Why does anthropology tend to focus on “exotic others"? Why this obsession with Africa? How come calls by well-known anthropologists such as Paul Rabinow to “anthropologize the West seemed to have not brought forth much fruit? How racist is American anthropology?
Kenyan anthropologist Mwenda Ntarangwi discusses those and other questions in his new book Reversed Gaze. An African Ethnography of American Anthropology.
Yes, Ntarangwi has conducted an anthropological study of American anthropology! An important undertaking. He has studied textbooks, ethnographies, coursework, professional meetings, and feedback from colleagues and mentors. He “reverses the gaze", he stresses: Whereas Western anthropologists often study non-Western cultures, he studies “the Western culture of anthropology".
He is especially interested in “the cultural and racial biases that shape anthropological study in general".
In the preface and introduction he writes:
If anthropology truly begins at home as Malinowski states, how come, as I had thus far observed, anthropology tended to focus on the “exotic"? How come only a small percentage of fieldwork and scholarship by Western anthropologists focused on their own cultures, and when they did it was among individuals and communities on the peripheries, their own “exotics” such as those in extreme poverty, in gangs, ad others outside mainstream culture? (…)
This book is a personal journey into the heart of anthropology; representing my own pathways as an African student entering American higher education in the early 1990s that I knew very little about. It is a story about my initial entry into an American academic space very different from my own experience in Kenya, where we followed a British system of education.
It is also a story hemmed within a specific discourse and views about anthropology that can be best represented by remarks from fellow graduate students who wondered what i was doing in a “racist” discipline. (…) Troubled by this label, I consciously embarked on a journey to find more about the discipline.
He critiques dominant tenets of reflexivity, where issues of representation in his opinion are reduced to anthropologists’ writing style, methodological assumptions, and fieldwork locations. Inherent power differences that make it easier for anthropologists to study other people ("studying down") than to study themselves ("studying up") are rendered invisible.
Ntarangwi seeks to contribute to the process of “liberating the discipline from the constraints of its colonial legacy and post- or neocolonial predicament". As long as the bulk of anthropological scholarship comes from Europe and North America and focuses on studying other cultures than their own, the power differentials attendant in anthropology today will endure.
I have just starting to read and took among others a short look at the chapter about the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA).
“I believe it is at the AAA meetings that the anthropological ritual of what we do as anthropologists is best performed", he writes:
Just as America has become an economic and political empire, American anthropology has consolidated a lot of power and in the process has peripheralized other anthropologies, forcing them either to respond to its whims and hegemony or to lose their international presence and appeal. The American Anthropological Association (AAA), I argue, is an important cultural phenomenon that begs for an ethnographic analysis.
It was in 2002, four years after his graduation that Mwenda Ntarangwi attended his first AAA-meeting. It was held in New Orleans. Already at the airport, he realises it is easy to spot anthropologists:
They were dressed casually, many were reading papers, and majority wore some exotic piece of jewelry or clothing that symbolized their field site - either a bracelet from Mexico (…), a necklace from a community in Africa, a tie-dyed shirt, or a multicolored scarf.
His observations from the different sessions he attended remind me of my own impressions: “Conference papers were written to make the presenters sound more profound rather than to communicate ideas", he writes.
But there were interesting panels as well, among others about “marginalization and exclusion of certain scholars and scholarship on the basis of their race". There were, he writes, “discussions of how Haitian anthropologists challenged the notion of race but were never “knighted", as was Franz Boas, simply because they were Black".
He also attended sessions where the speakers were using data collected ten or twenty years before and yet were speaking of the locals as if representing contemporary practices.
Ntarangwi went to the 2007 annual meeting as well. He was very much interested in seeing how well the meeting itself reflected in its theme “Inclusion, Collaboration, and Engagement.”
I’ll write about it next time. I’ll take the book with me on my short trip to Portugal. I’m leaving tomorrow.
“I have been invited to at least four Christmas parties this year, and three of them are being held by Muslims. This is the first time I’ve felt such a huge emphasis on Christmas,” 33-year-old investment banker Osama Abdelshafy says.
Hotels in Egypts have long celebrated Christmas for tourism-related reasons. However, over the past few years, Christmas has been visibly gaining ground throughout various strata of Egyptian society according to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm:
Around 10 December, the Christmas buzz starts to hit with displays popping up in almost every major Cairo mall. Banners with “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” adorn different store and restaurant fronts, and it becomes all too evident that the consumer fever that hits many other parts of the world has caught on here this year too. Some reports say that around 500,000 Christmas trees will have been sold this year in Egypt by 25 December.
