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The Secret Society of Anthropologists

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...

  18:58:32, by admin   . Categories: Us and Them, Northern America

Ethnographic Research: Gated Communities Don’t Lead to Security

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.

>> read the whole review on findarticles.com


Interview with Setha Low on NPR

Gated communities more popular, and not just for the rich (USA Today)

Wikipedia on Gated Communities

Thomas Hylland Eriksen: Risking security. Paradoxes of social cohesion


For an Anthropology of Cosmopolitanism

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.

The researchers stress that cosmopolitanism is no elite-phenomenon - it's everyday practice. Per Wirten points to studies on the Bosnian war by peace - and conflict researcher Mary Kaldor:

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.

In her thesis on British Asian cosmopolitains, anthropologist Cicilie Fagerlid explains the difference between multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism:

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'.


What's the point of anthropology conferences? (general summary)

David Graeber: There never was a West! Democracy as Interstitial Cosmopolitanism

Owen Sichone: Poor African migrants no less cosmopolitan than anthropologists


Per Wirtén: Free the nation - cosmopolitanism now!"

Book review: Cosmopolitanism. Carol A. Breckenridge, Sheldon Pollock, Homi K. Bhabha, and Dipesh Chakrabarty, eds (updated link)

Kwame Anthony Appiah on Cosmopolitanism: The Case For Contamination

Q&A with Kwame Anthony Appiah: Deepening the conversation about identity

Cicilie Fagerlid: "Beyond Ethnic Boundaries? British Asian Cosmopolitans" (459kb, pdf)

Steven Vertovec: Trends and Impacts of Migrant Transnationalism (updated link)

Steven Vertovec: Fostering Cosmopolitanisms: A Conceptual Survey and A Media Experiment in Berlin (pdf)

Rebecca Graversen: Imagining Other Places. Cosmopolitanism and exotic fantasies in multicultural cities

Mary Kaldor: Cosmopolitanism and organised violence

Per Mouritsen: Can Patriots Be World-Citizens? (pdf)

Edward Spence: Cosmopolitanism and the Internet

How can we create a more plural anthropological community?

Transnational Communities Programme - lots of working papers

Cosmopolitanism - from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


  23:34:13, by admin   . Categories: Open Access Anthropology and Knowledge Sharing, internet

Blogger won University Prize for Excellence in Research Dissemination!

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


  01:57:07, by admin   . Categories: Europe, books, migration

Book review: East to West Migration: Russian Migrants in Western Europe

Migrants from the same country often form communities in their new country. This is not the case with Russians in London and Amsterdam. They live in separate, often competing subgroups. This is one of the main points in the book East to West Migration: Russian Migrants in Western Europe by anthropologist Helen Kopnina. "I discovered that the concept of ‘subcommunities’ describes Russian migrants’ circumstances more accurately than that of ‘community,’” Kopnina writes.

In his review, Boris Kagarlitsky writes:

Among the Russian emigrants in London one can meet the oligarch Boris Berezovsky as well as half-starving dishwashers. These migrants can hardly manage to feel kinship. A common culture and language are of no help in this regard.


The new Russian emigration in the West reflects the same tendencies in play in post-Soviet society. It is startling that contemporary Russian society has been quickly marked by an almost complete absence of altruism, solidarity, and community. No longer under the dominion of the Communist Party, society has turned to primitive individualism.

>> read the whole review on Transitions Online

  01:34:05, by admin   . Categories: Asia, persons and theories, journal articles / papers, websites

Joshua Barker - one more blogging anthropologist!

Most homepages of anthropologists at universities only consist of a boring list of non-clickable publications. One of the few exceptions is the homepage of Joshua Barker at the University of Toronto. Eight papers can be read, including papers that have been published in exclusive journals like Current Anthropology. His research focuses on Indonesia, on urban studies, crime and security, and new technologies. Barker is currently conducting a three-year research project 'Engineers and Political Dreams: Indonesia's Internet in Cultural Perspective'.

Some weeks ago, he's started his blog Metropolis 347

Explores how indigenous peoples interprete Christianity

Carolyn Schwarz spent 17 months in the most remote part of northern Australia to conduct field work for her dissertation on how Christianity and Western religious systems either came together or conflicted with one another. "There hadn’t been much work on introduced religious practices in aboriginal Australia", she says to the journal Advance at the University of Conneticut:

In Western society, “religion is treated as being something separate,” she says, “But in aboriginal societies, religious beliefs are not as separated – politics and religion are one and the same. Religion is a way of life. It carries over into mundane activities, such as exchanging food, negotiating for money and receiving access to vehicles.”

>> read the whole story in Advance


Available for download: Alex Golubs dissertation on mining and indigenous people

In his dissertation (published on his blog yesterday), anthropologist Alex Golub challenges popular notions on indigenous peoples, mining and globalisation. He has done research in a region that has gone through major transformations and fulfills every stereotype going "from the stone age to the jet age". Now, the third largest gold mine in the world resides in the once remote valley. Golubs dissertation is about the relationship between the Porgera gold mine and the Ipili-speaking people on whose land the mine is located.

His findings are very interesting and challenge stereotypes among both the general public, political activists and anthropologists. For example, indigenous people are not always "victims of economic globalisation":

While many would expect the intersection of a world-class gold mine and a relatively naïve indigenous people to result in a ‘fatal impact’ (Moorehead 1966), in fact the Ipili have been very successful at
extracting concessions from the mine and government.

[P]reconceptions of the Ipili as ecologically noble savages (Buege 1996) trampled on and degraded by global capitalism do not capture the complexity of Porgera’s politics.


[The Ipili] have actually became "one of the most active and successful fourth world people in the world today in terms of pressing claims against the state and transnational capitalism.

Another interesting point: Golub thinks that Papua New Guineans are much further along the road to understanding how "globalization" works than most anthropologists and that anthropologists have more to learn from them than they from us:

Where we see a dizzying flow of transnational entities and fractal, hybrid postmodern geographies, they see ‘Harry.’ Could it be we have something to learn from them rather than the other way around? ‘Landowners’ ability to sniff out the small knot of people behind stories of globalization is an incisive analytic move from which anthropologists who study “globalization” could learn.

Alex Golub goes an writing that studying globalization would require a very particular kind of academic discipline:

A discipline which delivers a richly detailed account of the lifeways of a small network of people as it is actually lived. A discipline attentive to the stories these people tell of themselves without uncritically accepting them as true. A discipline willing to recognize its entanglement in their lives without lapsing into either epistemological paralysis or the easy lie of a comfortable objectivity. In a world where our discipline is beset with doubts about its relevance, ethics, and epistemology, it may be that an anthropology which seeks to make itself feasible may have more to learn from Papua New Guineans than the other way around.

>> download the dissertation "Making the Ipili feasible: Imagining local and global actors at the Porgera Gold Mine, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea" (pdf, 1,5MB )

PS: I have just started reading the 436 pages

Fieldwork in Papua New Guinea: Who are the exotic others?

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