Thoughts on Weaponizing Anthropology by David H. Price

Price, David. (2011). Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

‘Weaponizing Anthropology’ by David H. Price is an intriguing book. The first impression the title connotes is that an ongoing process of militarizing (weaponizing) the discipline of anthropology is taking place. After a gradual glimpse of familiarity with the content of the book, the ancient story ‘Ajax Dilemma’ came to mind as a reminder that it is difficult to make ethical choices and decisions in life which would be fair to one’s own convictions and to all individuals, all groups of individuals and all nations on earth. One of the complex and troubling issues raised in this book is the quasi-impossibility of joining the ethical to the politically hegemonic in practicing anthropology in particular, and social science in general. Anthropological methods and theories are useful to understand cultures, systems of belief and worldviews for the sake of an independent knowledge. Military agencies are interested in the same kind of knowledge for utilitarian purposes; to divide populations and eventually control them. Moral values sometimes cannot be associated with utilitarian policies and practices?

 Accordingly, military access to anthropological research material, so as to consolidate and resume the imperialistic ‘mono culture’ processes, is an indirect form of colonialism. Unfortunately, the aftermath of 9/11 led to the deployment of policies to study and eventually eradicate an imagined enemy (Price, 2011:1). In order to facilitate such a task, anthropological expertise seems the best mediator of a ‘smooth’ encounter. The contemporary academic researcher remains dependent on funding institutions for conducting research. Most of these entities impose their own agendas and guidelines on specific regions and/or topics of research to be funded in comparison with other ones. But the world of academia cannot be orchestrated by the interests of such corporations, especially when it has the potential agency of freeing the minds from useless dogmas and sterotypes. Social scientists, perhaps, already agree that the notion of common good should not be conceived of mainly from the point of view of the dominant institution or culture. I still believe that there are remedies, and why not future solutions, to the temporary condition of militarization. Without a constructed image of an enemy out there, the military institution will have no reason to interfere with academia.

Political strategies manifest themselves in ordinary everyday life. Mere division of labor within the family institution, for example, could be captured as a way of doing politics, such as who is taking the role or obligation to always run a few errands or even being condemned to constantly wake up from deep slumber in the middle of the night to take care of the crying infant baby. On parallel terms, American students in Anthropology as well may face the inevitable dilemma of ‘competing’ for the short road leading to a successful carrier in the name of ‘saving the world’. They can also opt for the other difficult road with no readymade guarantees and perhaps no exit. But anthropologists are aware of the beneficial outcomes of collaboration and collective agency while uniting for the same common cause: freedom of academia from militarization. I am aware of the fact that the last option is ‘The one less travelled by’ to borrow from Robert Frost in his poem ‘The Road Not Taken’. It appears to be an irrational choice in these contemporary times. Yet it is hoped that it might contribute to authentic independent knowledge. Open dialogue, introspection and critical thinking are capable of shaping new policies which pave the way towards a peaceful inhabited world. Beyond immediate personal interests, free useful knowledge will benefit all humanity instead of subscribing to utilitarian agendas of military institutions in the academia.

Since one does not live completely detached from the market nexus, necessity to have recourse to funding agencies in academia to do research cannot be denied. This fact is too big to ignore. But instead of adhering to imperialist projects and the propaganda of ‘saving the world’, primary importance should be dedicated to prioritizing acquaintance with neutral funding institutions first. Academic integrity necessitates awareness of the agendas of the funding institutions. Avoidance of programs having direct correlation with counterinsurgency tactics and HTS is a matter of common sense. The Book ‘Weaponizing Anthropology’ by Price is an example of a bank of information on a variety of reports, projects and programs and funding agencies, such as Project Camelot, Minerva, Yale report, PRISP, ICSP, NSEP and HTS, coin and other counterinsurgency programs, which aim at studying social structures and cultures in different regions of the globe for the sake of controlling them (Price, 2011:33). According to Price, some of these funding projects require students to pay back the invested money after graduation or to work for their agenda. Other ones are so desperate to recruit anthropologists, such as the case of John Allison being recruited for training by HTS, and train them in a way that will only fit the purposes of the funding agencies (Price, 2011: 155). As a result, militarized training might lead to altering the foundations of anthropological research methods and ethics since the complexities of culture and group populations are being studied hastily in an oversimplified way (Price, 2011: 144). Secrecy in conducting such trainings and cultural immersion in the field alongside the strategies of provocation and intimidation is prove that such engagements are risky and nuanced by double discourses.

