The Decolonial Turn 2.0: the reckoning

The Decolonial Turn 2.0: the reckoning

By now, many readers are familiar with the issues surrounding recent events at HAU: journal of ethnographic theory, including the letters released by the HAU Former Staff 7 here and four current and former staff here. The week’s revelations were kicked off by an apology David Graeber here.

What is clear from the ensuing conversations is that issues of harassment, abuse, exploitation, misogyny, and classism/elitism remain live and palpable in the discipline’s highest echelons, and have impacted precarious and vulnerable scholars in very real ways.

There are many thoughtful posts and engagements that deal directly with the substantive issues of this specific publishing scandal, and I do not want to replicate their work. Instead, I want to take a cue from Paige West, who argues on Twitter for the importance of focusing our attention not only to this specific situation, but to also train our attention to the structural and systemic factors that made situations like this possible, and render the HAU scandal in some ways largely unexceptional as a matter of course in the discipline. I submit that situations like the HAU Journal scandal reinforce the fact that Anthropology continues to be a colonial and exclusionary discipline, and that in order to reckon with its structural violences we need — in a nod to the work of Dr. Rinaldo Walcott (2016) in his text ‘Queer Returns‘ — a decolonial (re)turn in anthropologyI am inspired here by Walcott (2016: 1), who notes, in engaging with his previous thinking and writing, the value in a “return to scenes of previous engagements in ways that demonstrate growth, change, and doubt”.

In imagining a Decolonial Turn 2.0 or Decolonial (re)turn for Anthropology, I envision an engagement that that forces us to return to the ‘scenes of apprehension’ (Simpson 2014) through which Anthropology imagines, reproduces, and promulgates itself as largely, still, a white, male, and colonial discipline. Working through Walcott and Simpson’s significant contributions to the fields of decolonization, I imagine, here, what it means to visit these moments and entanglements of anthropological knowledge production, and illustrate what has been at stake for me in my own experiences in the discipline. I delve into moments and case studies here that have, largely, inspired many of my writings about decolonizing anthropology, but which I have, until now, shied away from exploring more explicitly for fear of backlash and retribution.*

In this piece I engage my experiences as a white-coded Indigenous scholar from Canada studying and working in the discipline both in the UK and Canada, but I remain conscious of the fact that my experiences as a white-coded Indigenous woman differ from the experiences of harassment, bullying, and silencing that Black and Indigenous colleagues have shared with me over the years. I will therefore not speak for other marginalized communities within the discipline, however I seek to underscore my concerns regarding how Black and Indigenous scholars are not well represented in the elite spaces of the discipline, including in the leadership and running of journals like HAU. This lack of representation stems, I believe, from ongoing structural racism, sexism, and elitism in euro-american anthropological spaces — what Brodkin et al. (2011) describe as anthropology as “white public space”. And, further, I want to point out that though the elite scholars (from the top departments in the US, UK, and Europe) who perpetuate some of the worst behaviour in the discipline speak as if they are THE voice of anthropology, there are many of us toiling away from the anthropological metropole who are accountable to much broader and more politically engaged communities who refuse the behaviours that have been so breathtakingly highlighted this week.

Part I

The Trouble with Anthropological Theory

It is therefore here at this structural and systemic level that I seek to intervene. As I pursued my PhD in anthropology in the UK circa 2010, my cohort and I heard again and again about the storied ‘decolonial turn’ through which Anthropology ‘reckoned’ with its past as the handmaiden of colonialism. We read key texts affiliated with this turn — Asad, Clifford, Marcus, Rabinow, Rosaldo (but notably, we were not assigned texts by Harrison, Deloria, Fanon, Hurston, Cesaire, Du Bois, Lorde, Wynter, or Said or many others).

As an Indigenous scholar familiar with deeply critical work of Indigenous and Black scholars who continue to take Anthropology and its cognate disciplines to task for their exploitation and appropriation of oppressed peoples’ knowledge and experiences, I had my private doubts. I mean. Why were so few of my colleagues going into Anthropology if it had indeed truly ‘decolonized’ in the 70s, 80s, 90s? What had I gotten myself into? (When I announced I was leaving Canada to pursue a doctorate in anthropology, Indigenous colleagues openly questioned my decision to pursue a PhD in Anthropology over Indigenous Studies, and with good reason. But I had a full scholarship to study abroad, and it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime. So off I went, packing up my life and moving across an ocean to study the intimate secrets of a much maligned discipline. It was like Hogwarts, but for a nerdy Métis kid from the Canadian Prairies).

I was, admittedly and embarrassingly, momentarily dazzled by the lure and glitz of anthropology and empire. The old buildings. The reassuring certainty of my interlocutors. Maybe I and others had unfairly judged the discipline and the British empire. Maybe it really had changed.

