i s r f
b u l l e t i n
Discovery & Recognition
Edited by Dr Rachael Kiddey
i s r f
b u l l e t i n
Discovery & Recognition
First published June 2016 Copyright Â© 2016 Independent Social Research Foundation
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Discovery & Recognition
Edges of Europe: Visuality, ethics and witnessing in social research 10 Reflections On the nature and ideas for the future of transformational social research
An Interview with David Graeber
An African legal philosophy of disability justice: Between Discovery and Recognition
On (Failed) Resonance 39 ISRF Social Theory Essay Competition 48
EDITORIAL Dr. Rachael Kiddey ISRF Editorial Assistant
elcome to the tenth edition of the ISRF Bulletin which is published in time for the fourth Annual Workshop and intended to speak to the theme - ‘Discovery & Recognition’. I will keep this editorial brief, not least because Professor Charles Stewart, our co-host for this year’s workshop, has kindly contributed an excellent introductory article that eloquently explores the theme. But first, some news! It is both timely, in terms of the anthropological character of this edition of the Bulletin and a happy outcome that, after three years of financial support from the ISRF, the HAU Journal of Ethnographic Theory has found a permanent home at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). This issue of the Bulletin is brimming with ideas and reflections on how social science interrupts the world. Beginning with a note from Charles Stewart, this edition contains articles written by ISRF Fellows, incoming and outgoing, and an informal conversation on the theme with Professor David Graeber, one of the ISRF’s first Fellows. To complement those intellectual journeys that we hope will arise during and following this year’s workshop, the first paper is by incoming Early Career Fellow, Dr Nishat Awan. Awan describes a two-month journey that she made with her film-maker colleague, Cressida Kocienski, from Turkey to Ukraine, along the ‘edge of Europe’. Staying with the trope of visuality, outgoing Fellow Dr Joel Lazarus reports here on his year as an Independent Scholar, funded by the ISRF. Both Awan and Lazarus destabilise the notion that the consumption of film/TV is a passive activity, where Awan presents ethical dilemmas involved with images on social media and Lazarus argues the moral case persuasively for showing his Capital City Project ethnographic TV series on
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mainstream television. Keen to probe his thoughts on the workshop theme, I spoke with Professor David Graeber and our conversation is reproduced here. In discussing his current research projects, Graeber neatly demonstrates the value of being open to ‘discovery’ and, perhaps more crucially, as Charles Stewart identifies, being willing to ‘recognise’ what data and evidence show. Among other characteristically clever and provocative work discussed here, Graeber describes his current research into the origins of social inequality and the suggestion that the Enlightenment began in medieval North America! Columbus certainly did not recognise that! Asking whether there is an African path to disability justice, Dr Oche Onazi describes the project for which he has recently been awarded ISRF funding. Onazi’s paper is an excellent example of how the social scientist must be prepared to ‘recognise’ what is before them before they can hope to make any kind of discovery – the autonomy of the individual must be recognised, ‘otherness’ or alternative ways to approach a particular set of problems must be respected. The last paper in this edition of the Bulletin is written by Independent Scholar (and panellist at this year’s workshop), Dr Maja Petrović-Šteger, who insists that surprise can come in many forms and from many places, not least from within ourselves. Maja makes her point through describing a terrifying encounter with angry dogs while conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Albania. The purpose of the workshop is to expand on the thoughtful ways in which each contributor to this issue of the Bulletin has considered the theme of ‘Discovery & Recognition’. Whether we truly ‘discover’ new things or whether we more accurately ‘recognise’ that which was already known by others, that which was hidden, forgotten or pushed to one side, I hope that the Workshop is fruitful and enjoyable.
DISCOVERY & RECOGNITION Professor Charles Stewart ISRF Academic Advisor; Professor of Anthropology, University College London
wo hundred years ago to the day (16 June), Mary Shelley went to bed in the holiday home she and her husband had rented on the outskirts of Geneva. In a waking dream she saw a ‘pale student of the unhallowed arts’ using a machine to bring to life a being that he had created. On awakening, she inwardly realised: ‘I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.’ This idea, the kernel of her monumental Frankenstein, came as no little relief because she had been struggling to come up with a scary story for the competition the house guests were holding. Since settling on the theme of ‘Discovery and Recognition’ for this year’s ISRF workshop the story of Mary Shelley’s discovery of one of the most compelling ideas in Western fiction has haunted me. This is not solely because nineteen year-old Mary was in the position of an early career researcher struggling to say something original to more accomplished senior figures. What I find most striking in this story are the twin features of discovery and recognition: the surprise of new ideas; and the conviction that these ideas can be taken from one’s own private realm – one’s metaphorical pillow – and brought to public recognition. In professional social science this involves many incremental steps: winning over close colleagues, one’s discipline, and then, perhaps, an even wider audience. In the terms of the Philosophy of Science, discoveries must travel from the context of discovery through the context of justification to arrive at their destination (validation).
PROFESSOR CHARLES STEWART
How can the personal conviction that something has, in fact, been discovered gain wider assent? Even Mary Shelley could only be sure that she had achieved this from the retrospective vantage point of her invited Introduction to a later edition of her demonstrably successful book. For a social scientist there is no sure way to know at the point of discovery whether an idea will gain traction. We can be excited by our findings, but we cannot be certain that others will be; indeed the affective dimension of excitement must necessarily be elided in the transition to disciplinary acceptation where ideas are calmly inspected according to intellectual criteria of logical coherence, explanatory power and parsimony. Gothic fiction with its instantaneous transmission of shocking ‘grip’ can be affectively infectious in a way that the dispassionately phrased formulations of scholarship cannot. Social science ideas must run the gauntlet of criticism, testing and revision and they might ultimately gain recognition in a form surprising to the originator. At the last ISRF Workshop on communication we considered the challenges of disseminating our findings in terms of available media and target audiences. This year’s theme enters into productive dialogue with that discussion by focusing more closely on the conditions of discovery, placing ‘discovery’ under psychological and epistemological scrutiny. It poses the more intimate question of how we recognise novelty. Does that come in a flash of insight – the aha!, or eureka moment – or through a slow period of auto-persuasion? Certainly, discovery is always relative to existing knowledge and expectations. Much work is conducted in Kuhn’s mode of ‘normal science’ and does not so much discover novelty as extend frontiers. The conditions of discovery involve socio-political negotiation over who may be allowed to make discoveries (at what level of seniority, for example). Outsiders may often make creative and radical breakthroughs because the mainstream community holds too myopically to cherished points of view. The situation may also be considered in terms of personality traits such as confidence, openness, arrogance or independence which enable key individuals to see and say things
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that others are unable to contemplate. As Louise Braddock wrote in her original description of this workshop1 , discoveries may actually be rediscoveries of things already tacitly known but not accepted or admitted â€“ scotomisations revealed to vision, to use the vocabulary of psychoanalysis; scales falling from the eyes if biblical imagery is preferred. Viewed from another angle this is the problem of the ethical obligation attendant upon recognition. If social research tells of the miserable conditions of refugees, the threat to the climate posed by optional everyday consumption practices, or the corruption of certain political systems then, at what point must the original researcher, or readers of this research, resolve to do something about it? Perhaps, to paraphrase the poet Rilke, it is not possible just to stand and stare; one must change oneâ€™s life. The findings from many ISRF-funded projects have the potential, if properly recognised, to destabilise longstanding ideas and habitual practices. There might, however, be too many vested interests in maintaining the status quo to allow for change. Thus many discoveries may be stillborn, or pass into the cryogenic vaults of scholarship (libraries and electronic archives) to be brought to life when they can be countenanced.
