It happened already around 200 years ago: Aboriginal Australians marry Indians. Afghan cameleers open up the interior of Australia for transport and development. Indian seamen fight for Indonesian independence. And long before Australia was colonised by white settlers in 1788, Aboriginees have had longstanding relations with the Indonesian archipelago.
A few weeks ago I met Devleena Ghosh. She is conducting interesting research about the movements of people and ideas in the Indian ocean. We often link transnationalism to today’s world, but Ghosh shows that people have lived globalised lives already several hundred years ago. Australias history consists of more than white settler history.
- It is important to highlight the connections between people, she told me. It is important to challenge the popular belief that migration is something new, that people lived seperated from each other, hating each other. Because that’s not true.
I totally agree with her.
Relationships between South Asians and Australians during the colonial period and earlier have been little investigated. The same can be said of Norwegian history. It was not more than seven years ago, that the first history of immigration was written.
Because of this lack of transnational history writing, the incorrect view of the world as consisting of isolated and self-sustaining societies has been able to dominate the public and scientific discourse. This view has been a fruitful breeding ground for ethnic chauvinism, racism and - in social science - methodological nationalism (pdf).
Devleena Ghosh and her colleagues have published some open access papers:
Devleena Ghosh, Heather Goodall, Lindi Renier Todd: Jumping Ship: Indians, Aborigines and Australians Across the Indian Ocean (Transforming Cultures eJournal, Vol 3, No 1 (2008)
Janine Wedel has done something that far too few anthropolologists do: She studied powerful people. Those who rule the world.
In her book “Shadow Elite“, she shows how a new system of power and influence has taken hold globally, one that undermines democracy, government, and the free market.
Why went America to war against Iraq? More and more “government work” is performed by “shadow elites": consulting firms, companies, nongovernmental organizations, think tanks etc, rather small circles of powerful people (she calls them “flexians") who use their interlocking relationships to control public policy without public input. “Flexians” work often for private interests, academia and government at the same time.
The flexians form “Flex nets". They cannot be reduced to lobbyists or interest groups. They are according to a review in the Financial Times defined by four features:
1) personalizing bureaucracy, or using personal connections and loyalties to realize goals;
2) privatizing information while branding conviction, or branding the information available only to insiders in this game;
3) juggling roles and representations, or changing spots frequently, wearing the pelt of military leader one day, analyst the next, and concerned citizen the next;
4) relaxing rules at the interstices of official and private institutions, or adjusting accountability and rules that apply to one or more of their pelts from the safety of a seemingly non-aligned position.
One of those flexians is the retired US general Barry McCaffrey, who has been simultaneously a commentator for the media, a consultant to the defence industry and professor. According to a 2008 exposé in the New York Times, he was one of several former military men who helped to shape public opinion on the Iraq war, while simultaneously having undisclosed ties to the Pentagon.
Wedel’s book has received quite a lot of media attention since it was released earlier this year. It was book of the month at Huffington Post (where she has started writing a weekly column) and was also reviewed in mainstream media. She was interviewed both by BBC, Russia Today, MSNBC and Al Jazeera.
It would be interesting to know how she studied the “shadow elites". Has she been on fieldwork? I haven’t read all her texts. But in her newest article in Huffington Post, she explains how she came to understand the game: through her experience studying the mechanisms of power and influence in post-Cold War eastern Europe for about 30 years:
(E)xamining eastern Europe up close–through its transformations away from communism over the last quarter century–has been excellent preparation for making sense of how a small group of power brokers helped engineer the invasion of Iraq, and more broadly, how a new system of power and influence has taken hold globally, one that, as I write in my book Shadow Elite, undermines democracy, government, and the free market.
In communist Poland, the necessity of getting around the state-controlled system created a society whose lifeblood–just beneath the surface–was vital information, circulated only among friends and trusted colleagues, information that was not publicly available. Under-the-radar dealings that often played on the margins of legality - this was the norm, not the exception.
I began to recognize a familiar (to me) architecture of power and influence. I started to follow the networks and overlapping connections in government, foundations, think tanks, and business of a tiny set of neoconservatives - just a dozen or so players I call the “Neocon core".