People change, right?

Like a mouse caught in the stare of a snake, I was mesmerized.*

Anthropology, I was told again and again by British and European and other non-Indigenous interlocutors, was not the bad old discipline of yore because it had really spent introspective time wrangling with its paradoxes and violences. (Alternate discourse that frequently circulated: it wasn’t really that bad before, either, because those old anthropologists were simply products of their time!) I could almost feel a great white patriarchal arm reaching out to me from the depths of the discipline’s lair: ‘there, there poppet. We’re not the monster all your Indigenous colleagues claim us to be! We’ve published books on our past harms! We’ve held colloquia on our colonial past! We’re absolutely one hundred percent not the bad guys!’

A vignette: ‘post’-colonial anthropology (location — any anthropology    department in the Euro-American pantheon):

an Indigenous woman makes an innocuous critique of some still-colonial turn in the discipline. 

A white male hand reaches up and waves dismissively and his lips curl around the following words:

“But we already dealt with that twenty years ago!”

/fin

As an Indigenous scholar, and eager young doctoral student, I took this decolonial turn on faith. If my mentors and teachers and peers said the discipline had really reckoned with itself, then surely that must be true. But, as I continued my studies in the discipline, I began to have doubts. Things were not what they seemed. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

There was the moment, in my first month of studies, that a Brazilian peer accused me of ‘going native’ when I presented on my urban Indigenous activism work in my hometown. (“But…I am? and….wow, I didn’t know people still use that phrase?” I thought to myself). There was the relative lack of engagement with Black and Indigenous scholars in our coursework and in the work presented in colloquia, symposia, and at conferences. But this was pervasive throughout my undergraduate and Master’s studies as well, so I wasn’t that surprised.

In that first year of study, I performed my complicity perfectly. I let micro-aggressions slide. I tried desperately to fit in with anthropologists working in the UK. I felt hot shame for not having read the entire works of Heidegger, Hegel, Deleuze and Guattari. I was ashamed my work was so applied and practical. Why hadn’t I heard of posthumanism? And what was all this ontology nonsense on about? (My previous work was a quantitative and qualitative study of food security concerns in the Canadian arctic, work that helped the community to advocate for policy changes regarding local food security concerns. I quickly realized how passé this was to self-styled elite euro-american anthropological and ethnographic theorists in the UK. My peers were doing capital ‘T’ Theory! How could I keep up?). I tried to ignore the ways people spoke about Indigeneity (in turns derisively or romantically), about colonialism (in the past tense), about the grand virtues of anthropology (that it was the one discipline to rule them all). I tried to wrangle with the heavy emphasis on ‘theory’ versus lived and embodied experiences or political struggles. I didn’t realize it then, but what I was doing was swallowing my anger. Burying it deeper and deeper. Because on the surface, I was told again and again that the discipline was the true friend of Indigenous people. That Anthropology was decolonial. That this was a space that values the lives and livelihoods of Black and Indigenous people, but only interpreted through European philosophers and a white lens.

It was once I returned from fieldwork that I really could piece together the problems that I had only elusively wrangled with in the first years of my studies. Coming back to Canada and working in the context of a community asserting its Indigenous legal traditions, and engaging directly with the violent and visceral legacies of British and Canadian colonial policies and histories, disabused me of any momentary lapse in my judgement about anthropology or euro-american academe more broadly.

The clincher for me was when I presented my preliminary work to some anthropologists after returning to the UK from my fieldwork stint. When I discussed fishing activities in the community I worked in, and the fact that elders I worked with remembered their community members catching upwards of 500 tom cod at one specific site in the region in the 1930s, someone in the audience blurted out: ‘but Inuit don’t count animals!’.*** Another audience member asked me if Inuit I worked with had a concept for individual fish or just general ‘fishiness’.

As I tried to respond to the questions flying at me fast and furiously, a scholar interjected and mansplained an anthropological interpretation of Inuit cosmology for me. Bear in mind there were no Inuit in the room. These scholars were white people speaking authoritatively about Indigenous people without Indigenous people present to counter these claims or interpretations of their community’s life. The conversation in the room that followed my presentation was so disconnected from the day to day experiences my interlocutors had shared with me over my time working in the community — issues of self-determination, asserting Indigenous legal traditions, protecting watersheds and wildlife, housing and food security, fighting for community autonomy against myriad complex issues like climate change, resource extraction, and ongoing Canadian colonialism. Apparently these issues were too ‘applied’ and not ‘theoretical’ and therefore not sexy enough for British anthropology. I tried to imagine what this conversation would look like back home, in an Indigenous Studies department with Inuit, First Nations, and Métis community members present. I knew for a fact that in such a context, the political struggles of the community being engaged would be AS important as any theoretical discussion about cosmology and ontology. Facing my present predicament, I felt sick.

