Monthly Archives: February 2006

the trick of academic low pay, no overtime pay, and eroded conditions, in an underfunded sector, in a world of fat cattery… leads to charity

AUT – the Union makes us strong and all that – are locked in a dispute with the university bosses and some of the press seem to be doing a good job pointing out the ‘anomolies’ that need to be “rectified”. Here’s a good illustration -

“Lecturers ‘donating’ £10,000 a year to their employers.

A study by the TUC shows that lecturers and others are donating up to£10,000 in unpaid wages to their employers by working long hours. “

See the AUT news release on this at
Also: Big “credits” to all those students at Goldsmiths who attended the Students Union meeting to confirm support for the staff industrial action.

From: Contemporary South Asia vol 14, no 3 Sept 2005

Review of Bad Marxism: Capitalism and Cultural Studies
by Lee Jarvis.

Although this book represents a more general theoretical engagement with cultural studies and global capitalism, much of John Hutnyk’s analysis contains direct significance for contemporary South Asian politics, particularly when contextualised internationally. The sections of Bad Marxism more explicitly relevant to this region are reviewed in greater detail below, although a brief overview of Hutnyk’s broader concerns will assist in locating this relevance. The dominant theme around which the structure of this book is organised concerns Hutnyk’s critical account of the (often limited) engagement of key cultural theorists with Marx’s ideas. Two related lines of critique are threaded together here. Firstly, Hutnyk criticises the myopic obsession with the absurd and the incongruous that characterises much theorising within contemporary cultural studies. The increasing marginalisation of Marx’s (global) political project behind, for example, James Clifford’s ‘fascination with spicy little details’ (p 42) or Jacques Derrida’s ‘new astonishment at time and technology’ (pp 63–64) is forcefully condemned throughout the book. Accompanying this derision of the ‘stunned contemplation’ (p 183) marking contemporary cultural analysis runs Hutnyk’s concurrent attack on the subsequent political paralysis within which leftist theorising has remained content to reside. For Hutnyk, the complicity of this ‘institutionalised quietism’ (p 12) to a world still ravaged by imperialism, plunder and war represents nothing less than a ‘pathetic giving up of the loser who thinks he or she still has some degree of credibility’ (p 193).

Having critiqued, then, a number of ‘bad Marxisms’ within which the transformative project of Marx’s writings have been lost, Hutnyk turns to the book’s second theme: the demand for a re-engagement with these questions of political prescription and action. He forcefully insists on a critical, open-ended and practical engagement with a Marxism capable of intervention and resistance. Emphasising the truly global dimensions and consequences of capitalist accumulation and exploitation, Hutnyk contextualises this demand with reference to the current geopolitical climate of South Asia.

Pouring scorn upon those for whom de-industrialisation in the ‘advanced West’ (p 136) has been equated too readily with globalisation and the end of proletarian internationalism, Hutnyk reconfirms the significance of Marxian analysis in understanding the continuation of imperialism and neo-colonial exploitation within the global South. Locating Asia as capital’s ‘flashpoint of extraction and exploitation’ (p 122) and, therefore, more accurately seen as the core rather than the periphery of the capitalist world-system, Hutnyk demands a new set of concepts capable of organising resistance to this global order of Empire. Stressing the need to link the struggles of rural insurgents in India and China with the global predicament of the anti-capitalist movement, he suggests the possibility of ‘a reconstituted proletarian internationalism’ (p 137) to pilot this much-needed opposition to imperialist aggression. That capitalism’s worst exploitations still blight those rural regions of South Asia and beyond, whether in the guise of free trade zones, gene-modified crop plantations or forced displacements from the construction of dams, requires increasingly more than content conceptualisation among avowedly leftist academics. Throughout this book, Hutnyk sustains his forceful yet eloquent demand for a resuscitation of the political and activist traditions of Marxism. Although his account of the paralysis marring contemporary cultural theorists is perhaps a little overstated, this book successfully articulates the ongoing need to read Marx in order to understand the structures of capitalist exploitation within South Asia and beyond, and, more importantly, for resisting those structures.

