Skip to content

US politician helpfully suggests keywords you can use when looking for research projects to attack

20 September, 2013

It seems that Australia’s Coalition politician Joe Hockey has an intellectual brother in the Republican Party!

Historian Zach Schrag (who has published a groundbreaking book on the history of ethics review, Ethical Imperialism) just told me about an American politician who is encouraging his constituents to search through National Science Foundation grants and highlight ones that they believe are a waste of tax dollars.  Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor promises that with his YouCut Project, “Together, we will identify wasteful spending that should be cut.”

What’s more, Cantor helpfully suggests several keywords that you might use to search through the NSF database for “wasteful” research, including:

  • culture
  • media
  • games
  • social norms
  • museum
  • leisure

And, of course

  • lawyers

I’m not even kidding.

Australian government attack on government-funded social science and humanities research

10 September, 2013

Last week, during the final throes of election campaigning, Tony Abbott and the Coalition attacked four Australian Research Council (ARC)-funded research projects as “futile” and “wasteful,” and promised that such research would not be funded under a Coalition government.  My project on sexuality in Islamic interpretations of reproductive health technologies in Egypt was singled out for particular ridicule.

In so doing, the Coalition inadvertently highlighted the absurdity of having politicians judge the merits of academic research.

My ARC-funded research project that the Coalition has criticised looks at how medical authorities and religious authorities in Egypt interact to influence Muslims’ opinions about reproductive health technologies.  I’m looking at 3 technologies, specifically: emergency contraception (a.k.a. the morning after pill), erectile dysfunction drugs (e.g. Viagra), and hymenoplasty (hymen reconstruction surgery, usually undertaken to make a woman appear to be a virgin when she marries).  These are somewhat controversial topics in Egypt because they’re connected with sexuality.

Now, new reproductive health technologies tend to elicit debate in society because they trigger existential questions: about when life begins, about what right humans have to meddle in natural human processes, about women’s sexuality and gender roles, and about the relationship between religion and medicine.  IVF and cloning are good examples of this.  

 
The more a technology is connected with (a) the beginning of life or (b) sexuality, the more controversial it is.  And the more controversial it is, the more public debate crystallises around it.  That makes these 3 technologies good case studies for understanding a society’s beliefs about not only sexuality but also women’s rights and religion.

These case studies boil down to a fundamental question: to what extent do religious leaders affect what the average lay Muslim does and thinks about sexuality and reproductive health?  If, for example, a religious authority says that hymenoplasty is permissible or not permissible, do people listen?  Do they care?  

My preliminary research suggests that no, they don’t — at least, not when it comes to hymenoplasty.  Most lay Muslims I have spoke with either don’t know or don’t care what their religious authorities say about hymenoplasty.  

In Egypt, three leading Muslim clerics have issued controversial fatwas on hymenoplasty.  Thomas Eich describes these in his article “A tiny membrane defending ‘us’ against ‘them’.”  The first was former Dean of the Women’s Islamic Law (shari`a) Faculty at al-Azhar University, Su`ad Salih, who ruled in February 2007 that hymenoplasty should be allowed not only for survivors of rape (which religious authorities had already approved), but also for women who had had sexual intercourse consensually and then ‘repented their mistake.’ Controversy ensued, along with attacks on Salih’s authority and ability to interpret Islamic law.  

 
A week later, the Grand Mufti — Egypt’s leading authority in interpreting Islamic law — backed up Salih’s ruling, and said that hymenoplasty could be used as a tool for a woman to save her marriage. Mufti Ali Goma`a reasoned was that a woman who married without a hymen would be judged by her future husband, and that it was not the husband’s place to pass judgment on his wife. Only God could know if she had fully repented after violating Islamic law (i.e. by having premarital sex), and a husband did not have the right to interfere in that private relationship between a woman and God. 
 
When Sheikh Khaled El Gindy, a member of the Higher Council of Islamic Studies, was interviewed by the Egyptian newspaper The Daily Star in the wake of the controversial ruling by the Grand Mufti, he argued that hymenoplasty levelled the playing field for men and women, rectifying an inequality conferred by nature—namely, the fact that men had no hymeneal equivalent that society could use to judge their sexual purity. El Gindy told the Daily Star that ‘Islam never differentiates between men and women, so it is not rational for us to think that God has placed a sign to indicate the virginity of women without having a similar sign to indicate the virginity of men… Any man who is concerned about his prospective wife’s hymen should first provide a proof that he himself is virgin.’

In short, we have three leading Egyptian clerics saying that hymenoplasty is permissible under Islamic law.  And yet when I conducted on-the-ground research in Egypt in 2012-2013, almost every single lay Muslim that I interviewed claimed that hymenoplasty was both religiously forbidden and a sin!

In other words, Egyptian Muslims tend to only follow fatwas that accord with what they already believe about religion.  

 
Now, it’s not hard to see the relevance of this research project to Australia, because it’s a case study that boils down to a very fundamental and interesting question: how much do religious authorities influence what Muslims think and do?    Considering that Australia has 350,000 Muslims, I would think even the Liberal Party would like to know the answer to that question.
 
Of course, my research focuses on Egypt, but there are analogies for understanding how lay Muslims in Australia might interact with their local religious leaders.  
 
What’s more, Egypt is an influential centre of Islamic learning in the Muslim world.  It has the world’s oldest Islamic university, Al-Azhar University, and Al-Azhar has an affiliated institution, Dar al-Ifta, which produces all official fatwas (i.e. non-binding interpretations of Islamic law) issued in the country.  Dar al-Ifta has an online, multilingual, searchable database of these fatwas that is accessed by Muslims from all over the world, including Australia.  
 
So this research project can help us understand a very populous country that’s in turmoil right now (and one of the things being debated by the Muslim Brotherhood and their opponents is gender roles), and it can also help Australians to understand part of our own multicultural society.  
 
Thanks to the ARC, and also thanks to funding that I received from Macquarie University prior to winning the ARC grant, I’m one of the few Australian social scientists to have regularly been visiting Egypt before, during, and after the revolution (I have made on average two trips a year to Egypt over the past four years; my last trip was in April 2013).  It’s an extraordinary opportunity to document what impact the revolution there is having on women’s rights and reproductive health.  I would think that the Coalition would appreciate the value of having a social scientist on the ground, increasing Australian (and global) knowledge of what is happening in the Middle East during a period of considerable upheaval in the region.
 
But even if I were doing a project that had no obvious application to Australian domestic or foreign policy, it still would have benefit to Australia, because tertiary education is a major income generator for Australia.  Australia imports university students from all over the world.  At Macquarie University, for example, about a third of our students are international students.  They pay considerably higher fees than domestic students.  They contribute to the strength of the Australian economy.
 