1. Braddock, L., Stewart, C., & Kiddey, R. (2014). 2016 ISRF Workshop Blurb. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://isrf.org/workshops/#2016
EDGES OF EUROPE Visuality, ethics and witnessing in social research Dr. Nishat Awan ISRF Early Career Fellow; Lecturer, School of Architecture, University of Sheffield
n thinking about the edges of Europe I was interested in that which Europe excludes or that from which it is marginalised. The edge could also be referred to as the border, perhaps a more resonant term in the current context of mobility across Europe of those who are variously termed as migrants, asylum seekers and for the lucky few, refugees. As Europeâ€™s borders become increasingly militarised and solidified, a journey along the Black Seaâ€™s western edge reveals the deeply problematic contradictions at the core of the very idea of Europe. The line I traced in a twomonth journey started in Turkey, a Muslim country whose EU membership until recently seemed to be eternally deferred, and which is now in the paradoxical position of being allowed in if it can keep other Others out. Then come Bulgaria and Romania, the two newest members of the EU whose entrance into the union brought its own toxic debate centred around migrant labour that is both desired and denied. The journey ended in Ukraine, a country, the fraught positioning of which between Russia and Europe has led to war and the annexation of territory. On the one hand, such an account of the edge of Europe tells us what we already know - that borders are not fixed or static things; but in journeying through these countries, that in the standard idiom of the social sciences would be considered quite disparate, my aim was to look for continuities, relationalities and disjunctures across these spaces through the migrant experience. My own interest in migration and borders comes from having migrated myself, from Pakistan to the U.K., and many of those I met
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on this journey and with whom I had the most rapport were also from Pakistan. I think that tells its own story about how research is always already implicated in us as we are in it. As someone who has always attempted to remain aware of a feminist politics of location, my aim was to carry out situated work, that is slow, that gives something of itself and that is ready not to reveal it all. I travelled with artist and filmmaker, Cressida Kocienski, and we returned with many stories and a large amount of visual material, all of which was gathered following the relevant ethical procedures of anonymity and informed consent. Yet, I do not feel comfortable sharing many of them. Here the role of representation and what it means to reveal and to make visible is key. As the filmmaker, Trinh T Minhha writes, “invisibility is built into each instance of visibility, and the very forms of invisibility generated within the visible are often what is at stake in a struggle.”1 This fraught relationship between the visible and invisible is the subject of a recent exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London by the artist Martine Syms, titled Fact & Trouble, after a phrase by William James, the American philosopher and psychologist. For Syms this phrase embodies the relationship between the truth and its construction and between the document and its reception in film-making and artistic practice. Many of these same issues are also present in social and cultural research, but particularly so in visual research. Facts are trouble and representing them can lead to trouble. As someone interested in forms of visual experimentation the idea of ‘troubling’ mainstream representations seemed to me to be an apt metaphor for the type of work I was attempting to carry out. I was interested in how such representations can challenge mainstream narratives without, for example, turning each and every person on the move into abject victim or demonised other. What forms of representation allow for the agency of the migrant subject, for the fluid and flexible geographies of the border to be made visible and for the traumas associated with border crossing to be expressed in ways that are based around evocation rather than explication? If we think about the politics of visualisation in relation to the socalled refugee crisis, one very strong strand of the way in which the visual is being used is in support of, or to elicit, a humanitarian response. It is a response based in sometimes sensational images, like the photograph of the Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, who 1. Minh-ha, T. T. (2016). The Image and the Void. Journal of Visual Culture, 15(1), 131140 11
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Drawing difficult journeys across Syria, Lebanon and Turkey - an interview with a Syrian in Istanbul. Image: Cressida Kocienski
drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. That image did lead to a change in the way the issue was being discussed, at least in UK, but I think it would be fair to say that this renewed compassion did not last long. In order to think about the role of images and the humanitarian impulse, it is perhaps useful to turn to an older image. I am referring to Michael Buerk’s seminal report on the famine in Ethiopia, which was broadcast by the BBC in 1984. In many ways it has been instrumental in shaping the politics of compassion upon which humanitarian responses in the West rely.2 That report was followed by the rather problematic Live Aid concerts and inaugurated the now regular celebrity forays into humanitarianism. One could trace a genealogy of image-making from that single broadcast to the situation as it is today, where techniques of digital story-telling and virtual reality are being used by aid agencies as a way of communicating with potential donors. One such attempt is the film, Clouds over Sidra, made in collaboration with the UN, which follows a young Syrian girl around the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan.3 The award winning virtual reality film was premièred at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and was credited with increasing the amount 2. Gilbert, P., & Berlant, L. (Eds.). (2014). Compassion: The culture and politics of an emotion. Routledge; Nussbaum, M. C. (2003). Upheavals of thought: The intelligence of emotions. Cambridge University Press 3. Arora, G., & Milk, C. (Directors). (2015). Clouds Over Sidra [Video file]. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://with.in/watch/clouds-over-sidra/ 12
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of aid pledged to the cause by world leaders.4 The film is a good successor to Buerk’s BBC report since both rely on the notion of witnessing to mobilise passions. We are shown the emaciated child crying at the pain of hunger, or the harsh realities of life in a desert refugee camp, in order to provoke a response from us at an emotional level. Whilst there is this similarity between the two images, there is also a significant shift in the way that these images operate as modes of witnessing that has much to say about our contemporary reality. In the BBC report the familiar and trusted face of the presenter gave an authenticity not only to the images but also to the accompanying analysis, however simplified and unreliable it may have been. Again like the image of the Syrian toddler one cannot deny that there was an immediate efficacy to the image but its longer term legacy is more problematic. In Clouds over Sidra, a different dynamic is at play. We are now in the era of the ubiquity of the image, of the hyper-complexity of politics, where black and white understandings of right and wrong are simply not possible. It is an era that the artist-philosopher Hito Steyerl has called the time of November, referring to the Sergei Eisenstein film, October.6 She writes, “November is the time after October, a time when revolution seems to be over and peripheral struggles have become particular, localist, and almost impossible to communicate.”7 In such a time, whose witnessing could be trustworthy enough? The simple and rather cynical answer that Clouds over Sidra provides us with, is yourself and yourself alone. Virtual reality transports us to the refugee camp, where we can see ‘first-hand’ the traumatic conditions and hear the personal stories of refugees who seem to be addressing us alone. As one of 5
4. Anderson, M. (2015). Can tearjerker virtual reality movies tempt donors to give more aid? Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/dec/31/virtual-reality-movies-aid-humanitarian-assistance-united-nations; Feltham, Jamie. “Clouds Over Sidra Wins Sheffield Doc/Fest Award.” Vrseworks. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://vrse.works/826/clouds-over-sidra-wins-sheffield-docfest-award/ 5. Much has been written about the report’s failure to show the complex reasons behind the famine, which was almost entirely man-made. Instead the report settled for the rather sensational image of a ‘biblical famine’. See, Franks, S. (2014). Reporting disasters: Famine, aid, politics and the media. Hurst; Franks, S. (2014). Ethiopian famine: How landmark BBC report influenced modern coverage. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/ oct/22/ethiopian-famine-report-influence-modern-coverage; 6. Aleksandrov, G., & Eisenstein, S. (Directors). (1928). October: Ten Days That Shook the World [Documentary]. Soviet Union: Sovkino (USSR). 7. Steyerl, H. (2004). November: A Film Treatment. Transit, 1(1). Chicago 13
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the film makers Chris Milk claims; “Virtual reality, fundamentally, is a technology that removes borders… Anything can be local to you.”8 The primacy of vision embedded within such statements is only one in a line of problematic assumptions. This work places the burden of proof on the refugee, in this case a twelve year old girl, who has to show us her destitution and her will in the face of it; she has to perform it. There is also the unerring faith in the technological, which in this particular configuration has rather aptly been named the ‘digital saviour complex’, by the critic Bhakti Shringarpure.9 In an age of new media and the almost instant sharing of images via social media, a different set of politics and ethics are at play. No longer reliant on the mediation of newsroom editors and professional journalists in the field, today the images we consume of various crises are often sent by members of the public, people who happen to be there at the time, people who might even be involved in the events. There is an authenticity and immediacy associated with such images, but at the same time they are easily exploited, misinterpreted and hijacked by powerful actors. How to make sense of the sheer amount and often shocking nature of these images is difficult. In the case of migrant journeys the ubiquity of the image has led many to speak of the possibility of self-narration, meaning that through the use of mobile phone cameras people are able to record, and therefore to represent their own experiences. I was offered such images by some of the people I spoke to and many of these were disturbing. Just as photographs are often taken to record moments of joy, so they were taken on these journeys to record moments of trauma or points in the journey that were especially difficult. I did not take any of these images but following the new impulse of social science as surveillance, it is really not that hard to find these images on Facebook, Twitter etc., something that fits into a dangerous and extremely unethical trend of scrapping information from the web. This issue of the ubiquity of the image came up again when we were being shown around the Kapikule border crossing, between 8. Harris, B. J. (2015). How The United Nations Is Using Virtual Reality To Tackle Real-World Problems. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://www.fastcompany. com/3051672/tech-forecast/how-the-united-nations-is-using-virtual-reality-to-tackle-real-world-problems 9. Shringarpure, B. (2015). The Digital Savior Complex. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://www.warscapes.com/opinion/digital-savior-complex 14
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Turkey and Bulgaria, which is the second busiest land border crossing in the world. We were shown around the border by a customs official who pointed out a low-slung building at the edge of a large concrete expanse. It was the building that housed the x-ray, and we were told of the time when it revealed the bodies of several people in a lorry, mostly Syrians who were attempting to cross the border into Europe. We were first offered the x-rays but then having reconsidered they offered us images that the customs officials themselves had taken on their mobile phones, since these were not seen to be subject to the same rules as the official images. Needless to say we did not take them but again the issue of the ethics of image production, of what can be revealed, what can be shown and what indeed is ethically and politically possible to see, comes up.
