By Marthe Baalbergen
ICA Institute Of Cultural Anthropology
TABLE OF CONTENT
The ICA (Institute for Cultural Anthropology) is the semi-scientific journal of Itiwana, study association Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at the Leiden University. The ICA appears twice a year.
Text editors Wouter Keijzer and Liselot Voordouw
Media editors Marthe Baalbergen, Xianjun Sun and Loes Moree
Editor in Chief Rémi ten Hoorn
Dave Cudworth, Roxanne Hendrix, Michaele Pelican, Amber Rademaker, Susanna Trnka and Claire Vionnet
Cover Marthe Baalbergen
The editors reserve the right to shorten and edit articles or not to post them. Acquisition of (parts of) articles is only permitted after consultation with the editors.
IN THE PICTURE
A few summers ago, I went to have dinner on the beach with my parents and little sister. It had been incredibly warm that day and even in the late evening, it was not necessary to wear a sweater or jacket. After dinner, it had become completely dark and my sister and I decided to walk up to the tide line of the sea. Even now, years later, that moment still is something I remember quite often. Standing there, with my bare feet in the cold sand and waves tickling my toes, staring into literally nothing. The only thing I saw was a navy-coloured sky fading into a navy-coloured sea, and I remember the movement of the waves being the only audible sound. It is weird how impressed I was by that simple evening, but every time someone mentions the word movement, this comes up in my mind.
I realise now, that movement is everywhere. It is not just the movement of waves breaking on the sand, or people silently walking on a beach, but it is much more than that. 2020 might be the perfect example of what movement entails. This turbulent year was one big whirlwind of events, each one crazier than the other. The steady pace, the routines our lives were made of, were quickly overthrown and our lives started to change.
Suddenly, we were being confronted with a contagious virus, which caused all of us to stay inside; to stay still. Months later, protests erupted all over the world to fight against inequality, and we did the opposite of staying still. Movement is not just about moving, it also about the effect certain things can create, about people coming into action. It is about dance, nature, education, contact with other people... Without movement, everything stops, and development would halt.
COVID-19 keeps affecting our lives on a daily basis, but it is important to keep moving, even if it is just one step at the time, because even the tiniest stone that is being tossed in a river, can create the biggest circles.
Enjoy this first issue of the ICA!
Rémi ten Hoorn
Rémi ten Hoorn is a second years student of Cultural Anthropology and the Secretary of the current Itiwana board. Within the ICA committee she is the Editor in Chief. She loves to read and play the piano and bake cookies with friends once in a while..
FROM DISTANCING TO DRAWING NEAR: THE ETHICS OF MOVEMENT DURING COVID-19
Nations around the world are endeavouring to determine the epidemiologically most effective, whilst economically and socially least detrimental, methods of containing Covid-19. This exercise often involves assessing the costs and benefits of various kinds of lockdowns and social distancing measures. While much of governmental and public emphasis has been on distancing, wrangling over how to best ensure adequate spacing between persons, places and things, lockdowns and physical distancing are also exercises in nearness. Too many of us are now well acquainted with the (sometimes welcomed, sometimes unbearable) feelings of close proximity created by being locked down with others, as well as with the overwhelming desire to be nearer to spatially distanced friends, kin or even strangers. An examination of movement during the pandemic must thus account for both distancing and “drawing near” as inter-personal ethical engagements.
All nations, and, in some cases, particular towns, cities, or regions, will have their own stories of the pandemic. Where I write from in Aotearoa/New Zealand, we are fortunate to have thus far been spared the brutality of soaring infection rates and death statistics recorded across many other parts of the globe. As of writing this in late October 2020, in a nation of 5 million people, we have had under 2,000 cases and 25 Covid-19-related deaths. Along with strict border closures and relative geographic inaccessibility, another reason for New Zealand’s current success story has been the deployment of rigorous lockdown measures. From March 26 till May 13, 2020, a “level 4 and 3” national lockdown closed all schools and many businesses, requiring members of the public to remain at home unless seeking essential food supplies or medical care, exercising, or travelling to and from work as essential services workers. Following up these measures, in August 2020 there was a similar city-wide lockdown in Auckland, the nation’s most populated metropolis.
Research on limited movement
During the first, nationwide lockdown, I collaborated on a research project led by Nicholas Long of the LSE which surveyed 3,644 New Zealanders about their experiences of limited movement and physical interaction (Long et al. 2020a). Most people who responded to our survey were well-informed and enthusiastically promoted both the stay home and social distancing measures (Long et al. 2020b). Nonetheless, their “compliance” was not straightforward – many recounted occasions when they found themselves knowingly contravening regulations (Trnka et al. n.d.). Sometimes this was due to individual and collective judgments as to the local utility of national protection measures – some who lived in isolated rural areas, for example, noted that due to the lack of a single Covid-19 case in their neighbourhoods, they returned to regular, albeit modified, social interactions during the lockdown, e.g. holding barbecues with neighbours whilst also enforcing the two metres social distancing rule (Long et al. 2020a).
In other cases, even if the regulations were deemed efficacious, ethical demands for care were felt to supersede them (Long et al. 2020b). There were times when the physical need to be present to help another was clear cut. For example, while the initial lockdown regulations enabled people who lived alone and needed support to join another household “bubble” (as it was referred to in New Zealand), this possibility was not extended to couples or groups who resided together on the basis that they could support each other. The regulation overlooked situations such as elderly couples who resided independently but were in fact not self-sufficient, relying on relatives from other households for assistance with daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning or driving. Belated recognition of this on the part of policymakers led to changes in regulations nearly two weeks into the initial lockdown (MoH 2020). There remained, nonetheless , conundrums amongst those who were technically self-sufficient but suffered without external support; a single parent living with young children felt isolated and hungered for adult company (Long et al. 2020a), whilst an elderly woman who lived with and took care of her husband who suffered from Alzheimer’s noted that while she didn’t require physical assistance, caring for her husband on her own left her physically and emotionally exhausted.
Driveway drinks and phonetrees
In other situations, it wasn’t so much help with physical tasks that was required. Still there was a compelling need to be physically near to someone outside of the household bubble. Following a death in the family, a 38-year-old man related, “A good friend came over, and we stood in the driveway to have a drink.” A woman, age 47, described meeting up with a friend at level 4 lockdown: “We sat in our own cars in the supermarket car park with our windows down and talked.” Another woman, age 33, described steps she took to support her friends’ mental wellbeing: “while they are not ‘in my bubble’ I've visited 2 friends and said hello from a distance. I feel like this does very little harm and has helped these people immensely with their mental state” (Long et al. 2020a). The need to enact care by simply coming together trumped the requirement, and even the desire, to maintain distance between members of different household bubbles (see also Long 2020; Trnka et al. n.d.).
Given the widespread accessibility of social media, Zoom, Skype, texts, and phone calls, one might think that social connectivity between bubbles would not be hard to achieve. Indeed, a few days prior to the nationwide lockdown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged New Zealanders to set up measures to maximize connectivity: “Go home tonight and check in on your neighbours. Start a phone tree with your street. Plan how you’ll keep in touch with one another” (Ardern 2020). Nonetheless, there were plenty of occasions, ranging from attempting to illegally attend funerals to collectively going on a walk, when people felt compelled to physically come together.
movement during the pandemic must thus account for both distancing and “drawing near”
The collective vibe
Sharing the same physical environment enables the establishment of collective affect in ways that cannot always be constituted online. As many of us have recently been forced to realize, we can glean quite a bit about what others are thinking and feeling over audio and video via Zoom or Skype. However, we cannot often access the same intuitive feelings we derive from being in the same room with someone, much less with a group of people. As Durkheim (1966 ) pointed out, collective affect isn’t a matter of 1 + 1 + 1 + 1; you can’t just add up the emotions from each little-box-of-a-person on Zoom and get a sense of the collective “vibe.” What’s missing is the often tacit, deeply embodied ways we communicate and collectively create affect, be it “collective effervescence” or something much less profound (Trnka 2020a). There are, of course, instances were this is not achievable online (e.g. interactive game sites), but for those of us relying on Zoom or social media for communicating with spatially distant others, the possibility of recognising, much less attempting to shift, the tenor of collective affect can feel extremely challenging, as was denoted by a 38-year-old woman who recounted in her survey, “My sister required mental health support that couldn't be helped any further over the phone. In the end, my sister left her home & came to our bubble for 4 days...” (Long et al. 2020a).
