Mar
24

Culture and Imperialism

 Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) is a foundational text in critical studies, as of this writing was cited nearly 70,000 times. In 1993 Said wrote Culture and Imperialism, which broadens the view, broadens the literature, and engages more literature from the liberation activists and writers, but is cited less (at of this writing nearly 30,000; which still makes it an extremely well read and cited book). The book is longer than Orientalism, at 492 pages (in my Vintage print), which is expected given the wider scope. From a development studies perspective, the connection might appear limited, as the book focuses largely on literature. However, I think this is essential reading and it challenges how people are portrayed, critically analyzes language, justifications made for 'intervention', and offers great insight for anyone reading (or writing) reports (which are often plagued with horrendous orientalist and colonialist attitudes).

From the Introduction, contextualizing this book in relation to Orientalism:

"What I left out of Orientalism was that response to western dominance which culminated in the great movements of decolnization all across the Third World. Along with armed resistance in places as diverse as nineteenth century Algeria, Ireland, and Indonesia, there also went considerable efforts in cultural resistance almost everywhere, the assertions of nationalist identities, and, in the political realm, the creation of associations and parties whose common goal was self-determination and national independence. Never was it the case that imperial encounter pitted an active Western intruder against a supine or inert non-Western native; there was always some form of active resistance, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, the resistance finally won out." (p. xiv)

"Readers of this book will quickly discover that narrative is crucial to my argument here, my basic point being that stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and the existence of their own history. The main battle in imperialism is over land, of course; but when it came to who owned the land, who had the right to settle and work on it, who kept it going, who won it back, and who now plans its future - these issues were reflected, contested, and even for a time decided in narrative." (p. xv)

From the text:

"As I shall be using the term, 'imperialism' means the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory; 'colonialism', which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory... In our time, direct colonialism has largely ended; imperialism, as we shall see, lingers where it has always been, in a kind of general cultural sphere as well as in specific political, ideological, economic, and social practices." (p. 8-9)

"The slow and often bitterly disputed recovery of geographical territory which is at the heart of decolonization is preceded – as empire had been - by the charting of cultural territory. After the period of 'primary resistance', literally fighting against outside intrusion, there comes the period of secondary, that is, ideological resistance, when efforts are made to reconstitute a 'shattered community, to save or restore the sense and fact of community against all the pressures of the colonial system', as Basil Davidson puts it. This in turn makes possible the establishment of new and independent states." (p. 268)

"One of the first tasks of the culture of resistance was to reclaim, rename and reinhabit the land. And with that came a whole set of further assertions, recoveries, identifications, all of them quite literally grounded in this poetically projected base. The search for authenticity, for a more congenial national origin than that provided by colonial history, for a new pantheon of heroes and (occasionally) heroines, myths, and religions - there too are made possible by a sense of the land reappropriated by its people." (p. 290)

"Fanon foresaw this turn of events. His notion was that unless national consciousness at its moment of success was somehow changed into a social consciousness, the future would hold not liberation but an extension of imperialism. His theory of violence is not meant to answer the appeals of a native chafing under the paternalistic surveillance of a European policeman and, in a sense, preferring the services of a native officer in his place: On the contrary, it first represents colonialism as a totalizing system nourished in the same way" (p. 343).

"In Fanon's world change can come about only when the native, like Lukacs's alienated worker, decides that colonization must end - in other words, there must be an epistemological revolution. Only then can there be movement. At this point enters violence, 'a cleansing force,' which pits colonizer against colonized directly" (p. 347)

"The most disheartening thing about the media — aside from their sheepishly following the government policy model, mobilizing for war right from the start — was their trafficking in 'expert' Middle East lore, supposedly well informed about Arabs. All roads lead to the bazaar; Arabs only understand force; brutality and violence are part of Arab civilization; Islam is an intolerant, segregationist, 'medieval', fanatic, cruel, anti-women religion." (p. 379-380)

