While Cairo’s slum areas are growing, the richest layer of the society is enjoying a luxury life in privately guarded communities in safe distance from the lower classes. Hosni Mubarak’s neoliberal dream of segregation seems to have come true. But during the Egyptian revolution some of the young people have started to tear down the walls of their gated communities.
Safaa Marafi from the American University in Cairo (AUC) tells us in her well-written anthropology thesis the story of the giant segregation projects of the Mubarak regime. She has conducted fieldwork in Al-Rehab, one of those gated communities constructed on desert land, where the middle- and upperclass isolate themselves, shop in luxury malls, use private door-to-door limousine services and send their children to private schools or universities.
It’s a thesis about how neoliberal policies threaten the cohesion of a society.
The development of gated communities was part of Egypts neoliberal policies under Mubarak. In the late 1990s, Egypt underwent a process of structural adjustment guided by international financial organizations (Worldbank, IMF etc), which led to further privatization and liberalization of the economy. The most visible outcome has been land speculation, Marafi expains:
This segregation began when the Egyptian Ministry of Housing sold massive amounts of desert land, situated at the margins of Cairo, to private corporations. Approximately 320 private corporations purchased portions of this land and planned projects for a potential 600 thousand housing units (Denis 2006:52). This expansion process resulted in the construction of numerous gated communities in the suburbs of greater Cairo.
The Neoliberal Dream of Segregation
The Mubarak-government and its “clique of businessmen” were driven by a “neoliberal dream of segregation” - a term coined by sociologist Mona Abaza:
The neoliberal dream of segregation can be defined as a political-economic agenda adopted by the Egyptian government, which fostered and supported rich local and foreign investors in building gated communities in Cairo‘s suburbs. By constructing these enclaves for the richest layer of Egyptian society, these development projects created a physical segregation in Cairo‘s urban fabric. This segregation is evidenced by the way the residents of these hinterlands are protected by private security systems, walls and/or fences, gates, and private security guards.
“Neoliberal policies”, Marafi writes, “have encouraged class-based urban segregation, leading to polarization in the urban fabric.” The adoption of neoliberal polices turned the state into a private territory, where wealth is monopolized by political elites and businessmen.
Moral panic towards the lower classes
This segregation is not only related to space but also related to the mind.
Living in this gated communities intensifies the mood of moral panic felt towards the other - people from lower classes. “This is”, the anthropologist explains, “because they believe that their community is labeled as a rich one and therefore may be a target of potential criminals. State and media contributed to the fear of the other. Not only the marketing campaigns of gated communities seek to convince potential buyers that outside of the gates, fences, and walls of these closed venues lies a dangerous world. The consequence is a “culture of fear”.
Many residents, especially in recent times, moved to Rehab for class and safety reasons. They wanted to isolate themselves from the other. But soon they had to realise that they cannot live without “the uncivilized others”. They are dependent on them. For who shall clean their houses, deliver food, and patrol the streets to protect them? The supposed enemy and security threat is living among them!
Culture of fear
The residents feel a need to apply extra security measures. Despite these measures taken by the participants, the private security department of Al-Rehab, and the public police, the participants‘ fears are not alleviated, Marafi writes.
Security cameras, intrusion alarms, extra secure locks, as well as guard-dogs, can all be observed in the community. In addition, there are some shops which sell extra-large security lamps to be attached onto the roofs of villas.
In many villas, the use of such lamps as security tools makes the villas look more like military buildings at night, rather than family residences.
In addition, surveillance real and fake cameras are among other security methods implemented by other participants. Fake cameras are sold in at least one of the most popular electronics shops in the souk of Al-Rehab.
Some residents don’t even trust the security guards. Nora is one of them. Private security, she points out, relies on guards, and as they are humans they might fall asleep while on the job. Moreover, Nora claims that there are some cases where private security guards collaborated with criminals.
The private security guards themselves are aware of the distrust felt by the residents. Security guard Hanafi tells about Sara:
Madam Sara drives every night and checks the kiosks of the security guards located around her villa. If she does not find a security guard in any of these kiosks, she takes a picture of the empty kiosk with her camera and sends the picture to the security department. The security department trusts her word over the security guards and punishes those guards who were not in their positions or patrol areas. Also, she reports to the security department if she finds any of the security guards falling asleep, and she also takes pictures of them as evidence.