The playbook of the Neocon core seemed to come straight from that of the top players of transitional eastern Europe. In both cases, players who already knew each other set up a host of organizations–organizations that seemed more like an extended family franchise than think tank, populated by the same set of individuals. (…) And despite a new administration in Washington, not to mention the damage done to their credibility since the Iraq invasion, the Neocon core lives on, because networks like it are self-propelling, multipurpose, and enduring.
And she adds that as a social anthropologist, her “focus is not on whether the U.S. should have invaded Iraq, but rather how that decision was made, who made it, and what mechanisms of power and influence were used to make it".
And in Anthropology News february 2010 (pdf) she explains why we need an “ethnographic focus” on power:
I have concluded that an ethnographic focus is indispensable to sorting out power and influence amid transforming federal governance in the United States, not only under change-of-system conditions such as those found in transitional eastern Europe.
The ethnographic sensibility that enabled scholars of communist and post-communist societies to deal with the complexity, ambiguity and messiness of political and policy processes is ideally suited to examine the interactions between public policy and private interests and the mixing of state, nongovernmental, and business forms that are increasingly preva- lent in the United States and around the world.
By focusing on players and their networks as drivers of governing and policy decisions, these ethnographers have laid the groundwork for badly needed critiques of social science categories such as “state” versus “private,” “top-down versus bottom-up,” and “centralized” versus “decentralized.” They have provided a basis for reexamining conventional models that guide so much thinking about politics, policy and power, and yet obfuscate, rather than illuminate, the real system of power and influence.
Her work is a good example of public anthropology. Her website is really impressive. There you find a great amount of her publications, both newspaper articles and papers (even back to pre-internet and pre-computer times), a collection of book reviews, TV and radio interviews, interviews related to Shadow elites etc
It is popular to lament about the lack of public anthropology, but anthropologists have been highly visible in matters regarding global financial and power issues, see earlier posts Anthropologist Explores Wall Street Culture, Financial crisis: Anthropologists lead mass demonstration against G20 summit and Used anthropology to predict the financial crisis.
Studies on elites are still not as common as studies on marginalized people, though. This is not only true for anthropology. I have to think of a series of great programs at BBC Thinking aloud about white collar crime - a rather neglected topic among sociologists and criminologists as well.
As Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology.net, I was kept awake until late at night by an article in the New York Times Magazine - yesterday for reading, today for writing. It is a fascinating article about a kind of globalisation that isn’t talked about much outside the university, written by Ethan Watters, author of Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, released two days ago. It’s about the globalisation of the Western conception of mental health and illness
“We have for many years been busily engaged in a grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of mental health and illness", he writes. “We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.” And the idea that our Western conception of mental health and illness might be shaping the expression of illnesses in other cultures is rarely discussed in the professional literature.”
Western conceptions of mental health? Well, as anthropologists stress, illness is not only about biomedicine. It’s not only about parts of the body that no longer work. Our brain is not a batter of chemicals that “needs a fine chemical balance in order to perform at its best” (advertisment for the antidepressant Paxil).
Illness, maybe especially mental illness, is also about culture:
(M)ental illness is an illness of the mind and cannot be understood without understanding the ideas, habits and predispositions — the idiosyncratic cultural trappings — of the mind that is its host. (…)
What cross-cultural psychiatrists and anthropologists have to tell us is that all mental illnesses, including depression, P.T.S.D. and even schizophrenia, can be every bit as influenced by cultural beliefs and expectations today as hysterical-leg paralysis or the vapors or zar or any other mental illness ever experienced in the history of human madness. (…)
In any given era, those who minister to the mentally ill — doctors or shamans or priests — inadvertently help to select which symptoms will be recognized as legitimate. Because the troubled mind has been influenced by healers of diverse religious and scientific persuasions, the forms of madness from one place and time often look remarkably different from the forms of madness in another.
Contrary to popular belief, “Western” biomedicine is not culturally neutral either:
The ideas we export often have at their heart a particularly American brand of hyperintrospection — a penchant for “psychologizing” daily existence. These ideas remain deeply influenced by the Cartesian split between the mind and the body, the Freudian duality between the conscious and unconscious, as well as the many self-help philosophies and schools of therapy that have encouraged Americans to separate the health of the individual from the health of the group.