The Kapikule crossing between Turkey and Bulgaria with Greece in the distance. Image: Cressida Kocienski
REFLECTIONS On the nature and ideas for the future of transformational social research Dr. Joel Lazarus Former ISRF Independent Scholar Fellow
y year as an ISRF Independent Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Studies at Warwick University ended last month. I warmly welcome the opportunity to write about this wonderful experience, reflecting on my discoveries and the truths that I have come to recognise over the course of this year. The discoveries I have made are not by any means original nor is the nature of reality that I have come to recognise. Yet, for me personally, they have been truly transformational. They have reinforced the political convictions driving my project and offer a new, deeper metaphysical foundation for all my work. They lead me to provocative questions and answers about the nature of critical social research and the funding of it. I begin with an overview of the work I have undertaken over the course of my ISRF year. The Capital City Project I won the support of the ISRF to develop the foundations of a highly ambitious, longer-term project now called the â€˜Capital City Projectâ€™. The Capital City Project combines drama, media, philosophy, and social science to produce a TV drama series and website aimed at social transformation through intellectual empowerment. The TV drama series Capital City will be based on and around the trading floor of an investment bank and will tell the contemporary story of money (and the social relations behind it). An accompanying Capital City website will be co-produced
by social science and humanities scholars and will give viewers the tools to analyse the drama for themselves in order to develop our intellectuality and build our self-confidence in order to understand and change our world. In short, I seek to apply the principles and practices of critical pedagogy to contemporary media technologies in an attempt to democratise both the production and consumption of film and television.
Mindmapping the Capital City Project
On the production side, central here is the idea of a democratic co-production process. In the case of the Capital City Project, the drama series would entail participatory ethnographic research carried out in and around the trading floor of an investment bank, giving voice and creative power not just to the predominantly white male traders and bosses, but to the whole diverse workforce whose labour reproduces the investment bank and financial sector. On the consumption side, the Capital City website would invite viewers into a participatory experience, enabling them to channel the emotional energy stimulated by the drama series into a potentially transformational pedagogical experience. The ultimate goal of the Capital City Project is nothing less than the cultivation of a mass societal praxis or, at least, an attempt to develop practices for using technologies to achieve this. What have I achieved towards these goals in the past twelve months? In the first quarter of my fellowship, I researched and
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produced a paper entitled ‘Cultivating Self-Belief and Educated Hope: toward a contemporary radical democratic theory of and for transformational art’ - an initial attempt at a theoretical, but practical, framework for the Capital City Project and for the radical democratic production of art more broadly. A pithier version entitled ‘Five Ideas for Hacking Television’ can be read on openDemocracy.1
The Capital City Project seeks to reimagine and democratise ‘reality TV’
My use of the word ‘hacking’ here refers to the general process of deconstructing a technology in order to reconfigure it for an alternative use. However, the word could equally be used here in its more widely understood sense as the subversive practice of infiltrating protected computer systems or networks. My initial conversations with TV industry insiders proved my worst fears true: the way the television industry is currently organised is entirely antithetical to the model I seek to develop. The big channels buy shows from a small group of production companies whose profit-seeking motive leads to an engrained conservatism. The more one’s proposal diverges from the usual fare, the more essential it becomes to have an established ‘creative’ behind one. The next practical step is to conduct enough research in the City to produce a script for one episode. These plans are on a backburner at present until my youngest child goes to school full time in September. 1. Lazarus, J. (2016). 5 Ideas for Hacking Television. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/joel-lazarus/five-ideas-for-hacking-television 18
The reason I was, and remain, interested in getting Capital City on mainstream TV is, as the title of my paper expresses, because I am determined to reach a large audience in order to engage those audiences most exploited by the current financial system. Nonetheless, the way we produce and consume film and television is transforming dramatically and rapidly. A YouTube video can attract literally millions of viewers worldwide. There may be alternative and better avenues to take Capital City down than mainstream TV. The R.O.S.I. Website Project This leads me to present the work I have conducted toward developing a Capital City website. Here, I have made more robust and exciting inroads into exploring the pedagogical and transformational potential of the website as technological medium. In the Spring Term, with support from Warwick’s Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning (IATL), I ran the ‘R.O.S.I. Website Project’ (Reviving Our Sociological Imagination). 2 I invited ten undergraduate students from across the humanities and social sciences departments into a participatory process focused on the question ‘What is money?’ The aim was to produce a participatory website aimed at helping its users to cultivate their sociological imagination - C. Wright Mills’ term for the ability to understand our personal lives in the wider context of our society and history. We met each week for ten weeks for two hours. We began by working to develop a culture of dialogue, listening, empathy, and trust within the group. We then moved on to explore our personal relationships with money. Next, I invited the students to critically reflect on what their own disciplines said (or didn’t say) about money. I then brought in Prof Mike Neary and Brett Scott to run sessions helping the students develop their empirical and theoretical understandings of money. Finally, we worked together on developing the plan for a website called ‘Moneypedia’. During 2. Lazarus, J. (2016). ROSI Website Project. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from http:// www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/funding/fundedprojects/pedagogic/lazarus 19
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each session, the students were given cameras to film the process. Independent filmmaker Ben Cook is now producing a film using this footage.
The ‘flyer’ designed to attract Warwick students to participate in the R.O.S.I. Website Project
The Moneypedia website is currently being built by the students with the help of the IT Services team at Warwick. It contains many participatory features that invite users into a process of genuine knowledge and cultural co-production and very much offers opportunities for all us to cultivate our sociological imaginations. I have now applied to IATL to fund a two-year ‘Strategic Project’ that would enable me to develop and run the R.O.S.I. Website Project as a fully accredited module with a view to promoting and institutionalising the model across the University. The experience of the Project has been profound for both me and the participating students. I have produced a report on the experience here. It has only deepened my belief in the power
of transdisciplinary and dialogical education. Through the experience I have come to know that if democratic transformation is our goal we must be centrally focused on creating opportunities for people to come together in collaborative, empowering processes that generate the knowledge and culture we need to satisfy our material and spiritual needs.
