Category Archives: anthropology


From ‘fieldwork / filed works: the madness of anthropology’ in Celebrating Transgression (Berghahn 2006):

7.1 If fieldwork in the traditional sense is ‘over’, in British Anthropology it has a half-life because it is something to sell to funding model types, research council, accountabilities etc. It becomes a mantra that can somehow seem to be measured, but fieldwork works best as open-ended and creative (Köpping 2002).

7.2 The trouble with fieldwork as taught in the credentialising system of the new teaching factory is that it relies primarily upon the assemblage of anecdote-trinkets. Theoretical gestation and contemplation – slow-moving as they are – is not well suited to the imperatives of pass rates and research assessment calculation. Trinketisation of culture here assigns the politics of interpretation to a place of fast and loose generalities – ritualized reflexive moves that surprise no one.

7.3 Not only is fieldwork not so neat, we should rescind the tacit requirement that all new doctoral successes participate in the post hoc reconstruction (lie) of fieldwork as a time of deep insight, with full language capability, and no transgressive human foibles – though of course it may sometimes happen like that. Honesty would not be compromised if it were admitted that a language cannot be learned with sufficient fluency for significant insight in less than two, and usually five, years. The stressful effects of having to pass off hesitant and halting speculation as description and conclusion might be abandoned. The complicity with the founding father myth and mystique of single-site fieldwork might be usefully left behind. This of course does not mean the end of detailed and serious work – the packaging of how to fieldwork in export education itemization-trinketisation mode is an anathematic alternative.

7.4 Commercialisation and corporatisation of the university and the depoliticisation and administerisation of intellectual work goes hand in hand with a calculated demobilisation of participation – mass movement – though there are ‘days of exception to the rule’ – limited and controlled inversions like May Day and the anti-war protest that greeted the invasion(s) of Iraq.
7.5 For a moratorium on the kind of fieldwork that anthropologists anyway did not ever practice.

South Asian Anthropologist Group Meet at Goldsmiths.

I was asked to do a commentary ‘discussant’ talk on the two papers in the Movement panel at Alpa and Ed’s South Asian Anthropologists Group workshop, held today and tomorrow at Goldsmiths. These are the rough notes I spoke from.

Conference details and programme at:

The articles I was asked to discuss were:
Business and Community Between India and the Gulf
Fillipo and Caroline Osello

Degrees of Separation
Katy Gardner, Zahir Ahmed

Ice-breaking preamble:
The structure of these kinds of meetings seems peculiar to anthropology – its only in anthro conferences that I’ve seen this format where paper givers do not read their papers but distribute them beforehand (I guess this could happen elsewhere) but its a wierd practice which involves silencing the paper presenters until after someone has maliciously misrepresented their writing in the interests of starting a debate for the workshop. So, with the usual apologies, I offer the following misconstruals under the alibi of having been asked to summarise, contextualise and critique.

Pleased to be asked, at first I looked in vain for the connection these two papers had to the workshop theme statement about “Revolutionary Movements” – ostensible topic of the event and reason I was keen to be there. I am always happy to hear stories of Maoists, Naxalbari, Telangana and Nepal, but these are not what I was expecting. Well, just get over it John, I tell myself. It is also crucially important to engage with the desultory effects of globalising capital, especially when it comes with culturalist inflections like this. I guess I can see why I was asked to comment, since I have worked on charity, some time ago. Also diaspora. Still, I do wish these papers had said something more on Keralan or Bengali Reds.

These two papers both ostensibly have to do with migration and good works, charity, or jakat (Zakat), but they are both actually more about power hierarchies as played out through land and education.

This first one is about religious obligation to community, in the form of investment in education.

Business and Community Between India and the Gulf
Fillipo and Caroline Osello

In kerala, the Osello’s lived in a middle-class neighbourhood, and sent their children to a ‘Muslim owned and managed English school’ – and I guess have made a virtue of this circumstance because this piece – a chapter in a forthcoming book – is largely a consideration of schools.

We start with a quick run through of the specific Muslim history of the area: Lahala uprising in 1921, British desire to get rid of Islam, deportations to – interestingly – the Andaman Islands (misspelled throughout as Adaman, but how interesting it would be if these were people Radcliffe-Brown got to talk to on his verandah – side point…1921 is probably far too late for anarchy Brown to meet anyone for a book he was revising as Durkheimian tract…)

Anyway, in the context of this uprising, the paper documents suspicion and disdain for British schools on Muslim side – counterpointed with the ‘ease’ that post-independence Hindus had in ‘modernizing’. So we have ‘marginalized’ Muslim communities (by their own doing, of course) and the Muslim League become the ‘sole’ representatives of the community, but can only advocate a cautious reformism. The paper will later go on to stress the importance on education as a marker of (internal) respectability and uplift. We need to register education as a marker of development/reform.

