Two interviews that I've conducted for the research program "Cultural Complexity in the new Norway" have been translated into English:
Law and multiculturalism: When law crosses borders
How does multicultural society challenge the Norwegian legal system and our interpretation of the law? What happens when different conceptions of the law meet? Should all people be treated alike - regardless of background? Or should groups be given special treatment based on religion and/or ethnicity? Anne Hellum is one of the few jurists in Norway who combine law and anthropology.
Islam in Europe: Mainstream society as the provider of conditions
- There are many different views on the relationship Islam has to human rights. But no one has investigated processes based on the believer’s needs, considers the historian of religion Lena Larsen. She will be investigating fatwas’ - Muslim legal decrees - interpretations of Sharia legal principles. The answers and bases for fatwas are a unique and as yet unused source of data for finding out what values are imparted by Islamic authorities.
(...) it has long occurred to me that what we call "culture" is not just a set of practices, mores, and beliefs, the "innocent accretion of past solutions," as an anthropologist once said. Much of culture is certainly that, but culture is also a politically charged component of the social order, mediated through institutions and groups that have quite privileged vested interests.
I draw from cultures from around the world in the hope of demonstrating how beliefs and practices are subjected to manipulation by dominant interests, and how cultures are instruments of social power.
For some reason, information on what is going on on anthropology conferences is difficult to obtain. Accidentally, I stumbled upon the website on a conference by the Association of Social Anthropologists on Approaches to Indigenous Knowledge that was held six years ago. Strangely enough, all papers are published in full text.
From the introduction:
Anthropology's enduring interest in people's knowledge systems has recently attracted the attention of development policymakers and practitioners. 'Indigenous knowledge' has emerged with the focus on popular participation and planning-from-below. It has opened up opportunities for anthropology to engage practically as never before. How might it further contribute to, and learn from this current burgeoning of interest, which has taken it somewhat by surprise?
Although race has typically been mobilized to justify and uphold social inequality, recently in Nepal race was used in a political movement to oppose those in power, Susan Hangen writes in her article The Emergence of a Mongol Race in Nepal in Anthropology News February.
During the 1990s, some ethnic groups in Nepal—including Gurungs, Magars, Rais, Limbus and Sherpas, began asserting that they all belong to a Mongol race. Previously, each of these groups was primarily identified as belonging to a jati, a term that means both a caste and ethnic group. Their adoption of this racial identity was inspired by the platform of a small political party called the Mongol National Organization (MNO), which sought to unite and mobilize these social and ethnically diverse people, in part to make major political changes that would increase their social, economic and political power.
The MNO also believed that adopting a racial identity would help them to bring international attention to their political cause. Race appealed to the MNO as a global language of identity.
Like the concept of indigenous peoples, race may increasingly serve as a framework through which minorities make political claims, to the extent that it is acknowledged and validated through international institutions like the UN. Thus international efforts to expunge racism may reinforce the salience of race as an identity.
"Racialization is part of the current moment of globalization" - as anthropologist Nina Glick Schiller commented.
Written in the first person, “A Season in Mecca” reads like a novel and is filled with descriptions and personal reflections. It follows a narrative structure, starting with journal entries Hammoudi wrote at his Princeton home before embarking for North Africa and the Middle East, and ending with his departure from Saudi Arabia, which is where Mecca and other sites central to the hajj are located.
Approximately 2 million Muslims travel to Mecca annually. The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam — along with profession of faith, prayer, fasting and alms giving. It is obligatory for every Muslim man or woman, who has the means, to do once in a lifetime. "According to Muslim tradition, the hajj purifies you from sin, puts you on the right path, and brings the mercy of God in you for a good life here and in the hereafter", says anthropologist Abdella Hammoudi, author of the book which became available in English in January.
Hammoudi grew up in Morocco and moved later to France. He says, he knew that the project would be “problematic” for him because of the tension he felt arose from his dual education (both religious and secular). But, and this is interesting, "it was precisely this cultural and educational hybridity that he saw as integral to his study of the hajj".
