ajnabieh: The text "don't ask me, I'm a grad student." (grad student)
I don't think any of you are located in San Antonio, Texas, or happen to be attending the Western Political Science Association meeting there next week, but, well, I want a stable URL to direct people to about this panel, so here goes!

Next Thursday, April 21, at 8AM, I and Renee Cramer of Drake University will be running a roundtable called "It's not Facebook, It's Fieldwork! Conducting Interpretive Research Using Social Networking Technology." We'll be talking about both practical and epistemological issues with using social networking tech as part of our research, whether as fieldsite, source of connections, or as a set of texts to be studied. Renee's research focuses around midwifery and motherhood discourse, and she uses Facebook to follow groups and recruit interview subjects; I work on the Arab community in New York City, and use Facebook to maintain connections with institutions and individuals from my fieldwork. (I also have a sideline in acafandom, which is clearly all about the online social networks.)

If you can't make the roundtable, but are interested in the material, we plan on making an audio or video recording of it, and distributing it afterward, so that other people can use it as a resource. I'll post it here when it's done.

And, to make this a not-totally-pointless post for my DW friends, here's a question: what counts as a "social networking technology" in your minds? Is DW such a technology?

For my fellow academics, do you think about social networking as something that plays into your research or career trajectory, or is it something entirely other? Something I'm puzzling through for this panel is the public/private distinction, which is radically eradicated by using a "personal" technology for "professional" purposes--lots of my research "subjects," for instance, know about my son's hilarious opinions on vegetables, and the terrible pop music I listen to while editing srs bznz chapters about their lives. That would seem to change the research process in some way--but I'm not yet entirely sure how.
ajnabieh: Protesters in Times Square, holding a banner reading "New York To Gaza" in front of a neon McDonalds. (gaza)
I apparently have picked up a few readers! It's good to have friends with friends. I had planned to post a book review today, but in light of the fact that I have readers, I thought I'd do something a little lighter, rather than start with inside baseball. (If you didn't see my intro post, it's here.)

I work on discourse, by which I mean the ideas, concepts, and frameworks we use to understand the world around us, define it, and interpret it. One of the primary means of analyzing discourse is to work on texts: speeches, conversations, written documents, etc. However, discourse doesn't just exist in words; it also exists in symbols, images, sounds, music, and other sorts of elements to the complex patterns of human interaction. If we want to understand discourse, I believe we have to approach it broadly, and look for discursive signs in multiple formats. This is part of the reason I'm an ethnographer: I want to get a full, holistic picture of the context for any sign used in a framework, rather than have to interpret it with a set of preexisting limits.

So I spend a lot of the time I'm out in public doing my fieldwork taking photographs. Generally, they are terrible as photographs. What I'm trying to do with them is collect data: to see what of the visual information at an event I can preserve for myself, later. I'm going to start posting some of these photos, occasionally, and talking about them, to demonstrate how one gets data out of images, and to start to untangle some of the complicated information in them. Hopefully this will be interesting!

So, let's start here:

Al-Awda Protest, 27 Dec 09

This photo was taken in the middle of a demonstration organized by Al-Awda, held on 27 December 2009. The demonstration was held on the first anniversary of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza (called by Israel 'Operation Cast Lead'--more info can be found here). By this point in the demonstration, we'd rallied for an hour at Times Square, and then marched, by a long and circuitous route, to stand outside the Israeli Consulate on 2nd Avenue and 43rd St. It was a Sunday; the Consulate is in a large office building, and no one appeared to be there. Al-Awda holds the largest pro-Palestinian demonstrations in New York; its base lies in two places, first, the Arab immigrant community of Bay Ridge (and other Arab immigrant communities in the city) and, second, in the radical-left community, including the International Action Center (home to the ANSWER Coalition, which you may have heard of).

This photo is dominated by protest signs (though, between two of them, you can see a woman speaking on the stage at the front of the demo). Before we get to the actual signs themselves, I want to point out something about them--all but one of them are professionally printed. Central printing and organization of signs means several things. First: a group with a budget, resources, and time to plan their actions. Second: a group that wants to have some control over the message they send out. There's a desire to present a unified narrative of the action, and to put that narrative in the hands of as many people as possible.

