A review of David Graeber’s “The Auto-Ethnography That Can Never Be and the Activist’s Ethnography That Might Be”

Graeber, David. (2005). “Chapter 12: The Auto-Ethnography That Can Never Be and the Activist’s Ethnography That Might Be” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (189-202). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.

Graeber’s piece is a meditation on some of the dilemmas he has encountered as a self-styled anarchist anthropologist. He compares and contrasts the tensions that anarchist principles have with being an academic to open up the field for discussing alternative possibilities of conducting anarchist academic work. Graeber points out that anarchism and academia do not go hand-in-hand and that much of “ordinary intellectual practice…resembles just the sort of sectarian modes of debate anarchists are trying to avoid” (2005: 191). Anarchism, he says, has recently gone through a sort of renaissance with its principles of autonomy, voluntary association, self-organization, direct-democracy, and mutual aid being adopted as the basis for the organization of social movements all over the world. Academics, however, have been mostly dismissive of the potentialities that anarchism offers as a politics of emancipation.

Part of the reason for this stems from an institutional difference historically between Marxism and anarchism: academic Marxism has been widely popular while anarchism has been pursued by less than a handful of academic anarchists. There has been a rich literary history of Marxist writers –including Karl himself –who have produced academic texts over the last century and a half investigating almost every conceivable permutation of Marxist philosophy while historical anarchism has had little review. Besides several 19th century thinkers (Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin) who wrote on anarchism more in the sense of it being a moral faith or sense, it “was never really invented by anyone” (2005: 192).

Graeber points out that, one the one hand, anarchism tends to be an ethical discourse that emerges “from some kind of organizational principle or form of practice” (2005: 193). Academics, on the other hand, tend to be involved in producing texts based on theoretical or analytical discourse. Anarchism is performed; it is the embodiment of an ethics in practice. It is a program of action that has a means to an end that demands that “one must embody the society that one wishes to create” (2005: 194).

This sort of horizontally managed, autonomous, self-regulated, direct-action philosophy, however, has not been entirely conducive with  the feudal university environment “full of deans and provosts  and people wearing funny robes” (2005: 194) fighting intellectual battles in arcane languages hidden away in their lecture halls and libraries. Graeber contends that adhering to ab anarchist attitude as an academic could be strategically suicidal. He urges those interested in pursuing anarchist studies to look to the rich history of vanguardism and its alternative possibilities for inspiration.

Vanguardism is the typical label accorded to “those who believe that the role of the intellectuals is to come up with the correct theoretical analysis of the world situation, so as to be able to lead the masses on a truly revolutionary path” (2005: 196). Social theory, vanguardism, and the avant garde share a common historical origin in the works of Comte and Saint-Simon. Each proposed new ‘religions’ in the wake of the French Revolution to provide modern, industrial society “the ideological cohesion and social integration” (2005: 196) that had faded since feudalism. In Saint-Simon’s New Christianity, artists were placed in the roles of the priesthood (the avant garde) and would provide the creative “visions that scientists and industrialists would put into effect” (2005: 197) eventually leading to the dissolution of the state and its coercive mechanisms. Comte’s New Catholicism, on the other hand, proposed “the regulation and control of almost all aspects of human life according to [the] scientific principles” (2005: 197) of his newly founded sociology with the sociologists as his priestly managers of public affairs.

Anarchist sympathies within the artistic communities of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s were quite popular, especially with the Saint-Simonians actively recruiting artists for various socioeconomic and political endeavors. Bohemianism –a marginalized and impoverished voluntary lifestyle of like-minded individuals engaged in artistic, musical, or literary pursuits –was the most significant development that emerged out of the prevailing cultural conditions during this period. Graeber argues that vanguardism was co-opted by radical newspapers and points the finger directly to Marx as manipulating the original anarchist ethos to better suit the focus of his revolutionary designs: the proletariat (2005: 198). As a result the roles of artists or self-styled artisans were relegated to minor importance, if any, with little to offer. The political manifestation of vanguardism in a party dedicated to the organization and deployment of an intellectual project on behalf of the oppressed with the intention of designing a violent revolution was never fully realized. This had a strong influence on the artistic avant garde most likely, Graeber contends, stemming from a shared sense of alienation they experienced in the face of elitist social, political, and economic formations. In fact, he says that:

even in times and places when there is next to no other constituency for revolutionary change, the one place one is most likely to find it is among artists, authors, and musicians, even more than among professional intellectuals (2005:198).

 For these reasons it is no surprise that revolutionary coalitions tend to “consist of an alliance between a society’s least alienated and its most oppressed” (2005: 198) and points to indigenous and anti-globalization movements as prime examples.

 On a final note Graeber turns back to the role of ethnography and posits that times of great ethnographic curiosity tend to arise during periods of heightened revolutionary protest and social change. If the ideal nature of ethnography is to tease out “hidden symbolic, moral, or pragmatic logic that underlies certain types of social action” then it appears that this could be a potential role for the “radical, non-vanguardist intellectual” (2005: 199). The aim of such a project would be to identify the actors who are developing alternative modes of social, economic, and political actions in situ and try to ascertain the larger implications of their activities to effect change. Ultimately, this can only be achieved through an auto-ethnographic approach which has its own set of concerns and dilemmas, which this collection of works has most certainly covered. Graeber makes it clear, however, that he is not looking to provide a model so much as provide the grammar to further discuss and explore alternative possibilities.

 Of all the pieces that this book has had to offer, Graeber’s chapter resonated the most with my own work in deviant subcultures such as the graffiti and street art. Graeber also stands alongside other academics such as Jeff Ferrell, Mark Hamm, and Stephen Lyng in their unconventional approaches to conducting research from the perspective of those labeled as criminal or deviant. I find myself approaching an anarchistic mode in my constant pursuit of a horizontally oriented, open-ended, experiential, rhyzomatic, and autonomous methodology. My work is action oriented and involves a good deal of ‘doing’ in the field, documentation, photography, and collaborative fieldwork endeavors, or ‘missions.’ I too feel the pressure to conform to the standards of research and academic work, though I would have to disagree that taking an anarchist position is academic suicide. Suicidal, perhaps, but one some level it must depend on the capacity for a researcher to sell the approach to the right buyer –that is, argue and justify it, even if it means by hybridizing it to whatever institutional standards stand in the way. In this sense, perhaps auto-ethnographies involving anarchist or alternative methodologies can have their day, even in an academy that seemingly dismisses them –change after all, begins from within.


“Censorship, Surveillance, and Middle East Studies in the Contemporary United States” by David A. McMurray

McMurray, David A. (2005). “Censorship, Surveillance, and the Middle East Studies in the Contemporary United States”. In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (pp.173-185). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.

David A. McMurray opens the eleventh chapter by recalling the story of an encounter with “an angry college student in the military reserve” while he and a « rag-tag bunch of middle-aged pacifists » (p.173) were protesting for peace in front of their small town’s court house as they did every evening at 5pm since 9/11. The student stopped his pick-up truck in the middle of traffic and yelled at the group of pacifists that their protest made him sick; they “could enjoy the freedom to stand there and tear [the] country” while he had served for ten years in the army to protect this very freedom. That night, McMurray went home “unable to figure out what made the student so angry – even as he seemed to recognize our right to be there protesting” (p.173).

I am not war supporter but I can imagine myself in the position of the soldier who yelled at McMurray and his group. This student has been raised to be patriotic (through practices such as the Pledge of Allegiance per example), sent oversea, been at war, had his friends or classmates killed, saw civilians die. Perhaps it is not so complicated to figure out what made him angry. As he saw the protesters, he most likely interpreted it as a message of confrontation, as saying that all he did was vain, that his friends died for nothing. It also contradicted the message of the constitutional state. Put into context, the student-soldier’s position is perhaps easier to understand. There was some disagreement during our discussion in class regarding McMurray questions on the soldier’s attitude: “Wasn’t he making our point? Wasn’t he deriding for us exercising the freedoms he claimed we all enjoyed thanks to him?” (p.173). One side argued that the soldier was also exercising his freedom of expression and the other argued that the soldier was trying to negate the peace protesters’ freedom of expression.

