15:34:31, by admin   . Categories: politics, Us and Them, Europe, poverty

UK Riots: Let's talk about class and oppressive states

The notion that there is democracy in the West, while there is none in the “rest” might be one of the most powerful and dangerous myths of our time. In reality, democracy is a contested concept everywhere in the world, not only in Egypt or Tunesia, but also in Britain.

from Rap responds to the riots: ‘They have to take us seriously’ (Guardian 12.8.11)

Two months ago Maha Abdelrahman said on a conference in Cairo about the global context of the Egyptian revolution:

– What I think is happening is that people from Egypt, Tunesia, Russia, Greece, UK and many other countries are discovering that they are natural allies, engaged in a common purpose.

– We’re not in the middle of a revolution, but we might be in the midth of an important phase where revolutionary development on a global scale is taking place and the limits of the global neoliberal capitalism are being brought to light.

Darcus Howe, a 68-year-old West Indian writer, civil rights activist and resident of South London, told a shocked BBC anchor Fiona Armstrong in front of burnt down houses:

– I don’t call it rioting. I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it’s happening in Liverpool, it’s happening in Port-au-Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment.

Much is said and written about the riots in England. The discourse itself is highly interesting. The political establishment and its allies in mainstream media quickly dismissed the riots in England as a brainless, unpolitical, and criminal act by a “partly mentally disturbed underclass”. They treated the rioters and activists in an strikingly arrogant, patronizing and classist way. The BBC interview with rights activist Darcus Howe is a good example:

The BBC sounded in their coverage of the riots like Mubarak’s state television during the Egyptian revolution, says Egyptian blogger and activist Mostafa Hussein:

“BBC is making it sound like young people have a single aim and that’s to loot and vandalise. Nothing or very little on why they are doing so.”

These reactions show clearly what’s at stake in Britain, Joe Hoover and Meera Sabaratnam write in their post Reading violence- what’s political about the London riots. The reactions confirm the fact, that Britain is a hierarchical society where the rich oppress the poor:

This is a solid, deep form of alienation built up not overnight, or over the last two years in response to cuts (shame on you Ken Livingstone) but one which is built into the fabric of the broad political settlement of the last decades and reflected in the city’s divisions between rich and poor, between black, brown and white, between young and old.

The riots rest on a conviction not just that the barriers are there, but that they are solid walls, through which none will pass. The reactions to them as ‘mindless violence’ simply confirm this fact. It is not that people are rioting because they don’t have jobs, but because they must believe, ultimately, gloomily, grimly, that there is nothing for them in their future.

While the mass protests in Egypt and the rioting in England cannot be equated ("Egyptians and Tunisians took revenge for Khaled Said and Bouazizi by peacefully toppling their murdering regimes, not stealing DVD players.“not by stealing DVDs”, Mosa’ab Elshamy comments), the contexts in which they occurred are similar: growing inequalities due to neoliberal policies and an inceasingly oppressive state that does not care for its citizens.

SocProf from the Global Sociology blog writes:

So, whatever the initial reason for the uprising in Tottenham, it is clear that many of the countries where austerity policies are being imposed from above on the general population are facing socially explosive situations.(…)

SocProf lists examples from Israel, Chile, Greece, Spain and the “Arab Spring":

What we see is the global civil society rising up against what is clearly exposed as the alliance of the corporate sector (…) and Western governments (…).

In this process, the governments turn repressive against oppositional voices. Several examples (including from the UK) are provided that show how dissent is criminalised

The message is clear: dissent will not be tolerated as the whole anti-terror apparatus is used not against terrorists but against cyber-dissenters and protesters.

Why the riots are political - a good summary

As reaction to the riots, Cameron considers – in similar way as his friend Mubarak (source) earlier this year - to shut down social network sites like Facebook and Twitter and sms services as well for “those suspected of planning criminal acts”.

He talked like a dictator when he replied to criticism from rights groups: He will not let “phony concerns about human rights” get in the way of the “fight back” against the riots, he said. In the macrumors forum, he was called David “Mubarak” Cameron. It is no longer uncommon to equate the UK with (former) Middle East dicatorships. The story San Francisco Cops Jam Cell Phones to Prevent Protest is introduced this way: “It’s not just the London police and Middle East dictators who try to curb unrest by clamping down on communications networks.”

When we link the current riots in England with the so called Arab Spring, we would see other things than “midlessness” at stake, suggests sociologist Joost Van Loon on Space and Culture:

Suddenly, criminals would become legitimate protestors fighting against an oppressive state who have turned democracy into a puppet show.

Anthropologist Sean Carey criticizes the reactions of the politicians as well:

Mindlessness would create randomness, but the events unfolding are far from being random. Instead, I would argue that what we are witnessing is a significant symbolic statement about the way power – the power of life and death exercised by police officers as well as the power to consume – is arranged in British society.

The riots are said to have started with a protest against the controversial killing of Mark Duggan by the English police during an anti-gun crime operation. Yet no commentator links the incredible number of riots in different cities to that particular incident, notes anthropologist Gabriel Marranci.

And when somebody, as Darcus Howe in the mentioned BBC interview is trying to address this issue, he is cut off and silenced. “We cannot talk about this now. We don’t know what has happened. We have to wait for the police inquiry", the BBC news anchor said.

