By Aleksandra Bartoszko. Oslo University Hospital, Equality and Diversity Unit
Scars after removal of a kidney. Photo: bee free patrrizia grandicelli, flickr
Spring 2011 I attended seminar “Engaging medicine” at the University of Oslo in honor of one of the most prominent medical anthropologists in Norway - Benedicte Ingstad. One of the speakers was Nancy Scheper-Hughes with a paper “Medical Migrations – From Pilgrimage and Medical Tourism to Transplant Trafficking».
Scheper-Hughes is professor of anthropology and director of the program in Critical Studies in Medicine, Science, and the Body at the University of California at Berkeley. She is known for her research on structural and political violence, anthropology of body, illness, suffering, maternity and poverty. Her most famous publications are monographs Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland and Death without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil.
Since I got engaged in medical and critical anthropology, Scheper-Hughes has been to me a constant source of inspiration and provocation. As an anthropologist who supports and has been doing public and applied anthropology she co-founded Organs Watch, a medical human rights project focusing on organ trafficking. In more than ten years she has been working on the global organ trade. Following the illegal flow of kidneys, she has mapped the tragic network of rich buyers and poor sellers all over the world.
I always wondered how her adventure with kidneys started. She answers:
– It was a very different kind of a project and it was not one that I ever could have imagined spending so much time on.
– I wrote an article that emerged from chapter 6 of my book “Death without weeping” where I write about bodies in dangers, the dead body and favela residents’ fears and their feelings of ontological security or insecurity of the body. And I was studying the emergence of local death squads that were operating after the end of the military period, taking the place of the militarized state. I found that there was real medical mistreatment of poor bodies in clinics, in forensic institutes, and in the graveyard. And above all of this was hovering a terror that people had that their bodies would be used for organs. So I wrote some articles trying to explain why people thought they would be subject to kidnapping for the purpose of organ theft.
– At the time I still thought that this was mainly an urban legend. But then underneath the legend were these real experiences that poor people encountered in forensic medical institutes or police morgues where the unidentified, unclaimed body was, in fact, state property, and (to be crude) chopped up and harvested. So the people were right in fearing that their bodies were not safe.
More and more people are living in slums. What can be done about it?
A few weeks ago I blogged about Safaa Marafi’s thesis about neoliberal policies, urban segregation and the Egyptian revolution. Now she has published a newspaper article that is a good example of public anthropology: Living in Slums … A Historic Dilemma that Needs to be Resolved!.
Here she explains one of the most important anthropological insights. If you work with people, you need to understand their point of view. In order to solve the problems of slum life one needs to listen to the voices of the people who live there.
Efforts to develop Egypt’s slums have been going on for several years, yet without tangible change. The key aspect that is missing in these projects is getting close to these people, understanding their priorities and way of life and meeting their expectations, she writes:
Understanding their culture, needs and way of life is essential to help provide them with the necessary resources they need, whether proper education, job, medical assistance. Moreover, do they need small shops, kiosks, or commercial areas?
From this stand point, I stress on the need to conduct serious research by social scientists to understand the culture of these people through one-to-one interviews and giving them the chance to express their needs and voice their concerns. Thus, this will assist in tackling the slumization phenomenon from its grass-roots.
Anthropologists have stressed the importance of the “native’s point of view” in development projects for many years. Nevertheless, not only in Egypt, but also in Europe, people living in poorer neighborhoods are often stigmatized. Politicians and mainstream media tend to portray them as lazy and often criminal people that have to be “civilized”. So therefore, the poor are in policymakers’ view not worth to be listened to?
Marafi’s piece reminded me of some articles about slum life that have been published recently. All of them attack these misrepresentations.
One of them is the fascinating but sad story The life and death of Khanoufa: A personal account of Cairo’s “most dangerous thug”, written by Mohamed Elmeshad.
Egyptian police claim to have captured a man they called “Cairo’s most dangerous criminal”. Elmeshad questions these and gives us the perspective from his neighborhood where some of them see him as a victim of the system he was born into. A system where being associated with a slum area limits your opportunities in life.
