from Tim Laurie (for Thursday)

Hi Faye & Toby,

I did enjoy most of the readings for today, with two key exceptions.
Although I know it’s bad faith to be critical without qualification,
I’m struggling to find redemptive content. I’m not sure Ulrich Beck’s
abuse of historical periodisation needs to be restated in the context
of this workshop, but I felt it did coincide with Vijay Mishra’s
survey of literature on multiculturalism. In both cases, the “problem”
seems to be constituted as the predicament of previously atomised
national peoples entering into a post-national, cosmopolitan,
“ethnically diverse” 21st century (I could go on with the euphemisms).
In Beck’s case maybe this is just familiar Giddensian hyperbole and
armchair speculation (and I appreciate RWConnell’s critique to this
extent), but I actually found Mishra’s piece distressing. Clearly,
Muslims are “the problem”. There once weren’t any Muslims, “white
Christians” were behaving well and not forcing any marriages, but then
“they” – the migrants – came and liberal solutions were needed to
cater to their special needs (secular white nationals have no special
needs). So are we really to believe that the “crisis in
multiculturalism has come about because of claims of difference by
Muslims”, that it is only Muslim religious leaders who become
“non-progressive, fundamentalist demagogues”, that the Iranian
revolution is a sound model for understanding Muslim “religious
identity… when it functions as a political agent”, that we can
empirically measure the “religiosity” of Muslims at home and abroad
(the ones “here” are always the worst, right?), that Muslims could
tend towards fascism (actually a sterling example of secularism), or
that unthinking Muslims obey the laws of the “ripple effect” of
extremism, precluding access to the intellectual heights of Marx or
Freud? (“Fundamentalist” Iranians have no intellectual culture, no,
no…) I had to stop reading with the passage about the
“warrior-defender of the faith” and the jibe about the Ottoman Empire.
Perhaps the genre of the review essay lends itself to slippages
between summary of others’ work, critical commentary, and speculative
elaboration. That’s the most diplomatic I can be.
Why not different questions: what are the conditions in Britain such
that some Muslims, but also white Anglicans, Scottish labour migrants,
middle-class uni students, and even football fans see public displays
of violence as a viable source of social agency? And why is it that
the “modern” secular state has engendered so much violence, indeed
codified and rationalised it? Is there a conceivable State secularism
that is not extremist?
I did enjoy the Howell, on the other hand – I wonder if re-tracing
some elements of the Geertz/Asad debate might be useful? I think it
raises some interesting questions about the place of belief,
hermeneutics and practice in cultural studies. Has anyone else had any
fun with Asad?



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In response to Tim and others

Carbon offsets through family planning. You can’t make this stuff up. Talk about stratified reproduction. Yikes!!  In the early 20th century, birth control was pushed for the overly fecund immigrants arriving to America’s shores as they were seen as “outbreeding” the Wasp other class women, who were then accused of  “race suicide” by none other than Teddy Roosevelt!


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from Colombina

Some reflections about the readings and the researcher as a “native”

Lanita Jacobs (2002) reading about the native gazing and talking back made a lot of sense for me, because I see myself as a “native”. I want to study Chilean environmental NGOs, whereas I´m Chilean and I worked for one year in one of the most important NGOs in Chile. That´s why issues discussed today and on Monday about the responsibilities and duties that one might feel to have to people giving you information and “letting you in” was an issue for me, but in a more unconscious way. It puzzled me how I was going to deal with this; how to be critical (maybe, if that´s what I found), but without destroying or undermining a work that I find valuable. I will need to have in mind all these issues and assumptions when conducting fieldwork and when writing what I found in order to be able of reflecting on them and also to be transparent to the ones who are going to read my findings. I´m talking from a particular point of view and that, I can foresee, will be difficult. In this sense, complicity (George 1998) will not be a problem. As an environmental activist, I will probably have the doors opened. However, I want to critically engage with the democratisation possibilities of civil society organisations, and in this sense it will be challenging to address these issues without being perceived as a threat after asking the questions.