Being protected creates a sense of superiority
The anthropologist has noticed that classist phrases are used frequently. Being protected by private security guards and systems creates a sense of superiority.
When for example Nora explains why she moved to Rehab, she stresses that she wanted her son to live in a “clean neighborhood” when he gets married. Mohandessin, where they lived previously, “became old-fashioned”, populated by lower classes and “polluted”. In Rehab, on the contrary, reside “clean people", their neighbors are “respectful” and “civilized people".
The prejudicial connotations of these elitist, classist notions of newness, civilization, cleanness and decency indicate a desire for urban segregation and a keeping of distance from “the other”: the dirty, polluted, and uncivilized.
Security measures are also used to show wealth and status (“conspicouos consumption”). Some of the residents design security bars using branded logos, such as Versace. Others paint their security bars in different colors, such as white, to differentiate themselves from others (“aesthetic security”).
It is obvious to see primarily the poor as victim of neoliberal policies. Safaa Marafi suggests a different view:
While slums are stigmatized by poverty, gated communities are labeled by their richness. It is not that one group should be victimized over the other, but they both ought to be understood as victims of the implementation of the neoliberal segregation policy.
Breaking the walls
But her thesis has a somehow “happy ending” (depending on your world view of course), caused by the 25th January Revolution.
While the political participation of the residents previously has been rather low and there was a “noticeable sense of detachment” from any involvement with earlier protest movements, things have been slowling changing:
In the beginning of this unexpected revolution, none of my participants showed interest in joining the peaceful protests. (…) Yet, as I learned, a few of Al-Rehab‘s youth are active agents in this revolution. The neoliberal segregation plays a role in detaching many, but not all, of the residents of Al-Rehab. The youth especially were the ones participating in the political sphere. (…) Optimistically, this tells us that some of the youth of Al-Rehab want to be part of the world outside their gated community.
Safaa Marafi sent me a video from the youth celebration in Rehab after the announcement of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak on 11th February 2011. “The quality is is not that good", she admits, “but its content is very important as it shows how the youth of the gated community are breaking the walls of their gated community and want to be part of the outside world".
Her thesis can be downloaded here on antropologi.info:
An earlier version is available at the digital archive of the AUC (DAR)
While politicians and social scientists have directed all their attention towards “islamist” terror groups, right-wing extremist milieus were able to grow unnoticed.
Memorial Art. Photo: Agnar Kaarbø, flickr
(draft / see update 31.7.11) Oslo like a war zone, nearly 100 people killed in the worst attack on Norway since World War II: How could this happen? Two days after the attack, the web is filled with comments and analyses. But I have to consult international media to find a discussion of the, I suppose, most important issue: Right-wing extremist and islamophobic attitudes have become mainstream, but nobody cares - neither politicians nor social scientists. Instead, all their attention is directed towards “islamistic” groups as the major threat to the West.
“Europeans have spent so much time and effort in banning veils, minarets and preventing the construction of mosques that they have forgotten their own native cancer”, writes anthropologist Gabriele Marranci on his blog.
“We can no longer ignore the far-right threat”, argues Matthew Goodwin in the Guardian. Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is “not a Norwegian oddity, but symptomatic of a growing culture of politically motivated violence across Europe”. It “is important to note that some of Breivik’s core concerns have also played a prominent role within Norwegian and European politics more generally.”
Nicolas Kulish provides us the details in his New York Times article:
Friday’s attacks were swiftly condemned by leaders from across the political spectrum in Europe. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was particularly sharp in speaking out against what she called an “appalling crime.” The sort of hatred that could fuel such an action, she said, went against “freedom, respect and the belief in peaceful coexistence.”
Yet some of the primary motivations cited by the suspect in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, are now mainstream issues. Mrs. Merkel, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain all recently declared an end to multiculturalism. (…) While the parties themselves generally do not condone violence, some experts say a climate of hatred in the political discourse has encouraged violent individuals.
Therefore it is somehow correct when Ahmed Moor writes at Al Jazeera that Breivik did not act alone. He “acted within a cultural and political context that legitimises his fearful and hate-infested worldview.”
In this context, it is not surprising that the first speculations about who might be responsible for the attack centered around muslims. When I watched the BBC few hours after the attack, islam was the main topic.