“He turned out how he did because the police left him no other path in life,” Khaled, one of Khanoufa’s neighbors, said. At the age of 14, after participating in a neighborhood brawl, Khanoufa spent the first of a series of six-month stints in juvenile hall for youth misdemeanors. He became “marked” by police as someone they could pin crimes on or extort for money with the threat of imprisonment.
When his father, Abdel Shakour, passed away, Khanoufa’s family could no longer afford to pay-off the police, and he began spending more and more desperate nights in prison.
“That is when he turned to a life of crime. When he realized that he would be treated as a criminal for the rest of his life, no matter what. He reached a level of despair and said, ‘They’d take me in and put me in prison, regardless,’” Khaled said. He ended up spending half of his life in prison, from his teenage years until his death.
Mohamed Elmeshad has written another article from the same neighborhood (Ezbet Abu Qarn): Cairo’s poorest residents help the less fortunate in Somalia – a powerful story about cosmopolitanism from below.
A group of young men were moved by the images they saw in the media, and decided that the famine in Somalia must become a priority during Ramadan. Within four days, they were able to gather a large sum money among the poor people to the relief effort in Somalia.
“There are old widows who rely solely on charity to stay alive, who donated what I know is a really large amount for them,” said Sayed Kamal, one of the organizers.
“We don’t have people dying from hunger in our parts, but we do know poverty better than anyone else in Egypt, and we know about the fear of going hungry,” said Gamal Abdel Maqsood, a scrap metal dealer.
People in poor areas are no passive victims but do fight for their rights. In her story Popular committees bring true spirit of democracy to the streets, political scientist Rana Khazbak describes a campaign in another poor area in Cairo, Imbaba. Ehab Ali, a member in the popular committee in Imbaba, sounds like an anthropologist when he explains their campaign:
“We wanted to do field work in the streets among people. The piece of bread we eat every day is politics, the traffic congestion is politics, and the garbage in the streets is politics. That’s why in order to solve these problems and for Egypt to become a better place, we have to start from the bottom at the grassroots level.”
The popular committees were formed during the Januar revolution to protect neighborhoods when police withdrew from the streets in the midst of nationwide protests that toppled former President Mubarak.
Born out of a moment of chaos and fear, [the popular committes] proved themselves to be capable of self-organization in the days that followed. But most importantly, they proved to people that the end of “government” did not mean the end of the world.
In this surge of grassroots activism lie potential forms for popular governance. The committees not only teach us about the specific issues facing each neighborhood, but together they can teach us something about how political representation, accountability and local governance work on the ground.
Finally, just one week ago, Amnesty International has released a report about Egypt’s slums: ‘We are not dirt’: Forced evictions in Egypt’s informal settlements.
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)
– 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.
– 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.”
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.
“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.
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)
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".
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:
An earlier version is available at the digital archive of the AUC (DAR)
Three Women of Mumbai. Photo: Steve Evans, flickr
Antropologi.info book reviewer Tereza Kuldova has read another book for us.
“One wonders how little has changed”, she writes in her review of The Making of an Indian Metropolis: Colonial Governance and Public Culture in Bombay, 1890-1920 by historian Prashant Kidambi. The book is in her opinion “a great read also for any urban anthropologist, not only for historians who are the main target group".
The deep footprints of colonial Bombay
Review: Kidambi, Prashant. 2007. The Making of an Indian Metropolis: Colonial Governance and Public Culture in Bombay, 1890-1920. Ashgate
Tereza Kuldova, Ph.D. student in social anthropology, University of Oslo
At times, when you read about old Bombay, about the ‘lost’ times when ‘Bombay’ was not ‘Mumbai’, you are faced with idealized narratives of a golden era, now long gone and mourned. A picture of Bombay is painted in which people of diverse religions, classes, castes and live harmoniously together; it is a picture of a conflict-free era, where rules and obligations are followed and mutual respect prevails.
