The new issue of Anthropology Matters - one of the few online anthropology journals - is out! The nine articles on "Doing Fieldwork in Eastern Europe" try to explore post-communism in Eastern Europe in new ways. They are based on ethnographic case studies of communities in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Georgia, Serbia and Croatia, among others among vendors in the market square, waste gatherers, Greek migrants, Transylvanian Saxons etc.
From the editorial by Michaela Schäuble, Tomasz Rakowski and Wlodzimierz Pessel:
Ethnographic micro-societal fieldwork creates new insight into the contemporary dilemmas and everyday practices of ordinary people dealing with the heritage of socialist ideology while simultaneously trying to obtain a sense of security and continuity in their identity.
Tackling everyday realities seems to be the most emblematic feature of anthropological research in post-socialist scenarios, insofar as it provides a valuable counterpart to 'apparent history' as featured in legal acts, political programmes, and changes of economic and monetary systems. In his influential Anthropology, Michael Herzfeld notes that anthropology and history 'have danced a flirtatious pas de deux throughout the past century' (Herzfeld 2001:55). In Central and Eastern Europe this flirtation has turned into a productive intellectual relationship, in that the authors' anthropological micro-scale fieldwork brings hitherto unseen or neglected levels, 'paces', and cultural narratives (back) into sight.
Anthropologist and blogger Johannes Wilm has published a fascinating video about the annual meeting of the Danish minority in a small village in Northern Germany called Ascheffel. Is it possible to be both German and Danish? Why are there so many Germans who send their kids to the Danish school? As he shows, there is both nationalism and much transnational history among the participants of the annual meeting.
Musee Quai Branly, a new major museum in Paris, dedicated entirely to well, how should it be called "non-Western arts"?, "indigenous arts?" has opened last Friday. Although the organizers named the new museum in Paris after the street it was built on after stirring criticism for floating the idea of a "primitive arts" or "first arts" museum, we read news headlines like "Paris unveils tribal art museum" (BBC), Paris welcomes new museum of indigenous art (Financial Times), and the Los Angeles Times informs: Parisians and tourists had their first chance Friday to visit Paris' new primitive-art museum
Why do we need such a huge museum for non-European art?
"We want to show that this type of art is equivalent to European art. We want to place it on the same level", said Patrice Januel, the museum's director and curator.
But many people oppose the idea of categorising African, Asian and Pacific art as separate from Western art, according to the Telegraph:
Criticism ranges from claims that an institute dedicated to ethnic art is a patronising reinforcement of racist stereotypes to complaints that it relies heavily on items plundered in the ex-colonies. Some historians also suggest that the museum could "ghettoise" the works by isolating them from other art forms. (...) Among African observers, doubts persist. One Johannesburg critic said the museum would prompt bitter cries of "return the pillaged colonial loot".
The museum is designed around a jungle theme. This design risked perpetuating colonial stereotypes, historian Gilles Manceron said according to The Guardian. It's quite "natural" inside as well.
The New Zealand Harald describes the interior:
Inside, the sensation is of spirituality, with random shimmerings of light dappling the floor like sunbeams that pierce a rainforest canopy. The floor gently slopes, and the pillars are daubed in ochre coatings to make it look as if they have strangely taken root there.
Objects are arranged according to the continent of origin.
Patrick Lozes, president of an umbrella group of several hundred black associations called Cran, said he feared the new museum's "archaic way of showing the past" would accentuate divisions rather than heal them, according to the New Zealand Harald:
"It's an extension of a certain colonialist vision. Today we should emphasis migration and the mixing of people and not try to artificially separate the various strands of French society."
The Courier Mail (Australia) on the otherhand writes about indigenous artists who are quite positive about the museum. The contribution to a wing of the Musee Quai Branly might be the largest and most significant permanent display of indigenous art outside Australia. Artist Gulumbu Yunupingu says:
"This place is a sacred place. I feel something here. It's bringing us healing. These people recognised my hand, my work."
Ap /Los Angeles Times reminds us:
Issues about France's colonial past are still sensitive here — just last year, parliament passed a law requiring schoolbooks to highlight the "positive role" of French colonialism. The term was later stripped from the legislation, but the law was an embarrassment for France.
Or rather start here:
A good summary: Al-Ahram Weekly: Museum of the oppressed
Swissinfo interviews anthropologist Fabrizio Sabelli about the enthusiasm of Swiss fans during the World Cup. According to Sabelli, it's driven by a need for a collective ritual and not nationalism:
We're currently going through a pretty dull cultural period, which offers few gatherings like the World Cup, and people need them. They want to get together because they are increasingly lonely. And this solitude is not a uniquely Swiss malaise – it is found in all contemporary societies. Everyone needs rituals but there is a dearth of them in our globalised society.
I think it's simply about rediscovering a sort of collective feeling shared at a celebration and above all the thought of a potential victory.
This Swiss team is made of different backgrounds, yet it doesn't prevent members from presenting a united front under the Swiss flag. This, he says, is "an effect of the magic of sport ". Nevertheless, he doesn't believe that football can have a determining influence on how we perceive others.
Former professor of anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and peace activist for over 30 years, Jeff Halper has started blogging. In his post "Welcome to an Engaged Anthropologist's Blog" he explains:
My idea for this blog is to to bring you into the world of a peace activist in Israel-Palestine, an American-born Jew who became an Israeli some 35 years ago when he immigrated from Minnesota to Israel, who nevertheless believes in peace, justice, human rights, international law and critical thinking -- thinking "out of the box" when it come to framing solutions to the world's problems.
