31 October 2016

Hallowe'en & Racism

LSPIRG's (Wilfred Laurier University)
I am Not a Costume campaign

Hallowe'en is a rich holiday for anthropologists to dig into for how it brings together many different social phenomena such as ritual and liminality, layers upon layers of changing tradition, and social justice in questions of cultural appropriation and racism in costuming.

Every year in recent memory, my social media feeds have been chock-full of snappy posts and often well-considered reactions to racist Hallowe'en costumes. While black-face still seems to be a good idea to some (it's not), other groups and cultures also frequently turn up in costume shops and Hallowe'en social events (also not a good idea).

These racist costumes -- like the ongoing use of racist mascots and team names -- have become important public sites for discussion around racism in the everyday, and how these common aggressions are actually part of larger systemic issues. For instance, this year in Canada, costumes parodying Indigenous people have been subject to criticism through public campaigns like this one in Regina, where 'warning labels' were attached to these costumes in a popular seasonal costume store:
In case you can't read the fine print, this warning label indicated that "The items contained in this package are offensive and promote the sexualisation of Indigenous women and peoples. Please avoid contact with these dangerous materials. 
There are well-over 4000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. An inquiry is being pursued to address this issue. It takes everyone in Canada to fight against sexualised violence. That starts with outfits of this nature."

In the classroom, examining something that may seem frivolous -- such as
Hallowe'en costumes -- can help us to make sense of the much deeper and complex connections between these banal practices and systems of social inequality that are built on institutional racism and colonialism. How are these costumes connected to the broader social and political issues that are daily making headlines at the moment, such as MMIW in Canada, and the North Dakota Access Pipeline in the US? How do these costumes help to shed light on the ongoing processes of systemic violence against Indigenous peoples in North America by our governments and settler-Canadians/ Americans? What are the guidelines for choosing a costume that isn't racist?

Quick links and further reading:

27 October 2016

Ethnography & Tourism: Part III

Part of the blog-writing duo had the opportunity to travel from Canada to Japan for one short week. During this time, blogger Jennifer Long wanted to explore the question: What are the similarities and differences between ethnography and tourism?

These blog posts are meant to explore the differences and similarities exposed by 'being away' for very different purposes, that is, as an ethnographer or as a tourist. Yesterday was a culminating affair as to why my partner and I have come to Japan. At this event, we were wined and dined like guests from out of town (read on below), but not just as guests from Canada but as guests from around the world (as the group boasts delegates from 21 different nations). Every morning our party eats breakfast, shares our daily events, and eats dinner with people speaking different languages, although English does predominate. Having stated this, our shared dinners have items that are eaten and enjoyed around the world with a focus on Japanese cuisine. Mark Augé who so long ago (1995) argued that non-spaces created so-called 'passenger' experiences as the delegates and their handlers are trotted through events and activities similarly (Augé uses the airport lobby or check-out line at a grocery store to describe how non-space is generated).

Up until tonight, this event has been business-oriented however, starting last night we have embarked on a lengthy cultural tour. As part of the entertainment of a celebratory dinner, we were treated to a 'traditional' drumming show. The drummers were dressed in what North Americans might consider ‘traditional’ Japanese print suits and white shoe covers. In their final song they invited each of the contestants as a display of global unity. In the past, scholars believed that local displays of traditional or cultural dances, rituals, and other art forms for tourists actually worked to reify cultural traditions and practices. These transactions between locals and tourists were thought to take advantage of the local peoples who were losing out in a larger neoliberal framework. As voyeurs, tourists solidified their ideas about difference and “othered” the exotic peoples and the culture they visited (and soon left). In response, other scholars have argued that tourism plays a role in supporting economies in unstable times and empowering individuals in how their own cultural traditions and practices are viewed and commodified (see Cole 2005 for an overview of the debate).

As guests of a national corporation, our participation as one of many delegates complicates the matter in my own experience. In bringing together the multinational perspective of this event, the display of the hosting culture could also be seen as part of a national culture building activity and one which helps various delegates, mind you employees, gain perspective not only on their own but their employers’ identity. What I mean to say is that in this particular microcosm, the role of traditional displays of culture could be understood as a means to link historical practices with some of the most innovative and cutting edge technologies coming out of this country (as per the identity of the corporation hosting this event).

