Back from the annual conference of the Norwegian Anthropological Association, I must say that I prefer Norwegian conferences to British ones - at least regarding the way papers are presented. While papers in Britian are read - in a formal (and mostly boring) way, papers in Norway are presented in an more oral way. The audience expectes you to make them smile or (even better) laugh - otherwise you aren't regarded as a good paper-giver. "I could have listened to him for several hours", many participants said after the presentation by Edvar Hviding about fishermen on the Solomon Islands (many brilliant pictures!). Many great presentations!
Maybe culture can explain something here? Norwegian society is quite egalitarian compared to other countries and academics are frequently present in mainstream media. You are expected to be "folkelig" - meaning "like normal people" and tear down the walls between academia and the people outside.
PS: By the way, Antropyton announced that she's going to share her thoughts about the conference with us (I'll be blogging in Norwegian only).
Kerim Friedman at Savage Minds recently announced a new series about classical works in anthropology which are available online. The idea, he writes, is to "both encourage newbies to read some classical anthropological texts as well as allow those with Ph.D.s in the discipline to debate the contemporary value of these works".
The first entry: Laura Bohannon: “Shakespeare in the Bush” - the essay that turned Kerim on to anthropology:
It explores how difficult it is to translate Shakespeare’s Hamlet into the cultural idiom of the Tiv in West Africa (the Tiv are mostly located in Nigeria). While the article takes on a straw-man argument (the idea that there is something universal about Shakespeare’s plays overlooks just how hard it is for even American school kids to learn to appreciate Hamlet), it is a well written article which I believe holds up to the test of time.
There has been a lot of focus on anthropologists and human rights recently. But being engaged is easier said than done. Police Beat and Gas Students at the National School of Anthropology and History is the headline of a story on Narco News. They were part of a demonstration against rights abuses by the Mexican police:
Students from the National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH), of the School for Science and Humanities (CCH) South and the National Pedagogic University (UPN), among other adherents to the Other Campaign, were blocking the “Periférico Avenue” highway near the ENAH when they were attacked with pepper gas and clubs by members of the Mexico City police.
"It was a day of energy and rebellion for the students. This could be the genesis of a real movement coming out of the solidarity of the classroom", NarcoNews writer Juan Trujillo concludes.
Valentina Palma Novoa is one of the victims of police violence. She's originally from Chile and student at the National School of Anthropology and History, and tells us about the background of the demonstration some days ago:
On Wednesday, May 3, after seeing the news on television and learning of the death of a 14-year-old boy, I was moved by the death of this small child and, as an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, decided to go to San Salvador Atenco.
The day after:
It must have been about 6am when the church bells of San Salvador Atenco began to ring – bong, bong, bong, over and over again – while a voice shouted over the loudspeaker that the police were surrounding the town. Bicycles hurried past in every direction.
I zoomed in with my camera. I saw that there were many of them and that, covered by their shields, they were advancing with small and nearly imperceptible steps. I was afraid. There were many of them, heavily armed, while the farmers were few and unarmed. In the screen of my camera I saw one of the police point and shoot a projectile towards us; when it landed next to me, I could smell and feel that it was tear gas.
I was panicked and didn’t want to come down from the roof; then a police officer yelled up to me, “Come down here, bitch. Come down here now.” I came down from the roof slowly, terrorized by the sight of the boys being beaten in the head. Two police officers took hold of me and pulled me forward while others beat me on the chest, back and legs with their clubs.
She was then arrested and expelled from the country.
Global Voices author David Sasaki has made an impressive research on this topic - read >> Mexico: Violence and Backlash in San Salvador Atenco
Foreign women photographers beaten and abused by Mexico City police (Reporters Without Borders)
Police raid in Mexico exposes deep rift (Mercury News)
Protesters choke Mexico City (Washington Post)
London says 'We are all Atenco!' (Indymedia UK)
A Montreal newspaper story has rapidly sent Filipino tempers rising around the world. Luc Cagadoc, a 7-year-old pupil, was punished by a lunchtime day-care monitor: “You are in Canada. Here in Canada you should eat the way Canadians eat,” the Quebecois educator allegedly said, and went on to observe that Luc “ate like a pig.” The reason: Luc insisted on eating with a spoon and fork as most Filipinos do.
