Category: "University / Academia"
Academic freedom and freedom of speech is more and more under threat in the “Western world": First, the University of East London (UEL) suspended anthropology professor Chris Knight, now they cancel the Alternative summit that should take place at the University campus, the Guardian reports.
Despite management efforts to shut down the Alternative London Summit on Wednesday 1st April organisers and speakers are committed to making sure the event goes ahead at the University of East London as planned.
Organisers are appealing to the public to join academics, union representatives and students in the occupation of the university in order to ensure that prominent political, scientific, academic and activist speakers who have remained committed to the event will be free and able to speak as planned.
It is vital at this pivotal moment in British and world history that we, the people have a public platform to understand and act on alternative ideas and strategies for our political, environmental and economic future.
According to Bernadette Buckley, from the politics department of Goldsmiths, the shut down of the UEL is “an astonishingly grim reflection on the state of academic freedom today.”
“The university is turned into a wasteland in the very moment when the university should instead be up to the task of hosting critical debate and be a hub of creative energies. This is not just about UEL, but about reclaiming universities and education in these times of crisis", a member of the Chris Knight Reinstatement Solidarity Group on Facebook said.
“I guess the summit organizers are now openly admitting what they’re really afraid: and it isn’t molotov cocktails. It’s ideas", the first signatory wrote.
A spokesperson for the university explained “that the potential scale of the event and associated risks had become unmanageable, and we would be unable to accommodate safely an event of this nature.”
>> Opposition grows as UEL shuts down for G20 (Wharf 31.3.09)
(UPDATE: Alternative Summit cancelled, university occupied) Shortly after The Sunday Telegraph wrote that anthropologist Chris Knight is one of the organizers of a mass demonstration against the G20 summit in London, he was suspended from his job at the University of East London, several British newspapers report.
Chris Knight, (or Mr. Mayhem according to the Evening Standard) said:
“To be honest, if he winds us up any more I’m afraid there will be real bankers hanging from lampposts and let’s hope that that doesn’t actually have to happen.
“They [bankers] should realise the amount of fury and hatred there is for them and act quickly, because quite honestly if it isn’t humour it is going to be anger.
“I am trying to keep it humorous and let the anger come up in a creative and hopefully productive and peaceful way.
“If the other people don’t join in the fun - I’m talking about the bankers and those rather pompous ministers - and come over and surrender their power obviously it’s going to get us even more wound up and things could get nasty. Let’s hope it doesn’t.”
>> G20 protest professor suspended (BBC, 26.3.08)
>> Anarchist professor Chris Knight suspended after G20 ‘threat’ (The Times, 26.3.08)
Professor Chris Knight’s suspension for voicing anti-G20 sentiments is a sign of how intolerant universities have become, writes Rupa Huq in The Guradian.
The incident is “symptomatic of how university management culture has changed":
The introduction of fees over the past decade has meant universities adopting more business-like ways, serving paying customers rather than Young Ones-style indolent students.
To some extent, as the polytechnics became universities, the universities underwent a degree of polytechnic-isation too: new and different types of courses appeared ¬– programmes with vocational outcomes and “transferable skills” in place of critical thinking. Exams were shunned in favour of continuous assessment, reflecting the changing needs for skills-based provision to produce good workers to service the economy
One of the group members posted a comment by Chris Knight:
“Management at UEL are telling the press the Alternative Summit (http://www.altg20.org.uk) may not happen. Meanwhile, they are actively sabotaging the Summit by crashing the only e-mail we have been using to organize it and by countermanding all requests to the UEL print-shop to produce vital publicity material. Not to mention barring me from getting into my own room on campus which until now has been the organizing centre.
They have done nothing to convince me that they will be respecting Earth Hour from 20.30 this evening. Maybe some of us should get down there around 19.30 tonight? We could then use UEL campus to enforce Earth Hour, secure the Summit venue and uphold the rule of law. I will certainly be down there.”