Students as knowledge-producers: Warwick students participating in a R.O.S.I. Website Project session
Universal consciousness and embodied knowledge On the topic of our spiritual needs and on the related topic of embodied knowledge, I have also made profound personal discoveries that have inexpressibly enriched the metaphysical, and intellectual, foundations of my work. Rather than positing emotions, spirituality, and the body in opposition to rationality and intellect, I have come to reject such dualisms and embrace the unity of body, mind, and spirit. Each week I run a political economy learning group at My Life My Choice, a charity run for and by people with learning disabilities. The particular pedagogical challenge this provides me has been so instructive in helping me realise the need to
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transcend logocentrism and to embrace performance, art, music, meditation, and movement in learning spaces. Through my personal work on self with life coach Matthew Painton, I have been able to stop thinking for the first time in personal memory in order simply to feel – an experience that has reconnected me to an evolving universal consciousness and enabled me to recognise that consciousness as the true subject of history. I seek to manifest this consciousness through my own life and work. From this perspective comes a knowledge that precedes and transcends reason – a knowledge that, to quote the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, we ‘inter-are’. It follows that a dialogical approach to life and learning must be central to helping us discover and deepen our sense of this inter-being and our connection to each other and life. Centre for Transformational Learning and Culture The work I am involved in concerns the development of very different models for learning – models that I believe herald and can catalyse radical democratic transformations for human society. In the current crisis of everything, as our current hegemonic social systems crash hard against the psychological, spiritual, and physical limits of planetary life, I subscribe to Murray Bookchin’s thesis of social ecology. Only an end to all forms of hierarchy will end environmental abuse and exploitation. What is dismissed as naive utopianism is actually a grounded realism: only by democratising relations with ourselves, each other, and our natural world can we redeem ourselves from destruction. This brings us to questions of political strategy and of institutional development. We must ask ourselves whether the kind of models we need can actually be developed within current dominant institutions. I have seen first-hand the institutional intransigence and structural conservatism of the modern corporatisated and bureaucratised university, for example. Nonetheless, without downplaying the increasingly precarious nature of academic employment and the disciplinary function of university management, I feel that often the entrenched nature of our belief
that nothing can change from within becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That said, while seeking to secure funding within the university for the experimental pedagogy described above, I have decided that the best way forward for developing participatory models for the co-production of knowledge and culture is to establish something outside of the university. Since February this year, I and eight others have been working to establish a ‘Centre for Transformational Learning and Culture’ (CTLC). An ‘Unconference for Transformational Learning and Culture’, held at Warwick and funded by ISRF in April, brought 25 people from a diverse range of backgrounds together. From this has emerged a nascent networked community. The CTLC will be a think-and-do tank: a creative centre for bringing people together in dialogue to reignite our imagination, revive our sense of hope and power, and generate alternatives for environmental, social, and democratic transformation. It will focus on three core activities: 1. Building a national and global networked community; 2. Events and projects run by Centre members that share our founding and guiding values and principles and promote our aims; 3. Research generated by the events and projects run by Centre members and beyond. In addition, the CTLC website will generate and host members’ media output: films, zines, podcasts, articles, and more.
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID GRAEBER Dr. Rachael Kiddey ISRF Editorial Assistant
RK: Rachael Kiddey
DG: David Graeber
RK: Each year, the ISRF team up with a different university to co-produce a workshop. This year we’re working with Professor Charles Stewart from UCL. The theme of the workshop is ‘Discovery & Recognition’. That is, that, as social scientists, our work constantly surprises us. May I ask for your thoughts on the theme?
Yes. Probably my favourite line in my book ‘Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology’, - the book that has got me into so much trouble with anthropologists ever since, because I don’t consider myself an “anarchist anthropologist” - is the line where I said, “Maybe someday we’ll be able to realise that all those people discovered by Columbus or Vasco da Gama were really just us.” I mean people are people, and the whole idea of discovery is a way of trying to create a gulf which doesn’t really exist. Their sensibilities and responsibilities are not that different. They probably didn’t react to the appearance of what must have been, for them, the equivalent of bizarre creatures from outer space any differently than we would have had if something like that happened. So essentially that is what happened, bizarre creatures from outer space appeared. This is not to say that there won’t always be ongoing problems of interpretation. This is the other point that I always make about the ‘Other’, I mean, I’d probably not be able to ever completely understand someone
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID GRAEBER
from Madagascar, but I’m never going to be able to completely understand my brother. That’s the human condition. RK: Indeed, how much do you ever understand anyone, including yourself?
Yes. In a way that’s how we know people are human, is not what we know about them but what we can’t know about them. They have a potential to surprise us! In a way, that is what constitutes their human reality. RK: How do you think that the work that you do as a social scientist disrupts the world? How does it intervene?
Well, in my case there’s a continuum between the work I do as a scholar and the work I do as an activist. To some degree, they’re utterly different. That’s why I don’t like being called The Anarchist Anthropologist because “anarchist” is not a type of anthropology, any more than “conservative” or “social democrat” is. On the other hand, I do think a lot about the kind of questions one asks, the kind of approaches one takes, and how one could produce something that would be useful to those who are already working to create a better world; one where we’re more equal and one that is generally decent to live in. I think that we all know the wrong way now. We all know that creating yourself as an intellectual vanguard to come up with a correct analysis and prove that anybody else is wrong and then trying to bring everybody up to your level of consciousness, well…. we know where that leads! That’s no good…The ways that intellectual practice intersects with political practice, or is itself political. Maybe the problem is thinking that there is just one solution to this, that there’s only one kind of way you can intervene that’s right. This is kind of scatter-shot. I’ll try and stitch it together. I think that part of the problem is that, as social scientists, as academics, we’ve come to write in such a way as to assume that
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our practice is necessarily political, no matter what we do. I think that it comes from a good place and a not so good place. On the one hand it comes from a necessary conscientiousness that even though we might not actually be pulling the levers of power here in the academy, we still, nonetheless, have to take maximum responsibility for what we do. That in turn can turn into a kind of narcissism and self-importance which is entirely unwarranted. Having sat on American campuses in the 1980s where Foucault became this God, you know? Well, let’s put it this way, that the idea that knowledge and power are basically the same thing is extremely comforting to the egos of those who have a lot of one and none of the other! I read extensively on the relation of power and structural blindness and stupidity, which is not as much explored, because it’s not as interesting. However, you can make the argument that this is more socially important in the long run. Power makes you stupid. You don’t have to know things so you don’t. RK: I would imagine that politicians might be a good analogy! Those in powerful positions in Government have a huge amount of power but they’re only human. They can only absorb so much information given to them by SPADs…
Yes, and also they don’t have to really know what’s going on! I call it the ‘Restaurant Kitchen Phenomena’, because it’s where I first experienced it when I was working as a dishwasher at 16, but you see it over and over again, in all walks of life. The people who are on the bottom of the hierarchy have to know what’s going on, but the people at the top don’t. If something goes wrong, the boss comes in and everybody’s trying to explain what happened. ‘Look, you’re the new guy. You fucked up. Do it again, you’re fired.’ So then everyone else has to scramble to make sure the guy doesn’t get fired, by figuring out what actually happened and addressing the problem.
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID GRAEBER
RK: There’s a trend in social science currently that suggests that the aim is to produce new knowledge. To what degree do you think that ‘production of knowledge; is possible, or has it always been there but we’ve forgotten it, or we haven’t recognised it?
That’s an interesting question! I think that one of the great questions is how you negotiate between the fact that knowledge is constructed in an almost poetic way, and the fact that it can, nonetheless, be true. When it comes to the philosophy of science or philosophy of social science, I tend to go for the critical realist perspective. I consider myself an ontological realist but a theoretical relativist. There is a reality. We can’t ever completely know it but we have a series of perspectives on it which are incommensurable but that doesn’t mean that they don’t all have some truth. That includes everything from different genres of intellectual practice to stand-up comedy. RK: Stand-up comedy as an example of participant observation?