As I continue to walk the line of tourist, guest, voyeur and short-term ethnographer, I am struck by difference (for example, the naming of each employee on the wall of the factory we visited in terms of knowledge and rank as a sign of prestige and more likely, rank and file). I’m aware that I'm receiving a constructed picture of Japan that is both historical and cutting edge - multifaceted as any one national identity would be. Yet, I want to call to attention that this multifaceted perception is afforded on account of my being able to see behind the curtain (as a guest on this business trip) and, as a guest of gracious hosts (post-business cultural tours). I will have to write more on this later; I’m literally on my way to see a ‘Ninja Show’ according to my bus guide.

Quick links:

24 October 2016

How gender changes our jobs

One of the things I love about teaching anthropology is thinking about and showing how -- through everyday experiences -- broad processes shape local lives.

I think that these connections come out very clearly in this piece from The Atlantic, "What Programming's Past Reveals About Today's Gender-Pay Gap" (2016). The hook of the piece is that computer programming, which is now a male-dominated field, actually began as a career considered particularly suited to women. So, what happened?

The answer comes down in a very real way to how our
Margaret Hamilton, Programmer for NASA (1969)
conceptions of “expertise” are inseparable from gender. As Judy Wajcman, a sociology professor at the London School of Economics, has argued, “The classification of women’s jobs as unskilled and men’s jobs as skilled frequently bears little relation to the actual amount of training or ability required for them. Skill definitions are saturated with gender bias.” Gender stereotypes pervade definitions of competence and status, contrasting work that requires brain or brawn; mathematical or verbal ability; individualism or cooperation. When an occupation undergoes a shift in gender composition, the description of the job often morphs to better align with the gender of the incoming hires—such as when programming went from being understood as clerical work suitable for women to a job that demands advanced mathematical facility. When women replaced men as typists, it went from a job that was seen as requiring physical stamina to one that needed a woman’s dexterity. In providing profiles not only the male-dominated field of programming, but the female-dominated field of teaching, this piece underscores how our perceptions of different careers, their power, prestige, and the paycheck that goes along with them is deeply coloured by our culturally-informed ideas of gender.
Dr. Christine Darden. Courtesy NASA
This piece is also interesting to use to think about how structure and actions based on socially constructed qualities associated (even unconsciously) with gender and race have helped to shape certain fields, and to keep individuals out of working in certain fields, e.g. women and people of colour in STEM.

Quick links & further reading:

20 October 2016

Ethnography & Tourism: Part II

Part of the blog-writing duo had the opportunity to travel from Canada to Japan for one short week. During this time, blogger Jennifer Long wanted to explore the question: What are the similarities and differences between ethnography and tourism? 

On my second day in Japan, a very generous local offered and allowed me to accompany himself, his family, and another North American visitor on an afternoon shopping trip. Although I had just met this man, we were brought back to his townhouse in the middle of town. As he walked in to tell his wife that we had arrived, we waited outside until slippers were produced and we could walk inside. Once inside, we met their young children as we sipped on ice tea (not like the ice tea we might be used to in North America). From there, the six of us piled into a station wagon and drove to a large mall in the neighbouring townships (Hamamatsu). We spent the next 4 hours walking and window shopping, looking for souvenirs and discussing different things we came across - as per my last post - these things were different in the eyes of a North American - the symbolism and meaning explained to us by our gracious hosts.

I noted the growing acceptance of Hallowe'en in Japanese society to our group and in response, my colleague from the United States mentioned a growing trend of US families taking their children trick or treating (what I thought of as going door to door in one's local area to collect candy from neighbours) to stores in a mall to collect candy. I'd not heard of this trend and we began discussing the effect of building such positive associations with global brands/stores and at such a young age. Walking the mall we saw many shops and restaurants that are also in North America (Old Navy, the Body Shop, KFC, Subway, McDonalds, etc.) and also many new ones (an Anime shop, many unfamiliar clothing stores, and an arcade with a cacophony of noise spilling out).  We also walked through a grocery store where I marveled at the range of available foods, the calling out of not only fish but other food stuff mongers (in what North Americans might identify as a Walmart), and the practice of waiting in line for 4 PM in order to get discounted seafood.

We were treated by our gracious hosts to a Machu green tea smoothie and Takoyaki (octopus balls) - both of which were extremely delicious as long as you don't mind finding octopus arms complete with very small tentacles in the middle of the dough.
Our hosts ordered and bought these items in addition to buying us gifts of Machu green tea powder to enjoy in North America. This level of hosting is unparalleled in my traveling experience.

