When anthropologist Robert Leonard took a second job as a cab driver out of economic necessity, he found an "amazing other world." He learned about capitalism from drug dealers and prostitutes and hope from carnival workers; he learned about broken families from businessmen and thankfulness from broken vagabonds.
The cab as an ideal place to conduct fieldwork? Leonard says:
"People, in general, are unappreciated. No one says, 'Tell me about yourself.' We don't ask each other that. But people want to talk about themselves. They don't want to be in a cab, so they talk, knowing they are not likely to see you again."
"You develop a sixth sense about people just by how they look at you. I'm an observer. I'm used to looking at things closely. I could sense danger by the way they approached the cab. But it really reinforced my positive view of humanity. I met a lot of the smartest people I've met in my life."
A new film by Inuit film maker Zacharias Kunuk (53) explores how missionaries force-fed Christianity to the Inuit in the 1920s. It's called The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. Before its official world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, a preview was held for Kunuks home community Igloolik, a cultural hub of the Arctic, 2,800 kilometres north of Toronto. Gayle MacDonald from The Globe and Mail has been there and reports:
The frigid temperature (30 C below) does not faze these people, who came in droves -- some by prop plane from as far away as Qaanaaq, Greenland; and Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit -- to watch Kunuk's latest cinematic creation. (...) "One of my friends left the seal hunt early so that he could get here before the show starts," Kunuk, himself an avid hunter, adds proudly.
The shy filmmaker explains that his new film, shot in the relatively balmy months of April and May last year, is the story of explorer Knud Rasmussen, who travelled through this area in the 1920s, chronicling the conversion to Christianity of the great shaman Avva (played by local resident Pakak Innukshuk) and his willful daughter Apak (Leah Angutimarik).
The local Inuits appreciated that he took on taboo topics:
Some say they liked Atanarjuat, based on an Inuit legend, better. Others attest to being equally touched by this film, about the last great Inuit shaman, Avva. But all say they were glad Kunuk took on a taboo topic: shamanism, which the early missionaries dubbed devil worship, and which still sits uneasily with some of the town's most religious Anglican, Roman Catholic and evangelical residents.
Kunuk's production company, Igloolik Isuma Productions is according to the article one of the few success stories, periodically employing hundreds of local people as actors and film crew while injecting several million dollars into the economy. The people, by and large, are poor. Suicide (especially among those under 20), alcoholism, drug use and spousal abuse are rampant.
"The Journals of Knud Rasmussen" To Kick-Off Toronto's 2006 Festival (Indiewire, 8.3.06)
Rachel Qitsualik: Inuit shamanism and the code of silence (Indian Country, 23.6.05)
Indigenous Australians dug underground water reservoirs that helped them live on one of the world's driest continents for tens of thousands of years, new research by hydrogeologist Brad Moggridge shows, according to ABC News. The study indicates Aboriginal people had extensive knowledge of the groundwater system. European settlers owed their subsequent knowledge of groundwater to the indigenous Australians, and even much of Australia's modern road system is based on water sources identified by the original inhabitants.
Moggridge based his work on oral histories, Dreamtime stories, rock art, artefacts and ceremonial body painting as well as written accounts by white missionaries, surveyors, settlers, anthropologists and explorers.
In the article, there's an interestring link to the research network Desert Knowledge that is "linking Indigenous and local knowledge with science and education to improve desert livelihoods".
Jill Walker reports about censorship of research in the USA:
Recently, two articles by teams from the University of Bergen were accepted by prominent US journals and then turned down because, the publishers said, "we cannot publish your paper because the United States government restricts publishers from publishing papers that have an affiliation with the government of Iran." Some of the authors were Iranian citizens.
Isn’t that astounding, though? The results results are presumably important, since they were accepted in an internationally reknowned, peer reviewed journal. They have nothing to do with bombs or weapons of mass destruction or politics - this is geology and oil and such. And yet the US government refuses to allow US journals to publish this, just because some of the authors - scholars, not politicians - have Iranian passports? How peculiar that the country that (in theory) has the strongest tradition of freedom of speech and democracy stifles research and communication like this.
The rector of Bergen University said to the Norwegian media that this was "unacceptable political censorship", "previously known only from totalitarian regimes". Matthias Kaiser from the National Committees for Research Ethics in Norway says, the American science community can no longer be regarded as a part of the international science community.