Comments from group members:
wherever you work you have a point of view about what is going on in the world…how dare jobs be threatened just because of your views…..
they can never stop what we think!!!!!!!
I do support the reinstatement of Professor Knight as it looks like his university have thoroughly overreacted, but I think the anger at the city, specifically, is misplaced. Bankers have behaved as they were encouraged to within the logic of capitalism - it’s not a case of if they’d been a bit less greedy we could have had some version of “good” or “compassionate” capitalism; the entire system is the problem, not a figurehead bunch of bankers.
“Think theyve been trying to find an excuse to suspend him, personally though the move to suspend him over what was said is a stupid move; it shows nothing but UEL being an institution where individuality and political opinion is barred.”
Perhaps the most “threatening” thing Dr. Knight has said is to caution the police not to use violence. He is making a perfectly legitimate point, that has been made many times over the centuries, even from the seats of monarchic power and the Vatican: closing off avenues for peaceful protest and dissent will justify, legitimate, and even mandate more violent action for necessary and urgent change.
More anthropologists in action in London at the Alternative London Summit 2009 - here an excerpt from the anthropology section (!):
- David Graeber will be analyzing the banking crisis from a 5,000-year historical perspective.
- Jerome Lewis will adopt a hunter-gatherer perspective on the crisis, explaining how life is possible without hierarchy, money or notions of inevitable scarcity.
- Neil Bennun will be drawing on South African Bushman mythology to illustrate how “Another world is possible”.
Financial crisis: Anthropologists lead mass demonstration against G20 summit (my post 5 days ago)
We need courses and programs in “Anthropology & Journalism” to help create the critical public intellectuals of the 21st century, Brian McKenna writes in Counterpunch. Such programs will help equip students with skills to popularize critical knowledge:
One thing is certain. We need a new wave of writers and journalists, unafraid to do the most radical thing imaginable: simply describe reality. Their ranks will largely come from freethinkers, dissenting academics and bored mainstream journalists who rediscover what got them interested in anthropology in the first place, telling the truth. Anthropologists have no choice. They must become media makers and journalists themselves.
Many anthropologists look skeptically at journalism. But whenever McKenna hears one of them saying “I never talk to journalists, they always get me wrong. I just can’t trust them", his mind churns, “Then why don’t you become the journalist and write it yourself?”
Anthropologist have lots in common with journalists. They can make great journalists:
What makes a good journalist? In a telling Slate Magazine article, “Can Journalism School Be Saved?” editor Jack Shafer said that “I’d rather hire somebody who wrote a brilliant senior thesis on Chaucer than a J-school M.A. who’s mastered the art of computer-assisted reporting. If you can crack Chaucer, you’ve got a chance at decoding city hall.” (Zenger 2002)
Anthropologists can crack Chaucer and much more. Anthropologists can debate Foucault, survive in foreign lands with little more than the grit of our teeth and write insightful interpretations of the global/local intersections of capital. Anthropologists would make great journalists, albeit if they learned to write more quickly, urgently, succinctly and in a public voice.
Anthropologist James Lett is a former broadcaster and present-day anthropologist. In 1986 he wrote abut his dual life commenting that found it “remarkable that [the] similarities [between the two professions] are not more widely appreciated. As an anthropologist, I have been trained to observe, record, describe, and if possible, to explain human behavior, and that is the essence of what I do every day as a journalist.” (Lett 1986)
McKenna discusses in this article several papers on anthropology and journalism
His texts reminds me of another texts I wanted to blog about earlier: “Anthro-Journalism” by Randolph Fillmore that is part of the site Communicating Anthropology (lots of advice for better writing).
Sybil Amber has collected some links in her post Journalism in Anthropology. One of them leads to the blog Making Anthropology Public
(links updated 20.1.2016)
Many US-anthropologists protested against the Vietnam war in the 60s. Why have anthropologists been so reluctant to engage with the “immense tragedy” and “waste of resources by our governments” in the Iraq war, Antonius C.G.M. Robben and Marshall Sahlins ask in the current issue of Anthropology Today.
