REVIEW OF “COLONIAL ANTHROPOLOGIES AND PRIMORDIAL IMAGINATION IN EQUATORIAL AFRICA”

Cinnamon, John M. (2007). “Colonial anthropologies and the primordial imagination in equatorial Africa.” In Helen Tilley and Robert J. Gordon (Eds.), Ordering Africa: Anthropology, European Imperialism, and the Politics of Knowledge (pp. 225 – 251). New York, New York: Manchester University Press.

In his chapter Colonial anthropologies and the primordial imagination in equatorial Africa, John Cinnamon, anthropologist and scholar of religion, politics, ethnicity and nationalism in Africa,  discusses the “Fang exceptionalism” with which the Fang people were characterized by European enthnographers. They were seen as a strong, healthy, militarily powerful,  technologically advanced, monotheistic and thereby somewhat civilized people in many European texts the Fang are studied in. Cinnamon’s objectives in this chapters are revealed when he says: “The goal is to illustrate how, in specific ways, colonial anthropology has both inherited and constructed its object over time” (226).

First, he points first to the existence of a “tribal paradigm” created by 19th and 20th century explorers, missionaries, and anthropologists. This paradigm was initially born of a “civilizing” colonial project which saw the colonial powers raising the “Dark Continent” into the light via religion, science and rationalism. However, as we will see many of these tribal paradigms were then reworked by Africans themselves.

Second, the interest of said explorers, missionaries, and anthropologists in the origins, history and migration of specific tribes “preoccupied both academic historians and anthropologists, and Africans themselves” (228). To this end, he follows the ethnographic work of four authors who wrote extensively about the peoples of equatorial Africa: Paul Belloni Du Chaillu, Henri Trilles, Georges Balandier, and James Fernandez

Paul Belloni Du Chaillu

Du Chaillu was a French-American zoologist and anthropologist who first arrived in Africa in 1855 and traveled extensively in the northern and southern Gabonese interior.

His Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa published at first in 1861 set the tone for future ethnographic accounts of the region and his accounts of Fang cannibalism made his work both popular and controversial.

Du Chaillu’s Fang were “profoundly other” and sat firmly in the tribal paradigm which saw them as being in need of Christian civilizing so that they may become contented farmers complicit in the colonial project.

Henri Trilles

Trilles was  a French Spiritan missionary who continued Du Chaillu’s work in the late 18oos, making 3 prolonged visits to Gabon between 1893 and 1907.

Although Trilles had a reputation for plagiarism and embellishment and was an unpopular figure amongst many of his peers, his writing on Fang origins, migration patterns and exceptionalism proved to be the aspects of his work which endured most forcefully, as these narratives seemed to have had traction with the Fang themselves, who re-appropriated and transformed them as they saw fit.

The passage on 233-234 outlining what Trilles saw as “predatory expansion via ingestion” is interesting both in that it is a example of Trilles’ Fang exceptionalism and for the parallels which can be made with colonialism in general, expanding and consolidating power by consuming bodies.

Georges Balandier and James Fernandez

It was two anthropologists, Georges Balandier who came to Gabon in 1949 and James Fernandez  who arrived in 1958 right before Gabonese independence who tried to make sense of Du Challiau and Trilles’ work. The anthropology being practiced in the mid twentieth century was decidedly different from that practiced by Trilles and Du Chaillu which made things challenging, but as pointed to on page 236  by the 1950’s, the enthnographies of Trille and Du Chaillu had been steeped Fang identity for the better part of a century and many of the ideas put forth by these two had become internalized to certain degrees by the Fang themselves.

Balandier’s research was focused on history, power relations, and conflict but still required a place to start from. Disentangling the history of Fang identity proved a challenge and as such Balandier was forced to use the idea of a “previous social cohesion” as a jump off point.

Fernandez, taking his cues more from symbolic anthropology, was more concerned with Gabonese religious movements but still perpetuated the concept of Fang exceptionalism by referring to them as “the terror of the autochthnous peoples” (241).