Gabriele Marranci has observed the same in Italy:
Immediately the newscasters told us that it may be an Al-Qaeda attack in revenge of Norway’s marginal role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the more recent Libyan air campaign. Islamic terrorism has hit Europe again. Immediately a flurry of comments about the high number of Muslims living in Oslo appeared – yet these were quickly substituted, upon confirmation that the culprit behind the bloodshed was a tall blonde man, with comments about the danger of ‘converts’.
Generally, the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘Christian’, he adds, are infrequently used together. Shooter is now the preferred word for Europeans committing terrorist actions as part of their political or religious beliefs.
“Tragic Day for Norway; Shameful Day for Journalism”, summarizes Shiva Balaghi in the magazine Jadaliyya. Among others, she mentions the New York Times that “let the story become one of Muslim terrorists wreaking the worst destruction on Norway since World War Two”:
As it turns out, the worst attack on Norway since Hitler’s invasion was actually carried out by a neo-Nazi. This attack was about Europe’s own ghosts.
The Colbert Report: Norwegian Muslish Gunman’s Islam-Esque Atrocity: CNN: - Nordic looking terrorist? Maybe it was a good disguise
If those journalists and analysts had been paying attention, they would not be surprised at all about this attack, writes Juan Cole:
Europol reports have long made it clear that the biggest threat of terrorism in Europe comes from separatist movements, then from the fringe left, then from the far right.
But, as it is noted on the blog Cultural Meanings, “the Islamophobic current in Europe and North America is so strong that it seems very difficult to swim against it.”
These views have also made it into academia. Two years ago I wrote about the Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation at the University in Aarhus, Denmark that views “Islamism” as “the primary enemy of the democratic world”.
Looking at the guide Terrorism: Anthropological Perspectives by Rutgers University Libraries shows similar bias. When they recommend “relevant subject headings” that you can use to find books on the topic “Terrorists Groups and Incidents”, then it is Al-Qaeda and Hamas.
The syllabus Anthropology 255: Terror and Violence in Anthropological Perspective at Washington and Lee University (Spring 2004 by Sascha L. Goluboff), while also providing examples from Ireland, deals mostly with Islam and the Middle East.
Far right extremism is a complex topic, as the case in Oslo shows. Breivik was “far from what we might term a traditional rightwing extremist”, Matthew Goodwin writes. Within the Far Right, the researcher has observed broader changes:
Rather than oppose immigration and Islam on racial grounds (an argument that would attract little support), the emphasis shifts on to the more socially acceptable issue of culture: Muslims are not biologically inferior, but they are culturally incompatible, so the argument goes. The aim is to open modern far right groups up to a wider audience.
As I also noticed during a public debate with racists in Oslo, the belief that they are engaged in a battle for racial or cultural survival is quite common.
“It is not simply about jobs or social housing”, Goodwin stresses. It is a profound sense of concern that a set of values, way of life and wider community are under threat, and that only the most radical forms of action can remove this threat.
In his manifesto that was put online before his attack, Breivik also calls for suicidal operations in service of the larger cause. He claims to be a follower of the Knights Templar - a medieval Christian organisation involved in the Crusades, and sometimes revered by white supremacists.
The Labor Party (Arbeiderpartiet), is the main target for this war, as it is commonly seen by these ”antiislamists” as ”worse than the Quslingparty in the WW2″ according to Torbjörn Jerlerup who presents Breiviks worldview in his text Antiislamists with World War Two rethoric and iconography.
I’ll close this post with wise words by Wilfred Hildonen who on his blog writes:
It is about time to realise that to be born and to have grown up within a certain geographical area, do not bestow us with a certain kind of personality; that being human is something universal, which implies that all of us carry both heaven and hell within and that we all are capable of inconceivable evil at the same time as we can show up an incredible degree of compassion and kindness. It doesn’t matter whether we are Muslims or Christians, Jews or French or Greek, Somalis or Norwegians.
He reminds us on the possibly explosive power of words:
Some of us will perhaps have to realise that we too, are responsible for our thoughts, our words and our attitudes. These form the basis for the deeds of the future - evil deeds included. Most of us will perhaps not be influenced, but someone, somewhere, will be. Words, thoughts and attitudes carry an explosive energy within and should therefore be treated with consideration. We should consider what we do think and say and our attitudes as well. Not because we shall be political correct, but because what we say and think today, may have unexpected consequences tomorrow.