There has been much debate and protests regarding the embedding of anthropologists in Human Terrain Teams of the U.S.Army, but not about the consequences of the war for the people in Iraq. There is hardly any independent anthropological research going on in Iraq. Of the 1800 panels (11,000 papers) at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) between 2006-2008, Robben writes, only one has dealt directly with the Iraq War:
We have been far too timid on the issue of the Iraq war. Rather than tackling the issue head-on, we have dealt with it on the back foot, as an issue of ethical concerns about our professional conduct in military and intelligence matters. What of the broader issues concerning Iraq under occupation and the plight of its peoples? Given the immense human and material cost of this war, why has this not been at the forefront of our professional focus?
Robben criticizes the AAA for not acting independently from the US government:
What is disconcerting is how the AAA appoints the members of the Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities on the basis of ‘balancing’ interests between individuals employed in intelligence-gathering capacity and independent anthropologists engaged in bona fide academic activity. Why should this commission include members from the security establishment at all?
Surely, if anthropology is to remain an independent academic discipline, it must insist on populating these important bodies with independent anthropologists free of any personal involvement in such matters. In this case, we can speak of imbalance, for two militarized anthropologists on this commission outweigh the one person representing the critics. It is disconcerting to see how panels at the AAA’s conferences also tend to have a culture of aiming for such ‘balance’.
During the Vietnam-war, anthropologists organized teach-ins, an innovation by famous anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. According to Anthropology Today,
the teach-in … unlike the strike, is a constructive process in which participants bring all their knowledge of a critical issue of public concern to the university, with the aim of generating publicity and action. The teach-in became a powerful instrument in this sense, helping to shift public opinion and eventually to change government policy on the Vietnam war.
In Anthropology Today, Sahlins quotes a footnote in a report by the a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on national security about the beginnings of the teach-ins:
The teach-in movement was born at the University of Michigan after heavy criticism of an original plan for a 1-day faculty ‘work moratorium’ to protest U.S. policies in Vietnam. The notion of a ‘strike,’ while sufficiently dramatic, was so controversial that it diverted attention away from the basic aim of the protest group. During a meeting on the night of March 17 they were batting around alternative ideas […] when Anthropologist Sahlins suddenly interrupted the discussion: ‘I’ve got it. They say we’re neglecting our responsibilities as teachers. Let’s show them how responsible we feel. Instead of teaching out, we’ll teach in – all night.’
Why is there not the same anti-war agitation today? The absence of a national military draft is often given as the major reason. (…) Among the other significant differences between then and now, consider only the striking fact that at present business courses constitute by far the most popular subject matter of the higher learning in America. Where the mobilization against the Vietnam War drew on a large cadre of already existing rebels without a cause, the Iraq war came upon us as a cause without the rebels. (That’s James Dean the movie, crossed with Lévi-Strauss the books.)
According to Antonius C.G.M. Robben there are lots of ways for anthropologists to take action:
We must find ways to engage issues concerning Iraq objectively and independently, without being railroaded into a partisan security agenda. Now that we have blogs and online communities, teach-ins and university protests are no longer the only instruments of opposition.
And even if fieldwork were impossible, we can surely weigh up and analyse the fragmentary information available and draw on a comparative anthropology of violence and social suffering to help make sense of current events in Iraq. Anthropologists such as Nadje Al-Ali, Keith Brown, Steven Caton, Matthew Gutmann, Allen Feldman and Catherine Lutz have done so.
The adversarial and partisan agendas of Minerva and the Human Terrain initiatives must not be the central focus of our professional engagement at our annual conferences, for they are recipes for creating security-speak elites with an interest in perpetuating war rather than finding solutions.
We must now strive to engage and disseminate our own independent anthropological studies of the military campaigns undertaken as part of the global ‘war on terror’. The teach-in remains a relevant option today, especially now that we have social networking sites such as Facebook to help.
Unfortunately, the articles are available for subscribers only.
