Post-riot developments in Haringey

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today I saw an initiative launched on the “Post-riot clean up” Facebook page, titled “A public meeting in response to the riots” (https://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=160403017370099):

Following the shocking events of last week, a number of people in our community feel that it is time for the people of east and west Haringey to get together and look for ways in which we can give the young people of our borough hope for the future. Be that by mentoring, offering work experience or re-opening the youth clubs.Myself, Jim Shepley, programme director of Hornsey YMCA, and Azul Thome from FOOD from the SKY would like to call a public meeting on Tuesday August 23 at 6.30pm at Harringay Club, 50 Tottenham Lane, Crouch End, N8 7EE, to discuss ideas and get our heads together or indeed link up with other local groups and initiatives who would like to meet.

I looked through some of the comments and wrote one of my own:

I would like to echo the point made by Emma Jones, who suggested that people from west Haringey “spend some real time over in the east and get to know people in their own communities – that is the only way the divide can begin to end, and also the only way the people in the east will begin to take you seriously”. I would add that in the east there have already been a number of meetings with the same aims as this one, organised by a variety of organisations and campaign groups, and a number of new initiatives are being launched, including a Tottenham Defence Campaign (google it). For more info you can send me a message. Unfortunately I probably won’t be able to make it to tomorrow’s meeting, but I wish you all the best.

Here are some of the meetings/events I am aware of:

  • On Saturday 13 August there was a march from Dalston to Tottenham, called by the North London Unity Assembly, under the slogan “Give our kids a future”.
  • On Monday 15 August there was a meeting in North London Community House, called by the Right to Work campaign, under the title “Defend our young people, give them a future” with a number of speeches on the riots and reactions to the riots and then comments and questions from the audience.
  • On Wednesday 17 August there was another meeting in North London Community House, called by Tottenham Concerned Residents and Supporters, under the title “After the Riots: What next for Youths and Tottenham?”

For me, it is interesting that Jim Shepley calls for a Haringey public meeting in response to the riots without acknowledging the efforts already being made in this direction within the borough, quite possibly because he is not aware of those efforts. While welcoming Jim’s aims, I would like to be a bit provocative in suggesting that his apparent lack of awareness/acknowledgment does raise interesting questions about how the riots are highlighting social divisions within British society in general and the London borough of Haringey in particular. A somewhat academic take on these questions can be found in the following blogpost http://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/riotcleanup-or-riotwhitewash/ – I do not agree with everything that is written here, but I do find this a useful piece of writing to think with, particularly if we are to respond to the riots in a reflective and self-critical way that takes into account how our own positions within British society implicate us in what has taken place.

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Irritating Guardian article on apolitical music

August 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

In other news on the weekend, a cringeworthy Guardian music article pronounced:

This, though, is apparently what rebellion sounds like in 2011: dead-eyed, mob-like and opportunistic. There’s certainly no one else currently trying to articulate anything more meaningful in pop culture. Time was when rock stars, and not just the Clash, used to have lots to say about lots of very big, important things. Or so I’m told. The truth is that in my eight years as a music journalist, I’ve never found one.

Ah yesh, it wash better in the old days. Not worth wasting time on journalism like this, except that in the comments  on the article (and in the comments on Billy Bragg’s reposting of the article on Facebook) some people have mentioned groups who might be worth checking out during some future moment when I have time to do so (apologies for repetition due to careless cutting-and-pasting):

Patricide and all the bands that play at Antagony are a blazingly political scene in London

GUERILLA ART movements come into play, highly politicized groups like Artressa Phunding,

What about ‘Freedom For Palestine’
or ‘Tunisia’?

Rise Against, Anti-Flag, King Blues, Against Me!

The Skints
The King Blues
Enter Shikari
Sonic Boom Six
Resolution 242
Random Hand
Lowkey
Logic
Akala
Mic Righteous
Jimmy Jitsu
Nate
Cyclonious
The JB Conspiracy
The Filaments

Strugglah
Citizen Fish
Richie Blitz
Gallows
Mouthwash

The Coup, Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, Boots Riley, Zach De La Rocha

Propagandhi, The king blues, Chumbawamba, Conflict, The levellers, Subhumans, Gallows, Citizen fish, Jello Biafra…, Articles of faith, Todd Snider, Street dogs, Dropkick Murphy´s, Billy Bragg, David Rovics, System of a down, Anti-flag, Rise against, Rage against the machine, Manu Chao, Gogol bordello, Firewater, The (international) noise conspiracy, Goldblade

KRS-One, Immortal Technique, Sage Francis, Aesop Rock
 

To these I would add Ani DiFranco, someone I’m particularly keen on…even if my favourite song by her, “Self-Evident”, might sound a little bit dated now that George is out of the White House.

