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......


Maximilian C. Forte said...

You have given me a lot to think about here already. I need to pause for a few days. I look forward to the next posts. And sorry, I am such a kid that the way you ended this post had me laughing loudly.

Pamthropologist said...

I know, I know its so MLK when Malcom X is required but I am trying on the personna. Feel free to hit it with sticks. Maybe candy will come out.

Can you tell I'm hungry?