It is then only refreshing to read an account of colonial Bombay (1890-1920) that confronts us with a much more realistic picture. A picture of Bombay struck by two global pandemics, as well as by episodes of collective violence. A picture of Bombay, where the ruling elites try to handle the ‘unintended city’ – a result of industrialization and intense immigration – and its issues of sanitation, slums, famine, plague, riots, order and criminality.
Divided by caste, class and religion
Reading Kidambi’s account, it becomes obvious that, as he himself says, the imagined ‘ideal’ Bombay is “essentially an exercise in ‘historical fantasy’ that elides over the extent to which the city has always been divided by caste, class and religion” (236). If one has some knowledge of contemporary Mumbai, reading this book makes one realize how little has changed and how deep footprints have the colonial rule left in today’s Mumbai.
Prashant Kidambi’s inquiry into the urban history of Bombay manages to grasp the dynamics of urban change at the same time as it catches the reader’s attention – and that even though the wealth of historical detail can be overwhelming.
He focuses on three decades in which, in his own words, “the city was restructured in accordance with the dictates of modern urban planning and intrusive modes of governance were deployed in response to the challenges posed by rapid industrialization and massive labor migration” and in which “the city became the site of a vigorous associational culture and ‘modernizing’ social activism that infused its civil society with new dynamism” (p. 9).
Prashant Kidambi argues, that the city was a ‘contested terrain’, shaped as much by acts of resistance as by the operations of power (p. 12). Contrary to the “widely entrenched perception that the norms and practices of civil society were solely internalized by the Anglophone intelligentsia and were more or less alien to the cultural worldview and dispositions of the lower orders” (p. 14), the lower strata of society actually took part in the associational civility, the civil society of the emerging Bombay (pp. 157-202).
An interesting part of the book, particularly for an anthropologist such as me, is the discussion of the urban middle class formation in colonial India in relation to the concepts of ‘social reform’ and ‘social service’ and the way in which middle class became formed by these practices.
The distinction between ‘social reform’ and ‘social service’ is I believe useful in this respect. Kidambi argues that “while ‘social reform’ during the late nineteenth century had largely denoted the internal attempts at ‘self-improvement’ within particular castes and communities, the emergent discourse and practice of ‘social service’ articulated by members of the high-status Anglophone intelligentsia was directed at the destitute, the downtrodden and the disadvantaged” (p. 15).
A leading cosmopolitan commercial center
Kidambi’s account of the colonial Bombay is centered around several topics. Firstly he introduces the reader to the rising city of Bombay, a city that had by 1860 “become, after New York and Liverpool, the largest cotton market in the world” (p. 18) and that “by the last decade of the nineteenth century (…) could justifiably lay claim to being a leading commercial and financial center” (p. 23), where a “highly cosmopolitan culture amongst the business elites” (p. 24) developed. At that time “Bombay was also home to a nascent, but dynamic, English-educated Indian middle class comprising lawyers, doctors, engineers, businessmen, journalists, teachers and clerks employed in mercantile and government offices. This middle class was a product of colonial policies that dated back to the second quarter of the nineteenth century” (p. 26).
The growth of Bombay as a business and industrial center also “attracted a large, predominantly male, proletarian population”, which “found employment in the cotton-textile industry” (p. 29). However, the “city’s modernization had resulted in ‘two Bombays’, the one inhabited by a cosmopolitan elite that nestled in the fashionable enclaves of the city, the other full of chawls, crowded, insanitary, ill-ventilated slums and filthy lanes, stables and godowns” (p. 36). (One wonders here, how little has changed, when in today’s Mumbai 95% of its population lives on 5% of its space and the richest 5% occupies 95% of the land).
Diseases and segregation: Urban poor as threat
Overcrowding, slums, sanitary issues, disease, increased criminality, all these were the issues that increasingly kept the colonial administration preoccupied. And in 1896 this was only to get more intense as the plague epidemic attacked Bombay.
The plague and its handling by the administration becomes another interesting topic. Kidambi argues that “for nearly a decade after the initial outbreak in the city, long-standing assumptions that viewed epidemic diseases as a product of locality-specific conditions of filth and squalor exercised significant influence over the colonial state’s war against plague” (p. 50).