McMurray told the story in the context of his introductory anthropology class on the Middle East studies and did not receive the response he expected. Worse, he “never really recovered the class’s good will” after this episode. McMurray draws a clear distinction between him and the male students sitting in the back because through their divergence of opinion (p.174) and singles out supporters of the troops as “the guys in the back”, typically understood to be the spot occupied by the least interested students even though this is not always the case. Eventually, thanks to “the boys in the back” for having opened his eyes to “the presence of such forces” (p.174), McMurray “came to discover that there had been a serious intrusion of reactionary, jingoistic political forces into the university” (p.174). From there, the chapter focuses on the repercussions of right-wing attacks against Middle East Studies on American campuses after 9/11 (p.174).

More specifically, McMurray describes the “post 9/11 attack strategy” as a “demonization of the whole field with the targeting of individual specialists” (p.174). This attack strategy has been mainly carried out by Daniel Pipes, Harvard educated historian and political commentator, and Martin Kramer, an American-Israeli scholar currently president of Shalem College in Jerusalem and author of the book Ivory Tower On Sand (2001). Daniel Pipes was given a recess appointment by George W. Bush in 2003 (p.176) after his appointment to the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace was protested by Democratic leaders. He also promotes the findings of the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global policy think tank located in Santa Monica and formed to offer research and analysis to the U.S. armed forces by Douglas Aircraft Company.

McMurray writes that “the use of student monitors to carry out classroom surveillance” (p.177) was initiated during the Reagan era. The RAND Corporation also has connections to the Heritage Foundation, inter alia, through its staff and the latter regularly tweet pictures and inspirational memes of Ronald Reagan. The RAND Corporation also collaborates with the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation. Interestingly, Lisa Anderson, past president of the Middle East Studies Association, and who according to McMurray was influenced by Kramer and Pipe in her “decision to publish her negative assessment of [an aspect] of Middle East Studies” (p.179), also served on the board of Carnegie Council on Ethics in International Affairs from 2000 to 2010.

McMurray names other “fellow Middle Eastern Studies bashers” such as Stanley Kurtz and David Horowitz, an ex-leftist turned conservative, now promoter of the Academic Bill of Rights and co-founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Centre. The centre runs websites such as Students for Academic Freedom and Jihad Watch. However, large sections of the McMurray’s chapter are concerned with Pipes, the founder of Campus Watch (2002), a website with the pretension of monitoring anti-patriotic academic activity and classes, and which is thoroughly denounced in the chapter. One of my colleagues and/or classmates, depending on whether or not the reader considers us graduate students as anthropologists, pointed out that McMurray was actually named on the website as a one of those who requested to be listed in solidarity with the targeted professors. There was some confusion in the class about whether or not McMurray had mentioned that he was on the website. The text is composed in a way that some of us thought we had read that he was, and some of us did not remember having read so. The only reference is to his “named fellow travelers” on the website (p.181). I am curious to know why McMurray has chosen not to explicitly mention that he had given his name to be on the list and what consequences this might have had for him.

Unfortunately, McMurray brings little data to clearly evaluate the repercussions of the attacks on the Middle East Studies, something he acknowledges (p.182). He recalls comments of unnamed colleagues, but there is no other form of data. One of McMurray’s colleagues told him how she was “feeling less secure” about the content of her classes and that such questioning “[crossed] her mind with greater frequency” (p.182). However, McMurray concludes in the next paragraph that with regards to “internalizing censorship”, he was not sure that her colleague’s case could “provide much in the evidence of any change due specifically to Kramer and Pipes” (p.182). Indeed, perhaps his colleague’s feeling less secure was not only a consequence of Pipe’s Campus Watch list, but rather a reaction shared by many in response to the government and media propaganda about Islamic terrorism that was unleashed on all communication channels after 9/11. The day the Twin Towers collapsed, the United States redefined their conception of Islam, Muslims, and anything of Middle Eastern origin and this has had repercussions on all disciplines, and on every aspect of American international relations.

McMurray’s chapter touches on many interesting subjects such as the relation between the military and civil society, the growing collaboration between universities and philanthropic organizations funded by the right-wing, their influence on federal funding, the practice of naming and shaming. On the downside, it explores none in depth, most likely because these subjects are too complicated and too contentious to be described in a single chapter of a book designed for undergraduates. No solution is proposed either; no form of rapprochement or dialogue between the left and the right appears possible. How come the left is not able to get as much funding as the right? Is it because it does not have the support of big corporations? If so, how to compensate for such lack without depending on federal funding? Could universities create sustainable and profitable social ventures, either in their own countries or abroad? Could they host panels where the left and the right meet to resolve social and economic problems and create communication channels between both camps through a focus on common goals? How could a « rag-tag bunch of middle-aged pacifists » organize a strong, collective response to the attack of the right-wing? How are the members of the right-wing with leftist tendencies to respond? Should they make a website to denounce the right-wing holding on the major universities? Should they try to reach out to a larger public through publications and media?

Another question is whether McMurray actually believes a response is necessary. His conclusion on the consequences of attacks on Middle East Studies by public personalities like Pipes and Kramer is not quite clear: “It would appear that Kramer an Pipes on their own have not had a profound effect on the field or on the practitioners of Middle East Studies. In spite of their advocacy, altering the research being done so that it becomes more policy relevant does not seem to be happening” (p. 181). And on the next page: “So, in sum, it would appear that pundits who specialize in attacking Middle East Studies have had mixed results when it comes to affecting professors, research, or the larger field” (p.182). McMurray is correct in his final conclusion, and perhaps the most important phrase of the chapter: “However, something more serious may be shaping up at the institutional level” (p.182). Indeed. And more serious analyses are needed, not to keep the right or the left out of universities as it is just not going to happen, but to develop ways of working in collaboration, and to find ways to set our political allegiances aside in order be pragmatic and to fix practical problems. But then, when the presidency is a family affair, and it seems to be the case in so many places (I am writing to you from the Dominion of Canada and I am a subject of her Majesty the Queen, and I guess, of Will and Kate), where elections are rigged and citizen vote is almost a joke, I have my own doubts about what can actually be done. I don’t know if the conservatives’ ascension will be constant as their funding is reaching new heights, or if the economy will eventually crash and turn the political tide, perhaps not for the best, as it has usually done throughout history. But a careful in-depth analysis of that “something more serious” will allow whoever is interested in addressing the issues to be better prepared.

A Review of Team Diversity: An Ethnography of Institutional Values by Bonnie Urciuoli

Urciuoli, Bonnie. (2005). “Chapter 10: Team Diversity: An Ethnography of Institutional Values.” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (159-172). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.

In this chapter Bonnie Urciuoli invites us to critically examine the institutional values of the university. She argues that universities are becoming increasingly corporate in nature and uses her own institution as the foundation upon which she builds her case. Drawing upon publications from several organizations directly involved or affiliated with the University Urciuoli provides ample evidence to support her claim that corporate culture, as demonstrated through language, has become a dominant feature in the academic institution. Publications and literature increasingly ground language in terms of tangible and transferable skills, of particular importance to Urciuoli is the use of the term diversity. From here the author then points to the significance of this corporate shift on student identity and student participation in university life.

Urciuoli begins by explaining how her interest in this particular subject was borne out of a larger project. The project was set at her own university, a small private liberal arts college located in upstate New York. Here she was examining the ways in which notions of diversity and multiculturalism were created in student life. In the course of this project she became interested in the larger institutional structure in which student life was situated. As her focus shifted from student identity to the broader academic milieu she comments that there were three salient points which emerged. The first was the role that college recruiting and publicity play in establishing this corporate tone with its emphasis on skills. Secondly, that increasing the diversity profile at the university had become a mandated initiative. Thirdly, Urciuoli comments on the implications of the use of diversity over multicultural, the former being corporate in nature and increasingly appearing in the academic sphere. The increased usage of diversity, she argues, represents an imposition of external corporate values in university life.