Lee Jarvis
University of Birmingham, UK

From: Contemporary South Asia vol 14, no 3 Sept 2005

Communists have birthdays too……………… (even when the struggle is grim)

Imogen, you should definitely wake up today to check this out. Feb 21st is the anniversary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto, 158 years ago. (thanks Rana).

Marx and Engels Internet Archive
Book changed the world,
by the most important social scientist ever.
Old Beardo.


This is a pic of Imogen Bunting on her first day of school in New York. I am thinking of her and want her well.

We have been editing a book together, to be called “Communist Trinkets” but as its one of a million other great things she does, we have let it drag on a little, but it is underway (chapters by Alneng, Thoburn, Dutton, Phipps…).

So, she really needs to give me a call and not be in a coma as she has been since 10 Feb. Imogen, Wake up. This just cannot be happenning. Please.

I will write more when I am able, but my thoughts go to her and her folks and friends at her bedside. Oh Bog, give her a phone. Somehow it must happen.


added later:


It is probably important not to allow the vignette to replace analysis, the two are tied together, but we don’t want the story to provide an alibi for those who would avoid the implications of the theory. Here, elegance of prose can camouflage politics. This is particularly the case amongst those who would emphasize the post in post-colonialism, and use this as an opportunity to pretend colonialism has past, and in effect to write as if it never happened. This does happen, and is the modern equivalent of those anthropologists who benefited from the infrastructural facts of colonial power but claimed to have no part in the project. Staging opposition. The founding myth of fieldwork – of Malinowski almost accidentally ‘shipwrecked’ in the South Seas – rehearses this deceit.

There are several versions. The idea that missionaries – or anthropologists – were not also participating in the colonial order, however much some revisionist apologist (anthr-apologists) might want to complicate the position, cannot be ignored. Definitely, looking at the ways the ‘West’ travelled and was transformed in travel, is something that deserves more attention, but should not be taken as some sort of alibi for the violences of that travel (as sometimes happens with such work – I consider Dick Werbner’s various citations of the ‘anthropologists were not always complicit in colonialism’ routine to be in very poor taste/bad faith). The descendants of Gluckman may revere his little run-ins with the colonial authorities in Africa as ‘proof’ that he was not part of colonialism, when of course he was etc.

Why does it matter that telling stories clarifies the colour of politics? – perhaps because the slippage is the hinge of reaction. At the pomo workbench the maintenance of ongoing colonialisms slips past on the palanquin of narrative – even where the analysis oscillates between anecdotal evidence and the illustration of capitalist violence, the too-easy take up of only the storybook gems from the colonial scene rehearses again the Raj extraction process. Violence of partial explanations that serve the conquest (which of course does not mean we dream of a ‘full’ explanation, but that there are some less credible than others and we know which ones serve masters and which lead elsewhere).

Think for a moment of the way selective listening forges the subjectivity of oppression (perhaps in this telling the Emperor’s new clothes is not so much a story of the sycophantic courtiers as an exposure of the necessary blindness of naked power). As ever, the complexities of the circumstance can be recruited to tell another tale, more amenable to capital. The Emperor’s new clothes also tells of transition to the social relations of contemporary production – the young boy who exposes it all is nothing if not a culture hero of a brutal reality we face and embrace for good and bad.

Anthropologists who were recalcitrant and troublesome for colonialism may still unwittingly (or not – so often wittingly) be those best placed to extend colonial hegemony and power. This can be seen to happen through several modes; through the promotion of culture, through the mechanisms of inscription (cf. copies of the book of Nuer prophets in the hands of contemporary Nuer – Johnson), through focus on identity, and identifications, through reification and so on. It is important not only to see this in anecdotal terms, even where the anecdotes are so compelling, but rather to recognize the vignettes as examples of a web of institutionalized power (persuasive AND coercive force) deployed systematically across the globe. That the term post-colonialism has one part of its heritage in literature has enabled some to make the anecdotal narration of post-modern anthropology into a methodological doxa, and along the way renounced any theoretical specificity and ushered in a still more reactionary politics than ever before. The other more explicitly political sources for the term post-colonial require a more nuanced comprehension of the ironic and restricted way in which the term was used to refer to a certain betrayal of anti-colonial struggle on the part of national elites and the comprador classes after the so-called fact of decolonisation (Spivak). Within the horizon of this conception of the post-colony anecdotal post-modernisms appear as spurious frivolity. And we could go on and on in this tone forever.