(to be continued)
UPDATE 26.7.11 (via Erkan Saka’s round-up) Thomas Hylland Eriksen has written an in my view rather depressing (others might say a rather realistic) comment at OpenDemocracy: Norway’s tragedy: contexts and consequences. “The first consequence and the main message to Norwegian society is thus that citizens can never again be or feel entirely safe”, he argues. “We doubtless woke on Saturday morning to a slightly more paranoid, slightly less pleasant society. A society where we have become aware of our fundamental vulnerability.”
He also wrote a text for the Guardian Anders Behring Breivik: Tunnel vision in an online world and the New York Times (together with Jostein Gaarder) A Blogosphere of Bigots where he highlights the role of the role of the internet in fragmenting the public sphere. Norway’s extremists don’t tend to gather in visible ‘rightwing groups’. But online, he writes, they settle into a subculture of resentment:
Perhaps one lesson from this weekend of shock and disbelief may be that cultural pluralism is not necessarily a threat to national cohesion, but that the tunnel vision resulting from selective perusal of the internet is.
UPDATE 31.7.2011: Many new comments by anthropologists have appeared, see new post “How can I contribute to a better world?” Anthropologists on the Oslo terror attacks - an update
Michael Wesch and his Digital Ethnography Research Team of 2011 has released Visions of Students Today: an exciting “video collage” about student life created by students themselves.
The collage consists of a large number of vidoes that can be watched seperately by clicking directly on the thumbnails (or on YouTube). Each of the students has been working for months to put together their own vision.
Striking: Several students criticize the current education system… (here the video by Derek Schneweis)
and call for a change (video by Haley Marceau)
One of the aims of the project is to enhance the students and the public’s media literacy in the digital age and to prevent that “many of the basic freedoms we have become accustomed to” as for example net neutrality", sharing and mixing (…) may be stripped away without the public even noticing".
Mass media and intellectuals have typically portrayed them as aggressive, uneducated, and morally spoiled. In his recent book, anthropologist David A. Kideckel challenges these views and lets the Romanian working class speak for themselves.
“Most east and southeast European scholars tend to avoid labor and workers in postsocialist science, a topic that Kideckel embraces", writes Simona C. Wersching in her review in the Monthly Review.
Kideckel points out the scholarly and political indifference toward the workers’ lives, their physical states, and embodied perceptions. Workers are only visible when they appear threatening and protest.
In Getting By in Postsocialist Romania. Labor, the Body, and Working-Class Culture, he provides according to Wersching “refreshing perspectives” about life coping strategies of two distinct working-class groups in Romania, the miners of the Jiu Valley and the industrial workers of the Nitramonia factory in Făgăraş/Transylvania:
Kideckel’s contribution pays particular attention to workers’ words and thoughts about themselves, their work, their families, their societies, their fears, and their dreams, and highlights the diverse legal and illegal practices of “getting by” (a se descurca) in this changing world after 1989.
Health, living standards, and consumption possibilities have deteriorated. Postsocialist pressures on labor and bodies produce “frustrated agency”. These problems have according the anthropologist nothing to do with ‘socialist legacies’ or ‘culture’, but should be understood as responses to “neo-capitalism", “a system that reinterprets the main principles of capitalism in a new way and that promotes social injustice much more than does the Western model from which it derives":
Kideckel interprets the workers’ words as typical preoccupations of workers confronted with the “effects of the forced diet of neo-liberalism” (p. 8), such as changing and uncertain status of property due to privatization, inequalities, instrumentalization, commodification of basic social relations by the market democracy, weak state structures that allow the existence of mafia and corruption, the misusage of funds and foreign assistance, the decline in agricultural markets, the return to subsistence farming, and emigration. Kideckel connects the effects of neoliberalism to his critics’ notion of “transition” as an academic representation of triumphalist politics.
Kideckel, who conducted his first fieldwork in Romania in 1974, also claims that the workers’ “selective perception of the past” (when workers had high status) and their present feeling of alienation from society at large, create a feeling of frustration that hinders effective agency.
A few days ago, I attended the first day of the conference From Tahrir: Revolution or Democratic Transition at the American University in Cairo (AUC). Researchers and activists were discussing the history and effects of the revolution.
We’ve heard it many times: The Egyptian revolution was unexpected. Especially in Western countries, it is often called “Facebook Revolution". That is not only wrong but insulting as it renders invisible the previous demonstrations, strikes and other political activities, going back 10 years or even longer, said prominent blogger and activist Hossam El-Hamalawy who blogs at 3arabawy.