Truths you’re not going to find in probably any other genre, but you know definitively that they are true! They’re also not comprehensive. You wouldn’t want to limit yourself to that. RK: Yes. That’s a fascinating example and something I’d never considered before. What are you working on now?
I am writing three books. Two of them are with other people. Let’s see…. I am writing a book of essays on divine kingship with Marshall Sahlins, my old teacher. He was my graduate school advisor, you know, so this is an enormous honour for me. After that I will write a book to get me some money since I’d like to have a house! I have a two-pronged strategy for getting a house. The first is to write a book on jobs and get a big advance. The second part is to talk down the market, so that’s why I’m pressing on The Guardian, you know! Saying, ‘Oh my God, it’s a bubble, it’s going to crash.’ You can laugh but I think it’s true. And
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the process should definitely be sped up because this country needs to move from a finance-based economic model as soon as it can if it’s going to create any sort of long-term viable economy. RK: Thinking back to our conversation earlier about power and knowledge, it is amazing how, in the internet age, a tiny bit of information somewhere can make global markets fluctuate people panic, pull out their money and then ‘crash!’ It’s as though in worrying about things, we make them happen.
Exactly, and then the other side, just by making people not worry about it you can sustain something, which is like the very definition of a scam. It’s now become official, the basic economic logic. The third book that I’m working on is also co-written. There’s an archaeologist named David Wengrow. We are writing a book on the origins of social inequality. Essentially the argument of the book is that everybody talking on the subject is using knowledge that was state-of-the-art about a half a century ago. They’re using 60s archaeology and 60s anthropology, unsurprisingly, considering that neither anthropologists, nor archaeologists, have been writing for anybody outside their own disciplines since the 60s—or even their sub-disciplines usually. So we are going to do it. We’re going to catch people up-to-date because essentially everything we know is wrong. People still keep saying, ‘Oh, you know, for most people in history people lived in little bands of 20-40 people which were completely egalitarian, but, you know, as soon as you get larger you can’t do it. This is the conventional story: Once you’ve got agriculture, you’ve got private property, so you get inequality from that, and then when you get cities you get a surplus, you get a ruling class that essentially grabs that surplus, you get government bureaucracies managing things because it’s too large to self-organize, but you also get high culture.’ So that’s “civilization. It comes as a package. That’s kind of the basic story that everybody assumes is the
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID GRAEBER
background to the narrative. The problem is none of those things are true. Zero! Many hunter-gatherer societies actually turn out to be extremely unequal, but only seasonally. They would go back and forth: One part of the year they’d be egalitarian, another part they’d assemble into micro-cities and do the exact opposite of what they were doing in other times of year. They would create hierarchies and tear them down again. So then the question is not, ‘Where did inequality come from?’ but how did it get stuck in one modality? The other interesting thing is the egalitarian city phenomenon which nobody talks about. In many of the earliest cities we know about, the very first in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley civilization… there’s just no evidence for a ruling class or even significant differences of wealth and power at all. The only large structures are things like giant public bath systems or things that are obviously for everybody; and it’s quite the same in some of the civilisations that are only being fully explored now, like Tripolye in Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, where the cities were actually larger than Mesopotamia at the time, but again, no huge temples or palaces, no houses bigger than the others, but a series of circles: houses set in circles, circular clusters of houses set in circles... So early cities usually go through a stage of extreme egalitarianism before anything else happens, unfortunately it’s always just before the appearance of writing so we don’t know nearly as much about these cities as we’d like to. But they clearly existed, at the very beginning, and it means the conventional narrative of “civilization” is simply wrong. RK: That’s really interesting. It chimes with my experience of being involved with squatting. There would always be a first amazing month - people would help one another, do things for free, no arguing etc. - then there reached a critical point where the market and hierarchy intervened. Someone did something that made someone else think, ‘Okay, well if you’re going to finish the sugar then I can use that paint,’ and then before you know it,
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the same rules and inequalities existed inside the squat as did in the outside world. Getting back to Tripolye though, these communities – with their round, egalitarian houses – Did they keep it up for hundreds of years? How did they do that? Is there really no evidence of social equality at all?
That’s what’s so interesting. None we’ve found. One of the things that we’re working on is the idea that we’re looking in the wrong place. Maybe it’s not obvious because the inequalities are emerging on the small scale not the large ones. Everybody has got this obsession of scale now, ever since Dunbar maybe, or “scalar stress theory” as it’s called emerged, it’s the explanation for everything. It’s funny because when I was in college the pendulum had swung the other way: they used to say old Stalinists like Karl Wittfogel believed that oppressive states emerged in the Middle East from the need to manage irrigation works—it was basically a functionalist argument—but that we’d since learned from doing actual fieldwork that, no, in most places local people still manage complex irrigation themselves without any need for bureaucrats. That’s all gone by the boards now. It’s like it never existed. The received wisdom is back to the functionalist logic that as soon as things get big and complicated, local, decentralized, participatory structures can’t handle it, so we need some big bad state to run things for us. That’s absolutely false. So why then do inequalities eventually emerge in early cities? I’m playing around with an idea I call “inequality from below.” After all, there might be a lot of examples of egalitarian cities in history, but it’s a lot harder to find egalitarian households. So it actually is gendered domestic stuff we have to be looking at, the emergence of forms of bonded labour—even slavery—from unequal domestic relations, and how forms of inequality start to bubble up from there.
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID GRAEBER
RK: How far back can we see gendered households?
We don’t really know what’s going on in the Neolithic. Obviously all the primitive matriarchy guys are so out that they can’t talk about the possibility that women were actually running anything anymore, but there’s something weird going on with gender, nonetheless, in some of those places where it does seem like... you know, you have places where not only all the figures of humans are females, but they’re wearing masks and doing things that imply they’re humans not deities, then you have places like Minoan Crete where all figures of authority are female... Something’s going on, if nothing else, there were much more egalitarian gender relations in certain times and places. If you look at the Mesopotamia stuff, when the curtain goes up it’s sort of like now. It’s like there are women doctors and lawyers but there’s not as many. Then it gets worse and worse and worse. If you project backwards, the same trend would imply that women had even more status in the past, and that’s what the art seems to reflect, but we can’t be certain... who knows? Anyway, David Wengrow and I have just written up a draft of a piece for the London Review of Books, which will introduce some of these concepts. This is a big project really. It’s full of slightly outrageous provocations. For instance we’re working on a theory that the enlightenment actually began in North America in the 1300s. RK: The Pre-Columbian enlightenment?
Well, you know, they have this kind of ideal of rational male sociality, drinking caffeinated beverages and smoking tobacco in a public space while creating a constitution… This was actually happening among say, the Creek, or Osage, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries perhaps, long before Europe. It all has to do with the collapse of the Mississippian civilization
DR. RACHAEL KIDDEY
because somehow you have this hierarchical caste-based society practicing horrific forms of human sacrifice, almost industrial agriculture, around say 1000 AD, then bang, a few centuries later it disappears. There are successor states but they too fall part, and then instead you see the emergence of what can only be called polis-sized republics where they used to be. Then these Europeans come over and say, ‘Oh look, noble savages. They’re egalitarian and individualistic and at one with nature. They must have always been like that.’ This becomes a very important though of European political thought of course: Eastern Woodlands Native Americans are seen as the very model of egalitarian individualism from which later Enlightenment thinkers took inspiration. But they saw it as natural. Primordial innocence of some sort. In fact, if you look at the history, what really happened is first the emergence of state-like hierarchical societies, then, those urban civilizations collapse, and a few generations later the Europeans show up and basically find this bunch of hippies. It never occurs to them that there might be some connection—that this might be some sort of self-conscious political ideology. RK: This goes back to the theme of this year’s ISRF workshop. How do we know that what we think we’re ‘discovering’ is actually just ‘recognising’ ourselves in Others?
Exactly, ‘they’ have similar problems and political ideologies. We just have to learn how to look.
