deadly migration: The ignored health crisis on the US-Mexican border

A multi-dimensional public health crisis is unfolding on the U.S.-Mexico border that few seem ready to acknowledge, anthropologists Rachel Stonecipher & Sarah Willen write on the Access Denied blog.

The complexity of this crisis came to light during a recent study tour to Tucson, Arizona, in which Rachel Stonecipher took part.

Dehydration and heat-related illness claim hundreds of lives annually, and many of these deaths go unrecorded. No uniform system exists to count or repatriate remains. “We can only imagine the impact of these missed opportunities for identification on family members searching for their loved ones”, Stonecipher and Willen write.

For migrants who do reach their destination but face subsequent arrest, “interception” itself can involve serious health risks:

What happens to migrants after they are arrested and detained often remains shrouded from both the public eye and, to a great extent, the eyes of the human rights community. This is a particularly grave concern when arrested individuals already are sick or injured. (…) One especially serious concern involves the deportation of injured individuals who have not yet been medically stabilized. (…)

Detainees are also at risk of abuse – physical and mental – at the hands of police and Border Patrol officers. Despite official denials, No More Deaths, the Border Action Network, and other NGOs have collected and responded to numerous reports of abuse.

Through water stations, humanitarian aid camps, and desert patrols, a handful of NGOs provide assistance to migrants in need. But this cross-border health crisis is “far too vast for activists to address alone”, the anthropologists note:

Both human rights principles and contemporary realities demand that we hold countries with porous borders – including but not only the U.S. – accountable. Not only must such countries recognize migration as an enduring global phenomenon with complex causes and share accountability for both lives and deaths, but they must also engage in transnational public health efforts to develop the kind of multi-layered interventions needed to protect human life in border regions. (…)

Like the humanitarian organizations that work along the border, we all must insist on an expansive understanding of “public health” that recognizes people in transit as members of a common moral community: as people who are connected to us, and whose lives matter. Whether or not we understand or agree with the choice to migrate, activists along the U.S.-Mexico border remind us that border crossers are human beings who – like all other members of our moral community – are deserving of health-related attention, investment, and care.

>> read the whole post at Access Denied


The "illegal" anthropologist: Shahram Khosravi’s Auto-Ethnography of Borders

"Human smugglers fight global apartheid"

No more conferences in Arizona: Anthropologists condemn Immigration Law

Why borders don’t help - An engaged anthropology of the US-Mexican border

Online: On the Margins - An Ethnography from the US-Mexican Border

Migration: Paperless underclass exposes dark side of Europe

"Ethnographic perspectives needed in discussion on public health care system"


Fighting stigma and police brutality with theater - Anthrofilm needs support

Pioneer anthropology blogger and one of the founders of Savage Minds, Kerim Friedman has together with Shashwati Talukdar made a film about young Chhara actors who are using theater to fight the stigma of criminality and police brutality.

The Chhara are one of 198 communities in India, whose grandparents were labeled “born criminals” by the British. The British labeled them criminals because they pursued a nomadic way of life. Although the British are long gone, the stigma still remains. They have become scapegoats and usual suspects for police. Youth find it very difficult to acquire and retain employment.

The film Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! has recently been selected to have its world premiere at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in October. The Independent listed BIFF (“Asia’s largest film festival”) as one of the top twelve film festivals of 2011.

The filmmakers’ goal is to have as many people see the film as possible. For a documentary film that means trying to get on TV. To make this possible, they need our help, Kerim Friedman writes on his blog:

That means having the best-quality exhibition master we can afford, attending the film festivals in person to meet with potential buyers, and even hiring a professional publicist and graphic designer to help promote the film. We can’t do any of this without your help.

For every level of donation they have some special rewards. For a donation of 35 USD, they offer a a special “Sneak Preview” of the film online (including a download link).

Their film is an example of “crowd-sourced filmmaking”. A significant portion of the film’s budget came from individual donations collected over the internet. People have also helped out in other ways: translating subtitles, recording music, designing the poster, etc. They also received some grants.