Now let's actually look at the signs, starting with the one at the center of the frame. In addition to the name and contact information for the organization, there is a large graphic and then a slogan in bold print. We'll start with the image. The fist raised in struggle (hey, look, it's got a wikipedia page) is a sign that dates back at least to the black power movement (note what percentages of the images in a Google Images search for"black power" feature the fist, either as a graphic or as an action) and is used by revolutionary movements worldwide. The image behind the fist, if you don't recognize it, is a map of what's usually called "historic Palestine," meaning the territory ruled as Palestine under the British mandate, which is roughly contiguous with the territories now known as the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories. Historic Palestine is rendered in the colors and pattern of the Palestinian national flag; this symbolism here is not subtle.

The fist clutches a large key, which is the most complicated sign in the image; let me back up and take it from the top. This is a reference to the departure of Palestinians from their homes during the 1948 war between the nascent state of Israel and its neighboring states, who objected to the terms of its formation. Many Palestinians left their homes, either because of direct violence by representatives of the new Israeli state, because of fear of that violence, or because they were anxious about the situation. Many, if not all, believed that they would shortly be able to return to their homes, and, in general, brought few of their belongings, including their house keys, planning on returning back home in a few weeks. However, for those who had lived within the area that Israeli forces seized at the end of the war, they were not allowed to return, and were not compensated for their land or possessions. The key here symbolizes the desire of Palestinians to return to their homes and land within what is now the state of Israel; in fact, the name of the organization holding this rally is Al-Awda, which means "return" in Arabic (you can see it written in small print on the wrist in the image). The image of the key is repeated in the sign to the right of this central sign, where we see a photograph of an old man holding a key with the text "The Palestinian people have the right to return!"

The text beneath the image reads "Free Palestine from the River to the Sea." (The 'river' in question is the Jordan; the 'sea' the Mediterranean.) This is a common invocation. "From the river to the sea" is a way of referencing "Historic Palestine with easy geographical markers. It's also remarkably easy to rhyme in English; a major chant used at all sorts of protests goes "From the river to the sea/Palestine will be free." By referring to all this territory as Palestine, the sign makes a clear statement against the legitimacy of the state of Israel; Palestine needs to be free, and it isn't because it is Israel.

Stepping away from this sign, I want to point very briefly to a few of the other things we see going on in this picture. First, the other signs; the other one about return is by the Break the Siege on Gaza coalition, whose largest member is Al-Awda; the two groups are basically contiguous. The "End all U.$. Aid to Racist Israel" sign is from the International Action Center, though you can't read the name well. The hand-written sign in the upper left, which was a large illustrated sign, also has another organizational URL written on it (you can see just the end). The existence of these other signs, with other messages on them, are designed to gesture to a broader coalition of groups; having multiple identifications suggests that the group objecting to the decision isn't either one single (dismissible) organization or the two hundred (unusual) people who are standing with the signs, but instead a larger, amorphous, and potentially more powerful grouping with multiple bases. The messaging on all these signs, however, is remarkably congruent, which suggests either that the protest was collectively planned by all the groups, who decided on joint messaging, or that the groups share political perspectives fairly tightly.

Looking at the picture, what strikes me as someone who was at the rally is the amount of data that is missing. I only see one woman in hijab, who is also the only person in frame (in addition to the woman on stage) wearing a kuffiyeh, but this strikes me as an atypical frame; I'd say there wre probably 20-30 women, including teenage girls, wearing hijab at the demonstration (which probably had 200-250 people), and at least 50 people wearing kuffiyehs or kuffiyeh print. (If you don't know much about the kuffiyeh, Ted Swedenberg is an anthropologist studying its dispersion into American pop culture; here is an article where he talks about them. In this context, they're being worn as a sign of solidarity with Palestinian resistance movements.)