Anthropologists have noted the power of co-presence, arguing that we should recast understandings of “care” to include acts such as sitting together, holding another’s hand, or simply being felt to occupy the same time and space (Stevenson 2014; Taylor 2008). When co-presence is banned, as, during parts of the pandemic, the results can be dire. Focusing on enforced isolation between members of different households in the UK during Covid-19, Nicholas Long (2020) describes how some people experienced a profound destabilization of inter-subjective ties, resulting in feelings of dislocation, rage, loneliness, and, at the extreme, suicidality. In such circumstances, co-presence in and of itself is not only beneficial but ethically vital.
During the lockdown, the desire or compulsion to be with others was often predicated upon pre-existing relations of care (Long 2020; Trnka et al. n.d.). There were, however, exceptions, for example when people sought out the presence of strangers. An elderly New Zealand woman who lived alone recounted visiting the grocery store in order to be amongst other people (Long et al. 2020a). In a different but related vein, in his research on gay male sex in Dublin, Ireland, Thomas Strong (n.d.) has noted how sex between strangers did not abate during lockdown, but flourished, affording much desired moments of connection.
Centrality of movement
The movement towards another is inherent in our social being. Elsewhere I have drawn from the work of the Czech philosopher Jan Patoka to examine the centrality of movement in our lives, not only in terms of our corporeal movements through space, but also our inter-relationality with others (Trnka 2020b). One of the strengths of Patočka’s work is his attentiveness to the intertwining of corporeal, affective, and subjective movement. Another is his delineation of the three different kinds of movements which he saw as underpinning our being-in-the-world (“the sinking of roots,” self-projection, and self-transcendence). The first one denotes movement towards others, such as parents, children, lovers or siblings, with whom we have or create the “primordial ties” that sustain us through life (Patočka 1998 ). Drawing from Patočka’s conceptualization of “primordial ties” as actively fostered through embodied motion towards one another, we can conceptualize connection, care, and response to the needs of others as acts of movement. Doing so allows us to highlight how co-presence is not a pre-given state – i.e. being in the right place, at the right time – as these are not sufficient prerequisites for being attuned to one another. Instead co-presence can be agentively sought out or created through acts of moving towards one another. In other words, it is not enough to physically be together, but in being together to actively seek out the other.
Lockdown threw the significance of various kinds of movement towards one another into stark relief. In lucky cases or at lucky moments, people found themselves locked in with the ones they needed or those that needed them most. The accounts of New Zealanders who found themselves in such situations celebrate moments of discovery and (re-)connection between partners, friends, or parents and children. Embracing a “slower” or “simpler” form of life; there were dozens of declarations along similar lines as one woman’s assertion that, “I have enjoyed the slower pace and focus on my home and the people within it”(Long et al. 2020a). For others, the pandemic threw into ethical turmoil the vital work of “drawing near” spatially distanced kin, friends, members of significant social networks, or simply “others,” as part of the existential need to be-amongst-others.
Whilst Covid-19 continues, we will no doubt find other ways of conceptualizing, and regulating, “social distancing.” Anthropologically, our examinations of these dynamics would profit from consideration of the ethics of not only distancing and all that it requires, but also our human need to “draw near”, and the challenges and opportunities that anchoring ourselves in a single “bubble” place along the way.
Susanna Trnka is an Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of Auckland whose work examines embodiment through a variety of lenses, including movement; health; pain; and political violence. Her most recent works include: Competing Responsibilities: The Politics and Ethics of Contemporary Life (Duke University Press, 2017); One Blue Child: Asthma, Responsibility, and the Politics of Global Health (Stanford University Press, 2017); and Traversing: Embodied Lifeworlds in the Czech Republic (Cornell University Press, 2020).
“We sat in our own cars in the supermarket car park with our windows down and talked.”
you can’t just add up the emotions from each little-box-of-a-person on Zoom and get a sense of the collective “vibe.”
AN INTERVIEW WITH OLE BIRK LAURSEN
WOUTER KEIJZER AND LOES MOREE
Loes and I, Wouter, approached scholar of postcolonialism and anarchism Ole Birk Laursen to write something for this magazine. He didn't have the time to write a piece, but was open for an interview, which we happily accepted. We asked him questions, focussing mainly on the movement of anarchism, which has a rich and intriguing history. But this ideology and philosophy isn't too well known in the field of anthropology. Students mostly know about it from popular media (often in a negative light). Therefore, this interview is written with the goal of providing a clear image of what anarchism is, what anarchists strive towards, and what an anarchist society would look like. In a short summary: anarchism is a socialist ideology and practice, that strives for the emancipation of everyone. Freedom and bottom-up collaboration are key concepts.
WHAT DOES MOVEMENT MEAN FOR YOU?
When I think 'movement', I think of people, rather than some government somewhere. People taking matters into their own hands. Grassroot politics and action who are willing to change existing inequalities. Movements can be violent, and revolutionary or slow and incremental. A movement has to adapt to the specific situation, while at the same time learning from, and building upon, past emancipatory movements and experiences.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE SUBJECT OF ANARCHISM AS A SUBJECT FOR YOUR RESEARCH?
I'm currently writing a book on the Indian independence movement in Europe, with a focus on the anarchist M. P. T. Acharya. But I started getting involved with anarchist movements and the anarchist history in terms of academic research, during the Occupy movement about nine years ago. I took part in some student protests in London and I became attracted to the idea of anarchism as a horizontal way of shaping politics. And since then I wanted to explore anticolonialism in relation to anarchism; with questions of freedom, self-government, and what that meant to anti-colonial revolutionaries. One reason for this being that anti-colonial movements often revolved around a nationalist leader who wanted to replace the colonial ruler with a native ruler. 'We can have our own government.' But for the anarchists, that would not change anything, really, because it would mean replacing one ruler with another. It wouldn't change anything in terms of freedom and self-government. It wouldn't change anything for the oppressed, the workers, et cetera. And then I started looking at this one figure, Acharya, who in many ways was the only Indian who joined the anarchist movement and thought about freedom in that context. And so that is how I got into this research, and those are some questions I'm trying to look at.
Anarchism became more of a subject for academic research too, in the past years. There were aspects of anarchist thought and general tendencies of it in the anti-globalisation movement in 1999, the battle of Seattle, and also in the Arab spring uprising. And so it has become more and more a subject of study, as more academics have become radicalised, as you will, by those anarchist ways of striving for self-government and rejecting oppression. Not necessarily as 'anarchism' or the academics identifying as anarchists, but by ideas and ideals more closely related to anarchism. Because you don't have to be a hardcore anarchist to live an anarchist life.
SO, WHAT IS ANARCHISM?
Anarchism is in its essence the absence of rulers. It's the notion that no one can govern over anyone else. That people have self-government and freedom. And the anarchist idea of freedom is that no government or authority can justly or legitimately tell you how you should live your life. But of course, that doesn't mean you can do whatever you want to. It means that my freedom extends to where someone else's freedoms begin. It means bounding yourself to rules based on other peoples’ equal freedoms. It's a very socialist concept that it's for the common good that all people are free. Anarchism is a socialist ideology after all.
There are rules everywhere. Even when you're taking a walk in Leiden, you have to obey lots of rules, most of which make sense from a health and safety perspective, and are rational. But a lot of rules in daily life do not make sense, or are arbitrary. And anarchists question the authority of those rules. It's about deciding yourself whether or not the specific rules are valid or apply to you, and so the anarchist perspective is putting governance into your own hands by not accepting rules because they are rules; but by questioning them, and answering for yourself whether the rules make sense.
From that perspective, of questioning authority and rules, you'll get a bigger picture of massive inequalities and injustices. Look at global situations like economic inequalities, or police brutality. The assumption that the existing system works, is something the anarchist would question; they would say: 'let's try something else, and give power back to the people'. The system cannot reform itself. If we want to end police brutality, we have to change the system in and of itself. Anarchists would want to change the core of the issue.