>> read more about the film and how to support it


Anthropological activism in Pakistan with lullabies

What anthropologists and artists have in common

How filmmaking is reviving shamanism

Book review: How the Ganges boatmen resist upper-caste and state domination

UK Riots: Let’s talk about class and oppressive states

  15:34:31, by admin   . Categories: politics, Us and Them, Europe, poverty

UK Riots: Let's talk about class and oppressive states

The notion that there is democracy in the West, while there is none in the “rest” might be one of the most powerful and dangerous myths of our time. In reality, democracy is a contested concept everywhere in the world, not only in Egypt or Tunesia, but also in Britain.

from Rap responds to the riots: ‘They have to take us seriously’ (Guardian 12.8.11)

Two months ago Maha Abdelrahman said on a conference in Cairo about the global context of the Egyptian revolution:

– What I think is happening is that people from Egypt, Tunesia, Russia, Greece, UK and many other countries are discovering that they are natural allies, engaged in a common purpose.

– We’re not in the middle of a revolution, but we might be in the midth of an important phase where revolutionary development on a global scale is taking place and the limits of the global neoliberal capitalism are being brought to light.

Darcus Howe, a 68-year-old West Indian writer, civil rights activist and resident of South London, told a shocked BBC anchor Fiona Armstrong in front of burnt down houses:

– I don’t call it rioting. I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it’s happening in Liverpool, it’s happening in Port-au-Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment.

Much is said and written about the riots in England. The discourse itself is highly interesting. The political establishment and its allies in mainstream media quickly dismissed the riots in England as a brainless, unpolitical, and criminal act by a “partly mentally disturbed underclass”. They treated the rioters and activists in an strikingly arrogant, patronizing and classist way. The BBC interview with rights activist Darcus Howe is a good example:

The BBC sounded in their coverage of the riots like Mubarak’s state television during the Egyptian revolution, says Egyptian blogger and activist Mostafa Hussein:

“BBC is making it sound like young people have a single aim and that’s to loot and vandalise. Nothing or very little on why they are doing so.”

These reactions show clearly what’s at stake in Britain, Joe Hoover and Meera Sabaratnam write in their post Reading violence- what’s political about the London riots. The reactions confirm the fact, that Britain is a hierarchical society where the rich oppress the poor:

This is a solid, deep form of alienation built up not overnight, or over the last two years in response to cuts (shame on you Ken Livingstone) but one which is built into the fabric of the broad political settlement of the last decades and reflected in the city’s divisions between rich and poor, between black, brown and white, between young and old.

The riots rest on a conviction not just that the barriers are there, but that they are solid walls, through which none will pass. The reactions to them as ‘mindless violence’ simply confirm this fact. It is not that people are rioting because they don’t have jobs, but because they must believe, ultimately, gloomily, grimly, that there is nothing for them in their future.

While the mass protests in Egypt and the rioting in England cannot be equated ("Egyptians and Tunisians took revenge for Khaled Said and Bouazizi by peacefully toppling their murdering regimes, not stealing DVD players.“not by stealing DVDs”, Mosa’ab Elshamy comments), the contexts in which they occurred are similar: growing inequalities due to neoliberal policies and an inceasingly oppressive state that does not care for its citizens.

SocProf from the Global Sociology blog writes:

So, whatever the initial reason for the uprising in Tottenham, it is clear that many of the countries where austerity policies are being imposed from above on the general population are facing socially explosive situations.(…)

SocProf lists examples from Israel, Chile, Greece, Spain and the “Arab Spring":

What we see is the global civil society rising up against what is clearly exposed as the alliance of the corporate sector (…) and Western governments (…).

In this process, the governments turn repressive against oppositional voices. Several examples (including from the UK) are provided that show how dissent is criminalised

The message is clear: dissent will not be tolerated as the whole anti-terror apparatus is used not against terrorists but against cyber-dissenters and protesters.

Why the riots are political - a good summary

As reaction to the riots, Cameron considers – in similar way as his friend Mubarak (source) earlier this year - to shut down social network sites like Facebook and Twitter and sms services as well for “those suspected of planning criminal acts”.