I remembered a truism I’d heard not too long before:

“Anthropology is a room full of white people sitting around talking about people of colour.”

It hit the mark.

Part II

Deconstructing

There is, in some quarters, a pervasive belief that the decolonial turn is a distant event — that decolonization is ‘passé’, and that the real meaty and meaningful work of anthropology lies in re-interpreting and exalting the pale, male, stale works of British, French, and American scholars. There also seems to be a pervasive view in ‘dominant’ anthropology that theory, over politics and praxis, should be our ultimate and most celebrated goal. There is also a castle/fort attitude that eyes interdisciplinary work, and the work of anyone outside of OxBridge, UChicago, the Ivies, Stanford, Berkeley, etc… as ‘not true anthropology’. This fuels a turn towards insular and elitist configurations of what anthropology is — configurations that require a certain pedigree to access (ie: white male upper/middle class pedigrees, predominantly). This also fuels a framing of anthropology as a space that is cut-throat, star-obsessed, and hungry for prestige, power, and the illusion of ‘genius’.

The trouble is that such an insular and conservative configuration cannot hold. Anthropologists must engage the ways that anthropology has spoken for and about the people it studies for a very long time, and in so doing, had material and sometimes devastating impacts on these communities/nations/societies’ self-determination and legal-governance standing (Simpson 2014). And it is not anthropologists alone who get to decide what the discipline can or should look like, who it values as theorists, what works it celebrates, or whether we should accept abusive behaviour as a sign of ‘genius’ when the discipline is indebted to the knowledge and material culture of myriad people it has studied for generations.

Audra Simpson (2014: 95) states that “to speak of Indigeneity is to speak of colonialism and anthropology, as these are the means through which Indigenous people have been known and sometimes are still known (Pagden 1982).” With this point in mind, when teaching an introductory Cultural Anthropology course in my first year as a prof in 2016, I wrangled with how to discuss the colonial history and the decolonial turn. I looked to the course textbook from a top university publisher I selected for the term to see what it had to offer — in its one pager on decolonization, it referenced the work of Talal Asad, and explored the notion of whether anthropology was “applied colonialism”. The authors of the textbook then followed up with the following points (taken here from my course slides, based on the slides provided by the publisher), concluding that anthropology was not in fact applied colonialism (aka the handmaiden of colonialism) because: “Anthropological findings were too specialized; administrative concerns and interests of anthropologists were not the same” (translation: we weren’t the really really bad guys because we didn’t have the power of other Imperial actors). Oh Brother, I thought, this is all my students are going to take away from the decolonial turn. 

Simpson argues that anthropology is very intimately tied to the subjugation and oppression of those people it studied:

“In different moments, anthropology has imagined itself to be a voice, and in some disciplinary iterations, the voice of the colonized (Said 1989; Paine 1990). This modern interlocutionary role had a serious material and ideational context; it accorded the imperatives of Empire and in this, specific technologies of rule that sought to obtain space and resources, to define and know the difference that it constructed in those spaces, and to then govern those within (Asad 1979; Said [1978] 1994, 1989). Knowing and representing people within those places required more than military might; it required the methods and modalities of knowing — in particular, categorization, ethnological comparison, linguistic translation, and ethnography.” (Simpson 2014: 95) (emphasis mine)

Looking back on my engagements with anthropology while living in the UK, I am struck by how often the experience truly was one of sitting in a room full of predominantly white people speaking about and for people of colour. This reinforces Simpson’s (2014: 95) argument that “in different moments, anthropology has imagined itself to be a voice, and in some disciplinary iterations, the voice of the colonized”. As long as the rooms remain predominantly white, privileged and disconnected from the material political struggles of the people whose cosmologies and experiences are being talked about, anthropology will remain a hostile and exclusive space. And the discipline cannot claim itself to be ‘decolonized’ when it positions itself as speaking for, about, and above those it seeks to represent. If anything, it underscores the problematic of Anthropology treating Indigenous peoples as objects of study while vehemently refusing to engage with Indigenous peoples as subjects with theoretical, philosophical, and agential power of our own.

A second vignette: ‘post’-colonial anthropology — an email thread in any euro-american anthropology department 

An Indigenous woman raises concerns about lack of representation of Black and Indigenous people in the discipline, and suggests expanding our definition of what anthropological training looks like in hiring considerations, to account for the fact that Anthropology currently operates as ‘white public space’ (Brodkin et al. 2011)

All hell breaks loose. 

(but the decolonial turn already dealt with all that stuff, right?)