It's not just about identifying and fighting injustices all over the world, but also about direct action. With things like the coronavirus, there have been many instances of where anarchists have been at the forefront of providing 'mutual aid', which is an anarchist term, where people help each other, rather than waiting for help from the government or whatever authority. You help each other from across society, people you don't know personally, without expecting anything in return. It's not about reciprocity. You help because it's essential to the idea that we're a collaborative species, not a competitive one. We don't have to fight to survive. We have to work together.
The assumption that the existing system works, is something the anarchist would question; they would say:
'let's try something else, and give power back to the people'
WOULD AN ANARCHIST SOCIETY BE POSSIBLE IN THE NETHERLANDS? AND IF NOT, WHAT WOULD SOCIETY FROM IF IT INCORPORATED MORE ASPECTS OF ANARCHISM?
Anarchism is more of a practice of questioning everyday rules and seeing whether the authority is legitimised. So, I don't think anarchists would want the Netherlands to turn into a big anarchist society because it is too big of a scale. I think anarchists would rather establish small-scale communities of utopian societies, that in turn are federated into bigger organisations. So in the Netherlands, you would have hundreds of small anarchist communities.
And it is difficult because we are conditioned by a governmental and capitalist society where we constantly do things that are premised on someone else's oppression. But I think there are ways we can try to work outside of those structures. Again, anarchism has to be an everyday practice of constantly questioning authority and mutual aid.
My vision of an ideal anarchist society is where everyone has a say in their own life; they are free to do what they want to do, as long as those actions don't oppress anyone else. That might sound utopian and idealistic, but I don't see what's wrong with wanting a very social, good life, where everyone has the freedom to express themselves in whatever way they want to.
When people, who are not anarchists, ask me: 'how would this be possible?', I'd say we have to imagine that we can live a life like that. The present system clearly doesn't work. You have politicians telling you what to do, great inequalities all over the world -- you can't have a society where there are homeless people and millionaires or billionaires. That in and of itself is an unequal structure. Society today doesn't work for a lot of people. But there are also a lot of people who are not contested by their presence and thus privileged. Someone like me, who's a Northern European white male, heterosexual, able-bodied, and so on, is fine here. Society works to my advantage. But there's a lot of people here who suffer under various kinds of oppression, and these people are not free in the same way that I am. And I would like a society where everyone is free from that kind of oppression. In order to imagine what an anarchist society would look like, we have to acknowledge that the present system doesn't really work.
But again, there are a lot of things that make sense, in the way that the current system functions today. But of those things that make sense, most anarchists will likely want the same things. When you're stopping for a red traffic light, there's something telling you what to do; but an anarchist would probably agree that it would make sense, because of safety reasons, and traffic functioning as well as possible. So they would want the same thing in that other, utopian system. It's not about tearing down everything, but about tearing down the structures that oppress your freedom.
Relating it to the coronavirus: at the start, health authorities came out with regulations about wearing masks, and things like that. Quite some people rejected it, saying wearing masks restricts your freedom. But the anarchist tends to believe that's a false premise: it doesn't restrict your freedom, because not wearing a mask would endanger someone else's freedom. So those rules made by authorities are questioned, but accepted. Especially the authority of experts is taken into account, giving advice, because they are experts in their field after all. And questioning the legitimacy of rules first, before either accepting or rejecting them, creates a more fair and equal society.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE POPULAR IMAGE OF ANARCHIST MOVEMENTS?
I think the circumstances we live under makes it difficult for people to imagine another system, another way out. We need to work to put food on the table, and don't have time or energy to sit down and think critically about societal questions all the time. And we're easily persuaded by someone telling us 'oh, if we just do this, change this thing within the system, it'll be just fine'. So I completely understand that people don't lean toward a more anarchist perspective. But concerning what people think about anarchism: I think there are historical factors that play a role too. Anarchism has had a bad name ever since it became a sort of a political movement in the mid-nineteenth century. It's for a long time been associated with violence and terrorism, really. And that's been a minor, minor part of anarchist history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, where anarchists threw bombs, and assassinated kings and politicians. But that, of course, of course scared a lot of people away from anarchism, and from looking into what anarchism actually is. And that has lingered on for many, many years. I think that any ideology that questions the main structures of power, whether those questions come from the left or the right, will be subject to oppression and giving people a different impression of what the concerning ideology actually is.
And so, being shaped by the capitalist structures we live under, and with the dominant historical view of anarchism, it is difficult to think about overcoming those oppressive, capitalist structures. And to think about freedom in the sense of not being ruled, but abiding by rules based on your own judgements and on the equal freedoms of other people. I do hope my research contributes to at least de-mystifying a lot of ideas about what anarchism is, and hope to inspire people to take part in some of these movements. That's my big ambition.
Wouter Keijzer is a fourth-year anthropology student, and moderator of the ICA Instagram page. He was also part of the Itiwana board last year.
Loes Moree is a fourth-year student of Cultural Anthropology. She is a media member within the ICA committee and was part of the Itiwana board last year.
I don't see what's wrong with wanting a very social, good life, where everyone has the freedom to express themselves in whatever way they want to
OLE BIRK LAURSEN
Ole Birk Laursen is a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden University. His research focuses on South Asian history, anticolonialism, and anarchism. He is editor of Lay Down Your Arms (2019), We Are Anarchists (2019), Networking the Globe (2017), and Reworking Postcolonialism (2016), and has published extensively on the transnational intersections between anticolonialism, socialism, and anarchism.
dancers usually narrate for themselves a storytelling to accompany and support their dance sequence.
Click To Watch a Video of the Dance!
Even while performing alone, a dancer carries the memory of other dancers in his/her dances, as they are present in the shadow of his/her gestures.
CONTEMPORARY DANCE, FROM MOVEMENT TO GESTURE
Claire Vionnet is an Anthropologist, Dance Scholar and Dancer. She wrote a PhD on the creation of gestures in contemporary dance, exploring notions of body, movement, improvisation and sense(s). She works creatively with dance communities, reflecting on the way art/dance produces knowledge. Marked by her time lived in Africa, she is particularly interested in the role humanities play in society and keen to reflect on better reuniting Anthropology, Art and Society.
Third, a choreographic process is a practice-based research on a theme. According to the dancers I met on fieldwork, gestures are associated with meaning. For example, if the topic of the dance piece is fear, all gestures enacted during the research process are articulated with this overlooking theme. Because they appeared in a specific world of meaning defined by the theme of the performance, gestures express something more than a form. Moreover, dancers usually narrate for themselves a storytelling to accompany and support their dance sequence. This storytelling reinforces the performativity of the gesture, which in turn acquires a legitimate reason to be performed.
Fourth, a gesture entails a direction. It is defined by a position in a space, although it is continuously moving. This position is articulated with the next position that the dancing body is reaching toward. Finally, dancers constantly use their faculty of judgment to select their movements, modifying and improving their dance. They constantly (re)evaluate their performance in the act of improvisation. Judging what is right or not, they tend to give birth to the ‘appropriate’ gestures.
I’ve been chasing gestures since the beginning of my fieldwork in dance studios. How does a gesture emerge? What is in the shadow of gestures that we don’t see as audience members, but is present to give quality and performativity? Sensations, meaning, space, time, ecology; how are these components entangled? Adopting a phenomenological perspective, I explored gestures through the metaphor of ‘shadow’ to avoid a dualism between an ‘outside’ form (the shape of gesture) and an ‘inside’ life (the interiority of dancers). In paintings, shadows create the three-dimensional perspective, giving the canvas depth. Similar are sensations, meaning, storytelling and space: they are the shadows giving depth, intensity and quality to the dance gesture.
This last remark brings me to my final comment on my sense of beauty. I’ve been inspired by the diverse criteria of beauty among dance forms. As an outsider to a movement style, I can’t judge correctly the quality of the performance. As long as I’m not aware of the emic aesthetic conventions, what I consider as a ‘beautiful’ performance is not necessarily what is considered appropriate for a specific dance community. Although I’d like to prevent generalisations, I think that contemporary dance mainly focuses on visual criteria. The aesthetic visual beauty of the form could be considered as most the relevant criteria. In my opinion, this aspect reveals general cultural features of western epistemology and the importance of the vision among the five senses (Ingold 2000, 243).