There's no English language coverage available,
A few weeks ago, the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the world's largest association of scholars of religion, criticized a similar "ideological exclusion" of knowlewdge and scholars. They joined a lawsuit that challenges a key provision of the USA Patriot Act, according to the blog Mirror of Justice:
Citing the 2004 revocation of a travel visa for noted Swiss scholar of Islam Tariq Ramadan, the suit contends that an "ideological exclusion" provision of the Patriot Act is being used to impede the free circulation of scholars and scholarly debate that are integral to academic freedom.
Commenting on the suit, AAR Executive Director Barbara DeConcini stated that "preventing foreign scholars like Professor Ramadan from visiting the U.S. limits not only the ability of scholars here to enhance their own knowledge, but also their ability to inform students, journalists, public policy makers, and other members of the public who rely on scholars' work to acquire a better understanding of critical current issues involving religion.
In the book Engaging Anthropology, Thomas Hylland Eriksen writes:
In spite of its considerable growth, anthropology still cultivates its self-identity as a counter-culture, its members belonging to a kind of secret society whose initiates possess exclusive keys for understanding, indispensable for making sense of the world, but alas, largely inaccessible for outsiders. (...)Anthropologists simply did not want their subject to become too popular.
Recently, I had to think of this quote several times. As noted, I've registered for the conference Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology. As the conference fee is cheaper for members of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth, I thought: Why not have a look at the organisation.
On the homepage section Membership, the first thing you read is this here:
Not a member? Why not lend your support to the discipline? If you would like to join, and fulfil the requirements below, use the NEW online form to apply.
Requirements?? Read on:
The ASA offers membership to persons of academic standing who, by virtue of their training, posts held and published works can be recognised as professional social anthropologists. Nominations and applications are considered once a year, at the Annual Business Meeting of the Association. These must be submitted by December 31st in the academic year in which they are to be considered.
But that's not enough. You can't just apply by yourself:
Applications may be made by nomination through a member of the Association or by a person applying in their own right. In the case of the latter the names of two members of the Association should be provided to whom the committee may refer if necessary.
You should also take a look at the detailed membership application form
In contrast, there are no such "requirements" when applying for membership in the American Anthropological Association (AAA) or in the Norwegian Anthropological Association.
By the way, some days ago, the first conference papers were published on the website. Try to download them and see what happens when you (try to) open them...
Gated communities are becoming more and more popular in America. They are no longer ghettoes for the rich and wealthy. Behind fences and walls, more than eight million Americans live in their own parallel societies. Setha Low, professor of environmental psychology and anthropology, has conducted ten years of fieldwork in gated communities in New York, Texas and Mexico City and why there has been an increase in Americans moving to gated communities. The University of California at Irvine’s campus newspaper, New University reports about a recent lecture by Setha Low:
Her research revealed that gated communities don’t necessarily have less crime than the surrounding area. In addition, residents did not find the friendly community that they were looking for. She found that residents did feel safer, but they worried all the time about the guards and the workers, and the residents had their home security systems on all the time.
>> read the whole story in New University (Link updated with copy)
In an earlier text, Setha Low writes:
Most people who move to gated communities are not aware of what they lose in this quest for safety and privacy. Growing up with an implicit fortress mentality, many children may experience more, not less, fear of people outside the gates.
In an review of Setha Low's book Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America, Alan Greenblatt provides more details:
Gated communities "preselect a ready-made community of socially and economically similar people," Low writes. But as her interviews reveal, in time that self-selection feeds upon itself and fear of outsiders grows. Low quotes a San Antonio woman identified as "Felicia" as saying "if you go downtown, which is much more mixed, where everybody goes, I feel much more threatened." Due to lack of exposure, Felicia's young daughter has grown afraid of poor people on the rare occasions she encounters any. Other residents are even more open about such issues. A teenager dressed in a tennis skirt for a Fourth of July party casually tells Low that the Mexicans downtown "are dangerous, packing knives and guns." Low blames gated communities for exacerbating these segregationist or even racist tendencies.
Some days ago I registered for the conference Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology at Keele University (UK). As a preparation, here some notes on anthropology and cosmopolitanism.
