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With quals just behind me and research ramping up, I've been struggling to come to terms with my academic identity and to rekindle a passion for my research that I know is there, but has been dormant for the last little while. It struck me that one book in particular has influenced me more than any other in the last year -- and this has been a particularly mind-expanding year for me. (I'll post more article and book summaries soon to demonstrate.) But for anyone interested in development, modernization, globalization, or Africa -- or any combination of these -- I highly, highly recommend Global Shadows by James Ferguson. It's extremely well-written, and though certainly not an "easy" read, it is very illuminating. In a way, it has both opened my eyes and (temporarily, hopefully) paralyzed me -- I can't help but think that there's just too much that I don't know for me to make any useful difference. But Ferguson himself would not accept such an excuse (I've taken a class with him and am pretty sure of this), so I'm back in the ring, taking more anthropology, equipping myself to grapple effectively with such thorny, complicated issues. (As a side note, I scoff at anyone who thinks computer science or statistics is harder than this stuff. I've done both; I know.)

Below is the summary I wrote of the book last November. It's very long, but for those of you interested in these topics, I think it is worth the time and effort -- and the book even more so! (I was thinking of dividing this across multiple posts, but wanted any ensuing discussion -- and I hope there's some! -- to happen in one place, so I chose not to.)

What is “Africa”? What are globalization, development and modernity? These concepts – though they may be at times vague and ill-conceived – nonetheless play a central role in discourses, economic and otherwise, about the fate of the many interconnected yet unique groups on the continent. It is understandable, James Ferguson argues, for anthropologists to dismiss the notion of a unitary “Africa” as culturally absurd, but the fact remains that just such a notion is used by many around the world, including those in Africa, to justify political and economic decisions from which anthropologists have been largely absent. In this book, Ferguson proposes ways of defining (or redefining) the idea of “Africa,” as well as the ideas of “globalization” and “modernity.” He calls on anthropologists to face these and other similar issues head-on, and to address themselves to wider audiences, in their own work.

How is “Africa” defined? Africa is a place that confounds the definitions of modernity, development, and globalization: many of the usual hopes and fears associated with these concepts simply don’t fit the case of Africa. Ferguson says Africa is often defined “through a series of lacks and absences, failings and problems, plagues and catastrophes” – when Africa is even present at all in discussion, it is as a “shadow” place of “black” markets and informal economies, parallel to, or echoing, the “legitimate,” “authentic” ones. But this view is inaccurate and inadequate, just as anthropologists’ status-blind celebration of the cultural diversity of Africa is. The latter, Ferguson argues, blithely ignores the stark economic inequalities between various regions of the world.

Globalization )and modernity )and development, oh my! )

a 'native' perspective from Zambia )

the real face of modern foreign investment in Africa )

Economic language and Africa )

Complicating neat definitions of 'local' and 'national' ) (As a side note, this strikes a chord with me because my home discipline of communication has been working to address this issue for years.)

These new definitions suggest intriguing directions for anthropology and for thinking about Africa, modernity, development, and globalization (and “civil society”) more generally. First, how could this be taken up in our own work? What issues are there with the definitions as Ferguson has presented them – do we buy them? Second, how do they reflect on other authors we’ve read: Charles Piot’s arguments for African modernity in Togo (Ferguson explicitly critiques this on page 167), the “informal” but highly organized and hierarchical economic structures Janet Roitman documented in areas in and around Cameroon (seems to fit with Ferguson’s deconstruction of local/national/international to some degree), Liisa Malkki’s discussion of how refugees in Tanzania imagine themselves, Donald Moore’s documentation of discipline and skirmishes between local and state in Zimbabwe (where would Ferguson’s deconstruction of local/state fit with this?), Louise Meintjes’ overseas-focused musicians in Johannesburg, Nuttall and Mbembe’s ideas around Johannesburg modernity and their call to approach studies in Africa not as intrinsically “other” but a place like any other place? Finally, what can we make of Ferguson’s rallying call to anthropologists to actually weigh in on political debates, instead of (sometimes purposefully) standing by the sidelines and remaining in academic circles – do we buy that, and what are its implications? What is the future of anthropology in an increasingly non-local, status-defined world?
chimerically: (airplane)
I don't have time to expound on the implications of this as I would like to just now, but I heard on NPR's The World earlier today about a new addition to Google Earth: high-resolution images of burned villages and refugee camps in Darfur. Those involved hope that the imagery will function as a call to action to stop the genocide. Another fascinating use of photos as unquestionable "evidence," of the surveilling power of photographs, and of the (hoped-for) power of photos to make events more real and immediate.