Just before the (summaries of) the interviews that make up the main body of this paper – with various business men – we have a characterisation of such businessmen (Muslim/Arab) in contrast to John Harris’s rendering of Hindu entrepreneurs in Chennai. Muslims are ‘utterly morally accountable to their community and business is utterly embedded in community responsibility’ Aside from these somewhat jarring iterations – utterly morally and utterly embedded, I will come back to them – there are issues here about the construction of good Muslim money making, the character of which is subsequently detailed, but not critiqued.

So what we have next are the interview summaries – and it’s a ‘modern Muslim’ story line – how these men struggle to be businessmen but maintain their morality, ‘making and using money in an Islamic way’. There are a couple of case studies of the ‘Gulf kings’ – wealthy businessmen who ‘maintain the Muslim community’. Typical ‘rags to riches turned philanthropist’ (‘upliftment’) stuff. In here we get some curious attitudinal titbits, such as the businessmen’s view of ‘education as a double edged sword’ – it is their educated attitude that holds back the Malayali and prevents them from real success. Also we hear the businessmen’s claims that theirs is a ‘culture of risk taking’ (leaving things in the hands of god) but tempered by a ‘community orientation’. There is a brief recognition of this being ‘traditionally’ gendered, but little made of it. More interesting perhaps the appearance of a Scottish University joint project on the scene in Kerala. Also, various choice asides – a great quote in here about the need to read the Gita and the Bible to understand others – but our businessman who suggests this hates atheists. As ever, the two main themes here are ‘get educated and build community’.

Then another figure, and we are into interviews with the local, Calicut businessmen – also focused on the role of education, in this case the establishment of SAFI, the Social Advancement Foundation of India, a body set up to raise money for a university to teach IT, biotech and other ‘new economy’ sort of subjects. Because of soliciting Arab investors, one of the two first programmes will be Islamic Studies, to counter atheism – the ‘best of western education with contemporary Islamic framework’. And donors will also received plots of land and secured places in the schools and University – a double sense of investment here (or a land grab). This project is seen as part of a global Islamic renaissance, and trades on the glamour of the Gulf.

My trouble with this is that I do not see any space for critique in the paper. And this I would land at the door of the research conception at the level of planning. I return to those words, repeated a couple of times – embedded and utterly. It might be bad etymology to pick up on this sense of the term, but its curious that the utterance, in the summary interviews, of the first Muslim businessman, directly confirms what had been presented as the potted history offered by our embedded anthropologists: Muslims suffered because of the British so hated everything the British brought, including schools, but now there is a renaissance and they do not boycott and are educated.

I wonder if we might have had a critique of the way education articulates with entrepreneurial modernizing if we went beyond the utterance of this informant and the brochures of the SAFI school plan? A questioning of these charitable entrepreneurial modes of ‘education’ (that would extend to the ways we construct our own educational involvements, including research projects and schemes like UKIERI that would set up UK-India research centres and teaching programmes under PM Bliar’s 18 Mill corporate PPP initiative).

I think it worthwhile – beyond the specifics of this paper – even to question whether education is ever a social good when it comes in the charitable form – ideological, patronising, and as some sort of life-work enclave colony (see the work of Paul James, and Castells and Hall on these integrated planned urban-education university-community developments and their dubious progeny – in particular the Multi Media Super Corridor project in Malaysia, as discussed by Tim Bunnell [and myself, in the Nettime reader]). I think there is reason to question the turn of education advocacy into charity stunt – smuggling is an interesting sub theme in this paper – almost like a rumour at its edges (its those Malayali again that do the smuggling in Kerala) – but this is not just a local slur, in a wider sense I think something more is smuggled in with philanthropic activity around education for business (IT, biotech, Islamism), as, I believe, charity always is a smugglers trick, as we see with Bill Gates, Mother Theresa or State Aid (Dfid). I wanted a more general and critical take on charty. The problem is that the pro-education project is not open to question in terms of its reinforcement of a certain social hierarchy, its use by self-aggrandising capitalists, of the way debates about education construct ideas of public good etc etc, because this paper presents the views of businessmen as document, not in a critical mode. Perhaps we could hear some further views on this?

