Thursday, July 26, 2018

Afterword to 'Decolonizing the Curriculum', Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, Winter 2018

This thought-provoking collection of essays treats the decolonization of the university from a variety of perspectives. It explores a wide variety of issues starting with the decolonization of the content of the curriculum and up to the decolonization of teaching as a practice. In so doing, it opens up a rich space of reflection. I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to dwell in this space and to write this afterword.
I’ve always aimed to make both my writing and my teaching conscious and critical of, and endeavoring to offer an alternative to, the way colonialism has marked and continues to mark anthropological thought and practice. When I started teaching in the late 1980s I often found myself as the only ‘non-Anglo-Celtic’, as we say in Australia, in the staff room. I have had situations where students looked visibly stunned that a non-Anglo-Celtic voice of academic authority was directed at them in the classroom (mostly pleasantly but on the odd occasion not). I have also dealt with a number of situations where students would come to me to say that they had problems with my accent. It was mainly students from an exceptionally insular background as I know that my accent is hardly of the incomprehensible variety to most ears. Luckily, most found me engaged and engaging, so they didn’t say this about me behind my back but felt comfortable telling it to me in my face. I remember starting to use my accent playfully to challenge the students with it by making it a political issue. I consciously used my position to habituate White students to the very idea of a non-White voice that can have something to tell them. Likewise, I encouraged non-white students to believe, not by talking about it, but performatively, that they are not always destined to be the listening subjects and that they can be listened to. And I was always made aware, by the realities unfolding before me, of the ways complex dynamics of class, gender and sexuality were always there practically intersecting within the above processes.
Likewise, in my early post-PhD writings, particularly in White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society (Hage, 2000), I played the fact that I was a Lebanese-background Australian researching White Anglo-Celtic Australians for all its worth to try and challenge the dominant expectations about the identities of the researching and the researched subjects. Nonetheless, I thought mainly with white European males, especially from Marx to Bourdieu. This was so even when, as an anthropologist, I thought it crucial to be open and able to respect and take seriously the thinking of the colonized other as an object of research. It took me a while before I internalized the anthropological tradition which thought that the higher critical aim of anthropology was not to respect and direct one’s (Western) thought to think the other but to understand and direct the thought of the other to think oneself. But I was already thinking along such lines when I encountered Povinelli’s ‘otherwise’ (2012), and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s wonderful description of anthropology as ‘the permanent decolonization of thought’ (2014) along with the wider tradition which has been referred to as ‘the ontological turn’ by some (Holbraad and Pedersen, 2017) and, more recently, ‘comparative metaphysics’ (Skafish, 2016). In the encounters with such trends I immediately felt ‘yes, this is what I aspire to do in my writing’. The ‘permanent’ bit of Viveiros de Castro’s sentence was particularly evocative to me. I see colonialism in the same way my friend the late Patrick Wolfe so neatly put it regarding settler-colonialism: it is ‘a structure not an event’. And by that very fact it also makes it ‘a culture not an event’. Its influence is defused throughout the world we inhabit, and, crucially, decolonization of thought is not just about dealing with the effect of the past on the present. Colonial thought continues to re-formulate itself anew and to find new niches in which to instill itself in all disciplines because colonialism itself continues to renew itself in all kind of ways and to find new niches to instill itself in a multiplicity of spaces. Thus, the appeal of a critical thought that is in a permanent state of vigilance and permanent state of reworking itself to disallow itself to ever become a colonized or a colonizing structure. 
Despite the above, I cannot say that I always feel familiar with all dimensions of the recent debates about decolonization, nor even that they are all easily within my intellectual reach. I also sometimes feel taken aback by the intensity of the affect between postcolonials and decolonials that reminds me of arguments between Trotskyist groups I have witnessed in the past. The issues raised sometimes seem to have emerged from a ground that is different to the ground in which my thought had been developing. Perhaps my positioning, first, within Australian settler-colonialism and the way it articulates racism towards indigenous people and racism towards immigrants from non-White/non-First-World background, and, second, within the Middle East in the face of the defining Israeli colonial-settler project, explains some of this. Neither of these two regions, nor the struggles that are happening within them, have greatly influenced the current global debates about the post-colonial and the de-colonial in anthropology. There is of course the over-arching work of Edward Said, as one of the papers makes clear. But it is the Said that is treating the West-Orient configuration rather than colonialism in Palestine that is the main template in these debates. The post-colonial/decolonial debates, and I am really relating my impressions here rather than some well-researched history, seem more influenced by the struggles that are happening within a North-American, South-Asian, South-African and to a lesser extent South American geography. This is all to say that I feel I am continuously being exposed to new arguments and directions, and at the same time exploring the connections and the differences between these new arguments and directions and mine.