These international students come to Macquarie — and to Australia — because of our international reputation.  That will only continue to happen as long as Australia has a reputation for world-class research — in whatever field, whether it’s diabetes or 18th century German existentialism.  Because, let’s face it, not every student studies medicine or engineering; some students want to study arts and philosophy — and you’d think that Tony Abbott, a former Rhodes scholar who got a master’s degree in arts, would understand that.
 
And as the ill-informed Coalition attacks on my research project demonstrate, politicians are not the right people to be evaluating what constitutes worthwhile and world-class academic research.

Sago Palm: A Representation of People from Maluku, Indonesia

30 August, 2013

by Veronica Escalante, who is doing the Master of Applied Anthropology and just returned from fieldwork in Ambon where she focused on children’s narratives about the religious other.

Over the last decade, Moluccans have given fuel to their age-old reputation for being rough and inclined to bellicosity, due to a protracted regional conflict between Christians and Muslims since 1999. This reputation has a long history but has emerged with new force throughout Indonesia since the conflict. Also people in the region employ this stereotype to explain the violent clashes in this out-of-the-way province of the nation. In contrast, traditions of siblinghood such as pela and current local efforts at reconciliation challenge the stereotype. While aggressive behaviours and attitudes can often be observed in the region, acts of kindness and support are just as visible. A representation of this dualism in the behaviours and attitudes of Moluccans is the sago palm, which has a hard trunk covered by spines on the outside and a soft white inside, from which people make a starch that is the base for sago porridge (papeda), a traditional staple.

Sagu palm

The waitress came over and saw the four-month-old baby lying in her mother’s arms, smiled and bent over to kiss him on the forehead. The mother welcomed the gesture and started chatting about how she had been. The waitress only knew the mother from the coffee shop, but by looking at them interacting you would have thought they were family or at least very close friends. This type of interaction between people is not uncommon in Ambon. The anthropologist Bartels (1977), among others, has described mechanisms of support that occur in the region. The most well known is the communal practice of pela. This tradition comprises alliances between villages that are sealed by drinking each other’s blood, and through which the villages swear to protect and support one another. Such practices established a sense of community that was further strengthened by handing down historical narratives of siblinghood within Maluku and by songs such as the popular song titled Gandong (‘brotherhood’).

While these practices have attracted considerable interest from academics (Huwaë 1995; Sholeh 2013), little has been said about the new stereotypes of Moluccan character that have emerged since 1999 conflict. Because of the riots and people’s attempts at reconciliation, Moluccans acquired at least two new narratives about their character: the first is of being a bellicose and conflict driven people; the second tells about a strengthened identity of kinship. While both narratives existed before the conflict, they have been partly reaffirmed and, at the same time, taken on slightly new meanings. Both descriptions of Moluccans can be related to the behaviour of people in the region as well as to their attitudes towards conflict and reconciliation. These behaviours have lead to the idea that there is a contradiction or dualism of Moluccan character. Jack Manuputty, a pastor and peace activist in Ambon calls this the dualism of Moluccan character. It is similar to the binary relation between land and sea, anger and joy. Stanley Ferdinandus, founder of the local NGO Heka Leka (www.hekaleka.org) refers to sago trees as being a key symbol of this dualism.

Moluccan character in daily behaviour

Narratives of Moluccan identity as violent are apparent in everyday occurrences. In a recent research trip to Ambon it did not take me long to learn about the reputation people from the Moluccas have in Indonesia, and even between themselves, as being untameable people. An informant whose family served in the Dutch colonial army described that this notion was already common even before the Dutch colonised the territory. She described how her grandparents told her that people from the Moluccas were actually recruited by the Dutch to serve in the military and work as security because of their belligerent nature. Similar ideas are still common in Indonesia. For example, an informant from Sulawesi who moved to Ambon when she was 18 years old described to me how she did not want to live there because of this reputation of the Moluccans. She thought that Moluccan men were stubborn, aggressive, and rough. To many outsiders this stereotype is easily confirmed by the way that Moluccans talk and move. They tend to be loud and make relatively excessive arm movements. As a newcomer one may see such gestures as expressing anger and next wonder why people would be so upset. On the streets, almost without exception drivers of vehicles continually honk their horns, and ignore transit lanes and traffic lights. However, when getting to know people they appear to be very warm, hospitable, emphatic, and kind.

Mutual support and empathy in Ambon go way beyond common courtesies. For example, while I was there, everyday someone would accompany me to where I wanted to go and help me with translations while not accepting any financial compensation I offered. Moreover, people would often invite me to eat and sleep in their houses. They even went out of their way to take my husband fishing while I was doing research. On a daytrip with some friends from Ambon to Saparua Island we encountered a couple of tourists from France. My Ambonese friends invited them to stay in their house on the island free of charge, showed them around all of the twelve villages there, and even organized activities in and around Ambon during the following days. These kinds of courtesies are not only offered to foreigners but are part of everyday actions between Moluccans. For example, in the urban neighbourhood of Galunggung the Holle family hosts free English classes for all kids in the neighbourhood twice a week. During Ramadan they even invite lots of children to break the fasting in their home.

The living of the Holle family with children from the neighbourhood breaking the fasting together

The living of the Holle family with children from the neighbourhood breaking the fasting together, Ramadan 2013

The Sago Palm

The apparent dualism in the character of Moluccans can be symbolised by the sago palm. The sago palm has spines from stem up to the outer branches. Looking at the tree you would not dare to come near it, much less touch it. However when you cut the tree and split the trunk you will find that it is very soft inside. The inside is filled with starch that is used for making sago porridge, a popular staple in the region. With the recent conflict came a narrative of Moluccan identity that may be represented by the sago trees. The conflict began in 1999 and was officially ended in 2003 but violent clashes and bombings still occurred until 2011. The conflict generated a common perception of Moluccans of being prone to conflict. Even though scholars have examined the multiple political and economic reasons for the conflict (Von Benda-Beckmann. 2007: 284; Bertrand, 2001: 58-88), as well as the external interventions that maintained the conflict (Stern 2003: 63-84), the conflict generated clear divisions between Christians and Muslims and new visions of these communities (Turner 2003: 258).