"For two generations the United States has sided in the Middle East mostly with tyranny and injustice. No struggle for democracy, or women's rights, or secularism and the rights of minorities has the United States officially supported. Instead one administration after another has propped up compliant and unpopular clients, and turned away from the efforts of small peoples to liberate themselves from military occupation, while subsidizing their enemies. The United States has prompted unlimited militarism and (along with France, Britain, China, Germany, and others) engaged in vast arms sales everywhere in the region" (p. 386)

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Mar
19

The Global Majlis

Career diplomat and current State Minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari wrote "The Global Majlis" (arabic 2015, translation 2016) as an "intellectual autobiography". The book draws on reflections from his work in Syria, Lebanon, France and the US, as well as in Qatar (published by HBKU press). Culture emerges as a key thread throughout the book, as it does in the thought and work of the author; he describes in the Forward: "I tackle the issue of distinctive cultural character versus universal cultural character in the context of culture and development. I describe how my perception of literature and the arts has evolved. I talk about the public space as a place for public discussion, beginning with the majlis tradition in our countries and extending to new media trends" (p. viii). A few interesting notes:

"The politician's role is to build on what is positive and inspire hope among people." (p. 9)

"We should not be tricked by the might of the machine behind globalised culture. Cultures are quintessentially local, and they cannot be eliminated unless the societies that produce them disappear. Yet at the same time, local cultures do not exist in isolation from historical shifts. They are not rigid and cannot afford to be so; in order to survive and thrive, cultures must accommodate changes and developments without losing their essential characteristics" (p. 14)

"Isolationism and retreating into one's identity because of globalisation's hegemony is in the end a crude expression of a culture of fear, and of a stale perception of what constitutes culture." (p. 140)

"Education in my view should emphasize tolerance, refinement and enlightenment. It should seek to help young people to go beyond instinct and natural capability, by developing their skills and talents to be able to change themselves and reform their society to be prosperous, upstanding and harmonious. The Quran reminds us 'God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves', and the instrument of bringing about this change is education and the educational institution." (p. 149)

"I was raised in a culture that does not understand education to be limited to the attainment of degrees, no matter how vaunted those degrees are and how much they help one find employment. Education in our culture and tradition is a duty for all those who want to follow the path of truth, and an endless sea in whose waters we should cleanse ourselves for as long as we live. I believe that seeking knowledge is akin to the dynamism of life in its progress and decline, or the sea in its ebb and flow. We elevate ourselves and increase the value of our symbolic capital by reading and learning, and we retreat and impoverish ourselves by being content with what we already know." (p 150-151) 

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Nov
03

Cooking Data

More attention is being paid to data. In the context of the SDGs, it is the lack of data. In the broader conversation, it is about the quality of data. From these conversations, there is an emerging literature that might might classify as an ethnography of data. A recent addition to this set of literature is is Crystal Biruk's "Cooking Data: Culture & Politics in an African Research World" (2018). The book focuses on heath data in Malawi, but offers insight well beyond. The following are some key points that stood out:

  • "While we tend to think of data as abstract and intangible, these vivid descriptors draw attention to to their materiality and life course. Numbers, of course, come from somewhere. A careful consideration of the social lives of numbers, rather than viewing them as stable and objective measures of reality, provides crucial context for interpreting quantitative evidence that we often deem too big or too technical to wrap our heads around. As an ethnography of the production of quantitative data, this book encourages its readers to be a little bit less in awe of numbers by understanding them as "creatures that threaten to become corrupted, lost, or meaningless if not properly cared for" (Ribes and Jackson, 2013, 147). It also considers how the activities of data collection not only produce numbers but shape personhood, sociality, and truth claims." (p. 3-4)
  • "Along the way, I learned, as well, that my critical gaze was shared by the people I was studying: some demographers , too, are well aware of the shortcomings of their numbers, but keep making for the sake of policy, journal articles, and a faint sense that they might somehow improve the lives of rural Malawians." (p. 17)
  • "Rather than dismissing numbers as simply false, socially constructed, or inaccurate, the book aims to critically examine the criteria and metrics that help numbers attain their legitimacy and authority by presenting a fine-grained account of data's life course and handling by many diverse actors." (p. 26)
  • "In Malawi at the time of my research, the National Health Sciences Research Council (NHSRC) and the College of Medicine Research and Ethics Committee (COMREC) —both local ethics boards discussed in further detail in chapter 3—mandated that research proposals submitted for local review by foreign researchers list a Malawian coprincipal investigator and include a detailed letter of affiliation to a local institution. Research guidelines also provided clear instructions to guide coauthorship of articles produced by research. The contract for collaboration between foreign and Malawian researchers has a wider sweep whereby benefits or resources also flow to the institution where the latter is based. The acting head of the National Research Council of Malawi explained that national review boards were increasingly vigilant about ensuring that proposals submitted by foreign projects put in place solid plans for genuine collaboration; for example, Dr. Jones described how MAYP's initial proposal did not pass review because NHSRC claimed that the institutional collaboration between the American team and a Malawian university was "not meaningful."" (p. 39)
  • "expectations that people should participate in research altruistically or for the public good are in tension with research fatigue, a legacy of exploitation and unfulfilled promises at the hands of global projects, and therapeutic misconception, in which research participants mistakenly attribute therapeutic intent to research procedures...Rather than the cog in the assembly-line machinery of research that demographers imagine soap to be, then, this ethical gift unravels normative ethics and highlights how collecting high-quality data is less a clean assembly-line process than a messy and unpredictable life course."  (101-102)
  • "Research participants employed the metaphor of hunger to accuse Malawian fieldworkers of "eating [their] money": "They come here and instead of fetching food for the children, we sit here wasting time kucheza [talking].... They go home and eat good food, rice, meat.... They leave me hungry and make money as they do so."" (p. 116)
  • ""We can't add a code without messing up things in terms of the past, data we have already collected. We must keep the phrasing and translation of the questions consistent, even if they aren't the most accurate. It's too late-In order to measure change, we have to ask things in the same exact way. We have to have the same codes every wave even if they're not correct. So, just fit those responses [i.e., those mentioned above] into the existing categories." (p. 144)
  • "thirty years after Justice (1980) provided anthropologists concrete suggestions for presenting their findings more effectively to planners, we continue to fail by others' and our own standards: our work has not really revolutionized medicine, global health, or development. In fact, by these metrics, the critical development studies and medical anthropology literature—much of which has, since the 1990s, documented how grand projects fail—is also an archive of anthropologists' own continued failure to be useful in the strong sense we may aspire to." (p. 210)
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Sep
15

PhD Studentship: Public History of the Middle East

The Public History program and the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies at NC State University are looking for a Doctoral Candidate in the Public History of the Middle East to start in fall 2017 for a period of three years. Acceptance into the program includes a competitive stipend, full tuition waiver, and health coverage.

The topic of the candidate's scholarly interest should broadly be in the Public History of the Middle East and ideally will complement the research undertaken in the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, although we are open to dissertations that explore other Middle Eastern peoples beyond the Lebanese. Study will be in the Public History doctoral program at NC State University.

We are looking for a doctoral student who is interested in issues of public memory, commemoration, cultural heritage, cultural resource preservation, museum or historic site interpretation, museum education, digital research and presentation methods, and/or other public history theoretical and methodological approaches. The dissertation should reflect interest in the diasporas of Middle Eastern peoples as historic, cultural, and socio-economic phenomena. The candidate should be creative, visionary, and self-motivated. We are unaware of other comparable studies, so the student will be contributing to the development of historiographical and theoretical frameworks for the study of the Public History of the Middle East. The candidate is expected to undertake archival research as well as fieldwork (financed). The candidate is expected to widely share research with academic and public audiences.

Application

By January 15, 2017, all application materials (letter of interest including explicit description of anticipated dissertation topic, C.V., academic transcripts, writing sample—preferably master's thesis, and proof of language skills) should be submitted online at https://www.ncsu.edu/grad/applygrad.htm.

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