Weekend Reading

ACC occupied the Colgate admissions building around the clock for more than a hundred hours. Their list of demands was long and ambitious. The instigating events behind their protest were mocked by more than a few people as insubstantial. But at no point did the administration ever — to my knowledge — threaten or even consider criminal charges, police involvement, or disciplinary action. Instead, the sit-in was handled the way campus sit-ins were typically handled a generation ago — as a negotiation between members of the campus community.

In the last few years we’ve seen campus administrators use batons and pepper spray and mass arrest against peacefully protesting students. We’ve seen guns drawn and bones broken. We’ve seen students coerced into promises not to exercise their First Amendment rights for the remainder of their time on campus. Some of these tactics have been effective in smothering student protest, at least in the short term, at least on some campuses. But they’re reprehensible, and they’re poisonous. They’re a violation of the obligations of administrators toward their students, and they’re a violation of the fundamental principles on which a campus should be founded.

For most of American history, it has been national policy to plunder the capital accumulated by black people—social or otherwise. It began with the prohibition against reading, proceeded to separate and wholly unequal schools, and continues to this very day in our tacit acceptance of segregation. When building capital, it helps to know the right people. One aim of American policy, historically, has been to insure that the “right people” are rarely black. Segregation then ensures that these rare exceptions are spread thin, and that the rest of us have no access to other “right people.”

And so a white family born into the lower middle class can expect to live around a critical mass of people who are more affluent or worldly and thus see other things, be exposed to other practices and other cultures. A black family with a middle class salary can expect to live around a critical mass of poor people, and mostly see the same things they (and the poor people around them) are working hard to escape. This too compounds.

Weekend Reading

Had the Economist actually engaged the book’s arguments, the reviewer would have had to confront the scary fact that the unrestrained domination of market forces can sometimes amplify existing forms of oppression into something more horrific. No wonder the Economist abandoned its long-standing intellectual commitments in favor of sloppy old paternalism on Sept. 4, because if it hadn’t, Mr./Ms. Anonymous might have had to admit that market fundamentalism doesn’t always provide the best solution for every economic or social problem.

 

From the start, Mann imagined teaching as women’s work, and not just any women: “Mann depicted these cost-effective female educators as angelic public servants monitored by Christian faith: wholly unselfish, self-abnegating, and morally pure.” Women weren’t just cheaper to hire; they were also assumed to be naturally nurturing and pious enough to teach godly behavior. “Teaching,” Goldstein writes, “was promoted as the female equivalent of the ministry: a profession whose prestige would be rooted not in worldly rewards, such as money or political influence, but in the pursuit of satisfaction that came from serving others.” In other words, you can pay teachers in work.

Weekend Reading

As I slowly get back into the Weekend Reading routine, here are some links:

[W]e should be skeptical of calls for police reform, particularly when accompanied by cries that this (militarization) should not happen here. A close look at the history of US policing reveals that the line between foreign and domestic has long been blurry. Shipping home tactics and technologies from overseas theaters of imperial engagement has been a typical mode of police reform in the United States. When policing on American streets comes into crisis, law-enforcement leaders look overseas for answers. What transpired in Ferguson is itself a manifestation of reform.

From the Philippines to Guatemala to Afghanistan, the history of US empire is the history of policing experts teaching indigenous cops how to patrol and investigate like Americans. As a journalist observed in the late 1950s, “Americans in Viet-Nam very sincerely believe that in transplanting their institutions, they will immunize South Viet-Nam against Communist propaganda.” But the flow is not one-way: these institutions also return home transformed.

When Jill Abramson was fired from her position as executive editor at the New York Times, reportedly after she confronted the paper’s publisher over her discovery that her pay was less than that of her (male) predecessor, among the many outraged reactions from feminists was the response that leaning in doesn’t work after all. Abramson’s experience, similar to that of so many women, seemed a rebuke to the idea, promoted in Sandberg’s book, that individual women were holding themselves back. It reminded us that no matter how hard we try, sexism—sexism in the workplace—cannot be defeated individual success story by individual success story.

