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.
What comes into your mind, when you’re reading the following lines?
“We tend to gather in certain locales (cities, sometimes specific neighbourhoods); we frequent particular businesses - some of the services being unique to our community; we have dedicated media, strong social networks and political tendencies; we even have certain etiquette, social rules and beliefs we would likely agree on (a topic for another day), all the result of shared experiences distinct to our clique.”
Why doesn’t she call them migrants? Well, it’s a question of class and “race": The people she writes about aren’t from Somalia or Iraq. They’re white people and wealthy. By using a different term, a distance to “the other” is established.
In its broadest sense, an expatriate is any person living in a different country from where he or she is a citizen. In common usage, the term is often used in the context of professionals sent abroad by their companies, as opposed to locally hired staff (who can also be foreigners).
The differentiation found in common usage usually comes down to socio-economic factors, so skilled professionals working in another country are described as expatriates, whereas a manual labourer who has moved to another country to earn more money might be labelled an ‘immigrant’. There is no set definition and usage does vary depending on context and individual preferences and prejudices.
I always found the usage of the word expat interesting. Personally, I never use it, and call everybody for migrants regardless their class or “race". Inspired by Steegar’s text I googled around and found that the usage of the terms expat and migrant is contested.
“If you picked up, moved to Paris, and landed a job, what would you call yourself? Chances are, if you’re an American, you’d soon find yourself part of a colorful community of ‘expats.’ If, while there, you hired an Algerian nanny– a woman who had picked up, moved abroad, and landed a job– how would you refer to him or her? Expat probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind. Yet almost no one refers to herself as a ‘migrant worker.’”
Yes, that’s because, as Laura María Agustín says in the interview with Howley, ” ‘migrants’ travel because they are poor and desperate, ‘expatriates’ travel because they are curious, self-actualizing cosmopolites.”
Westerners don’t like referring to themselves as immigrants because the word “immigrant” has such nasty connotations. (…) An immigrant is an unwanted job-stealer, while an expat is a foreigner who could be leaving any day now. An immigrant is on a desperate search for a better life. An expat is on an adventure. (…) Our usage of these words reveals a certain double standard. Whether you’re an expat or an immigrant depends not on your residency plans, but on the relative wealth of your native country.
UPDATE 1: (via richmondbrige) Great commentary in the Guardian by sociologist Peter Matanle, British migrant in Japan, published today. He feels uncomfortable when British people overseas, or the Guardian, use the term “expat” with reference to Britons abroad, then use words such as “immigrant” when describing people from other countries who are in the UK:
So, my proposal is for the Guardian to amend its style guide to discourage the use of the word “expat” in its pages. The word is too redolent of the days of empire and sipping gin and tonic in the shade while the locals toil beyond the fence. It is too easily used as a cultural marker to distinguish people from one another, making it easy for some Britons to feel both superior to and separated from the local people in their host cultures. I suggest that words such as resident, visitor, settler, immigrant and tourist be used instead in order to equalise the way we describe ourselves with the ways in which we describe others. It is only fair and just to do so.
UPDATE 2: Brendan Rigby has written an excellent post: Are you a Greek or a Barbarian?
UPDATE 3: Great post by Julie Sheridan, “native Scot” in Spain: Double acts & double standards. She asks: What makes me an expat but my neighbour an immigrant? She also draws attention to the etymology of “expat” (excluded, absent from one’s “fatherland") and ends her post with these sentences:
No idea how long I’ll be here, but while I am, I want to feel settled, and ideally integrated. And try to remember that being here is an experience, rather than an identity.
It’s always refreshing when anthropologists challenge wideheld assumptions, for example about video- and onlinegames. Many video game studies focus on the negative and addictive aspects of game play.
In two recent studies, Jeffrey Snodgrass and his team show, that video game playing can be healthy.