And, of course, there's all the non-visual data that's being missed: the attention of the passersby to our spectacle; the mutter of people talking to each other while, on stage, speakers yell into microphones; the endless rhythmic procession of an entire mass of people chanting along. You can't tell that many of these signs had been used at another demo six months before; you can't tell that the speakers belong to the same set of groups; you can't get the sense that the crowd has all been here and done this before. While using images to collect data is important, they can't be read alone, or without attention to what's missing or invisible in them.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (amal)
Last Monday, I attended a rally calling for the New York City schools to close on the two Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The rally was organized by the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays; catchy, no? Unfortunately, my photos turned out pretty poorly; I'll see if I can find some better ones and post them. However, I want to make a few observations about the event, the cause, and the politics around it.

1) Like any ethnographer working in a fieldsite that is reasonably keyed into information technology networks, I googled the coalition and event before I went. Most of what I found was news articles on previous steps taken by the group, including the 15-0 vote in favor of the holiday by the city council (see this NY Times article). Nearly all these articles included Mayor Bloomberg's quote, "If you close the schools for every single holiday, there won’t be any school." And every article, without fail, followed this immediately with the information that the NYC schools already take off for Christmas, Good Friday, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover. Clearly, Bloomberg's attempted framing isn't getting any traction in the media.

2) The Coalition's framing of the issue, on the other hand, was clear and consistent. This issue is about equal treatment and respect for the major communities of the city; about 12% of the students in the school system are Muslim. However, a subargument was made that I found very interesting: that the effects on the school system would be minimal. Over the next 12 years, one speaker said at the rally, only 10 instructional days would be lost, due to holidays falling either on weekends or during summer vacations. What's interesting about this is that it's a classic claim that the desired action is a minimal one. This is an easy claim to accommodate, in addition to being one justified on grounds of mutually agreed upon values (multiculturalism). Social movement theory: always relevant.

3) There was clearly an effort made to emphasize the diversity both of the Muslim community in the city, and the members of the coalition. The rally was co-emceed by a gentleman who appeared Arab to me (though he might have been South Asian, and I didn't get his name, and a woman who was East Asian. At least half the speakers were non-Muslim allies, self-identified. There were both Muslim and non-Muslim teachers, both Muslim and non-Muslim parents, and two non-Muslim representatives of unions (the teachers' union and the public employees' union). There were two other Muslim speakers, a coalition member giving the calendar data, and an imam talking about how many elected officials supported the measure. Of the Muslims who spoke, one was Latino by last name, one was South Asian, two were black, and one was Arab; of the non-Muslims, two were black, one Latina, one East Asian. The crowd was as ethnically mixed as this implies, and was prone to break out in spontaneous chants of si se puede.

3a) Yet the largest gap I saw was in getting Muslims there, particularly young Muslims. I attended with staff from the Arab-American Association, where I've done a great deal of my fieldwork, but unfortunately they weren't able to get their substantial youth base to show up. Among the reasons? An Eid trip to Six Flags. Frankly, there weren't a lot of young people there at all; elementary school students with parents, but not a lot of teenagers. Some of this might be reluctance to go into the city, which many outerborough teens have; some of it might have been the fact that it was the second (or for some, the first) day of Eid, and they were busy with holiday activities; some of it, I'm sure, was Six Flags. Teens can be a hard crowd to mobilize, as I remember from my own high school organizing days. But it was too bad more of them couldn't get out there.

4) Another interesting language/identity issue is what, precisely, to call the holidays that are being asked for. You'll note above I say "Eid al-Fitr" and "Eid al-Adha." I spell them this way because I'm a speaker (so to speak) of Arabic, and that's how one transliterates the names into English from Arabic in most general usage. But the Coalition's website says "Eid Ul- Adha and Eid Ul-Fitr," which strike me as South Asian transliterations. The NY Times as "Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha," which strike me as stupid transliterations; I think you need a character there to represent the ع in عيد , and skipping it looks just...wrong. (Perhaps this is a common transliteration in some context?) The Examiner link has both the second and the third. I don't have any conclusions yet on what these differences mean, but I want to flag them. Perhaps you, my almost non-existent readers, have thoughts on this question.

5) And a final note to self: maybe the next time you bring the baby to a fieldwork-protest, bring a tape recorder. It's hard to take notes and give a bottle simultaneously.


ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

March 2016

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