On the way back from the mall, we peppered our host with questions about Japanese practices and pronunciation of basic phrasing. Therefore, by happenstance and graciousness, I was allowed insight into not everyday life but 'local life' and by and large I was introduced to the 'hosting practices' (for lack of a better word) of the Japanese.

In 2008, Simoni and McCabe wrote of the kinds of relationships ethnographers can have with their informants; they argued that in the context (spaces or locations) of tourism, "these (often transient) relationships give us access to differing realities and interpretations" (para. 21). They continued on to write that these relationships hindered or provided access to our ethnographic data.

Like my past research experience in the Netherlands, today's excursion felt as though I was gaining insider knowledge (Simoni and McCabe problematize the inside/outside binary) through the graciousness of local informants. I choose that word here rather than interlocutor as what I'm finding is that I'm unable to give much if anything back besides a litany of thank yous. I would argue that my inability to 'give back' or create a more measured if not equitable relationship is one particular difference that comes up when comparing ethnography and tourism, which although not a surprising or new idea, was poignantly felt.

While the purpose of my stay is not research (thus our relationship was only of visitor/tourist and local inhabitant) I have found opportunities to dig deeper than I felt I might have, if I had just stayed with other tourists.

Quick links:

17 October 2016

How does language shape our worldview?

Dinosaur Comics (Ryan North, 2005)
At least since the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, anthropologists and linguists have considered how language shapes how we understand and experience the people, places, things, events, etc. that we encounter in our daily lives. How the language you speak changes your view of the world (The Conversation, 2016) draws on a psychological research study to explain how German, English, and bilingual German & English speakers describe the same actions differently. When presented with images of people walking, speakers responded differently according to the language of their reply. Significantly, the differences in responses were not due to a simple issue of translation, but due to differences in how the languages shaped experiences:
The worldview assumed by German speakers is a holistic one – they tend to look at the event as a whole – whereas English speakers tend to zoom in on the event and focus only on the action.
Fernweh (German): feeling homesick
for a place you have never been to
Untranslatable words illustrated by Anjana Iyer
This article might be a useful starting point for thinking about the power of language. Instructors might also be interested in leading students in a discussion about how our worldviews might change if we had new or more words in our vocabulary or if we were missing key words to describe certain things, ideas, or emotions.

Quick links and further reading:

13 October 2016

Ethnography & Tourism: Part I

Part of the blog-writing duo had the opportunity to travel from Canada to Japan for one short week. During this time, blogger Jennifer Long wanted to explore the question: What are the similarities and differences between ethnography and tourism? 

Michael A. Di Giovine (2011) proposes that anthropology can better embrace tourism’s relevance and dynamicism when research is undertaken as a form of "global ethnography".

He goes on to write about the theoretical and phenomenological underpinnings of tourism as a viable and worthwhile location for ethnographic investigation:
Tourists not only understand that there exists alterity outside of their everyday boundaries, but they actively seek it out—as John Urry pointed out in his seminal book, The Tourist Gaze (Sage 1990). The “tourist gaze” is a form of seeing that is predicated on difference, on literally looking for alterity. In Valene Smith’s classic edited volume, Hosts and Guests (U Penn Press, 1977), Nelson Graburn asserted that tourism is fundamentally a break from the work-a-day normalcy, an endeavor to temporarily step out of one’s comfortable (or uncomfortable) everyday life, to experience difference. 
On my first day here in Iwata, Japan, I found myself entering this "tourist gaze". I noticed the differences around me which included the culture of (utter) politeness, the lack of street lights and garbage, the practice of bowing, or the presence of a urinal in the female bathroom (for boys accompanying their mothers into the washroom).
During these moments where I took notice of these 'oddities', I was, as Giovine says, struck by the alterity of my (past) experience.

As I walked the streets, I surely broke from my everyday normalcy of sitting behind my computer. This first experience of a new place however was not without its similarities to my world 'back home'. Iwata, like Canada, was celebrating a national holiday (Thanksgiving) on the first full day. As my colleagues and I struggled to find a open restaurant to eat lunch, we commented on the quietness of the city - despite its 168,000 inhabitants - and the similarities we saw and felt about quietness of the city streets that reminded us of certain quiet moments back home in Canada.