In a press release, the anthropologist says:
The idea is that if you lose yourself, you escape. So it’s deeply relaxing, what some gamers describe as akin to meditation, or at other times positively challenging and stimulating, like a great chess match where you’re actually one of the pieces, and we show that there are strong associations between these various states of consciousness and the game’s health benefits.
But it is important to note that the escape must be controlled and temporary to be positive so that it leads to rejuvenation rather than simple problem avoidance, which in the end only increases the experience of stress.”
He hopes that people will start to understand that addiction is only one side of video game usage.
According the press release, “both articles are currently available online". That’s true, but they’re behind a pay wall.
Two friends, same culture: Berlusconi and Gaddafi. Photo: Derek Visser, flickr
(draft) Have you tried googling “Japan” “earthquake” and “no looting”? Or “Libya” and “tribes”? It’s no big surprise to see stereotypical representations of other people in the news, but the ongoing historical developments in Libya and Japan might provide especially interesting examples.
Libya is for many journalists and experts a “tribal” country.
“Many Americans pride themselves on God and country. In Libya, it’s God, tribe, then country", explains CNN and quotes anthropologist Philip Carl Salzman who says “Libyans have a strong loyalty to tribe. A tribe provides welfare in times of need,” he said. “They have a collective responsibility.”
In the article In Libya the revolution will be tribalized (The Globe and Mail), Khalil Ali Al-Musmari, a retired professor of anthropology and sociology, said the foreign media have often crudely misrepresented the nature of “tribal power” in the country, by talking about tribal leaders as though they still commanded the same obedience they did in ancient times. Educated Libyans in coastal cities, he says, make their own political decisions and do not feel obligated to follow their tribal elders. Talk of tribal divisions in the country is dangerous.
Japan is for journalists and experts a calm and spirutal country. Most meanstream papers around the world run stories like “Why is there no looting in Japan in earthquake aftermath?”
A lack of looting in Japan?
“The layer of human turmoil - looting and scuffles for food or services - that often comes in the wake of disaster seems noticeably absent in Japan", claims CNN and several experts give culturalist explanations. Among them Merry White, an anthropology professor at Boston University who studies Japanese culture. “Violence, and taking what belongs to others, are simply not culturally approved or supported", she says.
A great deal of culturalism can be found in the article Japan Earthquake Feature: Japanese stoicism part of the culture in the National Post.
The paper writes about “the extraordinary sense of calm on the Japanese archipelago amid conditions which in perhaps any other place would have led to chaos".
“The Japanese culture encourages a heightened sense of individual responsibility, but also a very powerful sense of solidarity, and that is a very powerful combination”, says sociologist Frank Furedi.
“In Japanese culture, there’s a sort of nobility in suffering with a stiff upper lip, in mustering the spiritual, psychological resources internally,” explains anthropologist John Nelson.
“Quake response showcases Japan’s resilient spirit” is the title of Associated Press story:
Theories abound as to what makes the Japanese so resilient and willing to cooperate. Some cite the centuries-old need to work together to grow rice on a crowded archipelago prone to natural disasters. Others point to the hierarchical nature of human relations and a keen fear of shaming oneself before others.
“It strikes me as a Buddhist attitude,” Glenda Roberts, an anthropology professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University, said. “Westerners might tend to see it as passivity, but it’s not that. It takes a lot of strength to stay calm in the face of terror.”
There are even stories about the lack of a Japanese word for looting, as the bloggers at Language Log have observed. “As usual, the attempt to diagnose and explain culture cheaply in lexical terms is empirically as well as conceptually weak", Mark Liberman comments. Further down in the comment field, Chris Kern deconstructs the notion of the non-looting Japanese:
Looking at Japanese news articles on the disasters is the easiest way to disprove this. There’s one article that discusses the American news media’s wonder over the lack of looting with the following headline:
“ryakudatsu” is used as the translation of “looting” there.
But there are other articles that talk about looting that actually has been occurring in Japan in the wake of the disasters, and they use “ryakudatsu” and “goudatsu”
But there has been looting, and these stories don’t seem to be translated into English or reported on English language news sites as the BBC explains.