Selected quotes:

It's hard to picture a genocide ... Officials at Google and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum hope that visualizing events in Darfur in specific detail will move people to act. ... We want ... perpetrators to understand that they are being watched. ... Knowing about a genocide has not been enough in the past to stop it. The question is whether seeing it -- especially in this large-scale, high-tech way -- will help make the difference.

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Gah, our fancy "enterprise" DSL is only half as fast as it should be and seems to die at least twice a day. So, I'm taking advantage of a moments of connectivity before going back to reading papers ...

I've been starting to outfit our new place with sustainable stuff. The lightbulbs were the first to go; everywhere but the dining room (which has a weird light fixture with little bulbs) has compact fluorescents now. The garden already has a nice (but insanely complex) drip-sprinkler system that seems to come on every other night, so I'll just leave that alone since any tampering would be likely to mess up the many layers of filtering and timing mechanisms. (But I DO need to figure out what the white mossy fungus growing in the lawn is and do something about it. [ profile] tlaad? :~)) I'd like to build a passive solar water (pre-)heater, but haven't determined yet which part of the roof actually gets a decent amount of sun or how complicated it'll be to hook it up to the gas-powered water heater, so that'll be a while.

I fixed all the screens so we can open the house up at night and close it down during the day, and between that and the huge trees shading the property, it stays nice and cool in here as a result. (I grew up in a brick house surrounded by large trees and this worked like a charm, even on 100+F summer days.) I planted my poor little bougainvillea under the window that gets the most sun so eventually it may actually provide some shade. Hopefully I won't have to uproot it again, as I had to do when we moved. (It was either that or leave it to die, so I stuck it into a too-small pot and hoped for the best ... and it's still alive, despite dropping most of its flowers and turning pale green in protest of its mistreatment. It did that when I first repotted it and bounced back okay, so I think it'll pull through again.)

I ordered a retractable clothesline so I can give indoor hang-drying a try, since there's a nice utility room where I can mount it. (I've had bad luck with line drying relatively recently -- think uber-itchy clothes infused with pollens and other allergens -- but it's drier down here than in Berkeley so indoor drying might actually work and hopefully be less allergen-prone too. We'll see. I've also heard that five minutes of "fluffing" in a dryer after line-drying can help the allergen problem.)

I stocked up on environmentally-friendly cleaners since we used up most of our old cleaners in moving, and even found unbleached toilet paper. (I've seen it in other countries and always wondered why we insisted on wiping our bums with pristine white toilet paper. Well, now Seventh Generation sells the brown stuff at Whole Paycheck Foods, and you can even get the "double rolls.")

And finally, since we've been getting several pieces of junk mail every day, I'm sending "knock it off already" notices with my new address to every direct marketer I can. If you haven't done this, it works pretty well -- I got several of the big direct marketing firms to stop sending mailers to my last address, reducing our junk mail by a factor of ten. In case you're interested, here are the addresses I've compiled from various websites. Clicky here ... )

Anything else you think I should try?
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Why are there so few girl characters in kids' movies? And what's up with "purity balls" and this obsession with "naive abstinence"? (I actually have some ideas about where the whole virginity obsession comes from, but I'll save that for another rant.)

That is all.
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An Inconvenient Truth is a powerful movie. Bay Area friends, see it now if you haven't already. Utah friends, see it starting on June 16 at Broadway (downtown), Century 16 (33rd and state), Layton Hills 9, or the Redstone 8 in Park City. (Others, see when it's playing in your area.) While I've heard much of the information in it before, the presentation is incredibly well put together, engaging, and persuasive, and everyone should see it. (Shows were sold out in some Bay Area theaters last weekend, but I guess that's to be expected in this area ...)
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This. is. fantastic.

President Cecilia Fire Thunder of the Oglala Sioux tribe has declared that she is going to build a Planned Parenthood clinic on tribal land. In South Dakota.

Donate directly to PP! Thanks to [ profile] corpsefairy for the heads-up.