“Western mental-health discourse introduces core components of Western culture, including a theory of human nature, a definition of personhood, a sense of time and memory and a source of moral authority. None of this is universal,” Derek Summerfield of the Institute of Psychiatry in London observes.
Ethan Watters explains why have American categories of mental diseases become the worldwide standard:
American researchers and institutions run most of the premier scholarly journals and host top conferences in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. Western drug companies dole out large sums for research and spend billions marketing medications for mental illnesses. In addition, Western-trained traumatologists often rush in where war or natural disasters strike to deliver “psychological first aid,” bringing with them their assumptions about how the mind becomes broken by horrible events and how it is best healed.
The export of Western biomedical ideas, Watters explains, can have “frustrating and unexpected consequences", for example marginalization of people with “mental heath problems". People with schizophrenia in some developing countries appear to fare better over time than those living in industrialized nations.
Several studies, Watters writes, suggest that we may actually treat people more harshly when their problem is described in biomedical disease terms, when we treat mental illnesses are “brain diseases” over which the patient has little choice or responsibility, when the disease has according this model nothing to do with factors in the outside world like unemployment, racism, larger societal structures that lead to loneliness, despair, depressions:
It turns out that those who adopted biomedical/genetic beliefs about mental disorders were the same people who wanted less contact with the mentally ill and thought of them as more dangerous and unpredictable. This unfortunate relationship has popped up in numerous studies around the world. (…) “irrespective of place . . . endorsing biological factors as the cause of schizophrenia was associated with a greater desire for social distance.”
In Zanzibar, in a group of people with “Swahili spirit-possession beliefs", the illness was seen as the work of outside forces, it was understood as an affliction for the sufferer but not as an identity according to research by anthropologist Juli McGruder:
For McGruder, the point was not that these practices or beliefs were effective in curing schizophrenia. Rather, she said she believed that they indirectly helped control the course of the illness. Besides keeping the sick individual in the social group, the religious beliefs in Zanzibar also allowed for a type of calmness and acquiescence in the face of the illness that she had rarely witnessed in the West.
The article was published last Saturday. The same day, Greg Downey wrote Exporting American mental illness, an example for great anthropology blogging. And the day after another fascinating blog post by Eugene Raikhel at Somatosphere: The globalization of biopsychiatry with lots of links to related medical anthropology studies.
Nearly at the same time, medical anthropologist Michael Tan has written about the same topic in his column Pinoy Kasi in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He writes about “special children", children with what Americans call “global developmental delay” or GDD. This diagnosis does not make sense in the Philippines:
The problem here is defining a delay. (…) For example, around the area of language development, you will find books that say a child should have a vocabulary of around 200 words by the age of 2. I can imagine some of my readers beginning to panic now, as I did when I first heard that standard. Imagine me in the middle of the night doing an inventory of my son’s vocabulary and not even reaching 50 (…)
But the anthropologist in me protested that we don’t have studies in the Philippines that established the norm, and given that all our children are growing up in households with at least two, and often more, languages, there’s bound to be some “delay.” As you might have guessed, my son, who is now 4, cannot stop jabbering, and in three languages at that.
Tereza Kuldova has read another book for us: Multi-Sited Ethnography: Theory, Praxis and Locality in Contemporary Research, edited by Mark-Anthony Falzon. It consists of 14 articles. Tereza Kuldova is currently planning a “multi-sited” fieldwork and has picked four articles that she considered most inspirational.
Multi-Sited Ethnography: Theory, Praxis and Locality in Contemporary Research (ed.) Mark-Anthony Falzon. 2009. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-7318-7.
Tereza Kuldova, PhD fellow, Museum of Cultural History, Oslo
This edited volume consisting of fourteen research papers takes us right into the middle of the theoretical dilemmas and practical challenges posed by “doing” multi-sited ethnography.
The discussion on multi-sited research can be viewed in the context of the changing realities of the world since the 1970s (commonly connected with terms like globalization, transnationalism, world system, diaspora, etc.).
It can thus be viewed in the context of times when the single-sited methodology is felt as inadequate and when the social sciences are struggling with their relationship to the local, while searching for larger scales of analysis and better ways how to capture the connections between people, things, and places and in the context of times when the concept of “culture” no longer stands the critique of a great deal of anthropologists.
