Logan Cochrane

Vanier Scholar

A History Not Told: American Slavery & Capitalism

What is the half of the story we've not been told about slavery? Baptist explains that "America's first generation of professional historians were justifying the exclusions of Jim Crow and disenfranchisement by telling a story about the nation's past of slavery and civil war that seemed to confirm, for many white Americans, that white supremacy was just and necessary. Above all, the historians of a reunified white nation insisted that slavery was a premodern institution that was not committed to profit-seeking" (p. xviii). Historians "of Woodrow Wilson's generation imprinted the stamp of academic research on the idea that slavery was separate from the great economic and social transformations" (p. xix). The half not told, is how integral slavery was the rise of American power, and how it was driven by capitalism. However, the "idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth." (p. xxiii-xxiv). The "the expansion of slavery in both geography and intensity was what made American capitalism" (p. 421).

This is the argument made by Edward E. Baptist in "The Half has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism" (2014). The book is just well researched and extremely well written. The author uses narrative to bring to life statistics and uses the art of storytelling to convey this history in meaningful and powerful ways. A book this well researched, and this length (522 pages), is impossible to justly summarize in a short post. I am hopeful this peak into the book will inspire readers to pick it up. A highly recommended read.

Baptist draws on a wealth of historical records in telling the story of how slavery and financial capitalism became the "driving force in an emerging national economic system that benefited elites and other up and down the Atlantic coast as well as throughout the backcountry" (p. 33). It is a story about how an economic system push for the expansion of slavery, and how a much broader population benefited from that – be they financiers far distanced from plantations or those engaged in the international trade of cotton. It is a story that challenges us to think about how injustice is not just by the one with the whip, but those who enable that system, benefit from it, and support its continuation. It also connects acts of oppression to the driving force of capitalist expansion – as indigenous peoples' lands were confiscated by the government, , including those for which they held title, "in order to launch expanded cotton-and-slavery-induced booms" (p. 227). Investors and bankers played an enabling role from afar; "People who have money want to lend it if they can make still more money doing so, especially if they can feel certain about repayment. Lending to the South's cotton economy was an investment not just in the world's most widely traded commodity, but also in a set of producers who had shown a consistent ability to increase their productivity and revenue" (p. 245). He writes:

  • "For seventy years, southern and northern economic and political elites – and many average white citizens – had cooperated to extract profit and power from the forced movement and exploitation of enslaved people's bodies and minds. Always, the proslavery forces had made the rest of the United States choose between profitable expansion of the slave country or economic slowdown. Between slavery and disunion. Between supporting a party turned into a colonized host for viral proslavery dogma, or defeat in national elections. Between bills for expanding slavery into Kansas, or passing up the opportunity to build a transcontinental railroad" (p. 385).

As a story about slavery, this book is also about the brutalities – how torture was used as a factor of production. "For many southwestern whites, shipping was a gateway form of violence that led to bizarrely creative levels of sadism. In the sources that document the expansion of cotton production, you can find at one point or another almost every product sold in New Orleans stores converted into an instrument of torture: carpenters' tools, chains, cotton presses, hackles, handsaws, hoe handles, irons for branding livestock, nails, pokers, smoothing irons, singletrees, steelyards, tongs. Every modern method of torture was used at one time or another: sexual humiliation, mutilation, electric shocks, solitary confinement in 'stress positions,' burning, even waterboarding. And descriptions of runaways posted by enslavers were festooned with descriptions of scars, burns, mutilations, brands, and wounds." (p. 141). Even in moments of hope, such as the emergence of anti-slavery actions, the reality was less than hopeful. Baptist shows that freeing slaves and advocating for the abolishment of slavery was not "because of a belief in black equality" but to strengthen the political might of northern elites in response to the political bullying of southern politicians.

Decolonizing Methodologies

What are the ways in which research approaches and methodologies replicate colonial attitudes and processes? In "Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples" (1999), Linda Tuhiwai Smith makes these ways clear, while also presenting new pathways for research – not simply a decolonization of research, but a reformation of research that is embedded within a broader struggle about reclaiming control over knowledge and ways of knowing. Despite being written nearly two decades ago, the book remains highly relevant, particularly for graduate students and researchers.