The anthropologist has responsibility to do no harm to the population that he or she studies. During wartime, this responsibility might diminish due to other risk priorities and un-anticipated circumstances. I think it is better to avoid fieldwork in zones of conflict. Local people are the ones who know better their own traditional forms of organization and cultures and the best ways to negotiate and resolve their own conflicts. Military intrusion despite its efficiency may lead to more chaos, suspicion, imposed control and division. The world needs peaceful cohabitation between nations rather than utilitarian militarization. Price draws attention to the necessity of gradually emancipating the intellect from essentialist discourses emanating from military institutions, and other mediated representation. It is completely understandable for students in anthropology to join military programs since they provide financial security and training. Perhaps, the honor of serving one’s nation and ‘giving back’ to one’s country is a good motivation as well. But beyond ethno-pride or sense of duty, beyond status advantages, using anthropological knowledge for the service of imperialism and militarization at the expense of other local peoples for more military expansion, which leads to more conflicts, is not acceptable.

Advertisements

A Review of “Back to Nature: American’s Great African Adventure” In Travel, Humanitarianism, and Becoming American in Africa By Kathryn Mathers

Mathers, Kathryn. (2010). Travel, Humanitarianism, and Becoming American in Africa. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. [Chapter 3, Back to Nature: American’s Great African Adventure, 61-88]

 

 

The title’s composition ‘Back to Nature: American’s Great African Adventure’ sets out the main idea of the third chapter which revolves around an apparently simple hypothesis. This chapter conveys the idea that mediated representations of Americans’ diverse encounters with Africa seem to be reduced to experiencing a sort of primitive (natural) way of being. Such an imagined construction is supported by American travelers’ thrill of seeking an exotic (wild) adventure that is being institutionalized by student programs and other Peace Corps missions. Yet the emphasized point throughout the text is that young American travelers to South Africa fulfill generalized expectations on ‘the newly ascribed’ role of saving Africa or doing good to Africans. More specifically, young traveler students to South Africa are likely to have a more profound awareness and realization of their American identity during their sojourn as a result of their encounter with the South African ‘other’. Yet it is not clear enough in the chapter how such a liminal experience of temporarily dwelling in South Africa suddenly awakens national sentiments of being American.  It is of primary importance to convey the idea that the author derives such conclusions based on her intensive ethnographic research back home in South Africa. But it is never sure whether the conducted interviews were used to confirm a priori ideas or hypotheses that need to be investigated further, or that such contentions came to life based on the fieldwork experience. The style of writing in the text, like its driving ideas, is pregnant with imagery and metaphors at times. The strategic employment of such figures of speech enables her to explore new terrains of assumptions on American traveling identity amid unequal contexts of power relations between the two countries.

The chapter opens up with carefully chosen remarks on Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. It is located somewhere in Florida. A space that is designed to represent the prevailing stereotypes and generalizations on the African continent. Visitors are actively involved in the consumption of such journeys provided that Disney’s staging corresponds to the expectations on how an ‘imagined Africa’ is constructed and embodied. In the contemporary ‘society of the spectacle’ in which one dwells the practice of creatively producing a show or an atmosphere to entertain spectators, to share and enhance different ways of perceiving and thinking of the world artistically and/or intellectually, and to eventually generate financial benefits is ubiquitously accepted and encouraged. In the context of culture, rather than art, some sets of travelers tend to develop a tendency to be curious about other ways of being in other far away geographical localities. The continent of Africa, like other continents, has its fair share in attracting all categories of travelers including students in exchange programs, International experts in development, anthropologists, tourists etc.

Accordingly, having recourse to metaphors to loosen the directness of the contentions regarding how American young travelers conceive of Africa and its people, and more specifically South Africa, can be an efficient strategy. But to what degree such an approach is useful in anthropological writing? The first metaphor consists of transposing the experience of visiting Disney World’s Animal Kingdom and attributing its qualities to actual traveling of American students to South Africa with the support of various educational exchange programs. In other words, transposing the conclusions of an article in New York Times to pave the way to further analysis on the construction and realization of the American identity according to orchestrated meditations is an issue that needs further clarifications . According to the article, and thanks to the explanations of Kathryn Mathers, Disney world represents Africa as a continent in which animals are imprisoned in the limited provided geographical space. Density of such living species is a crucial characteristic of such a place. Yet these animals, which are part of nature and the landscape, happen to give the impression that they are free to roam only within the borders of the provided space rather than across it. There are different kinds of species, but for some technical reasons Kiswahili is used as the language of communication in the site. Hence Africa is being represented homogeneously as a land in which African peoples and African animals and African landscape are grouped together to portray the genius work of nature. Are the expectations of Americans quite essentialist to the extent of blurting out such an objectification?

