Friday, March 14, 2008

Reset your dials for the heart of the sun

Since blogger just does not do it for me anymore, this blog is soon to move house to wordpress...

The new URL is:

....Please set your reader to:

....and comments feed:

... thanks for the memories...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

ASA - From Post-Imperial Anthropology to Post-Anthropological Empire?

A cross post from the Association of Social Anthropology site, filed here (awaiting moderation), but check the original if interested.

As I cannot face reading the papers with War Hero Harry splattered (in the wrong way) across the front today, I visited the site of the Royal Anthropological Institute looking for comment, then landed on the ASA site. Predictable I guess, but a few comments in an otherwise interesting post have me queasy, as Subir Sinha writes on
“Over time, of course, anthropology began to exceed its imperial beginnings to become perhaps the most self-aware discipline in the academy…”
“Anthropology, consequently, has had little to do with the current imperial iteration. Deep knowledge has been replaced by ‘adequate’ knowledge …”
“Of course …geo-positioning satellites and allegedly ‘smart’ bombs made intimate knowledge of terrain unnecessary …”

[As if we should lament this latter missed opportunity and the consequent book sales, but my point is not this]…

Subir continues:
“In fact, much as knowledge was a constituent element of the previous iterations of empire, ignorance is a constituent element of this current imperial project...”

What provokes me to respond harshly here is that it is surely not a case of supplying the armed forces with a reading list or a manual for cultural exchange – though it seems that’s already underway from the anthropologists who brought us COIN – rather, the responsibility to combat the ignorance that fuels the current crusades is a much more active engagement with anti-war pedagogy.

Because I feel that anthropology, despite many well meaning and lovely-smart-critical people, has abandoned its responsibility in the face of total war, Subir is half correct to end with:
“Now that anthropology has become post-imperial, has empire itself not become post-anthropological? If so, what are the implications?”

For mine, I think the implications are grave if we accept this portrayal of anthropology. I can be sympathetic with the intent and the problematic, but I am somewhat amazed at the claim that anthropology is both the most self-aware of disciplines and somehow ‘in fact’ not implicated in the iteration of imperialism today. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the workings of what I will call the Jedi Mind Trick of liberal-civilizational abstention.

I do not line up with Fukayama-Rumsfeld or the turn-coat Ignatieff, but I do think to ignore the profound role anthropology has had in providing ‘knowledgeable’ alibis and cultural awareness for the war effort is dangerous. Not intentional of course, but a failure of intent – publicly anthropology has become not much more than a code word for a smattering of relativism and the ability to manage a greeting in several languages: (namaste, namaskaar, sat sri akal). It is a false and limited cultural-literacy that appeals as a resource in our numerous graduates that enter paid employ of the state and commerce. The even more numerous non-graduates – those who might sit in on one or two courses, a few lectures or accidentally sign up to an interesting sounding conference, or even ‘heaven forbid’ read a work of a stray anthropologist-public intellectual – and who might gain their degrees or pursue their work in a mistaken belief that they do have some greater degree of self-awareness, knowledge of others and, at most, experience in cultural difference via the ‘rough travel’ auspices of Lonely Planet Guides…it is these people that we enabled to run the war of terror. In Subir’s post, how can the ideological role of liberal cultural expediency be so systematically ignored, and responsibility for this ignorance not placed at our departmental door?