It took me a few years to understand the emic conventions of traditional African dances. I was always applauding when my co-dancers were not, until I realized that they were prioritizing auditory modalities (instead of the visual form). In sabar (Senegalese dance) and mandingue (various rhythms mainly from Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Senegal), an improvisation succeeds when it is performed in harmony with music. A soloist reaches his performance when (s)he dances precisely with the bit of the music and finishes the dance in an ending pose exactly on the final note of the drums. The communication between dancers and musicians is very sensitive. The listening requires attentiveness and concentration. The interplay between acceleration, deceleration, breaks, velocity and ending poses tend toward a sense of togetherness defined by rhythm. This musical harmony is the main criterion validating a dance performance. When several dancers move together, the precision of the visual form (such as in ballet in which all dancers execute exactly the same shape) is less important than being together in the rhythm. This allows a strong singularity in the expression of the dance.
Through the practice of dancing, newcomers not only learn how to move, but also to judge and evaluate the quality and the performativity of the dance. The community raises a local knowledge to evaluate the beauty of a performance and the accuracy of a gesture. Consequently, a gesture is not individualist but social, as it resonates with the community. In fact, a gesture is always collective: ‘Always more than one’, wrote Erin Manning (2013). Even while performing alone, a dancer carries the memory of other dancers in his/her dances, as they are present in the shadow of his/her gestures.
There would be so much more to say about the production of gestures, the association with time, space, meaning, ecology and collective. Here I just shared a few reflections from my investigation on choreographic processes to show how dance can contribute to anthropological knowledge about creativity, intuition in art practices and improvisation. I consider dance as an entrance door to think about broader phenomena referring to subjectivity, togetherness, ecology and life. I am actually convinced of the potential of the collaboration between art and anthropology to better understand the meaning of life (Clarke and Vionnet 2017).
I have always been fascinated by the diversity of dance forms around the world: partnering dances, stage performances, folk dances, street dance and so on. This variety reveals movement creativity around the planet. Dance is about movement not only in the aesthetic/choreographic dimension, but also in the sense of globalization. Indeed, dance forms circulate from place to place until it blooms in unexpected areas. I learned salsa in Scotland, Senegalese dance in Montreal and West African traditional dances in Switzerland.
Since my early childhood in Cameroon, dance has always been close to me. My first experience of moving started perched on my mother’s back as she danced with other women in a remote West African village. Back in Switzerland, I pursued hip hop as a teenager and modern jazz as a young adult. During my studies in social sciences, I started thinking of the potential of exploring anthropology through dance. What can we gain from dance practices to understand life? How can dance contribute to anthropological knowledge? What advantage do we get in exploring the meaning of life through movement? What could we gain for ethnographic encounters when we share a dance with a fieldworks’ interlocutor?
I run a fieldwork in contemporary dance to investigate the emergence of gestures, asking myself how movements are created for the purpose of a dance performance. How do gestures emerge in a creative process? What are the conditions for creativity, artistic intuition, performativity and improvisation? Drawing on my fieldwork alongside Swiss choreographers, these following lines give an account of my investigation about movement/gesture related to dance improvisation and choreography (Vionnet 2018).
Imagine a stage. Imagine a woman standing in the middle. She is swaying, eyes closed. Her arms are circling by her sides, joining in the center of her body.
Despite her blindness, the woman moves beautifully. She has a lovely presence on stage. I remember her performance in a contemporary dance theater in Lausanne five years ago. I felt touched by her authenticity. However, a dance teacher would have noted a fragmented movement, lacking fluidity and circularity. Watching her, I realized to what extent our dance gestures are acquired. How does a blind dancer learn what is a ‘beautiful’ dance movement, without seeing it? There are no innate movements. They can only be taught and learned. Movements are shaped and polished to become appropriate dance gestures.
Philosophers (Agamben 1991, 1992; Billeter 2002) and dance scholars (Godard 1998; Glon and Launay 2012) make a distinction between a movement and a gesture. Several conceptual frameworks were developed to distinguish these two notions. In my research on creative processes, I have talked about movement that defines constant activity of a dancing body. Warming up, improvising, rehearsing and walking, dancers constantly generate movements. Even when sitting, they hardly ever stay immobile. There is always a little form of movement, circulating through the body. Hands are held, body parts touched and massaged, sometimes their own bodies, other times for dance partners.
In a choreographic process, dance sequences emerge from improvisations. Choreographers usually give verbal instructions and constraints for dancers to invent new movements. These rules of game provide material for choreographers to build up the choreography. Watching and recording improvisations, they choose and select interesting movements according to the concept of the choreography. These ‘rough’ movements are then worked out, trained and polished to become motifs for choreographic sequences. I started to talk about gestures as a way to refer to these improvised movements that were chosen and that are undergoing a process of aestheticization.
I associate gestures with the notion of ‘sense’. In French (as in English), the notion of sense refers to at least five dimensions: sensations (the five senses), intuition (intuitive belief of something happening), signification (meaning of an action or a word), faculty of judgment (ability to think rationally), and direction in/toward a place (Rey 2001, 340-343). I noted the presence of these five features in a dance gesture. Indeed, a gesture is first generated through a sensorial perception of a body in relation to space. A contemporary dancer starts her / his training breathing, eyes closed, feeling the connection with the floor, the air, sounds, toward her / himself and others present in the dance studio. This attitude of listening is the basis of improvisation.
Secondly, intuition lies at the core of improvisation. Intuition starts with an attentive listening to what is already there and what else could emerge. It is an availability to the potential enactment of something else. Intuition is a result of this capacity of hearing the little signals that will create meaningful gestures.
Imagine a stage. Imagine a woman standing in the middle. She is swaying, eyes closed. Her arms are circling by her sides, joining in the center of her body.
BEING SPECIAL IN THE ONLINE WORLD
lISELOT VOORDOUW AND MARTHE BAALBERGEN
People say we are the generation of the online world. But that it would be our only world today, nobody could have expected. This year has been filled with online lectures, online gatherings and online connections. People tend to say this year is special; but is this really the right word to use: special? It has a positive sound to it, a sound which does not fit the current situation.
Working from home, wearing a mask and keeping your distance have become normalities in our everyday life. These changes, however, have a different effect on everyone: not going to school is a blessing for some, while for another it is their worst nightmare. Some lost their jobs, while others finally got the recognition they deserved during this pandemic. For us, as first-year students, this pandemic has made our year ‘special’, but normal would have been just fine.
Like every other student, we have been attending online University. However, for us, that also meant meeting our lecturers and fellow students for the first time through a computer screen. We all had our expectations of what it would be like to go to university. However, sitting in our own house, as opposed to a lecture room, has changed our experience. Normally we would have been in the lecture room, normally we would have been going to parties and meeting a lot of new people. These activities have been brought to just one isolated place and a computer screen. All the expectations have now become reality, in a world where the 'new normal' is to experience things virtually and isolated.
For us, the most important and impactful change has been meeting our fellow students. We have illustrated the images of them in our minds through the projection of the literal images on our screen. And if the real-life meeting moment arrives, we expect what that person will be like. When we think about celebrities, there is a tendency to create an expectation based on how they present themselves to the world. This could take place on social media platforms, movies or newspapers. But celebrities obviously don’t only exist only on these platforms. When the watchers encounter them in real life, they may be shocked by the sight. To see your projection of a person that you created in your mind, in reality, could be very different. For example their height, or eye-colour. But it could also be their personality. When we meet people, we will try to read them to get to know them. But reading them through a screen will blur the line between expectation and reality.
Thus, when will we meet these images in real life? I wish you could tell me, but the truth is that nobody knows. We are now a half a year into our study; this is the period in which we, at the start of the year, had thought everything would be normal again. Instead, nothing much has changed, on the contrary, the measurements have even become more strict. We will have to stay in the online world for a little longer. We can only speculate about 2021: will a ‘get to know the second years’ be organised? Could we already have lessons at the end of the year due to the vaccine? Sometimes it can be difficult to get a clear perspective on what the future holds, so we try to live in the here and now.
We may be the generation of the online world, but we can not live entirely in it. Personally, we have come to value social interaction outside of the online world a lot more. We still don’t know what it would have been like to go to university without the pandemic, and we may never know. But one thing is clear: being part of the ‘special’ year is not what we expected nor wanted.
Marthe Baalbergen is a first year Cultural Anthropology student at Leiden University. She is a media member within the ICA committee and has painted the cover for this magazine.