People from the two religions now live completely segregated and there is a constant fear that the conflict may resurface not so much because of religious differences but because of the belligerent character of Moluccans. For example, the notion that Moluccans are a fierce people is also very popular among youth. While asking young child soldiers involved in the 2011 violence about the reasons of their involvement, Jacky Manuputty, a local pastor and peace builder, was told: “You had your turn to fight, now it is ours”. However, conflict also made it necessary to strengthen the idea of brotherhood and the meaning of kinship for forging a sense of community. The dream of peace and return to traditional practices of pela and gandong began to flourish during and after the conflict. However, pela and gandong took on new meaning as alliances between the two religions (Bartels 2003: 14). The intention of achieving a Moluccan brotherhood after the conflict can even be discerned in the musical productions of youth. They created songs referring to unity in identity, such as Satu Darah, meaning ‘One Blood’.

The aim of achieving unity is not exclusive to ethic Moluccans but expands to embrace people who are not ethnically Moluccan to avoid the ethnic discourse that was present in the beginning of the conflict in 1999. One example of the efforts to include non-ethnic Moluccans is in the adaptation of pela to soa as described to me by the Baileo Maluku Network. While pela only applies to people who are ethnically Moluccan, the village of Paso generated a similar alliance called soa with people who were not ethnically Moluccan. Similarly, efforts to bridge the now segregated Muslim and Christian groups also demonstrate the importance of siblinghood in Moluccan identity. For example, the organization Heka Leka that facilitates various activities to unite people from both religions recently joined seven groups of children both Christian and Muslims to celebrate Ramadan. The Centre for Interreligious Dialogue is doing similar efforts with teachers, government officials and youth. These efforts include overnight stays at each other’s houses, giving experiences of siblinghood a whole new meaning.

A reconciliation initiative comprising an inter-religious market

A reconciliation initiative comprising an inter-religious market

The contradiction of a reputation of violence and brotherhood as the main attributes of the people from Maluku is present in conflict and attempts for peace. Just as a sago tree, when observing recent actions of Moluccan people, on the outside all we see is the conflict, but deeper probing reveals the vulnerability of a people who dream of brotherhood.

The culture of Moluccans is neither violent nor peaceful; it does not reflect conflict or brotherhood – it is both. Moluccan behaviour resembles the sago palm, which can harm and injure, while the glue found inside the trunk can unite people of all ethnic groups and religions. The narratives that define Moluccan identity have changed since the conflict of 1999. Not only have they contradicted the belief of Gandong being at the centre of their behaviours, giving way to a discourse of bellicose Moluccans; but they have also generated the possibility of the emergence of a discourse of Moluccans as peace builders and brothers. Their recent history has reshaped the way in which they are seen and understood, generating a new horizon of possibilities of actions of violence and kinship.

References

Bartels, D. (1977) Guarding the Invisible Mountain: Intervillage Alliances, Religious Syncretism and Ethnic Identity among Ambonese Christians and Moslems in the Moluccas. Ithaca: Cornell University

Bartels, D. (2003) ‘Your God is No Longer Mine: Moslem-Christian Fratricide in the Central Moluccas (Indonesia) After a Half-Millennium of Tolerant Co-Existence and Ethnic Unity’, in: A State of Emergency: Violence, Society and the State in Eastern Indonesia. Sandra Pannell, ed., pp. 128-153. Darwin: Northern Territory University Press

Turner, K (2003), ‘Myths and Moral Authority in Maluku: The Case of Ambon’, Asian Ethnicity, 4, 2, p. 241, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 26 July 2013.

Von Benda-Beckmann, F. and von Benda-Beckmann, K. (2007) Social security between past and future: Ambonese networks of care and support, Berlin: Lit Verlag.

Bertrand, J. (2001) ‘Legacies of the Authoritarian Past: religious Violence in Indonesia’s Moluccan Islands’, Pacific Affairs. Ontario: University of Toronto, pp. 57-85

Stern J. (2003) ‘Demographics’ in: Why religious militants kill: Terror in the Name of God, New York : Ecco, pp. 63-84

Huwaë, S. (1995) ‘Divided Opinions About Adatpela: A Study Of Pela’, Cakalele, Vol. 6 (1995), Pp. 77–92

 

Sholeh, B. (2013) ‘The Dynamics of Muslim and Christian Relations in Ambon, Ea  Indonesia’, International Journal of Business and Social Science Vol. 4 No. 3; March 2013

From our wardrobes to market stalls in Africa

19 August, 2013

by Eleni Christou (one of our former Master of Applied Anthropology students at Macquarie University)

Our clothes are travelers. Born to factories in distant lands, most of our clothes have already travelled thousands of kilometers by air, land and sea before settling in our wardrobes. Consumers are fairly aware of where clothes originate, but the continuing journey of our used clothes is less publicised. The majority of Australians donate their old clothes to charity or textile recycling organizations. However, after undergoing a stringent selection process determining their future path, our used clothes begin new travels across suburbs, states, and to locations a far as market stalls in Africa.  Clothes are far from lonely when they travel. Sources vary, but approximately half of what is donated to charity organizations will journey to exotic destinations some of us can only dream of. With the popularity of low priced, rapidly produced and ostensibly cool Fast Fashion, the volume of clothing and distance they travel is set to increase. The redistribution of used clothing to people in need, to the wardrobes of ethically driven (and often fashion conscious) consumers or to textile recycling plants is imperative. The extensive travelling of our clothes owes not only to advances in manufacture and design, but a shift in consumer purchasing behavior. Use value and longevity of a garment is not the only criteria consumers assess, fashionable capital is also a quality on which we base our clothing decisions.

The following article will discuss the influx of clothing circulating in the marketplace, mainly due to the disposable nature of trendy fashion in the last decade. Arguing that the throwaway nature of Fast Fashion clothes creates challenges for textile recycling and redistribution, this article will discuss the charity store donation and sorting process. With a large proportion of used clothes exported to overseas, excessive fashion consumption is influencing a decline in indigenous and local textile industries of developing countries.

Fast Fashion Dies Young

Eighty billion garments are produced worldwide every single year (Siegle, 2011:74). As the production and design processes of the Fast Fashion industry evolve and progressively become more sophisticated, volume is set to increase year on year. Fast Fashion has revolutionized the clothing industry, accelerating the design and manufacturing stages of production. Expressed through low priced clothes mirroring current trends from catwalks and style setters around the world. Fast Fashion’s design and production model seeks to transform ‘high fashion’ style into common trend, convincing consumers that what is demonstrated on the catwalks actually represents popular fashion. With an emphasis on rrefurbishing looks on a weekly rather than seasonal basis, Fast Fashion brands render a limited life span on the garments they sell.