I have been back from Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural center and “City of Poets", for a while now. It was one of the most inspiring journeys I’ve been to.
Just a few weeks ago we’ve been at the same place where - a few days ago - six policemen were killed and several cricket players from Sri Lanka wounded in a terrorist attack. We were also constantly under police protection. Our hosts were very concerned for our safety.
I went to Lahore to document the conference “Covering Each Other In An Era Of Imagined Clashes Of Civilizations” (see summary in Norwegian), part of the Global Inter-Media Dialogue). Journalists and media researchers from Norway, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh participated.
Terrorism was one of the main topics during the whole stay - both during and outside the conference. Among other things, the impact of the so-called “war on terror” on global journalism was discussed. Being an journalist in conflict areas has become much more dangerous if you are not willing to let you embedd - and censor - by the military: Not only in Gaza, but also in Iraq and in Pakistan, journalists are hindered in doing their job.
Every Pakistani we met was worried about the “talibanisation” of Pakistan, but also about the drone attacks by the USA in the semi-autonomous “tribal areas” along the Afghan border. The drones are supposed to target Al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists, but mainly kill innocent children, men and women.
Before my departure I wrote about a Pakistani anthropologist who fights for young girls’ right to education in Taliban-controlled Swat in the North. In the same region, a few days ago, Taliban killed journalist Musa Khankhel, a colleague of one of the speakers at the conference, Hamid Mir. ‘He saved me, but I could not save him‘, Mir commented on rediff.com. One day before the recent attack in Lahore, Mir wrote the piece “Don’t create another Swat in Punjab“.
All these issues are debated in the newspapers, several of them are written in English as f.ex The News, Dawn, The Nation or Daily Times. They are of high quality, especially the opinion section where many academics contribute regularily with comments and analysis. Some of the interesting texts are Such is life… in Swat written by a history teacher who had to flee from Taliban, or Forget Gaza, care about Swat and Missing the essence of Talibanism
People in Lahore are troubled about the recent development - something that Imran Khan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Lahore, captures very well in the article Lahoris lament ’shameful’ attack - an aspect that is often missing from mainstream “Western” coverage. When talking with Lahoris, we were often confronted with the negative images that “Western media” spread about Pakistan.
So due to the security situation and Pakistan’s negative image, I suppose, we hardly saw any tourists. Everywhere we went, we became an attraction. People approached us, said hi and shook hands and started a conversation. Some even wanted to be photographed together with us. Needless to say, we only met friendly people.
I was very impressed by the two universities we’ve been at. I have never seen such a huge campus before as at the University of the Punjab in Lahore. At the University of Gujrat they are building seven spectacular “ships of knowledge". 70% of the students are women. Something I found strange is the role of religion: The conference started with Qur’an recitations and some speakers started their lectures with a short prayer. “That would have been impossible in Indonesia", the delegates from Jakarta commented.
Interesting for us who engage for open access to scholarship is the icon “Journals” on the front page of the website of the University of the Punjab. A click on it leads us to a list of departments that edit and publish their own journals. And most of them are available online as pdf’s (the current and the previous issue). Journals in Pakistan do not seem to be commercialised as it is the case in Europe and America.
Among the journals with online content we find Journal of Political Studies (including an issue about the “war on terror”), the philosophy journal Al-Hikmat, the Journal of Pakistan Vision, the Oriental College Magazine and the Oriental College Research Journal
(text changed, name removed, see comments below) Four anthropologists are among a long list of scholars who in The Guardian call for a boycott of Israel:
We must do what we can to stop Israel from winning its war. Israel must accept that its security depends on justice and peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, and not upon the criminal use of force.
We believe Israel should immediately and unconditionally end its assault on Gaza, end the occupation of the West Bank, and abandon all claims to possess or control territory beyond its 1967 borders. We call on the British government and the British people to take all feasible steps to oblige Israel to comply with these demands, starting with a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
In the US on the other hand 3 students, who protested against Israel’s attacks, were arrested (one of them an anthropologist).