Liselot Voordouw is a first year anthropology student who loves travelling and telling stories. As she also has an interest in photography, she is also part of this years photo committee
Roxanne Hendrix is a second-year Anthropology student. She is part of the Itiwana board and is also leading the travelcom to organize an upcoming study trip.
When you stir a glass of water, the water moves. Logic. But even after you have stopped the movement, the water is still in movement. The same goes for your body. As we all know by now, our bodies are made up of 70 % water. How we treat our body, and how we move it, will have an effect on the water that is inside us. In return, it will determine how we feel and interact with the world around us. Every one of us is made up of water, and what if I tell you that the way in which we are connected to each other, is through this very liquid. What if I tell you that the way we feel, is influenced by the way we treat the water around and within us?
The studies from the Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto on the forming of water crystals show us how our intentions, thoughts, and words can transform the very structure of these crystals. During the experiments he ran to prove his theory, he treated various glasses of water differently. For example, to one glass of water, he would say “I love you”, to another “Thank you”. He would also treat water in a more negative manner by using words like “Evil” or “I hate you”. What he found was that the water that was exposed to more positive intentions result in more aesthetically pleasing crystals. On the other hand, the crystals that were treated with negative intentions resulted in disconnected and disfigured crystal formations. These findings were revolutionary and showed us “how water is an energy capable of more than we ever imagined”. It made people realize that water can understand the energy of human intentions; water is a living consciousness. But if the water is affected by our words, intentions, and energies, would it not be the same for ourselves and the people around us? As I already mentioned, our bodies are made up of at least 70% water. With the evidence of Emoto’s research, it points to the direction that our hydraulic bodies are also affected by the way we treat water within us and around us. I am not saying that, if we say nice things to the water in our body, we will all of a sudden feel better. But staying in the thought pattern of Emoto, if we would give positive intentions, maybe even bless the water before we drink it, its crystals will be reshaped to a more beautiful formation, and with that, reshape the water crystals within our body as well. In this way, the water within ourselves, within others, and around us, is connected. And to make use of its supposedly energetic powers, we have to treat it with positive intentions.
A STUDY INTO HOW OUR INTENTIONS CAN RESHAPE WATER
His studies have brought great controversy on the topic of water as a living consciousness. Many scientists dismiss his findings because of insufficient experiments and the lack of transparency in his approach. Moreover, the critics deemed the experiment to be prone to manipulation and human error. Whether or not Emoto’s claims are true, I do believe that intention can influence how something or someone is feeling. If it is not the intention we give water, it is the intention we give our minds. Through positive thinking, we can reshape our belief system about ourselves, and with that improve our lives. Maybe it is not the movement of the water crystals that can affect our emotions, but the movement, and energy of our intentions.
"water is an energy capable of more than we ever imagined"
“You do get concerned that they [children] become dislocated from the world and you do worry that...they have lost that sense of how the seasons work and so on. On a very simple point; that they sit, they know, they see, they observe, that they physically engage...unless you sense it and you feel it and know it then you are dislocated from the environmental impact we have as human beings and our relationship with it; you have got to understand that relationship”.
As human animals we have been evolutionarily predisposed to seek connections with nature and other living things, a concept known as ‘biophilia’ (Wilson, 1984). Such historic propensity to connect with nature has provided benefits for our psychological health and well-being (Ulrich, 1993). The sentiments above were expressed during an interview with a Primary Head Teacher from a school in the city of Leicester in England and illustrates the importance the school places on enabling children to develop this connection with nature. Such ideas represent a wider growing concern about the erosion of our biophilic connection with nature due to the technological advancements of Western Society (Gullone, 2000) and creation of artificial environments (Wilson, 1993). Such disconnection is feared to be having a detrimental impact on our relationship and affinity with the wider environment. Part of these fears are based on an increase in urbanization (Pyle, 2003); the adoption of a more screen-based lifestyle (Celments, 2004; Larsen et.al., 2019) and parental fears about both traffic danger and stranger danger (Islam et. al, 2016; Johansson, 2006). Therefore, children and young people in Western Societies are spending less time outdoors in the natural environment than that of previous generations (Louv, 2005; Moss, 2012; Natural England, 2009; RSPB, 2012). Subsequently, many children today are reported to have limited physical engagement with nature or access to spontaneous outdoor play (Karsten & van Vliet, 2006; Knight, 2013) which declines further in early adolescence (Braun & Dierkes, 2017).
This ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, as Louv (2005) defines it, has led to the erosion of our innate biophilic connection to life at the detriment of the psychological and physiological health and wellbeing of many children and young people (Taylor & Kuo, 2006). Further, and perhaps more importantly, this lack of exposure to nature prevents children and young people developing an affinity with nature and learning to appreciate the natural environment in order to care for it in the future (Kuo et al., 2019). However, one vehicle that could potentially be connecting children and young people with nature, and that is gaining traction in many UK schools, is Forest School (henceforth FS).
I have always been interested in the importance of our connection to nature and its relationship with sustainability. Thus, I am particularly keen to examine how engagement with FS can support children’s connection to nature and the extent to which it can go some way in developing their pro-environmental behaviors and ideas of sustainability (Kuo et al., 2019). I am also interested in how involvement in FS is developing children’s confidence (Murray & O’Brien, 2005) and motivation to learn (Skinner & Chi, 2012), as well as how it can have a positive impact on their well-being (Capaldi et al., 2014). However, it is to the former that I think is most important and I am minded of the comments from a practitioner involved in FS in one primary school who told me that “…we’re seeing apocalyptic reports of the environment and these things are linked, it’s our artificiality. We’re obsessed by the artificial and I just think that FS is a way of fighting back against that”.
This essay is to share briefly with you some preliminary insights from my current research and interest in FS Education. My current research project draws on a range of empirical methods including focus groups and interviews with teachers, practitioners and children, as well as observations and participant observations of FS practice in a number of schools. Further data is also drawn from field notes that I kept during a FS Leader programme I attended from April 2017 through to May 2018.
WHAT IS A FOREST SCHOOL?
The idea of FS originated in Scandinavia in the 1950s where it became an integral part of early years educational practice and remains firmly embedded in the curriculum of these countries today (Beery, 2013). Based on the cultural heritage of friluftsliv (free-air life) (Waller et al., 2017), the key ethos of FS is to nurture and develop children’s innate curiosity to explore natural environments and connect with the outdoors. FS is concerned with a child’s holistic development and an understanding that play (Bruce, 2011) and movement (Bilton, 2002) in natural settings are key elements for learning about nature. Therefore, the key pedagogic philosophy is that the experience offered to children and young people is led by them. Although one or two activities might be available during FS, children can choose to engage or not; there is no formal curriculum as such. Learners are free to be spontaneous and choose what they want to do and who they want to do it with. Practitioners are simply there to facilitate and support activities and make sure children are safe, and to join in with the children and be equally spontaneous.
The development of FS in the UK can be traced back to 1993 where it was introduced by Bridgewater College, Somerset, England after a trip to Denmark to observe Forest School firsthand. It has been growing ever since, even taking hold in many other European countries as well as Brazil, South Africa, Australia, USA, Canada and India (Knight, 2013). Many schools in the UK have continued to embrace such practice, particularly in Early Years settings (children aged 3-5). However more recently many Primary Schools (children aged 5-11) have begun to offer FS as part of their overall provision (Knight, 2016). Importance is placed on allowing children to move freely around wooded areas and explore natural settings at their own pace. Embedded in the philosophy and focus of FS is that practice adopts a child-led approach to learning and is thus different from the focus of the neoliberal classroom based on performativity and testing, where movement is restricted, and learning is teacher-led. In this performativity climate, many head teachers and teachers are often frightened to do things differently due to the pressures to achieve certain kinds of results in standardized national tests. As one practitioner put it: “So a school now, it’s a place. Instead of being a place of fun and enjoyment and child-centered and imagination and creativity, it’s a place of fear”.
However, as more schools continue to embrace FS as a respected learning space away from the physical restrictions of the classroom, FS is becoming an equally important aspect of a child’s schooling experience alongside the development of their formal academic knowledge. Indeed, many schools that I have visited in Leicestershire which are lucky enough to have a wooded area on their school grounds are providing FS at least one afternoon a week. Some schools schedule this for one-year groups over the year, and others offer six-week blocks across all year groups on different days of the week. Those schools without a wooded area on their site are looking at developing raised beds and bringing nature to the playground.