This political activism has gone unnoticed by many researchers and political analysts, especially in the West. Why? Because they’ve been too occupied studying the formal institutions and have been more interested in concepts and models than what is happening on the ground, several panelists underlined, among others Maha Abdelrahman (Cambridge University) and Rabab El-Mahdi from the American University of Cairo who recently wrote about Orientalising the Egyptian uprising.
Young people developed new, innovative and effective modes of political activism, as Dina Shehata, from the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, explained. They were not interested in establishing political parties. Everything happened outside the formal structures.
The whole conference was videotaped and uploaded to YouTube.
I especially recommend watching the four mentioned presentations by Hossam El-Hamalawy, Maha Abdelrahman, Rabab El-Mahdi and Dina Shehata
(Maha Abdelrahman starts after 30 minutes)
(starts with the end of Maha Abdelrahman’s presentation, Rabab El-Mahdi begins after 7 minutes)
(Dina Shehata is the first speaker, followed by Hossam El-Hamalawy)
I wrote earlier about researchers that did see the uprising coming, and describe the “Arab Spring” as the culmination of a wave of much smaller and more localised strikes and demonstrations across the country, see especially Saba Mahmood: Democracy is not enough - Anthropologists on the Arab revolution part II.
(draft, post in progress) It’s not the first time that Osama Bin Laden has died. Nevertheless, the Western political leaders, even European leaders who were supposed to oppose death penalty, are celebrating the killing of Bin Laden (incl. CIA torture), and the frontpages of American newspapers are shouting in Wild West style “ROT IN HELL", as Daniel Martin Varisco documents on the blog tabsir.
Varisco is one of several anthropologists who have already started commenting this issue.
William O. Beeman, chair of the department of anthropology, University of Minnesota and past president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association, explains in an article the myths surrounding Osama bin Laden.
One of the myths is bin Laden’s supposed importance. “Osama bin Laden at the end was far from the looming powerful figure he was made out to be", he writes:
bin Laden was promoted by the Bush administration as the mastermind of a gigantic apocalyptic global organization under his control. (…). This was a gigantic exaggeration that was largely accepted by the American public without question.
In fact, bin Laden was an incredibly useful symbolic bogeyman. His mere existence justified the United States’ presence in Afghanistan, as well as billions of dollars spent supporting the Pakistan military regime without complaint from the American public.
Furthermore, bin Laden was seen as promulgating the United States as al-Qaeda’s principal target. That’s not so true either.
“The mythic ideology of Islamic confrontation with the West, inherent in the bin Laden myth, should die with him", he writes:
Americans, rather than celebrating a triumph over Islam, should instead be looking forward to a new era of cooperation with the progressive peoples throughout the region, who, with bin Laden’s death, have now begun to have the false accusation of Islamic extremism lifted from their shoulders.
W. Porter Bourie, a PhD student of cultural anthropology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, comments on his blog Dynamic Relations:
Celebrating his death only redefines the Us-Them divide and misdirects our gaze from the conditions that have led to the state of the world. His death won’t cause more violence, but the West’s continued political economic imperialism will. (…) Celebration blinds us to empathy and deludes us into thinking that the world is easily knowable.
Anthropologist Jason Antrosio, presents on the blog Living Anthropologically insights from anthropology and its “voice for tolerance", contrasting it to the us-versus-them mentalities of the American “war on terror". It would have been much a more powerful and enduring victory to see bin Laden tried in a court of law, he argues. “Let’s celebrate by investing in jobs, an inclusive healthcare system, schools, and paying our teachers", he concludes.
The History News Network has published an interview with anthropologist and Afghanistan expert Thomas Barfield on Bin Laden’s death. Barfield seems to identify with the official American rhetoric, and when he says “We", he means the U.S. administration.
Hamid Mir was the last journalist to interview Osama after 9/11. In his article The Osama bin Laden I knew, published today in the Pakistani newspaper The News, he concludes:
Physical elimination of Osama bin Laden is big news for the Americans but many outside America want elimination of the policies that produce bin Ladens. America came into Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden. No doubt that he was responsible for the killing of many innocent people but Americans cannot justify the killing of innocent people through drone attacks just because Osama killed some innocent Americans.