The question of academic boycott was also discussed at a seminar that Thomas Hylland Eriksen organized with his colleages at the research project Culcom. Personally, I am not sure if boycott is the way to go, but I liked the “smart boycott” that political scientist Nils Butenschøn suggested. If you collaborate with Israel you should be sure that the Israeli institution does not discriminate or support acts that breache international law.
What role should academics play in situations like these in Gaza? Theologian Anne Hege Grung said that the conflict is held up by myths. Our job is to deconstruct these myths.
Israeli anthropologist Jeff Halper is one of those intellectuals who does exactly that, she said. Last year he arranged a boat trip to Gaza in order to break the Israeli blockade. There, he formulated a message to his fellow Israelis:
(1) Despite what our political leaders say, there is a political solution to the conflict and there are partners for peace. If anything, we of the peace movement must not allow the powers-that-be to mystify the conflict, to present it as a “clash of civilizations.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is political and as such it has a political solution;
(2) The Palestinians are not our enemies. In fact, I urge my fellow Israeli Jews to disassociate from the dead-end politics of our failed political leaders by declaring, in concert with Israeli and Palestinian peace-makers: We refuse to be enemies. And
(3) As the infinitely stronger party in the conflict and the only Occupying Power, we Israelis must accept responsibility for our failed and oppressive policies. Only we can end the conflict.
His report of the trip can be read on the blog by Ted Swedenburg, another blogging anthropologist. Swedenburg is professor at the University of Arkansas and editorial committee member of the Middle East Report. He has blogged a lot about the Gaza-conflict.
In an earlier post I’ve mentioned several antropologists who try to do something similar. In a more recent post, Maximilian Forte analyzes and criticizes the myths spread by American media:
So THE WORLD trembles with love at the mere mention of “Obama,” while all those who oppose Israeli genocide and demonstrated against it were “Muslims.” In the meantime, the only real threat to peace is Hamas, and its bottle rockets.
Palestinians, not being white, European, privileged allies of the U.S., unlike Israelis, are less than human, and less than important, except as “obstacles.” All that Israel ever does is respond and get provoked, it never initiates — a pristine white victim of irrational brown people, you can almost hear its maiden-like screams across the white Atlantic.
With “reporting” like this, the media will keep anthropologists in business for a long time to come, as we try to clean up the damage they cause in creating a deranged culture of war and hatred. And it is hatred, a subtle, insidious, and racist hatred that motivates and encourages AP to write the kind of articles about Gaza as it has.
Then, I found a post by Palestinian anthropologist Khalil Nakhleh who concludes:
The only future for us, as an indigenous national minority that can exercise our inherited basic human rights on our land and that can achieve true justice and equality, is to reclaim and re-assert our narrative. (…) Our repossessed narrative cannot be a reinterpretation of our history as a dull shadow of Jewish-Zionist narrative. Our repossessed narrative must be based on the deconstruction of the racist Zionist-Ashkenazi system, which itself is a precondition for such a just solution. The existing Israeli system is, by definition, racist and exclusivist, and it is inherently and structurally incapable of providing justice and genuine equality to my Palestinian people.
Today, Anthropologist Smadar Lavie emailed me a link to her text Sacrificing Gaza to revive Israel’s Labor party. She reminds us of the different groups within the Israeli society and writes that it was mostly was the Mizrahim (Jews with origin in the Arab and Muslim World) who have been hit by the Hamas missiles. The Israeli European elite “imported” them “as a demographic shield against the Arab enemy".
Smadar Lavie has put lots of papers online.
For more comments by anthropologists see my first posts: Anthropologists on the war on Gaza
Most anthropologists work outside the university where they don’t enjoy academic freedom. These anthropologists must be better prepared for the perils of non-academic applied work, Brian McKenna writes in Counterpunch. For good applied anthropology is being troublesome:
He quotes Robert Lynd who in 1939 wrote:
[T]he role of the social sciences to be troublesome, to disconcert the habitual arrangements by which we manage to live along, and to demonstrate the possibility of change in more adequate directions . . . like that of a skilled surgeon, [social scientists need to] get us into immediate trouble in order to prevent our present troubles from becoming even more dangerous. In a culture in which power is normally held by the few and used offensively and defensively to bolster their instant advantage within the status quo, the role of such a constructive troublemaker is scarcely inviting.