The book starts out powerfully: "the term 'research' is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism. The word itself, 'research', is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world's vocabulary. When mentioned in many indigenous contexts, it stirs up silence, it conjures up bad memories, it raises a smile that is knowing and distrustful. It is so powerful that indigenous people even write poetry about research. The ways in which scientific research is implicated in the worst excesses of colonialism remains a powerful remembered history for many of the world's colonized peoples." (p. 1). The first half of the book continues to advance a critique of research. The second half presents research projects that were emerging at the time of writing, and a list of twenty five 'projects' indigenous people are engaged in. Due to the more context specific nature of the second half, this post focuses on the critical examination of research.

The problem with research is not historical, or the past experience of poor practice. Smith explains that research "within the late-modern and late-colonial conditions continues relentlessly and brings with it a new wave of exploration, discovery, exploitation and appropriation. Researchers enter communities armed with goodwill in their front pockets and patents in their back pockets, they bring medicine into villages and extract blood for genetic analysis. No matter how appalling their behaviors, how insensitive and offensive their personal actions may be, their acts and intentions are always justified as being for the 'good of mankind'. Research of this nature on indigenous peoples is still justified by the ends rather than the means, particularly if the indigenous people concerned can still be positioned as ignorant and undeveloped (savages)" (p. 24-25). Furthermore, even when exploitation is not explicit, there is also "a cultural orientation, a set of values, a different conceptualization of such things as time, space and subjectivity, different and competing theories of knowledge, highly specialized forms of language, and structures of power" (p. 42), which act to reinforce the dominance of one way of knowing over another.

Not only are the means problematic, but also the assumptions about what knowledge and evidence lead to. "For many people who are presently engaged in research on indigenous land claims the answer would appear to be self-evident. We assume that when 'the truth comes out' it will prove that what happened was wrong or illegal and that therefore the system (tribunals, the courts, the government) will set things right. We believe that history is also about justice, that understanding history will enlighten our decisions about the future. Wrong. History is also about power. In fact history is mostly about power. It is the story of the powerful and how they became powerful, and then how they use their power to keep them in positions in which they can continue to dominate others. It is because of this relationship with power that we have been excluded, marginalized and 'Othered' (p. 34).

The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions

In recent decades there has been a trend toward aligning or integrating military and humanitarian action. It has taken the form of militaries wanting to win hearts and minds, on one side, and humanitarian actors calling for military action on the other. "Contemporary States of Emergency: The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions" (2010), edited by D. Fassin and M. Pandolfi, explores these shifts and their implications. The edited volume presents a range of different topics, three stand out for me.

In the Introduction, Fassin and Pandolfi problematize the scene well: "humanitarian intervention is still a law of the strongest – this is what makes it possible, for there is no question of intervening in Chechnya, Tibet, or even North Korea to protect populations at risk. This relation of forces – and the realpolitik that, highly paradoxically, underlies military and humanitarian government – explains not only why local impulses toward resistance are discouraged, but also why the human cost of intervention is much lower for the intervening forces, even at the cost of placing the populations on whose behalf the intervention is supposedly undertaken in considerable danger: zero deaths among the NATO forces, compared with the five hundred civilians killed by the bombardment in Kosovo in 1999, and, by 2008, more than forty-five hundred deaths among the coalition troops compared with over a million mainly civilian deaths in Iraq since the invasion in 2003." (13-14). For readers interested in an introduction to the topic, this is a worthwhile read.

In my reading, Alex de Waal's "An Emancipatory Imperium?: Power and Principle in the Humanitarian International" is the strongest chapter. The chapter explores two interventions – Somalia and Sudan (Darfur specifically) – and the evolution of humanitarian-military interventions. "For many of the humanitarian advocates of the intervention [Somalia], success was axiomatic – they simply assumed that the U.S. Marine Corps, with its vastly superior weaponry and training, would impose its will on Somalia and save hundreds of thousands of lives of people at risk of starvation. Humanitarian advocacy is all about deriving an "ought" from an "is" – the very label "emergency" is both a descriptor and a prescription for (urgent) action. By the same token whereby human suffering demands an international response, such a response must work. The question of efficacy simply did not arise." (p. 297). The entire chapter is excellent, and recommended for all interested in humanitarian and international action.