Al Jazeera gives an account of the events:

On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered outside the Tottenham police station, peacefully calling for “justice” for Mark Duggan, a man killed by officers three days prior. Police stood in formation, separating the community members from the station they were guarding, until a 16-year-old woman reportedly approached an officer to find out what was going on.

According to a witness account, some officers pushed the young woman and drew their batons. “And that’s when the people started to retaliate. Now I think in all circumstances, having seen that, most people retaliate,” said the witness.

Witness account

“When the rioters themselves are asked, they will say that they are abused by police, harassed by them, and nobody’s done a thing about it”, says Richard Seymour PhD candidate at the London School of Economics to Al Jazeera. There have been 333 deaths in police custody between 1998 and 2010 in Britain. Large, peaceful protests in response to these killings were more or less ignored, he said. Not a single officer has been prosecuted.

As a result, Duggan’s killing crossed a threshold for young people, angry with the systems that have left them behind, and tired of non-violent protest that goes without much response.

By the way, in an article in the Danish newspaper Information, Rune Lykkeberg reminds us on a book that was reviewed in all major English media only two months ago: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones. This book “exposes class hatred in modern Britain”, the reviewer in the Independent explains. “In the public domain of news and culture, within the arc of some 30 years, a once-proud working class has been residualised into a violent, degenerate, workless mob.”

Class and classism are under-researched topics in mainstream anthropology.

More riot-links:

Mapping the riots with poverty (Map by the Guardian 10.8.11)

From the Arab Spring to Liverpool? (Al Jazeera, 11.8.11)

London rioters resent media image of hooded teen thug (Reuters - Ahram Online 11.8.11)

Some thoughts on the London “riots”: Foucault’s genealogy of neoliberalism and “police as a public service” (Anthropoliteia: the anthropology of policing, 12.8.11)

Martha Nussbaum: Democracy at risk from emphasis on ‘useful machines (The Australian, 12.8.11)

Maia Green: News from the UK (Savage Minds, 10.8.11)

What’s Worse? Looting or Invading? (Robin Beste, Consortium News / Stop The War Coalition 15.8.11)


Anthropologist uncovers how global elites undermine democracy

Thesis: Neoliberal policies, urban segregation and the Egyptian revolution

Ethnographic study: Why the education system fails white working-class children

“A postcolonial urban apartheid": Two anthropologists on the riots in France

Riots in France and silent anthropologists

Criticizes “scholarly and political indifference toward the workers’ lives”

Ethnographic study of anti-corporate globalization movements

– Use Anthropology to Build A Human Economy


  19:10:40, by admin   . Categories: politics, globalisation, Middle East, cosmopolitanism

From Tahrir to Israel: "Protest movements inspire greater human understanding"

“Irhal” (=“Leave!”), says the banner in Arabic (a slogan from the Egyptian revolution), directed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and below in Hebrew: “Egypt is here!”

One of the most interesting things about the Egyptian Revolution is its global impact. Is has inspired people and movements around the world, from Spain to Greece, the USA, and now even Israel.

Anthropologist Ted Swedenberg posted a picture of this banner on his blog (that he borrowed from the progressive Israeli blog +972).

Initially mostly ignored from mainstream media, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the street and demanded social justice and “people before profits”. It is one of biggest waves of protests in decades in Israel.

Via an announcement by Jason Baird Jackson I learned about the blog by a PhD student who on her blog provides “an ethnographic glimpse of what is happening on the streets and in the parks there now”, both in texts, photos and videos. She has been in Israel for about a year to conduct research in a “multi-cultural” and “multi-ethnic neighborhood” in the Tel Aviv-area.

Her posts about the Israeli revolution are fascinating.

The last few days have been really moving, she writes in her most recent post One People, One Revolution - not because of the continually growing masses that are protesting, “but because of a few moments in which I saw how a movement like this can inspire greater human understanding and connection. I was humbled to watch as people on opposite sides of a fence broke it down, and saw each other for more than they knew the other to be until then.”

This uprising cuts across the population. “Lefties” joined Right-wingers and Zionists, single mothers protested together with students, African refugees and migrant workers, “Arabs and Jews”. As in Tahrir Square, tent cities have been established.

In Rothschild Boulevard, hundreds have been camping out in tents for two weeks now, the researcher writes:

The Rainbow Child-like scene is a growing communal living situation complete with a large shared kitchen (with fridge and composting/washing/recycling stations), first aid tent, salon-like “living rooms” set up every few hundred feet… people gather in circles and play music, smoke nargila/hooka, talk about the protest, read, and sleep there all night. They then wake in the morning, go to work, and return “home” to their tents in the evening when the weather has cooled only so immeasurably much.(…)

In the southern Park Levinsky, by the Central Bus Station — where most of the African and refugees and migrant workers live and congregate — the more radical “lefties” have set up camp, and hold nightly gatherings and dinners. On Friday night, hundreds of African men gathered around a group of drummers/dancers from Ghana who performed at the birthday celebration of one of the protesters, for example. It was an incredible scene that didn’t feel anything like the ’60s Woodstock scene on Rothschild, but which also brought people together in revolutionary spirit.

One of the protesters said:

(T)he government tries to make everyone feel as if they’re alone, as if they’re against each other, so that they can remain in control, in power. We must unite, and Tel Aviv with all its populations must be one.