This shift in the usage of terminology has significant implications in terms of value creation and the student identity. Urciuoli describes the use of diversity in university parlance, over that of multiculturalism, as a strategically deployable shifter (SDS). Shifter is a term drawn from grammatical theory and it refers to how words can direct our thinking. SDS builds on this notion by acknowledging how words may appear to be synonymous on the surface but that each word holds a deeper embedded meaning. As such, when we employ a specific term we can create or control the context in which we are speaking, while also subtly directing what the other, or others, think. The replacement of multicultural with diversity will conjure up a different notion in a student’s mind, and will represent a different type of association. Urciuoli argues that diversity is a corporate value and its permeation throughout the institution represents a “hegemonic entrenchment of what learning should be” (p. 162).

To support this assertion of the corporatization of university language the author draws upon several examples from her own university. Urciuoli begins with an examination of the Resident Advisor manual. She notes that the language is grounded both in the acquisition of transferable skills and the fostering community. Diversity emerges here as a skill employed by the Resident Advisor to foster an inclusive environment. Urciuoli links this notion of diversity to works in human relations literature on workplace organization. She draws upon a specific example in the work of Loden which emphasizes the benefits of shifting “company culture towards valuing diversity” (author’s emphasis, p. 165).

Urciuoli  then proceeds to compare the stated purpose of several of the multicultural organizations on campus against that of the fraternity-sorority council. She finds that multicultural organizations propose to educate others about their culture whereas the fraternity-sorority council emphasizes skills and leadership. While seemingly divergent, both organizations draw upon a notional “diversity-as-a-contribution-to-the-whole” (p. 166) and further establish corporate values within the university.

Lastly, Urciuoli examines the embedded structure of the Posse Program, an organization separate from the university but which the university is a member. The Posse Foundation’s operational premise contends that students of colour would be most successful in predominantly white colleges if they were to go through college in a cohort. The literature of the Posse Program is what is of most interest to the author as it provides the best depiction of the SDSs mobilized to align with corporate values. The author contends that this essentially multicultural organization focuses primarily on leadership and team skills which are more representative of the corporate diversity model. Through these examples Urciuoli develops a common thread of how these works seek to imbue students with the corporate skills of the ideal employee.

Through our discussions in class it was highlighted that what Urciuoli is really commenting on is the politico-economic context in which academics function. The increasingly corporate nature of the university demands that disciplines ‘prove’ their worth through economic outcomes. Our discussions centered upon what this ultimately means for professors and students. The corporate model of the university has many ramifications, including impacting what we learn, what we know and how we think. It has the potential to create an environment where education is an industry, and the university is essentially an assembly line for constructing the ideal student and, ultimately, the ideal employee.

Urciuoli paints a convincing picture of the corporatization of the University. She provides substantial evidence to support her argument that the language which pervades the academic institution aligns with corporate ‘speak.’ However, less evidence is provided to convincingly support the claim that academic institutions are being corporatized. Corporatized here referring to an outside force pushing inward, and/or as a dissemination of values from the top down. She states that the usage of terms such as leadership and diversity are “not simply borrowings” but that they “indicate a hegemonic entrenchment of corporate notions” (p. 162). I am not convinced that this adoption of corporate language represents, de facto, the corporatization of the institution in the manner in which she suggests. Urciuoli has proved that corporate language exists but correlation is not causation.

Urciuoli’s University, a private liberal arts college in upstate New York where almost 40 percent of the students come from private schools, does not represent a typical North American university—which is not private, and where a far lower percentage of the population comes from private schools. Private schools are expensive. Private universities are also expensive. Students who attend these institutions tend to come from families who can afford the tuition. While not all may come from corporate households a larger portion likely do. Thus, corporate language may well be a common part of their lexicon, it is simply what they grew up with. In this scenario the ubiquity of corporate language may be an organic, bottom-up creation where students and alumni contributed to the dominate language of the institution. Further, this corporate language dominated environment may be confined solely to her institution or to a few other institutions of similar constitution.

Should Urciuoli’s assertion of corporate dominated language have a broader application across many or all universities in the United States, or even North America, a second alternative explanation may exist. In this model it represents Keynesian supply and demand. Certainly, attending a University is an opportunity to learn and grow, but most students attend University to prepare themselves for the working world; rather than pursuing a career in academia. In this scenario the marketing of transferable skills represents the University responding to the demands of the market: the students. The job market is competitive and capitalizing on, and re-framing, experiences in terms of the skills that can be applied later in life simply makes sense. Here the University is providing the students with what they want, or ultimately, what they need. To not do so may mean that the University is a less viable option for students in a competitive market. For better or for worse academia is an industry and if you cannot meet the market demand the consumer will go somewhere else, that is, to another university.

Corporate and corporatization, as concepts, have taken on increasingly negative connotations over the years. The well-known mainstream work No Logo by Naomi Klein and the documentary The Corporation are two examples of works which highlight the less savory aspects of corporate culture. This side of the discussion is fair, but it seems to promote the same sort of reductive associative thinking that the author discusses in this chapter. That is, diversity equals corporate, and corporate equals bad.  Some aspects of corporate culture can be, and are, bad. Not all aspects necessarily are, though. The corporate model is also remarkably efficient and effective in cost-saving measures. This is why many public sector institutions attempt to mirror these models. Additionally, to suggest that corporatization is an external force seeking to permeate the sanctity of the academic sphere removes agency from the individuals who actually comprise this sphere; the students, professors and staff. These individuals are not completely powerless in determining their own fate.

Ultimately, Urciuoli provides a solid work establishing the existence of corporate language and values at her University. However, there are several possible alternate explanations as to the origins of this phenomenon. It may be, as the author argues, an imposition from corporations on what constitutes desirable skills and the ideal employee. However, the explanation may equally lie elsewhere.

“An Anthropologist Undone” by Camilla Gibb

Gibb, Camilla (2005). “An Anthropologist Undone”. Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (216-228). Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press.

The concluding chapter of Auto-Ethnographies: the Anthropology of Academic Practices (2005) is a charged critique on the discipline and institution of anthropology. It is given through a raw reflexive narrative of an anthropologist’s unsettling and transformative field experience and the equally disorienting, disruptive departures back into and, finally, out from the academy. Camilla Gibb highlights her challenging experience negotiating self in the academic and ethnographic field. She works through her departures from one identity to another, the complications at their spaces of intersection, transformation, and tension in their simultaneous existence. Her work in the academy and field cultivated multiple identities which, on account of the expectations of the academy, thought together but acted apart. Gibb shows that fieldwork and the fieldworker back in the academy are cleansed of the human experience in favour of detached objectivity. The life of ethnography is tucked behind the academic identity, and this colour exists only between the lines of dry discourse. Gibb struggled with this fragmentation which destabilised her professional position, personal life, and belief in the academy. The voices of her ethnographic shadow-selves, the friend, lover, sister, mother, Ethiopian, abstinent Muslim, drew her from the academy into the inclusive world of fiction writing. There, she found, the humanness of her identities, and those of others, could find the expression denied in and by the process of anthropological discipline.

Gibb’s story begins in Oxford where she reflects on her departure from Harare, Ethiopia, with a longing gaze into the world of her vivid memory. She describes herself as emotionally fragile with past psychological instability amplified by the heartache of detachment from the field and the relationships she formed with people and practice. Her positions and relationships in the ethnographic processes were as complex and complicated as the henna designs on her hands. And after some time, much like the henna stains, it was impossible to distinguish where each wandering stain started and ended (216).  The experiences she longed for were the stories that found no place in the academic writing (222), those which defied ethical protocol and the ‘laws’ of minimal intervention in the anthropologists’ version of the Hippocratic oath. The completion of her “dry dispassionate” PhD thesis on the religious practices of the Harare in Ethiopia prompted her departure from the U.K., and symbolically from the life of the academic (225).