What are the consequences of this kind of reporting?
These news stories that contrast peaceful Japan with violent Haiti have often triggered racist discourses in the comment fields.
Comments like this here were made quite often:
Japan is one of the least “diverse” countries in the world. This gives them solidarity and sense of nationhood that “multicultural” societies don’t have, it allows them to pull together for the common good in times of adversity. Contrast that with “multicultural” New Orleans response to a natural disaster. It seems like unity is a strength and “diversity” is a weakness.
Johann Hari challenges these stereotypes in her comment The myth of the panicking disaster victim. The evidence gathered over centuries of disasters, natural and man-made, is overwhelming,
The vast majority of people, when a disaster hits, behave in the aftermath as altruists. They organise spontaneously to save their fellow human beings, to share what they have, and to show kindness. They reveal themselves to be better people than they ever expected.
But what about the violence in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?
Remember the gangs “marauding” through New Orleans, raping and even cannibalising people in the Super-Dome after Hurricane Katrina? It turns out they didn’t exist. Years of journalistic investigations showed them to be racist rumours with no factual basis. Yes, there was some “looting” – which consisted of starving people breaking into closed and abandoned shops for food. Of course human beings can behave atrociously – but the aftermath of a disaster seems to be the time when it is least likely.
“The cultural explanation for looting just doesn’t cut it, and at its worst it shows signs of racism", David A. Love explains in his piece From Haiti to Japan: Is looting economic or cultural?:
As an African-American who lived with a Japanese family as a high school exchange student, majored in Japanese studies in college, and later rode the Tokyo subway every day to work in a Japanese corporation, I have some thoughts. I say it is economic, but it isn’t quite that simple, because other circumstances are at play.
What about presenting research findings with cartoons? A few days ago, anthropologists Aleksandra Bartoszko and Anne Birgitte Leseth published a research report as a comic book - together with cartoonist Marcin Ponomarew. And it was a success! Take a look at here http://anthrocomics.wordpress.com
I’ve asked Aleksandra Bartoszko to write some words about it for us. She is one of the first fieldbloggers (check her blog here http://antropyton.blogspot.com ) and has contributed with several posts here at antropologi.info, among others Pecha Kucha - the future of presenting papers? and - in Norwegian - a series about anthropology and art
By Aleksandra Bartoszko, Assistant Professor Oslo University College
What if people don’t get it? How will they interpret it? What will the anthropologists say? – we asked ourselves before publishing the comic book. Not without fear. Not without doubts. Anthropology is about writing. But comics, these funny stories in a newspaper that amuse us during breakfast reading – are they a valid form of presentation of ethnographic findings?
“Public Space, Information Accessibility, Technology, and Diversity at Oslo University College” was a project which I, together with Anne Leseth, started in 2009.
We conducted our fieldwork at the campus of the college to assess the friendliness and accessibility of localities and information services in terms of social and cultural diversity. When we told our colleagues about our work, some of them reacted: “Oh, yet another report that nobody will read”. Not an encouraging attitude, but it challenged us to figure out an alternative way of reaching the audience.
We needed something that would attract attention of people who were “fed up with all these reports” on the multicultural environment, integration, exclusion and inclusion. So we decided to present our findings with a twist. We decided to make an anthropological comic book.
The process of making the comics was challenging yet extremely rewarding. Before we even started to worry about the reactions of the readers and the anthropological community, we asked ourselves how to make an illustrated ethnography.
While working with cartoonist Marcin Ponomarew we experienced something new, the experience that was not possible before – what our readers see when they read our ethnographies. How do they interpret our descriptions, how do they visualize our informants and their environments, and whose version is more real? “The dead of the author” was closer than ever.
We gave Marcin manuscripts. Some drawings he sent us back were very close to what we (or everyone of us) imagined and saw during the fieldwork, some were completely different. Yet, was his graphic presentation less real than if I had drawn the story? We worked with many versions of every story so as to get “the right picture”, to translate ethnography into words and words into pictures. This experience of triple translation gave me a new understanding of relation between the descriptive work of the author and the imaginative process in the reader’s head. As far as I am concerned, writing ethnography will never be the same as it was before this experience.