 The author appears to be quite comfortable in asserting the blurry lines between different species, whether human or not, which occupy this geographical locality. Without any statistical, historical or theoretical contextualization, to introduce and explain the motivation behind such a venture, Africa is conceived of by Americans as being bestowed with an animal character. The fact that Kathryn Mathers doesn’t assert her position explicitly regarding the construction of such mediated representations is rather confusing. The prose stylistically urges serious questions while resuming the practice of reading. What is the point of lingering so much on such mediated representations while opting for neutrality and a refusal to take sides?     Explication of both of the concepts of nature and culture is overlooked to dwell on the idea that South African culture and society is conceived of by American travelers a priori through mediated representations. I do understand the importance of scrutinizing the policies of American media in relation to a construction of an American identity especially when it is embedded in unequal political representations. But I do not fathom the implicit rationale behind portraying such an intriguing zoo image on South Africa and its people specifically. In addition, I was wondering whether ‘the unequal mediated discourses between Africa and America’ as explained by the anthropologist Kathryn Mathers are being amplified further by the opted for neutrality in the act of writing.

The use of the Disney metaphor in defending the ‘complexities’ of an idea, within an explanatory context, remains ambiguously problematic to me. It is crystal clear that such an analytic description embodies the continent of Africa as a big cage where the majority of the poor African population is somehow imprisoned in the absence of financial means to acquire visas and passports enabling them migratory movement or social mobility. The right to move and to cross borders is a rare achieved privilege in most African countries. The African poor, like ‘the animal species’ described in the Disney site, is condemned to dwell where he or she was born. There will be no possibility of reversing the gaze or even dreaming of travelling elsewhere like tourists and other travelers do.  According to the constructed representation, this continent is so dense and studded with people who are closer to nature and other animals than to culture and civilization. Association of Africa (South Africa) with the idea of suffering, and an eventual urgent compulsion to be saved and rescued might not correspond to young American travelers. Those students are more likely to be motivated by experiencing moments of adventure and cultural curiosities rather than to ‘save Africa’.

After the uncomfortable metaphorical journey on how Africa is conceived of by the American mediated consciousness relief from such roundabout figures of speech slowly establishes itself. But not for a long time. These representations are no longer maintained through actual visit to South Africa. Yet they seem to affect how the travel experience is approached and encouraged. The idea that Africa (South Africa) is subdued and somehow dependent on the ‘generosity’ of powerful nations is present in the American mind, and well explained in the book. In addition to ‘the nature’ metaphor, encounter of young American travelers with South Africa is presented to the reader as a physical penetration. Once again, Africa moves away from being portrayed as animalist in character to being embodied as a helpless ‘body’ exposed to a sort of sexual violence. The imagery of such violence finds its context through American travel and encounter with Africa (South Africa). The word penetration is used more than twice to describe encounters of young American students with South Africa and its people. Honestly, the stylistic dimension of the descriptive writing at some point in this chapter infiltrates the idea of Africa as having a ‘female’ body which is kept being invaded and sexually penetrated somewhere, where laws made by humans have no significance or authority. I think that both of the images are exaggerated in the chapter. They just provoke a sense of uneasiness and ambiguity regarding the position of Kathryn Mathers. Indeed, it is difficult, and rather problematic, to conduct fieldwork back home. People do change with the passage of time; they risk being Americanized. Hybrid identities characterize the postmodern world in which people dwell.

Discussion of the book in class was characterized by moments of uncertainties and silenced anger regarding the ambiguous position of the author. There were other fleeting moments of deception and frustration the same way young American travelers were frustrated with their encounter with South Africa. Yet the critical thinking among fellow students of anthropology in class gave the overall discussion an ethical spirit; a sense of accountability and an awareness that the act of writing is a huge responsibility.

Photography was a central concern for the remainder of the chapter. It convey the idea of objectification and penetration. The voice of local people was somehow ignored since the ethnography is about American travelers rather than locals. But since they take part in ‘the paysage’ of description I was wondering why they were rarely given the opportunity to voice their concern for such matters that affect them as well. Through the lens of the student’s camera and the transcribed conducted interviews the reader acquires a sense of the sort of encounter. Young travelers (American students) are more concerned with extending the stereotypes on Africa unconsciously. Association of South Africa with ‘national geographic’ documentaries, and hasty judgments on exotic constructions, is a proof that stereotypes are still alive even among the educated. Primitiveness of life appears to be an ongoing imperial product destined for consumption. But places do change as well with the passage of time, perhaps due to the sort of imperial ‘penetration’ that was conveyed in the text. The institutionalization of such a penetration is intriguing. Cape Town is westernized; it does not look African or third world country at all. It is no longer exotic. Some of the research participants mentioned his or her surprise that people in this city actually manage to speak ‘proper English’. Where one can find the authentic experience paid for for the sake of enjoying adventure travel and dwelling in those places?