Instead, the ‘conclusion’ looks once more at the lack of spaces for women-as-entrepreneurs, stresses the role of ‘contacts’ in the business world, talks about the perceived importance of english schools but the lack of ‘discipline’ of the families, and then an odd intriguing bit at the end: “This far-reaching moral critique of public and private life – which increasingly also targets the not-so-Islamic behaviour of many Arab Muslims (eg drinking, prostitution and excessive consumption, but also failure to stand up to the Americans during the last Iraq war and in the face of increased threats to Iran) – has led organisations such as Jama’at Islam to declare full support to the Left Democratic Front during the recent assembly elections. As we write it is yet unclear the extent to which Islamist might have influenced vote switching, but Muslim League candidates failed to get elected in what had been historically safe seats. Significantly, amongst those who were defeated we find many former ministers – eg industry and PWD – closely associated to the six entrepreneurs we discussed in this paper.”

Basically, the paper looks at ‘Muslim’ attempts to modernize through education, while trying to assert Islamic values – but neither of these are questioned systematically in the paper – our anthropologists get out of critiquing the former by presenting it as the view of the community, and avoid the latter by being reluctant to critique the construct of a good Muslim businessman, in a developed society, a public minded Mulsim, a Muslim public sphere as a rhetoric of Islamist capital – we can see the idea of a good Muslim is never a neutral figure in the current post Sept 11/War of Terror/demonisation of all Muslims type environment. It would be great to debate this.

On education as a social good, or rather as a social evil, reinforcing hierarchy – ‘breeding ignorance and feeding radiation’, there is one dramatic interview passage in the paper I think is revealing of a more complex situation than my demand for critique can address. This passage opens up the paper and is worth the read in itself. It makes me want to hear more about curriculum, institutional formation, and business model in far more systematic terms. I would stop and have us read that together before addressing the next paper:

“One lower-middle class woman, Haseena, told Caroline confidentially, “It is my dream that my daughter should become a doctor; I left school at 14 and was married at 16; I could have done something with my life, but look at me!” Yet when Haseena’s cousin took admission to a prestigious and academically demanding English medium school run by the NSS (Nair Service Society) for her son, Haseena was scathing: the child would be put under too much pressure; the fees were too high and they would also be forever asking for extra money for trips or equipment; the child had to travel in an auto, whereas it was better to have a local, convenient school. Finally, the school was English medium: better, argued Haseena, to know one’s own mother-tongue properly than be half-proficient in both mother tongue and English. Haseena’s daughter was not sent to nursery and began to attend the local Malayalam medium girls’ school near home at age five. When Haseena’s husband came home from the Gulf on leave, daughter was taken out of school for two months so that the whole family could enjoy being together. Yet still Haseena believes that her daughter has a chance of entering a profession. She genuinely has no idea that the mothers in the middle-class colony where we lived, for example, had been drilling their children since age two (sic) in the English alphabet and in the answers to the nursery class admissions tests set by Calicut’s best schools. She could not begin to imagine the discipline imposed upon these children of the established middle-class, much less to impose what would seem to her such horrible cruelty upon her own beloved daughter. “

I tend to agree, this sounds horrible – education of this sort is nowhere near a social good. What sort of education will be?

If the first paper was sort of about pseudo-religious obligation to community, in the form of investment in education, this paper is about kinship proximity and charity – the good old gift-as-family-tyranny.

Degrees of Separation
Katy Gardner, Zahir Ahmed

The paper gives detailed analysis of the various household arrangements of a Bangledesh village (‘Jalalgao’ … [challo=go?]) There are five groups of people discussed – Londoni (those who have been/ continue to be in England); those who are/have family ties to those in Dubai (not much discussed); locals; temporary/permanent labourers (usually from the surrounding area); and those who live in the colonies (rented accommodations, the people here are usually from other, poorer, starvation parts of Bangladesh). The main thesis (illustrated by lots of case studies) is that Londoni provide an important ‘informal social protection mechanism’, but because these are disguised as gift relationships (therefore non-negotiable) they take the form of patron-client relationships. The authors also want to stress that those from the area are more likely to receive patronage and better ‘job’ opportunities.