Both Osama bin Laden and Americans violated the sovereignty of Pakistan. It must be stopped now. Osama is dead. If America does not leave Afghanistan after the death of Osama bin Laden, then this war will not end soon and the world will remain an unsafe place.
Check also Wikipedia for the CIA-Osama bin Laden controversy
Interesting analysis by Matt Thompson at Savage Minds: “One of the most revealing bits of trivia has been that Bin Laden was assigned the code name “Geronimo” by the operation tasked with capturing and killing him", he writes:
This raises the question, what does a nineteenth century Apache leader have to do with twenty first century Saudi millionaire? Perhaps nothing when viewed from an academic standpoint, it seems more like a non sequitur. But when read as expression of an underlying ideology, one that has legitimated American military action for centuries, the answer is: quite a lot, actually.
Yes, and then we’re back we I’ve started this post, actually, in the Wild West! (Check also Osama, Geronimo, and the scalp of our enemy by Aaron Bady at zunguzungo)
(via Cognition and Culture Blog) More and more open access anthropology journals are popping up. The newest one is Anthropology Of This Century (AOTC), edited by Charles Stafford from the London School of Economics (LSE).
The journal publishes reviews of recent works in anthropology and related disciplines, as well as occasional feature articles. The first issue was published a few days ago. Apart from a “feature article” by Maurice Bloch, the issue consists of six book reviews.
Although the journal name seems to signal innovation, it is a rather conventional academic publication. It is written for other social scientists and does not take use of the possibilities that the internet provides. No links, no multimedia, no interactive parts. It has a nice design, including illustrations by Ed Linfoot.
Here’s an overview over the first issue:
Maurice Bloch: The Blob (a theoretical article about “what kind of phenomena people are")
James Laidlaw: Morality and Honour (review of The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah)
Harry Walker: A Problem With Words (review of Christian Moderns: Freedom and fetish in the mission encounter by Webb Keane)
Charles Stafford: Living with the Economists (review of Economic Persuasions edited by Stephen Gudeman and Economy’s Tension: The Dialectics of Community and Market by Stephen Gudeman
Emma Tarlo: Reflections on Ghetto Anthropology (review of Mitzvah Girls: Bringing up the next generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn by Ayala Fader)
Sherry Ortner: On Neoliberalism (review of The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey, and Inside Job a film by Charles Ferguson)
Chris Fuller: Timepass and Boredom in Modern India (review of Timepass: Youth, Class and The Politics of Waiting in India by Craig Jeffrey)
What’s the point of science when the public lacks access to it and researchers hide in their ivory towers? The internet provides new ways for researchers and the public to exchange knowledge. How do antropologists make use of blogging, Facebook, YouTube and new modes of publishing, for example Open Access journals?
Sharing Knowledge: How the Internet is Fueling Change in Anthropology is the title of Owen Wiltshire’s master’s thesis in anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal.
“Plans to study anthropological online communities and Open Access movement”, I wrote three years ago, when I first heard about his project. A few weeks ago, he’s defended his thesis. So, here’s a short email interview with him.
– How was the thesis defense? What kind of reactions did you get?
The history of anthropology section was meant to reveal that anthropologists have reasons for increased collaboration with non-anthropologists, reasons to engage with public audiences, reasons to give people outside academia a place to respond to what anthropologists write.
Unfortunately, the way I did this led some people to think I was attacking them and their profession.
– Why did you choose to study your own discipline online instead of studying mobile phone use in Papua New Guinea or immigrants in Toronto?
– I saw open access publishing and new online publishing options as being important new developments that might contribute to “decolonizing” the creation and dissemination of anthropological work.
– So how is internet fueling change in Anthropology? Can you give us 3 examples?
– The desire for changes in anthropology that I discuss had been occurring well before the Internet became popular. But the Internet, of course, is a revolutionary technology that allows anthropologists to target all sorts of different audiences in new ways.
The main points of change I addressed were:
1. Open Access (OA) publishing is helping researchers disseminate work that might normally remain geographically bound due to the costs to access it.
As Max Forte pointed out, most OA journals in anthropology come from what would be the periphery of anthropological publishing. This is interesting when we see that that academic publishing, at least in terms of the American Anthropological Association, continues to be very geographically centered, even ethnocentric to a degree.
Open Access journals are a way for international scholars to make their work accessible to researchers abroad. OA might help scholars in places like Brazil have their work recognized in North America. Of course language divides remain.