Embracing FS and nature activities in more schools is an exciting development that is potentially providing schools with the impetus in which to begin doing things differently. At the same time, FS is connecting children with the outdoors and nature in order to develop their environmental sensibilities.
“…we’re seeing apocalyptic reports of the environment and these things are linked, it’s our artificiality. We’re obsessed by the artificial and I just think that FS is a way of fighting back against that”.
MOVING THROUGH THE WOODS
DEVELOPING CHILDREN'SCONNECTION AND APPRECIATION OF NATURE
Playing in the Woods
After a quick discussion of the rules, one child could not sit still, and he pushed over his log and got excited about all the bugs he could see. I told all the children to push over their logs and have a look underneath. I was really surprised how excited they all got and went around each other’s logs to have a look at the mini beasts.
This is an extract from my field notes, taken after session 1 of 6 with a group of nine 8-9-year old’s that I facilitated in the spring of 2018. These children were very excited to be outside in a small wooded area that is situated on their school grounds. Over the course of the 6 sessions all the children became more connected to this space, and it was interesting to watch them become fascinated in what was around them. They became increasingly interested in all the other creatures that inhabited the space and were keen to make bug ‘hotels’ to look after them. Children were noticing changes each week and excited about the trees coming alive and bursting into bud. I found this to be a common trait across the FS activities I have observed in other schools. Children would often comment on the ‘colours around them’ and ‘liked finding little creatures’. On talking to children during FS sessions in one school I asked them what they liked about FS and they talked about ‘being outside in the fresh air’ away from the ‘hot classroom’. They talked about the ‘freedom’ they had to ‘play’ and what they wanted to do as well as how being ‘away from the classroom was calmer’.
As children are free to explore the wooded areas at their leisure, they would create their own games often working together to play as a group. Basic activities are offered that might focus on shelter building, fire lighting, tool use, creating art from natural materials and investigating trees and other living things. During my observations and involvement in FS with children, it was clear that they were becoming familiar with the natural space and enjoyed being outside and choosing what they wanted to do. One teacher I spoke with told me “you know the ones who aren’t keen at being outdoors, are happy to go down and be in the woods or happy to go and do the art outside…you can see them growing”.
A snack and drink are often provided at some stage during FS. Practitioners are careful to offer food products that are vegan and vegetarian, which often produces a discussion around what they are eating and how it is sustainable. I remember a child finding a plastic wrapper in the wooded area and we talked about how plastic is not biodegradable and is damaging the environment. Discussions are an important part of the FS experience, and a way of generating knowledge of how nature is important for all of us and how we should look after it. I am not suggesting that FS is a vehicle that will transform every single child and young person into eco-warriors but suggest that it is just one way that we can get them to think about themselves in relation to the wider environment. By using all their senses to learn about the environment around them the hope is that FS will go some way in developing their appreciation of nature so that they want to look after it even as they get older.
It is clear to me when being outside with children that they love it and benefit from it, and we need to continue to get this message out to all schools. I would like to close this piece with the following comments from a FS practitioner:
"We have this assumption nowadays, of course, kids just want to be on their phones, on their PlayStations or they just want to be stuck indoors. That’s absolutely not true, that’s just the society we’ve put them in. Actually, when they go out to the Forest, they don’t want to be in on the computer, they absolutely love FS… Of course, they want to be outside, that’s the way they’re evolved to be."
I am not suggesting that FS is a vehicle that will transform every single child and young person into eco-warriors but suggest that it is just one way that we can get them to think about themselves in relation to the wider environment.
Dr Dave Cudworth
is Associate Professor, Head of Education Division at DeMontfort
University, Leicester, UK. Prior to his move into academia Dave was a primary school
teacher in schools in London and then primary teacher educator at the University of
East London. His research interests include primary schooling, educational social
justice, spatial approaches to education, environmental education and forest school.
IN THE PICTURE
The movement of the sea sometimes requires creative solutions. In 2017, I went to Asia for the first time to spend a couple of days on the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. When I just arrived at the island, I saw this weird situation that is shown in the photo. I wondered why the restaurant owners kept their chairs and tables in the water, no one would eat while sitting in the water, right? However, when I walked past the same place in the evening, I came to understand the situation that I had seen in the afternoon. The tables and chairs did not stand in the water anymore – there were people eating at those same tables at the same exact spot. The tide had gone out and the water that had touched the chairs in the afternoon had moved further away from the restaurant. I thought it was actually quite a smart idea from the restaurant owner: In this way, they did not have to move the tables every evening when the tides would change again. This situation showed how we can’t change the movement of nature, but how we can find creative solutions to deal with these movements.
Amber Rademaker is a second year student of Cultural Anthropology and currently doing a board year for Itiwana. She loves sports, photography and playing guitar.
By Amber Rademaker
THE INDIGENOUS RIGHTS MOVEMENT IN AFRICA
PERSPECTIVES FROM BOTSWANA AND CAMEROON
Michaela Pelican and Junko Maruyama
they no longer saw themselves as marginalized livestock farmers, but as an empowered Cameroonian minority
This article argues that the indigenous rights movement in different parts of Africa has gone through various phases, from expectation and success to disillusionment and pragmatism. This case study is about the Mbororo community that is living in Cameroon. Some Grassfield societies in Cameroon consider themselves natives and guardians of the land and regard the Mbororo as strangers and late-comers with limited rights to land and resources. The Mbororo community wants to have the same rights as other communities in Cameroon. The Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association tries to empower the Mbororo community by standing up for their economic and human rights. How has the community developed?
The Rise of Ethnic Elite Associations
With Cameroon’s democratization in the 1990s, a new era, characterized by party politics as well as ethnic and minority politics (Nyamnjoh & Rowlands, 1998; Takougang & Krieger, 1998), dawned. Encouraged by newly gained freedoms and government policies, many groups began to establish ethnic or regional associations that acted as their representatives to the state. This novel political approach was also explored by young, mostly educated Mbororo, who founded the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) in 1992 (Davis, 1995; Hickey, 2007; Pelican, 2008). Whereas other organizations promoting Mbororo and pastoralist interests were created, the association soon emerged as the most vocal and effective organ of Mbororo self-representation to the Cameroonian government, and to international development organizations. It designed a number of regional programs aimed at the revitalization of Mbororo cultural practices, the improvement of Mbororo women’s socioeconomic situation, the promotion of Mbororo children’s education, and the improvement of rural conditions (Duni et al., 2009). Several of these programs have been implemented with the support of local communities as well as national and international NGOs. Moreover, as a result of the continuous lobbying by MBOSCUDA, the Mbororo eventually attained the status of a regional and national minority with claims and rights to natural resources and political representation in their home area. These developments also led to a change in the self-awareness and understanding of the Mbororo people. Although initially associated with backwardness and superficial Islamization, the ethnic group Mbororo gained new, positive meanings. As Mbororo informants explained, they no longer saw themselves as marginalized livestock farmers, but as an empowered Cameroonian minority. Based on these achievements, MBOSCUDA icreased its credibility vis-à-vis both its Mbororo constituency and the Cameroonian government.
In the subsequent decade, MBOSCUDA expanded its political lobbying to the international arena by establishing links with the global human and indigenous rights movements. Thanks to personal connections with European researchers and development workers, contacts were made with the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. In 2005, MBOSCUDA was granted special consultative status by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. This eventually resulted in the international recognition of the Mbororo as an indigenous people of Cameroon. Whereas this step was reasonable given MBOSCUDA’s political engagement, the Mbororo’s claim to indigeneity is ambiguous from a critical anthropological viewpoint, as it is inconsistent with local conceptions of autochthony (Pelican, 2009).