Fashion brands in Europe and the USA are world leaders in the Fast Fashion industry. In particular, Zara, Topshop, H&M and the low end store Primark, are labels all renowned for recreating and selling runway trends and cutting edge designs.  In order to respond to every single modification in popular trend, time to market, (the period in which clothes are designed, produced and couriered to the retail store) has been reduced from weeks to days. Topshop has cut their production time from nine to six weeks. H&M, launching fashion that was effectively disposable, cut its lead-time from design to rail in just 3 weeks (Siegle, 2011:21). Spanish fashion monopoliser, Zara dominates the Fast Fashion industry. Zara manufactures small quantities of each style, ensuring its collections are considered ‘exclusive’ and thus creating an anxiety among consumers that they may ‘miss out’. Zara stores receive new fashion pieces twice a week. Each style is only received once and Zara does not reproduce past designs. The limited range of Zara styles encourage consumers to visit stores frequently, and replace their wardrobes just as often.

Hidden workers and planned obsolescence: Fast Fashions bread and butter

Competition between retailers means that high fashion clothes and styles are being produced at affordable prices, making trendy clothes accessible for most budgets and tastes. However there is a human face behind rapid manufacture. Fashion brands go to great lengths to distance their product and the consumer from the people that actually make these clothes (and their skills which are often attained through heritage and traditions). Even though workers possess the unique craftsmanship to produce such clothes, it is most likely they will never be able to afford them, nor experience them displayed in department stores and boutiques across the world. Branding, labeling and trends tend to hide or eliminate any evidence of the lives and history of the workers.

This multimillion dollar fashion export industry is powered by an approximate forty million garment workers, working out of 250,000 garment export factories (Siegle, 2011:41). This army of workers covers the vital point of the production process where the clothes are actually made – the crucial element that makes the nature of these clothes both fast and cheap. Bangladesh produces 1.5 billion jeans every year, India manufactures 7 billion pieces of Western clothing annually and in China, by 2002, 20 billion garments were being manufactured each year (Siegle, 2011:39). Workers in garment factories, or sweatshops, are subject to dangerous working conditions, long hours, low pay and lack union representation. Additionally, clothing manufacture is often outsourced to ‘home workers’. This employment is often hard to trace back to a particular brand due to the employment of faceless middlemen and a complex production line created by the Fast Fashion industry.  Home workers represent the unseen, the isolated and the bottom rung of the global fashion industry, they are responsible for sewing, beading and embellishing many thousands of garments every month (Siegle, 2011:51).

Keeping Fast Fashion alive, the sweatshops churning and the home workers employed is the concept of ‘planned obsolescence’. This is the practice in by which goods are designed and produced to have a limited lifespan yet still need to be replaced regularly. The trend of throwaway fashion owes much to the increases in clothing purchase frequency and a real reduction in price levels (Birtwistle and Moore, 2007:211). The Fast Fashion industry excels in the implementation of planned obsolescence.  Minor embellishments and amendments to designs are made at ever increasing intervals, ensuring their time as ‘cool’ is limited; marking indelibly if a piece was purchased during an earlier fashion cycle. In fact, Fast Fashion retailers such as H&M, Topshop and Zara sell garments that are expected to be used less than ten times, at very competitive price points, further contributing to the disposal of garments that may have only been worn a few times (Birtwistle and Moore, 2007:211).

Charity stores and the redistribution process

This disposability of clothing has resulted in a number of challenges for charity and textile recycling organisations. Donations have increased in size and in frequency. But, while the volume is increasing, the quality of the donations is decreasing. Charity stores are now competing with the low prices of Fast Fashion clothing and struggling to sell excess stock. Based on my research among two Australian national charity organizations, the following section will provide a general description of the textile recycling process in Australia and the challenges disposal fashion has imposed on the industry.

Clothes and accessories available in charity stores are sourced in four ways: corporate donations, third party recycling firms and public donations. In an attempt to contribute to the overall appearance and profit of the store, some charity organizations also purchase heavily discounted new clothes and accessories from brands eager to rid themselves of slow sellers and inter-season stock. Products acquired, include shoes and handbags utilized to compliment current stock and trends. All donations, or purchased stock undergo a stringent grading process. Clothes are assessed for their resale value and thoroughly checked for rips and stains and sorted into three categories, A, B and C grade. A grade garments are in good condition or valuable, making them suitable for resale on the shop floor. B and C grade garments are those which are soiled, deemed too old or washed too many times. B and C grade garments are transferred to recycling centers where they are inspected and either reincarnated for industrial purposes (such as rags) or sold on to third parties specializing in exporting clothing worldwide.

The sorting stage is a lengthy process and most sources of stock come with their own set of challenges. Corporate donations, although they could be perceived as a gesture of goodwill and a contribution to the overall profit of the charity, are effectively a means of disposal for companies with excess or faulty stock. Corporate donations are often samples, end of season stock, or over runs (excess stock of a particular style). Conditions of corporate donations often require charity stores to remove the clothing brand tag before resale. The sourcing of clothing from third party is also a gamble. Stock is received in secure bags and charity stores are unable to view the contents prior to purchase, meaning clothes received could be damaged or unpopular.

Donations from the public reveal the impact of disposable fashion on charity stores. Firstly charity stores are receiving an increasing amount of poor quality items. A representative of an Australian charity organization found that, in the last 5-6 years, the quality of worn clothing is deteriorating as the life span of a garment is reduced.  The low prices of disposable fashion present strong competition for charity stores, challenging their position in the affordable fashion market. Fast Fashion clothing also has an environmental impact. Due to the nature of Fast Fashion material, much of what is donated is synthetic, difficult to recycle and products that are cotton based are hard to reuse (Britten, 2008). The receipt of unworn clothes with price tags still attached is increasingly commonplace for some charity organizations, suggesting consumers are tiring of clothes at a faster rate and before they are even worn. Although these may pieces may be valuable for resale within charity stores, such excessive consumption is sustaining demand for the Fast Fashion industry. Furthermore, as clothes enter and exit the fashion market rapidly, their belonging to a particular trend is easily identifiable.  Once clothes are donated, they may have long lost their appeal.

Exporting clothing

The proportion of donated clothes retailed through charity stores differs slightly, depending on the source. According to Siegle (2011:218), only 10% of UK donations are sold through stores, while 50% is exported to developing countries.  Lee (2006) states that 25% of what recycling companies buy from charities is used as a commodity in an international trading economy. Hansen, Transberg (2004:3) suggests that charitable organisations are the largest single source of the garments that fuel the international trade in second hand clothing, consisting of between 40 and 75% of trade. Distributed via export and shipping firms, the lowest quality clothing goes to Africa, the medium quality to Latin America, while Japan receives the highest proportion of top quality items (ibid).  A simple google search reveals the number of Australian companies that export used clothing and accessories to countries such as Africa and the Pacific Islands.