One of the insidious things about neoliberalism is how it has managed to absorb our vibrant, multifaceted liberation struggles into itself and spit them back out to us as monotone (dollar-bill-green) self-actualization narratives. The way this has happened to feminism is particularly instructive. As I wrote in Dissent last winter, the so-called “second wave” of feminism fought for women to gain access to work outside of the home and outside of the “pink-collar” fields. Yet in doing so, as Barbara Ehrenreich has written, some feminists wound up abandoning the fight for better conditions in what had always been considered women’s work—whether that be as teachers and nurses, or the work done in the home for little or no pay.

On the Social Condition in War

I recently finished Stephen C. Lubkemann’s Culture in Choas: An Anthropology of the Social Condition in War, and there’s a lot there for interested parties. The book is a dense brick of a book, but there is a lot crammed in those pages, and I found the different directions that Lubkemann goes in really fascinating.

The book is based on about a decade’s worth of research into the numerous ways that people adapted to war in Mozambique. I don’t know that much context about the war, but the narrative that Lubkemann strings together and the arguments he makes are fascinating to scholars of any part of the continent (or indeed anywhere there’s conflict). The backbone of his research is this:

[W]arscapes are often treated as interrupted societies in which the myriad social processes and life projects anthropologists investigate are treated as if they have been suspended. In such contexts coping with violence often becomes the only social task that analysts investigate. Such approaches strip warscape inhabitants of the social multidimensionality that is assumed to shape behavior and inform agency under less dramatic conditions.

[...]

War-time social existence in Machaze was never merely a matter of coping with violence; instead, as in peacetime, it centered on the pursuit of a multidimenstional agenda of life projects and “other struggles.” Throughout the conflict an array of “other” forms of gendered and generational social struggle continued to inform interests and orient behavior – migratory or otherwise. In fact, far from exercising singularly determinative force in shaping war-time behavior or proving capable or overwriting prior social and cultural difference, both the meaning and deployment of military violence itself tended to be reshaped by the specific sociocultural problematics that had long oriented the social life of the myriad and highly differentiated local groups throughout Mozambique (323-4).

With that as his jumping off point, he finds all sorts of interesting things in how people pursue life goals throughout the war and even after. The most interesting parts are his work on wartime mobility – displacement and otherwise. This includes the ways that men relied on decades-old migratory patterns (mostly to South Africa) to escape the violence, the ways that women tried to leverage war-time displacement to free themselves from the constraints of bride-prices, how men who remained in South Africa after the war ended tried to negotiate (or not) the dual life of keeping wives in Mozambique but careers (and even other wives) in South Africa, and the back-and-forth that all of these people navigated when trying to deal with ancestors and witchcraft to shield themselves. It’s all fascinating stuff, and at the heart of it is his decision to separate the life pursuits of people (and the contexts in which these are pursued) – what he calls a “lifescape” – from place. People pursue their lives in multiple places, in single places, or along routes between places, and his discussion of this (im)mobility during and after the war is really worthwhile.

One other thing I’ll focus on here is his reconceptualizing of Albert Hirschman’s “exit, loyalty, voice.” Hirschman’s initial idea was that there were three ways that people reacted to a situation that they were discontent with: loyalty, efforts to reach your life goals within the parameters set; voice, efforts to do this by modifying the parameters; and exit, refusing to participate and instead finding other ways to achieve those ends. In his book (mostly chapter 9), Lubkemann adapts Hirschman’s concept by framing loyalty and voice not as two of three distinct categories but by placing them on a continuum – reactions can be more loyalty or more voice, but they rest on a spectrum of participation within the terms.

In the context of this work, Lubkemann uses the continuum to analyze men who attempt to justify transnational life by living in South Africa more and more but maintaining ties to their ancestral land and their families back in Mozambique. Some men returned home after the war; others remained in South Africa but sent remittances or planned infrequent visits to placate families and ancestors; others sought to slowly leave Mozambique behind – one even argued that he had convinced his ancestors’ spirits to move to South Africa with him, thus freeing him from needing to return to his home. These variations of playing-by-the-rules are a useful way of looking at how people navigate these types of situations.