Part III

Beyond Colonial framings of Theory

A few years ago, I attended a talk by Indigenous scholar Dr Kimberley TallBear, where she opened by acknowledging that the first theorist she learned from is her mom. In this statement, she refutes the power afforded solely to white male thinkers in disciplines such as Anthropology, firmly identifying Indigenous peoples as theorists in their own right. This was a watershed moment for me. I realized that one of the things holding me back in anthropology was the belief that I had to interpret Indigenous thought through a euro-colonial philosophical lens in order to be taken seriously. It is through her work that I re-imagined my research as work that centres Indigenous interlocutors as theorists, decentring the euro-american anthropologists and philosophers traditionally employed in interpreting Indigenous cosmologies, philosophies, and ontologies for Anthropological consumption. In ‘doing theory’ in such a way that Indigenous thinkers are centred as true interlocutors and theorists, we disrupt the privileging of euro-colonial thinking over Indigenous praxis.

TallBear’s work deeply engages the rich and nuanced possibilities open to us when we take non-western philosophies and ethics seriously. In a similar vein, philosopher Achille Mbembe argues, in a nod to Fanon, that in order to decolonize the university we must provincialize european thought. He proposes that one way to accomplish this is through embracing the notion of the pluriversity in place of the all-consuming university. Mbembe (2015: 19) states:

“A pluriversity is not merely the extension throughout the world of a Eurocentric model presumed to be universal and now being reproduced almost everywhere thanks to commercial internationalism. By pluriversity, many understand a process of knowledge production that is open to epistemic diversity. It is a process that does not necessarily abandon the notion of universal knowledge for humanity, but which embraces it via a horizontal strategy of openness to dialogue among different epistemic traditions. To decolonize the university is therefore to reform it with the aim of creating a less provincial and more open critical cosmopolitan pluriversalism – a task that involves the radical re-founding of our ways of thinking and a transcendence of our disciplinary divisions. The problem of course is whether the university is reformable or whether it is too late.”

It is clear to me that anthropology of the 21st century must be reciprocal, open (Pandian 2018), and engage in ‘epistemic diversity’ (Mbembe 2015). It must open itself up to engagement beyond the narrow canon it jealously guards, Smaug-like, from universities built on white supremacy (and quite literally, through slavery) and enriched by wealth and knowledge pilfered through Imperialism. Anthropology of the 21st century can and must be something altogether different if it wishes to survive.

Vignette the Third: ‘post’-colonial anthropology

An Indigenous woman raises concerns about a proposed research project — citing serious issues around the proposed configuration of the space at the edge of cities as ’empty space’ and in need of ‘reactivation’. She cites the case of the edge of prairie cities in Canada as spaces where police abandoned Indigenous youth Neil Stonechild in the winter in 1990, resulting in his death. Or the fact that the edge of her hometown is where numerous Indigenous women’s bodies have been discovered — owing to an ongoing serial killer operating in the region and a nation-wide crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). This is not empty space, she says. This is space occupied by ancestors, nonhumans, and deeply entangled with complex colonial (il)logics. To claim it as empty and in need of ‘activation’ by scholars is violent.

Non-Indigenous scholars seated around the intimate table listen, seemingly uncomfortable at the intervention. Finally, a senior male scholar lifts his head, wearily, and waves his hands dismissively in the direction of the Indigenous woman. 

“Let’s not worry about this philosophy” he says, in reference to her impassioned description of prairie Indigenous life, as the conversation returns to Deleuze. 

Part IV

Ragnarök 

To bring it all back to this week’s events: there is a story that when Māori filmmaker Taika Waititi pitched his vision of Thor: Ragnarok to Marvel executives, he used Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ as part of his pitch, which helped him to secure the job.

I present here a soundtrack for you to play as we wrangle with how to deal with the current struggles of the discipline so viscerally highlighted by the HAU Journal scandal. Anthropologists have been very comfortable appropriating Indigenous principles and legal-ethical frameworks and concepts as their own with little regard for the peoples these are taken from (see Dr. Jenny Davis’ salient point here):

I therefore think it is fair game for Indigenous scholars to playfully appropriate some Euro (Norse) mythology for our own re-imaginings of Anthropology in the 21st century. Which brings me to Ragnarök.

Ragnarök is, according to Wikipedia:

“series of future events, including a great battle, foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures (including the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr, and Loki), the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors.”

As I watched events unfold online this week, I was buoyed by how people were speaking UP. After years of witnessing and experiencing grievously unprofessional and racist/sexist/elitist behaviour from so-called ‘leading’ anthropologists, my little heart soared. People are ANGRY! People are demanding CHANGE! This makes me imagine what our own version of Ragnarök might look like — the death of epistemic jealousy, the reckoning of racism, misogyny, classism, exploitation in our departments, classrooms, conference halls, and yes, journals. And the refounding of a configuration of thinking and engagement that centres reciprocity, generosity, fair compensation, and accountability at its core.