Utah Quicksilver, Park City and Salt Lake City's best transportation service
chimerically: (Default)
A prof in my department sent this article to one of the department mailing lists. I don't know if this guy objects to the way "academics" have been doing Internet research for the last 15+ years or if he just has his head lodged deep in some pre-Internet hole, but he obviously hasn't even tried to find or acknowledge the many studies on exactly what he says is lacking.
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[Poll #673189]
Under what conditions do you refuse to give money to strangers? (explain in comments)
chimerically: (Default)
Anyone else (in California, anyway) getting automated phone calls supporting Proposition 73, the one that would require parental notification for abortions on minors? I've gotten several, and they piss me off on so many levels. First, I don't know where they got my name or mobile phone number, but I am completely the wrong audience, and I really don't appreciate them wasting my mobile phone minutes and clogging my voicemail with their drivel. Second and more importantly, their recorded message features the parents of young women who had abortions without telling them. They say things like "my daughter needed me, she would have wanted me to be there, but I couldn't be there for her," or "my daughter was so happy that I found out and visited her in the hospital." What crap! Their daughters withheld the fact that they were pregnant from them for a reason! These parents should work on getting to know and understand their daughters rather than requiring their doctors to notify them in their daughters want an abortion. This proposition would just result in more young women considering unsafe, illegal abortions. And the young women who are affected by this bill can't even vote on it! Anyway, I hope all you California residents get out tomorrow and vote NO on almost everything (except maybe 79), especially this proposition.
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Danah has written a fantastic call to arms over the systematic suppression of youth culture (also reminding me of another essay that resonated with my experience). I was a senior in high school when the Columbine shootings happened, and remember the district-wide announcements of locker searchings, suspensions, and cultivation of a culture of aggression and "zero tolerance" by district officials and the media. I remember when local malls started hassling groups of teens, and when cruising was banned, and when the local Dee's (a regular teen hangout) was closed. I remember being hassled by police on several occasions for breaking curfew. I watched as the physical venues for youth expression (and especially non-Mormon youth expression) in Salt Lake City were suppressed, one by one. Fortunately, I was blessed with a host of fabulous teachers, an understanding dad, and a strong community of fellow intellectuals, loners, and outcasts, including the most wonderful friends I'll probably ever have in all my life. Though I was a miserable pariah in junior high, I was able to ignore much of the high school popularity contest and could dress as I wanted and speak my mind freely. We protested Channel 1, The Gap, and in-school advertising; we attended high-school dances en masse, pairing off randomly at the door, and did the hokey-pokey during the slow songs; my school's English teachers handed out our liberal, queer-friendly 'zine for us; and we were vocal about our liberal views in classes and often had teachers agreeing with us (though few other students did in conservative eastern Salt Lake City). I don't remember instances of friends getting hassled for their gaming or dress in my school, even the most extreme goths. But these articles remind me that many aren't so lucky. I shudder to think what would have become of me if my high school experience had been like my junior high experience. By the end of junior high, I was a mess: I was depressed and a recovering anorexic, and had attempted suicide at least once. And I knew countless others - smart but often shy teens - who were in similarly dire straits. If I hadn't met like-minded others and if we hadn't collectively named and repudiated the insidious side of high school culture, I don't know where I'd be now. Of course, I still had to struggle with low self-esteem, which kept me in an abusive relationship and spun me back into depression before high school was out. But it could have been so much worse, and for many, it is.
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I learned today that my Healthy Cities poster got into UbiComp, and got great reviews besides! *cheers*

Yesterday my car did not pass smog. What kind of environmentalist am I? (Answer: a broke one. I'd buy a Civic hybrid if I could ... or use public transit if it were more reliable! Speaking of which, the bus was 18 minutes late yesterday, and the driver was a prick. Good thing I'm finally close enough to campus to rollerblade - and maybe my neck is better enough to bike again.)

Today I started yoga, databases, and compilers, and talked again with A.J., my research advisor at U. Washington. Today was also the first class of Political and Economic Development in the Third World. The professor is an incisive, expressive fellow from Guyana, full of stories and anecdotes and seditious comments. Each student has to lead a panel discussion this semester, and I asked him if he could add a panel on information technology in developing countries. I also volunteered to make a website for the class, of course. Here are a few anecdotes from class:

The US economy depends on continuous expansion of demand. If the mean income in the US drops, the very basis of our economy - spending as much as possible, the sale of luxury goods, etc. - starts to erode, investments drop, people spend even less, fees go up, and we spiral into depression. Your interests are vested in the system, even though the system is unsustainable; in this way, we are all exploiters, just by living in this country.

What about Cuba? The income range in Cuba is $15-$25/month, but they don't have to worry about education, health care, or housing (10% of your income covers housing). They have trouble imagining a system where you have to worry about having a high income to cover housing, transportation, and health care - just as we have trouble imagining a system where there is no clean water, sewage, or access to food and other goods.

