Monday, September 22, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hurricane Ike: Tina was right, kick that to the curb

I am still without power and dealing with the consequences of our very own Ike, who came in like Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and all the lasting power of Ms. Turner. The house is intact but precious else remains--multiple trees down, fence down, pier and beam shifted, roof looking a little less perky. Mourning the loss, only, of my beautiful 30 foot (swear) avocado tree which was uprooted. I have salvaged two avocados and in true anthropological fashion there will be a replanting ceremony for the seeds. Meanwhile, there will be some massive clean up efforts required. I will return when able.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Service Learning: The Hidden Imperialist Agenda--(Mis)using the "Other"

My promised post:

Sooooo, The World's Most Narcissistic Psychology Professor Who Daily Validates the Claim That Psychologists Are Fucked Up hit upon the trick of using the venue of Service Learning to turn the bright light of administrative admiration upon himself (okay, its really only a dim bulb but let that go).

Down here, in the land of undergraduate teaching, we are seeing a wave of interest in Service Learning as the band aid for a hemorrhaging student population. Its supposed to "engage" students and make them seem less spoiled, kind of a quick let's nip this rampant overly-materialistic student value-system before they need to be shipped off to an MTV Exiled experience, and we can get them to help people right here in the yoo-ess-ayy where its safer.

Myself, I teach a student population that could be a recipient of service learning, so I am a bit bewildered by the focus on Service Learning at a community college. And most of the research, actually, argues for a generation that is more focused on "contributing" than previous ones. But, I guess, the overall concern in America for the "purpose-driven" life leading to fulfillment drives this agenda. *sigh* Once again, the American debate is about forcing others to do what we deem correct and proper with an almost evangelical fervor, instead, of having the faith that people will find their own way to fulfillment or respecting their right to do so. Its good to know we don't limit our desire to save the world to the world but, also, are busily doing it to each other. Restores your faith in logical consistency, at a time when there is none. Logical consistency, that is. We seem to have an excess of Faith.

But enough personal commentary--the rather narrow focus of this blog is teaching anthropology and I find that being an anthropologist--at least of the kind I am--means that I am just not down with Service Learning.

Because, first , I need to look at what students are learning. And. second, and perhaps most importantly, I need to think about the communities being "serviced". Need I remind everyone that the last chapter of almost every intro textbook is "Development Anthropology". I have to teach that--many times every semester. And I did live it, having worked as a consultant for USAID and the International Red Cross way back in 1994 at the beginning of international concern with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Tanzania. Its an issue for me.

Those of you skimming this entry for the juicy bits, they begin now:

Enter our Psychology Professor of the Long Title. Email goes out on the Faculty and Administration distribution list soliciting (I kid you not) travel-size shampoo bottles, toys, and PAMPHLETS ABOUT SPOUSAL ABUSE WRITTEN IN SPANISH (yes, I am shouting) because, because, because, dude is going on a "Medical Mission" to the Texas/Mexico border, taking a group of our students along on a pre-existing visitation by the University of Houston's pharmacy students. Seems that a couple of years ago, a small handful of church-goers decided it would be a good idea to reach out across the border and do some good. One of the church members teaches at the Pharmacy school and organized her students to, periodically, drive down to Mexico to an area of population aggregation centered around those American-owned export-assembly plants on the border known as Maquiladoras . The stated goal of the visit was for the pharmacy students to hand out (donated) pills for Type Two Diabetes to the many sufferers in these border communities. I almost exploded with the effort of trying to figure out what to protest first. I started small.

I went for the shampoo bottles. Shampoo bottles to communities that don't have access to clean water? That may bathe in the Rio Grande. Little plastic bottles. Hello, Marie Antoinette! What next--cake for diabetics. Can we talk about the, absolutely, horrendously foul disgusting moment of placing a student in such a power relationship? Oh, by all means, lean down from the float of the good ship America and hand out beads and trinkets to the "natives". Hey, no more tears--ya got clean hair for the day and an empty plastic bottle. And I gave it to you. Isn't it wonderful. Don't I feel good about myself for a moment. Where's the bus? Can we go now? Exiled is on tonight and I haven't Tivoed it, yet.

Then, I moved on to the "Mission" part. Yes, he confirmed via email it was part of a church effort. Do you hand out bibles? Well, yes but there is no overt missionizing. In shock, I responded, saying that to say handing out bibles is not overt missionizing is disingenuous. I was told I was patronizing. *blink*

Doctor Narcissism posts the pictures of the trip on Flikr. (He is featured in every shot). He is in green scrubs (shades of HTS--he wears the uniform of what he is not). I can't figure out what, exactly, they did. No one is actually qualified to do anything medical, I am not sure even if the pharmacy students can legally hand out pills--that is if they were in America, but I guess since its Mexico they feel our legality and morality and ethics don't matter--something about that border just transforms everything, huh? It even allows a Chinese-American, non Spanish-speaking psychology professor to "counsel" individuals in a maquiladoras community. Is anybody wondering what the crises hotline number will be on those Spanish spousal abuse pamphlets?