Gibb graduated and returned Canada, entering the field of the academic professional. But the departure was accompanied by her shadow-selves and their fantasies of fiction which did not fit in the “construct of the professional anthropologist” (223-224). She deliberated over the implications of beginning a Post-doctoral position and the freedom of leaving the academy. Ultimately she decided to take break in Ontario’s rural north to give life to the untold voices of her fieldwork.

After the completion of an unexpected book she re-enters the academic field, and the form of ‘academic identity’ is quickly brought into her perspective. The respectability and legitimacy of the academic is contingent on certain performance which, she was told critically by a  conservative superior, does not include moonlighting in short fiction. This gave voice to the values which expunge humanness and its counterpoint of alienation, things “critical to [anthropology’s] business”, from the ethnographic text (Gibb referencing Ato Quayson, 225). Shocked and angered by the potency of this reality, the negation of the reality of humanness, of the human behind the academic work and the human reality that creates anthropology, she departs the academy to pursue her fiction writing full time. Gibb found a domain where stories were not half told and where words did not tread tentatively under the scrutiny of politics of representation.

Through her many departures and re-entries Gibb, as Anthropologist and anthropologist, experienced the disorientation and longing that so characteristically accompanies culture shock. Her movements were both geographic, professional, and personal, and cultivating and transforming many voices which the academy could not accept or accommodate. Her ethnographic experience was not unlike others: confusing, unsettling, non-linear, and grounded in real human relationships; not a straightforward moralistic journey (Watson, in conversation). What differs with Gibb’s account is the frankness with which she shares this shadow-side of the discipline, the unspoken truths of anthropological work. Her raw reflection shows the anthropology only alluded to in the academy, the peripheral discussions in undergraduate methodology courses and years which are a superficial component of formal graduate education. The truth is, the realities of fieldwork are best understood through ‘initiation’ into the field (at home and away), and the academy does not have the language or framework to incorporate these experiences in full. They are also of partial interest, serving the ends of the production of scientific knowledge.

Gibb’s piece shows that the full phenomena of humanness to which anthropology claims expert knowledge is arguable beyond the expertise of the discipline. This phenomenon is theorized over, encounters with it are problematized  in discourse on ethics and methodology, but only murmurs of its felt texture, volatility, fragility, and potency exist in exchanges between field ‘initiates’. The uninitiated fantasize about the sense of their movements while rendering them to mechanics in proposals and ethics forms. The call to writing the fieldworker into the field came from a reflexivity of the anthropologist’s imprint on their places of work, but one which did not account for the field in the anthropologist. Neither does the academy accommodate this truth and conversations about them. Gibb’s work, as with the other chapters in this book, prompts us to problematize the limitations and deficits of Anthropology (institutional), and anthropology (of the field), which leaves us complicit, hopeless, or inspired to forge change. By walking through the story of Gibb’s professional academic career we also understand (dare I say feel) the reasons for her final departure into fiction, the realm of “truth telling” (225).

Gibb wanted to share vivid truths, an aspiration achieved only limitedly in academic Anthropology (224). The meticulous documentation of fieldworkers is truncated for the sake of unbiased objectivism. Yet it is shaped by the subjectivity of Western academic traditions, circling in red ink the adverbs and adjectives in our writing and encouraging a voice of implicit exclusion. Gibb wanted to “speak plainly of and speak of hearts” (225), a valid language that could easily speak beside classic theory. Though Quayson warns this may be dismissed as “dead-end self-indulgence and narcissism” (225), Stuart Hall instead argues for its place in anthropology. In “Culture, Identity, and Diaspora (1994) he addresses the humanness and subjective perspective of ethnography:

“[of] course, the ‘I’ who writes here must also be thought of as, itself, ‘enunciated’. We all write and speak from a particular place and time, from a history and a culture which is specific. What we say is always ‘in context’, positioned… I have lived all my adult life in England, in the        shadow of the black diaspora – ‘in the belly of the beast’…I write against the background of a lifetime’s work in cultural studies…[It] is worth remembering that all discourse is ‘placed’, and the heart has its reasons” (392).

The ‘I’ Hall speaks of is the ‘I’ of every human in ethnographic experience and writing. Gibb was drawn to include a particular take on human ‘reasons’, the positions that anthropology seeks to know in totality yet cannot accommodate as a whole. The reasons of the heart that Gibb found of herself and others in the field are in the shadow of the letters of her academic prose, and this chapter speaks them in front of the anthropology’s capital A.

Though these perspectives neither  make their way into traditional anthropological discourse, nor is the institution formally prepared to discuss or accommodate their reality and impacts on the fieldworker, this book (Meneley and Young 2005) shows they have asserted a space in the academy’s text and conversation. Auto-ethnographic publications like these circulate critical truths and critique through the academic domain and carve a space for the multiple identities of the anthropologist to candidly speak, think, and act together.

Additional References:

Hall, Stuart
1994    Culture, Identity, and Diaspora. In Colonial Discourse & Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. Williams, Patrick & Laura Chrisman, eds. Pp. 392-420. Columbia University.

“Writing Against The Native Point of View” by Donna J. Young

Young, Donna J. (2005). “Writing Against The Native Point of View.” Anne Menely and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (203-215). Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto.           

Donna J. Young’s chapter “Writing Against The Native Point of View” parallels two of her experiences with narrative truth in order to highlight the difficulties of ethnographic fieldwork that Young found most troubling. She began her chapter with an anecdotal introduction of Abigail, one of her informants from a small settlement in the northeastern corner of New Brunswick, where Young conducted field research.

Young began by recounting one of the two paralleling scenarios in which she opened her house to Abigail and Abigail’s parents. To her readers, Young admitted her puzzlement over her required presence for Abigail’s arranged announcement of her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Young narrated Abigail’s accusatory explanation of her mother’s neglectful parenting to be the root cause of her diagnosis. Subsequently, the couple exhibited an apprehension to believe their daughter’s illness. Over the following few months, Abigail and her mother, Scarlet, continued to feud over Abigail’s firm decision to keep her mother from speaking with her doctor. Young, positioned as a third party, gained access to both the women’s concerns. Scarlet, cautioned by her knowledge of Abigail’s hypochondriac tendencies, found Abigail’s story suspicious. On the contrary, Abigail admittedly feared that her mother would “convince the doctor the diagnosis was wrong” (2005:205), if she was given the opportunity.

Young admitted that she never knew, and would likely never know if Abigail was correctly diagnosed with MS. However, Young wished to drive her work away from a literal truth and absolute certainties. Instead she chose to concern herself with “the interpretation of culturally mediated narratives of self-understanding” (2005:205). Young came to celebrate Abigail’s ability to recast her story. She noted the hours the two spent on the phone “discussing symptoms and rewriting her history in light of her new medical condition” (2005:210). For Abigail, MS became the sound medical explanation for all of her ‘shortcomings’ and general inability to cope with life. Therefore MS removed the need to explore her troubled past for answers about her present inadequacies. MS became held accountable for everything.

Young expressed her gratitude that the post-structuralism focused anthropology’s attention on contradictory accounts. Therefore Young wasn’t expected nor encouraged to discover an “all encompassing point of view” (2005:206). Rather she was encouraged to be reflexive about her representation of the lives of her informants. Many of the forefathers have been criticized for casting their informants as radical others who have remained stagnant in time. Through Young’s determination to avoid repeating these mistakes, she reasoned “if one took the radical otherness, or the exotic, out of anthropology, it would cease to make objects of its subjects” (2005:207).  Young admits her naivety to think that “studying one’s own would ease the ethical and representational dilemmas of ethnographic fieldwork and writing” (2005:207). In fact she found that conducting fieldwork in her hometown, among familiar faces, had its own set of problems and dilemmas.