Read her posts and watch her videos:

>> One People, One Revolution

>> A new generation is living in tents

>> The people demand social justice

While according to many headlines, people protested “against high cost of living”, the the frustration runs deeper, as the New York Times explains:

The shift from state-dominated quasi socialism to markets and privatization — a shift that arguably saved the country from economic collapse in the 1980s — has been accompanied by some sense of loss of community, spiking prices and the accumulation of great wealth in a few hands. (…) Israel’s majority Jewish citizens feel they have suppressed their individual needs for the perceived good of the community over the course of many wars.

Famous Israeli Writer Amos Oz is quoted who in an article in Haaretz states:

The heart of this protest is the affront and outrage over the government’s indifference to the people’s suffering, the double standard against the working population and the destruction of social solidarity.

The heart-warming sights of the tent cities spreading through Israel’s cities, of the doctors marching for their patients, of the demonstrations and rallies are in themselves a delightful revival of mutual fraternity and commitment. After all, the first thing these demonstrators are saying, even before “social justice” and “down with the government,” is: “We are brethren.”

A similar local cosmopolitanism was the fundament of the uprisings in Egypt. People unitied in order to fight inequalities and rebuilt the nation.

Sociologist Honaida Ghanim is one of many people who are certain that the recent events in Egypt and Tunisia had a large impact on the Israeli protest movement. In an interview with Amira Hass in the paper Haaretz, she says explains:

On the one hand, there is neo-liberalism and globalization that have resulted in an unacceptable gap between the wealth of the state and individuals and the harshness of life for the masses. On the other hand, these are similar tools – online social networks, with Facebook heading the list, which had a far-reaching effect on the media.

But she also points out that many Pakestinians feel rather indifferent towards the protests. No connections are made to the occupation.

But the current crisis is an opportunity for Israelis to understand that they too are victims of the occupation, two Palestinian activists, Nariman al-Tamimi and Afaf Ghatasha, stress:

All the tear gas grenades thrown at us in demonstrations cost money which cannot be spent on improving social conditions for Israelis.”

and the protests will in Sociologist Honaida Ghanim’s view allow the Palestinians to see that “Israeli society isn’t one-dimensional, that it is complex, that it shouldn’t be flattened, that it has struggles and oppressed classes of its own.”

Here a Al Jazeera feature:


Saba Mahmood: Democracy is not enough - Anthropologists on the Arab revolution part II

Thesis: Neoliberal policies, urban segregation and the Egyptian revolution

Lila Abu Lughod: “In Israel and Palestine we have an amazing opportunity”

Ethnographic study of anti-corporate globalization movements

What anthropologists can do about the decline in world food supply

– Use Anthropology to Build A Human Economy


Interview: Self-publish your thesis!

Phd-theses belong to the least accessible academic publications. Anthropologist Johannes Wilm chose to make his thesis available to the public - both online as a free download, as e-book and affordable paper book. In this email-interview he explains us how he did it and why he thinks students should set up their own publishing company.

Why is open access publishing important for you?

Open access is the best way of ensuring that your material is available for anyone who cares to look. Writing this thesis, I realized that much of the background literature from just 25 years ago already is impossible to get at, even when printed with a top university press. While publishing this with for example Cambridge University Press may have had some advantages in the short-term in terms of marketing, in a perspective of some decades it would have had the opposite effect. Others have told me that the financial gain of publishing an academic book may be up to 700 USD. In comparison to current Scandinavian wages that really means very little, so I don’t think that earning another 700 USD should be a motive to restrict the access to one’s thoughts.

Johannes Wilm: Open access is the best way of ensuring that your material is available for anyone who cares to look. Photo: privat

What is your thesis about?

– The Sandinista movement in Nicaragua, and how I believe it has changed since the 1980s. There are elections in Nicaragua this fall, and while the Sandinistas have been in power since 2007, this may change a lot and interest in Nicaragua may grow around the elections, so I feel it’s necessary to have this out right now.

– I have been wondering whether I should wait with the free web version until real-life small-scale bookstores have had a chance, but what they have been telling me at the Revolutionary Grounds bookstore in Tucson, AZ is that people still buy the real paperback version even if things are online. So based on that the current plan is to put out everything at the same time.

– By the way, I should add that the text I will publish has a lot in common with my current thesis draft, but it is not the same. The book-version has a completely different conclusion than the thesis version. It is much less academic, aimed more at the general public, and looks more at the political outlook the country currently has. The requirements of what needs to go into a PhD thesis these days are unfortunately such that the text that comes out of it is not really interesting to read for anyone beyond the exam committee.

You chose to set up your own publishing entity instead of using well known publishers. Why?

– I thought about that. I found the handful of publishers that do open access publishing and contacted them. They all sent me encouraging comments, but said that my field was too strange or too specific. I also considered printing it with a traditional publishing house. With the exception of the top 10 university presses it seems like there is no real advantage of doing it that way. On the contrary, they impose their not-so-well founded ideas, then have someone edit it who has no knowledge of the field and end up hijacking the manuscript for at least a very long period of time – possibly forever. The publishing house should give some quality assurance, but given that many smaller presses just appear and disappear within very short time, that is not really given.