Families who have ties to Britain are the wealthiest – they own the most land and property, though they do not work it and often rely on family members, or increasingly, paid help to look after it. Wealth gets redistributed in a variety of ways – through certain rituals and festivals to everyone, through remittances to immediate family members, through gifts in times of need etc to extended family members (primarily the gusti, patrilineal line), through arranging marriages to British Bangledeshis, and then for the more distant family, through a sort of pseudo employment/ indenture, where ‘gifts’ are given for ‘help’- non-negotiated, of course.
Various other interesting comments – women are less likely to know their wage. It is common to have people look after homes of absent Londoni. Colony inhabitants tend to come from areas suffering disasters etc. They are attracted by the relative wealth of the village, due to its large amount of Londoni. Relationships of trust are crucial for temporary labourers to get hired back… etc. And the village is far more a site of transformation and flux than ‘the stable villages conjured up in classical South Asian ethnography’ (a footnote reference to Inden is probably not enough to explain that this idea of sleepy villages was always a myth – myself I would use ADF:

A mass of sleeping villages
That’s how they’re pitching it
At least that’s what they try to pretend
But check out our history
So rich and revolutionary
(Naxalite from the album Rafi’s Revenge, 1998. Asian Dub Foundation.
Lyrics, Das, Pandit, Zaman, Tailor, Savale)

So back to Gardiner and Ahmed’s paper and I want to make some critical comments, address some absences. Some are no big deal, others I think worthy of discussion – unlike the previous paper, education is never mentioned as a factor, whether this be in increasing ‘development’ or merely as a part of modernization, which itself is never mentioned.

Nor do our authors describe what the people themselves see as good for long term ‘development’ – short term survival strategies are all that are discussed. Actually, they describe a very precarious situation (and do point out that when patrons die, these forms of ‘insurance’ disappear) with little ‘hope’ in it except for maintaining the ties that secure remittances etc, or for people to get a chance, through marriage perhaps, to also migrate to England.

Its also barely mention why Londoni are better off beyond brief hints that its success in the restaurant trade (and I guess earlier industrial work – mills etc – since British pensions play a big role in local wealth). This will, I take it, be rectified as there is a phase two of the research. I hope in this phase we also here more of why it was difficult to get information about remittances, why these are ‘sensitive’ issues – we can guess, but why not discuss it?

Gardiner and Ahmed keep suggesting that place is crucial, but I am very interested in how they have to admit in the conclusion that safety net functioning is determined more because of kinship and relational ties. Thus they end with a worry ‘that these ties will dissolve in the face of transnationalism’ – a sort of romanticism – what is disturbing here is that there seems to be no force of critique deployed at all – even if its clear in tone that what is described is not good – it might have been worth saying that this mode of ‘aid’/safety net, with all its inequities, favours, precarious contingency, personally tied aid, is arguably an even worse sort of dependence than if the area did access Grameen Bank funds! Why not a more explicit critique of remittances, charity, pensions as just that sort of charity that does nothing to achieve adequate redistribution. That once again reassures in the way that all charity does – a little gift so as to feel ok about never addressing the major inequalities.

So I wonder why this expanded level of critique is not present in the paper? Again I think the questions not asked are a consequence of the research set up. The project is one investigating patron-client relationships to draw attention to the power relations involved. I would certainly like to hear more about power in this scene. And I will suggest two homologous structures that seem to be reflected in this transnational patronage. Where the authors point out that some family members of employees may lose benefits if relations turn sour or kin members die, thereby support is withdrawn as the second and third generation migrants in England get less and less interested in maintaining ties to the ’desh, I wonder if there is not a larger homology with colonial power as such. As Britain becomes more and more reluctant to maintain even the semblance of aid/development obligation it earned as the great beneficiary of wealth extraction under the Raj. This makes me worry about the ways research projects might turn towards uncritical celebration of non State modes of poverty relief (safety nets etc). This is not neutral.

There are of course now programmes by the state that try to re-establish relationships, such as the UKIERI funding project I mentioned previously. In this regard then there is a smaller homology too – I would then wonder about the future of the two researchers who carried out ‘much of the fieldwork’ for Gardiner and Ahmed. These were Rushida Rawnek Khan and Abdul Mannan. No doubt like other clients these were ‘honest, reliable and skilled’ but I would like to hear more about them. I mean in terms of the patron-client relation in research. What is their safety net, given they are not named as co-authors? Perhaps not all the details are here for this case, but in many similar ones I think we can be concerned that something like ‘patron-client fieldwork’ structures the scene here, as homologous in that its a farmed out, sharecropper fieldwork, an absentee landlord (occasional fly by night visits) sort of ethnography, one that leads to a neo-liberal anthropology, one we should best critique in terms of power. And so I am keen again to call for a revolutionary anthropology, and for redistribution of wealth that does more than charitificate out loud.


Intel needs anthro Interns for Love and Spirit research!!

From: Payne, Michael J
Sent: Wednesday, June 28, 2006 9:42 AM
To: Ethnography Researchers
Subject: Call for Interns – please forward as appropriate

Intel Corporation’s Domestic Designs and Technologies Research Group
is calling for interns! As part of Domestic Designs and Technologies
Research, the ethnographic and design research team within the Digital
Home Group, you will work within a multidisciplinary team to explore
and research ‘love and spirituality’ and its intersection with
computers and technology, in and around the home.

