2015 rai postgraduate conference: anthropology and the politics of engagement manchester, 4-5 june


Challenging Neoliberalism: Alternative Exchange Networks and Social Movements in Greece



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Challenging Neoliberalism: Alternative Exchange Networks and Social Movements in Greece

Pavlos Papadopoulos

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Summary:

The paper deals with the contraction of the alternative economic structures during the financial crisis in Greece. Its cause is to highlight the conflict against the austerity measures as an opportunity for the construction of new and democratic, anti-capitalistic ways of exchange.


Abstract:

Starting from the point that economy is a social construction, this paper highlights the questioning of capitalism’s rationalism. The austerity measures led social conflict to self-organization and to the construction of alternative forms of economy. There is a great discussion about the establishment of post-capitalist structures that question the hegemony of capitalism in the exchange of products. Capitalism undergoes a serious critic and its reaction is to exclude in every way these projects from its system as non-normal, but these acts seek hegemony and the construction of a new rationality. The paper deals with the formation of an Alternative Food Network established in the city of Katerini in 2011. The self-organization of the people led to the creation of the “Without Intermediaries Social Movement” which sought the productive reconstruction of the country, starting from an urban level. The movement established a social agreement between producers and consumers with the detour of a fundamental institution of capitalism, the Intermediaries. It’s main characteristic lies on the installation of a new and direct bond between these two groups under the mutual interests. Civil society was organized under assemblies in the public sphere, in an occupied public building, taking decisions under direct democracy. The detour of the market led to the lowering of the prices on agricultural products and to the invigoration of financial liquidity for the producers. The success of this movement led to the adoption of its model of organization by other cities of Greece. The movement created a network all over the country.



Socio-political movements and migration: the case of the Marea Granate and ANC in London

Clara Rubio Ros

University of Lleida
Summary:

Spanish economic crises caused a lack of job opportunities for Spanish young people. They, looking for their opportunity to build up a professional career, migrate abroad. However, they still feel responsible for changing Spanish politics. Willing to contribute to a more democratic system, they get involved in different social movements in their host countries.


Abstract:

The Spanish society is facing a time of political turmoil. Many of its citizens, who share a desire for changing the Spanish political situation, created numerous socio-political civil movements. The movements aimed to build a fairer and more equal society, always through democratic processes (either elections or referendums). On the other hand, due to the economic crisis and the persistent precariousness of the Spanish labour market, many Spaniards migrated to other cities around the world. Most of them feel the need of working for a change in the country where they were born; to do so they exported the socio-political movements to the cities to which migrated. This case study is based on two socio-political movements that were originated in Spain but have different international needs. The article is focused on the city of London and aims to understanding the origins of the movements; how are they nationally and internationally organised; their actions in London and their goals. Marae Granate Londres (London Maroon Wave) is one of the social movements linked to the 15-M movement, which seeks to denounce the forced emigration (what they call exile) of many young Spaniards due to the austerity policies of the Spanish government and its economical consequences. Amssemlea Nacional Catalana – ANC (Catalan National Assembly), is a socio-political movement that works for the Catalan Independence. The movement has created different nodes abroad, aiming to promote the Catalan Cause internationally besides to agglutinate Catalan independence supporters in the UK.



Why anthropology? It’s personal

Ryan Alison Foley

University of Oxford
Summary: 

For me, the practice of anthropology is necessarily engaged. Based on my own disappointing experiences as a worker, I sought out anthropology as a tool to critique the assumptions of the modern globalised economy. Therefore, if I am unable to engage with others I will have worked in vain.


Abstract:

My relationship with anthropology is personal. It is not a purely intellectual pursuit, but a deeply felt practice. Disappointed after years working in a multinational company, I turned back to academia. I wanted to understand why I felt so dissatisfied being part of such a successful company. I took a degree in comparative law, economics and finance, and discovered the potential of the anthropological method as a tool to critique the assumptions of economic science that bolster the neoliberal political economy which had left me feeling alienated. To use Hart, Laville and Cattani's phrase, I wanted to participate in 'building the human economy'. This led me to a year of fieldwork with a worker-owned social cooperative in the services sector of a small city in Emilia-Romagna. This region in Italy has had a strong history of cooperative business ever since the emergence of the modern cooperative movement during the industrial revolution. My research explores how the cooperative workers interpret and seek to apply cooperative values such as democracy, solidarity and equality in every day work. Is the cooperative able to compete in a marketplace that is guided by neoliberal values without compromising on its own? While tere are clear shortcomings in the reality of cooperative business practice and structural limitations imposed by the rules of the market, there are also some clear benefits, one of which is simply the search for these ideals. As I prepare to share my research, I also continue to work actively with cooperatives.

