Photo: Cíntia Regina, flickr
During the recent (nearly) two years, I've been interviewing researchers that are part of the research project Overheating. The three crises of globalisation: An anthropological history of the early 21st century at the University of Oslo, starting with Thomas Hylland Eriksen: Anthropologists to study humanity’s biggest crises.
I also interviewed most of the researchers that were invited to hold seminars. One of the texts that for me was most fun to write was about the research by sociologist Caroline Knowles. For seven years, she has been following a pair of flip-flops around the world. This flip-flops taught her a lot about the biggest migration streams in history, inequality and the difficulties of "studying up".
The text starts like this:
The woman, who is sinking up to her knees in rubbish in the middle of the huge landfill in the outskirts of Addis Ababa, is not one of the hundreds of scavengers who are searching for things they can use or eat like old airline food and plastic bottles.
The woman is a sociologist.
She has travelled all the way from London to this giant, murky, grey-brown raised area of partially decomposed rubbish. For her, it is the end of a long journey that started several years ago in the world's second largest oil field in Kuwait.
Although it was ten years ago I started this blog and anthropology portal, I am not sure if there is something to celebrate. The website has been more or less dormant for nearly two years now. Despite several attempts to start up blogging again, I failed to keep it going. But now, because of the anniversary, what about starting another attempt?
Life is more or less upside down after I went to Cairo, Egypt, three years ago and got stuck here. It was supposed to be a short trip, but I ended up getting married here. That was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. But I still have to find out how to combine my new life as husband with my previous favorite activities like blogging.
That’s not the only thing.
I will have to think about how to continue. The blogging world has changed tremendously. Ten years ago there were hardly any blogs, now there are endlessly many, and it’s no longer possible to follow all of them. While until a few years ago antropologi.info has been regarded one of the most important anthropology blogs, the situation is different now.
Not only because there are lots of great new blogs like Allegra (my new favorite anthropology blog), but also because people consume news and information primarily via quick links that are posted on Facebook and Twitter. Until I would have finished writing my summaries of news stories, most readers will already have read them via links others have shared on Facebook or Twitter. Blogs are also supposed to have their own Facebook and Twitter (and maybe even Google+, Linkedin etc) pages. That’s where the readers are. Shall I give up my resistance against this trend? What kind of content shall I focus on? And shall I continue blogging in three languages?
Sometimes I wonder if antropologi.info is still needed as there is no shortage of anthropology online now. But then I realise that blogging is something I am also doing for myself. I learn so much through searching for new stuff to blog about, and such intellectual stimulation is good for my mental health (an especially important point when you’re living in a dictatorship, you know!).
And I enjoy being part of the anthropology community, I made many friends via blogging both online and offline. It is also encouraging that old posts still get mentioned on Facebook and Twitter (now it’s my overview about Open Access Journals on the Facebook page of Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory with 56 shares), and despite lack of activity I get still notifications about people who are subscribing to antropologi.info’s newsletter (currently only in Norwegian).
Then I often think that anthropology still suffers from US-centrism that needs to be challenged. Not only because there are so many US-based bloggers but also because of their often rather limited perspective. When for example one of the more famous anthropology blogs wrote about the crisis in anthropology, they had the crisis in American anthropology in mind, but without mentioning it. Anthropology for them only seems to mean American anthropology. One of the aims of antropologi.info has always been to also present a more global anthropology.
Not at least therefore I am happy with the Allegra blog, running from Finnland giving fresh new perspectives. They also addressed the US-centrism during their coverage of the largest gathering of anthropologists in Europe that many of their American colleagues “pay next to no attention”.
Finally, I have to think about financial aspects. Getting married in Egypt always means financial disaster - for me as well of course. I am deeply indebted which makes me wonder if I actually can afford to spend time on activities like blogging. I should focus on my freelance job at the University of Oslo, instead. Antropologi.info with all of its content will of course always be open for everybody, but nevertheless I might have to think about opening up for some kind of micro payment and voluntary subscriptions. That would help me in updating and developing this website.
So to get started again what about declaring that I will reserve at least half a day for antropologi.info every weekend?
PS: I was just reading my historic 2009-post 5 years antropologi.info and was surprised about reading that in 2004, spam did not exist!
PPS: Another thing: As I was told already some time ago, antropologi.info might need a design makeover as it is not responsive enough, neith tailored for today's bigger computer screens, nor for the smaller one's on our mobile phones...
"Second Life is their only chance to participate in religious rituals": This seven year old post about the research by anthropologist Tom Boellstorff on the virtual world Second Life came into my mind when I heard about the new special issue "Religion in Digital Games" of the interdisciplinary Open access journal "Online. Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet".