I also found Briggs (2007) paper very useful for the ones who are going to conduct interviews like me, because it made me, again, reflect upon these specific method. I´ve done so many interviews before that I had not reflected so much on the implications and what was at stake when conducting them and using them. The paper underscored interviewing in a different light for me.

See you tomorrow,


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From Tim Laurie

“Barbara Johnston’s piece was a humbling read for me. In my “own”
field, the hermeneutics of culture in pop music studies have often
eclipsed questions about the exchange between academics  and
stakeholders in music-making communities (and which community isn’t?).
Personal integrity crisis notwithstanding, the ecocide/ethnocide
research is compelling. I do wonder, has anyone written on racism in
environmentalist movements? Scaling up – and I mean, way up – I’ve so
frequently encountered liberal, progressive white Australians willing
to spend an extra $3 to save food miles on broccoli, while attributing
major pollutants from manufacturing and logistics industries (who
clothe them, re-charge their iPods, and provide paper for copies of
Thus Spake Zarathustra) to “backward”, “reckless”, “business-minded”
Asian nations: China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and
occasionally, Russia. Why such a wealth of well-circulated opinions on
Japanese whaling among young Australians, when Australian maritime
interests in the Pacific go un-mentioned? I can’t help thinking the
racial/cultural politics of eco-activism can have a nasty underbelly
not always addressed in the environmental justice literature.

Sally Engle Merry was very much a crash course for me, although I
think many of our conversations today served as a perfect primer. I
did wonder at her conclusion – the global North exporting democracy,
the rule of law, capitalism, the free market, and human rights law,
all linked by the “modernist view of the individual”. Surely stronger
links could be made. For example, in countries where nation-State
banking institutions and democratic processes are constantly shaped by
transnational corporate interests and the influence global creditors,
don’t legal reforms dependent on nation-State administration over
“local” communities risk naturalising other forms of power? Debates
over legal reforms in Thailand, where ethnic minorities already have
ambivalent (if not always hostile) relations with both State police
and military, are a case in point – who enforces? What else are they
enforcing when they enforce? And what about instances in which
international financial servicing for developing economies has
exacerbated gender divides, reinforcing male bread-winner roles
through skewed investment in male education & job training? In such
cases, should negotiating power for women be dependent on legal
apparatuses? What is the relationship between legal devices aimed at
formal equality, on the one hand, and the economic and political
forces operating on marginal communities, on the other? A more
holistic cultural and politico-economic analysis seems to be what
Terry Turner is gesturing towards, perhaps.

I really enjoyed “Decolonizing Methodologies”, and always feel
shamefully unaware of most of these issues in Australia and New
Zealand (I can’t help thinking an amendment to LT Smith might be
“decolonizing the Australian academy”, so we get less Giddens and more
local activist research in our sociology degrees!!). Where do racially
“marked” diasporas fit in here? Are there connections to be made
between indigenous activism and the struggles of, say, Tongan
communities in Queensland or Auckland? Struggles over “mandatory
detention” and “mandatory sentencing” also conspicuously link refugee
and indigenous advocacy in Australia, but to what extent are these
issues actually commensurable?

Finally, I do like George Lipsitz very much, and thanks for this piece
– that sounds like a fantastic session/discussion. I also knew nothing
about Maureen Mahon’s “Right To Rock”, but sounds like a life-saver
for me. I do have a brief, perhaps petty concern: to what extent has
the shift from studying Others outside the US to backyard
anthropologies (all the way from “Black Metropolis” to B. Myerhoff)
either enabled, or challenged, the hegemony (!) of American
exceptionalism in American studies? In other words, what is the
“American” doing in “American studies”? Wouldn’t decolonizing studies
outside America also mean remapping American economics, culture, and
politics? (Says he who struggles to edit down two chapters on one
Detroit-based record label…) But maybe that’s more a question for
American studies outside anthropology.”

Otherwise, I can post a reply to someone else’s, although I can’t
pretend my rants are really replies at all. Maybe that needs

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Us ‘lawyers’: Our normative assumptions about the law?

Comment by Linda …

I have a question prompted by the general discussion in tomorrow’s readings about ethnography and social activism and, apologies in advance to all non-law participants … but yes, it is grounded in legal research methodologies!! That said, I think it is so invaluable to be in a workshop with non-‘lawyers’, because it decentres and denaturalises the law and so I would greatly appreciate the views of the non-‘lawyers’ to legal research approaches!!