This Decolonial Turn 2.0 or the Decolonial (re)turn (to nod to Dr. Rinaldo Walcott’s work) is forcing anthropology, writ large, to engage with some of the underlying structural injustices that keep it from truly decolonizing. To return to the issues we thought had been addressed, to make an honest assessment of what behaviours, logics, and ethics currently drive the discipline. I am buoyed by the proposition Walcott (2016: 1) makes of returning to engage things we have previously explored with an ethos of “growth, change, and doubt”. Decolonization of anthropology is not a done deal, not a fact, nor a data point. It is a process, one that must be engaged and re-engaged for as long as it takes to build something that reflects the ethics of the worlds we want to build, tend to, breathe life into.

I find hope in the the possibility of founding a new formulation around a ‘horizontal strategy of openness to dialogue among different epistemic traditions’ (Mbembe 2015: 19). I find further inspiration in what Dr.Anand Pandian writes in his article on Open Access here:

“the promise of an open and accessible anthropology lies in further circulating objects of knowledge, but also in propagating more radical techniques of knowing otherwise. At stake with such accessibility is a cultivation of mind open to affecting and being affected, open to all the vicissitudes and uncertainties of that interplay. What we need, in other words, is access to the transformative force of meaningful relationships with others unlike ourselves.”

And in so doing, we must also engage serious questions about how we treat one another and what worlds we want to build together. No longer will we allow for abuse, exploitation, racism, and sexism to parade as markers of ‘rigorous’ anthropology.

Instead, we are tasked with making anthropology what it needs to be. Or, maybe, abandoning it all together. And starting something else anew.

[Edit: June 16 — thanks to Dick Powis for the heads up that Métis in Space just released its Thor: Ragnarok episode. Tune in for a prairie Indigenous interpretation of Taika Waititi’s interpretation of Marvel’s telling of Ragnarök http://www.metisinspace.com/episodes/2018/6/10/mtis-in-space-s4-ep8-thor-ragnarok]

End Notes

*Although I only share my own experiences here, I do so because it is unsafe for many other Indigenous scholars to publicly name and describe their experiences for fear of retribution and punishment. As I write, I am conscious of the myriad enraging and unjust stories that precarious and vulnerable Indigenous students have shared with me over the years regarding bullying and harassment they have experienced as they study anthropology. I share my experiences in hopes that it illustrates what many Indigenous students and professors deal with in the day to day operations of euro-american anthropology. In many ways, my experiences are therefore deeply unexceptional.

**(Actually, that’s a myth. Snakes don’t hypnotize prey. But cuttlefish do. So, let’s say I was mesmerized like a small fish staring at the optic display of a cuttlefish).

***A year later, after the screening of a remastered archival film from the Eastern Canadian Arctic at an arctic studies conference, an Inuk elder pointed out, in response to a similar question: ‘of course we count animals! How do you think we made sure the Hudson’s Bay Company clerks didn’t rip us off when we traded fox fur pelts!’

I wished I’d been able to quote her the year before.

Works Cited

Brodkin, Karen, Morgen, Sandra and Janis Hutchinson. (2011). ‘Anthropology as White Public Space?’, American Anthropologist 113(4): 545–556

Mbembe, Achille. 2015. “Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive.” Lecture. May 2, 2015 at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research. Retrieved October 05, 2016. (http://wiser.wits.ac.za/system/files/Achille%20Mbembe%20-%20Decolonizing%20Knowledge%20and%20the%20Question%20of%20the%20Archive.pdf).

Pandian, Anand. “Open Access, Open Minds.”Dispatches, Cultural Anthropology website, June 15, 2018. https://culanth.org/fieldsights/1455-open-access-open-minds

Simpson, Audra. 2014. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Durham: Duke University Press.

Walcott, Rinaldo. 2016. Queer Returns: Essays on Multiculturalism, Diaspora, and Black Studies. London: Insomniac Press.

Zoe Todd (Métis/otipemisiw) is from amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton), Alberta, Canada. She writes about fish, art, Métis legal traditions, the Anthropocene, extinction, and decolonization in urban and prairie contexts. She also studies human-animal relations, colonialism and environmental change in north/western Canada. She holds a BSc (Biological Sciences) and MSc (Rural Sociology) from the University of Alberta and a PhD (Social Anthropology) from Aberdeen University. She is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She was a 2011 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar.

20 Replies to “The Decolonial Turn 2.0: the reckoning”

  1. Although I am only a first year anthropology student, I am 38 years old. I live in South Africa – which is going through a real tough time as far as racism, politics and (in many respects) de colonialisation. My first semester included a module which gave me a basis of anthropology (in which it was recommended that I follow blogs such as yours). I am so grateful that we were told to go out and find out about as much as possible regarding all sorts of anthropological views. This has really helped me to do my own research (though not fieldwork) regarding what is presented in theory and what actually happens. Thank you for this article – it has only inspired me to become more involved in what anthropology really stands for (the study of all humans in all places, all the time – non biased, non judgemental compassionate REAL studies) and to implement the changes that are needed (in my mind for the correct application and in the world to help others gain perspective, to understand, to help…). I want to learn to do it right from the start. Your post has given me real perspective.