However, exploration of various themes in the chapter revolving around the construction of another American identity in South Africa is enriching. The author succeeded in providing a detached anthropological vision on discourses of travel and movement in the American context. Unlike travel literature, which is motivated by the marketing of geographical touristic places, this ethnographic account invites the reader to consider other terrains of thoughts in understanding such corporeal movements and their impact on the local visited destinations. It subscribes to larger discourses on imperialism or neo-colonialism to some extent, perhaps.

 The chapter proposes discussion at another level even when it’s pregnant with ambiguous metaphors at times. But this discussion should not under any circumstances belittle the history of a whole nation through denigrating images mixing up complex concepts. The anthropological examination of new terrains of thought is encouraged by all sensible minds. Having recourse to blurry images on animal-ism and rape of land for the sake of proving the validity of an idea is a matter to be questioned. Venturing into such abstract fields for future academic considerations might be wrongly interpreted or simply equated with the behavior of the research participants when conveying their encounter with South Africa. The third chapter however is charged with valuable information which assert an originality in bringing up the questions and introspection of the author to the open while examining serious concerns on the postmodern condition from the strand of unequal mobility.

Review: Reversed Gaze, Chapter 1: Imagining Anthropology, Encountering America

Ntarangwi, Mwenda. (2010). “Imagining Anthropology, Encountering America”. In Mwenda Ntarangwi, Reversed Gaze (pp.1-23). Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press.

Willingness to deconstruct analytically the formation of anthropology, since ‘the reflexive turn’ era, is immediately captured by the reader in the opening introduction to the first chapter of the book. The author starts with questioning the reduction of anthropological discourses on subjectivity to the fieldwork practice out there, to the implications of textual representations, to the encounter with the ‘other’, and to the subsequent repercussions on such tendencies on the production of ethnography as a source of anthropological knowledge. The reader’s engagement with the author’s stream of thoughts propels the former to probe the prevailing one sidedness of conventional reflexivity in the discipline. The same stream of consciousness in the text seems to be disturbing. It confronts the reader with the idea of an unfamiliar holism. It explores new arenas within anthropology as a form of culture, in addition to being a discipline, which ought to be studied as well. One way of studying a culture can be simply reduced to ‘studying up’ the active agents, or participants who are part of a culture, who constitute, re-produce, consume and pro-create a culture: The discipline of anthropology. In other words, the author diplomatically questions the essence of the representation of anthropological knowledge in the midst of a peculiar one way historical mode of practice. Western ethnographic representations, despite the scope of the reflexive revelations conveyed, fail to trespass the bestowed authority and the relative freedom on how to capture ‘the realities of the Other that they study’ (2010:2). Accordingly, the idea of studying the practice of anthropology from within, and the challenge to ethnographically ‘studying up’ professional anthropologists, account for willingness to enhance anthropological knowledge by exploring ‘the hidden/unrevealed’ (2010:2) aspects of ethnographic representations. To put the idea into practice, the author studies his own subjectivity in relation to his initiation, and eventual immersion, as an outsider, into the culture of American anthropology as an African student and a professional anthropologist later on. Hence the project envisaged seems to liberate anthropology from its ‘western’ elitist, racist and post-colonial residue through a re-examination of the unequal power relations embedded in the construction and the becoming of the discipline.

Faithful to his standpoint, Mwenda Ntarangwi traces, in a reminiscent style, the early phases of his initiation to the journey of anthropology as a student and a professor as well. He attaches considerable effort to logically shaping a seamless web of ideas that are meant to constitute the becoming of his identity. The process of organizing such ideas in a logical way foregrounds his constant attempt to meet, and abide by, the expectations of western readers, or standards. Surprisingly, the author’s ‘African ethnography’ on his early encounter with anthropology, during the process of representation, appears to utilize the same mechanisms of exclusion and ‘logical’ inclusions pertaining to other existing ‘western’ ethnographies. His chain of ‘reminiscent’ logic begins with an inherent aspiration to indulge into a ‘holistic study of music’ (2010:40). It is remarkable how his breaking down of such an abstract general idea accounts for a series of subsequent standpoints regarding his, perhaps, existential preoccupations. His logic of finding a niche in anthropology is being explained by a vested interest in multidisciplinary trends of thought outside, yet intrinsically linked to the practice of, anthropology. Hence the becoming of his identity is due to the oscillation of his intellect in probing ideas of social justice, popular music and culture, gender relations, marginal or subaltern social positions, social agency in relation to social conditions of subjectivity in being.