The book turned out to be a collection of ethnographic situations. Some of the drawings represent situations that we have observed; some of them are situations that we or our informants have experienced. They are often representations of emotions and feelings. A few of them are representations of stories we were told and some of them represent our analysis of documents and situations at the campus. Just as in written ethnography, we have manipulated some situations so as to anonymize the informants. This process was carried out with the same level of precision and ethical consideration as would be performed with written ethnography. Our goal was to tell a trustworthy story.
While working on this collection, various storylines, narrative arcs, drawings, and so forth, we were faced with a series of esthetic, philosophical, and ethical choices. We not only interpreted our ethnographic findings but also presented our view of the world. In some instances, we used irony and humor to clarify situations. These forms of expression also represent our informants’ subjective experiences. They reflect the tone, emotions, and comments that were expressed by the students and employees during our conversations with them.
This book, in both its form and content, breaks with the traditional way of presenting ethnography. Traditionally, anthropology has been a written enterprise. Writing is perceived as the most scientific form of representation of social life. However, other forms of representation exist — not only in other disciplines (like art) but also within anthropology and social sciences.
Anthropological findings have been presented in such forms as photography, film, and material exhibitions. Anthropologists are becoming increasingly inspired to branch out from the written word and use other forms of expression to present their findings. We have learned that there are various ways in which knowledge can be imparted and findings can be communicated. It is well known that the scientific standards of visual anthropology are equivalent to those of the written one.
The challenges related to visual presentation, as well as the lack of anonymity in those products, have been discussed, and these issues remain problematic. However, we believe that the comic book format, with its convincing visual style and preservation of anonymity (i.e., informants do not have to reveal their identities on screen or in photos, thus preserving their anonymity) may be a great solution.
Stereotypes: Culture or money? Cartoon: Marcin Ponomarew
The goals of this comic book were not only to inform and educate but also to entertain and provoke discussion among readers. While working on this collection, we endeavored to set a tone of openness so as to promote reflection and interpretation. In so doing, we hoped that the comic book would involve readers in the dynamic process of learning and create a debate.
Did we succeed? Judging by the comments we received from the public – yes. We received positive feedbacks from both students, employees at the college and fellow anthropologists. Not only did they concern the esthetical values of the comics or the innovative way of presenting research, but what’s most important we received feedbacks on the issues presented in the comics.
We have been told that the book made people reflect. “So this is how it works”, “I didn’t realize before, that stereotypes are also what I do every day” and “This opened my eyes on the integration issues”, we have heard from the readers. I believe that this is because of the form of presentation we have chosen.
People tend to better understand the complex issues when they are visible. Literally. Sometimes we need to see ourselves in a mirror to see ourselves at all. These comics were like a mirror that made people reflect upon the social and cultural issues without the distance which written texts often are creating.
So, yes, we achieved what we hoped for. If this collection will help to improve the learning and work environment at the college is not entirely up to us, but we shed a light on challenges that need to be solved.
I would not say that comics are appropriate to present work engaged in theory development. But is every anthropological text about theory? We read so many articles, monographs, reports and listen to conference papers which actually present nothing more than ethnographic description. Are they less scientific? Well, this questions should be answered by anthropologists in the nearest future. For if pictures tell and do just as much (or more) as words, we should take a serious look at the condition and purposefulness of writing in anthropology and academia in general.
The Anthropological Comic Book is available online at http://anthrocomics.wordpress.com
UPDATE 4.3.2011: Katarzyna Wala has translated her text into Polish: Komiks antropologiczny
Voice of Freedom / Sout Al Horeya by Amir Eid ft. Hany Adel
(post in progress) While the revolutions in Northern Africa and the Middle East are spreading and the Libyan people
managed are trying to get rid of another dictator, anthropologists continue to comment the recent events. Here is a short overview.