“Second generation” multi-sited ethnography
In this sense this edited volume comes in the right time and is of great value. It presents something that could be labeled as a “second generation” multi-sited ethnography; it overflows with theoretical suggestions, prospects and critique based on highly valuable empirical examples from research and fieldwork.
All articles are theoretically oriented; they lead us towards rethinking of the concept of “multi-sited” in various directions and from various positions. In short, Multi-sited Ethnography deals with the accusations of “depthlessness” or absence of thick descriptions in multi-sited research, with the practical problems of working in diverse localities, the challenges of projects based on collaboration, the problem of implicit holism of the classical statements of multi-sited ethnography (Marcus 1995), and much more.
I now proceed to a discussion of several selected articles, which I personally, as an anthropologist who is currently planning a “multi-sited” fieldwork, considered most inspirational.
The value of the delimited field-sites
Let me first turn our attention to the critique of multi-sited ethnography by Mateo Candea in his article Arbitrary Locations: In Defense of the Bounded Field-Site (ibid: 25-46), which ignited and inspired many of the theoretical discussions, not only, present in this volume.
Candea targets in his critique what he sees as a latter-day implicit holism. This is to be found in “a suggestion that bursting out of our field-sites will enable us to provide an account of totality ‘out there’” (ibid: 27). He challenges this implicit holistic idea through his proposal to reconsider the value of the delimited field-sites. He argues that ethnography is about setting up ‘arbitrary locations’, he urges us to opt for ‘self-imposed restrictions’ and to take the path of ‘self-limitation’; to be reflexive and self-critical in our methodological decisions, to take responsibility for those decisions and to take responsibility for what we include and what we exclude.
He believes that being “explicit about the necessity of leaving certain things ‘out of bounds’” would turn “what feels like an illicit incompleteness into an actual methodological decision, one which the ethnographer reflects upon and takes responsibility for” (ibid:34). Arbitrary location for Candea is “not an object to be explained, but a contingent window into complexity” (ibid: 37).
Even though the title might mislead some, Candea’s article should not be read as an attack on multi-sited ethnography, rather, it views ‘multi-sited’ as a positive development, a development which brought a new wave of methodological reflexivity. And it is on this wave of methodological reflexivity that Candea’s article is sailing and challenging the imagined totality of ‘cultural formations’.
Candea’s article is one of those that push you to think further, and whatever your opinion might be, it definitely makes you sit down and rethink your own approach to multi-sited ethnography, though maybe in a different direction than his.
The myth of the “coherent whole”
The article What if There is No Elephant? Towards a Conception of an Un-sited Field by Joanna Cook, James Laidlaw and Jonathan Mair (ibid: 47-72), is a further rethinking of the holistic charge against multi-sited ethnography and in my view it brings Candea’s critique a step further.
The authors intend to lie to rest the holistic assumption that has haunted the first generation of multi-sited research and to carry the disconnection of ethnographic field from space to its logical conclusion through their proposal of ‘un-sited field’.
Studying the Buddhist ethics of self-cultivation in a multi-sited project has led them to question both the implicit holistic assumptions of multi-sited research and similar assumptions present in the theory of world religions. They proclaim that “the widespread assumption by adherents of self-consciously world religions, that there ‘must be’ a coherent whole of which they are part is itself a religious commitment, and one that is framed in distinctively modern terms” (ibid: 54).
Abandoning the “idea of sited field “
This line of thinking, I believe, is rather fruitful and it led the authors to the elaboration of the concept of ‘un-sited field’. Un-sited field means abandoning the idea of sited field altogether and acknowledging the three-fold distinction between space, place and field.
Abandoning the “idea of sited field makes it possible to admit that it never was possible to achieve a complex description of any area or group of people, but in exchange for acknowledging that fields are always constructed out of a too-rich reality, we would gain the freedom to determinate their boundaries explicitly, in relation to our research questions” (ibid: 58). This then means that “a valid ethnographic field need not correspond to a spatial entity of any kind, and need not be a holistic entity ‘out there’ to be discovered” (ibid: 68).
I too believe that our construction of field should be a primarily reflexive activity throughout the whole fieldwork period and even after and that we should be led by our research questions when determining what is within the boundaries we demarcate and what is beyond them. This reflexivity cannot be other than productive as is the clear distinction between space, place and field which is proposed.