After the controversis around the Mohammed-cartoons, media loved talking about culture and religion wars and Huntingtons clash of civilisation. But maybe we should have talked more about cosmopolitanism than culture war. Isn't cosmopolitanism more common than fundamentalism? In his article Anthropology as cosmopolitan practice? (subscription required) published in Anthropological Theory in 2003 (3):403–415, Joel Kahn writes:
I would suggest that a certain cosmopolitanism governs the practices of localized individuals and institutions, everyday interactions between individuals and groups, popular cultural activities, forms of economic relations, and institutions of village government.
Could one go further to argue that in instances where a breakdown of such cosmopolitan coalitions has taken place - in Aceh, West Papua, Kalimantan, the Moluccas more often than not this has been precisely a result of the imposition from above (by the Indonesian state, outside powers and institutions) of disembedded, supposedly universal, culturally neutral forms of power, jurisprudence and so on (that is, of liberal versions of the cosmopolitan ideal)?
In his paper he wants to recover "cosmopolitanism in recent social and political theory, a project to which according to him "surprisingly few anthropologists have so far contributed":
The world which anthropologists seek to study is a world not of discrete and isolatable other cultures and societies, but a world of ‘intercultural’ or ‘intercommunal’ relationships.
A quick internet-search revealed that many anthropologists and social scientists make similar points as Kahn.
In the book Cosmopolitanism, Identity and Authenticity in the Middle East, Roel Meijer writes, that the Middle East was, in the past, "an open undefined territory in which groups of different religious and ethnic backgrounds intermingled and exchanged ideas and lifestyles". In his review (source url-lost), Fred Halliday from London School of Economics concludes:
The main message of this collection of studies is that in the past the Middle East did embody certain forms of cosmopolitanism, but that modern forces - the modern state, anti-imperialism, the mass politics of secular and religious forces alike - have overwhelmed these forms. Globalisation now substitutes a different kind of superficial and consumerist, universalism.
As it turned out, those who defended cosmopolitan ideas often lived in small towns and villages where they hid refugees, saving them from ethnic cleansing and paving the way for continued co-existence. Many of them had never gone to university or even once left the place where they were born. In contrast, many of the most militant Croatian and Serbian nationalists had in many ways lead what we tend to think of as a cosmopolitan life: educated at foreign universities they felt at home in all of the major airports around the world and could converse in a relaxed manner with the global political and financial elite.
And in the anthology Cosmopolitics. Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation (red: Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins), Wirten writes, a number of philosophers, anthropologists and cultural sociologists are inspired by the Dominican migrant, the Kurdish refugee, the stateless Palestinian, the indigenous propertyless of Chiapas.
The conference organizers introduce the concept of cosmopolitanism this way:
One tendency has been to think of cosmopolitanism as transgressing the parochialism or ethnicism of the nation-state. In this view, cosmopolitans are travellers who move beyond national boundaries, and hence a cosmopolitan social science must study these flows and movements, or reflect on issues of global justice, human rights and governmentality.
This apparently commonsensical view has been challenged, however, in a deservedly much cited article by Kwame Anthony Appiah, ‘Cosmopolitan Patriots’. (...) Appiah speaks of a ‘rooted’ cosmopolitanism, and proposes that cosmopolitans begin from membership in morally and emotionally significant communities (families, ethnic groups) while espousing notions of toleration and openness to the world, the transcendance of ethnic difference and the moral incorporation of the other. His vision opens up scope for a cosmopolitan anthropology which builds on anthropological strengths of fieldwork in particular locales.
While the prototype multicultural society is made up of enclosed cultural units with different but equal rights, the cultural flows do not stay within bounded groups, in a cosmopolitan society. Instead they intersect and mix in various ways in various individuals.
Doing cosmopolitan anthropology means questioning assumptions on "us" and "them", she writes:
It has been important for me to show that the world is interconnected; I did not only share subcultural preferences with my informants, but we reflected on identity formation in similar ways as well. (...) My aim has been to make use of these parallels between lived urban life and life as an urban researcher.
We all need to acknowledge that there is no such thing as 'us' and 'them'.
UPDATE: POSTS ABOUT THE CONFERENCE
What's the point of anthropology conferences? (general summary)
I've blogged about this in my Norwegian blog already, but this might be interesting for you out there as well. It seems that blogging has become mainstram in academica. Jill Walker, one of the first academic bloggers in Norway has won the Meltzer Foundation’s prize for excellence in research dissemination - because of her blogging! >> read Jill Walkers blog post
More and more academics use blogs