Still a lot to be worked out but OK, why not gamble on FB not even being here in 8 years (as reported in the SMH today) and join this other (maybe nicer) pyramid scheme social networking site. I’m happy enough to say my invite is from Stewart Home – so get in early enough and it might not fall over on you – link page here: http://www.zurker.co.uk/i-226925-yvgyvoykwn
Poppies seem to spring up on people’s lapels earlier each year, and on younger lapels than ever before. Walking through London Bridge tube station last night I saw them on teenagers, and then later that evening caught a few minutes of an inane interview of Girls Aloud (a pop band apparently) on the BBC and several of them were sporting the little red blossom.
Of course I know all the multiple and multiplying associations that could unfold from the petals of this little bit or remembrance (it is a sort of trinket, the issues are certainly trinketized). Poppy-war, Heroin & war, Fashion, Charity, Symbolism, Hypocrisy. Out of respect for the dead, we should start with the carnage adn waste of so many lives in Çanakkale Savaşları, aka Gallipoli, where thousands of soldiers were sent to the fields of eternal sleep – not the pretty sleep of the Dorothy in a field on the way to Oz kind, but a more wicked wizardry of military strategy in a stupid imperial war, run by kings and generals, endured by regulars and innocents on both sides.
Dorothy’s dream inside a tornado is relevant today. She is about to be released again in a remake, but for pc reasons the remake will not include the munchkins. My version of Dorothy re-imagined would immediately transport us not to Oz or Gallipoli, but to the killing fields of Afghanistan. Under the tarpaulin, huddled in the dust, afraid and under-equipped, young recruits on their third tour of duty, a tin man, a scardy-cat lion, a fellow made of straw – Toto, come back Toto… somewhere over the rainbow… And it has been a long long nightmare for the Afghan people – the humanitarian aid packages are now forgotten, the humanitarian bombing goes on (with an anthropologist helping write ‘counter-insurgency guidelines’ and advising on the battle to win/destroy hearts and minds). That the battle is brought to the imperialists by the resurgent Talaban is not reason to still sustain a long duration battle plan. Among the reasons given by Bliar for attacking Afghanistan in the first place was to eradicate heroin poppy production. That this has failed spectacularly, and his soothing words about restoring the education of women, and the bollocks about the capture of Sheik Osama – the other two objectives – these reamin, how shall we say, ‘incomplete’. This is surely not just circumstantial evidence in a far longer war crimes charge sheet. Whatever happened to the three strikes and you’re out metaphor? And to think Bliar can intervene in the Middle East to good effect – they are havin’ a laugh.
I guess we mostly remember poppy not as echo of the static death embrace of armies in Flanders, but through versionings of death as heroism in the cinema. All Quiet on the The Western Front (1930), Paths of Glory (1957, Kubrick dir. with Kirk Douglas) the trenches and beaches of the Dardanelles – near the site of Troy, and this comes as metaphor because of films that support the nation – the Australian Film Commission funds a jingoism which thrives on cinematic recollection (blame Gallipoli 1981, Peter Weir, dir. with Mel Gibson), and though we like to mock the stiff upper lisp inanity if the military that sent so many troops to pointless charge of the light brigade type death, there is also much to mock in some of the ANZAC tradition marches. With style and humour, Fiona Nicoll has an excellent book that relates Returned Service League, RSL, marches and the Aussie ideal of ‘mateship’ to the carnivalesque of Gay Mardi Gras in Sydney – From Diggers to Drag Queens, Pluto Press. But even that old routine – the One Day of the Year – has worn a bit thin – as we watch our rugby players before the recent world cup, just like the cricket team before them, draw (insufficient) sporting inspiration from a visit to the trenches. Sport is also heck, buy a poppy for Team Oz.
World War 1 is long gone, but that lost generation fodder for the insane destructive wars of Capital must be revived, renovated and renewed over and over. The remembrance date (Nov 11 – but also 25 April for ANZACS) is rehearsed for new wars, and we must acknowledge the charge that brings out a special strain of charity: poppy pins for veterans’ aid collection, emotive posters (on the tube again, posters of an old guy on a park bench with his missing ‘mate’ outlined in floating red flowers), and the Queen and other piggy pollies waddling over to the Cenotaph to lay wreaths for the fallen. Live on television, this comes with almost no debate. In England debate would be unseemly – all the while as more and more are slaughtered in the global war that these very same crocs (Labour Party, ruling class, military brass) perpetrate. Tears for the dead they can spare. Yet their hypocrisy wears thin these days, and at even the most modest or small c conservative levels there are questions being asked about troop welfare, troop support, and adequate compensation for their own maimed fodder. But a debate that would pin responsibility on any decision maker is not likely. Only remembrance – a tamed and contained memory, a blank memorial façade, an anaesthetized festival of hypocrisy and cynicism.