Shipping and exporting firms make serious profits from the international used clothing trade due to a demand for European style clothing and fashion in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Karen Transberg Hansens’ research: Second Hand Clothing Encounters in Zambia (1999) details the demand for Western clothes in developing countries. Second hand clothing is seen in Zambia as a very special commodity, in fact it has its own name, Salaula. The term specifically refers to the process of imported used clothing from the West and sold in local markets. This term also graphically captures the practice of consumers selecting garments to satisfy clothing desires and needs (Hansen, Transberg, 1999:343). In Zambia, this type of clothing is seen as exclusive and an important imported commodity. For the anthropologist, the clothing offers special exposure on the interaction between the local and the west and because of the way, as dress, it mediates both individual and collective identities and desires (Hansen, Transberg, 1999:343). However, in order for the process to be successful, the sorting of clothes must adhere to specific guidelines. Developing countries are increasingly faced with the issue of receiving clothing that does not suit their climate or style (Siegle, 2011: 220). For example, African countries receiving European winter clothes that do not suit the continent’s warmer climate.

However, there is an adverse effect exporting used clothing imports on the domestic textile and garment industries. Many African countries originally had fairly well developed indigenous markets for textiles and clothing, particularly for handcrafted or hand tailored clothes. Sadly, these markets have virtually disappeared in the last few decades (Lee, 2006). Due to the poor quality and high price of locally produced garments, Zambians from most walks of life have continued to shop from Salaula throughout the 1990s (Hansen, Transberg, 1999:350).  In order to prevent a decline in local textile industries, some countries have taken drastic measures to end the importation of used clothing. Many countries strictly forbid the import of used clothing, while others restrict the volume or limit it to charitable purposes rather than for resale. Used clothing imports are banned in Indonesia because of the threat they pose to local garment production (Hansen, Transberg 2004:4). Mali charges import tariffs on second hand clothing, seeking to reduce its volume, with the aim of protecting the domestic textile industry (Hansen, Transberg 1999:348). However, these measures have birthed an illegal second hand clothes trade and exporters now attempt to smuggle used clothes countries with restrictions. The Nigerian customs service has seized numerous containers of prohibited goods, including used clothes entering with false customs declarations (Hansen, Transberg 2004:4). The impact of disposable fashion is evident when countries treat the illegal ferrying of used clothes in the same manner they would view the importation of illicit substances or arms.

Regulating Fashion

The allure of Fast Fashion is increasingly evident in our everyday lives. In January 2011, Kmart launched a low budget line of jeans priced at $10. By August 2011, Kmart had already sold almost half a million pairs (Collier and Winslow, 2011). Similarly, retail grocery giant Coles, launched a budget clothing line in August, 2011, with the majority of clothes priced below $25 (Baker, 2011).  Although these jeans may pass Australian quality standards, do they meet ethical standards? Kmart’s $10 jeans were produced and manufactured in China and Bangladesh (Collier and Winslow, 2011). Incidents such as the recent collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh, killing almost 1000 workers suggests the manufacturing process remains largely unregulated.

There are some brands taking measures to gain accreditation from ethical fashion industry bodies, claiming transparency within their production processes, such as the fashion industry advocacy body Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA). Ginger & Smart, Collette Dinnigan and Cue are among companies involved in long term ECA efforts to encourage fashion companies to become transparent with their production processes.  Additionally, the ECA also requires companies to become compliant with its accreditation and labeling systems (Safe, 2011). Accredited brands are able to display an ECA trademark on Australian-made products, providing consumers with a way to identify and support ethically manufactured garments. On an international scale, clothing companies have taken similar steps in the last few years to become more transparent. Major brands such as Nike, adamant they have applied enough pressure on issues such as child labour, insist it is in decline in the garment industry (Siegle, 2011:60). To the merit of morally conscious consumers and advocacy groups, there are numerous movements dedicated to the eradication of sweatshop culture and the slowing down of consumerism. Some examples include; War on Want, Labour Behind The Label, Buy Nothing New and No Sweat.

Pledges to regulate the garment manufacture industry are integral to the workers employed, ensuring safety at work, ample payment and regular working hours. However, excessive consumption sustains the disposable clothing industry. Fast Fashion has created a new formula for how fashion is manufactured and available, perpetuating an expectation among consumers; for clothes to be low priced and delivered quickly. Reassessing our purchasing behavior, and buying clothes, when they are necessarily, ensuring they are durable and made to ethical standards could slow down Fast Fashion. But, while demand exists, our clothes will continue their extensive travelling, with their redistribution directing their journey, often passing by or settling in the regions they originated from.

References:

Baker, Michael. 2011. Coles: a wolf in cheap clothing? The Age: 26.08.2011

Birtwistle, G and C.M. Moore. 2007. Fashion Clothing – Where Does It All End Up? International Journal of Retail and Distribution Management 35(3):210-216.

Britten, Fleur. 2008. Is Recycling Your Old Clothes Worth It? Times Online: 25.05.2008

Collier, Karen and Elouise Winslow. 2011. Discount Denims fool fussy fashionistas. Herald Sun: 06.08.2011

Lee, Mike. 2006. The Truth About Where Your Donated Clothes End Up. ABC NEWS (USA) 21/12/2006.

Safe, Georgina. 2011. Protection For Those Behind The Seams. Sydney Morning Herald: 29.09.2011

Siegle, Lucy. 2011. To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? London: Fourth Estate.

Tranberg Hansen, Karen. 1999. Second Hand Clothing Encounters in Zambia: Global Discourses, Western Commodities, and Local Histories. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 69(3):343-365.

Tranberg Hansen, Karen. 2004. Helping or Hindering: Controversies Around the International Second-Hand Clothing Trade. Anthropology Today 20(4):3-9.

Buy Nothing New Month: http://www.buynothingnew.com.au/

Ethical Clothing Australia: http://www.ethicalclothingaustralia.org.au

Labour Behind The Label: http://www.labourbehindthelabel.org/campaigns/itemlist/category/220-clean-up-fashion

No Sweat : http://www.nosweat.org.uk/

War on Want : http://www.waronwant.org/campaigns/love-fashion-hate-sweatshops

Open access rising

26 March, 2013

Is it just me or is the push towards an open access mentality in academia gathering steam? Recently, we’ve had the encouraging news that the Australian Research Council has introduced an open access policy for research it funds and the Obama administration has backed open access for federally-funded research.