Social anthropologist Reem Saad reminds us that the celebration of Christmas has always existed as part of Egypt’s heritage. “People in Egypt have traditionally celebrated religious diversity and joined each other in their celebrations", she says. “It has been a mainstay of Egyptian culture in the past.”
But Christmas in Egypt has departed from its roots as a celebration of the birth of Christ and taken on a more social role. “It’s not about being Christian or not, I just like the idea of getting together and giving gifts in a festive atmosphere”, Rania El-Nazer, who works in PR.
It seems that Christmas is turning into a global secular ritual. Not only in Egypt. Only a minority in Norway for example (23%) is attending the church service at Christmas. Maybe it’s best to describe Christmas as a celebration of the family and capitalism. Many muslims and people from other religious minorities in Norway celebrate Christmas.
At the same time, the Guardian writes that Egypt’s Coptic Christians struggle against institutionalised prejudice.
At GlobalVoices you find an overview over Christmas Recipes in Global Food Blogs
Book launch in the House of Literature (Litteraturhuset) in Oslo with Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Keith Hart and Desmond McNeill. Photo: Lorenz Khazaleh
Anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, economists and activists have come together and written a citizen guide for a human economy.
In The Human Economy more than 30 authors from 15 countries show alternatives to our current dominating economic system.
The table of contents looks promising: There are essays on for example solidarity economy, community participation, fair trade, ecological and feminist economics, alter-globalisation, social entrepreneurship and also articles on two topics that are especially relevant when we’re sitting in front of the screen: gift economies and digital commons.
I like the authors’ approach. They are not dreaming of an obscure and distant revolution. We don’t need a revolution. The alternatives do already exist, explained Keith Hart in Oslo:
The problem with posting an radical alternative to the socalled capitalist economy is that it raises question how do you get there from where we are.
What I want to argue is that the economies are much more plural than ideologies or conventional theories make them out to be. We live in a world in which we say if we can identify the economy as capitalist we’ve somehow done the job. Or if we want to build another one and call it socialist we’ve done the job.
My notion is that we live by a large numbers of economic principles which includes family economy, the importance of the state as an agent to redistribution, voluntary associations, NGOs etc
If we want to push the world economy in a new direction, then we should build it on what people are doing already - even if what they are doing already is marginalised, obscured or even repressed.
Keith Hart made me think of what I wrote nearly ten years ago when I prepared my final exam in economic anthropology. The more I read about Kula, Potlatch and other gift economies in distant places, I wrote (in German only), the more I got convinced of that we are operating in a similar way, that capitalisms’ importance is overrated. I found lots of examples of local exchange trading systems, even in my neighborhood, that work without any money involved: You repair my bike, and I’ll help your with your English homework.
The internet is a huge gift economy. Wikipedia, Flickr, blogging, we’re giving away our work for free. Or think of the free software movement or the way science works. Capitalism dominates only a small part of our economic system.
The authors are optimistic. It’s more easier than ever to realise a Human Economy. In the introduction (pdf), editors Keith Hart, Jean-Louis Laville and Antonio David Cattani write:
This world is massively unequal and voices for human unity are often drowned. But now at last we have means of communication adequate to expressing universal ideas. Anthropologists and sociologists have shown that Homo economicus – the idea of an economy based on narrow self- interest, typified as the practice of buying cheap and selling dear – is absent from many societies and does not even reflect what is best about ourselves. We ought to be able to do better than that by now. But ideas alone are insufficient. Emergent world society is the new human universal – not an idea, but the fact of our shared occupation of the planet crying out for new principles of association.
The Human Economy is a work of reference that has come out of a dialogue between successful social experiments in many parts of the world and theoretical reflection on them. The resulting synthesis is an invitation to advance knowledge along the lines we have begun and to dare to build a better world.
Unfortunately, this “citizen guide” exists on paper only. I asked Keith Hart if a webversion is in the making. His answer was No. Lack of time. “I’m totally overworked", he said.
I’ll try to write more about the book in the coming weeks.
>> After the Crash : A Human Economy for the 21st Century (published in Revue du MAUSS permanente)
It has been one of the best attended conferences ever. More than 6000 anthropologists went to the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Society (AAA) in New Orleans.