The Complexities of Indigeneity and Autochthony in Cameroon
In Cameroon, as in other parts of western Africa, notions of indigeneity, autochthony, first-comers, and natives have a long history, and frame local conceptions of political hierarchy and legal entitlement (Bayart et al., 2001; Lentz, 2006; Geschiere, 2009). In northwest Cameroon, local Grassfields societies consider themselves natives and guardians of the land, and regard the Mbororo as strangers and late-comers with limited rights to land and resources. Although this conception is rooted in pre-colonial notions of political power based on priority in time, it has also been informed by colonial and post-colonial policies. On the national level, discourses of autochthony were highlighted in the context of Cameroon’s democratization. As provided in the country’s revised constitution of 1996, priority is given to the protection of the rights of minorities and indigenous populations. According to this national political framework, indigenous populations refer to local groups that consider themselves first-comers, natives, or autochthones. This differs from the UN and ILO conception of indigenous peoples, which prioritizes the criteria of self-identification, historical or contemporary experiences of marginalization, and cultural differences from the majority population (Daes, 1996; ILO, 1989). As confirmed by Tchoumba in his ILO pilot study on Cameroon, the Mbororo fulfill the ILO and UN criteria, and thus may be considered indigenous peoples of Cameroon (Atelier de Planification, 2003; Tchoumba, 2006). Conversely, the Cameroonian government has never officially defended the two groups’ classification as indigenous peoples, and instead applied the notion of vulnerable or ‘marginal populations’. This complex situation in which concepts have similar meanings but divergent applications has resulted in the puzzling situation in which the Mbororo internationally qualify as an indigenous people, but are viewed as late-comers, allochthonous, or a marginalized minority in the local and national context. Thus, international and local interpretations of indigeneity are inconsistent.
Ambivalence and the Changing Strategies of the Indigenous Rights Movement
Despite the conceptual and terminological complexities, the recognition of the Mbororo as an indigenous people initiated a new era in their identity politics. With the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, expectations that the unstable situation of minority groups would gradually improve were high among activists and organizations. The same hopes were shared by Mbororo activists, especially MBOSCUDA leaders who promoted this new, supra-ethnic identity to capitalize on its political strength. So this identity is not restricted by ethnicity or ethnic identity. Yet, their subsequent recourse to the indigenous rights discourse produced mixed, and at times, unforeseen results. This section will outline two developments that seem representative of the learning processes of many indigenous and human rights activists in Africa and elsewhere: First, a process from enthusiasm to disillusionment and then to pragmatism, which became evident in the aftermath of the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; second, recent ventures into alternative approaches to lobbying, such as those relying on the virtual and social media.
The Sabga leadership crisis of 2007 was a crucial test case for assessing the applicability and efficacy of the indigenous rights discourse with regard to the Mbororo in Cameroon (for a detailed analysis, see Pelican, 2010). The crisis emerged over the procedure used to select a new community leader, with Mbororo activists claiming their rights as an indigenous people to political and territorial integrity. The issue emerged in the summer of 2007, when government representatives forcefully intervened in Sabga, the main Mbororo settlement in north-west Cameroon. Through the influence of a wealthy and well-connected entrepreneur, the community-elected leader was administratively deposed and replaced by a Mbororo ruler preferred by the entrepreneur. Members of the Sabga community protested this interference, and the government reacted with military intervention. The Mbororo elite in Sabga eventually decided to use international connections to pressure the government. In fear for their lives, the deposed leader and his supporters sought refuge at the United States embassy in the capital, Yaoundé. Mbororo women staged a protest at the Prime Minister’s office and demanded the deposition of the imposed ruler and the reinstatement of their rightful community leader. Moreover, with the help of MBOSCUDA, they reported the case to national and international human rights organizations as well as to the UN Human Rights Council. For a short while, the Cameroonian government seemed willing to reconsider the case. At the initiative of the Prime Minister, an official investigative team was sent to Sabga. Its members reported their findings to the President, but no action was taken. Mbororo human rights activists further publicized the issue and solicited national and international bodies to issue official letters of concern. Moreover, in 2007, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, who was then the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, visited Cameroon, included the Sabga leadership crisis in his report, and demanded a response from the Cameroonian government as well as a resolution of the issue (Stavenhagen, 2007). Yet, although the government was obliged to deliver an opinion on the reported infringements of Mbororo human and indigenous rights, no actual consequences followed. The deposed leader remained disempowered, and the Mbororo community had to come to terms with the political dynamics and internal frictions that had been caused by the protracted issue.
On one of the few occasions to garner near unanimous community action, Mbororo women, youth, and men took to the streets in Sabga to publicly protest the intervention of the regional administration in the process to select their future community leader. This was unprecedented in that community members, including illiterate women and men rather than educated Mbororo activists, took action and traveled to the capital, Yaoundé, to seek both national and international assistance. This was the first time that the report of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association to the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples and the Human Rights Council led to an intergovernmental exchange and follow-up actions. However, these interventions proved inconsequential, and the queries of the Human Rights Council remained largely unanswered. Eventually, the hopes of Mbororo activists that the UN agencies and the discourse on human and indigenous rights would work in their favor were dashed. The succeeding consequences were twofold. They included government sanctions on Mbororo actors as well as disagreements within the Mbororo community regarding the efficacy of international interventions, and more profoundly, regarding the legitimacy of Mbororo claims to indigeneity. Critical voices emerged, particularly among members of the economically progressive and political elite. In their view, classifying the Mbororo as an indigenous people was suggestive of Mbororo backwardness and poverty. Conversely, they viewed their own trajectories as evocative of Mbororo advancement and their political integration on equal terms with other population groups.
Thus, the Sabga leadership crisis initiated a phase of general disillusion with global advocacy and the indigenous rights discourse. At the same time, it occasioned a reorientation of Mbororo activists away from public criticism of the Cameroonian government and its representatives and towards a more mediatory approach, including collaboration with government institutions. As outlined above, the government integrated the indigenous rights discourse in its developmental agenda under the heading of ‘marginal populations’. Thus, Mbororo NGOs continue to employ and endorse this discourse, but in a less confrontational manner than in previous years. This is reflected in a number of recent events organized by Mbororo organizations that have been aimed toward generating dialogue and cooperation among representatives of indigenous groups, relevant government institutions, academics, and NGOs. These events are also remarkable in that they illustrate the repeated efforts of educated and visionary Mbororo actors to engender a self-understanding that transcends the narrow boundaries of Mbororo ethnicity and embraces the broader categories of indigenous peoples or minorities.
the hopes of Mbororo activists that the UN agencies and the discourse on human and indigenous rights would work in their favor were dashed
Michaela Pelican is Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Cologne University. Her earlier work focused on ethnicity and conflict in Cameroon and the indigenous rights movement in Africa. Subsequently, she researched migration from Cameroon to the Gulf States and China. Her most recent project centres on the so-called Anglophone Crisis and its effects on the Mbororo indigenous minority.
The collapse of Human Rights
We, anthropology students, should listen to what local people, themselves, think of and deal with it, rather than discussing problems and making judgments on the “desk”
Human rights, as the most popular discourse under the media-controlled world, are often talked by people wherever they are and whatever background they have. Most of them are willing to fight for human rights for some marginalised groups, which will be helpful for humanitarian development, equality and equity around the world. However, when it comes to some certain context and field when we talk about human rights, does it really matter for local people? In this essay, the human rights that I discuss are mainly about social and cultural ones. I do not take the political one into account because it is too complex to explain and difficult to analyse with my biased information and background.
Human rights sometimes have the limited function to only judge and criticise social facts rather than helping to improve them in some contexts. By using human rights theories, people could easily find out some drawbacks in our society. But how can we change them? Human rights do not give a clear instruction for people to solve the problems. For example, people would find out the problems with education systems in their country by practising human rights framework. Then they might organise protests to push the government to fix and improve the education systems. But how could we track that? And what would we do if the improvements made by the government are not actually helpful? Should we organise protests forever until it is solved? Therefore, a framework with both the ability to criticise and promote would be proposed to substitute human rights and make the problems more clear by tracing their roots.
Human rights is a framework that is derived inside the western world, which means human rights theories are largely ‘at a ‘developed stage’. So human rights are not appropriate to judge every culture when it comes to non-western societies. For example, when people outside of China talk about the quarantine policies (such as government only allow one person in a household to go out for buying groceries each day) in China when the COVID-19 virus started to spread, it is effortless to say that China’s government was violating human rights of Chinese people by judging these rights. Nevertheless, is that what Chinese people exactly think about these rules? We, anthropology students, should listen to what local people, themselves, think of and deal with it, rather than discussing problems and making judgments on the “desk” without doing any research or fieldwork, which would be very risky in our subject. As we all know, Chinese people are described as collective groups, which means they consider the interests of society more than that of themselves. So when COVID-19 happened, most people would first think about their responsibility to others and the society rather than concerning their own freedom. Thus, when we look back at the question, can we say that China’s government was violating human rights in this context by considering the local situation and what the Chinese people themselves thought about it?
