REVIEW OF “OF CONJUNCTIONS, COMPORTMENT, AND CLOTHING: THE PLACE OF AFRICAN TEACHING ASSISTANTS IN BERLIN AND HAMBURG”

Pugach, Sara (2007).  “Of conjunctions, comportment, and clothing: the place of African teaching assistants in Berlin and Hamburg, 1889-1919.”  In Tilley, Helen and Robert J. Gordon (Eds.), Ordering Africa: Anthropology, European Imperialism, and the Politics of Knowledge (pp.145-172). Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

In writing this chapter, Sarah Pugach argues that she is attempting to draw African teaching assistants into German colonial history (120).  In doing so, Pugach is helping to illustrate the ways in which African scholars played an important role in contributing to and shaping German academe (120-121).  Furthermore, she also draws attention to colonialism’s role in early anthropology, arguing that in fact the earliest “anthropologists” were missionaries, who produced and wrote ethnographic works in colonial settings (122).  This chapter speaks to the complex entanglements and power relations that are created when ethnographic knowledge is being produced; in essence, Pugach illustrates the ways in which people use each other for academic and social gains.   Africans who contributed to academia in both the colonies and in Europe did have agency, and even often used stereotypes to their advantage, however at the same time the Germans were afraid of allowing them “too much power” (121) and thus ensured that they were squelched in various ways.

It is important to be aware of the intricacies of historical contexts in order to understand how knowledge is produced in Anthropology today, particularly in relation to societies and cultures outside of our own contexts.   Thus, in writing this chapter Pugach is enabling us to open our eyes to so much more than simply the position of African teaching assistants in late the 1800’s to early 1900’s in Germany.  African informants’ roles in German history were carefully documented, with their significant contributions to linguistic works and ethnographies having been particularly well-documented although Pugach argues that many of the aforementioned works remain unpublished, and are thus hidden from common knowledge (122).  Often, informants were unacknowledged in written work, though, and Pugach argues that they were certainly almost never recognized as co-authors of those works that did end up getting published nor were they given praise for their contributions to Anthropological works; even the ones that would have been impossible without an informant who knew the language and culture well (123).  In fact, even in texts that were about them informants were not directly quoted or even mentioned explicitly, particularly not by name (123).

Teaching assistants living in Germany at the time had quite a different experience than those who remained in colonies, serving as informants.  Through virtue of having more access to academic institutions, they were able to attain greater status and also had a tendency to be more educated, Pugach argues (123).  In drawing attention to academic knowledge, Pugach opens a space in which one might question how education contributes to knowledge production in Anthropology.  Also, she raises the issue of access to education by illustrating the ways in which social class in Africa played a role in enabling wealthier people to be educated and thus work as teaching assistants in Germany, while those who were not educated could only stay in the colonies and be informants whose contributions to academia were largely unrecognized.   Does access to academic education contribute to the production of knowledge in Antthropology, then, or simply more to the recognition of a person’s contributions based on his or her position within the academic institution?  In essence, while it may not have been her ultimate goal in writing this chapter, notions of contributions and recognition were central to Pugach’s chapter, and she quite clearly delineates it through illustrating the differences between African teaching assistants in Germany and colonial African contributions to ethnographic texts.  It is of course no coincidence that those who remained unnamed and thus unrecognized were also those who were less educated.

Furthermore, Pugach writes that Africans teaching in Germany had to be sure to dress the part (wearing western clothes, usually) as a part of the façade necessary to enable them to allow them to play the role of fitting in to German society (125-127).  However, it is important to note that although Pugach makes sure to establish that while African academics in Germany did quite well at playing the role of fitting in to German society, there was always an underlying fear on the part of the Germans that they could suddenly revert to being fully African, which was arguably synonymous with primitive (125-126).  Thus they were still considered suspect, and definitely did not get to be on par with white Germans (124), nor even with North African and Asian teaching assistants in similar positions (127).   In addition, Pugach argues that among African teaching assistants in Germany, some had a higher status than others. Often status depended on social class and cultural background (125-127), although most still occupied marginal positions in European society (129).  Limiting Africans’ mobility within German society was in large part due to the realization that African were not actually inferior to Germans (physically and mentally), which Pugach argues led to increased feelings of inferiority on the part of Germans (129-130).