Pupavac's "Between Compassion and Conservatism: A Genealogy of Humanitarian Sensibilities" presents a historical contextualization of how justifications are made for humanitarian action. The chapter focuses less on military action per se, but the shifting values that have enabled the intersection. Even if unrelated directly to military action, some points to stir debate include reflections on the development of values within the humanitarian and development sector. For example, "current British aid organizations also evolved in reaction against industrial society. Their philosophy has historically accorded more with Bonham-Carter's aversion to modern industrialization than with Hoggart's affirmation of its benefits for ordinary people. They have been inclined to idealize authentic traditional peasant communities as counterposed to an inauthentic, corrupting industrial society. Anti-industrial sentiments have followed anthropological thinking, which also informed colonial administration" (p. 135). A second example: "Those most likely to be concerned about ethical consumption are among the wealthier social groups with higher rates of consumption. Shopping as social action fits, rather than necessarily opposes, a consumer outlook in which it is difficult to conceive of action beyond consumption. Moreover, ethical consumption may represent a form of conspicuous ethical consumption. Affluent consumers may demonstrate their superior discernment, compared with that of the masses, by means of their organic tastes, expensive foreign travel to novel destinations, and specially sources authentic fair-trade and ecological goods." (p. 143).


New Publication: South Africa & the Group Areas Act

Cochrane, L. and Chellan, W. (2017) "The Group Areas Act affects us all": Apartheid and Socio-Religious Change in the Cape Town Muslims Community, South Africa. Oral History Forum.

Abstract: Oral history interviews with elders of the Cape Town Muslim community were conducted in order to record and explore the socio-religious changes that occurred over the last century. Our research explored experiences related to culture, society, language, religion, education, traditions, family life, dress, food and values. The primary event that was consistently identified by elders as a focal cause of change was the Group Areas Act (1950), which was a policy of the South African Apartheid government that resulted in the forced relocation of many members of the Muslim community in and around Cape Town, South Africa. This paper explores how individuals experienced the Group Areas Act at the time of its implementation and how elders understand this Act as contributing to long-lasting socio-religious change. Rather than draw conclusions, point to causes of change and outline specific outcomes of the Act, we end this article with diverse, inconclusive and debated experiences: a reflection of the oral histories of the Cape Town Muslim community. 

The Price of Inequality

Joseph Stiglitz is one of the most respected economists of our times and a person who has also held positions of significant influence, including chief economist of the World Bank and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors for the US President (Clinton). In 2012 he authored "The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future," which preceded other important works on the topic, such as the English version of Piketty's Capital (2014) and Milanovic's "Global Inequality" (2016) and Reich's related book "Saving Capitalism" (2015). Stiglitz was not the first to raise the issue of inequality, but he did raise the level of importance and changed the nature of the debate.

This book is about American inequality. The problem, as many others have stated, is not the market but the rules (not) regulating the market and policies that ensure the benefit is not only distributed but invested to enable future growth: "the inequality is cause and consequence of the failure of the political system, and its contributes to the instability of our economic system, which in turn contributes to increased inequality – a vicious downward spiral into which we have descended, and from which we can only emerge through concerted policies" (p. xi). The contribution made by Stiglitz in this book is to challenge the myths about inequality, and in particular to argue how inequality is bad for everyone: "we are paying a high price for our inequality – an economic system that is less stable and less efficient, with less growth, and a democracy that has been put into peril. But even more is at stake: as our economic system is seen to fail for most citizens, and as our political system seems to be captured by moneyed interests, confidence in our democracy and in our market economic will erode along with our global influence" (p. xi).

The book is replete with examples about how the powerful use their power to create and change the "rules of the game" in their favour (see p. 201, for example). The answers, or way forward proposed by Stiglitz, compose many recommendations, beyond summary here. They include making the tax system fairer, raising taxes on the top, reducing military spending, removing subsidies for major corporations, eliminating loopholes, ensuring resources are paid for appropriately, and introducing and enforcing regulations (particularly on the financial sector). He also calls for greater investment in education, technology, infrastructure, and social security. Doing so "would simultaneously increase economic efficiency, fairness, and opportunity" (p. 268). More fundamentality, Stiglitz argues the very core of America and American values are at stake "America is no longer the land of opportunity" (p. 265).

Stiglitz frames inequality as the issue of our times. Although, inequality is not simply about inequality. The debates "rest on broader ideas about human rights, human nature, and the meaning of democracy and equality" (p. 155). It is often these deeper, sometimes value-based, positions that result in policies that create inequality. "There is a real battlefield of ideas. But it does not, for the most part, involve a battle of ideas as academics would understand it, where evidence and theory on both sides are carefully weighed. It is a battlefield or "persuasions," of "framing," of attempts not necessarily to get to the truth of the matter but to understand better how ordinary citizens' perceptions are formed and to influence those perceptions" (p. 162-163).