These localist perceptions meant that the policies were aimed at sanitary regeneration of the city, cleaning of the infected areas, their evacuation or eventual demolition. Furthermore a notion that Kidambi labels as “contingent contagionism” has developed, which could be summarized as follows: “If plague was a disease either generated by, or nurtured in, filth and squalor, many officials argued, it followed that Bombay’s poor who resided in ill-ventilated, overcrowded tenements would be more susceptible to its ravages. This, in turn, buttressed the belief that it was the poor, rather than the ‘respectable’ classes, who were the ‘natural’ bearers of contagion” (p. 64). “Consequently, the colonial state’s antiplague offensive was in large measure directed at segregating the urban poor, who were perceived as posing threat to the physical well-being of Bombay’s elites” (p. 70).
Shadow City - Dharavi, Mumbai. Photo: Akshay Mahajan, flickr
The next chapter deals with the Bombay Improvement Trust (1898), which was meant as a solution to the sanitary problems of the city; it dealt with the issues of town-planning, slum clearance, tried to expand the city’s residential area and provide sanitary housing for the poor.
Kidambi concludes that “(b)y the end of the First World War, it was widely acknowledged that the Bombay Improvement Trust failed to redress the civic problems that had led to its creation. On the contrary, most contemporary observers agreed that the Trust’s activities had worsened Bombay’s housing and sanitary problems” (p. 112). However, “notwithstanding the Trust’s failure to carry out the tasks for which it had been established, its policies has profound, albeit unintended, consequences for the development of Bombay’s spatial organization and social geography” (p. 113).
The emerging importance of the ‘street’
Kidambi goes on to discuss colonial policing strategies and control and regulation of the urban spaces and the perceived threats to urban ‘order’, particularly after the experience of two major riots in the 1890s. He presents an interesting discussion of the emerging importance of the ‘street’ and the life of and on the street and in neighborhoods.
“The street was the principal locus of working-class social life and recreational activities ranging from akharas (gymnasia) and tamashas (street theatre) to the liquor shops where many workers congregated after work” (p. 121).
He concludes that in the 1890s “the traditional colonial strategy of ‘indirect’ control began to give way to a more intrusive approach vis-à-vis the urban neighborhoods and the emergent plebeian public sphere. The 1902 Police Act vastly enhanced the discretionary powers of the police over a range of ‘public’ activities and urban spaces that had hitherto been unregulated. Their newly consolidated powers, in turn, increased the scale and dimension of conflict between the colonial police and the populace. Consequently, the relationship between the colonial administration and plebeian society in Bombay grew markedly fractious in the years leading up to the end of the Great War” (p. 155).
Mumbai at night. Photo: Premshree Pillai, flickr
Towards the end of the book, Kidambi takes on topics such as the emergence of the civil society in Bombay and the involvement of particularly the English-educated elite and middle class in various educational, scientific, religious and social reform oriented associations.
He concludes that “the rich diversity of associational activity within Indian civil society rendered its public sphere a ‘segmented’ domain in which the fashioning of the ‘autonomous, reason-bearing individual’ was offset by a countervailing process ‘through which community identities were reworked and reaffirmed’. It also invested urban public culture in colonial India with an intrinsic plurality and polyphony that has continued to inflect its post-colonial career” (p. 201).
The last chapter of the book is devoted to the question of social reform and social service and the social activism of Bombay’s intelligentsia directed at the uplifting of the depressed classes. These efforts of the educated middle and upper classes were both integral to the process of nation building and also had the effect of strengthening “the claims to public leadership of the educated middle class during the first two decades of the twentieth century. By the end of the First World War, educated men were able to tout their credentials as the ‘real’ leaders of the citizenry far more confidently than during the late nineteenth century” (p. 231).
Relevance for today?
There are several things that I have been missing in the book (but that may be likewise a general problem with the genre of historical accounts).