It is also worth noting that Balandier and Fernandez both attempted to be cautious in employing the aforementioned tribal paradigm but at the same time had no choice but to draw from sources which were very much influenced by it.

Mvet Epic

Lastly, Cinnamon points to the Mvet epic as an example of the ethnographic narratives of anthropologists being used to create auto-ethnographies which spoke against the horrors of colonialism and for the independence from said colonialism. The Mvet itself is written of as being somewhat complicated and open to different readings and thus competing narratives. However, Fang exceptionalism and the concept of Egyptian origin espoused by Trilles were were appealing to Fang and Beti wishing to construct post colonial identities, particularly during the “clan reunification” movement of the 1940s and 1950s. So it was that exceptionalism and origin narratives were further solidified by many of these auto-ethnographies, many of which were also deeply entangled with biblical narratives.

Concluding Thoughts

To conclude, Cinnamon argues that the trajectory of Fang studies was largely defined by the works of characters like Trilles and Du Challiu who were operating in Africa a good century before the discipline was formalized. Moreover, some of the ideas put forth by Du Challiu and Trilles resonated with the people themselves and thus were used for decidedly different ends than originally intended, helping Fang and Beti intellectuals to “create their own expressions of Fang exceptionalism” (245).

However, one of the arguments which underpins this chapter is that the content or veracity of these accounts of exceptionalism is not relevant, only how they constitute “exceptionalism [as] an ‘empirical phenomenon’, observable when it motivates public opinion, policy, behavior, or in this case, ethnographic representations” (226).  This might strike one as being a somewhat reductive approach to exceptionalism which, real or imagined, still has roots in material inequality and in the case of a comparison between the Fang and the “costal tribes”, varying degrees of “contact” with colonial powers. Even more curious is that such a position can be read as an attempt to sidestep some of the very content of the chapter such as Balandier’s approach to colonialism as a “total social phenomenon” in constant flux through “ongoing dynamic[s] of conflict, adaptation and crisis” (237). In such an analysis couched in examinations of power relations and subject positions it would seem that the content and veracity of exceptionalism ought to be taking center stage.

Nevertheless, the chapter is certainly valuable in the sense that it serves as an interesting example of how cultural identities can be constructed over time and that this dynamic and ongoing process often flows from frictions with actors external to the society in question. Moreover, this chapter raises some important questions. At what point was it that the narrative of Fangness reopened to the interpretation of Fang orators and intellectuals? Perhaps more importantly, how open is it?

In so far as these questions are raised, the article would have done well to have provided more tangible and concrete examples of what exact forms these reworkings and reinterpretations took.

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Review of “Introduction: Africa, Imperialism, and Anthropology”

Tilley, Helen. 2007. “Introduction: Africa, Imperialism, and Anthropology.” In Helen L. Tilley and Robert J Gordon (Eds.), Ordering Africa, pp. 1-45. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

In her introduction chapter, Helen Tilley sets the table for Ordering Africa: Anthropology, European Imperialism and the Politics of Knowledge, offering up some of the central themes of the anthology of which she is the primary editor. The beating heart of Ordering Africa is an analysis of the relationships between knowledge and control within colonial Africa and to what extent anthropology was imbricated, entangled or otherwise involved with these discourses and practices.

Concerning the latter point, Tilley posits that perhaps anthropology did not play as central a role in colonial policy as is conventionally thought. Although anthropologists and ethnographers operating in Africa during and after the colonial period were largely bankrolled by and thereby answerable to colonial powers, they were not always particularly influential when it came to their work being employed in matters such as colonial administration.

Tilley, through anthropologist Talal Asad, goes on to posit that the work produced by anthropologists was often times too abstract to be practically applied to colonial governance, especially when contrasted with the considerable body of work produced by missionaries, merchants, and administrators themselves. Tilley underscores this position quite directly on page 6, stating that “anthropology needed empires far more than empires needed anthropology”.