He concludes: "Maintaining the kind of society and the kind of government that serve all people – consistent with the principles of justice, fair play, and opportunity – doesn't happen by itself. Somebody has to look after it. Otherwise our government and our institutions get captured by special interests. At the very least, we need countervailing powers" (p. 281). A call to action.

From Dictatorship to Democracy

One of the world's leading thinkers and activists for advancing democratic governance through non-violent action is Gene Sharp. He founded the Albert Einstein Institute and is a multiple-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as recipient of many other notable awards. He has authored many books, but one of his most influential and most widely translated books, as well as one of the most widely referred to books by non-violent activists, is "From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation" (1993, original). Famously, the book includes a list of 198 methods of non-violent action.

Sharp writes in the preface to the book that "the focus of this essay [it was originally written as a series for activists] is on the generic problem of how to destroy a dictatorship and to prevent the rise of a new one" (p. xix). At the outset, the author makes clear that in most instances of dictatorship, violent action will not work: "Whatever the merits of the violent option, however, one point is clear. By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority" (p. 6). The alternative advocated by Sharp is non-violent action.

How? Quite succinctly, the author summarizes (p. 12): "When one wants to bring down a dictatorship most effectively and with the least cost then one has four immediate tasks:

  • One must strengthen the oppressed population themselves in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills;
  • One must strengthen the independent social groups and institutions of the oppressed people;
  • One must create a powerful internal resistance force;
  • One must develop a wise grand strategic plan for liberation and implement it skillfully."

Navigating the actions and reactions of a dictatorial government and its supporters requires close monitoring and analysis. Sharp does not delve into the academics of the matter, and summarizes the key factors relating to success as: "(1) the relative desire of the populace to impose limits on the government's power; (2) the relative strength of the subjects' independent organizations and institutions to withdraw collectively the sources of power; and (3) the population's relative ability to withhold their consent and assistance" (p. 33).

The book is not all positivity and encouragement. There are strong warnings about the costs as well as the responsibilities involved. For example, even "when the oppressive system was brought down, lack of planning on how to handle the transition to a democratic system has contributed to the emergence of a new dictatorship" (p. 61). In other words, all the action and all the costs can re-create the system that was fought against if long term, strategic planning is not a part of the struggle. Furthermore, Sharp emphasizes not just the planning of power, but the re-distribution of it: "The effect of nonviolent struggle is not only to weaken and remove dictators but also to empower the oppressed. This technique enables people who formerly felt themselves to be only pawns or victims to wield power directly in order to gain by their own efforts greater freedom and justice… One important long-term beneficial consequence of the use of nonviolent struggle for establishing democratic government is that the society will be more capable of dealing with continuing and future problems… The population experienced in the use of political defiance is less likely to be vulnerable to future dictatorships." (p. 121-122).

The Politics of Development in Morocco

'Doing development differently' can be interpreted as redistributing power in a decentralized way, and ensuring broad participation. How do we move these ideas from paper to practice? And, are these two objectives (not explicit in the DDD manifesto, but common in the discourse) compatible? Third, are these approaches to 'doing development differently' effective pathways to arrive at the desired objectives of the DDD agenda? A useful book to engage these questions is "The Politics of Development in Morocco: Local Governance and Participation in North Africa" (2017) by Sylvia Bergh. The book is based on data collection that occurred in the mid-2000s, and could have been updated for this publication. Nonetheless, it offers useful insight into the questions of decentralization and participation.

The author sets out to "assess the actual record and scope for state-society synergies in Morocco in the context of decentralization reforms and participatory development policies, particularly at the local (rural) level" (p. 18). Bergh argues that civil society, as manifested through community based organizations (CBOs), does not necessarily support decentralization, and is not necessarily supported by decentralized governance. Why? One reason is that "membership of these two spheres overlaps to a great extent. Local government councilors tend to use their simultaneous positions in CBOs to enhance their status as local patrons and increase their chances of re-election" (p. xxii). While the author does not view this conclusion as a novel one, Bergh believes the "main value lies in documenting how this phenomenon comes about, the extent to which it is happening, and the implications it has for the emergence of a strong local democracy" (p. xxii).