 

Session One – Group B

12.00-13.30 pm

Undisciplined translations: Sex and gender

Convener: Sofia González Ayala
Translating Female Genital Cutting as a Human Rights Violation in a Maasai Community

Mary-Anne Decatur

SOAS, University of London
Summary:

This paper draws on fifteen months of fieldwork to examine the ways in which mistranslations and miscommunications shape how female genital cutting as a human rights violation is understood by a group of Maasai community members in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania.


Abstract:

Female genital cutting is recognized within international discourses as a violation of human rights. This paper draws on fifteen months of fieldwork to examine the ways in which mistranslations and miscommunications shape how female genital cutting as a human rights violation is understood by a group of Maasai community members in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania. In keeping with international discourses, campaigns in Tanzania to end female genital cutting label the practice a violation of human rights (haki za binadamu in Swahili). Maasai people I spoke with translated haki za binadamu to the word esipata/isipat in Maa, meaning truth/truths. This translation conceptualizes a ‘right’ as something that is correct and does not necessarily connote entitlement. One key interlocutor, a young Maasai man, elaborated that men and women have different isipat, where men have the ‘right’ to be head of the family, while women have the ‘right’ to collect firewood, milk cows and prepare meals. He supported the idea of beating girls who request to undergo female genital cutting in order to make them learn what is ‘right’. This interlocutor’s mother and her friends argued that female genital cutting was once consistent with ‘rights’, but is now a violation of them. This (mis)translation of the term human rights positions women who have undergone the practice as potentially culpable and helps contextualize a popular rumour in the community stating that women who have undergone female genital cutting will be arrested and imprisoned if discovered when giving birth at the local hospital.




Difficult Engagements – Anthropology and Sex Work Politics

Ursula Probst

Freie Universität

Summary:


While critical analyses of sex work and its relation to (global) power structures are a vital contribution to public discourses, engaging in these debates can be a difficult navigation inbetween moralised “crusades” and the positionalities of anthropologists as scientists and “allies”.
Abstract:

Debates about sex work are often influenced by moralised myths and decontextualised images of the (mostly female) sex worker as passive victim that reproduce the stigmatisation and marginalisation of sex workers rather than providing a critical assessment of the social structures and inequalities shaping the experiences of sex workers. By documenting the diversity within the sex industry and critically analysing the connections between sex work and factors like migration regimes, global inequalities and (gendered) labour politics, anthropology can provide vital contributions not only to the scientific study of this topic, but also to public discourses, policies and interventions related to sex work. However, engaging in public debates and/or sex work activism can hold certain dangers for researchers: Critical voices contradicting the full abolition of sex work are often countered with defamation such as associations with a supposed „pimp lobby“ that can limit opportunities for engagement or research and might keep researchers from engaging publically at all. At the same time forms of engagement by scientists themselves have to be critically reflected to avoid them becoming part of the exclusion of sex workers from these discourses. Drawing on some examples from the European context I want to illustrate the problems associated with critical public engagement in the area of sex work and how they are embedded in various power structures to open up a discussion about how anthropologists and especially young scholars could engage in these debates without reproducing the very structures they want to criticise.



A collaborative ethnographic research studying the relationships between social work practice and migrant women suffering domestic violence

Marina Della Rocca

Free University of Bozen-Bolzano
Summary:

The paper describes a collaborative ethnographic research that investigates the relationship between social workers and abused migrant women to identify related structural and power dynamics and to integrate the perspectives of women clients in order to improve social work practice.


Abstract:

The paper is based on a PhD ethnographic research project that investigates the relationship between social workers, social work practice and migrant women suffering domestic violence. Following a personal work experience in a women’s shelter in the north of Italy, the researcher identified a number of critical issues attributable not only to the interpersonal violence experiences of the women clients, but also the structural violence associated with migration policy and approaches to social work practice. Following the definition of these critical topics, the paper goes on to analyse the role of the researcher and its coexistence with the role of social worker, and the personal engagement of the researcher as an activist for women’s rights. The project commences with a review of the researcher’s own work experience with abused migrant women, which provides an opportunity to understand critically the ways in which work habits and their power dynamics become embedded practice, and identifies relationships between the structure of social work practice and the actions of the subjects involved. At the same time, the researcher is called into question with respect to the political implication of her own work practices. The paper goes on to suggest that the collaborative research approach as a methodology has potential to foster the integration of migrant women perspectives into the transformation of local social work practices. This research perspective is also linked with the feminist approach, which underlines social power relationships in order to promote women’s rights and empowerment.

Queering Knowledge: Academia in the hands of the Activist

Anita Datta

SOAS, University of London
Summary:

This paper considers the effects and implications when activists and others outside the academy engage with academic literature. Understanding anthropological literature as a necessary engagement with the world it posits ethical responsibility for anthropologists to produce accessible representations.