I'm not really conspiratorial or nutty as some of my words on the link among Israel, Jewish "leaders" and American Empire might imply (...). In fact, I'm a mild-mannered professor of Anthropology (used to teach at Ben Gurion University and elsewhere) who would love to do nothing more than go back to teaching and writing about the deconstruction of consciousness among the Nacirema or some other such stuff.
>> visit Jeff Halper's blog (but why is there no RSS-feed??)
Halper has been nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his grass root peace activities, along with Professor Ghassan Andoni
"Anthropologists escape into the wider world" is the title of a press release about a recent study that shows that "holders of social anthropology Ph.D.s are highly employable and successful in finding jobs that draw on their anthropological skills".
The study tracked social anthropology doctoral students who completed their studies between 1992 and 2003 in Britain to see what they are doing now. The majority work outside academic anthropology, either in other disciplines within academia, or in various non-academic positions. Fifty-seven per cent currently hold academic positions, though one third of those are on fixed-term contracts with uncertain long-term prospects. Those who escape a conventional academic career can be found in international development organizations like the World Bank or in high-tech companies like Intel. Others remain in academia, teaching and researching.
What they bring to these settings are special skills of observation and critical analysis, born of Ph.D. projects based on long-term field research in challenging cultural locations, Professor Jonathan Spencer at the University of Edinburgh's Anthropology Department says:
"We knew that social anthropologists have a real presence at all levels in the world of international development, but we were surprised by two discoveries. One was social anthropology's success as an "exporter" of skilled researchers and teachers to other academic disciplines. The other was its growing role at the cutting edge of business and technology innovation. Employers seem to be especially interested in the close-focus research skills that are central to anthropological fieldwork. Our findings raise serious doubts about the received wisdom that employers are only interested in the most 'generic' social research skills."
In applying their skills in such diverse settings this generation of Ph.D.s is enriching the discipline in quite new ways. The challenge now is to explore ways to bring what they have learnt in their adventures back into academic training for the next generation of anthropologists.
As in several European countries, Japanese citizenship is still defined by decent. Inspired by the recent immigration debates in the US, anthropologist Sawa Kurotani reflects about the "cultural nationalism" of Japanese citizenship and concludes: "As long as this biologically and culturally produced Japaneseness continues to be the basis of Japanese citizenship, the mobility between citizen and noncitizen categories will be minimal."
Japanese self-analysis of their national character is widely known as nihonjinron (literally, discussion or theory about the Japanese), which centers on the unique characteristics shared among the Japanese that are the product of both biology and culture. The essence of Japanese identity is passed down through the "blood," and is nurtured through the early process of socialization to make one truly "Japanese," so the theory goes. This is why so many Japanese stubbornly refuse to accept a non-Japanese who attains near-native fluency in Japanese or who are able to grasp subtle cultural nuances: How can a gaijin (foreigner) without blood ties or proper upbringing possibly understand anything Japanese?
When Japan began to admit a large number of foreign workers into the country in the 1980s, the overwhelming preference was given to descendants of Japanese who emigrated to Brazil and Peru. Japanese seemed to believe that their Japanese blood made them "Japanese," despite their socialization as Brazilians and Peruvians, and they were truly surprised when they later found out otherwise. This instance gives us a sense of how powerful the belief in "Japanese blood" is.
Japan is now one of the few developed countries that do not allow dual citizenship. This is not a major problem in the world of "one citizenship per person per lifetime," which is, perhaps, the world in which the majority of my compatriots still live. But, it is about time that we acknowledge that the myth of "homogeneous society" is just a myth, and that an increasing number of Japanese nationals are experiencing transnational/multicultural lives outside Japan, while more and more non-Japanese are choosing to live and work in Japan.
>> read the whole article in The Daily Yomiuri (updated with copy)
Apologies for the delay since my last post but I have started a new job at the Cyberspace Research Unit at the University of Central Lancashire and that has been a bit hectic – I am now living in Lincolnshire, working in Preston and Lodging in Liverpool.
When I first began my research all I knew was that there were people ‘out there’ on the Internet and that I wanted to talk to them. I didn’t know how to do that, who was there, why they were there, or even where to find them. I simply had an unshakeable belief that cyberspace was a real place populated by real people. I remember discussing the problem of trying to find people with my then supervisor, Prof Allison James (now at the University of Sheffield). She told me a similar story regarding her own experience - of walking through the streets of a UK mining town watching the children playing and wondering how she could establish contact.
Much of my experience as a cyberanthropologist has been like that – a voyage of discovery – learning that anthropology as a practice is very similar in every field, not only as a discipline, but also in the minutiae of research… for example, learning a new language: for my friend Michaela it was French, for Julia it was Russian, for myself it was a new interactive text-based language.
I have come to realise that the Internet presents a unique challenge to ethnographers in that the written word is the key means of communication, and presented me with a key epistemological problem - how can I make sense of a culture that does not use verbal communication?
Unsurprisingly, written words are often seen to be either lacking in emotion, or lacking the ability to convey emotion without being supported by sight or sound. For example if someone says they are sad, it is a much more believable performance if their words are accompanied by the sight of tears and the sound of sobbing. Yet in cyberspace these physical modalities of speech are to all extents and purposes absent. As a result, in cyberspace, words have had to be transformed. They also express larger meanings in cyberspace. Words have become emotive and descriptive, active and performative. Thus my earlier question - how can I make sense of a culture that does not use verbal communication was largely irrelevant: instead the problem was one of showing that this is communication like in any other ‘real’ place.
Of course much more work has been done in the study of language and the Internet since I first began. But what I really want to share are the similarities with my colleagues who come back from the field to find their speech peppered with language from the field until they had fully integrated back into academic life. I was taking a walk with my beloved one evening when he said something amusing. To my chagrin I didn’t laugh, instead I said ‘LOL’.
This was the moment when I realised how difficult it was to leave the field behind.