In many instances, the book highlights how power plays out in both the implementation of participatory policies and decentralization efforts. This included existing elite capturing resources, and/or utilizing the processes to further entrench their power (p. 19). In addition to the local level implementation problems, government officials viewed these processes as "instruments for implementing programs more cost-effectively and delegating responsibility for success or failure to the beneficiaries themselves, rather than as a vehicle to strengthen political capabilities that might, in the longer term, challenge existing power structures and thus bring about lasting change." (p. 20; also ps. 68, 79, 126 and 163 for more examples). In fact, Bergh argues, "the simultaneous implementation of decentralization reforms and "participatory" development programs may lead to increased elite capture and fewer, rather than more, spaces for transformative participation by ordinary citizens" (p. 228).

I believe one of the most interesting contributions of this book is not the processes of how, but unique insight into the challenges and limitations of civil society organizations. While these organizations are tasked with large responsibilities, their capacity is low and their resources limited to absent. Without providing support and capacity building (common in these Moroccan study areas), international organizations are setting community based organizations up for failure. Bergh concludes "the growth of CBOs following "participatory" development projects does not equate with the expansion of a "civil society" that could engage in partnerships with local governments, either for service provision or co-governance. Rather, I find that a high proportion of these CBOs lack the capacities and/or incentives to do so due to their instrumentalization by actors in "political society" for clientelist purposes." (p. 228).

As it relates to the 'good governance' agenda, and its emphasis upon decentralization and participation, this book challenges the "assumptions that citizen participation consists exclusively of involvement in NGOs and local associations, that this "civil society" can exert organized pressure on autocratic and unresponsive states, and that this is enough to bring about a democracy with substance and depth" (p. 232). In many ways, the case studies from Morocco demonstrate the opposite. As the DDD manifesto argues, altering these power structures requires a radically different approach to 'doing development', one that more often has to do with process (how), than the objective (such as decentralization). 

New Publication: Who is Defining Effectiveness?

Cochrane, L. and Thornton, A. (2017) Charity Rankers: Who is Defining Effectiveness? (Ch. 18, p 108-113). In Smart Risks: How Small Grants are Helping to Solve Some of the World's Biggest Problems, edited by J. Lentfer and T. Cothran. Practical Action Publishing: Warwickshire.


Preview (first page) of chapter available here, email me for a full copy.


Doctoral Dissertation: Strengthening Food Security in Rural Ethiopia

Cochrane, L. 2017. Strengthening Food Security in Rural Ethiopia. Doctoral Dissertation, University of British Columbia. 


Abstract: Food insecurity in rural areas of southern Ethiopia is widespread; in recent years over half of all communities in this region have been reliant upon emergency support. However, food security status varies significantly from year to year, as the region experiences variations in rainfall patterns. Research is required to better understand how food security can be strengthened. To do so, this research was driven by three research questions. First, what makes smallholder farmers in southern Ethiopia vulnerable to food insecurity. Second, according to the literature, the adoption of programs and services is low, and thus a community-based assessment was undertaken to understand why. The third question reflected on the methodology – a participatory, co-produced approach, evaluating whether this form of engaged research enabled positive change. The findings suggest that vulnerability to food insecurity differs by scale. At the community level, access to irrigation infrastructure strengthened food security, and was the most transformative difference between the communities. Within communities, food security distribution was complex and few generalizations can be made. The participatory processes identified that research often makes invisible the purposeful and insightful choices farmers make. When surveyed, they are asked to provide generalizations about input use, crop choice and practices, when in reality each crop, input and practice varies. Similarly, some commonly used measures of vulnerability can also be expressions of security; aggregated averages obfuscate localized inequality. For some programs and services, adoption was found to be quite high – it was only when all services were analyzed as a package that adoption was low. However, not all programs and services served the food insecure households, and the reasons for this are explored in detail. The participatory, co-produced approach enabled unique research questions and metrics and added significant value to the research process, which may also enable long-term positive change to programs and services.


Full text is available for download here.


New Publication: Seeing Like an Anthropologist

Cochrane, L. (2017) Seeing Like an Anthropologist: Anthropology in Practice. In Cultural Anthropology: An Open Access Textbook, edited by N. Brown, L. Gonzalez, T. McIlwraith, P. Stein and J. Thompson. Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges.

Part of an Open Access textbook for Cultural Anthropology. Full textbook available here: http://www.perspectivesanthro.org/

Chapter Seeing like an Anthropologist: Anthropology in Practice available here.

Logan Cochrane

logan.cochrane@gmail.com

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