The journal is published by the Institute of Religious Studies at the University of Heidelberg and has just been relaunched and redesigned.
Religion in online games seems to be still a new topic in the university world.
"Until now this certainly huge field of research remains mostly untapped and digital games have only recently been declared an interesting object for scholars of religion", Simone Heidbrink, Tobias Knoll, and Jan Wysocki write in their contribution "Theorizing Religion in Digital Games- Perspectives and Approaches".
As universities generally are conservative institutions, Simone Heidbrink and Tobias Knoll start their introduction with an apology for leaving established paths:
When researching a rather new, unusual or controversial topic in nowadays academia it seems to be a new kind of “tradition” to apologize in great length for doing something the scholar thinks the readerships thinks he is not supposed to study (or something equally confusing along those lines), based on the assumption that it is scientifically unworthy, insignificant or plain nonsense. That was our experience with the topic at hand. (…)
In order to follow the apparently mandatory academic ritual of apologizing and legitimizing, we would herewith like to express our deepest regrets for publishing this special issue of Online – Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet topics on “Religion and Digital Games. Multiperspective and Interdisciplinary Approaches”.
Religion plays a role in many games, as Simone Heidbrink, Tobias Knoll, Jan Wysocki show. This is also true for religious stereotypes that might be reproduced in "neglected media" like video games in more explicit forms - partly because these media are considered to be less relevant in cultural discourse and thus less subject to media critique.
They refer among others to Vít Šisler who in his research shows how Muslims are being stereotyped in different video games. The topic of the Middle East as war zone and virtual battleground has become even more significant in the post 9/11 era. Not only have the numbers of games with an objective of fighting terrorism increased significantly according to him. The stereotyping, the “othering” of the (virtual) Muslim counterpart have become even more racist as well.
Anthropologist Tereza Kuldova, author of many book reviews here on antropologi.info has recently defended her PhD-thesis Designing Elites: Fashion and Prestige in Urban North India". Now she has turned her thesis into a museum exhibition and an edited volume called Fashion India. Spectacular Capitalism.
Researching fashion means researching society and economic systems at large, she explains in this antropologi.info interview. In her case studying fashion means especially studying inequalities.
antropologi.info: So you turned your PhD thesis both into an exhibition and then into an edited volume?
Tereza Kuldova: Yes, that is correct. At the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo (part of University of Oslo) where I work, we were just in the process of restructuring the museum and developing new creative vision for future research based exhibitions, when I proposed to translate my PhD into a visual form.
– I wanted to create an exhibition that is about Indian fashion as much as about Indian society and the context of fashion production, capturing the complexity of the relationships of production and consumption - the opposite of the India: Fashion Now exhibition at Arken, Denmark, where they presented selected pieces by a handful of famous Indian designers on dummies, basically as art pieces, devoid of any social or economic context, a practice I tried to oppose in my exhibition.
– So I went on a curatorial hunt for the exhibition objects to India and spent one month shopping in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Lucknow and shipping huge boxes of ethnographic artefacts and props for the exhibition to Oslo. In Kolkata I even commissioned life size glass fibre statues of Gandhi, Shah Rukh Khan, and goddess Lakshmi from the Kumartuli artisans. When I got back, I got a team consisting of conservators, photographers, PR expert, project coordinator, graphic designer and handyman to help me getting the exhibition together. I was then responsible for design, texts and the overall concept and organization. But I also got to nail things on the wall and got all messy painting and so on.
– The edited volume of the same title as the exhibition, Fashion India: Spectacular Capitalism, was based partly on a conference I organized in December 2012, The Indian Phantasm, where I invited some of my great colleagues working on contemporary Indian and popular culture, and then I invited some of the authors especially for the volume. However, each chapter is visually represented in the exhibition, so that the book functions as an in-depth extension of the individual exhibition windows and installations.
– It's a book with some catchy titles! Was “Fashion India - Spectacular Capitalism” your idea? What was the idea behind the title of the book?
– Well, it was my idea in a way… In fact, I was reading Gilman-Opalsky's Spectacular Capitalism: Guy Debord and the Practice of Radical Philosophy, while putting the exhibition together and the concept just seemed to capture what most of the authors in the volume were relating to and no less, what I have been researching.
– Spectacular capitalism refers to the dominant mythological understanding of what capitalism is and what it does in the world, i.e. to a "mythology about capitalism that disguises its internal logic and denies the macroeconomic reality of the actually existing capitalist world"(Gilman-Opalsky 2011: 17), such as the classical statements like "anybody can make it if they work hard enough" or "capitalism will eradicate all inequalities."