Anyhow, this is preliminary blogging for sure – I just finished the book this morning and felt the need to at least drop a word suggesting it for those interested in these topics. I’ll have to sit on it for a bit as I figure out just how much of the work can be applied elsewhere, but surely Lubkemann’s call for anthropologists to shift the way they study conflict is useful – to all disciplines.

Quiet on the Front

If you’ve been missing your Weekend Reading fix, I am very sorry, but hopefully I can make it up to you soon. The last half of August has been a busy time – I’ve finished my small-time job at the library, started a new job at a secondary school, and packed up and moved across state lines – but I’m aiming to get back into the swing of things soon. This is just a terse note to let you know things are on the up and up, and hopefully the linkages, random posts, etc. will be arriving soon.

I recently began a long-term substitute job at a high school teaching freshmen and sophomores social studies, so expect me to slide back into my educator-type posts, as well as trying to keep up on the research/academia side of things. In the mean time, do your Labor Day forefathers proud and don’t work too hard. I’ll catch you after the revolution.

Weekend Reading

Ferguson, Missouri

If you don’t know what’s happened in Ferguson, Missouri, this overview is a really good place to start. In sum: on Saturday, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot multiple times and killed by a police officer.

There are numerous investigations being launched. According to the police, Brown had reached for the officer’s gun. They said that a scuffle broke out, leading to a gun being fired (in the passive tense). But there is little confusion when looking at witness’ reports on the matter. Dorian Johnson was walking with Brown when the incident began, and saw the whole thing. Here is one video of Johnson’s account, and MSNBC interviewed him later – his testimony there is as extensive as it is unsettling:

The officer demanded that the two “get the f—k on the sidewalk,” Johnson says. “His exact words were get the f—k on the sidewalk.”

After telling the officer that they were almost at their destination, Johnson’s house, the two continued walking. But as they did, Johnson says the officer slammed his brakes and threw his truck in reverse, nearly hitting them.

Now, in line with the officer’s driver’s side door, they could see the officer’s face. They heard him say something to the effect of, “what’d you say?” At the same time, Johnson says the officer attempted to thrust his door open but the door slammed into Brown and bounced closed. Johnson says the officer, with his left hand, grabbed Brown by the neck.

[...]

“I seen the barrel of the gun pointed at my friend,” he said. “He had it pointed at him and said ‘I’ll shoot,’ one more time.”

A second later Johnson said he heard the first shot go off.

[...]

Brown and Johnson took off running together. There were three cars lined up along the side of the street. Johnson says he ducked behind the first car, whose two passengers were screaming. Crouching down a bit, he watched Brown run past.

“Keep running, bro!,” he said Brown yelled. Then Brown yelled it a second time. Those would be the last words Johnson’s friend, “Big Mike,” would ever say to him.

Brown made it past the third car. Then, “blam!” the officer took his second shot, striking Brown in the back. At that point, Johnson says Brown stopped, turned with his hands up and said “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!”

[...]

By that point, Johnson says the officer and Brown were face-to-face. The officer then fired several more shots. Johnson described watching Brown go from standing with his hands up to crumbling to the ground and curling into a fetal position.

While MSNBC and other news organizations have interviewed Johnson, the police still haven’t, despite his attorney offering to set up an interview.

The current state of the world and the violence meted out is exhausting for me to read about and think about (and fatally dangerous for people like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and many more to exist in). I feel helpless as my government continues to make war on black and brown bodies. There are bigger things that need doing, but I thought I’d put this blog to use if at all possible. If there’s one thing that this blog does, it’s link people to other thing they should read. With that in mind, read on:

  •  This NYT photo is emblematic of the lopsided police oppression going on in Ferguon (and elsewhere). But this one (of the same instant) gives the viewer a sense of Ferguson’s anger.
  • That anger seeks an outlet, and the two protesters in this video said as much perfectly:

“I believe that it needed to happen. I believe that they’re too much worried about what’s going on to their stores and their commerce, and everything. They’re not worried about the murder. They’re not worried about the senseless death; and that’s what I’m worried about.”

“I just think what happened was necessary, to show the police that – you know – they don’t run everything.”

Weekend Reading

Beginning with links on Gaza.