It also seems that academics are becoming increasingly unwilling to participate as free labour in a system that generates extremely high profits for the big academic publishers. Most recently, the entire editorial board of the Journal of Library Administration quit in protest over the licensing agreement imposed by the publisher, Taylor & Francis. According to the agreement, authors had the choice to either wait up to 18 months to put their work in an open repository or pay a $3,000 fee to “unlock” their work.

In the field of anthropology the journal Cultural Anthropology has announced that it’s going full open access by 2014, the OA journal HAU appears to be going from strength to strength and there are a range of new journals seeking to make anthropological research public. One example is Global Ethnographic, a new OA journal that seeks to convey anthropological perspectives to as wide a public as possible. In contrast to most journals they seek contributions of no more than 3,000 words, preferring even shorter ones. They would appear to be trying to fill a niche between a more traditional peer-reviewed journal and an anthropological blog, encouraging more digestible chunks of writing with more popular appeal. I was also very happy to see that one of the first contributors was Macquarie’s own Paul Mason, with a piece on Intracultural and Intercultural Dynamics of Capoeira (PDF).

Along the same lines, but even closer to the popular end of the spectrum is the resolutely upbeat Popanth (Hot Buttered Humanity). Publishing articles in the 800-100 word range, they are aiming to provide bite-sized, and easily digestible, chunks of anthropological goodness.

On the whole I think this is all very encouraging, and it also shows the great diversity of attempts to openly communicate non-monetised anthropological knowledge, from traditional journal formats through to publications that are experimenting with niches somewhere between the established journals and the anthro blogosphere. It goes to show that we shouldn’t generalise too much about such things as the relationship between quality and open access. There are just too many different models being tried out right now. But I think we can generalise about a broader cultural shift in which we are seeing the reinvigoration of the idea that scholarship is a public good and should therefore be “out there” in whatever form that might take.

 

Exploring children’s worlds through their stuff

15 March, 2013

Okay, the blog has been inactive for a while but I’d like to try and breathe some new life into it. To kick things off, here is a nice photo essay doing the social media rounds at the moment. The photos, which show children from a range of countries with their most “prized possessions”, their toys, give us an interesting view into their lives through their material worlds.

Cun Zi Yi – Chongqing, China

The project’s author, Italian photographer, Gabriele Galimberti, sees this study as anthropological in nature and he argues that children’s  relationships to their toys can throw light on both universalities and differences in the experience of childhood. For example, children are all the same in that they essentially want to play,

But it’s how they play that seemed to differ from country to country. Galimberti found that children in richer countries were more possessive with their toys and that it took time before they allowed him to play with them (which is what he would do pre-shoot before arranging the toys), whereas in poorer countries he found it much easier to quickly interact, even if there were just two or three toys between them.

The photos are very effective at conveying at a glance all sorts of information about the lives of these kids, including contrasts in living conditions, income levels and the gendering of childhood. There is also something quite intimate about the shots of the kids with their favourite loot which also helps to convey that stuff is never “just stuff” but an integral part of how we make, and are made by, our material worlds.

But as well as intimacy the essay is also testimony to the ubiquity of capitalism. All the kids display stuff that was made in factories, even Chiwa from Malawi, in one of the more poignant images, standing among the mosquito nets in what appears to be a very basic brick hut, showing off a couple of stuffed kitties and a plastic dinosaur. It might seem like an obvious point, but all these kids are making their intimate worlds with objects that begin their lives as mass-produced and anonymous commodities. I wonder if it’s this fact which cause the photos, even those showing kids in relatively affluent contexts, to evoke a certain pathos in me?

Chiwa from Malawi.

 

Plastic Matters in Sydney

18 October, 2012
by Jennifer Anayo (Graduate of the Master of Applied Anthropology program at Macquarie University) 
 

Plastic is ‘highly visible’ in food packaging, plastic carry bags at the check-out and the many applications of plastic in the food and beverage service. Due to these consumer experiences, plastic is often linked with notions of disposability, convenience, and low financial cost. Our interactions with them are for short periods of time, and often taken for granted. Similarly, since plastic has found its place in every-day consumer products, and the banal and mundane functions of daily life, plastic often fades into the background, ‘invisible’ until attention is brought to it.

Commonly, we understand the things we buy, use or get given as ‘objects’. Dichter points out that the objects we own reveal a great deal about ourselves, and that studying objects is a useful way to find out about people and gain insight into, as he puts it, “the soul of man” (Dichter 2004: 91). Traditionally, the study of material culture has focused on ‘objects’ and their relationship with humanity. However in this case, my interest lies not the object itself, but the material it is made of – plastic. Having a design background, I became interested in the impact that this material has on the culture of Sydney.

Bottles and Health

Bundanoon is a country town, southwest of Sydney, and in July of 2009, the town was the first in Australia (possibly the world) to ban the sale of pre-packaged, bottled water. Wingecarribee Shire Council installed several public water fountains, and the town’s retailers removed bottled water from their shelves. This response was sparked by commercial interest to extract spring water within the Bundanoon precinct (Roderick, 26 September, 2009). The townspeople found the idea of an international company taking their water, processing it on a separate site, and then selling it back to them in their local shops ridiculous. Local businessman, Huw Kingston is quoted in Southern Highland News: “If we were saying we were against water extraction, the logical step is to say no to the end product” (Murray, 9 July 2009). Huw led the petition against Norlex and the ban of bottled water in the township. Since 2009, several schools and universities across Australia, which are small towns in themselves, have adopted similar bans in a stance against the environmental impacts of bottled water (list of schools and universities are on www.gotap.com.au).

In 2008, research into use of public water fountains was commissioned by Do Something, a not-for-profit organisation that works to create positive social and environmental change. The study found that 85% of Australians do not trust the water that comes out of old-fashioned water fountains (Manly council website). Concern over water quality and cleanliness has led to a reduction in the use of public water fountains. As a result, water fountains have disappeared from public precincts over the years. Do Something’s study also linked these statistics to the increase in Australia’s use of bottled water. In conjunction with Do Something, the Manly council chose to take a stand against bottled water. Manly council has installed over twenty public water stations along Manly Beach and surrounds, to encourage a culture of re-filling and re-use. I have personally re-filled my drink bottle in Manly, and appreciate the convenience.