This article reminds me a bit of the conclusion of Stephen Baxter’s story about the survival of Glenn Miller in Traces…are we really better off in a world in which everyone (which is, obviously, not really everyone anyway) listens to the Clash, compared to a world in which people are listening to a wide variety of political musics…?

London riots

August 9, 2011 § 1 Comment

Sharing a few thoughts, quotes and links related to the riots that started in Tottenham – just down the road from my house – and spread across London in the past 3 days. Most of the links I include here were brought to my attention by my friend Leyli Behbahani.

Darcus Howe, a West Indian Writer and Broadcaster  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biJgILxGK0o&sns=fb

Comments from community leaders http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a3F3aG9RGw&feature=youtu.be

“People feel like caged animals” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-7ICDQ0BVs

Al Jazeera “Inside Story” http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/insidestory/2011/08/20118981726279649.html

“Just a normal day” – a short documentary by PostCode Films on the experience of being stopped and searched http://vimeo.com/10067376

One of my favourite quotes:

As political and social protests grip the Middle East, are growing in Europe and a riot exploded in north London this weekend, here’s a sad truth, expressed by a Londoner when asked by a television reporter: Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent? “Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?” http://worldblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/08/07/7292281-the-sad-truth-behind-london-riot

This is not a justification for the rioting and looting. What is happening is criminal behaviour. But it is not just criminal behaviour.  It’s just that I think that if we want our society to work better – perhaps if we want to avoid things like this happening again – we need to look for answers and attribute blame beyond the rioters and looters themselves. This quote offers one example of how we might begin to see the broader social context of the riots: by asking questions like “how else can the poor and disenfranchised get their voice heard, if the media only pays them any attention when they start destroying things?”

I don’t think it is possible to get around this by saying “But by saying that you are somehow justifying this violence.” That argument misses the point that the violence of the rioters and looters is a response to the violence inflicted on them by the state and society. Tottenham is one of the poorest and most deprived areas in the country. Young people there do not believe they have a future, that they are going to be able to get jobs, and over the past year the government has closed a number of programmes set up to increase their social mobility and give them options. Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has been closed, so the future of these youths’ education – the key to social mobility – is in question. In the past 6 months Haringey Council has cut funding to youth centres/outreach programmes and to voluntary sector organisations working with young people in the borough in response to budget cuts imposed by the central government, reducing the number of alternatives to spending time on the streets (a point highlighted in an article by the Guardian just over a week ago, and by London Assembly member Jenny Jones yesterday), and a decade on from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry black people are now seven times more likely to be stopped by the police than white people (for a report on the stats see this Guardian article).

One of my friends wrote on Facebook that BBC News in Tottenham said the following:

The police are taking backhanders
The MPs are fiddling expenses
The media break the law without compunction
…The bankers have looted our economy
Our politicians are sunning themselves in luxury
How do you expect young people to behave?

On the whole, media coverage is not adequately making these connections, and is instead emphasising other (largely spurious or misleading) connections. I was particularly struck by BBC TV news coverage of the first night in Tottenham, in which the studio anchor started by asking the reporter-on-the-scene “So, this area has a history of racial tension, right?” This seemed a rather misleading way of approaching what would be described more accurately as the racialised relationship between police and youths in Tottenham (see above).

I found an academic study of media coverage of the 1985 riots, which highlights exactly the same fixation with strong leadership and law and order articulated by Theresa May in her pre-recorded statement. Some of my Facebook ‘friends’ were decrying Ken Livingstone’s intervention last night, in which he pointed to precisely the broader social conditions that are the context in which these riots have emerged. (There was also some political point-scoring but hey – that comes with the job.) Is it not sort of inevitable that if the politicians and media only focus on what is happening on the streets, and fail to ask why this is happening now rather than at any other time, then they are only going to come up with the short-term solution – “arrest the perpetrators, restore order” – rather than the longer-term solution of “ok we might need to think about whether some of our policies need to change”? If you don’t understand history, you are doomed to repeat it, right?

