Category: "Us and Them"
Gated communities are becoming more and more popular in America. They are no longer ghettoes for the rich and wealthy. Behind fences and walls, more than eight million Americans live in their own parallel societies. Setha Low, professor of environmental psychology and anthropology, has conducted ten years of fieldwork in gated communities in New York, Texas and Mexico City and why there has been an increase in Americans moving to gated communities. The University of California at Irvine’s campus newspaper, New University reports about a recent lecture by Setha Low:
Her research revealed that gated communities don’t necessarily have less crime than the surrounding area. In addition, residents did not find the friendly community that they were looking for. She found that residents did feel safer, but they worried all the time about the guards and the workers, and the residents had their home security systems on all the time.
>> read the whole story in New University (Link updated with copy)
In an earlier text, Setha Low writes:
Most people who move to gated communities are not aware of what they lose in this quest for safety and privacy. Growing up with an implicit fortress mentality, many children may experience more, not less, fear of people outside the gates.
In an review of Setha Low's book Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America, Alan Greenblatt provides more details:
Gated communities "preselect a ready-made community of socially and economically similar people," Low writes. But as her interviews reveal, in time that self-selection feeds upon itself and fear of outsiders grows. Low quotes a San Antonio woman identified as "Felicia" as saying "if you go downtown, which is much more mixed, where everybody goes, I feel much more threatened." Due to lack of exposure, Felicia's young daughter has grown afraid of poor people on the rare occasions she encounters any. Other residents are even more open about such issues. A teenager dressed in a tennis skirt for a Fourth of July party casually tells Low that the Mexicans downtown "are dangerous, packing knives and guns." Low blames gated communities for exacerbating these segregationist or even racist tendencies.
Some days ago I registered for the conference Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology at Keele University (UK). As a preparation, here some notes on anthropology and cosmopolitanism.
After the controversis around the Mohammed-cartoons, media loved talking about culture and religion wars and Huntingtons clash of civilisation. But maybe we should have talked more about cosmopolitanism than culture war. Isn't cosmopolitanism more common than fundamentalism? In his article Anthropology as cosmopolitan practice? (subscription required) published in Anthropological Theory in 2003 (3):403–415, Joel Kahn writes:
I would suggest that a certain cosmopolitanism governs the practices of localized individuals and institutions, everyday interactions between individuals and groups, popular cultural activities, forms of economic relations, and institutions of village government.
Could one go further to argue that in instances where a breakdown of such cosmopolitan coalitions has taken place - in Aceh, West Papua, Kalimantan, the Moluccas more often than not this has been precisely a result of the imposition from above (by the Indonesian state, outside powers and institutions) of disembedded, supposedly universal, culturally neutral forms of power, jurisprudence and so on (that is, of liberal versions of the cosmopolitan ideal)?
In his paper he wants to recover "cosmopolitanism in recent social and political theory, a project to which according to him "surprisingly few anthropologists have so far contributed":
The world which anthropologists seek to study is a world not of discrete and isolatable other cultures and societies, but a world of ‘intercultural’ or ‘intercommunal’ relationships.
A quick internet-search revealed that many anthropologists and social scientists make similar points as Kahn.
In the book Cosmopolitanism, Identity and Authenticity in the Middle East, Roel Meijer writes, that the Middle East was, in the past, "an open undefined territory in which groups of different religious and ethnic backgrounds intermingled and exchanged ideas and lifestyles". In his review (source url-lost), Fred Halliday from London School of Economics concludes:
The main message of this collection of studies is that in the past the Middle East did embody certain forms of cosmopolitanism, but that modern forces - the modern state, anti-imperialism, the mass politics of secular and religious forces alike - have overwhelmed these forms. Globalisation now substitutes a different kind of superficial and consumerist, universalism.
As it turned out, those who defended cosmopolitan ideas often lived in small towns and villages where they hid refugees, saving them from ethnic cleansing and paving the way for continued co-existence. Many of them had never gone to university or even once left the place where they were born. In contrast, many of the most militant Croatian and Serbian nationalists had in many ways lead what we tend to think of as a cosmopolitan life: educated at foreign universities they felt at home in all of the major airports around the world and could converse in a relaxed manner with the global political and financial elite.
And in the anthology Cosmopolitics. Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation (red: Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins), Wirten writes, a number of philosophers, anthropologists and cultural sociologists are inspired by the Dominican migrant, the Kurdish refugee, the stateless Palestinian, the indigenous propertyless of Chiapas.
The conference organizers introduce the concept of cosmopolitanism this way:
One tendency has been to think of cosmopolitanism as transgressing the parochialism or ethnicism of the nation-state. In this view, cosmopolitans are travellers who move beyond national boundaries, and hence a cosmopolitan social science must study these flows and movements, or reflect on issues of global justice, human rights and governmentality.
