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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Discourse Analysis, what is it, and why we should reject it.

The intellectual left sees Africa almost entirely in terms of a post-colonial discourse. This discourse consists of the development of such influential concepts, each with a distinct origin, like genocide, power, race, plunder, rape, or exotic glance, among others. You may well ask, why is the complex history of Africa reduced to a string of concepts. Is there an advantage to this perspective?

There is an advantage for discourse analysts. The above concepts, and any other emerging concepts for that matter, are advantageous because they avoid reference to individual subjects thus bypassing potential libel while also hiding ideologically informed presuppositions. Together, they raise the discourse to the status of being objective and unquestionable. The resultant complex of concepts, and the assumed knowledge and language history on which they are based, are then combined with a selected history of institutions to become not only a sharp ideological criticism of the West, but also a method of exposure and suspicion. And as such, let us say as a method of exposure, it is not only used to analyze history. More importantly, it is also used to exact reparations from national and international courts.

It is not too difficult to understand that such a discourse accuses anyone who disagrees of being a fascist, or if not that, otherwise ruin the disagreeable person’s career. After all, postcolonial discourse variants expose wrong doing and hold the moral high ground.

But is the history of Africa with the rest of the world, or are post-colonialists’ portrayals generally, that simple, that black and white, that morally pure? Robert Irwin (2007), in his book For the Lust of Knowing, shows that it is not. Another fascinating book by Dario Fernandez-Morera, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, also says no. Fernandez-Morera goes further. He shows how to break away from Discourse Analysis altogether. 

See my summary below, where Fernandez-Morera shows humanity as both suffering and inflicting suffering. He very carefully bases his findings on primary sources.

The book, My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey (2018) about my first field work experience likewise resists discourse analysis. First hand experience with the people one studies, living with them, experiencing their doubts, deceptions, ideologies, theories and daily lives do not allow for simple one-sided judgments.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Mead, Emotion, and Breakthrough

(From My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey, 2018)

Image result for free images of margaret mead+without copyright
Mead and Samoa

One of my friends was deeply concerned that I should take the risk of conveying my state of mind in the field when I had just succeeded in publishing several well-reasoned papers and a book. Why would you want to take the dangerous route and tinker with emotions when what excited me most is your precise analytical mind? What do you hope to achieve by this tinkering?
These questions are hard to answer. Margaret Mead points out how troublesome Reo Fortune’s passion was because it cast suspicion on his work. According to her, Radcliffe-Brown, for example, did not believe Fortune’s account of the Dobuans because the passion with which Fortune wrote about his sorcerer-informant seemed somehow to match his own (1972, p.184). It seems perfectly natural to me, however, that a researcher should find himself in a society—often by choice for he will have read accounts about it before embarking on his research venture—whose people display a range of emotions and passions that do resemble his own. Mead, Fortune, and Bateson were very discontent in some cultures and made conscious efforts to find social settings in which the people’s ethos or emotional tone was agreeable. I suspect that the rare accounts we get by anthropologists like Castaneda or Griaule, for example, who studied and even assimilated the philosophy of their informants, are the result of a unique harmony between the intellect and emotions of the informant and those of the anthropologist.
The answer to the question why one would wish to note emotional responses to field experiences can be made more profound yet. I take the reader back to Thomas Mann’s question; how does one achieve the breakthrough? And to his answer that, for the artist, the breakthrough lies in achieving a new emotional freedom but one regained by the author on the level of utmost intellectual clarity. I suggest something similar happens to the anthropologist during times of intense experiences, especially, during periods of intensity in the field. At these times, an ethnographer, even one as little concerned with introspection as Margaret Mead, experiences a new emotional freedom that impels her to look simultaneously into herself and the other; and into her own culture as well as the culture she is studying. The result frequently consists of new theoretical insights and formulations. Margaret Mead (1972) describes the brief period in the field which she spent together with her husband, Reo Fortune, and fellow researcher, Gregory Bateson, as follows:
The intensity of our discussions was heightened by the triangular situation. Gregory and I were falling in love, but this was kept firmly under control while all three of us tried to translate the intensity of our feelings into better and more perceptive field work (p.217).
And then she notes:
As we discussed the problem, cooped up together in the tiny eight-foot-by-eight-foot mosquito room, we moved back and forth between analyzing ourselves and each other, as individuals, and the cultures that we knew and were studying, as anthropologists must (ibid).
It is from this emotionally charged period that her ideas about temperament and sex developed. Indeed, as one reads Mead’s account of her surprisingly normal, although she considers it privileged, upbringing, one soon learns that most of her theoretical breakthroughs are the direct result of relatively “intense” experiences. For example, her unpleasant experiences at DePauw led her to observe that “in the setting of this co-educational college, it became perfectly clear both that bright girls could do better than bright boys and that they would suffer for it” (p.99–100). She developed this thesis in her work Male and Female. Finding co-education unattractive, she observes, “This preference foreshadowed, I suppose, my anthropological field choices—not to compete with men in male fields, but instead to concentrate on the kinds of work that are better done by women” (1972:100). Finally, upon discovering with considerable disappointment that she could not have children because of a tipped uterus, Mead remarks that the whole picture of her future changed: “if there was to be no motherhood, then a professional partnership of field work with Reo, who was actively interested in the problems I cared about, made more sense than cooperation with Luther in his career of teaching sociology” (p.164).
These experiences, which in the more chaotic lives of others might have gone unnoticed, are highlighted by Mead herself from her otherwise tranquil existence because through them she achieved remarkable insights. And these, certainly, had to do with her changing relationships with men, intimacy, ideas, and field work.
Faithful to her North American tradition, Mead avoids revealing herself through introspection. We never really know how she felt, only that she felt. And that she felt is almost consistently revealed to us through a mediating medium, a selected letter, a carefully chosen poem, and her frequent descriptions of herself from photographs. Believing that an ethnographer could, indeed must, free herself of all presuppositions, and that she must adhere to the subject-object distinction even when she talked about herself; believing, further, that members of privileged groups who had never suffered oppression themselves could yet initiate movements to improve the rights of the downcast, Mead, nevertheless, wrote:
Certainly, positions of privilege can breed a kind of hardened insensitivity, an utter inability to imagine what it is to be an outsider, an individual who is treated with contempt or repulsion for reasons of skin color, or sex, or religion, or nationality, or the occupation of his parents and grandparents. A defining experience is necessary to open one’s eyes and so to loosen the ties of unimaginative conformity (1972:93).
I suspect, however, that Mead is a liberal, as maternal toward the unprivileged as men have been paternalistic. And with Steven Biko, I must believe that while victims are as likely to flee from their fate as they are to stand up against it, in the end it is sufferers of great injustice who must also find the means to overcome their condition of suffering. And the difference between those who run and those who “lean into the wind” is the belief of the individual that joy will come when one embraces freedom, responsibility, and courage.
In the end, and from my perspective, the miracle of Margaret Mead is that so normal a person should have become so prominent. What Mead calls privilege, I call normal. The millions of people who live in poverty are not normal even when they are the majority in many nations. Not normal, too, are the millions of recent immigrants into the United States, or those among the middle classes who live with uneducated parents many of whom remain anchored to fundamentalist religions. Yet out of this morass of human misery arise those whose lucid minds grasp their situation and succeed to reach beyond.
To sum up, Mead’s professional excellence is rooted in the single-mindedness with which she defined and pursued her projects. According to the tenets of Sartrean existentialism, her projects should have infused every one of her actions with meaning. In the case of Margaret Mead, Sartre’s formulation is proven right. Her projects determined her choice of spouses just as they determined the nature of her research. Likewise, just as her projects allowed her to assign meaning to her relationships, so these same projects would determine the tone and range of her emotional responses. In short, through her clearly defined projects she simultaneously harnessed meanings and emotions.