  2. When I was doing a gaming communities research somewhere around 1998, we used to have this map circulating around “A world view by Americans”: http://czechmatediary.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/world-map.gif

    20 years later and I do not thing much have changed there. What you describe as a colonial flavor of anthropology, I think is a bigger reflection of that worldview map, we have the UK-US middle/upper class world and we have “exotic” the rest. “The rest” think “wrong” and have to be “civilized”, at least to a certain extend. More so, anthropology becomes some kind of confirmation tool there, the means to identify that the other cultures are still savage – indigenous people cannot count, eastern europeans are violent and homophobic, asians … well you get the point there. It is also not only geographical… it is the same when we address the groups withing the modern white society. If I go to the gamers, I am expected to find the forms of “savagery”: “game addiction”, “asocial behavior”. “violent tendencies”, etc. – and god forbid I claim it is actually a better environment than the real life. If I go to the metal underground, I am expected to find “savage” counter-culture, racism, white supremacy, a bit of blood and gore, unacceptable sexuality, shocking religious practices and music which nobody truly likes, but stick to it anyway – and god forbid I claim those people do not rebel, but are born that way and actually are quite talented and nice. If I go to the Eastern Europeans, I am expected to find racism, nationalism, homophobia, sexism and god forbid I try to tell that it does make a lot of sense to them, based on their experiences of oppression by the Others, which UK/US have never experienced first hand.

    I always loved the ethnographic method and anthropology, because the idea is right, we should try and actually listen what people are telling us, instead of jumping to conclusions based on our side of the theory of mind (both super conservative right and super liberal left). The need to coat it in the “higher” theory always infuriated me, because it often ends up with inaccuracies and the real group experience is lost. It often has little to do with what you saw, just an empty pretense of being “a real science”, especially when certain ideas become “a canon”, and you either agree or you are “stupid”, “uneducated enough”… and the “savage” community you study of course has it all wrong, because there is the only one way to think right – the one established by the authorities, and it matters little on which side of political spectrum the authority resides, power corrupts all in the end, I guess, black and white alike. 🙂

  3. European post graduate here. Thank you for this important post. I agree wholeheartedly with your call for more inclusive and critical research. At the same time, I’d like to voice a small concern. I don’t want you or anyone else to think for a second that I would seek to invalidate your (or anyone else’s) experiences as an Indigenous scholar. Based on my own previous experiences in a prestigious UK academic environment, I know your struggle is very much real and your anger justified.

    However, what troubles me is the tendency of scholars at Anglo-American institutions to speak of a singular ‘Anthropology’ with a capital A. You are effectively eliminating the rest of the world, Africa, Asia, and Europe (European anthropology is not just OxBridge as you very well know), from the debate.

    As we are, unfortunately yet again (academia everywhere should have really worked on it – but as you rightly point out, that is not the case), on the topic of inclusion/exclusion, voice/silence and so forth, if we want to really break the Anglo-American hegemony, we need to give up the thought of reforming ‘The Anthropology’ and look for multiple anthropologies around the world. We’ve got alliances waiting to be forged.

  4. Re: anthropologies
    Actually, in the last two years I have been going through one episode from back in the days when I was doing a proper anthropology research. I had a really nice and polite Jewish woman as an informant back then and one day, when I came to visit her, I found her truly infuriated. Turns out, she had a conflict with someone from the numerous “fight-antisemitism” activism organizations, who was not aware she was Jewish and a survivor of a holocaust… and that person called her all sorts of nasty stuff, claiming she was an antisemitic white supremacist, etc, which had nothing to do with her views ofc, and was very hurtful to her, you can imagine why. And there, at the end of the venting, she said a phrase that stuck with me since: “Oh the hell with them all, all those organizations are the reason why antisemitism never dies, they just parade it around and beat it like a dead horse, so later they can shout “you saw, it twitched!” and make a living from fighting it!”.

    She passed away long ago, but that phrase stuck in my mind. I find it true in many contexts right now, when we speak about white vs the rest. I think there is a correlation between labeling everyone pale – “a white supremacist”, and the rise of the sympathies to the right side. That’s the trouble of the generic stereotype statements… A lot of us are outside the magic elite circle and frequently find ourselves in the same position of being irrelevant, even though we are pure white in many cases… but somehow we still are the part of great white power circuit? Because? We are the wrong colored bastards and should stay with the white guys? 🙂

    And if… lets say we eliminate the pure white completely, the white as we know it, the great evil. Will it stop there, or would it be just a matter of time before those left standing get at each others troat trying to determine which now is the next white? I think here about the post about the heritage and DNR pureness… how much % is that cut, to be taken seriously as an Indigenous scholar? If lets say someone is 1/4 Indigenous, does that count, or is it fair target for the similar “you are white, therefore you are white supremacist” comments, just like that Jewish woman found herself being antisemitic? Something worth to think about imho.