AN AFRICAN LEGAL PHILOSOPHY OF DISABILITY JUSTICE Between Discovery and Recognition Dr. Oche Onazi ISRF Early Career Fellow; Lecturer, Dundee Law School, University of Dundee
lobal disability justice discourse is shaped by two leading approaches. The human-rights-based approach is not only more dominant but treats disability justice as a question of equality and individual autonomy requiring the application of existing human-rights norms to persons with disability. The second approach is influenced by diverse perspectives on ‘justice’ in the Western tradition of legal, political and social theory and philosophy, which variously respond to the neglect of disability in foundational writings. Because the literature proceeds from an abstract and universalist standpoint regarding disability and justice, it is unclear how it takes account of the particularities of non-Western political societies, or how – unlike the humanrights-based approach – it influences concrete national laws, institutions, policies, practices and activism in non-Western societies. Amartya Sen’s 1 and Marta Nussbaum’s 2 capability/ capabilities approach is distinct regarding the philosophical underpinnings it provides to the concept of human development.3 Nevertheless, the impact of Sen’s and Nussbaum’s approach on national laws and policies should not be exaggerated as a result 1. Sen, A. (2001). Development as freedom. Oxford Paperbacks. 2. Nussbaum Martha, C. (2006). Frontiers of justice: disability, nationality, species membership. 3. Nussbaum, M. C. (2011). Creating capabilities. Harvard University Press. 33
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of the prevalence of the neoliberal concept of development and its indifference to disability justice. Despite its progressiveness, Sen’s and Nussbaum’s approach, like the human-rights approach, suffers from a local legitimacy deficit because it is developed mainly from Western cultural experiences and understandings of disability and justice, and the literature in general lacks a comprehensive non-Western response to disability justice. Through African legal philosophical and theoretical thought, I seek to remedy this in my ISRF research. My project demonstrates the character that disability justice would take if it mirrored an African legal philosophy constituted by the most attractive African ethical and moral values of community. While there is some consensus that the concept of community is common among African societies 4, there is no agreement on what the term ‘community’ means5,6, the claim here is of neither the pre-existence nor the existence but rather the universalisability of these ethical and moral values of community across Africa. Universalisability is predicated on the ability to appreciate these ethical and moral values as the thread that can bind Africans together despite their differences, and this is further contingent on cross-cultural exchanges and processes of shared learning made possible by laws and legal and political institutions. Although there are several ethical and moral values commonly associated with community in Africa, human interdependence is discursively selected as a plausible way of defining and valuing community and of extrapolating foundational and evaluative principles of disability justice. The African concept of community, a framework that facilitates togetherness or sharing an ethical life, is best exemplified by human interdependence, which can link vast differences across Africa into a common project. Neither individual nor community takes precedence over the complex, 4. Metz, T. (2012). African conceptions of human dignity: Vitality and community as the ground of human rights. Human Rights Review, 13(1), 19-37. 5. Menkiti, I. A. (1979). Person and community in traditional African thought. African philosophy. New York: University Press of America. 6. Gyekye, K. (1997). Tradition and modernity: Philosophical reflections on the African experience. Oxford University Press. 34
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interlocking processes of interaction and continuum between humans and communities. Human interdependence bears witness not to the uniform but to the complex ethical ways of sharing lives. It encompasses the ethical and moral literacy that is acquired through learning from and sharing, exchanging, experiencing and interacting with each person. Human interdependence is predisposed to and provides the grounding for other values, particularly compassionate dispositions of love, care and affection for the most vulnerable people, not only as the ultimate measure of a community, but also of society as a whole. A legal philosophy of disability justice founded on these precepts will provide a criterion for establishing and evaluating laws and legal and political institutions and practices according to the degree to which they include persons with disability within the range of interdependent relationships characteristic of a given community. This, of course, will include recognising and protecting the human rights of persons with disability as not only passive recipients of habits of love, care, affection, compassion and friendship (although this will depend on the type of disability) but capable of providing such themselves. This is important because the emphasis on individual autonomy, despite its significance in mainstream disability justice discourse, risks contributing to the isolation and deprivation of persons with disabilities and to the failure to recognise them as beings worthy and capable of typical community relationships. The proposed legal philosophy of disability justice first underscores the obligations of citizens without disabilities to citizens with them. The greatest strength of the African legal philosophy of disability justice may be its potential impact on the cultural and social attitudes of citizens without disabilities, as it nurtures a public moral culture that underscores not just a better understanding of the orthodox vertical citizenship obligations but also of the stringent horizontal ethical and moral obligations of citizens without disabilities to citizens with them. This new public moral culture of obligations would be contingent on a political, educational and legislative reform agenda capable of helping
DR. OCHE ONAZI
citizens without disabilities to better appreciate their special obligations to citizens with disabilities, among other vulnerable citizens. It arises from the awareness that the mistreatment of citizens with disabilities is the result not only of a failure to accord them with standards of equal citizenship but also of the failure of citizens without disabilities to treat citizens with disabilities with love, empathy and compassion as a basic requirement of morality and justice that binds members of any political community. An essential part and practical component of this proposed reform agenda should be performed by moral citizenship education supported by a bill of responsibilities, both of which will provide a vehicle to concretise the ethical and moral obligations that are foundational to African legal philosophy. My project invokes two unique but related questions of ‘discovery’ and ‘recognition’, although the latter is more apparent than the former. The question of what constitutes (or should constitute) a discovery can be preceded only by an ethical question of how to recognise ‘who’ or ‘what’ remains unrecognised, or for the purposes of my project, how to recognise ‘alterity’ or ‘otherness’. African ethical and moral values of community have traditionally not been articulated inclusively enough to recognise persons with disabilities, just as there is a failure to recognise African legal philosophy as a valid discipline capable of contributing to the understanding of laws and legal concepts and institutions that are relied upon to solve African and non-African problems. Certainly, the first and second question are related by the fact that the failure to recognise persons with disabilities is partly fuelled by concerns of the existence, identity and significance of African legal thought due to this denial to recognise it. In both cases, recognition is analogous to an intersubjective reciprocal claim for the affirmation of identity, consciousness and respect between humans, rooted in a tradition of legal, social and political philosophy7,8 that dates back to Georg Wilhelm 7. Honneth, A. (1996). The struggle for recognition: The moral grammar of social conflicts. Mit Press. 8. Taylor, C. (1995). Philosophical arguments. Harvard University Press. 36
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Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831). A comprehensive response to the first question is contingent on understanding the nature of, and possible solutions to, the second question. African legal philosophy is beleaguered with claims for recognition within legal philosophy. Another Hegelian legacy, namely the denial of the capacity for legal consciousness, which is a fundamental human essence 9, is difficult for African legal philosophy to surmount and continues to deny it the ability to contribute to decisive debates about legal and social problems. On the one hand, Hegel proposed the concept of recognition10, but on the other, he grounded a destructive legacy of denial of African legal philosophy, a denial which has become a microcosm for the broader rejection of African knowledge and humanity.11 Not only does this point towards some of the issues at stake, it also reveals the unequal power relationships and processes of domination that produce, determine and shape the aspiration for and the outcome of recognition. Implicit in both of the above claims for recognition is an essentialism about the defining character of being human or of law and legal philosophy, both of which demand a further response because they are additional hallmarks of Hegel, who subsumed both essentialist questions by equating human consciousness with the capacity for legal consciousness. Hegel’s overt bigotry detracts from a significant analytical point that may be deduced from it, namely that a comprehensive account of law cannot be successfully achieved without a background notion of human nature. 12 This has been neglected in contemporary legal philosophy, but it explains why the legal field supplies the adjudicatory standards for determining a variety of claims for recognition. 13 A preliminary response to both questions of recognition may first entail working within the disciplinary standards of ‘African’ legal philosophy and ‘legal philosophy’ in 9. Murungi, J. (2013). An introduction to African legal philosophy. Lexington Books. 10. Hegel, G. W. F. (1976) Phenomenology of the Spirit. New York, Oxford University Press. 11. Hegel, G. W. F., & Sibree, J. trans.(2001) The Philosophy of History. 12. Murungi, J. (2013). op. cit. 13. Douzinas, C. (2000). End of human rights. Hart Publishing (UK). 37
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general, to demonstrate how claims for the recognition of persons with disabilities on the one hand, and African legal philosophical perspectives on the other, conform to the respective standards of these disciplines, or simply to show the novelty and originality of these claims in discovering previously unrecognised ways of thinking about and valuing humans and legal philosophy, respectively. The problem remains that this leaves the terms (or who determines the terms and outcomes) of recognition unquestioned. Persons with disability, for example, will still be judged by socio-cultural standards of normalcy, whereas African legal philosophy will be judged by a universalism that eschews diversity and difference. An alternative or more disruptive response is therefore necessary to amplify the subjectivities, terms of recognition, disciplinary parameters and internal standards against which such claims should be judged. It is only on this condition that the precise novelty or disruptive nature of the various claims, and the benefits from human and disciplinary interdependence, can be fully recognised. This will allow a process of critical introspection that is necessary to question the inclusive nature of African ethical and moral ideals of community, to discover not only alterity or otherness, but also how its founding precepts can be expanded beyond its original formulations to increase its capacity for recognition. This demand for recognition by persons with disability requires not just the application of African ethical and moral precepts to novel and contemporary problems, but also the revisiting and redefining of the structural, conceptual and foundational precepts in ways that disrupt existing categories of recognition. It is unclear whether African values of community and human ontology recognise persons with disability. Therefore, new concepts, conceptual structures and foundations â€“ yielding new laws and legal and political institutions â€“ are required.