Initially, Young felt as though her New Brunswick informants had more readily accepted her due to her familiarity. Many informants were able to “successfully locate her geographically and according to kin” (2005:209). Young explained that her profound connection to the place and people she studied made her less likely to be marked as an outsider. However, her connection also closely bounded her to acceptable codes of behaviours. She noted that her informants were more forgiving and tolerating of her ‘African-born’ husband’s inquiries. Nevertheless, Young noted that her husband’s accepted inquiries only skimmed the surface. Neither her husband, nor her informants, revealed any of the complexities of their personal lives. “They seemed satisfied with their stereotypical understanding of each other” (2005: 209). Young suggests that it was through her connection and familiarity that she was able to gain access to the complexities of her informant’s lives.

By using her ‘native identity’ to approach her informants, Young likely eluded, or at least minimized, the ‘outsider’ label bestowed on other anthropologists, researchers, and academics alike. Thus she was able to connect with her informants on a friendship, or possibly even a kinship level. This was certainly visible when Young revealed that Abigail had lived with her for the duration of an entire summer. As well as by her presence at Abigail’s intimate MS reveal. Young criticized anthropology for being an “impolite discipline” (2005:208), because “anthropology disrespects the personal limits of others in the name of science” (2005:209). Young admits that these ‘personal limits’ are even further breached once an informant and researcher begin to relate more as friends and neighbours. In order to compensate for the discomfort she felt by probing ‘too deeply,’ she allowed “those who were the focus of her curiosity to reciprocate” (2005:209). However, by revealing too much of her personal self, Young has likely highlighted her identity as a friend, and dimmed her identity as a researcher. This confusion of roles was most apparent once Abigail began dating a student from Young’s department. After a lengthy relationship where ‘probing and gossiping’ were welcomed by young, it likely disorientated Abigail that the subject of her students’ personal lives was off limits. In this instance, Young abruptly switched from ‘dependable pal’ to a ‘professional researcher.’ Had her identity of a professional researcher been better maintained, perhaps Young wouldn’t have been faced with Abigail’s resentment.

To conclude her chapter, Young identified herself and Abigail as “storytellers.” Through this chosen identification, Young admits that just as there exists informant narrative truth, there is also ethnographic narrative truth. An anthropologist incorporates certain aspects in their ethnographic accounts, and excludes others. This selective recording indicates that ethnographies are a personal interpretation of a researcher’s experience. Perhaps the feud and eventual ‘falling out’ between Young and Abigail is due to the fact that both resented the characters they were cast as in the other’s story. Perhaps Abigail’s eventual accusation of “unethical practice,” was attributed to her feelings of deceit and exposure due to her perceived misrepresentation in Young’s work. Young admitted to feelings of betrayal after Abigail’s sudden reluctance to see Young’s point of view, which she had readily done earlier on. However, it is important to note that as an anthropologist, Young is a different kind of storyteller than Abigail. Young is a storyteller with a responsibility to the characters in her ethnographic stories. She has relinquished the liberty to simply go on feuding much like the way Scarlet and Abigail did. Similarly, Scarlet resented the neglectful unfit parent Abigail’s story portrayed her as. However, Abigail has no professional or ethical responsibility (apart from a close kinship) to adhere to Scarlet’s discontent. As an anthropologist, Young is a storyteller who is first and foremost indebted to her character’s consent. Even despite any other less formal, or more personal, relations she may of had or created among her informants.

“White Devil as Expert Witness” By T. Swedenburg.

Swedenburg, Ted. (2005). “Chapter 9: White Devil as Expert Witness.” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto- Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (143-157). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.

Anthropology’s life outside academia and apart from academic objectives often forms and moves in ways unlike its traditional counterpart. Ted Swedenburg shows in “White Devil as Expert Witness” (2005) that the process of alternative anthropological work challenges academically legitimized practice. Anthropology and ethnography in alternative domains protrudes from and destabilizes orthodox frameworks. His piece highlights anthropology’s awkward translation into extra-academic domains, ironic for a discipline which prides itself on the ability to translate, and transfer across, differences. Swedenburg’s critically reflexive piece is a strong example of the problematics of ethnographic intervention, where discipline finds effective application only by disrupting or departing from its characteristic tenets. The work also prompts us to reflect on the success of anthropology’s efforts and the limitations and deficits of its traditional academic template.

Swedenburg’s alternative anthropology began when we was called to serve as an expert witness in a court case pertaining to prisoner’s rights. The suit against the New York State Department of Correctional Service was filed by the inmate Intelligent Allah Tarref who sought to have his religious rights legally recognized (143). This required first that the plaintiff’s community, the Nation of Gods and Earths, be recognized and instituted as a religion. It was Swedenburg’s role to draw on his anthropological expertise, perspective and practice, to convince the judge and jury that the Nation of Gods and Earths was not a gang, not a “security threat”, but rather a religious group “according to conventional understandings of the term” (146).

One blaring irony of this intervention speaks through the title of Swedenburg’s essay and its discussion should be premised by an introduction to the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE). The NGE is a community, ideology, and way of life emerging from the syncretism of “Afro-centrism, pan-Africanism, and Islamic cultural and religious influences” (144). Clarence 13x, a former Nation of Islam member expelled for his heretical teachings, was its founder (145). After leaving the NOI he changed his name to Allah and took to the streets of Harlem to a preach and proselytize his philosophies. In brief they held Black Men collectively as God and Black Woman is Earths (145). Those who recognize their divinity constitute 5 percent of the population and are the members of the NGE, hence the community’s alias Five Percent. Caucasian “white devils”, created by a malevolent scientist Yaqob, constitute 10 percent of the population who, among other evils, were spreading the teachings of Christianity and Orthodox Islam (145). The remaining 85 percent is the poor ignorant population who are exploited by the devilish 10 percent. Swedenburg, according to a fundamentalist Five Percent perspective, is a “white devil” connected to devilish academic and state institutions which confront and criminalize the NGE (145). Yet it is these institutions which supported Swedenburg in challenging the state on behalf of the Five Percent and legally legitimizing their community.

NGE membership is not easily identified, though can been seen in their rap music by a critical observer. Some of their lyrical messages are overt but most resemble apocrypha (Swedenburg 1997). Noting the signifiers of NGE membership requires familiarly with Islam and the Qur’an (Ibid).  Aside from commentary on socio-political climate, NGE music is full of prayer. However, this actually sets them apart from orthodox Islamic faith which forbids sacred messages to be sung (Ibid).  This illustrates one of many ways in which the NGE reflects familiar religious institutions yet differs from them radically. These unique variations complicated the state’s definition and incorporation of the NGE into legal frameworks. As NGE messages were also a challenge to identify, their textual and sonic messages could not be easily controlled, censored, or persecuted. Likely this illusiveness, along with racialisation and post-9/11 moral panic, prompted the classification of the NGE as a threatening group.

Swedenburg’s work contested the hegemonic classifications such as “gang”,  which denied the recognition and rights of unorthodox collectives (143). However, this merely asserted other classifications which kept the NGE bound by hegemonic persepetives. Despite anthropology’s critique and re-articulation of the outdated classificatory system and its evaluative criteria, Swedenburg, as any other ethnographer might have, had to appeal to old discourse to communicate effectively outside the academic domain.

The intervention of the term “religion” into NGE’s identity is another point of irony.  NGE is self-proclaimed a “way of life” and association with the category ‘religion’ is often protested (153). Though many of the members are Muslim they set themselves apart from the orthodox Islamic faith and the structures of religious institutions.  However, they must lean on this legally recognized categorisation in order to gain recognition and (supposed) rights and protection by the state.