Needless to say, in the circumstances I balk a little at Caroline’s expression of pleasure that someone is positive about anthropology (in this way), and find Mils comment that ‘there is almost no possibility of a policy-maker (junior and especially senior) reading an ethnography’ at least slightly reassuring – though in my experience it is patently wrong. Jonathan Spencer is wise as ever, and usefully takes us elsewhere. But that Mils ends his last comment with a plea to oust the experts strikes me as more productive:
“I know terrorism theorists who have spent approximately none of their academic lives worrying about terrorism. And it’s them who get approached to address classified seminars; produce research strategies and review policies and plans (formally and otherwise). That’s influence. It could be benign, could be malign - but such folk are not shy … why let them continue unchallenged?”
Well and good at one level (if you know these terrorist experts, list names and addresses, and the times of the next meeting), but the challenge is certainly not to buy into the alibi game, become the critical paid lackey (not handmaiden of colonialism but court jesters of globalization) for those who would like more cultural awareness for the troops, a little sexing up of the dossiers, an imprimatur of scholarly credibility for the business-as-usual bombing campaigns. A worrying scenario presents itself: it does not strike me as much good if some anthros gets themselves invited to speak on Marcel Mauss and the Gift Economy at a closed session of the Defence Procurement Budget Strategy Team in Whitehall – I don’t think anthropologists are self-aware enough for that just yet.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Space Money

Given the current fiscal crisis and the nationalization of Northern Rock (and personally, our surprisingly pleasant treatment at the CO-OP Bank where we have shifted our accounts, this guide to alien cash exchange, while not exactly 'Marxist', is a handy starter:
"Don't get ripped off by unscrupulous intergalactic exchange bureaus! Consult our guide to alien money, including exchange rates with the U.S. dollar. Click through for a listing of currencies from Dune, Red Dwarf, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and others."

See the guide here.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

photogenic coppers in Malaysia Scandal

SUARAM reports:
"Ginie Lim Arrested, All Three Detainees Remanded for 3 Days

Following the arrest of Tian Chua and Jalaluddin Abdul Manap yesterday, 15 February 2008 after a submission of memorandum to the King calling for a Royal Commission on electoral system reform, another political activist Ginie Lim with the People's Justice Party was arrested last night at the Brickfields police station during her visit to Tian Chua and Jalaluddin Abdul Manap who was under detention.

In the Brickfields police station, Ginie Lim was arrested when she took picture of the investigating officer, Inspector Hidayak who ordered several police officers using force to carry away Tian Chua who resisted to be sent into police lockup at about 10.00pm. Inspector Hidayak alleged Ginie Lim of obstructing in the duty of police officers.

Tian Chua and Jalauddin Abdul Manap were sent to lock up cells in Pantai police station while Ginie Lim was sent to lock-up cell in Travers police station, Kuala Lumpur last night.

This morning, the three detainess were brought to the Magistrate's Court by the police for a 4-day remand application. The police argued that the remand orders for Tian Chua and Jalaluddin were needed to conduct further investigation on others who were involved in the alleged illegal assembly. As for Ginie Lim, the police alleged that taking photographs in the police compound is an offence. However, counsel Gurmit Singh that represented the three detainees argued that the remand application for Tian Chua and Jalaluddin were unjustifiable as the police had completed investigation by taking statement from the two detainees. As for the case of Ginie Lim, Gurmit Singh argued if taking photograph in police station is an offence, the police should just charge Ginie Lim and release her on bail. However, it was dissapointing that the Magistrate decided to grant the police a 3-day remand order on the three detainees. The detainees will be held until 18 February 2007.

On 18 February 2008, the police may apply for release the detainees or apply for further remand order and press charges against the detainees.

Clearly, this is an absolute abuse of powers by the police and deprived the detainees of precious personal liberty unneccesarily and unreasonably. We call on all to continue to call and write to the Brickfields police station and the Inspector General of Police to protest against the abuse of powers and demand for the immediate and unconditional release of the three detainees."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bougainville calling!

Here below is a little bit of madness from our friends in Bourgainville - or rather from the people at the National Business Review, so of course its mad, even if it turns out to be true. Call me.

[I am adding this pic I ripped out of a newspaper in Germany in 1997 because I just love the caption, which is wrongheaded in so many ways - but also references catapults, which I agree is a stone age way of thinking for a telecommunications company - sheesh - was this designed just to rile us up with its cod primitivism?]