DDTR is a driving force within the Digital Home Group: our charter is
to develop a clear & actionable understanding of daily life all over
the world, identify opportunities for our platforms to enable
experiences that consumers value, merge original insights with
technology, market, platform and planning intelligence to define usage
models & platform requirements, and seed future research & platform
opportunties. DHG’s vision is to make Intel the trusted foundation of
your digital home. To that end, the Digital Home Group develops
computing and communications oriented platforms that anticipate and
satisfy the needs of consumers world-wide.

We will be offering 3 month paid internships starting in October ’06,
January ’07, and April ’07, for graduate students in anthropology,
design research or related social sciences. Interns must re-locate to
the Portland, Oregon area to work closely with the research team
during the entire length of the internship.

We are looking for individuals with experience in designing and
conducting both qualitative and quantitative user or design research
studies, including analysis of the resulting data. Candidates should
prepare a concise yet thorough one-page proposal to explore some
aspect of love and spirituality and its intersection with computers
and technology in and around the home. Exact responsibilities of the
position will be defined with the successful applicant based on the
proposal you submit.

Please submit your proposal describing the research you’d like to do
in this area over the course of your internship to . Applications (CV + proposal) must be
received by July 31st, October 31st, and January 31st respectively for
the Oct, Jan, and April start dates; successful candidates will be
contacted by the 10th of the month following.

The end of Representation

The end of Representation

I have taught a lot of great students in my (eight!) years in the anth department at Goldsmiths, and now finally it looks like my escape to full time graft in the Centre for Cultural Studies is going to be confirmed – yippideee (for better or worse – its gotta be easier than two half time jobs = 150%). Its also a time for somewhat wistful reflections, and, gotta say, things have been pretty flat for obvious reasons the past few weeks…

Anyway, fact is, I won’t be teaching the Representation course anymore, so thanks to Chris, Richard, Atticus, Lia, Carrie, Nick and Will who taught alongside. Thanks also to all those who wrote and made work – fantastic films and photography projects, multimedia and chaos performances – which were really the greatest part. So many good films – onwards and upwards. I cannot list the highlights here (too many), but I do play them over and over as recruitment devices at Open Days…

What I will do – and with heavy heart – is refer you to another piece of Imogen Bunting’s writing, done for this course. Part of the reason I am leaving anth is because of discussions with Imogen over many years (there is a New Cross band that sings ‘if we beat our heads against this brick wall for long enough eventually it will fall’ – nope, it did not). I had always hoped we could change the world etc etc, and I still do, but in anth its for others to do now… Imogen’s enthusiasm must be carried elsewhere.

I am posting (here) a piece that was written as what we call a ‘practice essay’ in Imogen’s third year at Goldsmiths. I had lectured on the films of Denis O’Rourke for nearly ten years and always asked a question something like ‘who spoke for who [or sometimes, who fucked who] in the Good Woman of Bangkok?’ (if you have seen the film that makes sense – Denis does not appear in the film, but its his voice, or is Aoi pulling his strings?…). Anyways. after this effort from Imogen I just had to retire the topic, even though there had been many good answers over the years. After this there was no chance of a better one being written.

There is a memorial for Imogen on 22 May in New York.

The New School Weekly Observer

The New School Weekly Observer: “A FEW WORDS FOR IMOGEN BUNTING

Imogen Bunting, one of the most liked and accomplished graduate students at the university, died in her native England in late April from complications following a heart attack. She was 25.
Imogen received her first-class honors BA in social anthropology from Goldsmiths College, University of London, in June 2002. In 2003, she spent five months in Chiapas, Mexico, doing volunteer work and preliminary research for her intended doctoral project. She also worked as the project assistant for an equal rights program at Britain�s Trades Union Congress. In fall 2004, Imogen began her MA and PhD studies in anthropology, focusing on the political legacies of internationalism in the contemporary context of globalization.
In view of her scholarly promise and admirable political commitments, she was recruited by Robert Kostrzewa, assistant dean of The New School for Social Research. �Imogen Bunting was one of our star students, a beloved member of our community, and an extraordinarily kind and caring human being,� he said recently. �She combined academic excellence, deep commitment to the ideal of justice, and concern for others, especially the voiceless and dispossessed. She was the type of student who makes it worthwhile to be a faculty member or an administrator. The loss of Imogen to our school and to our intellectual community is immeasurable. That her life and her enormous potential were cut short is overwhelming.�
Imogen was a cherished member of the student senate, where she passionately spoke her mind on numerous institutional and labor issues affecting her colleagues, school employees, faculty, and other members of the university community. When others doubted the merits of certain progressive causes, Imogen often convinced them to stand strong with her. The sincere embrace of the ”