Swedenburg was one of many resources the judge used for adjudication. His anthropological expertise was put to the analysis of written documents rather than traditional fieldwork. However, previous research on Franco-Algerian Rai music, ‘Islamic’ African-American rap, and Isreal’s Mizrahi dance music, “’border’ musics of the middle east as well as middle eastern-inflected musics of the west” (Swedenburg N.D.) gave him authority over NGE’s evaluation. His data was selectively incorporated into the expert report, omitting some of the data which complicated the NGE’s position and was not translatable into an objective, legal vernacular.

In the end Intelligent won the law suit. But this was not primarily on account of the objective evidence produced by Swedenburg and the other witnesses. Rather, the verdict was drawn based on precedent and the judge’s subjective evaluation of sincerity of belief (152).  While Swedenburg strived to translate anthropology into the criminal justice domain, the judge drew on what is a crucial but under-acknowledged part of anthropology’s practice: listening seriously to an(other); meeting them human to human.

Though this case would set a precedent for the legal status of NGE communities, individuals, and their sonic and textual communications, it did not necessarily alter public perception.  No longer an “unauthorized group”, the NGE’s members on the street and in prison could practice and preach their way of life without persecution (143).  But this did not disrupt the “dominant…discourses which treat young male blacks as dangerous, pathological, and violent” (150).  It did, however, give to street-rapping NGE members, their Allah School, or circulated publications legal recognition and rights which would serve them in confrontations with the criminal justice system.  

During the trial Swedenburg faced the question ‘have you been there?’ (149). This prompts the anthropologist to consider the criteria by which their work is legitimated. Is the discipline defined by perspective or method? Can the veteran anthropologist translate the wisdom of their field experience to understand other contexts? These are questions I cannot fully explore here, but rather I’d like to respond to the question of the Department of Criminal Services. Though Swedenburg had not been to the field referred to by the defendants, he had indeed conducted fieldwork, and a multi-sited project no less.

In order to “make effective arguments that might persuade the court to accord NGE members the same religious rights accorded to other recognized faiths” (147), Swedenburg traversed the NGE’s sonic and textual fields and, by the translation of many differences, brought them into conversation with the criminal justice system. To liaison the vernaculars, Swedenburg had to enculturate to legal language, customs, and practices, and underwent hours of ‘expert’ witness initiation. He observed and participated in the compilation of legal and cultural data, its scripting into legal narrative, testified at trial, and produced a 9 page report substantiating the plaintiff’s argument. He also studied the  Allah School’s publication “The Five Percenter” (146) and drew on his own research on NGE Islamic hiphop (Swedenburg 2002a). Swedenburg had “been there”, in the fields relevant to context’s demands (153). 

The ironies of Swedenburg’s anthropological intervention leads us to consider the weaknesses, limitations, and deficits of the current academic paradigm and expectations of the discipline. The knowledge produced must often be transmuted for its consumption or application in legal, state, or public domains. This may indicate that anthropology’s critical conversations about ‘otherness’, difference, and similarity are not having the impact they could, and should, beyond the academy. 

Where is anthropology missing the mark? How is it that its conversations and practices, mostly relevant to critical socio-political issues, are belittled and dismissed outside the towers and texts (111) while other sciences are enticing the public with popular journal publications which broadcast discussions such as How Did We Get Four Limbs? Because We Have a Belly (Science Daily 2014), Low semen levels in mice make for fatter sons (Science News 2014), or A turkey’s wattle inspires a biosensor’s design (Science News 2014). I am not dismissing the importance of the discoveries of ‘hard science’. I only urge anthropology to find equal space in the public’s interest where it can speak to, and perhaps change some minds and discourses about difference. If this could be so, perhaps the anthropologist’s professional experience would differ from Swedenburg’s. Rather than needing to reify the constructs of its harshest critiques, the discipline could engage other domains in a dialogue open to alternative “way[s] of life” (153).

Additional References:

Science Daily

2014    How Did We Get Four Limbs? Because We Have a Belly. January 24.        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140127112729.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+sciencedaily/top_news/top_science+(ScienceDaily:+Top+Science+News), accessed January 25, 2014.

Science News

2014    A turkey’s wattle inspires a biosensor’s design. January 28. https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/scicurious/turkey%E2%80%99s-wattle-inspires-biosensor%E2%80%99s-design, accessed January 28, 2014.

2014    Low semen levels in mice make for fatter sons. January 28. https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/science-ticker/low-semen-levels-mice-make-fatter-sons, accessed January 28, 2014.

Swedenburg, Ted

1997   Islam in the Mix: Lessons of the Five Percent. http://comp.uark.edu/~tsweden/5per.html, accessed January 27, 2014.

“Teaching and Learning Across Borders” by J. Harrison & A. Meneley

Harrison, Julia & Meneley, Anne. (2005). “Chapter 5: Teaching and Learning Across Borders.” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto- Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (80-93). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.

In Harrison and Meneley’s chapter “Teaching and Learning Across Borders”, the authors discuss professors’ and students’ experiences of participating in a collaborative teaching project funded by the Ford Foundation entitled, Crossing Borders: Revitalizing Area Studies. In which, they taught seminars alongside professors from universities from Canada (Trent University), The United States (St. Lawrence University (SLU)) and Trinidad (University of West Indies (UWI)), in each of those various locations. “The goal of the project was to generate a collaborative dialogue about these various ‘global flows’ among faculty and students from different disciplines in each university” (Meneley & Young 2005, 81). Shortly after, it was decided that the project should be ethnographically investigated, “aiming to provide a kind of meta-commentary on the notion of collaboration itself” (Meneley & Young 2005, 81). What is revealed in their investigation and discussed in the chapter is a compelling story of how collaboration can have unpredictable outcomes, how the actors involved can influence and interpret events in a wide and various range, and that not all collaboration will have positive results. A superficial analysis of the poor collaborative efforts may put the onus of blame on a lack of cultural relativism and insurmountable heterogeneity. However, I argue that poor planning and preparation are more forthcoming explanations of the unsatisfactory outcome.

Harrison and Meneley’s informants’ accounts were described as so sharply divergent that the authors expressed bewilderment that those involved had attended the same event(s). It is difficult to identify this divergence, short of a generous reading. Rather, the resounding sentiment here is disappointment, in that the whole affair was poorly executed and did not deliver on its promise of crossing borders. If anything, the participants reconstructed and reinforced borders which were already present (dormant or otherwise). This was due to poor organization, lack of forethought, and some reprehensible, if not blatantly unethical, actions taken by those involved. This is a very instructive example of some of the less desirable outcomes that may occur, even in the face of anthropological reflexivity, discipline, and training. The instructors were unprepared for what was involved in crossing educational and institutional transnational borders. They neither approached the situation as collaborators nor as equals. This project is exemplary of what not to do, and though it may be painted in a less than damaging light in this chapter, it is anything but redeeming.

Perhaps because the instructors were fooled by their seemingly familiar academic surroundings, they were unaware that they had entered into foreign territory and that they were required to tread lightly. It is difficult to understand why an instructor collaborating with a foreign colleague/peer (from a different institution and culture) would believe it was acceptable to unilaterally create a syllabus and teaching plan without consulting their partner. Similarly, the instructors’ assumption that class decorum would fit their generic standard is confounding to the very notion of anthropology. These issues should have been discussed beforehand and perhaps would have allowed for participants to address more pressing issues. Professors are expected to organize class materials, curriculum and agenda in a professional manner to facilitate a smooth learning process for the students involved. If this cannot be achieved, what chance do students possibly have in overcoming the same borders? Obstacles are sure to arise, but the greater the preparation the greater the ability to move towards a quick and effective consensus. One student even went so far as to aptly draw an analogy between the professors’ interactions and that of a bad marriage, in which “more time was spent on miscommunications and at cross-purposes” (Meneley & Young 2005, 87), and another claimed that an equal number of borders were erected as those crossed. And, all the while the reader can only think how fortunate they are to be reading this account and not participating in it, for it is a foreboding tale. Not a foreboding of collaboration, of being unprepared and cavalier in our academic undertakings. One issue with this chapter is that it does not read this way, but instead is presented as a story of how transnational collaborations can be irksome, instead of a moral tale of preparedness.