2. Blogging and other ways of creating publicly accessible, archived, discussions are an awesome way to develop ideas throughout and after the research process!
It really opens the door for anyone to participate, to react, and to help guide research through feedback (however nasty it might be). It helps make writing research reports a more iterative process, where researchers can bounce ideas off each other and other audiences, prior to publishing.
For anthropologists who have been criticized for misrepresenting communities (as I have with anthropology!) it makes sense to work in as much discussion like this as possible. I tried to show how this could occur by incorporating blog responses into the thesis. Where I may have been wrong about anthropology as a whole (you can make that decision yourself), I think my biases are balanced out to a degree by the included responses.
3. Welcome the uncensored, unreviewed voice of the anthropology students.
I think we can be a pain in the ass, but I can’t imagine going through the program without reading so many other blogs by people going through the same thing in different institutions.
– Anthropologist have been described as “the last primitive tribe on earth”: They hide in their ivory towers and look with suspicion upon new technologies like the internet. Does your research challenge this assumption?
– I made this argument in my thesis, and its true to a degree, but I take it more as a argumentative point. Anthropologists and other academics are making use of the internet and just about every new tool that comes their way.
The point I make in my thesis is that the ivory tower remains even when we use these tools in public.
I used the distinction which had been developed in discussion with a number of anthros, including some people at Savage Minds, and Max Forte, and Erkan Saka, of there being “anthropology in public” and “public anthropology”.
Even if you write about anthropology in public, it doesn’t mean you are addressing interests outside the ivory tower. That is where public anthropology comes in, where anthropologists address issues outside the ivory tower. When they do this however, it is a challenge to identify what makes the work academic. Michael Wesch’s youtube videos are a great example of this that I discussed very briefly in the thesis.
– Why are some anthropologists interested in sharing and open access, while others are not?
– Some see the discipline of anthropology as being an expert and professional society. They want to share their work with other anthropologists who have the same interests and concerns as themselves. Feedback from random Youtube users, or even people in other disciplines, isn’t very valuable to them. The feedback they can get through peer review in professional anthropology journals is exactly what they want, as is the recognition.
Also, I don’t think every researcher agrees that expensive academic journals fail to disseminate work. They only want to share their work with a select audience, and don’t see the point in making it available free online. In the end they disagree that free access would improve the impact of their work (it comes down to who they are trying to impact).
– What are in your view the main barriers to open access publishing?
– Some professors encourage students to look at select journals, and they don’t consider the Open Access journals that are out there. If researchers only use Jstor and Anthrosource to find material, they are missing out on a lot of what is being discussed – yet this is standard practice and considered to be acceptable.
Is it a researchers responsibility to make themselves aware of everything that’s being published out there? Or is that unreasonable? The increasing number of journals around the world make it quite difficult to do a complete literature review! If we can’t funnel it down to a select number of publications, it is impossible to ask researchers to keep up to date. But if OA journals are ignored, many researchers may never realize how beneficial it is to be able to openly link to, discuss, and talk about publications online.
– But you stress that OA Publishing does not necessarily lead to a more public anthropology?
– Yes, OA publishing is just about making anthropological research more accessible to its desired audience. It doesn’t mean anthropologists are writing with the intention that public audiences interact with it, or that it be relevant to public interests. Also, if you look at OA repositories, theres still no effort being made to host responses, so we can’t say that OA is an attempt to get more feedback.
– Do you think we need a more public anthropology? OA Publishing is not enough?
– I think it’s easy to adapt anthropology and research to public contexts, but at that point it ceases to be anthropology as we know it. I would have loved to come out of my masters degree program with more experience producing video, and documentary-like productions. Maybe I should have studied communications. Speaking of which, my roommate studies Communications, and we shared many of the same readings. Finally, as I develop in the thesis, theres nothing inherently good about public engagement – take a look at the Human Terrain Teams for example.
– You’ve done your fieldwork mainly online. An interesting experience?
– Yes. I think the blog experiment worked out rather well, showing that the blog can be used to solicit feedback throughout the research process and not just as a way of disseminating/publishing ideas.
– The most interesting thing you have learned?
– It is really easy to piss people off when you critique anthropology.
– What are the implications of your research?
– Feedback is important, and sharing ideas openly online is a great way to solicit that feedback!
– Final words to the readers in front of the screen?
– Job wanted.