The final question that arises when regarding Pugach’s chapter is that of why African assistants were willing to produce “ethnographic texts for a German public” in the first place (135).  Although Pugach initially argues that it is difficult to assess their reasons for doing so, I would argue that it is indeed possible to discern the probability that financial reasons definitely played a role (there are mentions of sending remittances home as well as instances where Africans and Germans bickered over the teaching assistants’ pay, throughout the chapter).  Pugach also points to the issue of intended audience, arguing that African teaching assistants’ ethnographic texts didn’t always conform to German readers’ expectations (138).  Further, Pugach argues that quite often African academics “used scholarship as a means of promoting” personal goals (138).  Finally, the argument Pugach most clearly seems to want to make in this chapter is that although there isn’t much published on the history of African-German relationships during the colonial period, what we are able to discern is that they were complex, but most importantly that they allowed Africans, through their contributions to ethnographic texts as well as their positions within German academia, to contest German ideals of “what it means to be African” (139).

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The Big Shiny Mirror That Bourdieu is Holding Up to Academia, Sociology, Himself and All Of Us

Bourdieu, Pierre. (1988). Homo Academicus. Peter Collier, trans. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of the world of French academia doubles as a rigorous sociological study of sociology itself.  It can also be seen as a sociology of intellectuals (Wacquant 1989, 4-5), as Bourdieu deals with the human aspects of the inner-workings of academia.  At first glimpse it may seem that an irony lies in Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus.  This irony is mainly due to the fact that a prominent sociologist would even aspire to write such a brutal critique of not only the field of sociology but also its place within academia, the students who choose to study it, and the people who get jobs teaching it.  Indeed, in an interview with Loic Wacquant, Bourdieu admits to having written things that were even harsher, which he eventually threw out for fear of creating room for a regression within the field of sociology toward an even more negative purpose (1989: 4).  Further, in Douglas Fischer’s review of the text he argues that Bourdieu’s criticisms of academia come from a place very close to his heart, as he himself was from a humble background and felt he owed his education and subsequent successes as a teacher to the very system he is criticising in the book (1990: 581-591).  Thus, it can safely be said that Bourdieu’s motives for engaging in such a project were noble.   Bourdieu is concerned with sociology’s objectification of others based on “self-interested vision of the social world” (Wacquant 1989: 4) through the façade of scientific study.  His arguments that are often so deeply critical of the new arts disciplines hone in on sociology, but are of course reflective of the state of anthropology as a discipline as well.

However, regardless of Bourdieu’s purpose for writing such criticisms, as a student of anthropology they proved difficult to read for there are many times throughout the text where one can’t help but to begin to question what would be the point of studying in a field that is seemingly doomed to begin with.  Furthermore, Bourdieu is quite clear about the destiny of many of those who wish to teach sociology (of course this would apply to anthropology as well), when he says that they would inevitably be headed toward a “mutilated career” (173), while simultaneously being “liable to resentment” (170).  In reading this, it is difficult not to at least slightly resent Bourdieu himself for being so pessimistic about the state of academia.  Then again, perhaps his negativity regarding the academic institution serves well as a cautionary tale, and should be regarded as such instead of simply an act of extreme pessimism.  Although at time somewhat cynical, Bourdieu’s critique also manages to effectively capture the reality of the state of academia, not only important in France some thirty years ago when the book was written, but also pertinent to the state of academia in today’s North American institutions.