I do think sometimes those who get on with the job have it slightly more together than those who vignette-dalliance with words for waffle (here).

SOUTH LONDON PACIFIC Tiki Lounge Cocktail Bar

SOUTH LONDON PACIFIC Tiki Lounge Cocktail Bar

this is the venue. Kenninton’s unique bit ofg cheesy pacific. (its not like this anywhere I ever swam).

You can eat your cake and read him too

A gloriously delicious birthday cake (yes, I am 45 in a week) arrived at the start of the Marx reading group last night – this slightly out of focus pic does not do it justice at all. Proof was in the eating. It was so much better than “Godfrey’s cordial” (mentioned on p518n) and took all pain away (521, 522, 587 – see as an alternative the section on baking on 358). Thanks to everyone, but especially Janina and Jeff who baked the bearded one. But also, folks, thanks for the chocolate version, with candle, Andy, Daisy, whoever was responsible. And happy birthday Mark too. Now how do I deal with this hangover? I have a class in two hours. Gulp of cordial perhaps would help.



I said the first rule of humour was that you had to be funny, so the cartoon controversy fails badly on that score.

But the other thing I would say about it all is that clearly it took just *this* storm in a teacup to get people actually talking about the teacup war. Blair and Bush keep serenading us as if nothing was wrong – slurp, slurp – but its pretty certain, comrade Bliar, that everything is wrong. The controversy over cartoons is a displacement, in a kind of denial side-step, of some very serious issues that no-one wants to name. The comedy of it is that everyone knows the war on terror is not funny, not a joke, not at all humour. Yet no-one can talk about it, all critiques are silenced. The thing the cartoons have achieved is to get both ‘sides’ shouting at each other – admittedly over the wrong thing, but at least not pussy footing around each other any more. The real and deep parameters of the problem are inversely revealed in the triviality of the issue at hand.

closet cleaner – notes from the vault, circa 1988

In Brecht’s play The Life of Galileo, very early on in the piece, Galileo says:

For two thousand years men have believed that the sun and all the stars of heaven revolve about them. The pope, the cardinals, the princes, the scholars, captains, merchants, fishwives and schoolboys believed themselves to be sitting motionless in the centre of this crystal globe. But now we are travelling headlong into space…The cities are narrow and so are men’s minds. Superstition and plague. But now we say: because it is so, it will not remain so. For everything moves…I like to think it began with ships. Ever since men could remember they crept only along the coasts; then suddenly they left the coasts and sped straight out across the seas.

I want to hold these ships a moment, suspended in time stretching out across a seemingly endless ocean. A monumentous moment, even if not unique, the significance of this new direction in Europe’s navigation should not be underestimated. In this fragment of Brecht’s history (after all, was Brecht a better or worse historian than others?) a double movement can be seen. A recognition that the ideas of the past were inadequate, and a recognition that the way the world is seen changes. These are not identical statements: ‘things are not as they were’ and ‘the old ideas must be rethought’.

At this time, as coast hugging ships set out at right-angles across the oceans – to very much a ‘new world’, not simply located across some horizon, but global, a state of mind, the world as ‘new’ – it would be possible to locate certain questions relevant to our current reading of the history of the social sciences.

But how should we do this, knowing that we do not have the minds of a Galileo? What are the dangers of entering the city of history with our narrow minds? Especially as we fear that our place, and our sun, is in danger of being decentred? We have no navigator, we are crossing uncharted seas. ‘We’ are perhaps never any longer even ‘European’ – anthropology dunked in the ocean of humanity takes on a different identity. ‘We’ are in the academe, a kind of intellectual or psychological ‘west’, but it is thankfully less and less controlled from British naval headquaters. There is a ‘tradition’ or ‘history’ of anthropology which can be charted, but it should not be thought, despite the rhetorical European (disciplinary anthropological) ‘We’ used here, that any anthropological expedition still involves an all-Anglo-Saxon crew. Pirates are multicultural.