– What is spectacular about capitalism?
– There is nothing spectacular about capitalism, except for its mythology.
– It was precisely this mythology that I tried to unpack both in the exhibition and through the volume. While we may cynically take distance from such statements, they are some of the most powerful illusions to which for instance the Indian business elites subscribe and reproduce in their everyday acts. I think that each author in the volume addressed some part of this powerful mythology, be it from historical, anthropological or aesthetic perspective.
Samant Chauhan with his collection during the opening of the exhibition Fashion India at the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, 13 spetember 2013. Photo: Adnan Icagic
– How it is addressed in the book?
– For instance, I talk about the notorious meritocratic ideal, and the way it becomes part of the self-justification of Indian elites. The problem with meritocracy is that it systematically legitimizes social inequality by arguing that success depends on the individual's abilities and talents, while ignoring all together the structural conditions of opportunity in the first place.
– Shamus Rahman Khan, in his study of America's elite St. Paul's college, argues that the US lives in an era of democratic inequality, the same applies for India. Democratic inequality refers to a state of affairs in which a certain amount of diversity (few publically recognized self-made men, such as selected famous designers) is combined with the dominant narrative of meritocracy thus creating an illusion of an open society, something that obscures the underlying structural inequalities that are being systematically perpetuated.
– "Laughing at luxury and mocking fashion designers" is the catchy title of one of your contributions. That makes me of course wonder who and what you are writing about!
– This chapter addresses the relationship between designers and village based craftswomen in the chikan embroidery cottage industry in Lucknow, who partake in the production of the high-end luxury fashion pieces, but who resist the patronizing discourses of the designers, who position these women as "poor, illiterate, and in need of rescue" (while positioning themselves as the very rescuers providing precious jobs).
– These women often reverse the assumed dynamics of dependency on the powerful urban designers, by showing the designers that it is them who are dependent on the women's craft skill and not the reverse; showing them that without them the designers are nothing. The village women often mock these designers and laugh at the way they run after money, are always stressed and under pressure, never laugh and so on.
From the opening fashion show at the exhibition "Fashion India. Spectacular Capitalism"
– The city is here opposed to the village, which is paradoxically idealized by the villagers themselves, against all its lacks; the urban poverty which creates real dependency on money with its stress, exploitation and hectic life are increasingly recognized as undesirable. However, it must be said that this is a slightly gendered perspective, as the women appear to idealize the village life far more than men, who tend to focus on the lacks and wrongs.
– The women also often laugh at ideas such as "national pride" or "heritage" and the fact that they are so celebrated within the nationalist discourse and yet remain invisible to the state. So the chapter investigates some of these ironic reversals in the relation between designers and these craftswomen.
– And Paolo Favero writes about How to spend a few hours waiting for a delayed flight in the middle of the night at the Delhi airport and receive an ethnographic enlightenment?
his is a very enlightening and entertaining chapter, where Paolo traces the modern history of Delhi, while reflecting over his own engagement with Delhi throughout his research career - all of this triggered by the newly refurbished Indira Gandhi International Airport, that becomes a material, aesthetic and as such also ideological representation of the current search for Delhi's identity as a powerful global city obsessed with search for and display of "Indianness".
– Paolo then walks us through some of the iconic places in Delhi that reflect these trends. I then describe some of the same process in another chapter of mine in the volume "The Maharaja Style: Royal Chic, Heritage Luxury and the Nomadic Elites".
– What is so special with the newly refurbished Delhi airport?
– The Delhi airport has been then transformed into a glamorous gallery-like, or if you like, Disneyland like, space displaying the opulence of Indian heritage, a clear search for identity within the global order.
The exhibition is based on Tereza Kuldova’s doctoral thesis and research conducted between 2010-12 in Lucknow and New Delhi. The thesis followed traditional hand embroidery from its production in Lucknow, via collaborations with Delhi-based fashion designers to its consumption by Indian elite clientele, thus throwing light on an anthropologically understudied phenomenon of fashion.
– This space can also be read, such as Nilanjana Mukherjee does in one of the book chapters, through the historical lense of the nineteenth century world exhibitions with their temple paviollions, through the royal durbars and the emergence of shopping arcades, all predecessesors of contemporary theatrical fashion shows or miss universe and the like.
– At the Delhi airport, this spatial aesthetics is used to strategically re-brand Delhi as the city of the future global rulers, the hypermodern hub from which poverty or any social problems are photoshopped, at the same time as it re-invents its past in order to project it into the future, thus creating dominant (often branding) narratives of what it means to be Indian, with iconic symbols like Gandhi, traditional handicrafts and so on, symbols that can be easily consumed and displayed in order to show one's belonging.