Multisited ethnography = “Cross-fertilization of sites”
Another article which discusses, among others, the question of holism is Ester Gallos In the Right Place at the Right Time? Reflections on Multi-Sited Ethnography in the Age of Migration (ibid: 87-102). In this article Ester Gallo discusses her research experience among the Malayali migrants in Rome and in Ernakulam (Central Kerala, India).
She notes that it was first retrospectively that she articulated her fieldwork in Rome and in Kerala in terms of multi-sited ethnography. What she emphasizes is the importance of paying notice to the ‘meanings of movement’ involved in the processes of following people. Movement tends to be easily taken for granted, particularly in the migration studies. But in her view the meanings of movement must become objects of study rather than its premises (cf. Hage 2005).
Further discussing the question of holism, she believes that “once we move away from the holistic aspirations of multi-sitedness, we can look at how its application results in the cross-fertilization and reciprocal limitations between different levels of ethnographic perspective” (ibid: 89-90). Multi-sitedness in her view thus implies “both expansion and limitation of the ‘site’, as analytical framework and relational practice” (ibid: 90).
I like the idea of ‘cross-fertilization of sites’, which Ester Gallo comes up with, it suggests the opening of new questions, possibilities and important connections which can be perceived only when expanding, at the same time as bounding the field. She accentuates, that what is so particular about multi-sitedness “is the possibility it offers to interrogate the ‘site’ of research, not as a preconstituted dimension of social inquiry, but as relational process and methodological device” (ibid: 99).
Collaboration with the non-human world
The last article I chose for a closer discussion is Strong Collaboration as a Method of Multi-Sited Ethnography: On Mycorrhizal Relations (ibid: 197) by Matsutake Worlds Research Group (Timothy Choy, Lieba Faier, Michael Hathaway, Miyako Inoue, Shiho Satsuka, and Anna Tsing). I chose it because it is different both in its object of study and in its approach to multi-sited research.
(Image: Tomomarusan, Wikimedia Commons)
In their project the Matsutake Worlds Research Group follows a mushroom – matsutake – a highly sought after mycorrhizal mushroom that grows in Asia, Europe and North America and that is an important element of Japanese cuisine.
But this mushroom is not just something that is followed; it is literary taken seriously as a collaborator in their research and collaboration is thus turned into what is followed along with the mushroom. Not only does this article invite us in a world of strong collaboration between scientists and into what pros and cons such collaboration has, but also into a world of strong collaboration with the non-human world, discovering the various potential relationships with it.
The authors explore both the negative possibilities of collaboration, such as its at times even traitorous nature and positive possibilities and the question of why it is attractive to anthropologists. They urge the fieldworker to use his senses, to sensually immerse in the field.
“Taste, sight, sound, touch, smell, heat, body awareness, pain, anger, frustration, balance, weight, scope, acceleration, logic, instinct, hunger, belief. The senses we engage when we conduct fieldwork are nodal points between our ethnographic environments and us. Through them, we become ethnographers. Through them, our bodies become our research instruments” (ibid: 201).
As an example we can take the “chemical interactions, including smell” that “offer one register of relationality in which humans and non-humans, alike, can participate”.
When discussing the strong collaboration between the researchers Lieba Faier uses the term ‘echolocation’, which is “an interactive sense that enables a creature to find its way by reaching out to other bodies with sounds that return to it transformed” (ibid: 202). She relates echolocation to the practice of strong collaboration and draws on a particular example in which more ethnographers engaged with the same matsutake wholesaler, but their depictions of him were radically different.
From this collaboration “a more multidimensional picture of him emerged than any single ethnographic perspective could have provided. Perhaps ethnographic echolocation is one of many new kinds of senses that can be cultivated through multi-sited, strong collaborations” (ibid: 202).
The idea of echolocation as another sense of the ethnographer might prove fruitful in the future, as well as the emphasis on strong collaboration. At the same time collaboration, even though conceptualized as a dialectical practice, may lead to conflicts and unintended power struggles, caused by the often not compatible views or perceptions of the situation and struggle for personal recognition.