In addition to what has been conveyed above, the author’s physical translocation and immersion into American culture, while studying anthropology inside out, enables him to nurture a ‘reversed gaze’ that is, I believe, necessary for democratizing, or rather, de-politicizing the discipline of anthropology. His voice is situated within the interpretive approach to culture and to anthropology. Holistic thoughts appear to find a comfort zone in deciphering meanings to his being an ‘outsider within’ during the process of his becoming a professional anthropologist. He fully questions everything from such an estranged, yet beneficial, social situation. He navigates the world views and anthropological theories for the sake of understanding his own subjectivity; the very subjectivity which bestows him with the privileged strength of maintaining his intellect’s nourishment. Yet the book’s style of ethnographic writing, opted for so far, connotes a regulated conformity; a prescribed diplomacy in the expression of thoughts; an awareness of the targeted population of ‘white’ academic readers. The African voice in the African ethnography is not quite assertive yet; the gaze is reversed but not on equal basis. It seems to be waiting for approval; for the approbation of the historical power structure in the discipline of anthropology. Reversing the western gaze does not seem to derange yet, and to provoke the prevailing paradigms of meaning emanating from a historical one sided way of practicing anthropology. The well-established western hierarchy in the culture of anthropology still acquires the exclusive use of orchestrating the mediated discourses of tolerance and accommodation. It is strange how words such as tolerance, accommodation and the fixing of names, which at a surface level appear to be positive and for the common good, are charged with ‘unrevealed/hidden’ revelations on a ubiquitous power structure that defines, categorizes and marginalizes those who are different.

Having said that, the first chapter of this book does not merely invite the reader to think about reversing the western gaze for the sake of doing something different, or even for the sake of equalizing power relations. That would be I suppose the explicit tone. As a non-western reader, having the chance to come across such an iceberg form of ideas, in my first semester at a master program in anthropology, I do have the resonant impression that one’s awareness of one’s own subjectivity, whether in the field, in academia, at home, on earth etc. constitutes a first step towards inventing a new form of ‘sociality’ based on selfless equal dialogue, and transcending the illusive categorizations which fix supposed being subaltern voices. The text should be a reminder that the stage of ideas is not orchestrated from above; because I think there is no such a thing as above; it can be just an illusion that shapes collective consciousness in a conforming way. Accordingly, the fact that I am blurting out such random, yet pertinent ideas, on the text that I was assigned to engage with as a student is a reminder that the reading material ‘Reversed Gaze’ is in the process of breaking the ice of division between some ‘us’ and ‘them’. The debates taking place at the graduate seminar in reaction to the assigned reading material proves that ‘African ethnography’ is alive and healthy. It provokes the intellect and makes it think. The residue of the historical violence should not be a pretext to maintain the ‘nod’. I don’t think that the author of the text should really engage into ‘the process of this forgetting of my (his) own way of seeing the world and attempting to adopt another’ (2010: 22) for the sake of fulfilling an (un)biased understanding of the other, even if this process is going to be temporary and for a very short period of time. I doubt whether one can have control over such forgetfulness procedures. People do carry their own ‘backpack’ of the past and present collective memories and worldviews. The challenge is not to forget one’s self for the sake of understanding, but to synchronize an equal dialogic nature with other selves. The holistic approach to the expressive in culture, and the harmonious longing for quiescence should enhance, rather than divide, the making of history, the adoption of a new direction in conceiving of inevitable questions to the very meanings that we seek to decipher, whether by reversing the gaze, studying up the familiar, our inner selves, the institutions, the ideas, and the illusive otherness, which shape the way the intellect does its own practice.      

In a very short period of time at the seminar “New Directions in Anthropological Research”, I realized that this very weird intellect of mine, as a student in anthropology, rapidly engaged with the reflections and the ideas discussed in class. Different minds conveying different standpoints, and negotiating new floating around webs of viewing human existence, anthropologically, even if it is most of the times an unconscious practice of thinking. With the aim of considering a sort of continuity to the holistic approach that the author of the text advocates, I think that it’s time to consider the idea of liberating the collective consciousness of the subaltern from the illusion of being in an inferior position. Every living human organism is in the process of making history happen, without realizing it, for the time being; it can be a simple idea such as reversing the gaze, conceiving of new forms of sociability, free modes of belonging to the self and the other, who is part of our selves. Ideas such as ownership and property of a commodity, such as text for example, reinforce the rigid divides that create hierarchical differences, and this can be in academia as well. The tendency is that people forget the fact that the very property or commodity does have value only in relation to the other. Privilege itself can be experienced and lived to the fullest only in relation to other selves. Hence, the text ‘Reversed Gaze’ is inspiring only in relation to the debates that it provokes during the seminar, by the students, and the public professional readers who engage with it constructively.

