12/04/15

Anthropologists on deported migrants, unusual bureaucrats, and the thriving solidarity economy in Greece

While I am trying to get back into the blogging business, here three selected pieces that I've written recently for the University of Oslo.

Two of them are accounts on somehow positive change that is happening.

Many anthropologists have contributed to the understanding of the economic crisis in many parts of the world during the recent years, see among others the earlier posts "Use Anthropology to Build A Human Economy" or "Similar to the Third World debt crisis" - David Graeber on 'Occupy Wall Street'. But few studies deal with the ways people tried to create alternatives to the currently dominating economic models.

I found it therefore particularily interesting to talk to Theodoros Rakopoulos who is currently studying the thriving solidarity economy in Greece: an economy based on mutual aid, cooperation, bartering and collective welfare.

Time banks, volunteer-run health clinics and pharmacies, alternative currencies, food distribution without middlemen: People “mostly from humble economic backgrounds” are experimenting successfully with alternatives to austerity policies that have been dictated by the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Theodoros Rakopoulos has been on fieldwork among the anti-middlemen movement, one of the most successful solidarity economy initiatives that popped up in Greece since 2010.

Strangely enough, I haven't heard about these developments before. I suppose it's because media was more interested in reporting about the rising xenophobia in Greece. But the researcher explains that the new solidarity economy has "arguably a wider impact on peoples’ daily life than the much talked about rise in far-right parties like Golden Dawn”.

>> read the interview with Theodoros Rakopoulos: From economic crisis to solidarity economy

Anthropologist Knut Christian Myhre is currently writing a book about unusual bureaucrats. Instead of reviewing laws and policies in their offices, they tour the country, hold public meetings and communicate with citizens via social media. This initiative, Myhre thinks, can serve as example for other countries wishing to revive local democracy and expand their political and legal repertoire.

His main focus was the so-called Shivji Commission that in 1991 was appointed by President Ali Hassam Mwinyi to inquire into the state of land conflicts in Tanzania. For one year this commission toured around the country, held 277 public meetings in 145 villages and 132 urban centres in all of mainland Tanzania’s 20 administrative regions. Around 83,000 members of the public took part in the process. Local researchers and experts prepared six major studies, while the commission made visits to Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Korea to learn from their experiences.

>> read the interview with Knut Christian Myhre: "A model also for other countries"

We are living in times characterized by increasing mobility and transnational connections — or so it seems, at least, for some people in the richer parts of the world. Anthropologist Heike Drotbohm has been on fieldwork among people for whom the opposite is true.

My story about her research begins like this:

"When Jacky was deported from the USA to Cape Verde, his life came to a sudden standstill. Within a short time his face grew deep wrinkles; it looked resigned, exhausted, and drained. Merely at his age of 45, Jacky looked like an old man.

Anthropologist Heike Drotbohm is looking at a recent picture of Jacky and is puzzled. She met him six years ago and now she can hardly recognize him. While peering at more pictures of deported migrants she met between 2006 and 2008 on Cape Verde during her fieldwork, she is compelled to make the same conclusion. All of these people seemed to have aged disproportionally fast.

Their faces, it seems, tell us uncomfortable stories about the transition from a mobile and independent life to the forced immobility on Cape Verde: an arrow-shaped archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean that the men left many years ago."

>> read the whole story: The wretched face of forced immobility

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