How do you get out of an unsustainable system, like the US? How much would nationalized health-care make a difference? How would nationalized health-care be paid for, and how would it affect the current economic situation?

Overseas work is cheap - more in the range of $1/day, rather than the US $20/hour (for comparable work with benefits etc.) - and transportation is cheap also, so it's no wonder companies export labor.

What convinces people that they have to pay $120 for Nike shoes? The shoe is produced for $9 - labor is cheap since conditions are poor, there are no benefits, and factories employ women - and the rest is marketing, plus maybe pumps, lights, etc., changing every three months. The differences go to the shareholders; it accumulates wealth, generates taxes, and creates the conditions for infrastructures and public education.

How does the system justify exploitation? There are concepts of "deserving", along income, racial, gender, etc. lines. Presumption of innocence goes to the wealthy, and excuses emerge. Why does A. Shwartzenegger deserve to run California? He's from Europe, white, wealthy, and male. Say a qualified woman originally from Rwanda was to run - people would presume that because she's from Africa, black, female, she couldn't possibly be in a position of power. A.S. claims the Horatio Algiers story - his family in Austria was poor, and he came to California with little - and since he made it when others didn't, he's obviously more deserving. We all believe we deserve what we have, or more ... and all it takes is more effort, morality, or to get more.
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I'm listening to newscasters blather about a huge power outage across the east caused by overloads of the system, and while they fuss over the effects on hospitals and airports and subways, my first reaction is to shrug and turn it off. Let New England get a taste of the rolling blackouts California has been experiencing for years; let them learn the lesson of conservation the hard way. This is my response to many of these catastrophes or impending disaster due to overuse of gas, or water, or electricity ... ideally we could reduce our demands before these problems happen, but I'm not holding my breath. And though I turn off lights and try to conserve water and all, I'm part of the problem, just by living in this country, by living in the developed world.

I had a conversation with David earlier today about globalization, and why a laissez-faire economy doesn't work. It's all just amateurish opinions, of course, since neither of us know much about economics, but it's still interesting to discuss. My argument is that because their bottom line is solely economic, companies will tend towards collusion and exploitation to undercut competition and establish a monopoly.

We also discussed other aspects of bottom-line economics, such as overseas exploitation to reduce prices and environmental degradation. In our (surely simplistic) view, companies move manufacturing overseas because even though shipping costs are higher, manufacturing costs are SO much lower because of pittance wages and lack of taxation, so it's overall cheaper to produce overseas. If there was a global minimum wage - say, $4 a day, double the global poverty level - then perhaps shipping costs would push expenses over what they would be locally. Perhaps production would move closer to consumption - more sustainable because of the lack of environmentally-harmful shipping and the increase in accountability. And even if production didn't move, at least workers worldwide would have a higher standard of living, even if it was at the expense of our overly-high standard.

Suppose, for a moment, that there was a reliable quantification of environmental and community damage - never mind the impossibility of such a feat. If companies were taxed or fined for this damage and the money was put back into the harmed community, would this provide incentive to be more environmentally and socially responsible? If companies just payed the fines, would the money really help offset damage in any way?

David and I also talked a bit about cities and suburban sprawl. In my annual reading of the last year's National Geographics here in Michigan, I even found an article on this, discussing mixed-use and compact communities and "new urbanism" and other strategies we discussed in my sustainable cities class. It's nice to see all this explained to a wide audience, if an affluent one. I wonder if these ideas really are becoming mainstream, or if it's just select urban planners a few weirdos like me that espouse them. The feeling I have about anti-war ads, anti-SUV commercials, and the like is that while many react violently and unthinkingly to them, at least it's known that there is a movement, and the movement has the power to be heard. But ... how valuable is awareness, anyway?
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Women's magazines are sold by what I call the "uniformity" fallacy - on the erroneous belief that we can all be made to look like one another, given the right creams and clothes and diets. This is a fallacy because it induces us to ignore the unavoidable variation in body type, skin type, hair type, genetic predisposition, and so on. No matter how hard I try - short of major surgery, and maybe not even then - I can't have flawlessly tanned skin or silky-straight hair or a 36-24-34 figure, because I have freckles and wavy hair and narrow hips, and that's just the way I am. What I CAN do is be the healthiest me that I can be. Believing this is my first step in sloughing the media beastie; now I just have to truly LIKE what I've got. :~) (For a start, I think it would be incredibly boring if we really COULD all look just like one another!)


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