[snip - a bunch of stuff about Derrida and sailing - yo ho ho]

Neither the sun nor the earth is fixed – since Copernicus we must surely have realised that flux is the more common ‘element’ of our lives. Only old Church types deny it. We must abandon the notion of the ‘fixed’ – and live without securities.

We have distorted history one more time, forgetting the importance of the intervals of distance and space, we collapse two very different figures into the same. Isn’t this what we always do? Copernicus is not Galileo, and yet for this paper they can seem so alike. History at a distance can erase difference. We could end up with either, although in a way we need to distance ourselves from both, to strike out the old horizon, and see, perhaps, Europe, and Anthropology, as an ‘other’ shore. With concern for the ways we write, and the ways we read, we could well imagine a different kind of anthropology. Dragging that exemplary moment of Galileo into our own time all the time, we have always been at that moment, on the cusp of a break with the brutal evangelicism of our ethnocentic projects. We can redefine historical moments and reify names to remind ourselves. Galileo/Copernicus could yet be invoked to instill an enthusiasm for anthropology. Clastres ends his essay ‘Copernicus and the Savages’ with a conclusion that calls for a revolution within the discipline. He writes that anthropology: “until now has let primitive cultures revolve around Western civilization so to speak…It is time to change suns, to move on”(Clastres 1974/1987:25-6). His optimism is strong, and denies an otherwise terrible alternative which would be to pack up the paradoxes and difficulties and let the endeavour lapse. To cast anthropology adrift?

From Riotinto to Iraq – Tim’s big (£) adventures.

Some folks will know of my interest in the Pacific Island called Bougainville – a place where the company Rio Tinto (based at 6 St James Square London) dug the biggest hole in the southern hemisphere (to mine copper, employing anthropologists as advisers on native administration) and who profitted massively until the Bougainville Revolutionary Army turfed them out. The BRA then fought a ten year war against the combined might of the Papua New Guinie Defence Force (PNGDF), the Australian Govermnent (supplying Iroquois choppers and other hardware, supplies, training) and with the participation of (mufti) Australian Military personnel and various mercenary groups. The current situation is complicated but ‘better’ – though there are noises about reopening the mine.

Meanwhile, the plunderer’s interest moved elsewhere, and so BASTARD of the week (month, year?) is announced today in the form of Tim Spicer, mercenary. He’s the pom who organised the failed intersession on the PNG Govt side by the private army of Sandline International (they didn’t even get to Bougainville before their bumbling cowboy attitude got them bundled out of the area, similar bungling in Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea cements their reputation). Now it seems Spicer’s business intersts are looking up these days as he’s made a £62 Million business out of arms deals in Iraq. Lord of War bastard indeed. Murder death kill. Surveillance, counter-insurgency information gathering, communications, ‘intelligence’ and vehicle tracking. Read about it in the words of Tracey Boles of The Times, but keep in mind how this stuff links up – and how the connections between RTZ (copper mining, uranium) and western intersts in the Gulf (oil, geo-politics) and the filthy lucre of the arms trade (guns, supplies, surveillance) manifest in the loathesome person of gunslinger Spicer. The company you keep.

Turning Japanese – I really think so – dada da-da da da

Kaori Sugishita has a commentary on Japanese anthropology in the New Encyclopaedia Project (NEP) about to come out from TCS/Sage (my part is here, NEP has had a run in Tokyo – here - and in Singapore – here - among other places). In the meantime I started looking though an old file of photocopies I’ve been keeping on anthropology of Japan. Also provoked to do so by the recent visit of Rupert Cox to Goldsmiths, and the impending arrival of Michael Richardson, scholar of surrealism on monday. All in all it amounts to me feeling far too lazy and guilty about having neglected my language texts – watashi wa nihongo ga wakarimasen. [I think that's correct – there are better versions to learn – thanks Jen – but that would be cheating, and I better hit the books myself]. Anyway, anth in Japan had its own ‘turn’ to politics and deserves a feature in the jungle book I’m writing.