The book deals with a period of three decades (1890-1920). Except for a brief note in the conclusion there is no reflection on the effects of these three decades on the later developments. One is simply left to conclude on one’s own. It feels as if relating to present days or even decades following the three decades under thorough investigation, would not be rigorous enough. I would prefer at least some reflections, that would give the reader a sense of continuity and change and put things into a broader context of events that followed and issues that Mumbai is faced with now. This would turn a historical narrative, largely of interest only to specialists, into a reading of relevance for a much broader audience.
Another thing that at times bothered me was what I experienced as a continual struggle of the author to give the account an appearance of factuality, of presenting matters ‘as they were’ and the very little space left to polemics with one’s own material and the works of others. This appearance of an authoritative account is greatly supported by the referencing system that uses footnotes at the bottom of each page (and not references directly in the text) and by the use of single quotes for both quotations from other’s works and archival materials and author’s own expressions in ‘quotes’. This is not very lucky as the reader very often looses track of who says what.
Nevertheless, reading this book was enjoyable and would be definitely a great read also for any urban anthropologist, not only for historians who are the main target group.
>> Article by Prashant Kidambi: ‘The Ultimate Masters of the City’: Police, Public Order and the Poor in Colonial Bombay (Crime, Histories and Societies 2004)
(Hatiain Children up in the mountains. Image: Matt Dringenberg, flickr)
(post in progress about anthropological perspectives in Haiti and how to help) “Anthropology to me is all about human connexions, about a common humanity", said Dai Cooper from the Anthropology Song. “Being an anthropologist means that when a natural disaster occurs somewhere in the world, a friend may be there", is a quote I found on the blog by urban anthropologist Krystal D’Costa.
“The recent catastrophic earthquake in Haiti has turned my thoughts to our global levels of connectivity", she writes and adds:
Web 2.0 technologies have been activated to create impromptu support networks and share what little information people may have heard. They are proving integral to the management of disasters. And perhaps creating a global community so that when natural disasters strike, anthropologists aren’t the only ones wondering and worrying about the fate of friends.
I had similar thoughts today: First, on facebook, lots of friends posted stories about the earthquake and explained how to help. Browsing the web, it is overwhelming and touching to read about all the activities by people who help. Even without web2.0, people care for each other. True everyday cosmopolitanism.
GlobalVoices - my favorite source for international news - has lots of great overviews, among others about help from the region around Haiti (Dominican Republic / Caribbean) where many bloggers have been active. The Haitian Diaspora has also been active.
This kind help is often invisible in mainstream media. Here in Norway, the focus is of course on Norwegians (or Americans) or other rich countries’ help.
José Rafael Sosa for example writes (translated by Global Voices):
The Dominican people have bent over backwards to help Haiti. What happened in Haiti has no precedent. There is too much pain. Too much suffering. The absurd differences stop here and solidarity is imposed, pure and simple, openly and decidedly. This is the right moment to help our brother nation. Let’s give our hand and our soul to a people that do not deserve so much suffering.
Anthropologists have also contributed online. At Somatosphere, medical anthropologist Barbara Rylko-Bauer explains why helping through Partners in Health might be a good idea. One of the founders of Partners in Health is another medical anthropologist: Paul Farmer who currently is the U.N. Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti.
One year ago, Farmer was interviewed about the hurricane disaster in Haiti where as many as 1,000 people have died and an estimated one million left homeless. Farmer stresses that natural disasters are not only natural but also social or political disasters, they are partly man-made. He addresses Haitis ecological crisies and the way the US has destabilized Haiti. In another interview he challenges Profit-Driven Medical System (more see wikipedia and videos below).
Yes, why is Haiti so poor? Why is Haiti one of the poorest countries on this planet and therefore more vulnerable to disasters like earthquakes? Two anthropologists answer this question. They suggest links between the disaster and colonialism.
Haiti actually has been a rich country, Barbara D Miller at anthropologyworks explains. Haiti produced more wealth for France than all of France’s other colonies combined and more than the 13 colonies in North America produced for Britain. So why is Haiti so poor:
Colonialism launched environmental degradation by clearing forests. After the revolution, the new citizens carried with them the traumatic history of slavery. Now, neocolonialism and globalization are leaving new scars. For decades, the United States has played, and still plays, a powerful role in supporting conservative political regimes.