But as usual, it’s hard to find any press coverage. There are some blog posts about the conference, though, and more than 1000 tweets. “This year was a breakout year for the use of Twitter at the AAA", Kerim Friedman writes at Savage Minds. The tweets - mostly internal conversations - aren’t of much value for us who haven’t been there, though.
One of the few stories that made it into mainstream media is Modelling not just about a pretty face (Times of India). Stephanie Sadre-Orafai explored how casting agents consider race, the transformation of appearance, balancing fantasy and truth, and selling an image, plus how that process affects a culture’s views on race and image.
On the positive side, the AAA asked anthropologists to blog about the conference. Ashely Duperron for example summarizes a session on the financial crisis. In this session, Gillian Tett (Financial Times) questioned why anthropology does not play a better role in the country’s political policy when in fact it could be used to help predict and make sense of finance and the credit crisis. The banking sector should be studied as a subculture with its own sets of rites and rituals. Her talk was also covered by the Times of Higher Education. See also an earlier post Used anthropology to predict the financial crisis.
Our motto shouldn’t be “publish or perish, but rather, public or perish,” archaeologist Jerry Sabloff said. He delivered the AAA’s Distinguished Lecture that Mark Sanders summarizes for us. The lecture, he writes, “was met with wild applause, and a standing ovation and likely more than a few anthropologists considering their future (however large or small) in the public spotlight.”
The roundtable sessions “Engaging New Orleans” on “public art in this culturally diverse city” sounds interesting as well. “The roundtable engaged New Orleanian activists as well as anthropologists in an attempt to better understand the circumstances of the city", Caitlyn McNabb writes.
Adrienne Pine seems to be the only anthropologist who has posted a conference paper online. Her paper is about “Violence in the Circulation of Capital between Honduran and the U.S.” She also blogs about a motion against further militarisation of research (Florida International University, SOUTHCOM, and Strategic Culture) that she presented and was “passed by a large majority” (in a rather empty seminar room it seems, though).
Do Indigenous Studies reproduce elite knowledge within Indigenous communities? Do they overlook the realities of violence, class, and social disruption? A panel at the AAA meeting critized the “parochialism of Indigenous studies". In an interesting comment, Charles Menzies explains why he stood up and and laid out a full-blown critique of the panel and papers within it - something that doesn’t happen so often at conferences.
Then Inside Higher Education reports about a panel that discussed “beyond standard textbook-and-lecture teaching methods to make anthropology more tangible", and discussions about large-scale revision of its code of ethics, while The Chronicle of Higher Education focuses its report on “the eternal question of whether American anthropology’s four-field structure is sustainable”.
There are several personal accounts about New Orleans that seems to be a very special city.
One of the more inspiring ones was written by Mira Z. Amiras about a seemingly “little ting”: The water went out. In the whole town. Without any warning. And this was not the only “system failure” during the stay in New Orleans. That’s something she is used to when travelling in Eastern Africa or the Middle East. But in the U.S.? “We’ve been seeing one system failure after another, each one a little bit different". “Maybe, as good little anthropologists, we just take notes and watch it all fall. Watch cities fail, one at a time.”
Jason Baird Jackson contributes with fascinating account about a dramatic movie-quality cab driving to the airport. “It was the first time in which I thought that a taxi rate seemed way too low for the work done.”
John L. “Anthroman” Jackson shares some experiences with last years’ conference blogging in the Chronicle of Higher Education where he received comments like “How many classes did you have to cancel to attend your little conference?” This year, he tried to “get the word out about some new scholarly initiatives that he is helping to launch: a book series on the intersections between race and religion and an ambitious and expansive on-line bibliography for the discipline of anthropology".
Finally, I found some stories about anthropologists who received awards.
Ralph Bolton won the 2010 Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology for his contributions and applied anthropology work in Peru as well as his formation of the Chijnaya Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to working in some of the most impoverished areas of South America.
Teresa McCarty has received the George and Louise Spindler Award for Distinguished Scholarly Contributions to the Field of Educational Anthropology for her for research, teaching and activism in Indigenous and language-minority education and policy.
And here a video by “anthropress” that was presented at the meeting about the history of the American Anthropological Associations Annual Meetings.
I’m sure there are more stories online. Let me know! Something more you want to share?