"I would not have done this [project] as an anthropologist without that sense of existential risk-taking. I went as a cultural Muslim with empathy, and also with distance. I went also with the openness to take the risk to revise everything I had lived with until now."
>> read an excerpt of the book (OpenDemocracy)
No newspaper in Britain has published the Muhammad-cartoons. "There are some lessons (the British) learned from "The Satanic Verses" that I'm afraid others in Europe still need to learn", anthropologist Pnina Werbner says in an interview with Der Spiegel:
During the Rushdie affair, there was also a major discussion about the limits of freedom of speech. The debate made it clear that despite our invocations of freedom of speech, even in the West freedom of speech is not absolute. After all, limits are set on pornography, for example.
Freedom of speech today is to a large extent exercised through self-censorship -- not only through legislation, but by commercial interests, such as newspapers and publishing houses. They constantly make decisions about what should or shouldn't get publicized -- partly in response to audiences, partly in response to commercial interests, partially in response to the sensibilities of their viewers or readers.
You can say what you like in the privacy of your own home, but if you try to get it published, to get your voice heard in public, you will find that your opinions may be unacceptable for purely commercial or pragmatic reasons.
Their passionate belief is puzzling and alien to us. But we have to understand that, precisely because ordinary Muslims are also deeply offended, for that reason such apparently light-hearted satire will play into the hands of the extremists, the very people whom these cartoons were meant to criticize.
They are the ones who are benefiting most from the cartoons. For them, this is a huge PR coup, which enables them to recruit young people to the radical cause of Islam. In this sense the publication of the cartoons has backfired and that, I think, is the real indictment of the cartoonists. They've mobilized people all over the Muslim world against the West.
MORE ANTHROPOLOGISTS ON THIS ISSUE
Daniel Martin Varisco: Much Ado about Something Rotten in Denmark (My own view, even as a satirist who idolizes Montesquieu and Swift, is that the best public course is one of “freedom of discretion” at a time when there is such misunderstanding on all sides) og Loony Tunes: The War Draws On (It is bad enough that we have a war of bombs and bullets exasperated by a war of words. Do we really need to have cartoonists drawn into the fray?)
Erkan Saka: Danish Media's Representations of Islam by anthropologist Peter Hervik and A call for respect and calm (both posts have many useful links among others Danish paper rejected Jesus cartoons and Trampling others' beliefs in defence of yours.)
Kambiz Kamrani: Cultural relativism meets freedom of speech with the Danish cartoons and Muslim protests (He reviews several blog comments and concludes: "With the publication of these cartoons, this distance of understanding and communication is further gapped because we're ultimately fueling an already burning fire.")
www.sorrydenmarknorway.com - Arab and Muslim youth initiative (The problem with media representation of such issues tends to be that the media only picks up the loudest voices, ignoring the rational ones that do not generate as much noise.)
An old drawing style in Japan is being reintroduced as new in the United States, and USC anthropology research scientist Mizuko Ito presented the development of Anime at the UCLA Faculty Center, UCLA University writes on their homepage. Academics should view anime fan art as its own unique art form, she said: "It is important for academic institutions to acknowledge popular culture (such as anime)."
Ito is known for her research on mobile phones. Currently she is part of the research project Digital kids.
The article also mentions Rachel Cody, a research assistant who works with Ito and studies the interaction of anime enthusiasts on the Internet and in front of the computer in private rooms.
(via ethno::log) Looking for another example of everyday racism? Read reuters story about "the worlds most primitive people":
Members of one of the world's most primitive and isolated tribes have killed two fishermen who strayed on to their island in India's Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, a senior government official said on Monday.
A group of about 20 Sentinelese tribes people were surrounding them, Negi said. "They (the tribals) were naked and carrying bows and arrows," he told Reuters by telephone.
The Indian government has banned anyone from going near Sentinel Island where about 250 tribe members live a hunter-gathering lifestyle little changed since the Stone Age.
UPDATE: Story no longer online. >> Read the same story in The Times where the India correspondent even dares to write "Described by anthropologists as a lost tribe of Stone Age aborigines, the Sentinelese..."