Eclectic Grounds

conflicts and conversation

Archive for the ‘Social theory’ Category

Cultural traditions as instruments of opposition

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On TED, yet another interesting talk on one of the main themes of this blog: how to embrace religious and cultural traditions while at the same time remaking them as instruments for opposition and empowerment.

Kavita Ramdas tells three stories of quite remarkable women who do just that.

Written by henrik

April 29, 2010 at 11:05 am

Ubuntu: A person is a person through other persons

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains the principles of the Southern African philosophy Ubuntu, which stresses community, consensus and the interconnectedness of people.

Via Institut für Friedenspädagogik

Some ideas never get old…

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I know I am way late with a post on Avatar but this is just too good not to share it…

Martin Luther King’s words

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Jay Smooth put together some memorable Martin Luther King quotations:

(from IllDoctrine)

Update: On the same subject, I just came across an impressive illustration putting in today’s context what Dr. King and many others have fought for (talking about post-racial USA…):

Lest We Forget

By RJ Matson (via NoCaptionNeeded)

How language shapes our mode of thinking

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At Edge, Lea Boroditzky makes the compelling case that the language we use effectively determines how we perceive the world around us. It’s a fascinating article with many  illuminating examples:

Instead of words like “right,” “left,” “forward,” and “back,” which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space. This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like “There’s an ant on your southeast leg” or “Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit.” One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. […] Simply put, speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes or inside unfamiliar buildings. What enables them — in fact, forces them — to do this is their language. Having their attention trained in this way equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities.

Even what might be deemed frivolous aspects of language can have far-reaching subconscious effects on how we see the world. Take grammatical gender. […] In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a “key” — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like “hard,” “heavy,” “jagged,” “metal,” “serrated,” and “useful,” whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say “golden,” “intricate,” “little,” “lovely,” “shiny,” and “tiny.” To describe a “bridge,” which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said “beautiful,” “elegant,” “fragile,” “peaceful,” “pretty,” and “slender,” and the Spanish speakers said “big,” “dangerous,” “long,” “strong,” “sturdy,” and “towering.” This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. The same pattern of results also emerged in entirely nonlinguistic tasks (e.g., rating similarity between pictures).

Written by henrik

December 27, 2009 at 9:17 am

Organ trafficking, the global economy and militant anthropology

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Shocking revelations emerged yesterday from an interview with the head of the Israeli forensic institute. In the interview, he admits systematic organ harvest by Israel from dead palestinian bodies (more information here).

The statements were made during an interview with Nancy Sheper-Hughes – a fantastic anthropologist whose work has inspired many (me included) for the field and the ethics of anthropology. She deserves a mention in this debate for her investigations in the global network of organ trafficking.

In years of research, Sheper-Hughes shed light on the global relations of organ donors, smugglers, doctors and recipients. A focus of her work is on global power relations that enable this illegal industry. She writes about the marginalized in the global economy from places like South Asia, Latin America or Eastern Europe, who are willing to sell parts of their body to support their families or simply to be able to afford status symbols and satisfy consumption needs. Many others have their organs removed without consent – the revelations about organ theft in Palestine is a remarkable case there. Sheper-Hughes says:

“I was confused, because there were so many forms of real violence; […] but what they [people in the community in Brazil] wanted to talk about was their incredible fear that their bodies were at risk, or those of their children, of being kidnapped by an organ mafia.”

Sheper-Hughes traced the path of trafficked organs through places like India, China, South Africa or – prominently – Israel:

“I found out from the transplant surgeons that these weren’t just allegations but that they were true, and that organ trafficking amongst living people was spreading. […] I began by following the rumours, before I started following the bodies. My primary aim is to disabuse the world of the notion that this is just a rumour.”

At the end of the global “supply chain” or organs are mostly recipients from industrialized parts of the world, usually Europe or the US.

“I worry about the politics, the bio-politics in a global sense, of the people who are resisting the getting of an organ through a waiting list or through friends or family, and would rather get a poor and anonymous person. It’s easier. You don’t have to deal with them after the fact.”

Sheper-Hughes calls her method ‘militant anthropology’, which means that it is prepared to take on a political or moral engagement with its subjects rather than merely engage in academic analysis. In the course of her work, she founded a small NGO called Organs Watch who acts as a pressure group to spread the word, build alliances, and push for legislate response to the injustice.

“Much as I feel for the recipients, for their pain and their suffering, they are represented and visible. They have surplus empathy, they’re in the newspapers and everybody’s heart goes out to them. Nobody’s heart goes out to the sellers, because they’re the riff-raff of society, and not people you naturally want to embrace, but they’re human beings – they need to be represented. Their body is precious to them. We talk about the gift of life. I talk about the gift of the body – instead of ‘I think therefore I am’, you can say ‘I’m embodied therefore I am’. To have to plunge in to yourself and sell that through which you have a personhood, and to think of your only resource as being your organs is so tragic.”

Quotations taken from an interview with Three Monkeys Online.

Global affairs and the failure of liberal common sense

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The latest Theory Talk features an interesting interview with James Ferguson, Stanford political anthropologist and outspoken critic of the “development” doctrine. In the talk, he offers insights to his work and vita, but he also talks more generally about social science approaches to global studies:

One of the things that bothers me about a lot of what I read the in social sciences that’s, as you say, ‘globally oriented’, is that it seems to start with a bunch of certainties, a bunch of assumptions – a kind of Western liberal common sense – that we know how countries ought to be organized. They ought to be democracies; they ought to respect human rights; they ought to guarantee the rule of law; they ought to be at peace with their neighbors. And then you look at, say, a country in Africa and all you’re able to see is a series of lacks – of things that should be there but aren’t. And you end up constructing huge parts of the world as just sort of empty spaces where things ought to be there but aren’t. And it leads to a kind of impoverished understanding, I think, because you don’t really understand what is going on here. How do people conduct their affairs? How is legitimate authority exercised? How are rules made and enforced? You know, all the kinds of questions that ought to be the starting place tend to disappear or recede into the background. So, I think the real challenge is to approach this whole question with a sense of openness, a willingness to be surprised and learn something new and not to be so deductive.

This is pretty much the criticism of “development” and the subsequent category of “development countries”, which was discussed here before. From this angle the analysis of social relations — using the analytical unit of the state — focuses on an abstract ideal that reality is supposed to be molded into. The strategy can be likened to a literature critic who trashes a novel because its is different from what the critic had expected. Such linear concepts often blur one’s vision on what’s crucial.

Written by henrik

November 25, 2009 at 11:08 am