At the same time let us listen to what Matsutake research group has to say:
“Why do ethnography? One reason is to spurn spectacular capitalism, which fills our screens with glamorous happy thin elites playing with their globally-standard expensive toys. The world – in its materiality and its diversity – is worth more than that, as ethnography can remind us. But anthropology too is full of glamour stars, all in rush to ‘brand’ their ideas and market their way to top. What might it take to build a slower, richer scholarship, in which we might connect with the living sensual textures of our still diverse world? Might strong collaboration help?” (ibid: 206).
I let everyone judge for themselves. But let me add one more quotation:
“Mushrooms remind us: We are all collaborators. Just because matsutake is not cultivated does not mean it does not collaborate with humans and other beings. Rather matsutake urges us: Strain to find lines of connection. Just as matsutake forms relations with host trees in its essential becoming, strong collaboration makes us remember that all becoming is relational. Taking non-humans – not just fungi but also trees, animals and climate – as collaborators stimulates surprise and wonder. Non-human forms of recognition are not our forms. Thus they open up the framework through which we appreciate relationality” (ibid: 211-2).
This article urges us to rethink our relationship with the non-human and to open ourselves to new ways of thinking and conceptualizing not only of the multi-sited research, but the world itself, as well as of our work in it as anthropologists and ethnographers. (see also their paper A new form of collaboration in cultural anthropology: Matsutake worlds (pdf))
This edited volume is a highly reflexive piece of work and, I believe, a must read for any specialist in anthropology, sociology, and development and migrations studies, or anyone dealing with the “multi-sited” in their research.
Hage, G. 2005. A not-so multi-sited ethnography of a not-so imagined community. Anthropological Theory 5:4, 463-75.
Marcus, G. E. 1995. Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology, 24, 95-117.
More reviews by Tereza Kuldova:
How do middle-class women in Calcutta understand and experience economic change? What impact is globalization having on the new middle-classes in Asia? Our reviewer Tereza Kuldova has again been lucky with her choice of books. For antropologi.info, she reviewes Domestic Goddesses: Maternity, Globalization and Middle-Class Identity in Contemporary India by Henrike Donner:
Donner, Henrike. (2008). Domestic Goddesses: Maternity, Globalization and Middle-Class Identity in Contemporary India. Ashgate. 230 pages. Price: £55.00.
Review by Tereza Kuldova
This anthropologically rich study based on an extensive ethnographic fieldwork brings us to the contemporary Calcutta and the homes of its middle-classes. It draws us convincingly right into the everyday domestic lifeworlds of the Bengali middle-class women, with all their concerns, ideas and ideals, sorrows, anxieties and joys.
This fresh study in urban anthropology undoubtedly fills a gap in the discussions on the Indian middle-class and modernity. Through identifying and establishing the domestic sphere as the key site of the remaking of the Indian middle-class in the contexts of globalization, post-liberalization and neo-liberal ideologies this book provides a novel rethinking of the wider transformations within the Indian society.
Analyzing the middle-class women’s narratives, Henrike Donner explores the shifts in the meanings and lived experiences of marriage, motherhood, conjugal relationships and family values. Focusing on the roles the women play as wives, mothers and homemakers, she examines the various ways in which the Indian urban middle-class is produced and reproduced - be it through seemingly unsubstantial lunch boxes of the middle-class children or the preference of caesarean section among the middle-class women. She analyses the ways in which the discourses on class, family and marriage, which commonly favour the role of the housewife and stay-at-home mother in order to produce a perfect family, shape the lives of these women; and how these women in turn shape the contemporary Indian society through their daily practices and ideas.
In her own words this “study is a reminder that the conflicts over the meaning of economic reform are not played out on the public stage of electoral politics alone, but also within families, between generations and in the embodied experiences of citizens. If neo-liberalism is not seen purely as an ideology but as a set of institutions, ideologies and technologies that bring about specific discourses, my research shows how it reshapes the Indian middle-class family, and with it motherhood” (180).
The Introduction gives us an idea about the background of the study, its location and reflections on fieldwork method. The part discussing the positioning of the anthropologist - a white woman from the “West” - and the power relationships between the fieldworker and her subjects evolving on the basis of this categorization are particularly interesting and give us closer insight in how relations are negotiated and how they evolve through time.