James Williams at Discovery News interviews anthropologist Bryan Page. Page gives a similar explanation.
After 1804, Haitians were discriminated against by not only the United States, but all the European powers, he says:
That discrimination meant no availability of resources to educate the Haitian population, no significant trade with any polity outside of Haiti. Also, the break up of the plantations into individual land parcels meant there’s no longer a coherent cash crop activity going on within Haiti.
These conditions persisted into the 20th Century:
You still have a population that was 80-90% illiterate – a population that didn’t have any industrial skills, a population that wasn’t allowed to trade its products with the rest of the world in any significant way.
What that isolation essentially meant was that Haiti never had a chance to progress alongside the surrounding civilizations in the region. Complicating the picture even more was a series of despotic rulers that added to the country’s struggles.
[Haiti was] seen increasingly as a benighted, terrible place, in part also because of the collective racism of the white-dominated nations that surrounded them, including Cuba, the United States and the Dominican Republic which occupies the other side of Hispanola.
UPDATE 1: More on Haiti, colonialism and racism on the blog The Cranky Linguist by anthropologist Ronald Kephart
UPDATE 2: Statement by the American Anthropological Association (AAA): The Haitian Studies Association has begun to develop strategies to help Haiti, Haitians, Haitians in the diaspora, and the Haitian academic community. The AAA will provide more information about how to respond to the disaster and ask the Haitian anthropological community for advice.
Hope is not something that one often associates with Haiti. An anthropologist and critic of representations of the island, I have often questioned narratives that reduce Haiti to simple categories and in the process dehumanize Haitians. Yes, we may be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, but there is life there, love and an undeniable and unbeatable spirit of creative survivalism.
I am worried about Haiti’s future. In the immediate moment we need help, rescue missions of all kinds. I am concerned about weeks from now when we are no longer front-page news. Without long-term efforts, we will simply not be able to rebuild. What will happen then?
UPDATE 3: Great post by Kerim Friedman at Savage Minds where he explains why New York Times columnist David Brooks is wrong who claims that “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences.”
UPDATE 4: Haiti: Getting the Word Out - Janine Mendes-Franco at GlobalVoices gives an overview over bloggers in and around Port-au-Prince who “are finding the time to communicate with the outside world".
UPDATE 5 (16.1.10): Anthropologist Johannes Wilm: Who really helps Haiti? An overview of money given to Haiti: While USA give most per person affected, Norway, Canada and Guyana give most per citizen and (again) Guyana gives most in percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). His main message is that the aid from Western countries is “close to nothing".
Alert by Naomi Klein: “We have to be absolutely clear that this tragedy—which is part natural, part unnatural—must, under no circumstances, be used to, one, further indebt Haiti and, two, to push through unpopular corporatist policies in the interest of our corporations. This is not conspiracy theory. They have done it again and again.”
UPDATE See also post by Keith Hart: Is Haiti to be another victim of disaster capitalism?
UPDATE 7: GlobalVoices: Instances of “Looting,” but Little Confirmed Evidence of Post-Quake Violence: When the media reports on disasters, they’re inevitably going to focus on the dramatic and antisocial, even if it’s one percent of the population committing these acts.”
Here is what poor Haitians define as elements of a good society:
1. relative economic parity
2. strong political leaders with a sense of service who “care for” and “stand for” the poor
3. respe (respect)
4. religious pluralism to allow room for ancestral and spiritual beliefs
5. cooperative work
6. access of citizens to basic social services
7. personal and collective security
UPDATE 10: Harvard and Haiti: A collaborative response to the January 12 earthquake: Video with Paul Farmer and his colleagues from Harvard Medical School, Partners In Health
and Brigham and Women’s Hospital
And here an overview about the current situation:
and a lecture by Paul Farmer (first introduction, lecture starts after 8 minutes):
“In Search of Respect. Selling Crack in El Barrio” is one of my favorite ethnographies. Now, Philippe Bourgois, is out with a new book. In “Righteous Dopefiend“, he looks at the clients of the dealers, the University paper Penn Current reports.