One positive change has to do with the centring of feminist issues within rather than beside colonial issues. While in the initial work I have done on race and colonialism I always thought that in critiquing colonialism one could learn from the way feminists critiqued patriarchy, today the emphasis is more on the intimate entanglement between the two. Not that using feminism analogically needs to be devalued. My early usage of the category ‘Third-world-looking-people’ in White Nation is inspired by the differentiation that feminists introduced between what a word really means and what it claims it means. Such as with the now classical deconstruction of the word ‘man’ to show that it continues to have an exclusionary and devalorising ‘man not woman’ embedded in it even when some people are committed to using it in a non-gendered manner. By analogy, though in a different way, I thought that all the neat words that Australian bureaucrats use such as ‘Non-English-Speaking-Background’ hid in their underbelly an exclusionary and devalorising aesthetic imaginary that fused negative class and phenotypical types, and that I rendered as ‘Third-world-looking-people’. The object of this racism is imagined to involve a combination of what the racists consider as non-White, ‘ugly’ and ‘not-modern’. Here, a beautiful, tall and trendy Eritrean model is not ‘Third-world-looking’ and is less likely to be subjected to racism. 
Another positive difference that I note with the new wave of arguments concerning decolonization is a more affirmative sense of entitlement. It reminds me of the difference between the way first and second generation immigrants relate to racism. First generation immigrants can tell me horrendous stories story of being subjected to some seriously vile racism. But they often finish with a kind of acceptance of what they are enduring as normal, even as something that they deserve by the mere fact of migrating. Their kids on the other hand can be subjected to much less but find it far more unacceptable and see themselves as entitled to better, à la: ‘fucking cops I can’t walk the streets without them giving me a bad look’. I think this entitlement to better seems to be very present in the more recent wave of decolonial thinking. And while it is not necessarily generational in the case of the university, as it can be grounded in a variety of sociological variables, I am sure generational differences do play a role. For instance, there is a difference between a department or a school or a university which doesn’t include enough third-world-looking people and where this minority sits there silently enduring, deploring (but sometimes also enjoying) their minority status and their underrepresentation, and a department which doesn’t include enough third-world-looking people but includes just enough to make them feel capable of saying ‘this department doesn’t include enough third-world looking people’. Likewise, in fighting for a decolonised curriculum in universities, one needs a certain form of entitlement to move from a struggle for symbolic inclusion of non-White thinkers to a whole scale short-circuiting of the colonial symbolic inheritance of future White generations.
There remains, of course, some unresolved, and probably unresolvable, tensions. These are not necessarily a negative feature of the struggle for decolonisation. Spaces of unresolvable tension are often the source of genuine creativity. Sometimes, for instance, one can see in the literature on decolonization an opposition between anthropological knowledge which is a professionalized western knowledge of otherness and folk non-western knowledge of otherness. Here we see an interesting tension emerge: is decolonization de-professionalisation? Does it have to be? I doubt there is ‘an’ answer to this. But reflecting on the question is clearly an intellectually enriching pursuit.
There is an even more perennial tension between decolonization as a weapon and decolonization as an end. Ritty Lukose insists on seeing feminism within the university as ‘in and of this world’. But surely this is true of the university as a whole. Thus the general question: Is the struggle to decolonize the curriculum or the university a way of creating decolonized bubbles in an otherwise colonized social space, or is it about creating a generation of cultural fighters who extend the struggle for decolonization from the university to its outside? Likewise, one can launch a process of decolonization from within the university but one cannot hope to ‘decolonize the university’ without having decolonized everything. Or, at least, there is a limit to the extent to which the university can be decolonized without having decolonized the more general culture and the other social institutions of the society concerned.
Another space of tension the papers made me think about resides in the difference between decolonization as a unitary struggle and the meaning of particularly situated struggles for decolonization. Jamaican, Middle Eastern, African and Asian-located struggle all partake in the process of decolonization. Are they all necessarily the same kind of decolonization? And in what ways are they compatible or incompatible? A sociology of this plurality that delineates areas of similarity and areas of difference seems crucial.
There is also the question of the tensions and the compatibilities between decolonization and the opposition to neo-liberalism. Let me end with this and with what is perhaps a defensive note. But I hope a productive one. It concerns my call for anthropologists to ‘respect the elders’ mentioned by Mogstad, Tse and Morningstar. I find it interesting that people only see this as a defense of the canons and no one picked up the de-colonial and anti-neo-liberal move embodied in the call. I hope no one thinks that I was expressing some ‘primordial’ middle-eastern desire for traditional authority!