Broadly I am concerned about the extent to which the use of legal research as an advocacy strategy might in some ways make interrelated normative assumptions about the necessity of law and the legal subjectivities of our research subjects.

I ask this because of the discussions today about researching human rights (notably the discussion of female genital cutting/mutilation/surgery and my attempt to articulate my concern that in legal research there is a tendency for a reformist /religiosity about law that is based on a strong normative commitment / faith in the law, which risks leaving unquestioned broader questions around the law.  Perhaps this is the result of the professional style of our undergraduate legal education which teaches us how to be lawyers and how to know the law in its presentation of itself, rather than teaching us (other than in a discrete subject on jurisprudence(!)) to really critique the law to any extent.

So, to what extent in setting our research questions through which we purportedly try to help / engage with research subjects, who are usually persons we perceive to be disadvantaged, marginalised, impoverished etc both socially and legally and where the ultimate answer lies with the law, do these questions simultaneously align with what we think these groups need and an idea of them as legal subjects and a commitment to the appropriateness of the law in addressing these needs?  Related to this, what productive effects is this having in constructing legal subjectivities and reiterating the authority and centrality, and even necessity, of law?

On this basis I am interested in the extent to which legal research methodologies can be developed that locate the point of engagement with research subjects prior to identifying a specific research question or research topic.  How might these not only generate research questions that we might not have considered because we assume the legal/social needs of our subjects, but also to what extent might this risk threatening or challenging our own beliefs about the necessity of the law and of the particular legal subjectivities of our research subjects? These questions also were raised in the Sibley and Ewick reading from today.

So, I am asking these questions not because I do not think that our research should not have an advocacy role or ‘help’ people, but rather trying to understand how we might do this in a way that is reflexive about our normative commitments to the law, and even be critical about the law.


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Linda Steele: Rapp & Ginsburg Reading – The Place of Children with LD in the Kinship Narratives?

I have just read the Rapp and Ginsburg reading on kinship and families with a child diagnosed with a learning disability (‘LD’).  I found the article interesting in perhaps providing an alternative understanding of the impact of a child with LD on families to the typical ‘medical tragedy’ or ‘undue burden’ narratives that we typically see in media and legal accounts of the impact of childhood disability on parents and families.  One question I did have about this article and the broader research project, however, was to what extent children with LD were themselves considered as research participants (eg interviewees) in the research and to what extent their own experiences and views of their disabilities and of their place within families was considered a valuable aspect of exploring kinship in this context? Related to this, was the possibility for competing or conflicting views of disability between parents/family members and children themselves considered in how this might structure family dynamics and the life pathways of children?

I ask this for two reasons.

First, in my own research I am looking at the way in which diagnostic and legal frameworks and discourses of cognitive impairment remove epistemic authority from persons diagnosed with cognitive impairment to define their identities and life experiences, as well as their experiences of the criminal justice system.  Whilst diagnostic categories and legal recognition of impairment might (as the article says) have provided some opportunities, I would also question whether this has compromised the space that we have given to persons with disability to speak for themselves and be valued in society.

Secondly, my sister in law has cerebral palsy and is doing her PhD in social psychology on bullying of children with cerebral palsy.  She is specifically engaging these children as research subjects because typically any academic discussion of the experiences of these children is done via research with parents or teachers, and as a person with disability herself she has found this extremely problematic in denying a voice to children themselves as well as failing to properly reflect the views of children, which do differ from those of their parents (because these two groups can have different views and expectations of the person with disability and we cannot always assume that the views, goals, expectations etc of parents and children are aligned {although in saying this, I do not mean to suggest that parents are not motivated by a deep love for their children to act in the way they do}).


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Looking forward to meeting you all

Hi everyone –

We are really hoping to have a dynamic week of intellectual exchange and learning more about your research.  We have set up this site so that people can exchange information about their work, and in particular to write reactions to the readings so we can get a sense of what people are taking from the work.

See you Monday!

All best,


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