– You can see these dominant tropes all around, in one space, all bombastically mixed up. Another chapter, by Nemesis Srour for instance looks at the related changing masculine ideal in the Bollywood cinema, that of the powerful, muscular, global Indian, who at the same time remains firmly rooted in tradition, while being the prototypical "consumer patriot".
– What can people who are neither experts in fashion nor in India learn from your book?
– Well, the book is written in an accessible language, and it is accompanied by numerous images, so the readers can get a glimpse of contemporary India through fashion and popular culture and realize that researching fashion means researching society and economic systems at large. It is not a matter of few designer heroes or fashion magazines. To the contrary, it concerns us all in most pressing ways.
– A short/long answer to this would be T. Hoskins's book Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion. I think we all need to understand how this multi-billion industry operates and rethink our wardrobes accordingly.
– And so even though the stories may appear local, they speak to processes that are global, and you can easily see how what is happening in India is uncannily replicated in our own contexts.
– What kept you studying Indian fashion for so many years?
– Maybe precisely the fact that it is not about fashion - fashion is just a lens, a starting point for understanding commercial cultural, design, art, capitalism, desire, prestige, role of material culture, emerging economies, social networks, various forms of capital, emotion and affect, seduction, sexuality and erotics and so on.
– How is your life after the PhD? Still at the museum?
– Yes, for a while. Since I delivered my thesis on time, which happens to be rare in Norway, I received a one year extension grant – that is when I put together the exhibition and now I turning my thesis into a monograph which should come out next year.
– And what do you plan to do in future?
– If everything goes well, I want to start up a new research project on emerging fashion cities and the relation between India and the Gulf, in particular Abu Dhabi.
– Some last words?
– Come and check out the exhibition in Oslo, it is on until 13th of June
>> My look at Tereza Kuldova's master’s thesis about the Chikan embroidery industry in India: That’s why there is peace
>> Her book review No fashion outside the "West"?
Call for papers or films? Interesting events? Jobs and scholarships? Antropologi.info now has its own multilingual announcement blog at http://www.antropologi.info/blog/announcements/
As some of you might have noticed, I've taken down the old bulletin board as it had become too popular among both human and non-human spam bots.
So send me your announcements, and I will (most probably) post them.
Currently, there are call for papers for the panels CFP: Economies of growth or ecologies of survival? and CfP: Rethinking assisted conception: dynamics of law, morality and religion at the EASA conference in Talinn, and another one for a conference in Poznań, Poland called International Conference on 'Localities through Mobility. Cultures of Motorway in Contemporary Europe'
Anthropology emerged in a relatively high scientific level in the wider Middle East before it existed as a discipline in the West. Therefore, the label of colonialism often coupled to its emergence must be removed.
This is the main point of an article by Hassen Chaabani in the recent issue of the International Journal of Modern Anthropology.
Although the beginning of the development of anthropology as a discipline is originated in colonial encounter between Western people and colonized peoples and, therefore, coupled to its use in favor of extremist ideologies such as racism, this must not diminish the scientific value of anthropology, he writes.
You won't find many anthropology departments at universities in the Middle East, and its reputation might not be the best. So therefore this article mind be a timely reminder that anthropology has not been a dubious invention by the West. Chaabani sees "the prestige and hegemony of some editors and publishers in some powerful countries" as "one of the factors that could inhibit the development of a real global anthropology".
Hassen Chaabani, who is is president of the Tunisian Anthropological Association, draws our attention to two scholars: Abu Rayhan al- Biruni, a Persian scholar (973-1048) and Ibn Khaldoun, a Tunisian scholar (1332-1406).
Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, he writes, "is considered as one of the greatest scientists not only of the 11th century but of all times". He is most commonly known as a mathematician, astrologer, and historian. But he has also been an anthropologist:
He founded the science of anthropology before anthropology existed as a discipline, and therefore he is considered as the first anthropologist. He was an impartial writer on custom and creeds of various nations and was the first Muslim scholar to study Indian populations and their traditions. In addition he wrote detailed comparative studies on the anthropology of religions and cultures in the Middle East, Mediterranean and especially South Asia. (…)
Living during the high period of Islamic cultural and scientific achievements, Al-Biruni placed a focus on modern anthropological interests including caste, the class system, rites and customs, cultural practice, and women’s issues (Akbar, 2009). Through this modern practice, Al-Biruni used the concepts of cross cultural comparison, inter-cultural dialogue and phenomenological observation which have become commonplace within anthropology today (Ataman K., 2005).