So I’d like to make the logic behind it very explicit: First of all, I was hoping that there is an obvious anti-‘colonial modernity’ playfulness in the call given that it sounds incredibly anachronistic. It belongs either to another time or to another more traditional culture. Indeed, in many parts of the world, the modernization that came with colonialism can be seen to kick-in the moment people stop thinking in terms of respecting their elders. ‘Respecting the elders’ has to do with respecting the wisdom they are supposed to have accumulated, and the idea that ‘elders’ have accumulated wisdom to bestow on the next generation represents a non-modern pace of change where this accumulated knowledge is still relevant. Modernity in general, but particularly colonial modernity, always aimed to short-circuit this inter-generational traffic. Neo-liberal modernity pushes this to an extreme where it encourages us to think each generation is starting from scratch and every day involves a ‘revolution’: a revolution in everything except an actual revolution. So, a call to respect one’s elders is a call to refuse this celebration of false ‘fresh starts’.
But there is another important dimension to perceiving certain anthropologists as repositories of accumulated experience. Readers of academic texts are encouraged to experience reading as a form of consumption, whereby texts are available to us as if we are shopping in a vitrine, and as with buying shampoo, we proceed to look at the variety available to us and buy and consume the text that we like. But as with what Marx described as commodity fetishism, indeed as an instance of it, this process of consumption disallows us to experience the concrete labour that goes into the writing of a piece of academic work (both the labour of writing and the dead-labour that one brings into the writing process). It is a quaint neo-liberal ‘democratic’ view of things that wants all products of knowledge production to be of the same order. It takes us an hour to ‘like’, ‘dislike’ and even rubbish something that has taken years to write and that can on top of this embody a long history of reading, thinking and writing that are also present in the text. It is in this sense that I see in the call to ‘respect the elders’ both a de-colonial and an anti-capitalist experience of consuming knowledge. But I am also aware that the ‘elders’ like ‘man’ has a long gendered imaginary.

Charbonnier, P., Salmon, G. and Skafish, P. 2016. Comparative Metaphysics. London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
Hage, Ghassan. 2000. White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society. Routledge. 
Holbraad, Martin and Pedersen, Morten Axel. 2017. The Ontological Turn: An Anthropological Exposition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Povinelli, Elizabeth. 2012. “The Will to Be Otherwise / The Effort of Endurance,” in South Atlantic Quarterly, 111, 3: 453–75.
Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2014. Cannibal Metaphysics: For a Post-Structural Anthropology. Univocal. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Intro to Inside and outside the law (Social Analysis, Volume 62, Issue 3, Autumn 2018, 1–21)

Despite the absence of shared public spaces, the serious environmental problems and the lack of centralized urban planning that characterize it, and despite the recurring political violence that marks its history (Hermez 2017), Beirut’s inhabitants of all classes, even if in different ways, often speak of a quasi-mysterious but nonetheless tangible “buzz,” a sense of “quiet pleasure,” a type of urban jouissance, woven into the texture of the city’s everyday life. What is more, this jouissance is seen as closely entangled with rather than in opposition to the sense of chaos and uncertainty that the city is able to produce in people. Lebanon’s semi-chaotic social life partly mirrors its economy. Someone, long ago now, defined Lebanon’s laissez faire capitalist economy as laissez tout faire, so bereft of any government regulation it is. The economic anarchy which allows investors and developers to pursue profit with little regard to the social, urban or ecological consequences of their investment is replicated in the way religious communal organizations, political parties and groups as well as individuals behave socially and politically in everyday life pursuing their interests with little regards to their impact on the collectivity. This is often found exasperating, and is part of what gives Lebanon’s periodic civil wars their particularly chaotic form. “Shoo hal fawda b’hal balad!” (What a chaotic nation this is!), “Ma fi nazam b’hal balad!” (There is no law and order in this nation!) or “Ma fi dawleh!” (There is no state!) are exclamations/moanings that are commonly heard. But it would be a very poor ethnographer indeed the one who does not notice that, without diminishing in any sense the general sense of exasperation that these exclamations contain, or the fact that they point to real often encountered problems, they nonetheless, and at the same time, contain a kind of mischievous enjoyment of the very chaos that they are bemoaning.