  5. Zoe, as others have already said your post is a powerful and moving piece of writing. In the comments posted so far we have seen people who feel energized by it. Could we talk a bit more about the other two words in Paul Wellstone’s mantra, “Energize, mobilize, organize.” The mantra describes the stages in effective political action. How do you see the movement energized by your writing developing further?

    As I read the Wikipedia description of Ragnarok that accompanies the Thor: Ragnarok clip, I cannot help noticing that when the new earth rises from the waters and two human survivors begin to repopulate it, the gods are still there. There are new ones and old ones, but the gods are still there.

    My memory flashes back to 1968. I was a graduate student in the Anthropology Dept at Cornell. The Black Panthers made the cover of TIME magazine by occupying the Student Union. I joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and participated in anti-Vietnam War actions led by the Berrigan Brothers. I was there in the Student Union when Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for another term as President, and the room went wild. Bringing down the system seemed within reach. Those of us in China studies were reading works praising Mao Tse-Tung’s goal of creating a new socialist man (yes, alas, it was still a man).

    What happened next? Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher. The ending of the draft which had posed an existential threat to which war resisters responded gutted the movement. During the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, Mao turned out to be a murderous autocrat, more like Qing Shi-Huang Di (the first emperor of China) than a Gandhi, King, or Mandela.

    It is thoughts like these that suggest to me that, while listening to Kimberle Crenshaw is a good thing to do, it is not a serious answer to Aurelija’s serious question.

  6. Great article and some very thoughtful criticisms of (unfortunately) the continuing prevelance of the “expert/explanation” paradigm in anthropology (and the sciences more generally). I’m very bouyed by your politics and had a few fist pump fuck yeah moments reading this.

    In defence of theory though a number of the ideas you mentioned (especially the Pluriversity – thank you for introducing me to this) have very close parallels in European Anthropology/philosophy which you may have overlooked and dismissed under the rubric of “high theory”. Latour’s concept of “symmetrical anthropology” would seem to resonate quite well with Mbembe and as another commented pointed out above, that could be an opportunity for an “alliance” of sorts – one that does indeed provincialise European thought, whilst still including European thought in the process. Which leads on to a more general point of critique regarding a lot of de/post-colonial scholarship which is that it tends to try to completely unmake/deconstruct/dismiss/replace European thought, rather than simply undermining its claims to universality which would seem to me to be the root of its structural violence. I don’t think you went so far as to do that in this piece, but there was a hint of heading in that direction.

    I know you used the hyperbolic passage above regarding Heidegger/Deleuze/ontology etc for rhetorical affect, but the political implications of what scholars like Viveiros De Castro have proposed as “ontological self-determination” seems to take the spirit of your argument here in a very serious, exciting and – I hope, but this is yet to be seen – liberating direction.

    Again to echo the comments of another above, we should be open to the possibilities of radicalism that are already there and build the alliances that currently exist as possibilities – many of these lie in the exciting theoretical possibilities that Anthropology can offer as well. To grossly paraphrase Patrice Maniglier, in order to take other modes of thought seriously (much as you propose here, and Dr TallBear does as well) Anthropology must become a science of comparison and transformation which constantly engages the possibility of such radically different modes of thought in which “science” would no longer even be possible.

    There is so much possibility in the shift you have outlined above, and it is exciting to think about the political and social force that a huge shift in Anthropological thinking may be a part of.

  7. Thank you for this amazing post! Just wonderful, you’ve so clearly articulated so many important things . I’ll be assigning it to my students next year and sharing it with friends and colleagues.

  8. “That white men named an anth journal in the UK after an Indigenous concept with zero actual consultation or consideration for the communities it comes from” – I wonder, with which community they were to consult? Which indigenous community have true right and ultimate knowledge of this concept?