And the article has a nice twist at the end on tourism, which I think will be my way in to writing about the islands once again (for the Canadian CASCA conference in May perhaps):

"Pacific Periscope:

By Dev Nadkarni

Phones worth their weight in gold

The autonomous Bougainville government is close to striking a deal with a Korean company that will bring a reliable telephone network to this remote island territory off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

Years of strife and violence in its bid to break away from PNG have left the territory without much of a cash economy. Bougainville, though, is rich in minerals and the government has decided to leverage that natural wealth to pay for the new telephone system: It is proposing to give the Korean-owned Airlink rights to mine gold in exchange for phones.

Airlink and the Bougainville Executive Council have been negotiating extensively and a deal will likely be signed in the next few weeks – though details on the extent of the network and the mining licences to compensate for it are sketchy at this stage.

The autonomous government believes the new telecommunication system will help Bougainville exploit its huge tourism potential – particularly in the WW-II nostalgia sector – in the years to come"

Friday, January 11, 2008

Writing Muslim Culture

I follow comments on trinketization to find new things. The Tasneem Project is a blog about Muslims in Britain but also a novel in waiting. Its erudite author writes:
"I’m writing a novel. It’s called THE TASNEEM PROJECT. I’ve been messing about with creative fiction for years, but recently I’ve started pulling stuff together. This is the blurb on the cover sheet for the agent/publisher:

Part autoethnography, part postmodern science fantasy, part Tafsir (Quranic Exegesis), The Tasneem Project chronicles the thoughts and travels of new-age Muslim Eschar Eschar and his band of off-beat time-space investigators, whose pursuit of arch-criminal Ofelo Pandect Godoid leads them onto an obscure, post-apocalyptic timeline fifteen thousand years hence, to witness a spiritually famished remnant of humanity recover one of the most mysterious and beautiful books in the history of the Universe, The Glorious Qur’an. But is this a second revelation, or a mirror of a million others? And can Eschar escape the wrath of the darkest of all religious fanatics, the High Mufti of Nottingwood?"

And then I read something that is truly strange, but somewhat gratifying: that A Postcolonial People has an afterlife:
"I want to spice this dialogue up and give it some depth. One aide de pense is a collection of essays called ‘A Postcolonial People: South Asians In Britain,’ edited by Ali, Kalra and Sayyid. I want Lanky to be a vehicle for discussing some of the ideas in this book, which has a different take on the topic compared to most academic tomes, combining at it does scholarly writings with first person narratives".

The rest of this post is here, the rest of the blog is invaluable. Look here.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Floating Prisons

This post from Subtopia is the sort of thing that puts blog-diary-experiment-notes like mine to shame. Even as I feel I need to skip over the authors first paragraph of self-deprecations (sorry) I find this really really useful. Sure, I have a long interest in prisons, see here, but if you want to start to get to grips with this floating carcereal violence (in a way more urgent than Foucault 101) then you gotta read the Subtopia post in full - and by doing so you also get to see the pics. So here is a taster, then click the link.
"...There is of course a long lineage of slave ships that date back probably as far as the birth of ancient civilization, but in more recent histories the prison boat (something different, though a seemingly natural progression) really started to evolve during the colonial era; and, not to our surprise, they served as a solution to the overpopulated modern prison systems that were falling apart, (not that different from today’s prison crisis or the similarly bursting detention facilities that hold scores of intercepted migrants, refugees and other global transients.) With that, it is hardly shocking that the construct of a floating prison continues to develop today"

Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

40 years ago today

Renegade Eye has posted a collection of vignettes from Nam to Yippie that deserve a look [then go fetch some stuff on Panthers and Naxalites - easy enough to find here and here]

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

This is an abridged edition of a great post at Canadian anarchist blog La Revue Gauche. For some this post will be nostalgia, and for others an introduction to another world. Thank you Eugene for putting this together.

Forty Years Ago
Happy New Year

Read it here.