It’s worth listening carefully when Netanyahu speaks to the Israeli people. What is going on in Palestine today is not really about Hamas. It is not about rockets. It is not about “human shields” or terrorism or tunnels. It is about Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives. That is what Netanyahu is really saying, and that is what he now admits he has “always” talked about. It is about an unswerving, decades-long Israeli policy of denying Palestine self-determination, freedom, and sovereignty.

What Israel is doing in Gaza now is collective punishment. It is punishment for Gaza’s refusal to be a docile ghetto. It is punishment for the gall of Palestinians in unifying, and of Hamas and other factions in responding to Israel’s siege and its provocations with resistance, armed or otherwise, after Israel repeatedly reacted to unarmed protest with crushing force. Despite years of ceasefires and truces, the siege of Gaza has never been lifted.

So, the black communities of 4th and 6th Street continue to be laboratories in which Goffman and other student and faculty researchers at the University of Pennsylvania do field work. With its frisson of “authenticity,” On the Run may have a long and varied life ahead ( mini-series? feature film?) shaping misperception and abetting black narrative and material subjection. I already know that this book will be chosen for First Year common reading programs and that all over the US, historically white colleges and universities with small black undergraduate and faculty populations will read and then reproduce as truth On the Run’s ethics and methods; which is to say its relations and practices of power. In the neoliberal “engaged” university, On the Run is sure to be a primer for how to do immersive “urban” ethnography. And so continues, into the next generation, within and outside of the university, what Sylvia Wynter has called our black narratively condemned status.

Recent Data on the LRA

Hopping back on the blog train to post links to three helpful, informative pieces of data related to research on the LRA. First is some very basic data on LRA activity in Orientale province of the DRC. Timo Mueller recently tweeted a link to this, a spreadsheet with data on LRA activity in the province from 2008 to 2014.

The file includes data on attacks, killings, abducted adults, abducted children, and injuries caused by the LRA by every quarter and every year, with some various breakdowns for the different categories. It’s not incredibly detailed data, but includes enough to be useful in looking at the overall effect that the LRA presence has had in the region over the years.

More recently and more exhaustive, two recent reports have been published about the victims of LRA violence in northeastern DRC. First is the latest report from the Resolve, Healing Their Image: Community perceptions of the UN peacekeeping mission in LRA-affected areas of the Democratic Republic of CongoAs Paul Ronan (of Resolve) tweeted, the report isn’t surprising, rather it highlights common knowledge on the ground – Congolese civilians don’t trust the peacekeepers in their midst.

When I was in Dungu last summer, I struggled with the same thing. People would tell me the perils of having Congolese or Ugandan soldiers in the area, tell me of incidents of abuse, and then they would still favor these over MONUSCO peacekeepers. This survey includes 347 people in five major towns in Haut-Uele district, Orientale province, each host to a UN operating base. The report includes brief sections on MONUSCO’s actual role in the region and the local communities’ other protection mechanisms (from migration to early warning to militia formation) before going into community perceptions of overall security, MONUSCO’s protection efforts, information sharing, defection efforts, and the opinions about the defectors themselves. Some snippets:

Even though they viewed patrols as an important aspect of protection work, the majority of participants responded that MONUSCO patrols were inrequent and ineffective. Participants stated that peacekeepers rarely patrolled near farm fields, along roads connecting communities, or within town. In one community close to Garamba [National Park, where LRA are active], participant stated, “We see them walk in our midst without protecting the population.” Participants spoke of irregular patrols and how the inconsistency made them feel unsafe, a sentiment that likely contributed to negative perceptions of the peacekeepers (11).

And a quote from a group of women:

We see them, but we don’t know why they are here in our area. [We ask] that MONUSCO inform the community, and explain to the population why they are here, to do what, and explain what are their projects. Especially that they heal their image in front of the population, because for us they bring despair, they are against our safety, they protect the LRA against us, [for] what good do they live among us? It’s better that they leave, and leave us in peace (10).

The report has other useful pieces of information, and is fairly short. Worth reading for anyone studying the LRA, MONUSCO, or peacekeeping in general. It can also be paired with Séverine Autesserre’s recent work on peacekeepers’ everyday lives and how they shape their effectiveness on the ground.