Call up a colleague at UT-Health Science. *deep sigh*, yes, we know about this, we don't care for it. We have been operating clinics on the border for years now and there is a lot of thinking going into our projects (I have a list of links about the issues far too extensive for this post if you are interested). We particularly don't like the message that Type Two Diabetes should be treated with pills. Its a poor message when what needs to happen is a change in diet. Coca Cola. High Fructose Corn Syrup.And, don't get me started on the spousal abuse issues. Oh, now its my turn for the deep sigh. I see. Worse than I thought. Could have guessed it if I hadn't been so focused on those damn shampoo bottles.

And now my problem, I am now just a lone voice in the wilderness, raining on their parade. No, don't do this is not a message they want to hear. But if I am committed to my discipline this is what I must say. Think of those communities. Think of the nature of the interaction. Think. Think. Think.

These issues continue and should resonate with all those teaching those introductory level courses. Read this post on the SACC (Society for Anthropology in the Community College) blog, which begins with the problems experienced by a fellow anthropology prof who is required by her institution to incorporate a Service Learning component into all her courses, even the Distance Learning ones. A nightmare, an absolute nightmare.

So, now you can see, my need to post a positive view of a development project. Money and effort legitimize. If I can point to those who overtly reject these perspectives, my criticism are legitimized. I think. I hope. But, riding the wave of a North America-centric view of the world, I realize, I haven't a chance in the world.

But, just so we are clear. This is what we should be teaching our students about life in the Maquiladoras.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Katine Project: Positive Imperialism, or Can I Build Faith In My Discipline Through and With My Students

The Rant: The Problem of Bad Anthropology and Bad Eurocentric Messages, in General. See all previous posts and those at Open Anthropology. I will, probably, never be finished with this rant. I carry it with me like the statue I remember seeing as a child in Boys Town, Nebraska. But, hey, he ain't heavy he's my brother.

Service Learning: The Hidden Imperialist Agenda--(Mis)using the "Other", is the title of my next blog post in keeping with the Bad Anthropology Bad Eurocentric Messages meme, as soon as I get to it. But, I want to start backwards. So, I am holding back the piss and vinegar in favor of the milk and honey.

I have to stand in front of classes full of wholly ignorant (not stupid--ignorant) students each and every day and present a vision of our discipline which does not leave them lost and floundering in a world they did not create. Many are genuinely caring and compassionate individuals, as am I. Can't I find some light at the end of the tunnel? A positive spin. A teachable moment with a happy ending? Okay, no such thing. But can I point them the way to the process. Can I engage them in the dialogue or, at least, point them in the direction of the possibility? Can I be the change I want to see in the world without being a Eurocentric, Bad Anthropologist Pig. (My apologies to pork, everywhere. You remain my favorite barbecue sandwich meat.)
So, I am going to give it a try:

How to Reframe Eurocentric Imperialism as a Teachable Moment: What Might Work and What are the Perspectives which Argue for Success:

The Katine Project, an example of area-based development in Northern Uganda, seems to be one of those multi-pronged development projects that may represent the best we can hope to achieve without complete global destruction and rebirth. (Yes, I am aware of the hesitant language, I am not Pollyanna, I know the possibility for critique and could probably rip every act associated with this enterprise to shreds without too much effort, but I have my rose-colored glasses on and I am trying to make this work, so go with me here.) Its a joint partnership of development underwritten by Barclay's(they have ponied up half a million pounds for the enterprise) and Amref, which has extensive media (The Guardian) coverage, Post-colonial African government support, NGOs, blogging, life histories, local perspectives, anthropology bloggers, and "white people" participation through contributions and active engagement.

Ben Jones, an anthropologist blogging for the Guardian project, points us toward the correct (oops, almost typed "right") framing of what we, as anthropologists, bring to the table, the ability to situate the lived experiences of the people we choose to engage with in an understandable reality:

"Can we, together, lift one village out of the Middle Ages?...Alan Rusbridger travels a few hours from London - and 700 years back in time."

I was pretty shocked when I read the above. Alan Rusbridger was paraphrasing Paul Collier, an influential economist at Oxford University. Collier writes that poor people live in, "a reality that is the 14th century." It is an economist's view of the world dominated by welfare and income measures. Katine, like everywhere else, only exists in the present. It belongs to the modern world, and is part of a much larger story of globalisation, capitalism and the mixed and unequal blessings of development. Though it may be at the bottom end, Katine has been part of the global economy for more than a century. Like everywhere else, life in the area has been shaped by colonialism, the politics of the Cold War, the policies of the World Bank and the IMF, and the forces of globalisation.

It is not distant drumming that wakes peopleup in the morning in Katine, but the sound of Dolly Parton.

Is it a good project, will it work? I have no idea. But, the teachable moment is the transparency of the project. The powers that be, the head imperialists, have opened the project to an unprecedented degree of "transparency". There is even an independent blog on the transparency of the transparency, you can find it here. And, yes, I am adding it to my blog roll, which is really on a roll and likely to slip off the table, and onto the floor, and then my poor blog roll will roll out of the door, roll out of the door......