He talked like a dictator when he replied to criticism from rights groups: He will not let “phony concerns about human rights” get in the way of the “fight back” against the riots, he said. In the macrumors forum, he was called David “Mubarak” Cameron. It is no longer uncommon to equate the UK with (former) Middle East dicatorships. The story San Francisco Cops Jam Cell Phones to Prevent Protest is introduced this way: “It’s not just the London police and Middle East dictators who try to curb unrest by clamping down on communications networks.”

When we link the current riots in England with the so called Arab Spring, we would see other things than “midlessness” at stake, suggests sociologist Joost Van Loon on Space and Culture:

Suddenly, criminals would become legitimate protestors fighting against an oppressive state who have turned democracy into a puppet show.

Anthropologist Sean Carey criticizes the reactions of the politicians as well:

Mindlessness would create randomness, but the events unfolding are far from being random. Instead, I would argue that what we are witnessing is a significant symbolic statement about the way power – the power of life and death exercised by police officers as well as the power to consume – is arranged in British society.

The riots are said to have started with a protest against the controversial killing of Mark Duggan by the English police during an anti-gun crime operation. Yet no commentator links the incredible number of riots in different cities to that particular incident, notes anthropologist Gabriel Marranci.

And when somebody, as Darcus Howe in the mentioned BBC interview is trying to address this issue, he is cut off and silenced. “We cannot talk about this now. We don’t know what has happened. We have to wait for the police inquiry", the BBC news anchor said.

Al Jazeera gives an account of the events:

On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered outside the Tottenham police station, peacefully calling for “justice” for Mark Duggan, a man killed by officers three days prior. Police stood in formation, separating the community members from the station they were guarding, until a 16-year-old woman reportedly approached an officer to find out what was going on.

According to a witness account, some officers pushed the young woman and drew their batons. “And that’s when the people started to retaliate. Now I think in all circumstances, having seen that, most people retaliate,” said the witness.

Witness account

“When the rioters themselves are asked, they will say that they are abused by police, harassed by them, and nobody’s done a thing about it”, says Richard Seymour PhD candidate at the London School of Economics to Al Jazeera. There have been 333 deaths in police custody between 1998 and 2010 in Britain. Large, peaceful protests in response to these killings were more or less ignored, he said. Not a single officer has been prosecuted.

As a result, Duggan’s killing crossed a threshold for young people, angry with the systems that have left them behind, and tired of non-violent protest that goes without much response.

By the way, in an article in the Danish newspaper Information, Rune Lykkeberg reminds us on a book that was reviewed in all major English media only two months ago: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones. This book “exposes class hatred in modern Britain”, the reviewer in the Independent explains. “In the public domain of news and culture, within the arc of some 30 years, a once-proud working class has been residualised into a violent, degenerate, workless mob.”

Class and classism are under-researched topics in mainstream anthropology.

More riot-links:

Mapping the riots with poverty (Map by the Guardian 10.8.11)

From the Arab Spring to Liverpool? (Al Jazeera, 11.8.11)

London rioters resent media image of hooded teen thug (Reuters - Ahram Online 11.8.11)

Some thoughts on the London “riots”: Foucault’s genealogy of neoliberalism and “police as a public service” (Anthropoliteia: the anthropology of policing, 12.8.11)

Martha Nussbaum: Democracy at risk from emphasis on ‘useful machines (The Australian, 12.8.11)

Maia Green: News from the UK (Savage Minds, 10.8.11)

What’s Worse? Looting or Invading? (Robin Beste, Consortium News / Stop The War Coalition 15.8.11)


Anthropologist uncovers how global elites undermine democracy

Thesis: Neoliberal policies, urban segregation and the Egyptian revolution

Ethnographic study: Why the education system fails white working-class children

“A postcolonial urban apartheid": Two anthropologists on the riots in France

Riots in France and silent anthropologists

Criticizes “scholarly and political indifference toward the workers’ lives”

Ethnographic study of anti-corporate globalization movements

– Use Anthropology to Build A Human Economy

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