I really enjoyed reading the book; it is inspiring and thoughtful. It reminds other minds of their capacities to engage in processes of constructing other re-definitions to conceiving of the here and now. It provokes silence and habit in everyday life. Yet it is not charged with a disenchanted voice that is committed to change the way things are. The style of writing is conformist, and correct as the North American lifestyle wanted it to be. I hope that the diplomacy and conformity stems its conspicuousness due to the technical bureaucracies imposed by the publishing institution only.                   

  

Beyond the Self-reflexive Thoughts on “Ethnography’s Edge in Development” By Pauline Gardiner Barber

Gardiner Barber, Pauline. (2005). “Chapter 6: Ethnography’s Edge in Development.” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (94-109). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.

This chapter situates the constructed category of collaboration, as an auto-ethnographic practice, beyond the analytical focus on stakeholder’s involvement in a common activity such as peer reviewing, teaching and/or learning[i]. In addition to approaching the notion of collaboration from perceived unequal relations, as in the two previous chapters (4 & 5), Gardiner Barber introduces the reader to her uneasiness, as an ethnographer, in capturing an essence to “the relationship between anthropology and development” (2005:94). At the very beginning of the chapter, the author’s introspective concerns pin down the tempting tendency of the anthropologist fieldworker to engage into ‘development projects’, for the sake of guaranteeing research funding, while juxtaposing one’s own research interests with the prescribed agendas of the funding institutions. Without getting involved into generalizations, Gardiner Barber exposes her own internal dialogues and reflections regarding her ‘lived experiences’ as an anthropologist and a fieldworker in the Philippine.

According to the author, the opening problem to the intersection between anthropology and development emanates from outside hasty judgments, pertaining to ‘the development industry’ (2005:95), regarding the nature as well as the usage of anthropological methods in the field site. The assumption that these methods remain applicable to understand all cultural contexts disregards two fundamental realities. First, the existing unequal power relations embedded within and across the borders of the targeted locale and its population are being overlooked by ‘development workers’ in favor of introducing economic growth from above. Second, the strategic use of anthropological methods to infiltrate the ‘under-developed’ locale prompts the ethnographer to question the implicit rationale behind setting up such an agenda that is so much preoccupied with ‘empowering communities’. Nevertheless, the practice of sustaining development seems to derive its strength from meddling with the internal affairs of an aid receiving country with the help of ‘experts in negotiating non-western culture’ (2005:95). So far, Gardiner Barber defensively explains the motives and the circumstances behind her engaging into the workshops on ‘participatory methodologies’ in the Philippine at the very beginning of the chapter before presenting her standpoints on the patterns of a global capitalism in a neo-liberal era.

In this chapter, both of the sections entitled ‘The Workshop’ (2005:97) and ‘Further Workshops’ (2005:100) are characterized by a story-telling style of narrative. Extensive use of the past tense conveys a reminiscent state of mind on the part of the author while indulging into writing her introspective auto-ethnography. The natural flow of a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ regarding the author’s dialogues with her inner self and with some of the locals managed to attract my attention while reading the text. Despite the fact that no effort is being employed by the author to familiarize the reader with the settings and the circumstances of her interactions with the informant(s), mere insistence on her positional identity as an ethnographic researcher rather than a development worker displays the complexities of combining her intellectual convictions with the realities of the neo-liberal world.

Accordingly, in the section entitled ‘The Workshop’ Gardiner Barber’s interest in livelihood issues was deliberately conveyed. She briefly comments on her physical presence as an outsider in the field site, on the daily activities of the locals characterized by precarious living situations, and on her initial encounter with a local migrant worker called Daisy. It is worth noting that the author hastily asserts her remarks on her ‘crucial’ encounter with the informant Daisy and other locals without lingering on the situational circumstances of the interaction. In short, her conclusive remarks touched upon the short-sightedness of her colleagues in assessing primary reasons for livelihood precariousness. Hence the author’s point is that the development agenda priorities revolved around merely regulating the existing economic fishing activities rather than considering external economic contributions due to the flows of migration. The author’s ethnographic involvement with the local community was conditioned by her participation in the workshop on development.

Subsequent trips to ‘receiving aid areas’ (2005:101) in the Philippine was enabled through research fellowships from CIDA and partner institutions (2005:100). While such opportunities assist in easily accessing available data and easing local bureaucracies, as a result they impel an adherence to the guidelines of the project agenda. The author attempted to detach herself from such institutional priorities and focus on her own research interests. She acknowledges the interdisciplinary expertise involved in alleviating environmental degradation in such locales depending on the establishment of different programs dedicated to ‘empower the people’ and to ‘improve household income’ (2005:101) for example. Thus a prevailing concern in the chapter comes up due to the self-reflexive approach of the author regarding her uneasy encounter with development. What are the motives behind such discourses on empowering people?

