Sep
07

Colonial Effects

Emerging out of a PhD study, Joseph A. Massad published "Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan" (2001). This is a fascinating book, which should be more widely read. Although it focuses on Jordan, there are insights for research on nationality, nationalism, colonialism, decolonization, and identity, in additional to Middle Eastern studies. Some notes:

"… the production of national identity and national culture within Jordan as both a typical and atypical post-colonial nation-state… More specifically, I examine whether two key state institutions, law and the military, assist in the production of the nation. Recent studies of nationalism describe the nation as "invented" or "imagined," by intellectuals and/or political elites who are producers of, or produced by, the political discourse of nationalism. In this study, I am more interested in whether institutions play a role in the production of colonial and postcolonial national identity and culture… Law and the military were central institutions set up by the colonial powers in the colonies. They replaced existing juridical and military structures, or introduced them to societies that did not have them before. Both law and the military retain their colonial markings as European institutions established to serve the colonial state. As Frantz Fanon has shown, however, once national independence is achieved, the new nation-state elites replace their colonial masters in administering the same institutions that were used to control them." (p. 1)

"The establishment of paternity as the source of nationhood has been enshrined in British nationality laws since the nineteenth century. In the exemplary case of Britain, as Francesca Klug demonstrates, "women were only allowed to reproduce the British nation on behalf of their husbands. They could not pass their nationality to their children in their own right." In fact, British women who married outside the nation lost their British nationality, as did their children. On the other hand, the children of British men and non-British wives would be automatically British, as would the non-British wives. Some of these laws were changed in 1981 and 1985, when British women won the right to transfer their citizenship to their own children born abroad.51 It is the former British model that was transported to the colonies." (p. 35)

"The school system became instrumental in the production of the British imagined "Transjordanian." It is in those schools, or what Althusser calls the ideological state apparatus, that a gendered Transjordanian nationalist agency was first conceived. The responsibility of the military school system was to teach the boys a new ideology, nay a new epistemology, through which they were to apprehend their identity as well as the function it was to have: "The need for the production of Arab officers cadets, apprentice tradesmen and future NCO's from Arab Legion schools was to become more pressing as time went on. The government schools were saturated with politics, and many school-teachers were Communists. In Arab Legion schools, every effort was made to teach the boys a straightforward open creed—service to king and country, duty, sacrifice and religion [emphasis added]. Glubb reduces this formulaic creed to its bare essentials. In the "military preface" to Abdullah's memoirs, written for the benefit of the troops in a special edition released to them, he says, "All that we soldiers have to do is to do our duty to God, the King and the nation [emphasis added]."" (p. 150)

"Through the disciplinary mechanisms of surveillance and education, Glubb's policies not only repressed and erased much in the Bedouins' way of life that conflicted with imperial interests but also produced much that was new and combined it with what was "inoffensive" and "beneficial" in their "tradition" in a new amalgam of what was packaged as real Bedouin culture. The new Bedouin culture in fact sublated much of pre-imperial Bedouin culture foreclosing certain venues while opening a myriad others, erasing practices while preserving and transforming others." (p. 159)

"After the end of formal colonialism, national identities and cultures in the postcolonies are not only modes of resistance to colonial power, they are also the proof of colonialism's perpetual victory over the colonized. The irony of this is in having us believe that this colonial subjection and subjectivation is anticolonial agency." (p. 278) 

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Feb
29

Rethinking Identity

Kwame Anthony Appiah is probably most well known for his book Cosmopolitanism (2006). His most recent book, "The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity" (2018) explores forms of identities (gender, religion, race, nationality, class, culture), on a chapter-by-chapter basis. The arguments deconstruct these identities, ultimately leading toward a cosmopolitanist case in the conclusion. Essentially, each chapter seeks to cast a sufficient amount of doubt about any Truth claim relating to identity, such that it would be questioned, contested, and to an extent negated as a Truth claim (and held as a truth claim amongst many equally true truth claims). Each deconstruction is rooted in post-modernist relativism. At the outset, the foundation is described as follows: "The French sociologist Pierre Bourdie put it this way. Each of us has what he called a habitus: a set of dispositions to respond more or less spontaneously to the world in particular ways, without much thought. Your habitus is trained into you starting from childhood. Parents tell you not to speak with your mouth full, to sit up straight, not to touch your food with your left hand, and so on, and thus form table manners that are likely to stick with you all your life." (21) From this, analogies are drawn to all forms of identity. 