This apparently commonsensical view has been challenged, however, in a deservedly much cited article by Kwame Anthony Appiah, ‘Cosmopolitan Patriots’. (...) Appiah speaks of a ‘rooted’ cosmopolitanism, and proposes that cosmopolitans begin from membership in morally and emotionally significant communities (families, ethnic groups) while espousing notions of toleration and openness to the world, the transcendance of ethnic difference and the moral incorporation of the other. His vision opens up scope for a cosmopolitan anthropology which builds on anthropological strengths of fieldwork in particular locales.
While the prototype multicultural society is made up of enclosed cultural units with different but equal rights, the cultural flows do not stay within bounded groups, in a cosmopolitan society. Instead they intersect and mix in various ways in various individuals.
Doing cosmopolitan anthropology means questioning assumptions on "us" and "them", she writes:
It has been important for me to show that the world is interconnected; I did not only share subcultural preferences with my informants, but we reflected on identity formation in similar ways as well. (...) My aim has been to make use of these parallels between lived urban life and life as an urban researcher.
We all need to acknowledge that there is no such thing as 'us' and 'them'.
UPDATE: POSTS ABOUT THE CONFERENCE
What's the point of anthropology conferences? (general summary)
Two interviews that I've conducted for the research program "Cultural Complexity in the new Norway" have been translated into English:
Law and multiculturalism: When law crosses borders
How does multicultural society challenge the Norwegian legal system and our interpretation of the law? What happens when different conceptions of the law meet? Should all people be treated alike - regardless of background? Or should groups be given special treatment based on religion and/or ethnicity? Anne Hellum is one of the few jurists in Norway who combine law and anthropology.
Islam in Europe: Mainstream society as the provider of conditions
- There are many different views on the relationship Islam has to human rights. But no one has investigated processes based on the believer’s needs, considers the historian of religion Lena Larsen. She will be investigating fatwas’ - Muslim legal decrees - interpretations of Sharia legal principles. The answers and bases for fatwas are a unique and as yet unused source of data for finding out what values are imparted by Islamic authorities.
Although race has typically been mobilized to justify and uphold social inequality, recently in Nepal race was used in a political movement to oppose those in power, Susan Hangen writes in her article The Emergence of a Mongol Race in Nepal in Anthropology News February.
During the 1990s, some ethnic groups in Nepal—including Gurungs, Magars, Rais, Limbus and Sherpas, began asserting that they all belong to a Mongol race. Previously, each of these groups was primarily identified as belonging to a jati, a term that means both a caste and ethnic group. Their adoption of this racial identity was inspired by the platform of a small political party called the Mongol National Organization (MNO), which sought to unite and mobilize these social and ethnically diverse people, in part to make major political changes that would increase their social, economic and political power.
The MNO also believed that adopting a racial identity would help them to bring international attention to their political cause. Race appealed to the MNO as a global language of identity.
Like the concept of indigenous peoples, race may increasingly serve as a framework through which minorities make political claims, to the extent that it is acknowledged and validated through international institutions like the UN. Thus international efforts to expunge racism may reinforce the salience of race as an identity.
"Racialization is part of the current moment of globalization" - as anthropologist Nina Glick Schiller commented.
No newspaper in Britain has published the Muhammad-cartoons. "There are some lessons (the British) learned from "The Satanic Verses" that I'm afraid others in Europe still need to learn", anthropologist Pnina Werbner says in an interview with Der Spiegel:
During the Rushdie affair, there was also a major discussion about the limits of freedom of speech. The debate made it clear that despite our invocations of freedom of speech, even in the West freedom of speech is not absolute. After all, limits are set on pornography, for example.
Freedom of speech today is to a large extent exercised through self-censorship -- not only through legislation, but by commercial interests, such as newspapers and publishing houses. They constantly make decisions about what should or shouldn't get publicized -- partly in response to audiences, partly in response to commercial interests, partially in response to the sensibilities of their viewers or readers.
You can say what you like in the privacy of your own home, but if you try to get it published, to get your voice heard in public, you will find that your opinions may be unacceptable for purely commercial or pragmatic reasons.
Their passionate belief is puzzling and alien to us. But we have to understand that, precisely because ordinary Muslims are also deeply offended, for that reason such apparently light-hearted satire will play into the hands of the extremists, the very people whom these cartoons were meant to criticize.
They are the ones who are benefiting most from the cartoons. For them, this is a huge PR coup, which enables them to recruit young people to the radical cause of Islam. In this sense the publication of the cartoons has backfired and that, I think, is the real indictment of the cartoonists. They've mobilized people all over the Muslim world against the West.