While their influence may have been somewhat marginal, the narratives produced by anthropologists often found themselves confined within or tied to colonial discourses, the aims of which were to create a kinder, gentler, and ultimately more efficient system of imperial exploitation. This becomes curious when one considers that although the works of big names like Maliknowski and Evans-Pritchard were largely tailored towards the colonial endeavor, the very knowledge they produced, depending on how it was framed, could at the same time be used to “challenge colonialism’s assumptions, objectives and political structures” (7).

For their part, African intellectuals were understandably less than thrilled with the role played by anthropologists and other social scientists in the African colonial project, regardless of their effectuality. Through a certain lens, this actually proved fortuitous for the field of anthropology. Indeed, as Tilley suggests, there is evidence that the resulting pushback from African intellectuals was a major catalyst in the rethinking of anthropology as a discipline and played no small part in impelling the study of anthropology itself which has since gone on to become a field of its own.

It is also worth noting, as Tilley does, that neither the field of anthropology nor the colonial and subaltern actors within Africa were necessarily static and insular entitles. Bearing this in mind, any epistemological study of Africa and empire ought to be grounded within larger contexts which consider how the interplay of the many heterogeneous interests at work both within and external to colonial-era Africa have constituted what Tilley describes on page 14 as a “shared experience”.

The truck and tension between empires, between empire and anthropologist, and among anthropologists themselves have rendered an epistemological landscape wherein wherein questions of intent and complicity are highly complicated and seldom particularly fruitful. The epistemological waters of colonial Africa are muddied further when one also takes into account the experience of the African subaltern(s) who have responded to anthropology and empire in a myriad of ways, variously rejecting anthropological and social scientific involvement (as was the case with many African intellectuals), embracing and internalizing colonial ethnographic identities produced by anthropologists (as was the case with the Fang peoples studied by Cinnamon), and incorporating anthropological work in the formulation of new methods of political ordering (as per Kenyatta).

Into this heady brew one may also wish to add the individual ideological dimensions of the anthropologists, administrators, and subalterns for whom issues of knowledge production, social control, and political and social change were matters of significant (although by no means exclusive) importance. Tilley points to the example (one among many) of the work done on Italian colonial administrator Alberto Pollera, who paved his paths with what he saw as good intentions. Further along the road, as we see all too often in such confused circumstances, this led to unforeseen circumstances as his ideology in practice remained steeped in ethnocentric concepts of racial superiority, ricocheting off of competing interests and ultimately reifying new stereotypes and prejudices in the name of destroying old ones.

Tilley concludes her introduction by highlighting the primary intentions and loci of Ordering Africa. The first concerns the transnational nature of the various actors and institutions involved in colonial era Africa. The boundaries surrounding the interpretation of events in colonial Africa were porous and saw anthropologists and administrators alike occupying numerous physical, institutional and intellectual milieus as this collective experience was woven. While it complicates any structured narrative, ignoring the transnational aspects of knowledge production in (and of) Africa is to paint picture bereft of many of the variables at work.

The second emerging pattern pertains to the creation of scholarly ‘clearinghouses’ within African colonies and their parent nation states and the marks made by them on both the discipline of anthropology and the ongoing discussions surrounding intellectual discourse and administration. Tilley makes a call for the necessity of incorporating the multifarious “disciplines, nations, methodologies, [and] underlying assumptions and objectives” (26) into said discussions.

The third thread considers where various administrators and anthropologists could be placed along a spectrum between the concerns for the creation of colonial policy on the one hand, and for social history and lived, on-the-ground reality on the other. The attendant tensions reveal a disconnect in our understanding of the knowledge-making relationship between administrator and anthropologist. Tilley also briefly points to the fact that studies of the trajectory of anthropology are often couched exclusively in socio-economic and political contexts that neglect to take into account a whole host of particular influences such as culture contact, alternative forms of societal organization, and functionalism.