Giovine goes on to write:    
While the experience itself is ephemeral, the taking of photographs, the bringing back of souvenirs, the exchange of travel tales, and, most importantly, the frequent desire to repeat or relive the experience (perhaps in a different destination) all point to tourism’s formative and lasting role in fashioning and re-presenting one’s identity through time. As the anthropological truism goes, people often describe themselves by what they are not, rather than what they are.
At the time of writing, I've taken approximately 100 photos and even shared some with family and friends. These practices surely shape how I see myself and how others see me; yet, I already know that these practices will likely not shape me the same way living in the Netherlands for 12 months for my doctoral research shaped my identity. As argued by Giovine, the temporality of tourism is an important factor. My lack of language comprehension and sheer lack of familiarity were painfully obvious throughout the day. From the tourist/ethnographer vantage point, I can already identify a few questions I consider interesting and perhaps important for further investigation: what does the temporary nature of my stay mean with regard to my lack of knowledge of cultural etiquette? As a white female traveler, do I have more leeway making social faux pas than someone who looks Japanese or Asian? 

I hope to address these and other questions in these posts as a Canadian (anthropologist) visiting Japan.

Quick links:

10 October 2016

Differences between Sociology and Anthropology Disciplines

I've often thought about where the fuzzy line between Anthropology and its sibling discipline Sociology resides. Since it's part of the anthropological prerogative to compare and contrast disciplines, I found a helpful blog post about these exact differences. The website entitled Cool Anthropology. Or so we seem to think...likely (and acknowledged by the author) has a little bias written within.

03 October 2016

Is it good enough to think like an Anthropologist?

In recent weeks we've been posting about the use of anthropological tenets and ethnographic practices beyond traditional field sites. This topic was addressed from author Elizabeth Durham's perspective in a recent article post on Somatosphere (a collaborative website covering the intersections of medical anthropology, science and technology studies, cultural psychiatry, psychology and bioethics), called  "The Good Enough Anthropologist"

In it, Durham speaks about the anthropological response to the recent Ebola outbreak and the push by diverse responders for anthropologists to take a culturalist perspective - e.g. what cultural practices might be undermining the Ebola response process - to help fight the epidemic.

Below is a pertinent quote from Durham's article although it doesn't include Durham's definition of the "good enough Anthropologist" or her conclusion:
As such, it suggests that anthropologists ought to expand our academic practice to encompass both research and better public relations: non-anthropological actors become good-enough anthropologists when we ourselves are not good enough at self-promotion, at clearly defining and communicating what it is we do, how we do it, and why we do it this way.
The issue of what constitutes “good anthropology” is, of course, controversial within anthropology: this is part of the issue, albeit an inevitable one. Moreover, while good-enough anthropology easily veers into culturalism, I can also admittedly see where it has the potential to foster a more democratic anthropology (though this is not the direction it has largely taken thus far), raising and/or reopening key questions similar to the one above. Who controls public anthropology, if anyone? What can or should “real” anthropologists do when faced with a public anthropology they may find dismaying? Is public anthropology an anthropology with a public presence, an anthropology practiced by publics, or both? Do attempts to trace such public afterlives aid the democratization of anthropology, or do they border on a way for scholars to reassert authority over the works they write? These are questions whose value lies more in discussion than in simple answers. 
Their article is worth a read as are the comments section. For example, Daniel Lendie writes:
But I think you are on the right track when you ask about our role as public anthropologists. For me, that can mean an effort to overcome our own focus on research and critical engagement to start to address questions that are relevant and immediate for others. We teach publicly all the time; we can apply that same anthropological approach that we use in the classroom to other arenas. But that means getting out of our comfort zones (our areas of deep expertise), and also having the institutional support for doing such work.
Finally, I’d push anthropologists to look closely at what we’d want instead of culturalism. We need a theory for this type of academic practice and engagement; just critiquing “culturalism” doesn’t do much to develop a viable way to add anthropology into the work around Ebola (and other public issues/problems) in a viable and satisfactory way. “Quick ethnography” might be a methodological way to do that, but we need a conceptual tool set for this type of work as well, one as much oriented to public and applied issues, to “How to?” sorts of questions.
Anthropology really seems everywhere these days - so where, if anywhere, are its limits?