I refer to this enjoyment as “jouissance” because of its mischievousness but also because people speak of it as a state of the body just as much as a state of the mind. Of course, like everywhere people spend their time bogged down in the grind of everyday life worrying about practical and financial realities. And more than everywhere, people will be crankily caught up in an impossible traffic jam or trying to negotiate a transaction with the state bureaucracy. Yet, despite and alongside all this, people are able to express a certain joy in maneuvering through these very difficulties. And more predictably, on a quite evening alone or with family and friends, walking on the Corniche, having an arghileh (water pipe) in a café by the sea, or just sitting having a smoke and a coffee with the concierge and a few others in front of one’s apartment building, or having a man’ousheh in the morning and taking cover underneath someone’s balcony as the rain starts falling, people will readily tell you that “there’s something about this place.” A fisherman near Beirut’s Manara (lighthouse), who began by relating a variety of personal and financial problems he encounters on a daily basis finished by telling me “life is hard but every time my friends come and we play a game of cards by the sunset here, all my problems disappear, even the traffic behind us (GH: I was complaining to him about the traffic) seems like a nice traffic.” “I have the best of friends and this must be the most beautiful sunset in the world” he said. “Where else in the world did you see the sunset?” I asked, somewhat naively and genuinely wanting to find out. He hesitates for a second before turning his head and replying, “I haven’t been anywhere.” I inadvertently embarrassed him. “But it must be one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, don’t you think?” he asks with a sense of pleading. “Yes” I said. “the most beautiful sunset and the most beautiful traffic.” Something I, being after all a Beiruti at heart, actually deeply believed.
While it is important to remember that almost everyone expresses these feelings every now and then, it is also the case, for obvious sociological reasons, that the more unburdened people are from the dismal local wages people receive, the uncertainties of the future, the effect of pollution, the weight of class, patriarchal, racial, bureaucratic and clientelist arbitrariness and domination, the more willing they are to be effusive about this “something,” this, “mellow and yet intense feeling at the same time” in the words of a man I was chatting to on the Corniche. Thus it is not surprising to note that middle-class Westerners who come to live in the city for extended periods of time have often expressed similar feelings. In her book Once Upon a Time in Beirut, the Australian journalist Catherine Taylor (2007) describes living with her husband Matthew in Beirut for a number of years while working as a Middle East foreign correspondent for an Australian newspaper. She reflects:
Matthew and I would often talk about why we liked Beirut so much. After all, it was polluted and chaotic and noisy. Don’t even start on the traffic. The politics was turbulent and sometimes dangerous… And… it was quite an expensive place to live... It was the little things, we decided, that we loved. The upside of chaos was that regulations were sporadic. We could drink cocktails hanging off the edge of a tower block with a view of the ocean; drive the wrong way down a highway when all other routes were closed and break the speed limit (what speed limit?). The pace of life itself was slow and rhythmic, soothing and full of things to like... We would wonder out loud to each other if perhaps it was simply that Beirut’s extremes exaggerated everything, made every moment seem alive. (233–234)
There is also a whole genre of light touristic journalism, regularly appearing in the international press, celebrating the way Beirut keeps being a city of enjoyment despite war and chaos, though without being based on long term experiences of life in Beirut. Radical activists and academics often bemoan this type of journalism and the clichés it circulates. They rightly see it as mystifying the serious problems Lebanon is facing. The way it is criticized, however, ends up itself being so absolute that it negates the fact that this reporting does point to a jouissance experienced by many. After all, mystificatory and light-weight as they might be, these same journalists do not write the same touristic thing about every single city. What’s more, such journalists are hardly the only ones who inflate their experience of this Beiruti enjoyment. Indeed, no one expresses this jouissance with as much conviction as returned immigrants, particularly (but not only) middle class returnees, who carry with them the economic and ontological security that they have internalized elsewhere in the world and who come to Beirut with a nostalgic desire for an imaginary Beirut where the enjoyment of anarchy and chaos is a, if not the, central feature. It is the experience of such a group of returnees that will be the main empirical focus of this paper. It should be clear from all of the above that I don’t see this enjoyment of Beirut as specific to the culture of returned immigrants. What is specific is the clarity and intensity with which it is present in this milieu, and which allow us to better understand the phenomena in question.