Much has been said about who or what is going to replace Mubarak after he had to step down two weeks ago. In her article The Architects of the Egyptian Revolution in The Nation, anthropologist Saba Mahmood directs our attention to a rather neclected topic: The economic unjustice in Egypt and its connections to “American driven reforms". For since the 1970s, she writes, the Egyptian economy has been increasingly subject to neoliberal economic reforms by the World Bank, the IMF and USAID at the behest of the United States government. Egyptian elites have been beneficiaries of, and partners in, these American-driven reforms:
While there is no doubt that the new order in Egypt cannot do without the civil and political liberties characteristic of a liberal democracy, what is equally at issue in a country like Egypt is an economic system that serves only the rich of the country at the expense of the poor and the lower and middle classes.
The vast majority of public institutions and services in Egypt have been allowed to fall into a dismal state of disrepair. Countless Egyptians die in public hospitals for lack of medical care and staff; Egypt’s universities are no longer capable of delivering the education of which they once boasted. Lack of housing, jobs and basic social services make everyday life impossible to bear for most Egyptians, as do declines in real wages and escalating inflation.
It is these conditions that prompted the workers—from the industrial and service sector—to stage strikes and sit-ins over the past ten years. These workers were an integral part of the demonstrations over the past two weeks in Egypt; various unions formally joined the protests in the days immediately preceding Mubarak’s resignation, prompting some to suggest that this was a turning point in the evolution of the protest.
The role the US government plays will be “enormously consequential":
While the Obama administration has reluctantly yielded to the demands for democratic reform, it is highly doubtful that this administration will tolerate any restructuring of US economic interests in Egypt and in the region more generally.
Egypt was governed as a private estate, explains political scientist Salwa Ismail in the Guardian. Under sweeping privatisation policies, Mubarak and the clique surrounding him appropriated profitable public enterprises and vast areas of state-owned lands.
“Egypt’s protests were a denunciation of neo-liberalism and the political suppression required to impose it", concludes filmmaker Philip Rizk in Al-Jazeera. He has recently completed a documentary on the food price crisis in Egypt and blogs at tabulagaza.blogspot.com.
Protests were according to him the culmination of a wave of much smaller and more localised strikes and demonstrations that had been taking place across the country since 2006.
Saba Mahmood agrees. She goes in her account back to 2004. In The road to Tahir, another prominent anthropologist, Charles Hirschkind, gives us a comprehensive introduction in the history of the Egyptian revolution, starting with the Kifaya movement, that “brought together Islamists, Muslim Brothers, communists, liberals, and secular-leftists, joined on the basis of a common demand for an end to the Mubarak regime and a rejection of Gamal Mubarak’s succession of his father as president". Many of the bloggers who helped promote the Kifaya movement have played key roles in the events of the past two weeks, he writes. (A longer version is available in the Open Access journal Revista de Dialectología y Tradiciones Populares.)
Political scientist Moataz A. Fattah lists in the Christian Science Monitor five reasons why Arab regimes are falling. Major societal and demographic factors are at play that in his view won’t go away with a new government, he argues.
Rise to Freedom by Basha Beats and Natacha Atlas
One of the best sources about the current Arab revolutions is the blog Closer. Anthropologist Martijn de Koning is regularily posting round-ups and recruites guest writers as for example Samuli Schielke, anthropologist at Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin.
“If this revolution has taught me one thing is that the people of Egypt do not need to look up to Europe or America to imagine a better future", he writes in his post “Now, it’s gonna be a long one” – some first conclusions from the Egyptian revolution:
“Compared to our governments with their lip service to democracy and appeasement of dictators, Egyptians have given the world an example in freedom and courage which we all should look up to as an example. This sense of admiration and respect is what has drawn so many foreigners to Tahrir Square in the past days, including myself.”