Friday, September 5, 2008

MTV's "Exiled" Update: Seems we are riding a wave of sensibility

Its enough to restore your faith in America. No, not Sarah Palin (sorry, I just threw up a little in my mouth). In a completely unrelated surfing expedition, I noticed the 6th most emailed story on Newsweek's site was a story on Exiled. Seems that it was the "highest rated" reality show, so far, this year. And the viewing public (our teenage demographic) is pissed.

To quote the Newsweek piece:

But not only was the premier of "Exiled" the network's highest rated new reality show this year, some fans seem to be taking the program's message about privilege and abundance seriously. They are having conversations not typically seen on MTV's discussion boards about cultural stereotyping and Africa's international image. Who knew fans of the network that features endless hot-tub hookups are also worried about exploiting the Third World?
Seems the general public is more savvy and less gullible than we assumed. I am just going to keep quoting from the article, because, in the words of Paris Hilton, its so hot:

Sounds like a typical redemption story, but viewers didn't just watch for the satisfaction of seeing Amanda face down a pile of dung à la "Fear Factor"; they actually critiqued the network's politics. "MTV could have been much more responsible in picking a place for this girl to go," writes a viewer posting under the username PurpleReign. "They are just fulfilling stereotypes without showing a larger and more accurate representation of Africa. They showed Africa in a really negative light … It's offensive and rude and perpetuates the wrong ideas of Americans who know no better. And not even just Africa, but all underdeveloped nations are going to be represented this way on this show. It's sad."

There are, currently, 88 comments posted under Episode #1, both the episode and the comments can be accessed here. Many are as we expected, judgments which are America-centric, and many, quite correct, judgments on the parents. But mixed in with it are a few very strong, aware attacks on the network for the overall perspective of the show and some strong shout-outs for Josephine the admirable Maasai host of our bratty teenager. Newsweek may be slightly overstating the criticism, but, hey, that's alright with me, mama.

I am considering the idea of encouraging my students to blog their reactions. I have just started a campus-wide anthropology blog for them. Its open to all but not set to be pinged so I can keep out idle surfers. It could be a good discussion, especially since the interest is already there.

And, if you would like to keep riding the wave of righteous indignation, check out this story on Sociological Images. I am not sure you even need a story with those images. Its what our students call a WTF moment! How much did Cindy McCain's outfit that she wore last night cost? Guess, orphans are the new accessory. Cue up David Bowie's Fashion. Scary robotic ostentation-1; humanity-0. Need to run back to the anti-MTV bloggers, they are my people.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Ultimate Teachable Moment: wonder how it will play out?

The MTV generation is weighing in and, apparently, its not all good. But that's okay a week with the Maasai will cure you of all your selfish make-up and flavored lip gloss needs. You will return to America with the thankful realization that your life is, like, totally, way better than all those other gross people in the world, so, like you totally need to stop being such a whiner and move out of your parents home, get a job, and like, totally, do something.

Thanks to SACC (the Society for Anthropology in the Community Colleges) for a link to the NY Times on the success of a new MTV show, unfortunately entitled Exiled. The MTV site for the show has clips and a detailed explanation.

Its based on one of those personal transformation issues of sending the spoiled, obnoxious teenagers whose Sweet Sixteen parties were profiled last year on MTV to other countries/cultures of "less fortunate" people in the hopes of redeeming the value-challenged young women. Sweet Sixteen was one of those train-wreck of a shows where teenage viewers either envied their lavish parties or scoffed at their ridiculous excess in much the same way as students in my classes felt about our Rock of Love discussions that I had blogged about previously.

Anyway, my own daughter pointed the show out to me right before she left to go to College. She watched the episode where the girl went to live with the Maasai. I only wandered in for the very end, so I don't feel qualified to comment on the show fully, just yet.

On the surface, there seem to be many cringe-worthy anthropological moments. The first episode, at least, had the girl sent to Kenya as a form of punishment for her selfishness--this judgment levied by the parents who made her that way. *eye roll*

Okay, got that shudder out of my system....continuing.....

Hence the name of the series "Exiled", as in banished to....god knows where. Several members of the SACC listserv have weighed with disgust on that one. The overall philosophy, once again, reminds me of the Geertz quote at the bottom of my blog. The Maasai seem to exist only as a corrective to our "bad behavior" and an opportunity to be glad "we don't have to live like that". I guess its just another opportunity to point out to the students that other people don't exist to provide meaning to our lives but deserved to be respected in their own right.

Its going to be another opportunity, also, to discuss development and ways of achieving it because if you look at the MTV site you will see a whole slate of NGO's and the UN throwing their expertise and support behind the series. See, the full slate of anti-malarial supporters for the second show in Thailand at the MTV site. Since most of what they do goes counter to what Anthropology thinks we should be doing....I am guessing even more teachable moments will come about. So......

Judgements and rants to be continued throughout the semester........

Feel free to join in.