Secondly, Conciliation Resources just published a report of their own, A People Dispossessed: The plight of civilians in the areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army. This report focuses on the continued “chronic insecurity” that Congolese in this region face, both from the LRA and from Mbororo cattle herders, and explores the mishandled response so far, highlighting how protection is defined, ill-conceived military strategies, the unwillingness of the government to concern itself with the region, the (missed) potential of civil society, and lack of humanitarian aid. The report summarizes these factors thus:

At the fundamental level of understanding, international actors and the armies leading counter-LRA strategies have conceived protection too narrowly as protection from violence. In addition, by opting for a military strategy based on ‘search and destroy’ tactics, they have failed to deter LRA attacks against civilians. The strategy is ill-suited to the LRA threat as it leaves fighters free to move and attack at will. In Congo, the state has lacked the will and/or capacity to provide economic opportunities or essential social services that
fall within a broader conception of protection. Civil society actors, both local and international, have stepped up to fill some of the gap. They have had considerable impact through advocacy, but work at the community level has not connected with security sector protection activities. Finally, international humanitarian agencies and NGOs provided a burst of immediate relief to affected communities but their long-term impact appears negligible (9-10).

It’s also a report worth reading, especially for its exploration of these factors (more in-depth than I’ve copied here) and for its look at the Mbororo issue, an issue that most reports mention in passing but don’t really delve into.

In sum, a couple of good reports on LRA-affected regions of the DRC just came out last month. Read them.

8/7/14 Edit to add: The good people at Conciliation Resources have informed me that the report above, “A People Dispossessed,” was released alongside another report also on the LRA. I just started reading it, but Back but not Home: supporting the reintegration of former LRA abductees into civilian life in DRC and South Sudan seems promising and on an equally important topic. Reintegration and demobilization are a huge part of the push against the LRA, but it’s easier said than done – this report highlights some of the obstacles that still need to be dealt with.

Weekend Reading

First, The Arizona Republic‘s longform series on the migrant trail through Central America:

“I was four months from graduating from high school, and I had to leave the school because they threatened me,” he said. “I couldn’t go out of the house, I couldn’t meet with friends. It was too dangerous.”

It took more than a year before Briseño felt safe enough to go out into the community again.

He lives in a single, ill-lit room with his father, off a narrow courtyard they share with three other families, along with a common bathroom and large sink. Anyone arriving or leaving carefully locks the outer door, made of thick iron bars. Briseño and his friend, Omar Barrera, 19, both spoke matter-of-factly about why it may be a death sentence for those who try to leave but are caught and sent back.

One friend fled a year and a half ago after he was threatened and gang members murdered his father, a policeman. Their friend was trying to reach his mother in Maryland, but he was stopped in Mexico and returned to San Salvador.

“He was murdered the week after he got back,” Barrera said, shaking his head.

Several staff members at Roger Williams told me, privately, that they felt uncomfortable talking about what their animals felt, especially in front of supervisors, though they were convinced that their animals experienced thoughts and emotions. At its worst, anthropomorphism, the fallacy of attributing human characteristics to nonhumans, leads us to imbue animals with our perceptions and motives, reducing the worldview of another species to a bush-league version of our own.

Yet avoiding anthropomorphism at all costs may be the main cause of the schism between scientists and the public in the debate about animal sentience. “Most reasonable people will be on the side of animals being sentient creatures despite the absence of conclusive evidence,” Jaak Panksepp told me.

In 1954, I was in the first grade at David W. Harlan Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. I could buy a hot lunch prepared by cafeteria workers who were employed by the Wilmington Public Schools. I took music lessons for free, using a violin the city schools lent me. We had a school library, chorus, and band. We had art classes three times a week.

Yet schools on Wilmington’s east side got the leftover musical instruments and much less money for books, supplies, and maintaining school facilities like the playground. Harlan was all white, intentionally segregated. Real estate developers and brokers in its attendance zone had homeowners sign racial covenants that prohibited the sale of homes to blacks.

When decrying today’s corporate reform, too many gloss over the second experience and universalize my own, appealing to a past that was always deeply unequal.