Lastly, Tilley contends that, given the magnitude of its colonization by a parade of European interests, Africa is curiously understudied with regards to knowledge production. Moreover, when such issues are addressed, they remain specific to Africa and fail link up with similar discourses in other parts of the world.

As it relates to one of the core concerns of New Directions in Anthropological Research – the auto-ethnography of anthropologists and the means by which anthropological knowledge is produced and codified – Ordering Africa is a particularly relevant volume. The questions addressed in Ordering Africa exhibit a particular congruence with the reflexive concerns occupying a good deal of space in contemporary anthropological discourse. For whom and at whose expense is anthropological knowledge being produced? What happens when this knowledge descends from the Ivory tower and interacts with the world at large? How can we build on existing bodies of knowledge without falling into the same traps as our forerunners did when they buttressed disproportionate power relations and excluded or marginalized “other” narratives?

These questions are ones for which no easy, catch-all answer has emerged. While it makes no pretensions of being a definitive volume of any kind, Tilley makes clear her hopes that Ordering Africa will underscore the continued relevance of such questions and spur further discussions of the issues they bring to the fore.

Barbarians Knocking: Bourdieu, ’68, and The Demand for Demands

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

Of Bourdieu’s 1984 offering Homo Academicus, some of the most striking (pun very much intended) and relevant directions that Bourdieu goes in are those in which he discusses the dynamics and mechanics of the May ’68 strike in France.

This brief essay will focus particularly what can be seen as the translation of “the contagion” of broad social unrest undertaken by what Bourdieu refers to as “permanent political institutions” such as political parties, trade unions, the media into forms more amenable to recuperation and redirection or, failing that, derision and demonization. To this end we will address one of the most salient binaries produced by such translations within contexts such as May ‘68 before arriving at a discussion of the supposed raison d’être of the strike and the social movement: the demand.

To address the first point, these seemingly amorphous masses of discontent are filtered through these standing political apparatuses and then carefully rendered into the kinds of reductive binarisms that are digestible by society at large. Bourdieu points to the framing of these binarisms as reflective of the interests of whatever institution happens to be doing the translation. Concerning some of these institutions, in particular politicians and the media – both of which possess a penchant for binarisms, it is temporally relevant, as we will no doubt be seeing a good deal of this kind of rhetoric employed as the Quebec 2015 strike progresses, to look at what is often referred to as the “good protester/bad protester” paradigm. Although there are a dearth of other binarisms both contemporary and historical which could be pointed to (devout/heretical, citizen/barbarian, etc) that have been constructed and painstakingly sustained by the aforementioned permanent political institutions, in the interests of time we will only unpack what the supposed qualities and proclivities of the “good protester” are and how they contrast with their foil in the eyes of said permanent political institutions.

The divisive, overwrought and oversimplified rhetoric of good protest/bad protest is tertium non datur at its most egregious. This kind of myopic binarism is severely lopsided and often translates neatly into binary discourses of commendation and diatribe. To illustrate, a good protester is peaceful to the point of being cordial with authority, articulates acute and specific demands reflective of their reasons for demonstrating, and seeks solutions to grievances which entail the least amount of disruption with regards to the functioning of society. A bad protester is beyond the pale of acceptable protest. Their demands are wild and unrealistic and their tactics seen as chaotic and often violent through the lens of the dominant narrative. In Quebec, they are painted alternately as spoiled miscreants who bite the hand that feeds and malcontented harbingers of orgiastic chaos bent on reducing the world to ashes.

From the vantage point of those concerned with maintaining the status quo, the former articulation of protest is “good” insofar as it can be controlled by directing it through specific institutions whose practices and goals it will internalize whereas the latter is “bad” insofar as it tends to frustrate efforts to co-opt, misdirect or ultimately control it. Where good protest makes space to accommodate the dominant narrative, bad protest impinges upon and, in its best moments, directly challenges or undermines it, tearing away the veil and exposing it for what it is: a carefully crafted ruse maneuvered so as to obfuscate a population’s political power and limit its sense of social and political responsibility. Underscoring all of this is the author’s contention that middle ground can never be acknowledged to exist lest these counter-hegemonic discourses be conferred with a degree of legitimacy, however marginal, which might then take root within popular consciousness.