The Manly water fountain initiative was trialled with six water stations, before installing more, upon its popularity and success.  Manly Water estimates that from August of 2008, when the stations were installed, and the time of review, May of 2009 the six water fountains prevented the purchase of 150,000 litres of bottled water. This potentially translates into a quarter of a million plastic water bottles removed from the waste stream. The council also reports that there is a 15-29% decrease in volume of garbage collected in the area where the water fountains are, presumably due to the drop in the consumption of plastic bottles (Manly council website).

Four years ago, I started carrying around my own refillable drink bottle. I still have the same one. I bought it because I had joined the gym, and it became a necessity. The gym has conveniently placed water stations throughout, and the idea is that you can take a sip there, or fill up your bottle and go about your work-out. Of course, the gym also sells bottled water at the front reception, but who would spend $3, when you could get chilled, filtered water for free? I also received a free drink bottle with their ‘welcome pack,’ but I couldn’t use it. I didn’t like the ‘plastic’ smell. And I wanted to avoid the ‘plastic’ taste that I had experienced in the past. In the interim, I maintained the option of refilling one of those disposable spring water bottles, which I had saved several weeks before. However, I was hesitant to continue with this practice as I had heard you shouldn’t re-use them – that chemicals in the bottle can leach into the water, which obviously would be bad for you.

Whilst checking into the gym a couple of weeks into my membership, there was a new line of drink bottles on display. I was attracted to the shiny silver one – not plastic! (Well the lid is plastic, but the body is metal.) It was only $5, so the smart thing to do was to commit. I had to commit to a new way of life. I started bringing my bottle with me wherever I went, not just to the gym. I fill it at home before a day of shopping and hope that I find a place to re-fill — which is often hard. Some takeaway places like McDonald’s and most coffee shops don’t mind filling your bottle as long as you’re paying for something else. I have my bottle on me in class; I use it throughout the day at work. And I even use it whilst I’m at home.

Plastic Worlds

Both Manly and Bundanoon highlight the environmental debates prevalent in our society today. We are challenged to reduce our environmental impact by changing our consumption habits and in particular, by cutting out plastic. Plastic is a very large part of our material reality, yet we often do not give it a second thought. Plastics are currently used in the value chains for a majority of manufactured products in the world. They have been on the forefront of product innovation and development for more than 150 years. Plastic has found its place in nearly every sphere, field and profession. Our modern technological and social ‘advancements’ would not be as they are, without the help of plastics. Plastics have helped fade class distinctions and raise living standards. Ironically, plastic was first sought out as an ‘environmentally friendly’ solution, it stopped the slaughter of elephants for ivory, it increases manufacturing efficiency, and reduces costs. However in our minds, these positives are outweighed by the negative environmental and health impacts of plastic we have heard about in the media.

Like many of the people I’ve interviewed, I don’t actually think about plastic all that much. Yet on the occasion I do, my thoughts are both negative and positive. Plastic bags, bottles, disposable plates and spoons come to mind… The hundreds of Lego blocks my brothers and I would build up and break down, as children. I am reminded of plastic Coke can rings strangling albatross, penguins and sea turtles. I laugh about the huge collection of plastic bags my mother stores in the garage, which I’m sure dates back to a time even before I was born. And as I have grown up and matured in a world with plastic, I honestly can’t imagine a world without it. I could really identify with Susan Freinkel’s book, Plastic, A Toxic Love Story (2011, Pg 2):

It wasn’t clear to me just how plastic my world had become until I decided to go an entire day without plastic. The absurdity of this experiment became apparent about ten seconds into the appointed morning when I shuffled bleary-eyed into the bathroom: the toilet seat was plastic. I quickly reversed my plan. I would spend the day writing everything I touched that was plastic… Within forty-five minutes I had filled an entire page… I’d never thought of myself as having a particularly plastic-filled life. I live in a house that’s nearly a hundred years old. I like natural fabrics, old furniture, food cooked from scratch. I would have said my home harbours less plastic than the average American’s – mainly for aesthetic reasons, not political ones. Was I kidding myself?

I too have furnished my home and bought my appliances seeking to create a look and feel, in which I generally avoid plastic. However, I can say that it is hard to avoid plastic completely, many objects disguise their use of plastic very well and in some instances I actually prefer the plastic option. When I made the commitment to my re-usable drink bottle, I was definitely aware of the positive environmental impact I was making by consuming fewer plastic bottles, however it was not the only factor in my decision making process. I weighed up usability, practicality, cost and aesthetics. I also asked myself if I could do it – was I able to make room for remembering, maintaining and re-filling a bottle in my life? Disposable bottled water have become a popular convenience, especially as public water fountains have slowly disappeared. Whether we deliberately avoid or are ignorant to the presence of plastic, plastic has become essential in our day-to-day lives. We have come to rely on this material. It has become so ubiquitous that we are often blinded to its omnipresence in our lives. Yet ironically, on the other hand, plastic is a glaring point of contention in environmental debates about bottled water, plastic bags, and waste management – all of which skew our overall perception of plastic.

My respondents identify the place, look, feel and even a sound of plastic. They recognise that objects have a mix of materials, can distinguish between them, and employ a ‘litmus test’ – flicking and tapping to positively confirm the presence of plastic. We further explored where plastic is accepted and rejected – where, when and why. I found it interesting to discover a link between notions of disposability, convenience, and its impact on other products when presented in plastic. We see that plastic is not acceptable in certain forms. Strong resistance or expressions of distaste is evident when my respondents were offered an engagement ring made of plastic. There is discord between the temporality, convenience, ‘cheap-ness’ and ‘fake-ness’ of plastic, with objects of high value and status. We find a disconnect with the value, wealth, status and purity, required to qualify as a bottle of wine, a car or tea-pot.

Modernity’s Partner

Freinkel (2011) claims that plastic is modernity’s partner, with which we have a love–hate relationship. Many of my respondents feel the tension between modern conveniences and the ten minutes it takes to drink a takeaway coffee, and the apparent tens of thousands of years it takes to break down its packaging – making it a mathematical, environmental and moral problem. This tension between convenience and culpability is what Freinkel describes when she says we have a love—hate relationship with plastic. We enjoy the conveniences, the advances in technology and the efficiency that plastic presents, but hate the responsibility and environmental consequences that come along with its use. Plastic has shaped a ‘disposability’ and ‘convenience consumerism,’ which has warped into a ‘hyper-consumption’, an unsustainable practice threatening our planet.