– Printing with a certain university press makes your work unavailable to almost anybody, with the exception to those few living close enough to a bookshop that sells it. People in the “Third world” are generally cut off from access to these books also due to the price, which oftentimes is upward of 35 USD. Using the techniques described below one should be able to offer a 300+ paged book in softcover for under 20 USD, while still being able to pay for returns and some more and offering the required discount to booksellers.

Johannes Wilm created the book cover with the Open Source software Scribus

I learnt that prestige is important for many researchers. Their argument against self publishing may be that it won’t give you much academic credit compared to publishing via f.ex. Columbia University Press?

– It is true that in the past there was some prestige connected to the label. Academia is currently changing massively and so is the publishing business. Nobody can quite know what things will be like in just a few years, so I think one should look at what makes sense technically. Who published Das Kapital? Does anybody know? Does anybody care? Not really.

– Great books should be able to stand on their own merit. That is also the case for the less famous books. When I was looking for books about Sandinismo in Nicaragua in the 1980s, the publishers were all over the place. Had I decided only to stick with books printed by the top university publishers, I would not have read any of the best books.

How did the faculty react? Did they support you?

– I think the faculty was mainly surprised. Everything about publishing is currently changing and so they didn’t quite know how to react. Unfortunately it seems to me that some felt the need to try to find some rule or other which would prevent me from being able to do this. Such a rule fortunately does not exist at the University of London, but other universities do make their students sign a note I which they specify that the work has not been published when they submit it. I am still a bit afraid that they may suddenly change the rules in order to prevent me from going ahead with my plan, so I decided to wait with publishing it until two hours after I hand the thesis in.

Now some more practical questions. Your aim was to make your phd thesis accessible to the public, both online as free download and offline as affordable paper book. How easy was this undertaking?

Full story »


  22:34:21, by admin   . Categories: politics, Us and Them, Europe, globalisation, cosmopolitanism

"How can I contribute to a better world?" Anthropologists on the Oslo terror attacks - an update

Love instead of hate: Norway’s reaction after the terror attack. Photo: Erik F. Brandsborg, Aktiv I Oslo.no, flickr

Many new comments by anthropologists have appeared since my first post on the terror attack in Oslo. Here is a quick overview:

Cicilie Fagerlid: Slow attempts at making sense: Oslo 22/7, 30.7.11:

What good is it to devote my professional life to understanding nationalism, belonging, community cohesion, conceptions of difference and the like when I have done nothing to prevent the worst thinkable acts of violence to take place in my own country? Especially since I think – or I’m sure – that I’ve felt there was a need for worry (but of course, not to this unconceivable degree…). For several days now I’ve been thinking about how I can contribute. How can I contribute in the best way with my knowledge (of living with difference in Europe), my concern (for the future of us all) and my devotion (to work for a better world)?

Simone Abram: ‘Evil can murder a person, but never defeat a whole people’ (Savage Minds 26.7.):

Responses to the tragedy this weekend have included the massed flying of flags, using flag symbols as facebook identifiers, and so forth. (…) The tying together of national symbols with talk of love reinforces a sense of moral good associated with the Norwegian nation, and reappropriates the nation from racist nationalism. But in this endless tussle between a nation of care and an exclusive people, it seems that racism is the shadow-concept of nationalism. Nationalism is alive and well, and racism continues to creep along in its underbelly.
In a country where Social Anthropology is one of the more popular subjects for study at university, and where anthropologists retain a high media profile, the persistence of racist ideologies and acts and their resistance to rational argument raise difficult questions.

Sindre Bangstad: The Hatred in Our Own Eyes (Excerpt translated into English by stalinsmoustace 27.7.11):

Norway has produced Europe’s first anti-Muslim terrorist. It seems, however, that the public narrative about him and his actions will not accurately emphasise what is said concerning the direction Norway as a society has taken in the Islamophobic era.

No matter how many bombing raids Norwegian pilots conduct in Muslim countries, no matter how many innocent civilians are killed by Norwegian soldiers in the same countries, and regardless of how much the public debate about Muslims and Islam in Norway has been wallowing in the gutter, one thing is clear: We will not face the hatred in our own eyes.

(see also an article by him Fighting words that are not fought, written a month before the attack about Norwegian mainstream anti-Muslim discourse)

Thomas Hylland Eriksen: Anders Behring Breivik: Tunnel vision in an online world (Guardian 25.7.11):

Norway’s extremists don’t tend to gather in visible ‘rightwing groups’. But online, they settle into a subculture of resentment. (…) The fact that Breivik was Made in Norway, a homegrown terrorist with a hairdo and an appearance suggesting the west end of Oslo, and not a bearded foreign import, should lead not only to a closer examination of these networks, but also to a calm, but critical reflection over the Norwegian self-identity itself.

Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Jostein Gaarder: A Blogosphere of Bigots (New York Times 28.7.11):

The racism and bigotry that have simmered for years on anti-Islamic and anti-immigration Web sites in Norway and other European countries and in the United States made it possible for him to believe he was acting on behalf of a community that would thank him.

Martijn de Koning: Radicalization Series V: Freedom Fighters, Conflict and Culture Talk (Closer, 27.7.11):

It is important I think to see how his ideas (but not his actions) not only are derived from bloggers and politicians but also who they resonate with and are grounded on a grassroots everyday level. I also think the Netherlands can give some clues to that and is relevant here since Breivik partly derived his inspiration from Wilders’ Freedom Party ideology.