Biruni's tradition of comparative cross-cultural study continued in the "Muslim world" through to Ibn Khaldoun’s work in the 14th century, Chaabani writes:
Some of his books cover the history of mankind up to his time and others cover the history of Berber peoples, natives of North Africa, which remain invaluable to present day historians, as they are based on Ibn Khaldūn's personal knowledge of the Berbers. In fact, he presented a deep anthropological study of Berbers before anthropology existed as a discipline.
Chaabani also writes that the general idea of biological evolution was advanced more than 1,000 years before Darwin by the Iraqi thinker Amr ibn Bahr Al Jahis (800-868) in his book "Book of Animals".
Who was the first anthropologist? Really al-Biruni? A tricky question. Others might point to Classical Greece and Classical Rome, see more in Wikipedia: History of Anthropology (where al-Biruni is mentoned as well). The main point as I see it is that anthropology was developed in many parts of the world, and not only in the so-called West.
I wanted to write this post long time ago. As you might have noticed, there haven’t been any new posts on this blog since the 24th of October last year.
So what has happened?
Well, at about the same time I wrote my last blog post, the most wonderful woman entered my life. Two months later we already got engaged. And in a few months, I hope, we will get married.
So yes, now I am a truly engaged anthropologist! !
Getting married in Egypt is for me a wonderful, but not actually a cheap endeavour. My economic situation forces me therefore to focus on my paid job at the University in Oslo. Nevertheless, I hope there will be some time for blogging and developing the website soon. I really miss it and I’d like to start up again!
In the meantime you can have a look at the website of the new research project by anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen that I am currently working for. It’s called Overheating. The three crises of globalisation.
Here is some of the stuff I’ve written there:
- Anthropologists to study humanity’s biggest crises (Interview with Thomas Hylland Eriksen)
- Of Suicides and Offshoring (An increasing number of companies move their businesses to low cost countries. Elisabeth Schober is studying what offshoring means for workers and local communities)
- When melting glaciers take away people’s water (Poor people are most affected by climate change, economic crises and discrimination. Anthropologist Astrid Bredholt Stensrud wants to find out how people go about it)
- – Academics, speak out against neoliberalism! (It was one of the worst economic crashes in history: A conversation with anthropologist Gísli Pálsson about the meltdown in Iceland, dubious entanglements between universities and business, racist and sexist neoliberal discourses, and the need for academic activism)
Regularily, new initiatives are launched to make anthropological knowledge more accessible to the general public. A few weeks ago, PopAnth was launched - a highly ambitious project that “translates anthropological discoveries for popular consumption” as they explain:
We take anthropology’s collective knowledge and translate it for mainstream audiences, much in the way that popular science books, tv shows and trivia quizzes make even the hardest of sciences accessible. We strive to provide you with the best of anthropology in a format that makes you go, ‘Wow! I didn’t know that!’ Our cross-cultural stories aim to help you discover things about yourself and the world you live in.
That sounds - apart from the corporate PR-language - good and is exactly what we need more of in the social sciences. And already after a few weeks, there are a lot of articles about a wide range of topics about everything from backpacking, human emotions and Japanese consumers. And yes, they are all written in an easily understandable language. Yeah!
This also applies to the book reviews, where they also chose to focus on books that might be able to attract a wider non-specialized readership like Watching the English by Kate Fox or Haiti After the Earthquake by Paul Farmer.
And they’ve also set up a discussion forum.
But as a look at their first articles also reveals, this project suffers from similar shortcomings as many others we find online. It is a rather Western / US-centric endavour in the sense that the “we” that is invoked and articulated in many articles means “We Americans” or “We in the metropolitan West”. Most of the authors have an US- or Britain-based background.
In my opinion a thematic focus and stronger connections to current issues and bigger questions would benefit the site and attract more readers. The content of the articles seems to be somehow arbitrary, and their focus sometimes too narrow.
Maybe more articles are needed who ask such big questions as Edward F Fischer does in his interesting piece Can reducing our choices increase our happiness?
Another thing that struck me as typical for our time is the cry for attention, the cry for being shared and liked. Big sharing buttons everywhere, one of them even covers parts of the text, and makes it unreadable. And when we are approaching the end of the article, we get attacked by a huge popup with the message “You’ll probably get a kick of these too”.
Two years ago I looked at a similar initiative with a very similar name, and as the title of the post I chose Popular Anthropology Magazine = fail. This journal does not seem to exist anymore. All we see is a post called Welcome to Popular Anthropology Relaunched, but all the articles are gone. But there are ads for firewood and business intelligence software… …