The first chapter on Middle-Class Domesticities and Maternities presents absorbing theoretical discussion of motherhood, kinship and reproduction. In her theoretical discussion on and analysis of how motherhood is constructed and discussed by women and the ways in which it dominates and orders their lives, Henrike Donner continually reflects on how these discourses and practices surrounding motherhood relate to power relations in the society, how they reflect the hegemonic processes of change, the ideas about modernity, the Hindu nationalist thought and the socio-economic relations. Motherhood is thus turned into the institution par excellence through which the historical change is studied. This continual linking between the wider transformations in the society and the rich ethnographic detail through a modified lens is, I believe, the greatest contribution of the study.
The second chapter Of Love, Marriage and Intimacy brings us at the core of the middle-class obsession with the discussions of love and marriages, which centre on the topics of, arranged and love marriages, suitable spouses, arranging matches and weddings and much more. Again these discussions and rich ethnographic material is set within the context and framework of the wider discursive formations and collective histories, contextualizing for example metropolitan ideas of what makes a good match through wider analysis of changing relationships between women and men, daughters and parents, in-laws and their son`s wives. The empirical data and cases are used actively in a combination with theory in a balanced manner, and the presence of the anthropologist throughout the whole book makes the text more readable and interesting. Viewing marriage in terms of process, which changes its meanings and the ways it is perceived over the lifecycle and across gender is also one of the strengths of Donner’s approach.
The third chapter concerned with The Place of Birth, i.e. basically the medicalization of childbirth, the availability of health services and changing birthing practices, opens up in front of us the world of parenthood as understood by the urban Bengali middle-class women. It discusses parenthood as a public prove of sexual prowess, fertility and reproduction being crucial in making and expanding the social significance of marriage as well as in making and reproduction of the middle-class. Infertility on the other hand carries a great social stigma, the infertile couple not only symbolizes “sexuality without a purpose, ‘coupledom’ without a future, and personal loss” but also challenges “generally held ideas about marriage and the Indian middle-class family” (92).
Discussing several cases Donner analyses the changing birthing practices, the interesting popularity of the self-elected caesarean sections, and the domestic relations at the time of the women’s pregnancy and much more. Particularly the analysis of the popularity of the caesarean deliveries is very enlightening, bringing in the notions of class, pollution, social status and middleclassness. The caesarean deliveries distinguish the middle class from the low class woman, they are markers of class and affluence, they are “clean” and the convalescence takes a considerable amount of time, which the low class woman in opposition to the middle class one does not have. Caesarean sections thus manage status as well as pain, pollution and embarrassment during the birth.
The fourth chapter on Education and the Making of Middle-Class Mothers is concerned with schooling during the early years of childhood and “the way parenting is implied in institutional practices and the way intimate relationships between mothers and their children are informed by wider socio-economic transformations” (123). This chapter thus discusses a rarely investigated topic of contemporary parenting in India and the role of mothers. The analysis shows how the mothers reproduce the middle-class ideals and tastes through active parenting strategies and how the children actually become subjects of multiple practices resulting from the liberalization policies and processes.
The fifth chapter with the title Motherhood, Food and the Body explores the middle-class woman’s agency as a consumer and relates the analysis of consumption to that of gendered bodies and (re)production of middle-class through consumption patterns. She particularly focuses on the wave of “new” vegetarianism and the various meanings it has, from control of the woman’s sexuality to idioms of purity.
This study shows clearly that even thought there is an increasing number of nuclear families, love marriages and divorces in urban India, which are commonly seen as indications of the post-liberalization changes, “the patrilocal residence, arranged marriages and lifelong unions still constitute normative discourses, and are often reinvigorated” (181). But at the same time “the increased significance of privacy, conjugality and individualism among urbanites supports new socialities and gendered identities” (182).
the ambiguous and surprising outcomes of the processes leading to the new middle-class lifestyles, which oscillate somewhere in between ideologies of individualism and media representations of family ideologies, which depict the Indian middle-class as consumption- and family oriented, as well as thoroughly nationalist.
One of the shortcuts of the study, I believe, is that it is thoroughly restricted to the domestic sphere and the middle-class household and does not take into account how the production and reproduction of the middle-class through the work of women is staged in the public sphere; how it is played out in the daily interactions outside the home and how these interactions actually shape and bring into being the lived social hierarchies. The discussion of relationships with men and the men’s views is certainly a missing link in the broader connections, too, though maybe intentionally omitted; such a discussion and focus would give the analysis more depth.