Furthermore, perhaps the unfortunate incident which resulted from a troubling discussion, in which the Trinidadian students were made to feel inadequate due to their way of speaking English, could have been avoided had the instructors involved met to discuss such issues as hierarchy and hegemony within the classroom before conducting the seminars. This would have allowed for cultural differences to be discussed outside of the classroom, and approached in a more sensitive and acceptable manner within. It would also have the affect of presenting a more cohesive teaching front, narrative and course of instruction to the students, even if it highlighted the wide variety of views held by the instructors. By crossing borders, it is understood that what will be revealed is difference and the main goal is to strive for understanding, cooperation and acceptance. Once again, I cannot stress how intrinsic these notions are to anthropology and it is surprising how the instructors involved were not more prepared for what they encountered.

Finally, as if to shift the blame away from the instructors involved and onto the shoulders of the students, it is mentioned that perhaps their commitment to learning was questionable because when at “Pooja 2002”, a street festival, some students chose not to partake in crossing a cuisine border and opted to spend their allotted money on Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) instead. The issues I take with this transference of the less-than-successful result of the seminars are; that this event is given no context and is perhaps isolated; that longing for a reminder of home on a voyage in a foreign place is admonished, instead of explained/understood; and that the latter is based on the premise that KFC is universally identical throughout the globe. Such as with McDonald’s, KFC has tailored their fare to individual markets across the globe and in this case what the students in Trinidad were experiencing was one of the most prevalent forms of globalization. The incident, instead of being touted as one of the most central experiences of the effects transnationalism by the instructors, was seen as a lack of commitment on the part of the students. I find this highly problematic considering the evidence and a slight of the students’ commitment when faced with field trips which offered little in the way of direction or meaningfulness to the program. The students were doing what was asked of them and were engaging in the process of exploring globalization even if they were unaware of it. I find the entire situation an uneasy admonishing.
The chapter, though illustrative of what can go wrong, did little in the way of providing explicit answers and remedies to those problems. Did it really offer “innovative thinking” and a more effective “pedagogical practices” for future instructors in similar situations (Harrison & Meneley 2005, 81)? This is a story and not a hard lesson, the lessons to be learned are expected to be implicit, but are not analyzed in-depth. Instead, the reader is left to decipher the moral of the story, which is all but illusive in its message: Do not do what these instructors did. The more interesting questions were never addressed. Such as: Why couldn’t the cultural differences between participants be overcome? How does an instructor organize a syllabus for an ethnically varied audience? How are terms/concepts agreed upon in an efficient manner, which does not detract from the overall seminars? How can an instructor avoid the possibility of a hierarchy and some form of hegemony from taking place within the seminar(s)? For this to be a truly instructional piece, the events needed further analysis and attention.

“Anthropologist and Accomplice in Botswana” by Jacqueline Solway

Solway, Jacqueline. (2005). “Anthropologist and Accomplice in Botswana.” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (113-125). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.  

In this chapter, Jacqueline Solway employs her fieldwork experiences to tell us a few ‘anti anti-morality tales’. Her message is largely aimed at young anthropologists, who possess supposed tendencies of succumbing to hubris despite their motivation for empowering social change. Solway gently reminds us of our assumed position as active anthropologists as instead being mere ‘inconsequential’ actors (or should that be witnesses?) to a wider scheme of history unfolding. Her reflexive tone regarding anthropologists’ involvement in Botswanian affairs is cautionary, if not pragmatic, rather than cynical or dismissive.

Solway traces particular occurrences in Botswana’s political and social history to identify the process of social change as one that includes ethnic-rights activists and organizations vying for a position of established authority and acknowledgment in the political system. Solway’s account begins in the late 1970s with the political economy involving diamond mines. The success and wealth resultant from these mining projects led to an emergent middle class. Subsequently, the newfound wealth of the 1980s bore a reformation of the education system. Solway explains that local wealth also influenced notions of autonomy, thus diminishing the expressed importance of foreign aid. As a reformed community took shape in the Kalahari area, Solway describes the 1990s as a period of strife regarding conflicting ethnic identity politics between Bakgalagadi and Tswana peoples.

Much of this strife involved the notion of democracy and its applicable uses and/or misuses. Solway describes working with activists and local scholars to compile information that would become the report that she wrote and addressed to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Solway’s account describes the usual ping-pong game played between the political administration and her affiliated organization. Two Tswana state policies of note came to the fore as primary concerns due to the marginalization and the lack of acknowledgment of non-Tswanan identities. Enacting the detective’s persona, Solway recounts tracking down a particular legal document with a supposed ‘keyword’ to emancipation, which isn’t without its own sense of historical irony of colonialism: where the keyword refers to ethnic groups of human beings as belonging to a particular ‘stock’, of all things!

This bad joke snowballs even further into colonial anthropological history. The legal document entitled, The Ethnic Composition of Tswana Tribes (1946), was originally written by colonial-anthropologist Isaac Schapera. Solway provides some measure of context. Circa 1940, she tells us the colonial administration that employed anthropologists carries somewhat of a contentious history. Anthropologists collecting data would often write reports concerning rituals and detailed accounts of the locals. This kind of information was all but relevant to the colonial administrators. Their purpose in employing anthropologists was to have them perform the undesirable task of being around the locals long enough to acquire competence in local customs, in order to then impart this knowledge to British officers on site. Schapera’s document was one such report and would become part of the legal system in contemporary Botswana.

However morally questionable the history of Schapera’s document may be, Solway tells us how the document, still in effect and accordance to contemporary Tswana constitution, established ancestral associations rather than ethnic divisions in the territory of Botswana. This meant that the Tswana government would have to legally attend to the document, which they did, and concede House of Chiefs membership entry to a number of representative groups.

For Solway, the occurrence of social change does not end here. Her account shows how a colonial-made document somehow managed to accomplish some measure of ‘good’ for Botswana’s disenfranchised and marginalized ethnic groups. But, this is a case of savvy legal work and clever sleuthing. Before this particular case had unfolded and served to benefit Botswanian people, Solway tells us Schapera was considered as just another colonial confined to history books. Solway considers the irony of Schapera’s promotion from ‘cultural pariah to cultural hero’ within the Botswanian community and universities. She hints to Schapera’s credit, were he still alive, that he may have even contributed to working with advocates for ethnic human rights. And yet, his shortcomings as an advocate on behalf of anthropology to the colonial administration remain evident. In short, Solway is informing us of the power of interpretation, and how history can allow unsavory aspects to slide in place of more contemporary and pressing issues.

This is not permission to be or act irresponsibly; in fact, it is quite the contrary. Indeed, Solway admits to taking part in the whole scheme as an ‘accomplice’, and yet her personal victory is not without its own sense of reflexivity. Solway closes with a final anecdote, set in the 2000s, whereupon she had been granted permission for further research in the same Kalahari region. She re-encounters a woman she had met 2 years prior at the research office who inquires about the nature of her research. Solway discovers that activists had come to the region claiming to be anthropologists, intent on filming the Bushmen of the Kalahari in order to promote their views of Botswana’s inhumane treatment of its people. According to Solway, the ensuing public reaction had a detrimental effect on the diamond production industry, causing grievous damages to Botswanian public relations. Here, we are presented with the other side of the traditional ‘conquering colonialist’ – that of the ‘colonial hero’ – poised and ready to save the people from themselves and unafraid to brashly inform the world of the injustice of foreign lands. As a result, Solway again wisely reminds us to instead practice and represent anthropology as sensitive, disciplined, and not too seriously.