Johannes Wilm: 29/07: Terror in Norway – more democracy or more surveillance?:

Nice. So even though the only terror attack so far came from the anti-Islamists, PST (Norwegian FBI) does not see much of a threat in them, whereas they believe that Islamists continue to pose the main problem in Norway it seems.

UPDATE: Thomas Hylland Eriksen sums up in a guest post at anthropologyworks:

It was only a matter of hours between the blast in central Oslo and my most extensive and exhausting engagement with international media since I started out as an anthropologist in the 1980s. Between Friday night and Wednesday, I spoke on radio, on television (via a mobile phone), to newspapers and magazines from China to Chile, and wrote articles for nearly a dozen publications in five countries.

My priorities shifted in a matter of hours. Our holiday house was turned into a makeshift media centre, and the computer was online almost 24/7.

Interesting article about biased terror research in the age of neoliberalism by Charles Kurzman: Where Are All the Islamic Terrorists?, The Chronicle Review, 31.7.11

The more that non-Muslims fear Islam, the more security threats are hyped, the more attention my colleagues and I get. I am in the awkward position of undermining the importance of my own field. My research finds that Islamic terrorism has not posed as large a threat as reporters and the public think.

Check also the most recent round-up by Erkan Saka and my first post: Terror in Oslo: Who cares about Christian right wing extremism?


Racism: The Five Major Challenges for Anthropology

What is terrorism? Selected quotes from “On Suicide Bombing” by Talal Asad

How to challenge Us-and-Them thinking? Interview with Thomas Hylland Eriksen

For an Anthropology of Cosmopolitanism

- Highlight the connections between people!


  13:50:30, by admin   . Categories: medical anthropology / ethnobothany, books

"Difficult to read, chaotic, bothering conclusions"

Russia has one of the fastest-growing rates of HIV infection in the world, and the Church remains its only resource for fighting these diseases.

Antropologi.info contributor Aleksandra Bartoszko reviews Jarret Zigon’s recent book „HIV Is God’s Blessing”. Zigon takes the reader into a Church-run treatment center near St. Petersburg that employs both priests and psychologists to work with the HIV-infected drug users.


Review: HIV Is God’s Blessing. Rehabilitating Morality in Neoliberal Russia by Jarret Zigon, University of California Press, Berkley, 2011

Aleksandra Bartoszko, Oslo University Hospital

While I was finishing my review of Jarret Zigon’s recent book „HIV Is God’s Blessing”, Somatosphere has just published a review written by Tomas Matza.

When I read it, I was slightly surprised. I asked myself if we read the same book and why have I focused on totally different points while thinking of Zigon’s work.

I believe that one of the reasons for the huge discrepancy between what the two of us have learned from reading is our fields of research and interests we had in this book. As I am not too familiar with anthropology of morality and ethics, and many theoretical discussions in the book were pretty new to me, I must admit that this book did not invite me to further exploration of the subject. The book was difficult to read, a little bit chaotic and badly edited.

What Is this Book About?

Jarrett Zigon’s book „HIV Is God’s Blessing”, according to the publisher:

„examines the role of today’s Russian Orthodox Church in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Russia has one of the fastest-growing rates of HIV infection in the world - 80 percent from intravenous drug use and the Church remains its only resource for fighting these diseases. Jarrett Zigon takes the reader into a Church-run treatment center where, along with self-transformational and religious approaches, he explores broader anthropological questions of morality, ethics, what constitutes a “normal” life, and who defines it as such. Zigon argues that this rare Russian partnership between sacred and political power carries unintended consequences: even as the Church condemns the influence of globalization as the root of the problem it seeks to combat, its programs are cultivating citizen-subjects ready for self-governance and responsibility, and better attuned to a world the Church ultimately opposes.”

As an ethnographic case Zigon takes a rehabilitation centre near St. Petersburg called The Mill, which is a cooperation between secular NGOs and Russian Orthodox Church, employing thus both priests and psychologists to work with the HIV-infected drug users. Zigon follows his informants both in the rehabilitation centre as well as the recruitment process in the city, and he is attending events arranged by the NGOs and Church outside the Mill.

Writing and the Art of Repetition

How the book is written and its style is usually mentioned at the end of every review. Unfortunately, when it comes to this book, the writing style was so disturbing that it influenced my overall reception of the book. I like some of the stylistic choices, like the description of the road leading to the rehabilitation centre, which I read as a metaphor for the social position of the centre and the life history of the rehabilitants (p. 33).

But unfortunately the book suffers from a very poor editorial work. There are a lot of redundancies, repetitions and the language itself creates at times confusion. It is hard to read this book. The excessive repetitiveness is most disturbing. Usually, there is nothing wrong with repeating, especially for learning purposes, but in this case this is just too heavy and achieving, in my opinion, a ludicrous dimension.

Full story »


Thesis: Neoliberal policies, urban segregation and the Egyptian revolution

Gated communities: Access denied for outsiders. Photo: Safaa Marafi

While Cairo’s slum areas are growing, the richest layer of the society is enjoying a luxury life in privately guarded communities in safe distance from the lower classes. Hosni Mubarak’s neoliberal dream of segregation seems to have come true. But during the Egyptian revolution some of the young people have started to tear down the walls of their gated communities.