Everyday Life of Revolutionary Movements

Alpa writes:
Dear All,
If anyone is interested being involved in a panel on ‘The Everyday Life of Revolutionary Movements’ at the forthcoming September meeting of theEuropean Association of Social Anthropologists, please see further details at:

The idea is to explore the contradictions between ideology and livedexperience of revolutionary movements in different parts of the world.Abstracts should be submitted through the above web-site and the deadlineis 1 May.Please don’t hesitate to get in touch for further information.And do pass on to anyone else who you think might be interested.

Best, Alpa
–Dr Alpa Shah,
Department of Anthropology,
Goldsmiths College, University of London
London, SE14 6NW

Keith Hart�s Memory Bank – John Hutnyk’s Bad Marxism

Keith Hart�s Memory Bank – John Hutnyk’s Bad Marxism: “Review of John Hutnyk’s Bad Marxism: Capitalism and Cultural Studies (2004, London: Pluto) Approx. Words: 2,900 by By Michelangelo Paganopoulos

Bad Marxism is the third major work of John Hutnyk focusing on the problems of representation in the culture industry, largely inspired by the writings of Marx, Adorno, and Spivak, among others. The book follows The Rumour of Calcutta (1996), in which Hutnyk highlighted the problem of representation in ethnography, and the Critique of Exotica (2000) on the political ambiguity of the notion of �hybridity� in culture. With Bad Marxism, Hutnyk responds to his two previous books by articulating a sense of political urgency for activism during and after fieldwork in both anthropology and cultural studies.

Bad Marxism begins as a critique of ethnography and anthropology by underlying the power of travel in colonial and post-colonial times. Hutnyk associates the impact of travel with the violence inflicted on slaves during and after their displacement, and imaginatively connects travel and slavery with contemporary ethnographic tourism. In this context, he argues, both Malinowski and Clifford are members of the same �colonial project� this time glossed as globalisation by neoliberal ideology� (2004″…. [continues....] {its by By Michelangelo Paganopoulos}


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).

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.

Google Mail – TV looking for medical Anthropologist

There are numerous reasons to despair for anthropology as a discipline, but it could be TV that is suffering even more. Evidence – this email recently sent to all in the Goldsmiths department looking for the future Davina McCall of Ethnography (Davina? She has an ‘interest’ in anthropology, surely…)

Google Mail – TV looking for medical Anthropologist:
“TV looking for medical Anthropologist” 10:46 pm (9 hours ago)

We are a production company called Optomen Television and are
currently looking for someone with an interest in anthropology to
become the presenter of a new series. We are searching for someone
that would relish a voyage of discovery, investigating medical
beliefs, remedies and cures across the globe. We would like our
presenter to get deeply involved in the experience, to immerse
themselves in a community rather than commentate from afar.

If this is of interest, please email with any relevant information
and we will get back in touch.

Many thanks and best wishes, My email is listed below.

Zara Lansdale
Assistant Producer
Optomen Television”

anthropologee chickadoo

Met some more members of the silly covert student group calling themselves Hit Culture or something today. Got into conversation and I think they are serious. Totally mad, but serious. They want to extend political assassinations to academics. Claiming that people like Giddens in Sociology and Geertz in Anthropology are personally responsibl for various malignant mentalities across the planet. I guess at least they are international. Giggles Giddens they want to get because his introductory texts were so boring, and he went on to become the ideologue of Britain’s bland new Labour Party, lined up with that Tony – Thatcherite in a frock – Blair and the vote-winning sari girl, Cherrie. Geertz was, I can’t recall all they said, on the hit list for being a spy. Something abut 100,000 Indonesian communists killed while he was doing research into cockfighting in Bali, and none of it got into his book. I’ve read the essay in question, and remember that none of the political scene features, displaced only with elegant sentences about malaria, the disappearance of his wife, and predictable side-steps of phallic puns given his theme. Geertz winked a lot and I recall him speaking in Melbourne looking like an academic W.C.Field crossed with Colonel Sanders. ‘11 different herbs and spices in the new anthropologee chickadee’. Well, I guess its good that folks are taking an interest in culture. And its internationalist too. I have to approve of the sentiment, if not the messy methods. They idolise the Unabomber for getting the manifesto published. But the print was too small, and by the time it came out as an independent volume all the hype was overkill. I wouldn’t open any suspicious mail. I guess Giddens better not either now.

