ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
Stumbling around in the post-vacation haze, I spent today alternately sending pleasant interview-request emails and poking through my well-worn copy of The Foucault Reader. I rather love reading theory, but I get sad that I have no one to talk it through with, the nature of the scholarly endeavor (when not in the classroom) being what it is.

Do other folks like reading/talking about theory/philosophy/etc? If so, I may occasionally post evocative lines from what I'm working through, for discussion.

Today's line of the day was:

But the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs....[T]he body is bound up, in accordance with complex reciprocal relations, with its economic use; it is largely as a force of production that the body is invested with relationship of power and domination; but, on the other hand, its constitution as labor power is possible only if it is caught up in a system of subjection....[T]he body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body." (from Discipline and Punish; on page 173 of The Foucault Reader, ed. Rabinow)

My thought, when reading it (and this should tip my hand with what I'm working on at the moment) is this: well, that's a masculinist way of thinking about it. Because it's not only productive value that bodies are used for, but reproductive value. And not just its reproductive value in the sense of producing children, but its value in reproducing society, culture, ethnicity, and meaning. Our bodies are disciplined and constrained by power because it is through our bodies--in their appearances, consumption, performances.

(Haven't had a chance to read Foucault? Foucault.info has a reasonable collection of his texts, in English and French, online. I'm partial to Polemics, Politics, and Problematizations, myself.)
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
I have an ethical proposition:

If you're incapable of having sympathy for someone you're writing about--don't write about them.

Amazingly, this post isn't inspired by the recent fandom-explosion on the topic of racism and inappropriate uses of tragedy in fanfic. (If you haven't seen this, and are interested, ask away and I'll point you to the right places. It's train-wrecky to the extreme.) It's inspired by a book I just finished reading, that, for obvious reasons, I'll refrain from mentioning by name. The book is very useful to me, because it includes data on a topic I'm working on, in a time period I both wasn't personally around to see, and from a different perspective than the other things I've seen. But about twice a page, I come across a statement that makes my jaw drop--that makes me think, "Did ze really just write that?!?!?"

It's not that the statements are out-and-out *ist (where * is the identity of the folks being studied--obviously you can make a good guess based on my work). It's more that the author, as a general principle, seems to feel that the assessments that those who are politically active in the community make are "alleged" or "supposedly." Moderates "believe," while more radical groups "feel" their political conclusions. One group faces "exploitation," the other "mistreatment." They "drape their causes in the mantle" of the ideologies they use, or find it a "convenient position," rather than actually believing those ideologies are useful to explain their political problems. A group is "in principle secular and democratic," which seems to imply that they would cease to be such in practice. A particular cause is central because "clinging to [it] is comforting," not because it's an important political issue that had broader political support than any other issue. The trend here is to devalue the political opinions held by members of the group under study, to subtly suggest they're the result of paranoia, misperceptions, un-American values, or perhaps even conspiracy.

It's clear the author has a preference for which political tactic these groups should take. I don't share that preference. Nevertheless, I don't begrudge hir that preference; of course we all have political preferences on the political questions we study. If we didn't, we wouldn't be political scientists, or even political beings. But I do begrudge that, rather than stating this preference outright, the author undermined the alternate argument throughout the text. I do begrudge that the alternate viewpoints aren't given the respect of a thorough treatment. I do begrudge that the bias in the text goes entirely unmarked.

I'll admit that I had a very uncharitable reaction to the text. In particular, my response was "I should never read texts about [ethnopolitical identity A] by someone with [ethnopolitical identity B]." But that's crap, and I know it: I know plenty of people of [ethnopolitical identity B] who've written brilliant stuff on [ethnopolitical identity A]. Sometimes I disagree with it, but it's worth reading. This isn't a problem of identity, really--it's a problem of crappy writing.

I think the root of this problem is the inability to have sympathy with the subject of one's writing. Not sympathy in the meaning of pity--not to feel sorry for one's research/writing subjects--but sympathy in the sense of being able to understand what they're feeling, and looking to see their perspective. To represent what is thought, and felt, and argued, and believed heartily by the people you are writing about: this is what we are called to, as writers of fiction, as writers of nonfiction, as researchers studying human beings, whether contemporarily or historically, through their actions or their texts.