My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey
Available at Amazon
eBook U.S. $ 9.99
Paperback U.S.$ 16.00

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Refugee Studies (Elizabeth Colson), Refugee Stories (Clementine Wamariya)

Excerpt from Elizabeth Colson page 1    

Elizabeth Colson page 2

The URL below is from a podcast of Michael Enright's Sunday Edition. It is the story of  Clemantine Wamariya who survived the Ugandan Genocide. It includes much about the reality of memories and experiences as well as her reaction to a theory class at university in the States.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Comment 2018 on Freedom

Where there is beauty, there is hope.

Following most chapters of my  2018 book, I added a Comment. Being plagued by doubts, I picked up the book and opened it casually at the end of Chapter 10. What I read is worth sharing, so here it is:

During the difficult first weeks in Lenda Province with the anxiety about potential isolation or dangers in an environment that was at once familiar and strange, I experienced both flashbacks and nightmarish dreams. Often, they had something to do with ambivalent relationships with men. For example, there was my dying father who nevertheless took me, for the sake of my health, from the Russian to the British sector as my aunt would do later. There was the German soldier who, although held by the Russians and knowing that helping us would mean his certain death, nevertheless guided us to escape deportation to Siberia. Finally, there was my husband who, although he encouraged my efforts, would reap our separation.
I took my dreams to mean that I must free myself of being a burden. How to gain this freedom from burdensomeness and what it would look like was not clear. So far it consisted primarily of rupture. Distant past relationships ended in deaths and more recent ones were beginning to look suspect. What was missing was affirmation and, before that, acceptance that “the world is cockeyed” (James Welch, 1974, p.68). Sometimes one had “to lean into the wind to stand straight” (p.69). The notion that one could be free “toward” the inevitabilities of life, and that our capacity for responsibility might be the very foundation of humanity, was foreign to me. Freedom meant freedom from … not also freedom toward … Since my past would not go away, however, I would have to learn what freedom toward my past, and from there forward toward my future, could mean.
Returning from Germany July 2016, I did what the then President of the Federal Republic of Germany told me to do, read his little book Freiheit (Freedom 2012). Before reunification, he had studied theology and was a pastor for a while, but with reunification he decided to enter public service. Like many of us, he had experienced “freedom from something,” but now wanted to practice “freedom for” the sake of something else (2012:24). He understood this latter sense of freedom as genuine yielding of himself toward serving democracy, which meant putting concern centered on one’s self on the back burner (ibid:26). Joachim Gauck interpreted the peculiar Christian metaphor that “man is made in the image of God” as meaning that the human being was created with “the wonderful capacity to assume responsibility” (ibid:33). Furthermore, he sees that “faculty for responsibility” as holding “a promise, one that applies both to the individual and the entire world, namely: We are not condemned to fail” (ibid: 34, my translation).
When they felt strong, Lenda women often said to me that they had amaka (power). But did that power also include having the authority to shape freely their life, family, business, public office and other spheres of private and public life? Did they understand that the Christianity, which they and their men took up, promised that they were not condemned to fail? And did they realize that promise? Those who answered, Twikala fye, we sit, that’s all,” answered “no.”
With then Federal President Gauck in Schloss Bellevue, Berlin, 2016