ON (FAILED) RESONANCE Dr. Maja PetroviÄ‡-Ĺ teger Former ISRF Independent Scholar Fellow; Assistant Professor and Research Fellow, Institute of Anthropological and Spatial Studies, Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts
ritical social sciences often reiterate the value of sharing and collaboration. The assumption goes that researchers will understand the world, express themselves more fully, work and live better if they share information, knowledge, insights and their time with each other. This paper reflects on the conditions of sharing, the idea of cooperative relationships and attempted resonance amongst colleagues. It asks what meaning making can be done across research gaps and silences as well as in successful collaborations. How might an example of failed resonance affect the research processes? As an anthropologist, my areas of interest include the anthropologies of the body, of consciousness and of medicine. I have studied and written about, for example, the reception of new reproductive technologies in Slovenia, the ancestral repatriation practices of aboriginal human remains in Tasmania, bioscientifically mediated ways of recovering bodies lost in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, modes of self-representation and self-extension in electronic spaces amongst Swiss artists, and a notion of psychological and mental security in contemporary Serbia. Tracking people, ideas and concepts, across a range of sites, from mass graves, museums, forensic laboratories and art festivals, to the level of communal imaginary means that I have worked closely with various professionals, such as lawyers, forensic specialists, coders, designers and medical doctors. However, the first time that I was invited to collaborate, that is, not only to study the practices of others but to truly work with other
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social scientists, including three professional anthropologists, a geographer and a specialist in geodesy, was just two years ago. I became a part of an interdisciplinary, comparative study of the meaning of land and water routes in Slovenia, Albania and Serbia. The study researches water and land routes as material manifestations of peoples’ intervention in the environment as well as sites that allow people particular negotiations and expressions of their ways of identifying with, using, and crafting the spatial circumstances that they inhabit. The researchers on the project work in different locations. I, for example, work in central Serbia, around the valley of the river Morava. Nonetheless, we discuss and create the project’s methodology together. Our goal is to see the ways in which we can combine an anthropological approach and techniques of remote sensing with a human geography approach, and conjoin our quantitative and qualitative data in order to fully understand the character and the value of land and water routes. Our project debates are most interesting. We teach each other about the premises of our different disciplinary approaches, read selected literature together and discuss the meaning of raw data in the context of anthropology, geodesy, and geography. Searching for a way to grasp each other’s field sites and research concerns more fully, we have recently decided to carry out group fieldwork. The plan was to see whether, and how, we could help each other refine our fieldwork and analysis on site. We wondered if our different research habits and knowledge about the region would help us better understand it. What it is, for example, that other researchers notice, work on, hear, smell, experience that I do not? To this end, in early April 2016, we spent 12 days on a group fieldwork trip to Serbia and Albania. In sharp contrast to my usual spontaneous and organic time in the field, I travelled to Serbia with an exact plan of the locations I wanted to explore with my colleagues. The schedule included the particular places around which I concentrate my work:
ON (FAILED) RESONANCE
certain hydroelectric power plants; the towns and villages around the Morava river that were heavily affected by flooding and drought in the past two years; particular mineral springs and the infrastructure that exists around them. I was very hesitant, however, to include in this plan any meetings with the people with whom I usually work. Since we were so short on time, I believed it would be difficult to plan meetings and events that would take up the whole of a morning or an afternoon. In addition to the time constraints, I also felt ambivalent about bringing five people into my interlocutors’ private spaces: their houses, courtyards, living rooms, offices, corn fields and fishing spots. I knew of my colleagues’ as intellectual interlocutors and analysts, but had no experience of their methods of working in the field or their abilities in speaking and understanding the Serbian language. Without first-hand experience of working with them, I did not even know whether they would show the level of care, respect and sensitivity that I consider to be owed to my interlocutors.
Photo: Author’s Own (Maja Petrović-Šteger)
DR. MAJA PETROVIĆ-ŠTEGER
The process of “doing” fieldwork translates into many things. I often think of it as a process of carving time and making a dwelling in it, where one can play with questions, tensions, words, silences, imagined neuralgic spots, premonitions, images, revelations, while hoping that some combination, even a chance combination, of all these things, will move the people I study in such a way that they will open up an articulation or expression of their own ideas. Doing fieldwork also means cultivating the space where my respondents do not have to feel that they need to accommodate me, but where they can express themselves in a way that is true to who they are at that particular moment. My hope is always that some kind of resonance will be formed: that our interests, the ways we share, observe and participate together in a situation, will be calibrated in such a manner that our modes of communication will resonate. Fieldwork for me thus always means conscious creation of fruitful tensions and intimacy. It was thus very humbling to see, how resourceful, motivated and creative most of my colleagues were during our time in Serbia and Albania. Sharp-eyed, trained to listen, they were keenly interested in everything we witnessed. One, for example, observed poplar trees and what seemed to be never-ending rapeseed plantations lining the roads as we travelled together, making all kinds of interesting analogies with her previous fieldwork experience in Slovenia. Another remarked on the history that could be narrated by the herringbone pattern that adorned the floor of the house in which we were staying. A third taught us about geomorphological characteristics of the terrain we visited. Our discussions turned around issues of sand mining: the smell of freshly turned soil, which construction excavators have bulldozed along the Morava river; the visual understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet; the processes of mineralization; the ways in which the gardens were tended and haystacks made; the allocation of fishing concessions; the river’s pluvial regime; theories of extractivism; the myth-making disciplinary narratives that we find in anthropology, geodesy and geography.