Bourdieu uses reflexivity as a tool; a means to take back individual responsibility within academia.  His critique of the institution, and of sociology itself is highly reflexive and thus Homo Academicus could be seen as a mirror in which Bourdieu is looking not only upon the dire state of the institution but also at himself and at sociology as a discipline.  Both humbling and at times somewhat frightening, Bourdieu examines power structures and social factors that are intrinsically linked yet are also simultaneously engaged in an eternal struggle.  These entanglements are perhaps best captured in the chapter on Types of Capital and Forms of Power, where Bourdieu analyses the ways in which academia (specifically the arts and social sciences) are based around oppositions between specific types of power relations.  These inequalities that result in certain people having much more power than others are created through social factors such as inherited capital (79) and cultural capital that affect one’s ability to achieve social success, and thus create relationships of dominance and subordination (83).  Bourdieu also shifts his focus onto the professors, and argues that success as a professor is related not only to power and status but also the ability to engage in ritual practices that serve to further ensure one’s success.  Such rituals are costly in terms of time sacrifices, where professors who wish to attain success must attend meetings, ceremonies, etcetera, in order to collect “symbolic capital” that serves to prove what Bourdieu refers to as “academic worthiness” (96).  This obviously isn’t possible for just anyone, as many people simply do not have the time or money to attend such events or prescribe fully to the ritual practices involved in the pursuit of successful professorships.

As a final point, it is profoundly interesting that in the postscript Bourdieu looks at grading criteria and provides examples to argue that social factors such as one’s background, where a student grew up, his or her parents’ level of education, and even the way students speak and present themselves physically can affect the way they are judged academically.  In essence, this reads as though if a person is poor, or thought to be unattractive, or from a family that has a lower level of academic capital, he or she is essentially immediately judged far more harshly and thus stands a much lower chance of achieving academic success than a peer whose parents are of a more prominent background in society.  Even more discouraging is Bourdieu’s argument that, in fact, probably professors do not realize they are judging, and thus grading, their students based on such superficial criteria, “because they believe they are making a strictly academic judgement […] the social judgement […] is masked (207).  In light of Bourdieu’s argument that the social judgements that affect grading are not explicit, but rather seem to be subconscious, I’d like to err on the side of caution here in a last-ditch feeble attempt to get a good grade on this and conclude by lying to you and saying that my entire family is highly educated, wealthy, from a prominent background (whatever that may be), and lastly that I am a supermodel.

References:

Fischer, Douglas.  Reviewed Work: Homo Academicus, by Pierre Bourdieu, Peter Collier.  The Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 61, No. 5 (Sep. – Oct., 1990), pp. 581-591. Published by: Ohio State University Press. Stable URL: http://0-www.jstor.org.mercury.concordia.ca/stable/1981978

Loic, Wacquant.  For a Socio-Analysis of Intellectuals: On “Homo Academicus”. Berkeley Journal of SociologyVol. 34, Symposium on the Foundations of Radical Social Science (1989), pp. 1-29

REVIEW: CITATION AND CENSURE

Puar, Jasbir. (2014). “Citation and Censure: Pinkwashing and the Sexual Politics of Talking about Isreal.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University (pp. 281-297). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Flowing along nicely with the general theme of The Imperial University; Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent, Jasbir Puar’s chapter on Citation and Censure is centered around her experience of being completely misinterpreted, and thus quite unfairly criticized for an article she had published in 2010 entitled “Israel’s Gay Propaganda War”.  Shortly before she was to give a talk at a conference, Puar found out she was being accused of anti-Semitism based on her critique of the Western construction of the Muslim “Other”.  Even more upsetting, however, was the fact that she found out another scholar had very publicly made derogatory comments about her, and her work, stating in an interview that Puar was not only essentially insane for viewing Israel as a totalitarian state but also implied that she was ridiculous for basing her analysis on her activist work.  This negative experience, as Puar expresses in her chapter, quite clearly illustrates the ways in which academic freedom is contested.  This is particularly true in cases, such as Puar’s, where the scholar’s dissent is based on a critique of Israeli State oppression that doesn’t hold in line well with powerful forms of imperialism, such as the United States.