Safaa Marafi from the American University in Cairo (AUC) tells us in her well-written anthropology thesis the story of the giant segregation projects of the Mubarak regime. She has conducted fieldwork in Al-Rehab, one of those gated communities constructed on desert land, where the middle- and upperclass isolate themselves, shop in luxury malls, use private door-to-door limousine services and send their children to private schools or universities.

It’s a thesis about how neoliberal policies threaten the cohesion of a society.

The development of gated communities was part of Egypts neoliberal policies under Mubarak. In the late 1990s, Egypt underwent a process of structural adjustment guided by international financial organizations (Worldbank, IMF etc), which led to further privatization and liberalization of the economy. The most visible outcome has been land speculation, Marafi expains:

This segregation began when the Egyptian Ministry of Housing sold massive amounts of desert land, situated at the margins of Cairo, to private corporations. Approximately 320 private corporations purchased portions of this land and planned projects for a potential 600 thousand housing units (Denis 2006:52). This expansion process resulted in the construction of numerous gated communities in the suburbs of greater Cairo.

The Neoliberal Dream of Segregation

The Mubarak-government and its “clique of businessmen” were driven by a “neoliberal dream of segregation” - a term coined by sociologist Mona Abaza:

The neoliberal dream of segregation can be defined as a political-economic agenda adopted by the Egyptian government, which fostered and supported rich local and foreign investors in building gated communities in Cairo‘s suburbs. By constructing these enclaves for the richest layer of Egyptian society, these development projects created a physical segregation in Cairo‘s urban fabric. This segregation is evidenced by the way the residents of these hinterlands are protected by private security systems, walls and/or fences, gates, and private security guards.

“Neoliberal policies”, Marafi writes, “have encouraged class-based urban segregation, leading to polarization in the urban fabric.” The adoption of neoliberal polices turned the state into a private territory, where wealth is monopolized by political elites and businessmen.

Moral panic towards the lower classes

This segregation is not only related to space but also related to the mind.

Living in this gated communities intensifies the mood of moral panic felt towards the other - people from lower classes. “This is”, the anthropologist explains, “because they believe that their community is labeled as a rich one and therefore may be a target of potential criminals. State and media contributed to the fear of the other. Not only the marketing campaigns of gated communities seek to convince potential buyers that outside of the gates, fences, and walls of these closed venues lies a dangerous world. The consequence is a “culture of fear”.

Many residents, especially in recent times, moved to Rehab for class and safety reasons. They wanted to isolate themselves from the other. But soon they had to realise that they cannot live without “the uncivilized others”. They are dependent on them. For who shall clean their houses, deliver food, and patrol the streets to protect them? The supposed enemy and security threat is living among them!

Culture of fear

The residents feel a need to apply extra security measures. Despite these measures taken by the participants, the private security department of Al-Rehab, and the public police, the participants‘ fears are not alleviated, Marafi writes.

Security cameras, intrusion alarms, extra secure locks, as well as guard-dogs, can all be observed in the community. In addition, there are some shops which sell extra-large security lamps to be attached onto the roofs of villas.

In many villas, the use of such lamps as security tools makes the villas look more like military buildings at night, rather than family residences.

In addition, surveillance real and fake cameras are among other security methods implemented by other participants. Fake cameras are sold in at least one of the most popular electronics shops in the souk of Al-Rehab.

Some residents don’t even trust the security guards. Nora is one of them. Private security, she points out, relies on guards, and as they are humans they might fall asleep while on the job. Moreover, Nora claims that there are some cases where private security guards collaborated with criminals.

The private security guards themselves are aware of the distrust felt by the residents. Security guard Hanafi tells about Sara:

Madam Sara drives every night and checks the kiosks of the security guards located around her villa. If she does not find a security guard in any of these kiosks, she takes a picture of the empty kiosk with her camera and sends the picture to the security department. The security department trusts her word over the security guards and punishes those guards who were not in their positions or patrol areas. Also, she reports to the security department if she finds any of the security guards falling asleep, and she also takes pictures of them as evidence.

Being protected creates a sense of superiority

The anthropologist has noticed that classist phrases are used frequently. Being protected by private security guards and systems creates a sense of superiority.

When for example Nora explains why she moved to Rehab, she stresses that she wanted her son to live in a “clean neighborhood” when he gets married. Mohandessin, where they lived previously, “became old-fashioned”, populated by lower classes and “polluted”. In Rehab, on the contrary, reside “clean people", their neighbors are “respectful” and “civilized people".

Marafi comments:

The prejudicial connotations of these elitist, classist notions of newness, civilization, cleanness and decency indicate a desire for urban segregation and a keeping of distance from “the other”: the dirty, polluted, and uncivilized.

Security measures are also used to show wealth and status (“conspicouos consumption”). Some of the residents design security bars using branded logos, such as Versace. Others paint their security bars in different colors, such as white, to differentiate themselves from others (“aesthetic security”).

It is obvious to see primarily the poor as victim of neoliberal policies. Safaa Marafi suggests a different view:

While slums are stigmatized by poverty, gated communities are labeled by their richness. It is not that one group should be victimized over the other, but they both ought to be understood as victims of the implementation of the neoliberal segregation policy.

Breaking the walls

But her thesis has a somehow “happy ending” (depending on your world view of course), caused by the 25th January Revolution.