It just so happens that at the same time as all this is going on I’m preparing a lecture which requires me to look through writings on the concept of moral economy developed by historian E.P. Thompson and anthropologist James C. Scott. In his study of the rioting around changes in agriculture that led to the repeal of the Corn Laws in eighteenth-century England, Thompson argues that in every riot or crowd action there is

some legitimising notion…I mean that the men and women in the crowd were informed by the belief that they were defending traditional rights or customs; and…that they were supported by the wider consensus of the community…It is of course true that riots were triggered off by soaring prices, by malpractices among dealers, or by hunger. But these grievances operated within a popular consensus as to what were legitimate and what were illegitimate practices in marketing, milling, baking, etc. This in its turn was grounded upon a consistent traditional view of social norms and obligations, of the proper economic functions of several parties within the community, which, taken together, can be said to constitute the moral economy of the poor. An outrage to these moral assumptions, quite as much as actual deprivation, was the usual occasion for direct action. (E.P. Thompson, “The moral economy of the English crowd in the 18th century”, 1971, pages 78-9)

In his analysis of some of the major peasant rebellions in early twentieth-century Southeast Asia, Scott defines ‘moral economy’ as a community’s “notion of economic justice and their working definition of exploitation – their view of which claims on their product were tolerable and which intolerable” (1976: 3). This does not quite fit the riots in London, where it seems more likely that the central (although not verbalised) grievance of the rioters is that they don’t believe they will be able to get into a satisfactory position to produce (and earn). Yet I still think there may be something in the concept of moral economy that is useful here. I need to think about this more, but my idea (simple as it is) is something like this: that when it comes to identifying the circumstances in which a riot becomes more likely, perhaps what is more significant than the actual level of deprivation and oppression is the sense of injustice. Many commentators have argued that Tottenham is much better now than it was in 1985, and some of my friends have noted that conditions in the UK are not as bad as conditions in many other countries. What is more significant is the rioters’ perception that this society does not want them, that this government is reducing their opportunities and options for getting out of their position, and that this is not right. And this is one reason why the portrayal of the riots by politicians and the media as ‘mindless thuggery,’ ‘without cause,’ and motivated solely by ‘greed’, is problematic.

Maybe a good quote to end with is this:

When you cut facilities, slash jobs, abuse power, discriminate, drive people into deeper poverty and shoot people dead whilst refusing to provide answers or justice, the people will rise up and express their anger and frustration if you refuse to hear their cries. A riot is the language of the unheard. (Martin Luther King)

But, on second thoughts, maybe it would be better to end with a question: who’s up for getting involved in the clean up? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14456857

References:

Scott, James C. (1976) The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia London: Yale University Press

Berman songs to think about learning…

August 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

…when I start my Silver Jews cover band in that aforementioned other life:

Self Ignition http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMe70JWJOz4

Pretty Eyes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMe70JWJOz4

Pet Politics http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl83hRghWbQ&NR=1

People http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5q0rupfENc&NR=1

New Orleans http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6hhVVZhM1k&NR=1

Smith and Jones Forever http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONbooypFSd4&NR=1

Federal Dust http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUqEAdwuMps&NR=1

I’m listing these here because one led me to the next as I youtubed my way through dinner, and sometimes when you encounter a set of great songs back-to-back you have to record that moment somehow.

You can’t change the feeling
but you can change your feelings about the feeling in a second or two
People always come around.

Notes on Lo Fi

August 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

Know what I want

I know it’s behind me

Behind my Western mind

-Malkmus/Berman/Pavement/Silver Jews

I was listening to some tracks off the Silver Jews’ album The Arizona Record just now, and got thinking about lo fi recording. In particular I was struck by “Secret Knowledge of Backroads”, partly because I know the polished Pavement version of this song (off the extended double disc edition of Slanted and Enchanted).

I googled lo fi record and came across an article by Bruce Bartlett on how to recreate the aesthetics of lo fi recording using high fidelity recording equipment. Initially this idea seemed rather ridiculous, a) because most people prefer high fidelity recording quality (according to this survey I haven’t conducted), and b) because it seems an unnecessary effort to go to, when there is so much lo fi recording equipment available. For example, all the tracks on my myspace page – recorded using a mike plugged into my iPod nano – have lo fi touches, whether it be background hiss, distorted vocals, guitar or drums, or the sound of a passing police car.

Perhaps Bartlett’s intended audience are those who want to selectively incorporate lo fi elements into their recordings, controlling the effect by artificially simulating lo fi. For example, I remember reading in the liner notes for a Beastie Boys’ album how they attached a long sheet of plywood or mdf to the bass drum to modify the sound and make it more like the boomy kick used in rap music (see Bartlett’s article on this).