"Educators and parents alike should find ways to work together to avoid traumatizing children who deserve more than to be made to feel inferior because of their parent’s culture", the editor (I suppose) of the Philippine Daily Inquirer comments.
In a follow-up article called Spoon Wars, anthropologist Michael L. Tan gives us more information about food, eating habits and cultural history (that's the role anthropologists should play, isn't it?):
For Filipinos, and most Asians, spoons were the greatest invention ever. Throw away the knife and the fork but never the spoon, which we use for soups, desserts, vegetables, even to cut meat.
Anyone with knowledge of culinary history can tell you the spoon was the first eating utensil to have been invented. Knives, well, they were originally invented as weapons, and then got reduced for the dining table. And the fork, the infamous fork that westerners insist is the main eating utensil? They come much later, introduced from the Middle East into southern Europe, but treated with disdain by the northern Europeans.
Etiquette changes all the time because they’re based on meanings we give to people, events, places. In earlier less civil times, meals could become quite violent so the last thing you needed were utensils brandished like weapons, which is why the Chinese resisted knives and forks and stuck to chopsticks.
But don’t worry, with 8 million Filipinos living and working in Canada and all kinds of other remote, savage lands, many infiltrating homes as nannies and cooks and housekeepers, we’ll teach the world that the proper way of eating is with a spoon and a fork.
Three interviews that I've conducted earlier this year have been translated from Norwegian to English:
Take on the multiculturalism debate - Interview with Alexa Døving
Does culture exist? What is integration? What defines Norwegianness? Is nationalism excluding? How useful are cultural explanations? Should special rights be awarded on cultural and religious grounds? What groups make up a society? Alexa Døving has chosen to write about the big issues. >> read the interview
Unni Wikan with plans for a new book about immigrant men, honour and dignity
Previously Unni Wikan has been interested in immigrant women and children. She now wants us to be more concerned with the men. Better insights into the mens’ situations could prevent conflicts, says the anthropologist, who is working on the analysis of two court cases to do with honour killing and forced marriage. >> read the interview
To engage the reader with a complex message - Interview with Anja Bredal
Do not underestimate free will and do not trivialize coercion! This is the conclusion in Anja Bredal’s doctoral thesis on arranged marriage. After ten years of research, one doctorate and several journal and newspaper articles this sociologist is still interested in the topic. She wonders about one thing in particular: How is it possible to maintain a nuanced moderate position and yet still be interesting? >> read the interview
At the Society for Applied Anthropology Meetings this year Hugh Gusterson had a startling experience: A “practicing anthropologist” refused to tell me him who or what, she studies. That has never happened before. In the article Where Are We Going? Engaging Dilemmas In Practicing Anthropology in Anthropology News May 2006, Guterson poses fundamental quiestions. The number of anthropologists working for industry and government agencies grows. So:
Who owns applied anthropological research—the researcher or the sponsor? If applied research is confidential, and thus exempt from peer review, how do we assure its quality and integrity? What recourse is there for an anthropologist under contract of confidentiality who decides they have an obligation to make public what their sponsor wants to keep quiet (say, information about indigenous opposition to a dam, or native Americans’ experience of abuse at the hands of the Department of the Interior, or corruption in the Pentagon or the World Bank)?
Is it acceptable to study people not in order to advocate for them or to interpret them in the open literature, but for the purpose of providing privileged information to sponsors who want to control them? What will happen to our professional meetings, to their warm conviviality, if more people come to them refusing to discuss their research? And how is our discipline even to keep track of possible conflicts of interest if anthropologists are refusing to identify their research in public?
He continues and concludes:
One colleague suggested that we acknowledge two separate communities: those doing academic anthropology and those doing what he called “dirty anthropology” (as, I think, in “quick and…”). He suggested each have its own ethical guidelines. But do we really want to say that anthropologists are no longer a single community guided by a common code of conduct?
The rise of neoliberal applied anthropology is a scandal waiting to happen. We ignore it at our professional peril. It is time to lay out some clear rules of the road to give guidance to applied anthropology colleagues working on this new frontier, and to enhance their bargaining power with powerful contractors.