According to Gardiner Barber, the ubiquitous tendencies of the experts in development to strictly adhere to the agenda’s project, rather than to attempt to fathom the complexities of the social structural relations of the studied population, account for the existence of a hegemonic ‘mono-culture’ of inclusion. Such tendencies result in conceiving of incompatible remedies to issues of livelihood such as the focus on regulating the environment as well as the existing economic activities. As a result mediated discourses on ‘empowering’ the local community contribute to the transformation of the paradigms of functioning of a local structure. Local patterns of normalcy tend to erode in favor of a more global standardized invasion to the way of being. The author argues that such concerted intrusions from above in the name of economic development affect the local policies of governance as well, such as the ‘mayor’s conversion to environmentalism’(2005:102). Adding to this the existing market relations among locals undergo a sort of gradual metamorphosis. In the absence of alternative economical means of subsistence recourse to dependence on external markets, characterized by prioritizing exploitative profits, promotion of productivity, consumerism and ‘economic independence’ from the gradually disappearing patterns of social solidarities, account for concerted policies dedicated towards long-term implementations of neo-liberal ideals globally in the name of ‘sustainable human development’(2005:103).

As a result, skepticism regarding the rationale behind development explains the uneasiness of anthropologists to affiliate their research interests with the agendas of the funding institutions such as CIDA. Strikingly enough, the author situates her ambivalence to such a reality within a moral aspiration for compassion and the common good for ‘other’ peoples, whose life perhaps ‘worth caring about’, and the pragmatic keenness on pursuing her research interests that are funded by the same criticized institutions. Recourse to such a liminal situation explains the tone of hesitance in conveying her standpoint straightforwardly at the beginning of the chapter despite her attempt to engage the reader by asking the question ‘is this as straightforward as it might seem?’(2005:94). Her diplomatic, or rather, careful use of the language in the text anticipates an eventual ‘ethnography’s edge’ portrayed as a compromise land of quiescence. Gardiner Barber suggests a ‘positive’ possibility of pursuing anthropological research interests while being affiliated to the agendas of development based on her own academic experience.

I think that the text stems its strength from the author’s willingness to expose her self-reflexivity, perhaps, according to the emerging conventions of the ‘auto-ethnographic’ style of writing. Indeed it is beautifully studded with analytic constructions revolving around the inner self of the author and her standpoints. However, in the midst of portraying the good intentions of the reminiscent internal dialogue I feel the obligation to note that the author’s conception of collaboration with the ‘other’ was portrayed rather in a way that resembles how the strong center reacts to the alternative less stronger peripheries. This chapter is an excellent incitation to reconsider the grey overlapping areas, beyond the control of the ethnographic researcher, which aims at synchronizing the abstract questions regarding moral values, or convictions, in anthropology with the complex realities of methodologically practicing ethnography. The anthropologist Gardiner Barber situates her fieldwork experiences at the edge of ethnography in development and asserts proudly towards the end of the chapter ‘and still I continue my dance alongside development’ (2005:107)


[i] Both of the chapters 4 & 5 in the second part entitled ‘collaborations’ seem to rely heavily on the perceived processes of interaction in ‘the objective world’ regarding their methodological approaches to their respected subjects of scrutiny.

Auto-Ethnographies, Introduction: Auto-Ethnographies of Academic Practices

Meneley, Anne, and, Young, J. Donna. (2005). “Introduction: Auto-Ethnographies of Academic Practices.” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (1-21). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.

The introduction to this book approaches the concept of auto-ethnographies objectively in a way that the domain of its practice takes place within North American academic institutions. The text starts with an overview of the external policies which affect ‘academic practices’. It ends with speculations on how to rethink auto-ethnography from the practice perspective despite the constraints and the challenges encountered by the anthropologist. Accordingly, the introduction focuses initially on a conspicuous hierarchical structure within the discipline of anthropology in order to rethink the possible effects of such a condition on the conscious self of the anthropologist at a later stage. The possible outcomes of such a process are likely to affect the production of cultural knowledge in a world characterized by unequal power relations.

The contentions conveyed in the introduction to this volume aim at exploring the usefulness of studying anthropological ‘academic practices’ from within. The adopted vision of such an auto-ethnography touches upon three areas of thoughts. Primary importance was accorded to the first one which accounts for the intrinsically linked zones of practicing anthropology and meditating on the nature of such a practice through the medium of writing ethnographically. The second one examines anthropological practices from the perspective of the practitioner. The latter might be conditioned by the prevalent misconceptions on the essence of the practiced occupation itself. Finally, the last conclusive section of the introduction culminates into an invitation to join the sensitive to the sensible in exploring new grounds of an ethical, and perhaps a revolutionary, strand of academic practice. It is worth noting that the first area for consideration vacillates between the historically un-familiar, the engagingly reflexive, the materially lived, which can be changed, and the supposedly elitist orchestrating politics of inclusion and/or exclusion.