So I start to look over the texts… In the disciplines that study difference there is a memory of empire preserved in a way that should cause concern. It is not without significance that Tomiyama, in an excellent discussion of Japanese anthropology for example, has noted that the a critique of the uses of ‘scientific research’ by Japanese imperialism sets up a distinction between academia and its applications that reduces the domain of the political, and alibis academics vis a vis colonialism. He writes: ‘What needs to be questioned is the academic discourse that analyses cultural differences included within the empire’ (Tomiyama 1995:369). The lesson may have to do with wartime Japan, but a reverse export to the case of European imperialism is equally useful.

‘… medical discourse was also an anthropological discourse that constructed the
“islanders” from a variety of signs. From the signs of an “abnormal” sexuality or an “unclean” diet, the islanders were constituted as diseased … The romantic “native woman” … no longer appears … All that is left is a thoroughly scrutinised sexual practice seen as “perversity”, viewed by a pathological gaze … [which] … could also be found in discourses related to labour proficiency, discussed in the terms of colonial administration studies and labour sciences. In these sciences, the native view of work was observed and theorised as the source of the low labour capacity of the people of the South Sea Islands. The peoples’ activities, put under observation, were constituted as an “indolent” native culture … At that point, the epistemological narrative of “What are they?” and the practical narrative of “What do we do to them?” adhered together, much as they do in the doctor who both observes the source of infection and also considers ways to heal the patient’ (Tomiyama 1995:380-1)

Tomiyama proposes we call the islanders ‘patient-islanders’ from this point on. But the consequence of the above moves, of course, meant forced labour – and in this the critique of Japanese colonialism should not be missed for its significant parallel lessons for the European cases.It is interesting then that Tomiyama notes that religious movements against forced labour, and against the logic that saw the Islanders as “indolent”, were also observed by the Japanese. In the Palau Islands one such movement was called Modekngei, reported as a major uprising (Tomiyama 1995:382) and insofar as this did not fit with the model of indolence, was understood as clearly a ‘deviation’ from the ‘islanders’ original native culture, attributable, in the argument of Sugiura Ken’ichi, to the influence of outside religions and political manipulations (in Tomiyama 1995:382).

The theme of the Lazy wakes us up to politics once again. And why do TV people keep ringing me up wanting to do exoticist documentaries on the former, not the latter? I am/am not looking for the languid.

Ref: Tomiyama Ichirð 1995 ‘Colonialism and the Sciences of the Tropical Zone: the Academic Analysis of Difference in ‘the Island Peoples’ Positions 3(2):367-391.
See also his “On Becoming ‘a Japanese'” here.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Sailor

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Sailor, Richman – Poorman, Beggarman, Thief. Considering politics as a skill, and skill as a manipulation of tools, it is necessarily a danger that we enter into a discussions couched in a mechanistic ‘boy’s own’ metaphoric code. Is politics always warfare? Does technology necessarily invite this overly excited tropological tone? I tend to think such quibbles misconstrue a difference (in terms of male and female, aggression v passive and other all too neat structural shortcuts), and generalise as duality differences that are many. Nevertheless, at risk of deploying such mechanistic abstractions, but with an aside that claims this as a manipulation of convenience, it is worthwhile, perhaps, to attempt to survey the field of those with whom we might make alliance. Metaphorically, then, this is a question of armoury first of all, and the question, always an artifice itself, is one of finding how to plot the technological assets on offer. Amongst those who we might be tempted to think of as allies there are some with skills that could be more dangerous on our side than not.

First up, the tinkerers – those who think that things can be improved with a screwdriver. A little tightening here, a little looser there. These people are the ones who deserve our contempt because the are content to ignore the structural thievery that is at the basis of production, and with deft use of reform and care, they believe they can, mostly, with only occasional lapses, make things work. This is more or less a way of easing a conscience which needs to tinker with reform to palliate even if slightly the contradictions it sees, but will not allow to disturb; a kind of guilty denial which no doubt with good intentions declares itself against exploitation and the brutal effects of competition and profiteering, and yet rests content with ‘improvements'; thus we should maintain ethical standards, the morality of honesty and dedication, committing everyone to the protocols of acceptance, where everyone is urged to work hard, to obey the law, to save in the bank, to revere the flag. Workers and bosses alike to collaborate in all seriousness, for the good of all. Even sometimes with a fair sharing of the benefits (but not of the profits). This screwbrained coterie could never imagine that the fair exchange of the market place and the ethic of work and competition are ever so ‘just’ rewards for the dedicated dead.