ON (FAILED) RESONANCE
Driving from one place to another, we spent a lot of the time in the car reading various papers on hydrogeology and fishing practices, commenting on what we had seen or experienced, listening to the radio news and music, struggling with the fact that we were always somewhat short on time for note-taking and reflection away from the group dynamic. I learned a lot from those remarks and discussions. As someone who has worked in Serbia for the past 15 years, it was most interesting to hear what others had found compelling and what went completely unnoticed. Yet I still felt uncomfortable when we spoke with the people we met. There were five researchers seeking all kinds of cues and information usually vis-Ă -vis one, sometimes two, interlocutors. My colleagues would often pose nuanced and beautiful questions but, too often, the answer was interrupted by a camera snapping loudly, or someone else from the group squeezing him- or herself - into the debate by posing a different, completely unrelated, question. Most of the conversations thus felt crowded and congested. I felt unable to conduct a proper, meaningful conversation. Additionally, it was clear that some researchers in our group were not interested in listening: for them, conversations were a means to get their own assumptions and observations confirmed and agreed upon. It was a relief for me when our time in Serbia was over and we started travelling towards Albania. One of our aims for our time in Albania was to explore the delta of VjosĂŤ, an untamed, wild and, allegedly, one of the oldest rivers on the earth. A colleague who has worked in Albania over the last twelve years wanted to visit the area in order to see whether it could be interesting for her further research and to test whether the group found any correlation between riverbank erosion and the migration pattern in the area. Equipped with walking boots, various maps, high-resolution satellite images, cameras, bottles of water, snacks and insectrepellent, we went bushwalking through the wetlands to trace the
DR. MAJA PETROVIĆ-ŠTEGER
river to its source at the sea. Narta lagoon, in the delta of Vjosë, is one of the biggest and ecologically richest lagoons in Albania. The river crosses a plateau covered first with bushes and shrubs, then with fine sand dunes. The landscape is dotted with all kinds of flowers, snails, butterflies, but also with rubbish left to rot. A long and interesting story of how that day was spent must be compressed in order to concentrate fully on just one episode. With clouds overhead, the reddish earth beneath, and the sounds of frogs, ducks, and dragonflies swishing by, everything looked idyllic. The shrubs and trees felt extremely alive! But soon we lost the path (literally losing it in the mud) and started searching for the new roads that would lead us to the tip of the delta. The heat, the mud in which we kept sinking and the shrubs that were stinging our legs all contributed to the feeling of tiredness that soon overwhelmed us. Moreover, we went around in circles, unable to cross the river’s many tributaries and reach the delta. There was some tension in the air, and some colleagues started first teasing and, later, openly fighting with each other. The bone of contention was over who was the most reliable navigator, i.e. whose ideas we should follow in order to reach the tip of the delta. A group of us decided to ignore one colleague and follow another suggestion on how to move forward. Eventually we found the right way to the lagoon and bunkers covered with sand dunes. A few hours later, when we were happily returning to our car, singing and sharing stories and jokes, we were suddenly stopped by wild barking. Four big, and seemingly rabid, dogs were running towards us. There was a shack in the distance, at the far end of a field, so we assumed that the dogs must be guard dogs that recognised us as intruders and wanted to protect their plot of land. Their mad, loud gallop towards us made us terribly frightened. Fear addresses one in a very immediate manner. All that I can remember now is that we had stopped. I was yelling, calling out and shrieking phrases that I imagined would stop the dogs, both in my maternal language and in my approximation of Albanian (I do not speak the language so I was imitating my colleague who was
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fluent in it). Four of us were shouting and gesturing authoritatively, attempting to protect each other, hoping that somebody would hear us and call the dogs back. Indeed, somebody eventually came out of the shack and, with one whistle, stopped the dogs in their tracks. We were relieved and happy to have made it. But the moment was tarnished by the fact that while four of us were making sure that the others were ok, one colleague was rushing away through the bush, a few hundred metres behind, not even glancing back or checking on the rest of us. Soon afterwards, we reached the car and drove on. After this incident there were long silences. Some trust was broken. Nobody made any pretence of trying to initiate conversation about our impressions of that afternon. *** How do researchers acknowledge and critically assess what happens in the research process in the field? What do we conceal and what do we illuminate when we seek to reveal and understand the contexts we are researching? What defines and what allows for a space of collegiality and enthusiasm amongst a group of researchers? Is collegiality necessary for the success of (interdisciplinary) research projects? In an attempt to capture the complexities of what might happen when one does fieldwork, I have offered my reflection on a day-long ethnography. I have adopted the self-reflexive strategy of writing (and thinking) myself into the text. I have depicted a situation wherein one finds oneself yelling at some dogs in fear, in a language that one does not speak, in a group dynamic that is stained, fatigued and disappointed, as a way of thinking about the ethics of collegiality and resonance. What emerges from this reflection? The practice of doing research entails multiple possibilities. Ethnographers are never neutral or objective. In addition to professional and situational dimensions in fieldwork, there are also affective dimensions that sometimes
DR. MAJA PETROVIÄ†-Ĺ TEGER
turn out to be crucial in gaining a perspective on the research process. Certain sets of questions, ways of looking at things, bodily gestures, gaps, silences, and tensions may all yield fresh and enriching analytical material. Interdisciplinarity, in my limited experience, feels fine when it is happening in a controlled environment, in the office, at a conference, in a laboratory. I have learned how to discuss, perhaps even write, in a collaborative manner. But in the field, the quest for interdisciplinarity, frankly, makes me nervous. I feel different kinds of tension on different levels. I share keen interest and motivation to do research with my colleagues, but I do not necessarily with to share in modes of seeking knowledge, nor the analytical categories with which we personally engage while doing research. Anthropological work strives to recognise, and then communicate and the conditions under which something that has been experienced and felt becomes essential for understanding it. We do not seek new and novel findings. Rather, we aim to understand a phenomenon, an event, a relationship, by closely attending to the ways in which these phenomena find their register and voice, articulate themselves, over questions they find vital and important. By providing a context, we attempt to ensure that the phenomena we are depicting may find a just space for expression. We strive for ways of analysis that draw phenomena of different orders, discursive, material, conceptual, into a coherent field of understanding. So does one make discoveries in anthropology? I do not know. Rather than a discovery, we create a nearing, an insight. But we also create a distance, a fresh perspective through which one might critically assess the studied phenomena. For that to be achieved, though, there must be something that looks like recognition. Some sort of resonance between the people and the phenomena we study. A resonance is also needed among colleagues who seek collaboration. The resonance, as a way of
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listening and hearing, not agreement over concepts, may only be intellectual. But the affective side of carrying out research, positive and negative, crucially shapes the research process. A researcher needs to reflect on where, and with whom, he or she can dwell and collaborate intellectually, practically and emotionally. One always discovers a lot about oneself when carrying out research. Assessments, assemblages of affects, sensibilities, conditions and habits throw themselves together and compose a recognition. Surprises always begin at home.
Photo: Author’s Own (Maja Petrović-Šteger)
ISRF SOCIAL THEORY ESSAY COMPETITION Essay Topic Authors are free to choose both their topic and title Essay Length 10,000 words, all inclusive. Essay Format Follow the JTSB Author Guidelines, available on the JTSB website. Language English Submission Deadline 31 March 2017
he Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) and the Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour (JTSB) intend to award a prize of CHF 7,000 for the best essay on a topic within the area of social behaviour and its investigation.. The essay will be judged on its originalit y and i n d e p e n d e n ce of th o u g ht , i t s s c h o l a r ly q u a l i t y, i t s potential to challenge received ideas, and the success with which it matches the criteria of the ISRF and the JTSB. Essays selected for the shortlist by the Editors and the ISRF will be judged by a joint ISRF-JTSB academic panel (the ISRF Essay Prize Committee). The panelâ€™s decision will be final, and no assessments or comments will be made available. The result will be notified to applicants by email during July 2017, and will then be announced by posting on the websites of the ISRF and of the JTSB. The ISRF and the JTSB reserve the right not to award the Prize if there is no essay judged to be of sufficient merit. Visit http://isrf.org/funding-opportunities/essay-competitions/
This issue features: Nishat Awan David Graeber Joel Lazarus Oche Onazi Maja PetroviÄ‡-Ĺ teger Charles Stewart
This issue of the Bulletin is brimming with ideas and reflections on how social science interrupts the world. Beginning with a note from Cha...
Published on Jun 30, 2016
This issue of the Bulletin is brimming with ideas and reflections on how social science interrupts the world. Beginning with a note from Cha...