The paper published a interesting interview with him that also touches the popular topic “anthropology at home". Bourgois conducted his fieldwork among homeless heroin and crack users a mere six blocks away from his San Francisco home. He spent lots of time with them, and even slept outside in homeless encampments to gain a true sense of what life is like for the addicts.
What happened? People in the neighborhood began to think that the anthropologist must be one of the addicts as well:
During the intense years, when I’d be hanging out on the corner, people in the neighborhood just took for granted that I was either a drug addict or someone about to fall into drug addiction.
I remember being embarrassed in front of my son’s friends, because my son at this time was about seven years old when I started the project, and so all of his friends lived in the neighborhood and would say, ‘I saw your father hanging out on the corner where all the drug addicts are.’ I was worried about my son’s friends’ parents, because they were seeing me.
But although the addicts lived so close to the neighborhood, they were invisible. It was “mind-boggling", he says, that he literally had to walk not more than six meters through a little thicket in order to enter a totally separate universe:
You can hear all these people, I mean, literally, hundreds of people at rush hour, walking to the bus stop, and you’re in this separate universe, and the two don’t touch. You can spend several hours in this separate universe listening to people go by and they don’t look through the bushes and notice these people. You almost feel falsely protected in this cocoon. People don’t want to see it, either, and the point of my book is to make it visible.
Bourgois connects the daily life in the thicket with larger structures in the society:
(W)hat is terrifying is seeing - and this is in a sense what the book is about - how structural forces beyond our control, historical forces, shifts in the economy, shifts in the political organization of public policy, come crashing down on vulnerable sectors of the population and basically shove them around in very unpleasant ways.
These are the people who weren’t able to recover from the downsizing of the industrial sector in the United States. A bunch of other types of industries arose in place of that, but those people who aren’t able to make that adjustment, those people who don’t have the education to shift from being a factory worker to being an information technology processor, are people who fall into indigent poverty.
The guys that we studied - their parents were the people who lost their jobs working on the docks of San Francisco, working in the steel mills, working in the warehouses that were serving the active factory sector of San Francisco as a port industrial city. These are forces that are much larger than the will of any individual or the moral ability of any individual to act in a way that’s going to make them a productive member of society. The book is trying to show those dynamics and when you dig deeper you then see these other patterns, that whites are affected by this very differently than African Americans.
Over half of his informants have passed away during the study and in the two years since the end of the actual field work.
Oil is vital to our growth economy. Yet, our need for continued access to fossil fuels drives many of today’s conflicts. And we are in the last days of cheap oil and need alternatives. In his guest editorial in the new issue of Anthropology Today (subscription required unfortunately), Thomas Love encourages anthropologists to examine the complex relationship between our lives and fossil fuels.
What are the consequenes of rising oil prices? Rising energy prices may prolong availability for those who can afford it, but will will cause uneven economic development and contribute to the deterioration of labour conditions in sweatshop economies, he writes.
A quick search reveals following news: Rwanda: High Oil Prices Make Essential Commodities Costly (allAfrica 28.3.08), Higher petrol costs ‘act like a tax on consumption’ (CNN, 7.8.06) Food prices are rising worldwide. Weather, oil costs among factors (Boston Globe 30.3.08), Oil prices hit hard on Asia’s poor. UNDP report ranks countries according to a new Oil Price Vulnerability Index (UNDP 25.10.07), and “What about the poor?”, askes the Energy report (1.8.07).
Thomas Love proposes following research questions:
How does this crisis resemble previous ones? What metaphors and symbols do people use to make sense of it all? To what discursive structures will people turn to make sense of the potential unravelling of their worlds? (…) How has the fossil-fuelled growth system already affected the lives of people in producing areas?
We need cross-cultural perspectives and commitment to ethnography to understand how such large-scale forces play out on the ground in the everyday lives of ordinary people. Detailed grasp of the non-fossil-fuelled ways of living of pre- and non-industrial peoples will convey to interested publics and policy-makers alternative ways of organizing human society. We can help understand how humans might manage to power down without precipitating collapse.