MORE ANTHROPOLOGISTS ON THIS ISSUE
Daniel Martin Varisco: Much Ado about Something Rotten in Denmark (My own view, even as a satirist who idolizes Montesquieu and Swift, is that the best public course is one of “freedom of discretion” at a time when there is such misunderstanding on all sides) og Loony Tunes: The War Draws On (It is bad enough that we have a war of bombs and bullets exasperated by a war of words. Do we really need to have cartoonists drawn into the fray?)
Erkan Saka: Danish Media's Representations of Islam by anthropologist Peter Hervik and A call for respect and calm (both posts have many useful links among others Danish paper rejected Jesus cartoons and Trampling others' beliefs in defence of yours.)
Kambiz Kamrani: Cultural relativism meets freedom of speech with the Danish cartoons and Muslim protests (He reviews several blog comments and concludes: "With the publication of these cartoons, this distance of understanding and communication is further gapped because we're ultimately fueling an already burning fire.")
www.sorrydenmarknorway.com - Arab and Muslim youth initiative (The problem with media representation of such issues tends to be that the media only picks up the loudest voices, ignoring the rational ones that do not generate as much noise.)
(via ethno::log) Looking for another example of everyday racism? Read reuters story about "the worlds most primitive people":
Members of one of the world's most primitive and isolated tribes have killed two fishermen who strayed on to their island in India's Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, a senior government official said on Monday.
A group of about 20 Sentinelese tribes people were surrounding them, Negi said. "They (the tribals) were naked and carrying bows and arrows," he told Reuters by telephone.
The Indian government has banned anyone from going near Sentinel Island where about 250 tribe members live a hunter-gathering lifestyle little changed since the Stone Age.
UPDATE: Story no longer online. >> Read the same story in The Times where the India correspondent even dares to write "Described by anthropologists as a lost tribe of Stone Age aborigines, the Sentinelese..."
Book review: Claiming the Stones, Naming the Bones: Cultural Property and the Negotiation of Identity
It's "a strong volume and potentially an excellent teaching text for those interested in exploring case studies in cultural heritage and representation", anthropologist Jamie Brandon concludes in his review of the book Claiming the Stones, Naming the Bones: Cultural Property and the Negotiation of National and Ethic Identity by Barkan, Elazar and Ronald Bush .
He writes that the book attempts to cross-cut multiple disciplines (including archaeology, physical anthropology, literature, cultural studies, ethnomusicology and museum studies) and offer perspectives regarding disputes over the definition and ownership of cultural properties.
This part of the review caught my eye
In the United States, Ross tells us, “to belong to a particular race is to possess copyright in that race; the right to turn a profit—or not—on the reputation credited to that race; the right to image the race in particular ways; the right to hold property, invest in, and profit from one’s racial “stock” (p. 260). Ross charts the struggle over these rights through efforts of African-Americans to challenge and control popular images of blackness.
In Anthropology News January 2006, Susan J Terrio criticizes main stream medias coverage of the youth protests in the suburbs in Paris. The protests can't be explained by religion, culture or by pointing to that the rioters are immigrants:
Yet, the “immigrants” are second and, in some cases, third generation French children of non-European immigrants of Antillean, North and Sub-Saharan African and Turkish ancestry who are French citizens. They are not, for the most part, observant Muslims. The riots are not a response to perceived attacks on Islam or a reflection of their cultural distance from mainstream French society.
To assert that the rioters are culturally alienated and difficult to integrate is to isolate cultural difference as a cause for social unrest and to downplay the more significant factors of economic marginalization, spatial segregation and anti-immigrant racism.
Rioters feel alienated from French police, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and social workers in part because minorities are still underrepresented in all these fields.
Anthropologist Cicilie Fagerlid has posted several related entries in her blog: Among others she comments that "I haven’t seen any empirical basis for blaming the riots on neither religion nor ethnicity". In the same post she mentions a seminar, arranged by the French Association of Anthropologists on the actuality of anthropology and the crisis in the banlieues. She also lists some links.
Some commentators have tried to link the riots to religious revitalisation and militant Islamism in the Arab-speaking world. Yet, others – including the anthropologist André Iteanu, who has done research in these areas for years – point out that the riots have social causes, not cultural ones: The people living in these parts of Paris have no metro, few buses, hardly any libraries – and the majority have no work. Deprived and poor people have rioted in Paris several times before. It has nothing to do with their being Muslim and everything to do with their being socially excluded. Conclusion: Leave culture out of this matter.
(part of an interesting debate on the culture concept!)
Check also Erkan Saka's coverage on this and the extensive round-up by Perlentaucher: Voices on the French riots