Which is fine, except that I somehow feel this misses the point of lo fi which (from my perspective) is its contingency, the fact that it isn’t managed and you never know what you’re going to get.

If one wanted to bring French theorists into this (always a temptation for me), then Michel Serres (1980 [2007]) book The parasite seems relevant. One of the ways Serres thinks of the parasite is as ‘noise’, that which interrupts, distorts or diverts the normal flow of things. A common approach to noise is to attempt to ignore, minimise or remove it, but the fact is that apparently insignificant noise does not only divert value but can be productive, steering processes towards outcomes that would otherwise not have been possible.

In another life I would start an indie recording label called Contretemps.

References:

Serres, Michel (1980 [2007]) The parasite trans. Lawrence R. Schehr, introduction by Cary Wolfe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

“What Anthropologists Do,” by Veronica Strang

August 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

This blogpost comprises some notes on my reading of Veronica Strang’s book What Anthropologists Do (published by Berg in 2009); it will be updated as I read more of the book.

One of the objectives of my recent visit to India was to meet with the people I did my PhD research with in order to think through how I might continue working with them, and after this visit it seemed a good idea to shift Veronica Strang’s book What Anthropologists Do to the top of my to-do list.

Strang argues against the frequently-voiced division of anthropology into ‘applied’ work and (pure) ‘academic’ work, pointing out that on the one hand “good ‘applied’ research, wherever it is based, requires a strong theoretical framework and a rigorous ‘academic’ approach” and, on the other, “however esoteric a research question may seem, understanding ‘why people do what they do’ always has some practical value, and even seemingly abstract research generates new ideas and proposes new theories that – if they are robust – will filter, through wider discourse, into practice” (6-7).

In exploring a concept of “anthropology as ‘community service'” (11), Strang takes up a variety of ways anthropologists engage with the communities they research. The first chapter deals with advocacy, which can range from formal, legal interventions as an ‘expert witness’ to Strang’s own work with Aboriginal people in north Queensland doing participatory action research, which involved

travelling with the elders around their ‘country’, much of which lies outside the reserve area held by the community…Cultural mapping entails recording, in a variety of media, all of the information about each group’s sacred sites and important historical places, and their traditional knowledge about the land and its resources. This collaboration has resulted in a detailed collection of cultural information, which is now archived in the community, and provides a key teaching resource for younger generations, as well as a body of evidence for indigenous claims to the land. (22)

Chapter two deals with the world of international aid, where, Strang suggests, anthropologists often take on one of two major roles: either ‘stepping back a bit’ to “examine the social, economic and political realities of the interactions between agencies and the recipients of aid” or giving more “direct assistance to organisations that they feel are genuinely trying to help people in need” (29). What is striking about the two roles Strang invokes here is how readily they map onto the applied/pure anthropology dichotomy Strang rejected earlier in the book; here too, Strang cautions against drawing a sharp distinction between these roles, noting that whatever anthropologists choose to do, “they still have to deal with a slightly tricky reality: that their work is also reflexive and thus potentially critical of their host/funding organisation and its activities” (29).

What Anthropologists Do refers to specific examples in its description of the variety of work in which anthropologists are engaged. As a result, flicking through this book has alerted me to the existence of a large number of anthropologists whose work I am now going to explore further. These include:

  • Glenn Stone’s work on the introduction of GM cotton in India, which examines how this has destabilised local knowledge and exchange systems, placing immense pressure on farmers and leading to a rapid rise in the suicide rate among them.
  • Stuart Kirsch’s work in Papau New Guinea, exploring indigenous communities’ collaborative use of anthropological methods in trying to explain the social and environmental impact of mining and communicating their concerns to decision-makers.
  • John Van Willigen and V.C. Channa’s work on the underlying causes of violence against women in India.
  • Anthropologists at the International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC).

 

References:

Kirsch, S. (2006) Reverse Anthropology: Indigenous Analysis of Social and Environmental Relations Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Stone, G. (2002) “Biotechnology and Suicide in India” Anthropology News 43 (5) May http://grain.org/research_files/biotechandsuicide.pdf

Stone, G. (2007) “Agricultural Deskilling and the Spread of Genetically Modified Cotton in Warangal” Current Anthropology 48 (1) 67-103

Strang, Veronica (2009) What Anthropologists Do Oxford: Berg

Van Willigen, J. and V. Channa (1991) “Law, Custom, and Crimes Against Women: The Problem of Dowry Death in India” in J. McDonald (ed.) (2002) The Applied Anthropology Reader Boston: Allyn and Bacon, p. 116-130

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