  9. Re maori: I would vote for asking these kids: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lx_xGv70Yyo 😉

    I mean, imagine…. all the serious academia people needing to negotiate the mother language copyright issues… with a bunch of teenager kids from a subculture… it is satisfyingly entertaining at the very least. 🙂

    Here is actually an interview with them, which explains why they use maori heritage, without any anthropological society permission I would suspect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMz2iRMQeBE&t=165s 🙂

  10. Aurelija Drevel, I’m reluctant to respond to your comment and fan the ridiculous flames you seem to be spreading, but I can’t simply let it stand given that I read it as deeply racist. You seem to be mobilizing a retrograde idea of culture as essential, bounded, and mapped to geographical areas and/or ethic, racial, or religious categories (the kind of thing Vine Deloria Jr. called a conceptual prison that incarcerates indigenous people and other’s made into objects of anthropological knowledge). And you seem to be saying that there is such a thing as a ‘pure white’ culture that existed in Europe and was contaminated by the ‘honor society’ of non-white people (to whom you seem also to deny coevalness, in the classic anthropological fashion described by Joannes Fabian) leading to forms of violence like the shooting of young children at Sandy Hook (which you allude to). Sure, class may not be front and center in the intersctionality analytic (no surprise, since it was a concept Krenshaw first anchored in her legal argument about a suit by black women workers), but it can be (and usually is) part of the analysis.

    And as you try to flatten out the differences between anti-racist work and white supremacy by claiming that they are formally similar and are nothing but two sides of the same coin, you are entirely ignoring the (present) history of anti-black racism in the US and elsewhere, a (present) history built not just on inequality in some abstract sense, but on the enslavement, rape, murder, dismemberment, and disenfranchisement of black people by white people in specific ways for specific ends. To point out the ways all that matters today, including in the ways that ordinary discourse and routinized practices of representation contribute to the ongoing forms of structural violence rooted in that specific history, is not ‘pure color coding’. It’s an acknowledgement of the specificity of this history and its legacies.

  11. @ zoetodd

    Thanks for the paper. I have to think it through, but certainly struggle for different coursework and inclusion of local perspectives is a worthy goal.

    Sorry for small white-hijacking of discussion, but @Aurelija Drevel is using false claims to counter your argument.

    “Do they know about trumpism? Of course, it is pretty hard not to, but it does not seem to be appealing to the white men there. ”

    Except for Orban in Hungary, Kaczyński in Poland, Fico in Slovakia, rise of AfD in Germany and Geert Wilders in Netherlands. All of them came to power around Trump (Wilders and Kaczyński were before, but they got new push around Trump). All of them adopted anti-imigrant, nationalistic, anti-civic rights rhetoric.

    <Poland is a great case, because it provided facilities for CIA black-sites for torturing prisoners, so I’d love to hear more about lack of American appeal to our governments>

    Exhibit A:
    http://niezalezna.pl/imgcache/750×430/c/uploads/news/dtpad.png
    President of Poland during Trump visit. Nationalistic fest for right-wing in Poland. January 2018. Photo from right-wing nut-press.

    ” Yes ofc, but it largely is connected to the alcohol abuse problem, also the certain cultural aspects coming from the communist past (aka no human rights movement almost at all). ”

    Except for abortion ban in Poland, anti-feminism in Hungary and in Slovakia.

    Before you speak something about human right movement in EE, please learn about Orange Alternative, First Solidarity. Havel or Walesa, regardless of their individual differences, relied exactly on ideals of human rights movement. E.g. if you take Moc bezmocných only as anti-communist, you are reading it in a very shallow way.

    “Do we have metoo there? No, it never gained popularity there, neither white men, nor the white women in a control group were interested in it.”

    For Poland: Well, before metoo, anchor of daily news (Durczok) went down for harassment in Poland. During metoo, editor of national desk (Wybieralski) in major newspaper (Wyborcza) was also accussed and removed from office. Currently at least one right-wing delegate has a court case for domestic violence. Major newspapers (Wyborcza) wrote about metoo several times.

    Exhibit B:

    Maja Staśko writing on metoo after one year
    http://codziennikfeministyczny.pl/metoo-wygodniej-uwierzyc-sprawcy-ale-wlasnie-dlatego-trzeba-wierzyc-skrzywdzonym/

    “So when, in anthropology, in all seriousness, we say that certain problems are the “white race” problems, we completely ignore the tendencies in roughly a half of the white population world wide. When you do not have the same behavior in a control group, it is normal to ask ok, to what our research group was exposed to, which could have made the difference from control?”

    Even intro readings to minority / post-colo studies should guide you to matrix of domination / intersectionality issues. In USA race is entangled with toxic masculinity. In Poland, toxic masculinity is also connected with catholic church and antisemitism, but at the same time right wing propaganda is being translated 1:1. So we have racial hatred without significant racial minorities, while sharing similar exclusionary practices against people from Ukraine.

    To sum up:
    As a white male from Poland I do not know much about indigenous approaches and related issues (Polish anthropology was a part of Russian / Soviet colonial project, so it is the issue for another day, because Polish anthropologists in Siberia or Kazach tribes were both colonizers and colonized).

    But as long as people like Aurelija still make claims about “Europe” without checking the facts, provincialization of Western European classics is a necessary condition. We may not have Inuits in Poland, but we still get a fair share of overconfident anthropologists.

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