The practice of auto-ethnography aims at producing a written text. The latter, like any other form of literature, is affected by the methodological intentions of, or the imposed constraints on, the fieldworker. Hence, in this volume, four written genres emanate from the ‘ethnographically grounded’ style of performing auto-ethnography. Opting for the familiarity of home to gain more in-depth insights on the subject matter under investigation cannot be a smooth process as one might think. The practice of doing research at home is exemplified historically by illustrating the challenges encountered by the native fieldworker in the field and the effects of his nativity on being successful or accepted in the world of Academia. This genre of ethnographic writing is accused of lacking theoretical emphasis which invites subsequent reflexivity on the overlapping relationships between the investigator and the other in general no matter what ascribed role is positioned in the process of practicing. The other can be a nebulous living structure, a textual mediation or even a self that introspects dialogically with its own self. In addition, the reflexive genre navigates the effects of producing an anthropological knowledge that is condemned to be shaped by the hegemonic conditions of the market place and the orchestrated notions of meritocracy. Intellectual productivity is conditioned by the presence or absence of a suitable environment for growing. That is how the material world of political economy intervenes in shaping a (dis)-enchanted intellectual existence. Finally the retrospective genre in ethnographic writing conveys a glimpse of the internal ‘habitat’ of anthropologists in academia. Articulating the specificities of what happens at the backstage accounts for a will to better explicate the crucial issues at stake in contemporary anthropology. Hopefully such a tendency  might open other windows paving the way to rethink and re -project the essence of anthropology as a discipline from an auto-ethnographic perspective.

It is worth noting that the introduction to this volume aims to explicate the general scope of the subsequent chapters in the volume as well as the rationale behind indulging into such a project. The stylistic straightforwardness of the language in the text appears to hide an in-depth analytical thinking regarding the investigated subject matter alongside a panoramic overview on the overlapping issues stemming from a will to deconstruct ‘academic practices’. It is an invitation to reconsider the humane values of acting responsibly and ethically in an era marked by utilitarian self-interest, hegemonic consumerism and uncertain expectations shaping human existence. Although little attention was paid to introducing the nature of the ‘grounded ethnographies’ conveyed in the subsequent chapters of the book written by other writers, as a reader I enjoyed the ‘heartfelt’ sincerity in committing to unveil methodologically ‘the structures of feeling’  affecting academic practices from an auto-ethnographic perspective.

I think that this text is pregnant with structural hints regarding the ways of dealing with its subject matter. This is supposed to pave the way to new horizons dedicated to experiencing, practicing and enjoying the processes of auto-investigating academia from the ethnographic angle. It might be revolutionary. However, determination to erect such an original trend of thought in anthropology can be undermined by scrutinizing mere historical facts that occurred within certain power related circumstances in academia. I allude to both of the examples conveyed regarding the trajectories of both of the texts ‘the hobo’ as well as ‘Mules and Men’ . The residue of an unequal relations within academia can still affect contemporary practices that are likely to breed hasty judgments regarding the world of producing knowledge.  Accordingly the inclusion of  expressions such as ‘destructively postmodern’ or ‘authoritarian structure’ in the introduction connotes at least an indifference to postmodernism as a trend or a paradigm of thought. I think that postmodern approaches to the subject matter of the book will be simply enriching rather than destructive. Post structuralism on the other hand might add more flavor and fluidity to the rigidness of a structure that is claimed to be oppressive. Besides, a structure with a power to convey more privileges to the elite and less rights to the underprivileged cannot guarantee a permanent existence for itself. Despite the fact that the hobo researcher experienced academic exclusion back in the depression years, and that the supposed being ‘subaltern’ intellectuals are emerging or constituting a community due to the same hierarchical structures today or in the recent past could never stand as an absolute generalized truth which condemns the academic to dwell in a critical condition. To reflect on such unequal power relations and to meditate on the human condition of the subdued requires much more than methodical agency organized in the name of unity, or even dialogic and humane feelings of compassion towards the self and the other. It requires simply belief in the absolute freedom to carry on thinking ethnographically about academic practices from multiple inter-subjective approaches rather than objective or structurally material ones. I enjoyed reading the introduction to this book. It conveys the pleasurable feeling to read the following chapters or ‘grounded ethnographies’.