This chapter, which is based on a lecture Puar eventually delivered at Humboldt University, is concerned with conveying the ways in which the Israel-Palestine conflict is related, often in incredibly complex ways, to debates regarding gay and lesbian rights. Essentially, Puar is arguing that the framing of sexual rights has implications on regional politics within the Israel-Palestine conflict, but that these implications also extend across the globe to the United States and to Canada.  As an example of the ways in which global politics can indeed be affected by regional politics, Puar points to the Brand Israel campaign. Within the clever realms of this campaign, she argues, pinkwashing is produced as a means for Israel to reiterate the terms of Palestinian occupation by ensuring that it is well-established on a global scale that Israel is civilized while Palestine is barbaric, uncivilized and even homophobic (287).

In strategically branding Palestine as unfriendly toward gays, Israel is creating and perpetuating an image of Palestine that allows it to be deemed as increasingly backward and unsavory in the eyes of the world’s more liberal and progressive (or, powerful) countries in the West.  By casting Israel as the more gay-friendly and democratically free country, the Brand Israel campaign strategically targets international events that are set in very large global cities, such as film festivals, in order to further perpetuate the image of Israel as superior to Palestine, and in hopes of gaining more international support in their crusade against Palestine.  Thus gay rights are simply a framing mechanism being used by Israel as a means to further continue to oppress Palestine, as Puar argues.

Further, Puar refers to her previous works on what she has termed as “homonationalism”, and argues that homonationalism is a powerful force which serves to reinforce US colonial interests by evaluating nations based on their treatment of women and homosexuals.  The perceived oppression of women and/or gays then serves as a powerful means to “justify imperialist violence” (283) based on the nation’s failures to live up to contemporary neoliberal expectations of so-called equality. Therefore, Puar is illustrating the ways in which gay and lesbian rights are linked to political oppression, but more importantly to the politics of colonial control on the part of the West over nations that are deemed as uncivilized. When looking at it in that way, one can see how the issue of colonial oppression and control on the part of the West is not one that has been squelched at all in modern, supposedly egalitarian neoliberal times.  Rather, it has simply been reframed in ways (such as through the Israeli gay rights movement) in which nations that are perceived not to convene with contemporary standards of acceptance are made to appear as completely uncivilized and backward. This appearance of being unable to convene with contemporary neoliberal expectancies thus creates a climate in which the seizing of imperial control over them is framed to be deemed as acceptable, or even necessary.

Indeed, Puar’s chapter clearly illustrates the ways in which widely accepted notions of cultural superiority are often used as a very effective means of domination and control.  Further, although Puar was accused of anti-Semitism, she argues that what she is offering is not anti-Semitism at all, but rather an analysis of the ways sexual and state politics can be linked. Therefore, the accusations of anti-Semitism that Puar was faced with are reflective of the ways in which dominant neoliberal ideas can be used as a means to suppress dissenting voices.  Through including her own struggles with academic censorship in her chapter, Puar’s piece not only discusses gay and lesbian rights as they are framed in the Israel/Palestine conflict, but also the ways in which dominant neoliberal ideas can be used as an effective means of control from within academia as well.

Review: “Neoliberalism, Militarization, and the Price of Dissent”

Godrej, Farah.  2014.  “Neoliberalism, Militarization, and the Price of Dissent”  In Chatterjee, Piya and Maira, Sunaina (Eds.), The Imperial University. (Pp.124-143) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 

Farah Godrej is the author of Cosmopolitan Political Thought: Method, Practice, Discipline (2011).  She is also an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside (2014: 358).  Upon reading her chapter on Neoliberalism, Militarization, and the Price of Dissent in the Imperial University (2014), it becomes immediately evident that Godrej is arguing against the very system within which she is intertwined; for she is an associate professor the the University of California, yet is arguing that the University has been not only involved but “committed” (125) to deliberately and systematically privatizing education.  Although many universities are doing the very same thing, Godrej focuses largely on her own University as she is familiar with the ways in which the University of California has been shifting, quite deliberately, from being a public education system to an increasingly privatized one since 2009 (125).  This, it would seem, is especially frustrating for Godrej as the University of California had previously been what she refers to as “one of the nation’s premier public education systems” (125).  In the process of privatization, the University has had to employ several dubious tactics in order to subscribe itself wholeheartedly to the neoliberal agenda while systematically suppressing academic dissent, and these acts of violence and repression are what Godrej focuses the bulk of her chapter on.