Abstract:

The lively debate concerning academic engagement has typically focused on the figure of the anthropologist, struggling to negotiate an ‘ethical’ or ‘activist’ relationship with his/her informants. Such discussions rarely consider how those identifying as ‘activist’ might engage with scholarship independently, as part of their own strategies and practices. This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 2013 with an activist organisation working for the rights of lesbian, bisexual women, and female-to-male transgender persons in Kolkata, India. It is part of on- going research to investigate how those outside the academy engage directly with academic material. It will set out an exploration of the motives activists have for turning to academic literature, and of the new forms of knowledge and pedagogy that are created through these engagements. Anthropologists have not always welcomed the realisation that post-publication interpretations and uses of their work are quite beyond their control, not least when picked up by informants or others outside the academy. However this paper moves beyond intellectual claims of understanding or ‘mis-understanding’ and explores the implications for academia if academics recognise readers’ engagements with their work as potentially transformative or productive of knowledge, understanding and even power. In doing so, I suggest that it is important, and even ethically imperative, to take seriously alternative readings and mobilisations of academic texts as a form of engagement. Looking forward, the paper calls for a more open and accessible form of anthropological writing that responds to a world hungry for knowledge and power.



Session Two – A

2.30-4.00 pm

Law, Rights and Citizenship

Convener: Maria Salazar
African Personality: A tool for understanding the legal personality of the African individual in international law making

Joycelin Chinwe Okubuiro

University of Liverpool
Summary:

The imposition of Western principles as universal has continued to raise tension between Western and non-Western scholars. This paper aims to highlight such debate by exploring diverse understanding of African personality as a counter-hegemonic tool for the purpose of international law-making.


Abstract:

The concept of African personality has been perceived as Western effort to dominate Africans. Despite anthropologists and ethnographers acceptance of Darwin’s evolution theory that is based on one primordial root, a hierarchy was created which placed Africans (and other non-Europeans) at the bottom. Such classification created an unequal relationship in international activities. This was obvious during the colonial encounter between Africans and the Europeans leading to the imposition of Western principles as universal. However, Africans have challenged the above negative perception by Europeans as being racially biased. It has led to the exploration of African personality by Africans themselves. Notably, Edward Blyden refuted the negative comments made by the Europeans concerning Africans. He asserted that ‘every race has a contribution to make towards the welfare of mankind that no other race can make.’ Blyden’s and other African authors aimed to rewrite the misinformation about Africans and their ability to make positive contribution to the world. Such resistance to the earlier perception of African personality provided a counter-hegemonic tool which is vital for the understanding of human diversity. This paper aims to explore these scholarships on African personality to demonstrate the capacity of the African individual in international law making. In particular, it intends to use African scholarship to reveal a deeper understanding of theory and practice of African Individual and their legal capacity to participate in international law making.



Settler Indigeneity and the Eradication of the Non-Native in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)

James J. A. Blair

City University of New York
Summary:

Drawing on multi-sited fieldwork, this paper engages historical, political and affective qualities of nature, race and colonialism in order to understand how settlers of the Falkland Islands (In Spanish, Malvinas) are reinventing themselves as natives through practices of environmental management.


Abstract:

Margaret Thatcher is deceased, but her legacy continues to thrive in the Falkland Islands (in Spanish, Malvinas). Thirty-one years after Thatcher’s military trounced Argentina’s junta in a violent conflict over the South Atlantic archipelago, its residents confirmed their desire to stay British. In a March 2013 referendum on self-determination, 99.8% voted “Yes” to remaining a British Overseas Territory, with just three naysayers among the 1,517 valid votes. Most of the Falkland Islanders are white settlers, making their invocation of self-determination different from that of other former colonies with aboriginal claims. Unlike comparable “settler colonies” predicated on the elimination of the native, there is no historical evidence that an indigenous population inhabited the islands during European colonization. To understand how the Falkland Islanders are reinventing themselves as natives by claiming self-determination, this paper engages historical, political and affective processes of naturalizing heritage and belonging. It draws on a mixed-method, multi-sited program of research that incorporates observations, interviews and document analysis conducted in the Falklands, Argentina and the UK. Towards a theory of “settler indigeneity,” the paper captures a customized narrative of environmental stewardship that selectively reinforces Western agroindustrial and technoscientific norms and values. Specifically, it articulates modes of non-native invasion and eradication, as well as native resurgence and restoration, which have become proxies for the establishment of a particular moral and social ordering. It then examines sentiments of disgust and authority that: dehumanize particular peoples; entangle the more-than-human; reshape the islands’ landscape; and ultimately preserve the Islanders’ ecological dominion.