Samuli Schielke has maintained a diary of the protests at Tahrir Square at http://samuliegypt.blogspot.com/ . On his website, we find both photography (among others from Egypt) and several papers, among others Second thoughts about the anthropology of Islam, or how to make sense of grand schemes in everyday life, Ambivalent Commitments: Troubles of Morality, Religiosity and Aspiration among Young Egyptians and Boredom and despair in rural Egypt (what a title!).
The most recent post at Closer is Tunisia: from paradise to hell and back?, a personal account by Miriam Gazzah. She is currently working within the research project Islamic cultural practices and performances: The emergence of new youth cultures in Europe.
Several anthropologists commented on the rape story where CBS correspondent Lara Logan had been sexually assaulted while covering the Egyptian protests. “Two disturbing lines of commentary have emerged: one that cites irrelevant details about Logan’s beauty or her past sexual history, the other blaming Muslims or Egyptian culture for the assault", anthropologist Racel Newcomb comments in the Huffington Post:
Rather than blaming religion, we should work to end underdevelopment, poverty, and a lack of education, problems whose eradication is crucial to a prosperous and healthy society anywhere, whether in Egypt or here at home.
In Empire and the Liberation of Veiled Women, anthropologist Maximilian Forte deconstructs the popular narrative of the West bringing freedom to the women of the non-West.
UPDATE: Fascinating developments. Egypt is inspring US protesters. Check From Cairo to Madison: Hope and Solidarity are Alive. Medea Benjamin writes:
Photo credit: Muhammad Saladin Nusair via Derek Blackadder, flickr
Local protesters were elated by the photo of an Egyptian engineer named Muhammad Saladin Nusair holding a sign in Tahrir Square saying “Egypt Supports Wisconsin Workers—One World, One Pain.” The signs by protesters in Madison include “Welcome to Wiscairo”, “From Egypt to Wisconsin: We Rise Up”, and “Government Walker: Our Mubarak.” The banner I brought directly from Tahrir Square saying “Solidarity with Egyptian Workers” has been hanging from the balcony of the Capitol alongside solidarity messages from around the country.
She quotes Muhammad Saladin Nusair who wrote these wonderful lines:
“If a human being doesn’t feel the pain of his fellow human beings, then everything we’ve created and established since the very beginning of existence is in great danger. We shouldn’t let borders and differences separate us. We were made different to complete each other, to integrate and live together. One world, one pain, one humanity, one hope.”
SEE ALSO my first round up: “A wonderful development” - Anthropologists on the Egypt Uprising (updated 6.2.)
More and more journals have gone open access, now it’s time for open access books!
OAPEN - Open Access Publishing in European Networks is an initiative in Open Access publishing for humanities and social sciences monographs. Several European university presses have joined the initiative that aims to improve the accessibility and dissemination of academic books. “The traditional book publishing model", they state, “is no longer sustainable".
Searching for anthropology gives 289 hits, among others these books. All books can be downloaded as pdf-files:
More than one million Egyptians protesting for democracy. Photo: Al Jazeera, flickr
(last updated 6.2.2011, 21:30 - updates in bold - check also new post: Saba Mahmood: Democracy is not enough - Anthropologists on the Arab revolution part II 22.2.2011 ) “The government would come down hard on even the smallest protest, and everyone would be arrested. Now, it’s as if the people are saying, ‘We’re not going to be afraid anymore.’ “I am very, very happy for the Egyptian people. I really am. It’s a wonderful development for the Egyptian people.”
That’s how anthropologist Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban comments the recent protests in Egypt. She has spent six years since 1970 living and conducting research in the Sudan, Egypt and Tunisia and is currently teaching “Arab-Islamic Culture and the West”.
In contrast to Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Norwegian anthropologist Unni Wikan is worried.
She claims that “Mubarak is not a despot” and that he is “considered a very honorable man". In her opinion, Mubarak “did well / prove worthy of the situation in not giving in to the peoples’ voices on the streets". People - especially the poor she has studied for decades - don’t care for democracy. They want stability! Without Mubarak, the “criminal mob on the streets” would lead the country into chaos, she writes. Even today, when more than a million people protested in Cairo and other cities in Egypt, she insisted that Mubarak has the peoples’ support.