The cosmopolitan conclusion is: "Once we abandon organicism, we can take up the more cosmopolitan picture in which every element of culture - from philosophy or cuisine to the style of bodily movement - is separable in principle from all the others; you really can walk and talk in a way that's recognizably African-American and commune with Immanuel Kant and George Eliot, as well as Bessie Smith and Martin Luther King Jr. No Muslim essence stops individual inhabitants of Dar al-Islam from taking up anything from the Western Civ. syllabus, including democracy. No Western essence is there to stop a New Yorker of any ancestry taking up Islam." (207) "When it comes to the compass of our concern and compassion, humanity as a whole is not too broad a horizon. We live with 7 billion fellow humans on a small, warming planet. The cosmopolitan impulse that draws on our common humanity is no longer a luxury; it has become a necessity." (219) 

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Apr
06

Imagining Ethiopia – Identity in the Horn

John Sorenson's "Imagining Ethiopia: Struggles for History and Identity in the Horn of Africa" (1993) presents portrayals of Ethiopia – domestic and foreign, historical and present – and in some ways is similar to "Famine and Foreigners" (2010) by Gill. The book is partially about identity, but more about portrayals and perceptions of Ethiopia, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Oromos. The book meanders from an interesting foundation of identity formation to famine in Ethiopia, and then portrayals of Ethiopia in international discourse and by specific personalities. Until the conclusion (which provides a concise summary of the book) the linkages between the arguments are not always clear.

Particularly if you are looking for media sources on portrayals and uses of Ethiopia by foreign media and personalities, this book offered detailed research. There are also some useful early references to the rise of Oromo nationalism, at a time when many academics felt the Oromo movement would not succeed or gain momentum as the Eritrean struggle did. "The Oromo movement, although it has attracted little attention in comparison with the Eritrean situation, may be decisive for the future of Ethiopia" is one telling statement, given the events of 2016 to 2018.

On constructions of history and identity, John writes: "The past is contested terrain. Selectively remembered, conveniently forgotten, or sometimes invented, it may be used to justify and legitimize actions in the present and to provide the model for a future which is to be created in accordance with certain traditions. Not simply a sequence of completed events, the past is a creation of the present, with traditions invented to serve particular needs" (p. 38).

Further on: "Nationalist movements create their own mythologies, organizing symbols and key incidents, real or invented, into narrative forms that evoke emotional resonance. In general, the narrative of Eritrean nationalism has a different, more recent historical emphasis than that of Ethiopian nationalism, with its emphasis on ancient history and its idea of a state that has existed for thousands of years. As noted, Eritrean identity is regarded as a product of the shared experience of colonial occupation" (p. 49).

The book was published in 1993, and it is challenging to understand what was known at the time, however this book is colored by two shades. First, the research was conducted with refugee and immigrant communities, not in-country study. Second, the author was working with an Eritrean organization during its struggle for independence, and their narratives are quite strong in the work. I believe that if Sorenson had done in-country study some of the arguments would have shifted – Ethiopians all have multiple identities, each with their own imagined communities, overlapping and contradictory, and sometimes the generalizations in this book over simplify. For example, the Amhara dominance and hegemony that is repeated throughout the book would be countered by other nations, nationalities and peoples who have long expressed resisted that imposition, even asserted their own cultural dominance over others or have been dominated by other ethnicities (not Amhara). Orthodox and Muslim; Wolaita and Dawuro; Agaw and Amhara; national and regional state dynamics (e.g. a regional majority and a national minority); male and female; rural and urban; 'indigenous' or resettled; formerly enslaved families and elite families within ethnic groups; pastoralist and agriculturalist; youth and elders; various political affiliations people differently hold within ethnic groups and their access to power over time; layers upon layers. The experience is far more complicated.

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Sep
20

Post-docs (4): Reconciliation

The Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto seeks 4 Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows for a two-year appointment 2017-2019 with research relevant to the 2017-18 theme: Indelible Violence: Shame, Reconciliation, and the Work of Apology.

Performances of reconciliation and apology attempt to erase violence that is arguably indelible. What ideological and therapeutic work does reconciliation do, under whose authority, for whose benefit, and with what limits? What would it mean to acknowledge the role of shame? How might the work of truth and reconciliation commissions be compared to other ways of shifting relations from violence and violation to co-existence? How does the work of apology stabilize social identities, conditions, and relations and how do indelible traces of violence work for and against those conditions, identities and relations?

Fellowships begin 1 July 2017.

Apply here.

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