Celebrating Transgression essay part file 2

This is Steadman, but William S. Burroughs’ art work is showing in London for the next couple of months. – see

The Unseen Art of William S. Burroughs

79 Beak Street, Regent Street – W1F 9SU

So, since he’s named as an anthropology ancestor, here’s some more from my essay on fieldwork/filed works – from Celebrating Transgression (forthcoming with Berghahn in November)

2.1Instead of a litany of names that founded schools, which constrict and contrive, how about those who enact openings to thought? With Louis Aragon, in The Adventures of Telemachus, the disenchanting of the gods proceeds apace as Mentor opens a bottle the gods had failed to uncork by simply smashing it on a rock (Aragon 1988: 87). Is it already too late to be contrite, to be polite, to not offend with a smart-alec radicalism? The disenchanters have not yet taken over the asylum, indeed they (we) have barely worked out how to fill the forms that give tenure. Fieldwork is over. Malinowski is dead (shock!)

2.2With William Burroughs at Harvard in 1936: ‘I had done some graduate work in anthropology. I got a glimpse of academic life and I didn’t like it at all. It looked like there was too much faculty intrigue, faculty lies, cultivating the head of department, so on and so forth’ (Burroughs 2001: 76).

2.3 Burroughs ‘defines paranoia as “having all the facts”’ (Burroughs in Lotringer 2001: 476) but also thinks ‘we are all black centipedes at heart’ (in Lotringer 2001: 168). Did he learn any more anthropology on his ‘fieldwork’ trips to South America in search of Yagé? From where does that critical countenance come? He says: ‘if a large number of people defy the whole question of boundaries, thousands of people walking across borders without passports, that sort of thing seems to me a useful form of demonstration’ (Burroughs in 1968, in Lotringer 2001: 106). And reflects: ‘I would love to see… in England “they must” get rid of the idea of this bloody Queen. That bitch. Sitting there soaking up the energy of forty million people. People say “The Queen isn’t important. She’s just a figurehead.” A Figurehead of subservience. A figurehead of kissing her ass. Worthless wench. She should be sweeping floors’ (Burroughs in 1968 in Lotringer 2001: 102). Burroughs’ routines expand the field.

2.4Complicity – it is never a matter of automatic accusations of complicity over against assertions of purity or righteousness; even if all encounters were complicit this would not be grounds for invalidation. What is more important is debate and discussion, even with wrong ideas and false gods. Would it that a Burroughs or an Aragon were offering the introductory lectures for the discipline.

2.5Anthropological paranoia. To treat paranoia as a productive value makes sense where the paranoid distrusts codifications and established routines as the very traps that must be avoided by a non-paranoid consciousness. Salvador Dalí would be the patron of this impossible anthropology then, that would validate disruptions and deviations to the codes of common sense and conventionality. The paranoid-critical method might be useful. Teaching Dalí as proto-ethnographer to students in the 1980s did more for experimental ethnography than anything else I could imagine.

[Burroughs at Riflemaker is open mon-sat till 6pm each day]

Celebrating Transgression – Method part one

This pic is from a recent celebration – heh heh. bleary eyed the next day (in fact already here – those magaritas were fine).

Anyway, Klaus Peter Koepping is coming to Goldsmiths to teach for the next year. This below is from Celebrating Transgression – a festschrift for him. This is the start of my paper. More to come…

From ‘Method in the Madness’ in “Celebrating Transgression” (forthcoming Nov – see the books blog).

1.1 The idea that anthropology is about one culture understanding another, in some sort of binary exchange mechanism, seems absurd. There are no distinct cultures, understandings are multiple. Balance sheets are false documents. But these absurdities are the ethic of anthropology, as a trickster discipline, conjuring its way to a faulty comprehension (Köpping 1989). Ethnographers might lie. They might be brilliant. They might be government spies, or worse, revolutionaries. In an anxious history, the drive to rethink culture must engage with diversity, media, commerce and yet is nothing if it does not encourage the opening of minds that only transgressive quest(ion)ing can ensure.

1.2 Reinventing anthropology could be imagined as a project of recognising differences so as to work an overcoming in equality that preserves them. In Gayatri Spivak’s reading of Marx we hear of a ‘system that will remove difference after taking it into account’ (Spivak 1999: 79). This might even be something like the structure of anthropological reportage in a Malinowskian world, where difference is revealed as not so different – the point might be to radicalise this towards its revolutionary implications. The move from reportage to intervention is a not so unusual ambition. If the structure of ethnographic motivation was to say ‘look how these strange people are not all that strange after all’, then the political task of ensuring equity despite acknowledged differences is only the next step. Here there would not be talk of rights to difference, but of rights to (and the responsibilities of) equality.