In a way, “bad” protest seeks the collective fracturing of falsely collective narratives that serve to elicit and thereby produce a clearly defined demand or set of demands. That said, the very practice of issuing demands can be seen as a response to the demand from outside for demands.

There are multiple dimensions at work when demands are demanded. The more particular a demand is, the less broad support it is likely to achieve. While it could be argued that we are all alienated, we are not all alienated in the same ways. To ignore this fact is to largely ignore the many and varied positionalities of the heterogenous actors which comprise any given large scale social movement.

Conversely, when demands articulate positions which aim to be expansive or broadly applicable they often take the form of “vague slogans, abstract manifestos, and formal programmes” (179) and the permanent political institutions of which Bourdieu speaks are quick to deride such dictates as ineffectual, unorganized, and ultimately unrealistic.

Lastly, the logic and language of political demand is tied to capital in particular ways. If your demand is heard, those higher up on the chain will supply some kind of remedy so that we will continue to consent to being governed as, our demands having been addressed, it would appear that we have no rational reason not to. The issuing of demands does the market research necessary to provide the customer/subject with the goods/concessions they require so as for them to enjoy a satisfactory enough experience with the product/government to be content and thereby docile.

To move elsewhere, the ’68 strike was terrifying not just to the university administration but also, as Bourdieu seems to point out, to the more entrenched faculty who displayed a loyalty to their respective institutions that bordered on Stockholm syndrome. Curiously, this faithfulness to the conventions of academia had as much to do with a genuine feeling that the hitherto sacrosanct practices of conferring knowledge and even knowledge itself would be compromised and diluted, as it did with positional concerns. The fear was not just for their own standing but was a noble and principled concern. “If we let the barbarians in” they thought, “they will fell the giants upon whose shoulders stands all knowledge worth knowing”. That, to avoid stagnation and inertia, the evolution of knowledge ought to run in tandem with the evolution of theory and praxis related to its dissemination and that this might be a desirable thing, was a strain of thought which appeared not to have occurred among many of the faculty Bourdieu discusses.

In many ways the above can be viewed as a microcosmic example of societies living in a crisis of imagination. One of the most enduring war cries from the anti/alter globalization movement was that of “one no, many yeses”. In some ways, this concept might still have the traction to stand against the demand for demands. There are points of convergence where many can agree that things must change and a galaxy of particular formulations of how and in what ways they ought to change. Can we imagine for a moment that the one does not negate the other?

In conclusion, to acquiesce to the demand for demands is to play a curious game. On the one hand, a broad reaching demand or set of demands will be much more likely to elicit a broad base of mobilization and on the other, authority will never concede to demands that compromise itself or gravely wound its narrative. Where the demand for demands can be seen as an interpellation returning us to the realm of subjects proper, perhaps it is time to relegate the demand to the dustbin of history and concern ourselves with formulating and enacting practices that choose to ignore the hails of the dominant narrative.

Review of “Militarizing Education: The Intelligence Community’s Spy Camps” by Roberto J. Gonzalez

Gonzalez, Robert J. (2014). “Militarizing Education: The Intelligence Community’s Spy Camps”. Chatterjee Piya, and Sunania Maria (Eds.) The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 79-98). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

In his article Militarizing Education: The Intelligence Community’s Spy Camps, Roberto Gonzalez walks his readers through some of the attempts that the US intelligence community has been making to create inroads into the recruitment of students at American schools and universities. Through the creation of “Spy Camps” and Intelligence Community Centers, the US government has been working to recruit and train a new of generation of intelligence operatives who, to quote House Intelligence Chair Jane Harman, will “look like their targets” and “speak the dialects the terrorists use” (Gonzalez, 80).