I've been doing fieldwork on the Arab-American community in New York for two years now (sidenote: TWO YEARS? REALLY? *boggles*). I don't agree with everyone I've worked with, every cause I've documented, every political perspective I've written about. I've attended protests and organizing meetings for groups whose politics I agree with only in part. But that doesn't mean I'm exempted from explaining what their politics means to them, and what claims to validity it has. If I also, either at the same time or in a different piece of writing, want to lay out my objections to their politics, I may do so--and I should do so clearly, and in an aboveboard manner. But to dismiss them so casually through my writing is to do poor research.

Manuel Castells, in his book The Power of Identity, writes the following:

[S]ocial movements must be understood in their own terms: namely, they are what they say they are. Their practices (and foremost their discursive practices) are their self-definition. This approach takes such away fromthe hazardous task of interpreting the 'true' consciousness of movements, as if they could only exist by revealing the 'real' structural conditions. As if, in order to come to life, they could necessarily have to bear these contradictions, as they bear their weapons and brandish their flags. A different, and necessary, research operation is to establish the relationship between the movements as defined by their practice, their values, and their discourse, and the social processes to which they seem to be associated.

This is my guiding principle for studying social movements: to document them as they understand themselves, first and foremost, and unpack their discourses in order to understand them. We aren't duty-bound to only study movements, communities, and subjects we agree with fully. We are duty-bound to represent our objects of study so that they might recognize themselves, and not feel dismissed, denigrated, or ignored in works that are intended to explain them to others--even if they disagree with our conclusions.
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
My wife is always so pleased when it gets to be the end of the semester: "Now you're on vacation!" she says.

"No," I say. "Now I have three months to do all the work I should have been doing since January." Am I right?

In any case, the semester is over, grades are handed in, papers are returned, and I'm faced with three months of gloriously unscheduled time. Hooray! I've been putting together my personal to-do list for the summer, and it looks like this:

1. Arabic! I haven't had a serious Arabic class, um, since undergrad (no offense to the professor in my grad school classes, but two hours once a week is not sufficient to really teach a language), and my vocabulary has gradually shrunk down to a really absurd level, and my grammar is all instinct at this point. Time to get back in shape. The plan runs something like this:
  • Work my way through all of Cowen. If I do the whole book--which is only 25 lessons--I'll have run through the entirety of the basic grammar of the Arabic language. I'm three lessons in now, and do not yet have a headache.
  • Podcasts. The goal is 1-2 a week, just to keep me listening to Arabic. I'd like to catch up on ArabicPod, since I do really like those guys; I've also added a daily BBC Arabic podcast and a twice-daily World Radio Japan news podcast. (I looked at Al-Jazeera's podcats, but all of them are, like, an hour long. My brain maxes out around 15 minutes.)
  • Provided I finish Cowen, working through Advanced Media Arabic, which I bought years ago and have never had the time/energy to be dedicated to.

2. Articles! Er, my original goal was to finish revisions on the article I had accepted, get another chapter article-ized and off to a journal, and maybe work on turning a non-dissertation-related conference paper into an article. Except I finished the first two of those this week. Well, I'm doing very well on my goals, aren't I?

3. Chapters! My goal is to have a complete dissertation draft by September 1; that will require, er, a frightening lot of writing. As in, a chapter and a half, and the whole chapter still has a lot of missing fieldwork to do. But I have a plan. And a lot of vodka in the freezer. I'm sure that will help.

4. Reading! I swear, during the semester, I only read what I've assigned my students and things that are immediately relevant to what I'm working on (and very little of that). This summer, I'm aiming for big-picture reading. I've got Manuel Castells's The Politics of Identity to finish, which is related to the chapter I'm trying desperately to get done. I'm intrigued by the work of Mohammed Abed al-Jabri, and have his Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought out from the library. (Half-wondering if there's an article in comparing his work to Habermas's, and I haven't even read him yet.) I also have Foucault's Archeology of Knowledge that I started last summer, fell in love with, and then ran out of time to read through. But the prospect of reading Foucault on the beach makes me happy. And there will be other things that dribble through.

I've also read a lot of fiction in the past week, much of it just for fun, but some of it relevant to the topic of this blog, so look for a book post sometime in the next bit!

5. Course Design! I'm teaching a course called Gender and Politics in the Middle East in the fall. I've projected that I'll be teaching this course once a year (or maybe every other year) for the remainder of my academic career, and therefore am excited about getting to develop it for the first time. In theory. In practice, I usually find course development to be a headache, especially from scratch. So many variables! So little time! So many lacunae in my own knowledge, and yet not enough time or energy to read everything ever written on anything related to the topic!

So, what are your summer plans? Any big, interesting projects?


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

March 2016

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