Despite the fact that my respondents are often blinded to the amount of plastic that surrounds them, they are quite aware of the environmental costs of plastic. Though they may not articulate this awareness in extreme consumption and disposal practices, my respondents have expressed a latent concern about the environment and social mores surrounding plastic bags, bottles and plastic’s inability to biodegrade. Plastic has been almost demonised in the media, and by proxy we become bad people by using it. This causes a strong sense of guilt in using plastic. Bundanoon’s ban on bottled water, the ‘green bag’ campaign and Manly’s installation of water stations are examples of plastic being caught up in the greater appeal for humanity to consume resources and energy in a more considerate way. Cutting back on the use of plastic bags and not buying bottled water are just two suggestions to do so. My respondents all espouse the need to recycle and the danger of plastic bags in our waterways, but concede that convenience often weighs heavier in their decision making process.

What I discovered in my ethnographic research is that we desire a discharge of the environmental debt, which we accumulate in the use of plastic. My respondents attempt to discharge this debt by re-purposing plastic bags for the lining of rubbish bins, and re-cycling in specialised collection bins. In spite of these practices, remnants of guilt remain – as if my informants feel that what they are doing is not enough. However, my respondents concede that convenience usually outweighs their social conscience, and choose not to do much more. Mathematically and morally things still may not completely cancel out, but we have yet to find a convenient alternative.

References

Adler, R & Coster, H, 1956; Plastics in the Service of Man, Pelican Books, Baltimore

Appadurai, A 1986; The Social Life of Things, Cambridge University Press, New York

Australian Government Productivity Commission; Chemicals and Plastics Regulation Research Report, Feb 2008

Belk, R W. 1988; Possessions and the Extended Self. The Journal of Consumer Behavior

Dichter, E 2004; The Strategy of Desire, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick (Originally published in 1960 by Doubleday & Co)

Freinkel, S. 2011; Plastic A Toxic Love Story, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne

Roderick, L, 26 Sept 2009; Bundanoon Gives up Bottled Water, Illawarra Mercury

Murray, R; 9 July 2009, Bundanoon Bans Bottled Water, Southern Highland News

 

Websites

GoTap – Accessed June 2012

http://www.gotap.com.au

Manly City Council – Accessed June 2012

http://www.manly.nsw.gov.au/environment/climate-change-and-sustainability/portable-water-stations/

Documentary on Social Collapse in Greece

1 October, 2012

Here is a powerful piece of film-making about the current social crisis in Greece. Athens: Social Meltdown, by film-maker Ross Domoney, is based on research by, and features extensive interviews with, University of Sussex anthropologist Dimitris Dalakoglou.The film deals with the changes in Greek society since 2010 and paints a picture of increasing radicalisation of the middle, a society alienated from its political elites and the caste of police — itself increasingly viewed as an enemy of the people — that protect them.

The film contains plenty of scenes of conflict between protesters and police, but what makes it particularly rending are the emotionally charged scenes of Greek protesters explaining the nature of their anger. It also presents a fairly dark view of the future for Greece. Although there are some hopeful signs of Greeks self-organising in order to create alternative systems of currency and exchange, this development of informal economic spheres could also be taken as evidence of increasing social fragmentation as people disconnect from the formal structures of economy and governance.

Here in Germany the media is dominated by hand-wringing over the future of the Euro and the apparent Greek recalcitrance which is endangering it. The image of lazy and disorganised Greeks prevails and not much comes through about the social impact of the crisis and the austerity measures being pushed especially by the Germans. This film helps to show the human side of current events and to make tangible the sense of desperation that is underpinning what seems to be a thoroughgoing radicalisation of Greek society.

A friendly Turanic people

6 September, 2012

At the end of August, Hungary extradited to Azerbaijan an Azeri military officer who had, while attending a NATO-sponsored training in Budapest in 2004, killed an Armenian participant with an axe and was sentenced to life in prison. Upon his arrival in Azerbaijan, the man, Ramil Safarov, was granted a presidential pardon and a promotion, and was feted as a national hero.

The reactions to this affair in Hungarian politics give an interesting snapshot of the state of culturalism in the country. Not-government-aligned media (there aren’t many of those left), which tend to criticise the government from liberal positions, largely attack the decision for selling out to “Oriental dictatorships”  — not just Azerbaijan but also China and Saudi Arabia — in the hope that they will finance Hungary’s debt. Indeed, there is little doubt that there is a link between the extradition and an announcement that Azerbaijan would buy Hungarian debt, just as, during Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Hungary last year, the police prevented Tibetans living in Hungary from demonstrating. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has repeatedly made clear that he wishes to shift from an exclusive Euro-Atlantic orientation to an Asian one, a shift he sees necessary for economic growth but in which he has also mused about the usefulness of non-democratic methods of governing. This summer, in a widely quoted, semi-joking speech, he said that Hungarians, as “half-Asian progeny,” sometimes only understand force. Yet, simultaneously, Orban frequently assumes the mantle of the defender of European values such as Christianity, the family, and democracy, which the EU has lost track of.

Although liberal media generally oppose Orban’s clericalism, in its criticism of the extradition there are frequent references to Armenia as “the first Christian state” with which “we,” therefore, share a lot more than with Azerbaijan. (In this respect, they agree with a communique issued by the government after the extradition that states that Hungary “respects Christian Armenia.”)  

Interestingly, the leader of Jobbik, the ultranationalist opposition party, which generally also operates with Christian symbolism but which is also drawn to that strand of Hungarian exceptionalism that emphasises the Asian roots of the nation, defended the alliance with Azerbaijan as “a key partner” on the basis that Azeris were a Turanic people — “Turanic” being a keyword in this self-Orientalising root mythology.

New winds in intercultural communication — from Macquarie!

6 May, 2012

In the Master of Applied Anthropology course at Macquarie University that inspired us to start this blog, and in the book Seeing Culture Everywhere that later resulted from the course, Joana Breidenbach and I were particularly critical of intercultural communication (IC) both as academic discipline and as industry. We think mainstream IC perpetuates stereotypes and a “container model” of national cultures in a way that is remarkably similar to Huntington’s views on international relations.

We are now writing an entry on IC for the new edition of the International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioural Sciences. In the process of updating our overview on the field, I was surprised and please to discuver the work of Ingrid Piller, whose take on mainstream IC is very similar to ours, but whose critique comes from inside the discipline. She, too advocates a contextual approach and rejects a priori cultural categorizations.

The biggest surprise is that Piller is a professor of linguistics at Macquarie University, in the very department in whose applied linguistics courses one of our students was pressed to demonstrate a “typical Japanese greeting.” We used the incident, which made him very upset, as an example of IC stereotyping in our book.It is clear that Piller is equally critical of such approaches.

It seems that Piller joined Macquarie in 2008, just when I left, but I am surprised we haven’t discovered each other’s websites earlier!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 345 other followers