This book is without any doubt a great contribution to current anthropological discussions on how globalization and consumer oriented economies change and influence the kinship and marriage systems, as well as on how the class hierarchies are produced and reproduced in the urban setting. It is a must read for any anthropologist or a student of anthropology concerned with the modernity in developing countries, globalization and kinship. But the clarity of the language, interesting issues raised and richness of the ethnographic detail will surely draw the attention of a much broader specter of readers.
I haven’t found much material about or by Henrike Donner online. But on this page you’ll find links to papers she has put online: Committed mothers and well-adjusted children: privatisation, early-years education and motherhood in Calcutta and The significance of Naxalbari: accounts of personal involvement and politics in West Bengal
I have to confess I have an ambivalent relation to initiatives like the Earth Hour. But anthropologist Stephen Bede Scharper casts an interesting perspective on this new way to save our planet.
He describes Earth Hour as “the first globalized ritual", a `liminal space’ and therefore “a potent opportunity for change":
Earth Hour combines a spiritual quest, a moral mandate and a communal practice into a unique and truly global event. It can thus be considered a transcultural action of moral responsibility for the planet, a statement that “another world is possible.” It is not driven by brands, consumerism or corporate logos. Earth Hour is not Coca-Cola teaching “the world to sing in perfect harmony,” nor Nike telling us to “Just Do It.” It is, rather, approximately one billion people entering the threshold of a different relationship with both the planet and the cosmos.
Earth Hour has arisen, almost organically, outside of established religious and secular institutions. The fact that churches and municipal governments are now participating is a testament not only to its popularity, but also possibly to its motivational power and persistence, something that places the event in the category of “ritual.”
UPDATE: Antarctica to Pyramids: Lights dim for Earth Hour (ap, 28.3.09)
(Update: Chris Knight suspended over G20-activism) The G20 summit in London next month may be marked by one of the biggest demonstrations since a million people marched against war in Iraq in 2003. According to The Sunday Telegraph, the demonstrations are being organised by anthropologists Camilla Power and Chris Knight.
Under the slogan “Storm the Banks", the two members of The Radical Anthropology Group are urging the public to vent its anger on the financiers and bank executives many blame for the global economic crisis. They think it is necessary to question or even overthrow capitalism - a taboo topic for the ruling elites.
Very interesting: The Telegraph writes that the two anthropologists work at the University of East London, which is based close to the headquarters of some of the world’s biggest banks. The University is “proud of its links with the City of London and multinational companies based in London".
The paper quotes the university’ website who “boasts“:
“We are committed to do all we can to ensure that our expertise is made available to benefit business and society. Utilising the wealth of expertise, research capabilities and facilities at UEL our solutions help companies to become more profitable, more competitive and more sustainable.”
(Or take a look at the frontpage of the university and study the language: Is this a university or a oil company or even a bank??)
Anyway, Camilla Power thinks her role in organising the protests does not conflict with her position at UEL and says:
“What our university management thinks is good for students and academics does not always accord with what students and academics think is good for them.”
But maybe they don’t disagree at all? A spokeswoman for UEL said (diplomatically?):
“The University of east London includes a range of academic disciplines and individual academics who advocate a range of viewpoints. We are proud of our diversity, which fosters a spirit of critical inquiry, and we support freedom of debate. We are also proud of our active partnerships with business.”
As often the case when people take to the streets, the media are mostly interested in writing about violence and “the worst public disorder for a decade“. . Up to 3,000 police officers will be on the streets. Armed undercover officers will mingle in the crowds while police snipers will be stationed on rooftops.
Xenophobia in South Africa, labour mobility and economic development, minorities’ integration, representation of refugees and forced migrants in the British Economy are some of the topics in the most recent issue of Journal of Identity and Migration Studies.
The journal was founded a bit more than a year ago by The Research Centre for Identity and Migration Issues (RCIMI) at the University of Oradea in Romania. It was recently added to the Directory of Open Acces Journals.
It is an interdisciplinary journal on one of the most popular topics for anthropologists. So far, no anthropologists have contributed to it, though.