In many ways reminiscent of the events surrounding the 2012 Quebec student protests, Godrej writes about the strategic ways a University becomes privatized; namely this involves budget cuts, the enforcement of tuition hikes, and other “austerity” measures that are highly politicized (125).  This, of course, is bound to make people who realize what’s going on very angry, as it did recently in Quebec.  Godrej argues that the militarization and criminalization of dissent become powerful tools of control used to ensure that the numerous angry people who are being repressed don’t act up, thus infringing on the University’s neoliberal privatization agenda.  In placing an extremely high price on dissent (such as jail, being met with police violence, being publicly stigmatized, etcetera), further dissent is discouraged.

Similar to what we have seen discussed in the three previous chapters of The Imperial University (Bascara, Gonzalez and Oparah), Godrej is also concerned with access to University education and what this means to those who can not afford the high costs of a privatized education system.  Godrej argues that privatizing education creates a system within which access to education requires “wealth and privilege” (126).  This, she argues, is a deliberate scheme to further increase categories of class and race through an increasing widening of inequalities related to income, while simultaneously creating profits for banks and other private sector organizations  (Godrej 2014: 126).  Through the reinforcement of neoliberal imperatives, education is being reframed by those who directly profit from its privatization and commodification as a private good that must be therefore be paid for (126-127).

Not only is the price of education being called into question by Godrej, but also the high price of dissent.  Godrej argues that dissenters regularly face militarization, as well as criminalization as consequences of protesting against privatization.  Peaceful protests movements are often met with militarized violence, which is justified “through the use of rhetoric” that paints the protesters as “potentially dangerous and threatening” (128).  Of course by now we have all seen videos of peaceful protests that were met by police violence, and Godrej points to similar events on page 129.  However, what’s interesting is that she then goes on to emphasize the argument that in fact, the militarization of University campuses is decisively linked with the “privatization of public universities” (129). This link between privatization and militarization, Godrej argues, is being reinforced through police brutality which serves as a sort of administrative tool to enforce tuition hikes (129-130).  Another component of the enforcement strategy is criminalization, which Godrej argues serves to make the price of dissent incredibly high by systematically criminalizing those who speak out or protests against privatization (131). Interestingly, Godrej points to the bizarre logic used by city employees and university administration to rationalize militarized police violence and criminalization of those who dissent or protest (132-133).  In fact, because even the most peaceful forms of protest can be easily perceived as threatening, disruptive or confrontational, thus meriting violent intervention or causing the protesters to face costly criminal charges, it is probably best to just abandon any type of criticism and simply comply with what Godrej refers to as the “growing arbitrary power of the sovereign” (133).

In the conclusion to her chapter, Godrej points to the fact that despite the high costs of dissent, people continue to struggle against neoliberal privatization.  In light of Godrej’s arguments that point to the high costs of protesting, what can be done to address the increasing neoliberal privatization of education without placing oneself in danger or militarization or criminalization?  Is this, indeed, what Godrej is doing from within her position as an associate professor at the very University she is discussing?  Further, many protests movements do not gain public support because they are portrayed as disruptive of public life, and the protesters themselves are often represented as unemployed, homeless, generally not useful to society, and subsequently criminalized.  What are some ways in which protest movements could perhaps gain more public support?  This is particularly important in a time when post-9/11 neoliberal logic convinces people that there is a dangerous “other” just waiting to ruin everything for them (as discussed by Godrej on p. 137).  Could the use of force be justified by this logic?