This paper can therefore be seen as a contribution to both an urban anthropology of Beirut and an of Lebanese diasporic culture. At the same time, however, it should be noted that urban anthropology and diasporic anthropology in general, have been more sociological and explanatory in their intent. That is, they have been anthropologies that participate in the general sociological endeavor of explaining and understanding as best as possible the nature and the dynamics of urban and diasporic phenomena. Anthropology here does not differ from sociology or any other sociologically-oriented discipline in its general analytical intent. It only diverges in terms of methodology and, in terms of the dimension of the phenomena that it chooses to analyze and emphasize. It is worth noting in this regard that with the exception of the thorough doctoral work of Kristin Monroe (2016), which explores the role of capitalism, corruption, and patronage in shaping the informal and unplanned character of urban space, some the best critically and theoretically-informed, sociologically-oriented and ethnographically-based studies of Beirut’s urban culture is neither the work of sociologists or anthropologists but of academics working at the intersection of architecture, urban design and politics (see the work of Fawaz [2009a; 2009b] and Harb [2010a; 2010b]). My approach here differs from this not so much because of a lesser commitment to the sociological project, but more because I want to wed it to what I consider a more specifically critical-anthropological quest for radical cultural alterity (Hage 2015). This can be summed up with one guiding question: in what way does the study of a particular socio-cultural phenomena expand our knowledge of the plurality of modes of existing in the world?  Though not concerned with radical alterity as such, the work of AbdouMaliq Simone (2004) offers, in a general sense, a similar direction. Studying something as intimately part of our everyday life, and as connected with capitalism and modernity as Lebanese urban and diasporic cultures are today, is not usually the ground on which such a classical critical anthropological question is asked. Indeed it is more often associated with “exotic” or “primitivist” anthropology where alternative forms of existence to our own are usually found. So there is something akin to a disciplinary challenge behind engaging in such an approach while studying diaspora. Therefore, notwithstanding the desire to elucidate certain dimensions of Lebanese urban and diasporic life, it is important to remember that it is this search for “another” sociality that is the primary driving intellectual quest behind this paper. As a necessary corollary of this, is the willingness to “do” anthropology (in the philosophical sense of the word) with one’s ethnographic material. This is similar to what Holbraad and Pedersen (2017: 80) describe as the “willingness to stage the encounter with ethnography as an experiment in conceptual reflexivity.”
When confronted with the expressions of jouissance such as those noted above, it would be easy to see in them a mere individualized libertarian enjoyment of an excess agency, akin to the urban Dionysian experience described by Ulf Hannerz (1981), but magnified by the absence of any systematic law-regulated forms of sociality. But, to be clear, we are not dealing with mere chaos here. Firstly, because state laws in Beirut are never completely absent. They are merely selectively or incompetently implemented, both in terms of where and on whom they are implemented, and with what degree of tenacity and intransigence. Secondly, and as importantly, even when the state’s capacity to implement the law was at its weakest during the civil war, Beirut, except perhaps in the war zones proper, never descended into pure chaos. Indeed, while it is more customary to speak of how unruly and chaotic Lebanon is, the more astonishing, though less dramatically experienced, fact is how ruleful and disciplined it remains despite all the wars and the inability of the state to adequately govern and uphold the law. Everything continues to function: services, shops, traffic, schools, everyday social life, etc. – not wonderfully, indeed often very badly, but functions without collapsing nonetheless. It is this capacity of society to continue being one, to offer possibilities of everyday forms of relationality, co-existence and considerate interaction, in the shadow of the state, as it were, that invites us to think the presence of another, outside-the-law, mode of sociality that allows for the continuation of social life.
Anthropology, more so than other disciplines, has always had to come to terms with forms of sociality that are not based on state regulation of law and order. As James Scott (2009) notes:
Until shortly before the common era, the very last 1 percent of human history, the social landscape consisted of elementary, self-governing, kinship units that might, occasionally, cooperate in hunting, feasting, skirmishing, trading and peacemaking. It did not contain anything that one could call a state. In other words, living in the absence of state structures has been the standard human condition. (3)
And there is particularly a long lineage of anthropological work highlighting the “horizontal” sociality of the gift in opposition to the “vertically mediated” sociality of the state. The contrast between state-based and gift-based forms of social relations is already well-explored in Marcel Mauss’ classic work The Gift (2002 [1925]) and by Claude Lévi-Strauss (1969) after him who saw in reciprocal sociality the “elementary” organizing principle of kinship. This lineage continues via the work of Pierre Clastres (1987) as well as Marshall Sahlins’ masterful analysis of Mauss’s work in Stone Age Economics (1972), where he argues that: “Where in the traditional view the contract was a form of political exchange, Mauss saw exchange as a form of political contract” (169).
This paper sees itself as a contribution to this anthropological lineage, arguing that it is to such outside of the state form of sociality that the jouissance we have introduced above takes us to. To begin to do so we need to bravely enter the world of Beirut’s traffic, for nowhere is this sociality more present than in the way people have to negotiate the city’s streets.