‘We support the troops when they turn on their officers’ was a slogan seen on a photo I posted here recently, but this has not grabbed hold of anyone by the scruff of the coat, even as the old fashioned war veterans associations and the like are ‘up in arms’ about establishment contempt for their dead and wounded. Of course we have not attended, and can barely conceive of a way to attend, to the civilian casualties, the people of Afghanistan, of Iraq, and all those subject to the everyday terror of our contemporary total war capitalism on the streets here (Charles de Menezes) or on the streets there (how many killed today?). Buy a poppy because we are the numb, we are living war, we wear it as fashion, Girls Aloud teach it to their teen fan base. Patriots all Dorothy. Worse than the drug. Tin-Zombies. Lions of Halloween. Straw-man Fiends.
At dinner the other day, KK told the story of his recent meeting with a ‘community copper’ on a bicycle who accosted him walking along the street. KK was wearing a beard and a back-pack, and the accusation was “you’e looking a bit serious, lad”. He was in fact thinking of buying fireworks, it being Diwali in England, so perhaps… but no, I think it indicates that everyday life is so much worse than the days when the standard bobby rap of “ere ere ere wots all this then?” would just make us laugh. Times have changed.
And then a former student, now a journalist in Russia, wrote to ask a few questions:
I want to know what you think it’s like working as a lecturer, in terms of motivation, work load, environment and general job satisfaction? Also, I was wondering if you thought there were any qualities that are desirable for people who want to pursue an academic vocation?…
I guess part of me feels a lot of academic research tends to be a bit removed from what’s actually going on now and this may sound a little stupid, but I’m not really sure why or for whom it’s done. But at the same time I’m constantly infuriated at the lack of time for reflexivity in my current job where everything has to be new and glossy so you often seem to churn out the same old bullshit… it would be great if you could give me some idea about what your job’s like and maybe some reasons why people do research in Cultural Studies?
Z, you are asking absolutely the right questions but its almost impossible to reply in anything less than 10,000 words.
I like Gayatri Spivak‘s take on what she does – she sees her teaching as an effort of working to try and change minds – or maybe better said, as Spivak also does (most recently in Naked Punch), as persistent teaching to try to rearrange desires. The first desire that needs rearranging from where I am is the special privilege well-meaning westerners have in desiring to ‘help’ people by intervening in their lives in ways that perhaps do not help so much at all – everyone from Madonna with child to backpackers doing charity work in Calcutta seems to be on a mission… and sometimes (too often) this includes bombing them to ‘help’ them onto the path of democracy. Well that’s a sure fire good example to convince people of the wisdom of our ways…
Does cultural studies help with that? – usually not. But trying to learn to think differently, to think, to think critically, about everything, is the basis of my approach to what I do as well. Or at least as often as I get a chance – in between bullshit production, (blogging; the publication machine) and routinised desk work. Teaching a Marx course that does not look for ‘the answer’ in Marx is a key part of my effort, and I am motivated by, and do enjoy, doing that. Old Beardo says there must be a ruthless critique of everything. This would have to include a critique of teaching too. I mean, how many minds are really changed? There are a lot of people in my class, they seem very enthused, we proceed apace. Yet the Democrats are the alternative to the Republicans in the US and the Tories here in the UK are back on the Immigration warpath. Chavez is only in Venezuela.
And then there is the whole thing about how the university system is a major impediment to any sort of critical intelligence, even as it is perhaps its last refuge. More and more mad administration forms; repetitions of bureaucratic procedure that make triplicate look like the good old days; vocationalisation that turns everything into a line on a CV, a phrase in a job reference, or a network meeting (rather than an exchange of ideas). The privatisation of education is well well well underway. Critical thinking is an endangered species, hidden amidst the overgrowth of accountancy. There is plenty I would like to do, and I write often along those lines in mad experiments which – probably for the better – never seem to work out (see here). But the effort is not unrewarding. I just wish there was some chance to say, sometimes, that things will get better than this. Every now and then it does seems possible – running down the street with a red flag at the head of a 2,000 strong demonstration; celebrating with friends the interventions and minor victories against the horror of mugwump corporate culture (see DisOrient X) … in between there are inspirational talks like that of Michael Taussig’s one on Colour and Terror here last tuesday.
Trouble is that there is never enough time, even to answer let alone ask all the questions (or verse vicer), and I do have to get to the pub, and to get ready for a visit to Sweden to give a talk on the great new Fun^da^mental video, which you can see here.
All good, be well. J.