>> read the whole article in Anthropology News (link updated)
Not so easy to be researcher in the USA: There's more and more censorship. Not long ago I wrote about Iranians not allowed to publish papers. Another form of censorship are the Internal Review Boards (IRB ). In Anthropology News May, James Boster calls for a three graded stages of response: Reform, Resolve and Resist:
The faculty head of the University of Connecticut IRB recently told me that the IRB would not now permit me to do the field work I have recently completed with the Waorani, because she considered Waorani as far too belligerent for me to have risked my own safety in doing research with them. It was a shock to learn that I could be regarded a human subject of my own research.
Many human scientists, anthropologists included, have experienced ever-increasing burdens of regulation and oversight by IRBs in their research with human subjects. Most of what is onerous about the regulation has nothing to do with providing protection to human subjects and has everything to do with requiring human scientists to submit to the arbitrary exercise of power and authority.
IRBs at a number of universities have instituted policies that have no foundation in ethics or law, ones that violate our most sacred academic freedoms and civil rights. The first amendment to the constitution states: “Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech.” Yet what is regulated here is speech—the freedom of investigators to speak with other members of the society. The freedom to find things out is a basic human right, not a privilege to be licensed, especially when the obstacles to inquiry have never been demonstrated to prevent any actual harm to human subjects. The unconstitutionality of these restraints on free speech are clearly and comprehensively laid out by Philip Hamburger in a 2005 article for the Supreme Court Review, “The New Censorship: Institutional Review Boards.”
>> read the whole text in Anthropology News May 2006 (link updated)
Another anthropology-specific problem is mentioned in an article by As Rena Lederman: IRBs are comprised mostly of researchers from non-ethnographic disciplines "folks whose picture of “real research” looks nothing like ethnographic fieldwork." Therefor this advice (!):
So it is crucial that your board view participant observation as a sound, productive research method. This cannot be taken for granted. If IRB members are mystified or horrified by participant observation—if they imagine that it is useless or even itself unethical—then your proposal may be denied even if your project’s topic is completely innocuous!
"There is ample need for anthropologists and other social scientists to contribute to the immigration debate by providing greater context to the discussion and by describing the effects that immigration policies would have", JC Salyer argues in Anthropology News May 2006. Anthropologists and the AAA (American Anthropological Association) should counter the many false claims which depict immigrants as national security threats or as hoards depleting the nation’s economic, health care and educational resources, he writes:
While it is always difficult to translate anthropological work into publicly accessible statements, AAA members should support AAA taking immediate steps to assure that the knowledge gained from the valuable body of research conducted by anthropologists on the subject of immigration is not ignored during this crucial period. Whether AAA’s action should take the form of a statement, the creation of an annotated bibliography, or some more creative proposal is for AAA’s leadership to decide, but it would be a true shame if AAA chooses not to join this important public discussion at all.
Rose Wishall Ediger has attended two rallies in Washington DC — the seventh largest immigrant gateway in the US and home to immigrants from over 30 countries, she writes in another Anthropology News article:
I was struck by the religious and patriotic overtones of the rallies. Both drew on prayer and included regional religious leaders of diverse faiths. In fact, churches have been important to the movement’s organization, helping to kick it off when Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles stated that HR 4437 countered the Church’s teachings to “feed the poor and welcome the stranger.” But also there was a display of US patriotism at the second rally: a great many demonstrators wore red, white and blue—especially white, which organizers advocated as a symbol of peace. And instead of the homemade signs of the first rally, attendees at the second event overwhelmingly waved US flags.
These rallies call in , Rose Wishall Ediger's view, anthropologists to address issues of “race,” “human rights” and “engaged anthropology.”:
While rally participants and the media compare the movement to the 1960s civil rights movement, the relationship between ideas of race, racism, and immigration are still surrounded by open questions. For instance, while there is widespread agreement that those falling into the diverse category of US immigrant—legal or not—face discrimination—there are also claims that immigrants fill occupations and class positions that natives do not. And, how does the competition for resources among and within various minority groups complicate civil and human rights issues?
An even broader question about immigration that we should consider is what does it say about global inequalities and how human rights are practiced and demanded of different governments, and how do global, transnational, and national public and private policies differentially affect the movement and well-being of people, and what might that mean in terms of social justice. And, finally, on a more personal note, how do our own consumer practices play into it?