Of course, her article “traveled", among others to the Lebanese-American professor of political science As’ad AbuKhalil at at California State University, who posted a Google translation of her article and comments: “I suspect that you will both laugh and cry while reading this piece of rubbish".
UPDATE: Comment by anthropologist David H. Price in Counterpunch: “We can expect Wikan’s incredible claims to be paraded out by Fox News and CNN as part of a distortion campaign to support Mubarak’s efforts to cling to power, all in the name of balance.”
As you might have noticed, Wikan is argueing along similar lines as the Western political elite who is about to lose an important ally in the Middle East. For them, “stability” is more important than people power, as Maximilian Forte and his co-bloggers at Zero Anthropology explain in several blog posts, among others The Fall of the American Wall: Tunisia, Egypt, and Beyond and Encircling Empire: Report #11, Focus on Egypt, Encircling Empire: Report #12, FOCUS ON EGYPT: Revolution and Counter-Revolution and The Song of the Nonaligned Nile (by Eliza Jane Darling).
Forte quotes Hillary Clinton who said that ”our assessment is that the Egyptian Government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”
“Let’s be really clear about what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, perhaps soon Israel/Palestine, and now Lebanon and Yemen", he states. “A wall of U.S. supported dictatorships and clients is collapsing.”
UPDATE: How should the West react? “The discussion in the West should focus on the factor we are responsible for and we can influence - the role our governments have played in suppressing the Egyptian people, writes Johann Hari in Huffington Post. “Your taxes have been used to arm, fund and fuel this dictatorship.”
See also Ryan Anderson’s post at Ethnografix Power, realpolitik, and freedom: Egypt and US Ideals about Freedom.
Meanwhile, over 150 academics have signed an Open letter to President Barack Obama, calling on Obama to support Egypt’s democratic movement. (You see the irony here of course… Western leaders fearing for a democratic Middle East. “The hypocrisy of western liberals is breathtaking: they publicly supported democracy, and now, when the people revolt against the tyrants on behalf of secular freedom and justice, not on behalf of religion, they are all deeply concerned", writes Slavoj žižek in the Guardian).
UPDATE: The American Anthropological Association signed a statement of support for Egypt. But it’s mostly about the “losses to cultural heritage” and doesn’t say anything about Mubarak.
UPDATE: Maximilian Forte ay Zero Anthropology criticizes the AAA statement. Archaeologist Rosemary Joyce addresses the issue “valuing things over people” in a very interesting post. She also questions protection of Egyptian antiquities out of concern for their status as “global cultural heritage”.
Anti-Mubarak protesters at Tahrir Square in Cairo 30.1.2011. Photo: darkroom productions, flickr
The keys to understanding what has driven millions of citizens to the streets are the tragic circumstances surrounding the deaths of two young men, writes anthropologist Linda Herrera in her text Two Faces of the Revolution at the blog Closer.
She tells the story of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunesia who “overwhelmed by the burden of fines, debts, the humiliation of being serially harassed and beaten by police officers, and the indifference of government authorities", set himself on fire” and the Egyptian Khaled Said who was brutally murdered by Police.
She stresses that “contrary to a number of commentators in news outlets in North America and parts of Europe the two revolutions overtaking North Africa are not motivated by Islamism.” “These are inclusive freedom movements for civic, political, and economic rights” as this video below shows as well and is described in Robert Fisk’s report in the Independent: Secular and devout. Rich and poor. They marched together with one goal
UPDATE: In the Western hype about Islamists the Muslim Brotherhood, who denounced violence a long time ago has been demonized for too long", says anthropologist Petra Kuppinger. “While militant Islamist groups exist, they are increasingly marginal. The Brotherhood is certainly not one of them.”