The second dangerous alliance is with the tailorers. Those whose neat seamless stitched up conception does not admit of a flaw in the material and would have us all woven quick smart into the one weave. Everyone into the same suite, all to enjoy the easy life of the bourgeois; an abstraction which offers an idealised reality torn from a singular experience of comfort and privilege and generalised as suitable – and fitting – for all. But even assuming that everyone would want to be got up in this outfit, the sweatshop and backroom fittings remain invisible, kept out of sight and out of mind. We may well all be capable of being equally well dressed, but only some of us fit the fashion magazine image of this utopia, and there is not much hope for the tailored simplicity of the programme that imagines such is readily available ‘off the shelf’, so to speak. With sewing machine, scissors, measuring tape, needle and thread this customised future looks smart but cannot recognise the difficult work necessary, not only one size does not fit all, but the viability of such a uniform future is blind to the ragged edges and wear and tear of the here and now. This impossible uniformity would offer a well groomed civilised magazine image, and never disrupt the straightjacket restrictions of the marketing system that produces fashion and its papered-over miseries. Those who wish to fight capitalist production by claiming the benefits of bourgeois life for each and very one (of their chosen friends) do nothing to disrupt the free marketeering logic on which capitalist relations are based. For sure, this is a directive for the ever smoother Taylorised deception of a grinning monkey in a tuxedo.

The Soldier is a killing machine. Don’t believe for a minute all those advertisements offering training and a career and a lifestyle in the army. Its a trick. Every cog in the machine a killer. The military of the capitalists is against us – there can be no alliance with them. Nor can there be any truck with those who want to talk to cops – to call them workers, to de-role them or some such. A worker in a uniform is a bourgeois cop – Trotsky will do here for once. There is a simple contradiction between the forces that will constrict us: the test is at the point of transgression – at a certain limit of the law, force becomes immovable. The end result of effective reform would be prison for all. Instead then, we too need be soldiers. Such machines are necessary in warfare, and here is where only perhaps a radical communist cultural studies also recognises the responsibility to kill. What to kill? To destroy the exploitation at the heart of capitalist production. To abolish the state, to destroy the relations of exploitation and oppression, to fight against the forces that maintain privilege. Kill, kill, kill. We shall have veins in our teeth. Is this just a macho thing? Is it only rhetoric? Along the way we may need to kill this off as well.

Militancy would not be the only skill of an anti-capitalist commentary however – there is another, more important, more abstract perhaps, even ‘theoretical’ aspect – and that is the replacement, the skill of the sailor charting uncharted waters, striking out into new seas, adventure over the horizon. The future society glimpsed only briefly in the contradictions of capitalist production (the contradiction between its awesome power to create and its destructive effects, for an obvious example). The skill here is not to accept any compromise – to destroy the old to make way for the new. And to search this out in conscious clarity and purpose. Raise the Jolly Roger over this sentiment, Unlike those, who at the verge of historical capitalism, would have been unable to describe why and where their activities would lead them – not even naming the future as capitalist – it is the case for us the future could be planned, creatively – though this future is now also unspecified and yet to be invented, all of us together, the task and responsibility we share.

In the metaphors deployed here there might also be another correspondence – the reformist opportunist becomes rich, the utopian idealist poor, the soldier begs to differ, the thief steals the future (nothing wrong with this code, eh). What language games amount to is not an analysis, but a tool for thinking, for organising. The skill of setting out the sides, the contradictions and the organising apparatus – question everything. There is much more to be done here beyond a silly limerick. Nevertheless, its done. Tralalala.
an ode to consultants and Brandsters


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