While the political participation of the residents previously has been rather low and there was a “noticeable sense of detachment” from any involvement with earlier protest movements, things have been slowling changing:

In the beginning of this unexpected revolution, none of my participants showed interest in joining the peaceful protests. (…) Yet, as I learned, a few of Al-Rehab‘s youth are active agents in this revolution. The neoliberal segregation plays a role in detaching many, but not all, of the residents of Al-Rehab. The youth especially were the ones participating in the political sphere. (…) Optimistically, this tells us that some of the youth of Al-Rehab want to be part of the world outside their gated community.

Safaa Marafi sent me a video from the youth celebration in Rehab after the announcement of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak on 11th February 2011. “The quality is is not that good", she admits, “but its content is very important as it shows how the youth of the gated community are breaking the walls of their gated community and want to be part of the outside world".


Her thesis can be downloaded here on antropologi.info:

Safaa Marafi: The Neoliberal Dream of Segregation. Rethinking Gated Communities in Greater Cairo. A Case Study. Al-Rehab City Gated Community (pdf, 2.7MB)

An earlier version is available at the digital archive of the AUC (DAR)


Ethnographic Research: Gated Communities Don’t Lead to Security

“The insecure American needs help by anthropologists”

Why borders don’t help - An engaged anthropology of the US-Mexican border

Criticizes “scholarly and political indifference toward the workers’ lives”

– Use Anthropology to Build A Human Economy

Saba Mahmood: Democracy is not enough - Anthropologists on the Arab revolution part II

Cautioning Against Security Fundamentalism


  04:44:43, by admin   . Categories: religion cosmology, Us and Them, Europe, globalisation

Terror in Oslo: Who cares about Christian right wing extremism?

While politicians and social scientists have directed all their attention towards “islamist” terror groups, right-wing extremist milieus were able to grow unnoticed.

Memorial Art. Photo: Agnar Kaarbø, flickr

(draft / see update 31.7.11) Oslo like a war zone, nearly 100 people killed in the worst attack on Norway since World War II: How could this happen? Two days after the attack, the web is filled with comments and analyses. But I have to consult international media to find a discussion of the, I suppose, most important issue: Right-wing extremist and islamophobic attitudes have become mainstream, but nobody cares - neither politicians nor social scientists. Instead, all their attention is directed towards “islamistic” groups as the major threat to the West.

“Europeans have spent so much time and effort in banning veils, minarets and preventing the construction of mosques that they have forgotten their own native cancer”, writes anthropologist Gabriele Marranci on his blog.

“We can no longer ignore the far-right threat”, argues Matthew Goodwin in the Guardian. Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is “not a Norwegian oddity, but symptomatic of a growing culture of politically motivated violence across Europe”. It “is important to note that some of Breivik’s core concerns have also played a prominent role within Norwegian and European politics more generally.”

Nicolas Kulish provides us the details in his New York Times article:

Friday’s attacks were swiftly condemned by leaders from across the political spectrum in Europe. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was particularly sharp in speaking out against what she called an “appalling crime.” The sort of hatred that could fuel such an action, she said, went against “freedom, respect and the belief in peaceful coexistence.”

Yet some of the primary motivations cited by the suspect in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, are now mainstream issues. Mrs. Merkel, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain all recently declared an end to multiculturalism. (…) While the parties themselves generally do not condone violence, some experts say a climate of hatred in the political discourse has encouraged violent individuals.

Therefore it is somehow correct when Ahmed Moor writes at Al Jazeera that Breivik did not act alone. He “acted within a cultural and political context that legitimises his fearful and hate-infested worldview.”

In this context, it is not surprising that the first speculations about who might be responsible for the attack centered around muslims. When I watched the BBC few hours after the attack, islam was the main topic.

Gabriele Marranci has observed the same in Italy:

Immediately the newscasters told us that it may be an Al-Qaeda attack in revenge of Norway’s marginal role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the more recent Libyan air campaign. Islamic terrorism has hit Europe again. Immediately a flurry of comments about the high number of Muslims living in Oslo appeared – yet these were quickly substituted, upon confirmation that the culprit behind the bloodshed was a tall blonde man, with comments about the danger of ‘converts’.

Generally, the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘Christian’, he adds, are infrequently used together. Shooter is now the preferred word for Europeans committing terrorist actions as part of their political or religious beliefs.  

“Tragic Day for Norway; Shameful Day for Journalism”, summarizes Shiva Balaghi in the magazine Jadaliyya. Among others, she mentions the New York Times that “let the story become one of Muslim terrorists wreaking the worst destruction on Norway since World War Two”:  

As it turns out, the worst attack on Norway since Hitler’s invasion was actually carried out by a neo-Nazi. This attack was about Europe’s own ghosts.

The Colbert Report: Norwegian Muslish Gunman’s Islam-Esque Atrocity: CNN: - Nordic looking terrorist? Maybe it was a good disguise

If those journalists and analysts had been paying attention, they would not be surprised at all about this attack, writes Juan Cole:

Europol reports have long made it clear that the biggest threat of terrorism in Europe comes from separatist movements, then from the fringe left, then from the far right.

But, as it is noted on the blog Cultural Meanings, “the Islamophobic current in Europe and North America is so strong that it seems very difficult to swim against it.”