Too often, applied anthropologists say “Yes, sir":
Some years back Harvard anthropologist Kris Heggenhougen argued that the strength of anthropology in collaborating with other disciplines lies in saying, “yes, but. . . and to critically examine the decisive factors affecting peoples’ health including power, dominance and exploitation.” (Heggenhougen 1993)
Yes, but. . . . while that sounds good, more needs to be said.
First of all, we spend much more time saying “yes, sir” than “yes, but” in paid employment. This is necessary if we wish to stay employed. The workplace is a not a democracy but a hierarchy in which academic freedom does not apply. (…) (A)pplied anthropologists have to be prepared to travel the road from “yes, but,” to “no, sir” in order to better serve the public interest.
Brian McKenna mentions several applied anthropologists who were “troublesome". One of them is Barbara Johnston who has worked with environmental justice. She warns about associated risks:
Environmental justice work “requires confronting, challenging and changing power structures.” When someone is involved in this work, says Johnston, “backlash is inevitable.” Because most anthropologists usually enter organizations as change agent s of some kind they need to be aware that they are especially at risk of being labeled a “troublemaker” at any time. If the label sticks it can lead not only to getting fired; it also can lead to a vicious form of bullying that can make one’s life unbearable.
According to Johnston, academic culture “trivializes the importance of this work,” while, at the same time, the engaged anthropologist struggles to find disciplinary support.
Another example is Ted Downing who worked for the World Bank. In 1995, he wrote about the potential social and environmental impacts a proposed World Bank dam project will have on Chile’s Pehuenche Indians. The result: The report was censored:
After his report was censored Downing demanded that the World Bank publicly disclose his findings. The Bank responded by threatening “a lawsuit garnering Downing’s assets, income and future salary if he disclosed the contents, findings and recommendations of his independent evaluation.” (Johnson and Garcia Downing). As a result of his whistleblowing, Downing was blacklisted from the World Bank after 13 years of consulting service.
In his case, “yes, but” didn’t work. He progressed, reluctantly, to “no, sir”:
In fact this happens to many applied anthropologists but most do not have the resources, support or disciplinary guidance to assist them in their struggles. They might become whistleblowers but their careers suffer. And their stories are untold. We do not have a good accounting of how often this happens to anthropologists, but we need to learn more about this. In any case, resisting censorship is, as Downing says, “good applied” anthropology.
“Journals? Who cares?” anthropologist George Marcus said recently. Journals as we know them are a thing of the past, and the last to understand this fact are universities and academics, philosopher Mark C. Taylor says in an interview with E. Efe Çakmak in the new Eurozine issue:
For the most part, presses and journals as they now exist do not serve the interests of intellectual or cultural development. To the contrary, their proliferation is symptomatic of increasing hyper-specialization in which there is more and more about less and less. This is going in the opposite direction of history, in which there is increasing interconnectedness.
So my advice is to forget journals – I no longer read any academic journals and I stopped publishing in them years ago. The only function presses and journals serve is to authorize those who write for them among a dwindling group of peers. If ideas are to matter – and I believe it is crucial that they do – we must completely change the way in which they are communicated.
Taylor is critical of the “tyranny of the word":
What I want to stress is that language in today’s world is not primarily verbal but is, more importantly, visual. The problem is that we are visually illiterate – and nowhere is this more evident than in the university. In the “real” world, image trumps word every time; in the academic world, word represses image all the time.
If communication is going to become effective on a global scale, we must liberate the image from the tyranny of the word. This does not mean giving up reading and writing as they have been known in the past. But it is no longer enough. The multilingualism of young people today is multimedia. If we do not learn to communicate in this language, we will have nothing to say.