To this end, these programs have been targeting beleaguered and chronically underfunded schools whose student bodies are primarily visible minorities. By dangling enormous sums of money in front of administrators in return for cooperation with the program, they have managed to establish themselves in countless universities and colleges throughout the United States.

Gonzalez identifies 3 of the primary methods which are being employed by spy agencies to build these inroads and gain a foothold in universities and colleges in the United States.

The first approach Gonzalez discusses is that of curriculum development. Intelligence agencies have sought both to provide their activities with an academic under-girding and to generate interest in careers in the intelligence industry through the creation of “Intelligence Studies” as an academic field, graduate programs focused on topics relevant to said agencies, and classes taught in languages “deemed important to US Security” such as Arabic and Mandarin (Gonzalez, 83).

The second method by which intelligence agencies can be seen to be increasingly moving into the academic sphere is through the organizing of events such as academic conferences and guest lectures which, in many instances, can be seen to function as recruitment pitches for spy agencies.

Lastly, Gonzalez points to the proliferation of numerous scholarship and travel abroad programs such as the “Intelligence Community Scholarship Program” which sees students taking courses relating to matters of intelligence so as to facilitate study abroad programs and internships with spy agencies. Once students accept these scholarships they are forced to take jobs with US intelligence agencies once they graduate – under pain of having to repay all of the money given along with interest rates that in some cases are set at three times the legally permitted amount (Gonzalez, 84).

A major concern here is that when education is funded by the military, universities open themselves up a process wherein knowledge becomes militarized and militarization becomes normalized. Military assumptions and means towards ends are taken increasingly as common knowledge and the ability for people to be openly critical of such institutions is severely compromised. To quote Hugh Gusterson, this militarization of knowledge makes it possible for “the military [to] further define the basic terms of public and academic debate” (Gonzalez, 85).

Gonzalez goes on to describe his experience looking into an IC Center program at the primarily Chicano University of Texas, Pan American, a university he worked for in the past. Like those at many other universities, UTPA’s humanities and social science departments have long struggled with funding issues. The $2.5 million dollars over 5 years offered by the Director of National Intelligence to UTPA for the creation of an UTPA IC Center was seen as too good to pass up by many of UTPA’s faculty and administration. Voices critical of the program and its potential to compromise academic freedom and place military interests over the interests of the students were largely ignored.

Gonzalez goes on to describe what he views as the primary dangers of these kinds of activities. Of particular concern to Gonzalez is the fact that the kinds of programs described above speak nowhere of the human right violations, terrible violence and torture and egregious manipulation committed routinely by organizations like the CIA (In Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Indonesia, El Salvador, et al.), and the FBI (the example of COINTELPRO comes to mind). This effectively sanitizes the shady history of these organizations in the eyes of a new generation of students. Moreover, institutions and faculty who cooperate with these programs and “tow the line” are given funding, and those who speak against them and their progenitors see their funding cut.

Lastly all this is even more concerning insofar as many of those targeted are children who are perhaps somewhat naive or impulsive and might not be fully aware of the long term consequences of working for the military or accepting military funding. The danger is not just for themselves in the terms of potentially doing dangerous front line work for years at a time, as well as being potentially saddled with crippling debt should they decide they do not want to pursue intelligence work as a career, but it also concerns the consequences of what they will be used for by the American state and the potential for inflicting harm on the people of other nations and even members of the communities from which many of these students hail.

While Gonzalez does us all a service by highlighting these activities, most of this should not come as that much of a surprise. Many have had experience with police “guest speakers” in grade school. Under the guise of educating youth about issues such as the “war on drugs”, there is a degree of propaganda and a subtle flavor of recruitment in such talks, especially when they are directed at young and impressionable minds. In many ways, “Spy Camps” and “IC Centers” are the logical next steps on an agenda that seeks to normalize militarization.

Although Gonzalez’s article was first published in 2010, the issues he raises about academic complicity in such projects is as relevant as ever. The continued streamlining of education and research and development towards military purposes and the high cost paid for it by intellectual freedom and academic integrity are issues that still have much traction today.