These views have also made it into academia. Two years ago I wrote about the Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation at the University in Aarhus, Denmark that views “Islamism” as “the primary enemy of the democratic world”.

Looking at the guide Terrorism: Anthropological Perspectives by Rutgers University Libraries shows similar bias. When they recommend “relevant subject headings” that you can use to find books on the topic “Terrorists Groups and Incidents”, then it is Al-Qaeda and Hamas.

The syllabus Anthropology 255: Terror and Violence in Anthropological Perspective at Washington and Lee University (Spring 2004 by Sascha L. Goluboff), while also providing examples from Ireland, deals mostly with Islam and the Middle East.

Far right extremism is a complex topic, as the case in Oslo shows. Breivik was “far from what we might term a traditional rightwing extremist”, Matthew Goodwin writes. Within the Far Right, the researcher has observed broader changes:

Rather than oppose immigration and Islam on racial grounds (an argument that would attract little support), the emphasis shifts on to the more socially acceptable issue of culture: Muslims are not biologically inferior, but they are culturally incompatible, so the argument goes. The aim is to open modern far right groups up to a wider audience.

As I also noticed during a public debate with racists in Oslo, the belief that they are engaged in a battle for racial or cultural survival is quite common.

“It is not simply about jobs or social housing”, Goodwin stresses. It is a profound sense of concern that a set of values, way of life and wider community are under threat, and that only the most radical forms of action can remove this threat.

In his manifesto that was put online before his attack, Breivik also calls for suicidal operations in service of the larger cause. He claims to be a follower of the Knights Templar - a medieval Christian organisation involved in the Crusades, and sometimes revered by white supremacists.

The Labor Party (Arbeiderpartiet), is the main target for this war, as it is commonly seen by these ”antiislamists” as ”worse than the Quslingparty in the WW2″ according to Torbjörn Jerlerup who presents Breiviks worldview in his text Antiislamists with World War Two rethoric and iconography.

I’ll close this post with wise words by Wilfred Hildonen who on his blog writes:

It is about time to realise that to be born and to have grown up within a certain geographical area, do not bestow us with a certain kind of personality; that being human is something universal, which implies that all of us carry both heaven and hell within and that we all are capable of inconceivable evil at the same time as we can show up an incredible degree of compassion and kindness. It doesn’t matter whether we are Muslims or Christians, Jews or French or Greek, Somalis or Norwegians.


He reminds us on the possibly explosive power of words:

Some of us will perhaps have to realise that we too, are responsible for our thoughts, our words and our attitudes. These form the basis for the deeds of the future - evil deeds included. Most of us will perhaps not be influenced, but someone, somewhere, will be. Words, thoughts and attitudes carry an explosive energy within and should therefore be treated with consideration. We should consider what we do think and say and our attitudes as well. Not because we shall be political correct, but because what we say and think today, may have unexpected consequences tomorrow. 

(to be continued)

UPDATE 26.7.11 (via Erkan Saka’s round-up) Thomas Hylland Eriksen has written an in my view rather depressing (others might say a rather realistic) comment at OpenDemocracy: Norway’s tragedy: contexts and consequences. “The first consequence and the main message to Norwegian society is thus that citizens can never again be or feel entirely safe”, he argues. “We doubtless woke on Saturday morning to a slightly more paranoid, slightly less pleasant society. A society where we have become aware of our fundamental vulnerability.”

He also wrote a text for the Guardian Anders Behring Breivik: Tunnel vision in an online world and the New York Times (together with Jostein Gaarder) A Blogosphere of Bigots where he highlights the role of the role of the internet in fragmenting the public sphere. Norway’s extremists don’t tend to gather in visible ‘rightwing groups’. But online, he writes, they settle into a subculture of resentment:

Perhaps one lesson from this weekend of shock and disbelief may be that cultural pluralism is not necessarily a threat to national cohesion, but that the tunnel vision resulting from selective perusal of the internet is.

UPDATE 31.7.2011: Many new comments by anthropologists have appeared, see new post “How can I contribute to a better world?” Anthropologists on the Oslo terror attacks - an update


Visions of Students Today - More Digital Ethnography

Michael Wesch and his Digital Ethnography Research Team of 2011 has released Visions of Students Today: an exciting “video collage” about student life created by students themselves.

The collage consists of a large number of vidoes that can be watched seperately by clicking directly on the thumbnails (or on YouTube). Each of the students has been working for months to put together their own vision.

Striking: Several students criticize the current education system… (here the video by Derek Schneweis)

and call for a change (video by Haley Marceau)

One of the aims of the project is to enhance the students and the public’s media literacy in the digital age and to prevent that “many of the basic freedoms we have become accustomed to” as for example net neutrality", sharing and mixing (…) may be stripped away without the public even noticing".

>> more about the project

>> Visions of Students Today Collage

Wesch is the creator of the most popular anthropology videos online, among others “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us” and An anthropological introduction to YouTube


Interview with Michael Wesch: How collaborative technologies change scholarship

Via YouTube: Anthropology students’ work draws more than a million viewers

Interview: Meet Dai Cooper from The Anthropology Song on YouTube!

“YouTube clips = everyday ethnography”

New media and anthropology - AAA meeting part III

antropologi.info survey: Six anthropologists on Anthropology and Internet

Anthropology and the challenges of sharing knowledge online: Interview with Owen Wiltshire

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