“It is a revolution without a leader", says Adrienne Pine from the Department of Anthropology at the American University in Washington in the interview below. But that does not mean chaos. She’s blogging at http://quotha.net/
He gives us the bigger picture, conntects the local with the global:
Revolutions don’t happen out of the blue. It’s not because of Tunisia yesterday that we have one in Egypt mechanically the next day. You can’t isolate these protests from the last four years of labour strikes in Egypt, or from international events such as the al-Aqsa intifada and the US invasion of Iraq.
UPDATE: Anthropologist Karl Lorenz from Shippensburg University agrees. He’s not surprised about the protests. He believes that it is too late for reforms from Mubarak, because the people have wanted it for 30 years and it has not been done.
Anthropologist Daniel Martin Varisco wrote two comments All Eyes on Egypt and Yemen is not Tunisia or Egypt. Another anthropologist, William O. Beeman, explains why an Islamic Government in Egypt Might Not Be So Terrible.
UPDATE: Anthropologist Farha Ghannam writes about the rich symbolism of the Tahrir Square: “In a society sharply divided by class and gender, the square has been a place where all feel comfortable - young and elderly, rich and poor, men and women, Muslim and Christian.”
Sociologist Sherifa Zuhur shares her thoughts about the recent protests and how it is received in the West.
Anthropologist Jon Anderson questions the importance of social media - a topic that was also discussed at Savage Minds: Thinking about the importance of communications “revolutions”.
When looking for scientific publications, I made the same experience as Barbara Miller at anthopologyworks. Most articles deal with the (very distant) past. Miller concludes:
Clearly, you will have a better chance of finding out about early cat domestication, prehistoric ships, vessel residue analysis and even infant weaning during Roman times than you will have of learning about the social dimensions of today’s street protests.
I used the single search term “Egypt,” and I chose the publication dates of 2000-2010. Nearly 400 articles popped up. In scanning through them, I found that only 10 percent were related to contemporary social life. The other 90 percent of the references are dominated by archaeology with a sprinkling of biological anthropology as well as some non-anthro sources.
The sociology/anthropology repository of the American University of Cairo hosts several relevant publications.
Mats Ivarsson from the University in Lund (Sweden) has written a paper that sounds interesting: Impact of authoritarian pressure on the political blogosphere in Egypt. He “proposes the hypothesis that an authoritarian state actually will strengthen the quality of the information disseminated in the blogosphere” (pdf)
Then I stumpled upon the thesis Youth and internet in Egyptian party politics : balancing authoritarianism with agency in a condition of negative peace by Tone-Rita Henriksen from the University of Tromsø, Norway (pdf).
This is just a small selection of texts about the ongoing revolution in Egypt and around.
Maybe the best and most comprehensive round-up with links to tons of articles (and less chaotic than this one here) can be found at the blog Closer, compiled by anthropologist Martijn de Koning: Closing the week 5 – Featuring the Tunisia & Egypt Uprising
The Middle East blog tabsir.net has a round up What the Arab papers say
For more round-ups see posts by anthro-blogger Erkan Saka who has been active as usual, se among others Registering a revolution. Hail to the brave people of Egypt. A roundup and - media anthropologist John Postill’s bookmarks - mainly about the role of media in the Tunesia and Egypt uprisings.
There, Gina Cardenas highlights women’s role in her post Egypt: Protesting Women Celebrated Online, a topic that has not been given enough media attention.
Very interesting also Egypt: A Voice in the Blackout, Thanks to Google and Twitter, showcasing the power of Egyptian peoples’ transnational ties and new technology.
I close this post with Global Voices video collection Egypt: Solidarity Pours in from Around the World
“Stupid multiculturalism, no clash of civilisations: When we’re fighting tyrants we’re universalists and building global solidarity. I’m proud of the Egyptians! They understand democracy better than we in the West (Zizek) - “This is the time to support Egypt” (Ramadan)
Check also new post 22.2.2011: Saba Mahmood: Democracy is not enough - Anthropologists on the Arab revolution part II