Grrrrrrr. Not happy. I’ve just been to the off licence (bottle shop; liquor store) to buy two bottles of beer to smooth the dissertation marking evening that will occupy my Saturday night in the big city, and the smug South African bastard who works in my local ‘Odd Bins’ insults me when I decline to put my change into the cardboard box he has on the counter for some fair-trade charity he has started. I had politely, just said ‘no thanks’ to his request, and then he goes on about how ‘many people have already shown that they care and what was wrong with me…’. Now mostly I’ve given up on responding to this kind of moralistic baiting, and do not rise the provocation unless I’m already a few beers to the good. But having just spent the afternoon working on my Paris talk on travel and work, after having to leave the Migrant Rights rally early… well, still politely, I said I was ‘opposed to charity and think time would be better spent building a political movement that can win, rather than miniscule gestures that just make the charity giver – and in this case the charity organiser – feel good about themselves’. Or something like that. I am not sure exactly why this guy riled me up so much, since I’ve been having this argument for years. I remember recently in the New Cross Inn talking to an Action Aid guy who was also in the Labour Party (he freely admitted) and after an hour of debate got him to burn his Labour Party membership card in the ashtray (some kind of triumph, even if also pretty lame). But to be forced into this kind of reaction everywhere an anywhere – even when just buying a beer or two – on a Saturday night just seems obscene. That and the plethora of pro-war iconography I see about the place these days. Films and plays celebrating battle, brotherhood in arms, the spirit of the blitz, promotions for the latest Imperial War Museum exhibit (from where the Migrant Rights rally started today) and Jack idiot Straw with his veiled campaign to insult Muslims so as to position his middle of the road little Britain conservatism in a way sure to let him be deputy of the moribund aforementioned Labour Party (at least the Tories are so pathetic they cannot contain their internal ruptures when New Cameron came out in favour of forcing all people to get married, even – hush hush – gays). Grrrrrrr grrrr grrrr. Nasty times.
So why do I insist that charity is rubbish? I’ve long argued that it’s a way of deflecting attention from what would be politically required to achieve the very sentiments (the problem is they are just sentiments) that charity-givers might support. Redistribution of wealth; justice for all; equal share of resources and opportunity. If charity were capable of undoing global inequality, poverty, exploitation, inequality, surplus value extraction etc., then I’d be all in favour. But its not. It is the secular version of the Christian aesthetic, turn the other cheek (Bellamy) and ignore the ongoing extortion of those kept on the nether side of capitalist development. ‘Oh but my, we must do something for the poor’ and ‘at least it’s a start’. It’s a start that stops short. We’ll be all happy and fine so, long as we don’t have to see their sorry arses except in a few supplicant charity adverts promising that our few pennies would save said waif from the life of drudgery and privation that our comfy beer-swilling lifestyle means someone somewhere has to endure. I’ve no doubt there is a direct link to my wanting a beer after all this. Of course. But I do think building a political movement rather than a crypto-religious one (give, turn the cheek, embrace the higher power) is the only way that there can be any chance of wresting power from the likes of Bush, Blair, the Democrats/Republicans and their military-entertainment profit regime. Murder death kill will not be stopped, only ignored, by popping a few coins into a cardboard box on the counter of the local shop. Something more organised than that is needed. I loved the red umbrellas at the rally today. Brought to you by the activist-feminist-unionist rabble rousing chorus of red brolly weilding folk that also do serious long duree ground work stuff, such as X:Talk. Read about that in the Feminist Review – but be warned, if you just search Xtalk (without the colon) you get some kind of babbleforum on and on about Jesus, which is the very reason I was looking for beer in the first place. Crikey.
– a reply to a fav student on our MA Postcolonial in CCS who asked about ways to present his work on charity/WTO etc. My reply turned out to be as much for me as for him, got me thinking about how trinketization in anthropology left us adrift, bereft of purpose and value, and how critique, curriculum, and theory might be transformed so as to… anyways… –
You ask which theorist? Of course this was exactly the problem I had with my Calcutta book – looking for a theorist to say the sort of things I wanted to say: that charity is a way of assuaging guilt; that it would never do for redistributive justice; that issues of representation still matter – but matter more than the those who wrote of the crisis of representation in anthropology could see; indeed, that the crisis – at least in anthropology – led us to a politics without radicalism; that the constant talk of crisis is a substitute for a sustained politics of change; and from there that the anthropology curriculum needs substantial reform; that universities have lost their capacity for critical appraisal of their role; that the current vogue for difference is misplaced and under theorised; that anti-racist work in the university and metropolis is more about avoiding guilt that acting against really existing racism… and all this I ended up writing about as “trinketisation” – how our discrete studies became fascinated with discrete items, unable to theorise how it all fits together as neo-cultural imperialism. Of course Marx was the theorist that mattered, but who uses him in a way that addresses these specificities? Well, only Gayatri Spivak. Who is the one person I will always read first.
Well, and maybe in a lesser way George Yudice in ‘The Expediency of Culture‘ – though that book does not go far enough.
Hmmm, this is becoming a speech – guess I will post it somewhere (everything is a blog-athon nowadays).
I hope you can find a way forward – sounds to me that you can/are already.
Thanks for the nice words – stay in touch.
Its a good time to be in Berlin.
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
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.