Session Two – B

2.30-4.00 pm

Making natures, making humans: Native worldviews on ecology and politics

Convener: José Luis Fajardo

The challenges of engagement

Rosalyn Bold

The University of Manchester
Summary:

Can engagement with indigenous ontologies challenge hierarchies of knowledge in development? I consider the tendency of the ‘western’ eye to stereotype its non-capitalist other through looking at climate change and the implementation of the Vivir Bien in Apolobamba, Bolivia.


Abstract:

Can engagement with indigenous ontologies challenge knowledge hierarchies to bring about alternative development? What happens when the people anthropologists work with challenge the ideals we would have them exemplify? I will discuss climate change and the Vivir Bien (VB) programme in Bolivia. The VB is an attempt to create an alternative axis of ‘development’ through codifying indigenous worldviews into legislation like the Law of Mother Earth. Challenged to realise its ideals, the VB set up a project in Apolobamba, NE Bolivia, in the highland villages where I was working. It aimed to help the villages adapt to climate change through a tourism scheme that would be a non-hierarchical cultural exchange between the ‘east’ (where indigenous culture is seen to spring from) and ‘west’. Despite its thoughtful premises, the project swiftly came to reproduce existing cultural prejudices and roles, spreading strict ideas about western hygiene, nutrition and technology to the villages, whilst educating villagers into servile roles. Working on climate change in these villages, I found that whilst their animistic worldview converge in surprising ways with the cataclysmic predictions of environmental and climate science, which well merit a meeting point of cultures, the non-human centred landscape the villagers live within did not necessarily field the anti-capitalist indigenous superhero that the VB had sought. I consider the tendency of the ‘western’ eye to reify and stereotype its 'other' whilst trying to engage indigenous worldviews, at national and international level.


Writing as engagement: choosing whose voices to include

Sara Friend

University of St Andrews
Summary:

During the writing process I have come across an ethical dilemma: do I have the space to coherently include all the voices I heard during my fieldwork in Orkney? Through this question I wish to enter into a wider debate on ethical engagement in the field of Anthropology.


Abstract:

Between October 2013 and October 2014, I lived and conducted fieldwork in the Orkney Islands, an archipelago off the north coast of the Scottish mainland. The specific focus of my research was the presence of renewables – i.e., the growth of the marine renewables industry and number of wind turbines in the area –, along with the community’s reaction to the development of this presence. After working with a number of renewables companies, interviewing industry members and turbine installers, and spending time with the larger community of residents, I began to pick up on a narrative, varied in its retellings, which told of renewables’ historical and cultural coherence within Orkney. This narrative was not omnipresent; I noticed absences both within and outside the industry. However, it is mainly the presence of the narrative within the industry and the absences of the narrative outside the industry that I will address in this paper. While I mean to discuss both the presence and absences of this narrative in my thesis, I have come to an ethical dilemma. This dilemma involves the comments of one, possibly two, informants, whom I came across late in my fieldwork. These comments point to a particular experience, which I am not sure there is room to fully explore in the scope of my thesis. The question(s) I want to address thus become: how do we, as anthropologists, choose whose worldview to engage with, and how far we engage in the worldviews we include? Also, how does my particular positioning as a person affect the choices I make regarding whose perspectives I engage with? What are the consequences? These questions are not new in the field of anthropology. However, I believe they deserve continued attention, which is what I indent to do by exploring such questions in this paper. 



Land, living and global natural resource economy in the Northeast Madagascar

Jenni Mölkänen

The University of Helsinki
Summary:

This paper focuses on intimate engagements and technological and political choices in environmental conservation and vanilla cultivation in Northeast Madagascar. The paper elicits the contradiction between conserved and cultivated natures.


Abstract:

The paper focuses on the knowledge production and technological and political choices made in environmental conservation and vanilla cultivation practices in rural Madagascar. Madagascar is the “hot spot” for environmental conservation with 90 % of its flora and 80 % of fauna being endemic. It is also world’s biggest vanilla producer, producing 70-80 % of consumed vanilla. Vanilla cultivation is a work of care that from the Malagasy cultivators’ point of view and it enforces the intimate mutual relationship between people and a plant. However, vanilla’s character as a consumed good enforces the image of its origins and place. Here, the economic and social practices make it difficult to delimit biological nature outside humans. At the same time in 2013, 10 % percent of the country’s land area was reserved for conservation and excluded from agricultural use from the two thirds of Malagasy people who get their livelihood from land. In ecotourism it is essential that exotic animals and plants are experienced in the place fusing again human and unhuman. Focusing on practices in vanilla cultivation and conservation I elicit a political contradiction between the cultivated and modern conserved nature. This conflict is especially found in countries like Madagascar where environmental conservation is a global interest. The aim is to focus on the relevance of the intimacy in creating and experiencing Madagascar’s nature. Theoretically the paper contributes to the discussions about agency, materials and politics about possible sustainable futures.



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