1.3 The archive of ethnography shifts and grows exponentially, but only sometimes escapes the impulse to itemise, even as we try to theorise the innovations of the system. If anything, perhaps it is the grand expositions, such as that in 1851 at the Crystal Palace, which are the precursors of the anthropological collection and display, and which still regulate the discipline. We can possibly imagine Marx wandering around the exhibits, astonished. Walter Benjamin, so many years later, obviously wished he’d been there – he noted that visitors were not allowed to touch the goods on show. The produce of the world, today, the fact that cultural curios are often replicated in miniature indicates that the aura of authentic commodification, once prominently displayed in the industrial products of the expositions, is now rendered less significantly, or even ironically diminished, as kitsch. A kind of reductive ambition and loss of grandeur, the convenience store and the tourist flea market become the scenes of culture. The souvenir collected by the anthropologist is more akin to the snapshot or postcard than ever before. Should we see this as a loss? If so, of what?

1.4 The curriculum that demands a critical rethink might claim many avatars. We should not be surprised to find anthropologists that do not fit the canon. Other ways of writing the trajectory of the discipline have been offered. Alternative versions ask urgent political, conceptual, dialectical questions and evoke names not usually present, texts scavenged and refashioned through critique. Popular interdisciplinarity recasts everything afresh. This is in part learned from Peter Köpping’s lectures on Anthropology and Method, here and there updated over the years in a file seasoned with engagement, teaching, reading, activism.

1.5 Most important of all, the critique of mediocrity – the gilt-edged mediocrity of those in positions of privilege incapable of anything other than marching in place with that privilege, incapable of challenging even themselves or the perseverance that put them here in the first place. Who do I have in mind? Certain professors of culture at work in the bureaucratic teaching machine, dull operatives of self-promotion and resignation, luxuriant in egoistic privilege, imagining conference attendance and canteen dinners amount to a jet-set lifestyle – these people thrive on a capitulation to the administrative job that makes the capacity for critical thought a mere line on a curriculum vitae.

Travel Worlds

Travel Worlds:Journeys in Contemporary Cultural Politics

Edited by Raminder Kaur
and John Hutnyk
Zed books, London 1999.

Pb ISBN 1 85649 562 0 Price UK£13.95/US$22.50
(see below for ordering details)
(cover photo Karoki Lewis)

Everyone’s got a traveller’s tale,
but TRAVEL WORLDS tells them with a sting:

African-American musicians head East for Kung-Fu kicks while
paedophiles go for cheap sex pilgrimage; Western bible-bashers adopt
missionary positions in India while heroic Saint George signs on as
an Arab soldier in Britain; the scars of Partition mock the protocols
of transit, while nomadic insurgents resist the Bangladeshi nation
state with lyrical persuasion; Kula Shaker and Madonna trinketize the
‘Orient’ while dead tourists exchange values with travelling
‘terrorists’; British Mirpuris and Black women travel back to the ‘Old
Country’ and beyond in ways that are not quite as they seem; and
ethnographers collide with tourists in the carousel of Goa’s resorts.

Including poetry and fiction alongside academic essays, this book
refuses simplistic dichotomies of north/south and east/west and
confronts head on existing conventions of writing about travel in
post-colonial, literary and cultural studies. In so doing, it sheds
new light on:

- the shortcomings of border theories and nation-state parameters

- the politics of diasporic and transnational travels

- the relations between tourism and terrorism

- the limitations of ‘alternative’ tourism

TRAVEL WORLDS plots the politics of diverse journeys;
it is ‘something of a travel guide,
something of a hold-all backpack,
and something of another compass’.

`Travel Words dares you to embark on a variety of journeys
simultaneously-from magical-mystical tours that promise to fulfil the
private fantasies of jaded tourists and eager missionaries to new
journeys across old borders that have become terribly real by virtue
of being more psychological than territorial. This collection explores
exciting psycho-geographical spaces through journeys that somewhere
along the way become journeys into the self.’ – Ashis Nandy.


Ordering details:
In Europe order from Zed books, 7 Cynthia St, London N1 9JF, UK
tel +44 (0)171 837 4014/8466 email:
In Australia and elsewhere order from our friends at Manic Ex-Posuer: books@manic –
In the US: Order from St Martins Press, Scholarly & Reference
Division, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010, USA
tel (212) 982 3900/fax (212) 777 63
59 Contact Peter Burrell email:


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