UPDATE: The most debated issue was AAAs decision to drop “science” in its mission statement. See the summary at the Neuroanthropology blog Anthropology, Science, and Public Understanding and Anthropology after the “Science” Controversy: We’re Moving Ahead.
More and more anthropology videos and documentaries are available on Youtube and Vimeo. Among the more recent additions we find these ones here that I enjoyed watching - and at the same time show the diversity of the discipline:
Run and Become is a film project by the Jon Mitchell, Sam Pepper and Jenni Rose Human from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sussex: What motivates people to carry on training and carry on running? How are people transformed through the act of training and running a marathon – bodily, emotionally, personally? Together with Brighton-based artist Matt Pagett they even put on an exhibition.
In Fashioning Faith, anthropologist Yasmin Moll portrays fashion designers in New York. Her film gives a more fun and everyday perspective on the politized issue of wearing hijabs and other elements of Islamic fashion. Moll grew up in the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Bahrain and Egypt.
On his blog he explains how he combined web and paper, how he set up his own publishing entity, Alert Press including print on demand by Lulu.com. The book consists of 14 papers, written by his students.
I hope more authors will choose similar ways of spreading knowledge.
Paper books lock in knowlegde - they will most likely be read by specialists only. Paper publications have to be ordered and paid for – an often lengthy and expensive process. Web publications are more democratic: They can be downloaded from every location in the world with internet access. They will be read by more people, including casual browsers. It’s obvious, so why not combining both paper and web?
When I recently heard about Keith Hart’s new book The Human Economy, I was thrilled: Finally a book with contributions of a wide range of social scientists (including many anthropologists like David Graeber and Thomas Hylland Eriksen) about one of the most important issues - our economic system. It’s obvious that the current models of economic organisation is not the best one. What alternatives are there?
But why on paper only? Shouldn’t a publication that they call “a citizen’s guide to building a human economy” be accompanied by a web version to ensure a widest possible readership and to discuss and expand the contents of the book?
But the book is new and I’m sure Keith Hart, who shares more knowlege online than most other anthropologists on his website and blog The Memory Bank, is working on this issue of dissemination. I’m looking forward to the book launch in Oslo next week and am going to blog about it.
Inspired by the relaunch of the anthropology repository Mana’o, I have finally finished a first overview over anthropology repositories and archives here http://www.antropologi.info/links/Main/Archives
The overview is far from complete and if you know of some more I should know, leave a comment or sent an email. Not all the repositories are user-friendly and it wasn’t always easy to find anthropology theses and papers, especially in the U.S.
In these archives we’ll find texts like Urban transformation and social change in a Libyan city: an anthropological study of Tripoli by Omar Emhamed Elbendak (NUI Maynooth, Ireland), Reclaiming the past. The search for the kidnapped children of Argentina’s disappeared by Ariel Gandsman (McGill, Canada), The ‘problem’ of ethics in contemporary anthropological research by John Campbell (SOAS, UK) , Inevitable change: an ethnographic analysis of transformation in formerly Afrikaans primary schools by Ingrid E. Marais (University of Johannesburg), Xhosa male circumcision at the crossroads by Ayanda Nqeketo (University of Western Cape), Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, Realism, and Knowledge Production in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game by Alex Golub (mana’o), Everyday life resistance in a post-colonial global city. A study of two illegal hawker agglomerations in Hong Kong by Chi Yuen Leung (Hongkong University) or Depression, the internet and ethnography by Michael Andrew Hawkey (Massay University, Australia), Pastoralists in Violent Defiance of the State. The case of the Karimojong in Northeastern Uganda by Eria Olowo Onyango (University of Bergen, Norway) or a large collection of free books from Amsterdam University Press, the newest one Identity Processes and Dynamics in Multi-Ethnic Europe.
Have a look yourself!
In a new blog called Anthropology & Publicity several authors discuss the reasons for the underexposure of anthropological knowledge and explore ways to improve its dissemination and application in society. The blog is part of a workshop at the Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands. One of the organizers is Martijn de Koning, author of the blog Closer
One of the posts is written by Daniel Lende from the Neuroanthropology blog about Public Anthropology: The Example of the Culture of Poverty. Here he explains why he had to respond to a recent article in the New York Times ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback. “By being timely, building a voice, and taking advantage of online dissemination, anthropologists can engage the public", he writes. “Those are basic lessons I have learned in the three years I have written on Neuroanthropology. The other is that people want substantive content.”