In my view, Solway’s words are wise, catering to a kind of pragmatism that should be practiced by all anthropologists, and most carefully amongst activists. Solway has shown how a colonial document, intended as an expedient classification system of Botswanian people, was transmuted into a voice to politically acknowledge various ethnic groups. While this is a somewhat of a fortunate case, it does not discount the notion of accountability for our intentions and actions. Given the overzealous attitudes of some well-intentioned activists, it is the pragmatic anthropologists’ responsibility to state their intentions clearly, and repeat them if necessary. Building this kind of imagery of anthropology would translate into the inevitable promulgation of stereotype, where even our characteristic studious nature may serve to dispel the image of the hyperactive minorities in our discipline. In doing so, the manipulative business of activists posing as anthropologists may not have the same luck in tarnishing our discipline. The litany of outsiders interfering with territories of native inhabitants has not shown any intention of slowing down. As vigilant and sensitive anthropologists, however, we may offer some measure of mediation. Committing our efforts to a tempered and pragmatic understanding of the knowledge we accumulate and communicate seems like a good place to start.

“The Torso In The Thames: Imagining Darkest Africa In the United Kingdom” by Todd Sanders

Sanders, Todd. (2005). “The Torso in the Themes: Imagining Darkest Africa in the United Kingdom.” Anne Menely and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (126-142). Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto.           

In the chapter “The Torso in The Thames: Imagining Darkest Africa in The United Kingdom,” Todd Sanders described the 2001 investigation surrounding the discovery of a torso belonging to “a young black boy found floating in the River Thames” (2005:126). Sanders began the chapter by describing the case’s development over the following two years. Through his summary, Sanders considers the consequences of the police-media engagement surrounding the investigation. More specifically, he draws the reader’s attention to four sequential consequences–the homogenization of an African image, the supposed moral bankruptcy of this artificially unified culture, their perceived Western infiltration, and finally the role anthropologists play in the public sphere.

By mid-October of 2001, merely one month after the torso was first reported, newspapers began reporting the possibility of a ‘ritual murder’ performed by ‘African witchdoctors.’ Several months later, Police furthered the possibility of a ‘ritual killing’ when they announced the decision to fly in a South African pathologist specializing in African muti killing, to conduct further testing on the torso. During the same conference, police also announced the discovery of “seven half-burnt candles wrapped in a white sheet in the Thames” (2005:127). The media suggested that the police believed the name on the sheet to be of West African origin. Simultaneously, the torso was linked to both South and West Africa. No attention to the geographical, cultural and or religious differences was paid to the two vastly different locations. Rather, Africa was being imagined, and not for the first time, “as an undifferentiated entity” (2005:131). Sanders noted that the police and media’s interchangeability between South and West Africa, continued throughout the whole of the case’s investigation.

In April 2002 The Met’s Detective Inspector Will O’Reilly, and Scotland Yard’s Commander Andy Baker travelled to South Africa in order to ask Nelson Mandela to appeal for help identifying the boy’s murderer. Sanders noted that the detective and commander’s desire for Mandela’s involvement indicated their ignorant assumption of Mandela as Africa’s orator. Even more, the efforts to appeal to an African icon situated within Africa, is indicative of Western police-media’s insinuation that Africans are unlikely to receive news from outside Africa. Sanders described the case’s blending of Southern and Western Africa, and the sought out cooperation of Mandela, as both proof of an imagined singular African culture and belief system. The continual reduction of multiples to singulars allowed the police-media to reproduce an image of a communal African identity, and therefore a communal African threat.

Sanders emphasized the evident ‘us versus them’ dichotomy at play in the Thames Torso case. He described the ‘us’ identity as incorporating The Met, British, European, and white. Reasonable, sensible and logically minded individuals were all tied to the image of ‘us.’ While ‘them’ encompassed African, black and Other. Through the case’s homogenization of Africa, all of Africa and Africans were summarized as those “who hold weird, inexplicable and morally bankrupt beliefs” (2005:132). These overarching generalizations were eagerly attached to the notions of ‘them.’ In this epic battle, the police-media pitted the rational ‘us’ against the superstitious savage ‘them.’ ‘Them’ was imagined as an entity to be feared, especially when police-media began claiming that their proximity was increasing. Sanders highlighted Baker and O’Reilly’s cautions that due to technological advancements that have enabled globalization, ‘them’ resides uncomfortably close by.

Anxiety towards the proximity of these others was heightened further by the release of a scandalous story that detailed the raid of a north London shop. The raid was lead by detectives and environmental health officers in search of illegal African bush meat and human flesh. The story communicated the idea that the young boy “was trafficked from West Africa to the UK for the sole purpose of ritual murder and that his body parts were sold alongside bush meat for occult purposes” (2005:130).  The story left its readers imagining that not only has human flesh become accessible in the UK, but this underground business is blossoming. In January 2003, the story aired on television as an hour-long segment. The documentary intensified existing feelings of angst by claiming that the number of heinous African practices was steadily increasing. Sanders argued that the documentary conveyed the message that “the Thames torso is only the tip of a massive malevolent iceberg” (2005:130).

Sanders argued that the sudden presence of this “malevolent iceberg” was explained by police-media as being a “corollary that comes with globalization” (2005:134).   Sanders quoted O’Reilly’s explanation that “in promoting cultural diversity [the UK has] imported these aspects of a culture into mainland Britain” (2005:134). Thus due to a willingness to incorporate different cultures, the UK has simultaneously incorporated the darker aspects of African culture. Sanders importantly suggested that these xenophobic explanations likely satisfied the public because it echoed existing “British anxieties about otherness, globalization, immigration, and multiculturalism, and raises the grave possibility of having “our” life-world unraveled by “their” cultural practices” (2005:135). Sanders found these xenophobic justifications issued by the police-media to be remarkably tenacious. His efforts to dismantle the underscored ideas of otherness went unheard when he called the Met in 2001. He later discovered that three of his colleagues, with comparable opinions to his, had experienced a similar neglectful treatment.

Sanders concluded his chapter with a humbling realization that the anthropological voice is in fact not as authoritative as some might think. He left his readers contemplating the treacherous navigation of broader power structures we must face as anthropologists. Sanders ended his chapter on a hopeful and rousing note through his sober ‘work cut out for us’ finale. While he identified a commendable and necessary goal anthropologists should strive towards, an analogy as to why the police-media might have ignored the opposing opinions of anthropologists seems to be lacking. Sanders is direct about his belief that anthropologists, through the nature of the discipline, often have access to first-hand reliable facts and information. However, in this case he emphasizes that both anthropologists and the Thames Torso detectives knew that the panic over ‘ritual murder’ “far outstripped the number of actual killings” (2005:136). Furthermore that such practices in Africa are quite rare. Throughout the Thames Torso investigation, the police-media has, like the screenwriter for a horror movie, gripped its audience with fear by drawing on pre-existing xenophobic anxieties and derogatory images of Africans. Anthropological oppositions, confined to much smaller platforms, have acted as the logical parents who peek under beds to check for monsters, and resurface with reassuring confirmation that there are in fact none.

Perhaps the ideas of ritual murder and underground human meat markets prove to be simply more seductive to a culture obsessed with entertainment saturated in murder, serial killings and crime scene investigations. Or, more cynically, perhaps the “reassuring” logic anthropologists offer is in fact more terrifying than blaming other misrepresented cultures. Perhaps by removing the blame placed on another culture(s), the Met must face the possibility that one of their own citizens, maybe even someone with a long British ancestry, brutally murdered and disfigured a child.  After all, accounts of ‘Jack the Ripper’ and Amelia Dyer, to name a few, are reminders that human remains in the Thames is more characteristic of British history. Perhaps the police-media involved in the Thames Torso case were well aware that the anthropological opposition proposed an  unbearably unsettling reality.

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.