I cannot deny that Human Rights could indeed help us to point out the problematic aspects of society. However, people should be careful when using it applying to non-western cultures without concerning the local context.
Blithe (Xiangjun) Sun is a first years anthropology student at Leiden University. He is interested in gender studies and culture studies of East Asia.
Human rights sometimes have the limited function to only judge and criticise social facts rather than helping to improve them in some contexts.
The need for change of societal circumstances is a large inequality. There is a division in groups and characteristics in terms of their privilege. Some are ‘blessed’ with certain privileges, which means they don’t have to face structural injustice related to discrimination toward a certain characteristic, and in turn don’t even have to understand its existence; while others are the ‘unlucky’ ones. Burdened with a system that does not function for everyone, and which actively discriminates toward those whose foundation of society is not built for. Needless to say, the division in privilege and burden results in a division of understanding the injustices of society, and is in the need for change.
Difference in experience and thus in understanding, causes on one side the desire for changed policy, social norms, recognition, etc. On the other side, that of the ones who do benefit from the system, it causes an ignorance toward the people desiring change. Of course this isn’t as black and white in reality, as many people fall in between the groups, but it does help us understand social and political debates. And those debates / phenomena I’m referring to are ‘sensitivity’ on the side of privileged people. It’s not difficult to come across people in privileged positions who feel attacked or insulted or hurt, or inconvenienced, by mentions of discrimination, structural racism, or other forms of large-scale injustice. Not even directly pointed at them, but in general. It is also not difficult to sway aside their defensive reactions to those mentions, in the name of their ‘misunderstanding’.
The thing about the lack of understanding on the side of the privileged, is that it can, and does, cause suffering. Not to glorify nor demonise them (the people who misunderstand), but it is not difficult to identify at least significant distress if you have a racist grandma or neighbour. And, in particular, distress caused by change in circumstances around them. Trans rights movements, feminist ones, indigenous ones, Black Lives Matter; but also everyday change toward a more diverse and inclusive society, e.g. a mosque being built. That which I see as a blessing and which fuels my hope for humanity, can for others feel like an insult straight to the heart.
As anthropologists we can all agree that our individual world views are (almost) entirely shaped by our genes, upbringing, other parts of childhood, the environment we roll into, and other factors that are part of the nurturing process. It’s shaped by chance. To say we are actively conscious in choosing our perspectives is to deny the domination of chance and subliminal determination of how we see the world and other people. In other words, I don’t have control over what my initial feeling is toward certain things. I can reflect on it, and nurture myself into changing it; but that is another process. The privileged, ignorant people I’m speaking of in this essay, are the ones who did not reflect on themselves in the direction of understanding the injustice they don’t have to face. This essay concerns people whose perspectives arise from their experiences, in societal positions of privilege, whom we cannot, in my eyes, morally blame for their lack of understanding. The reason for this is that the need for and action of reflection also arises from experiences and unconscious processes.
In this essay I’ll take a bold stance: not only is it both useful and a moral obligation to understand the (possible) distress or hardship of the people who are not met with the specific concerning structural discrimination, a distress which is caused by the change of their environment; but the distress also ought to be justified. Hence the aim of justifying change, knowing the conservative hardship it can cause.
The privileged suffering
Let’s take the Black Lives Matter movement as an example. The people who didn’t ask for change, and don’t see any personal benefit to change in circumstances, and are not in solidarity with those who do call for change (in other words, mostly white people with a significant disconnect to black people’s experiences), are not partaking in the political act of calling for change, and are thus subjected to the societal changes that result from it. They are subjected to new circumstances, be it widespread explicit acknowledgement of black people’s human value, a change in national policy combatting discrimination, or something else. And this subjection entails judgement. They ought to position themselves (including forming an opinion) in relation to the change, and thus unavoidably also to the group calling for change. Like I mentioned, the people falling within the category of sufferers are the ones who do not see the necessity nor benefit of change, and do not support the group calling for change. The judgement in general can be acceptance, toleration, or hostility. (Although there may be a thin line between the second and the third, which can be seen when the media emphasise violence on the BLM front, after which people either turn hostile, or rationalise their hostility if they were already hostile.) The hostility is where I believe the significant odds of sufferings lie. There can be a world of struggle for those whose psyche can initially only resist certain changes.
Then, what does this privileged suffering look like? Firstly, I believe it can look like a few specific but very similar anxieties. One of them arises from the struggle to adapt mentally. Individual realities who could have been forged by conservatism, which started in childhood and was enforced later in life, clash with the new societal environment. White supremacy could’ve been a crucial foundation of their worldview, which is now being combatted. What this can result in is the experience of counterintuitive situations replacing the old, familiar and safe outside world. Not just that, but that personal sense of security is removed by someone else’s actions. This in turn can manifest itself in explicit fear of loss: of actual life, of the old way of life, of emotionally meaningful materials or property, and so on. Furthermore, they can experience a feeling of injustice toward the new societal circumstances. The new way in which life looks like shouldn’t be there because it is wrong. And that feeling of injustice, especially when it affects their own environment, takes its toll on the level of satisfaction in daily life. And lastly, though there may of course be many more reasons for mental suffering arising from the process of change, there is the feeling of ideological isolation. People can feel lonely when others around them accept the new situation, which leaves them with no or a few fellow strugglers. This is a social disconnect with many others and a symbolic distancing with the human environment around them.
And then the main question arises: can the privileged suffering be justified?
In terms of interference with people’s lives, the answer has to come from a comparison between the experiences of interference of the two concerning groups, i.e. how the subjection of the privileged compares to the subjection causing the societal movement and thus the societal change. And for the comparison to work, we have to assume that the aim of the BLM movements are pure in the sense that they arise from experienced injustice and work to change the causes of it (and in my eyes it is still valid if the aims exceed the direct causes, when the attempted change of circumstances includes the basis of the system which the injustice functions on — in other words, when the movement doesn’t limit itself to the direct causes (certain structures playing a clear role in racism), but also includes underlying causes). So let’s assume that. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to draw a connection between both cases of interference.
First, let’s compare the actual experience of interference for both groups. The distressed privileged have been ‘interfered with’ in the sense that their environment is changing, and that they face the changes in daily life, for example by seeing BLM protests, or discours from or about the movements in different media. The extent to which they engage with the changes can differ a lot, so for one person the trouble is further away than for another person, who cannot choose to evade constant confrontation with the change. Psychologically it can cause harm in the form of anxiety and fear of loss, and of safety. Here, a hostile judgement is a reaction to misunderstanding the other and an attempt to protect oneself. The experience of that positioning as the result of interference, which is the problem here, is characterised by distress and unnerve. The feeling of injustice, and of evil having the chance of winning, can colour the outside world grey and overflow it with a feeling of anxiety, which is often attempted to be overcome through hostility toward the threat. In terms of categories of interference, it crosses the line from ‘involvement’ or ‘interference’ to ‘disturbance.’
But arguably, the essence of this disturbance is the same as that of pretty much all other external influences in life. It can be supported, accepted, tolerated, or vilified. It’s part of the constant changes in life which a person can be subjected to. The reason it doesn’t transcend this, is because of the limited severity. Many factors and changes in life can be felt as disturbances. Here it does not go further than societal changes that can limit certain ‘freedoms’ of the privileged, and cause psychological issues, which also happen to be indirect consequences, which can be avoided by shifting judgement (which is the core of the second comparison).
For the oppressed, on the other hand, it is more than merely ‘distress’ being due to a division between a personal reality (which includes ideas and feelings of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘desirable’ and ‘terrible’ etc.), and the outer world which now contains more things that are felt to be ‘wrong.’ That is the case for the hostile privileged. The interference for black people, which causes the changes in efforts of dismantling the oppressor, does not fall within the same category of ‘disturbance.’ A situational injustice would, as is the case for the privileged. Structural injustice however, limiting the freedoms for black people compared to white people, limiting their ability to shape their lives to their own desire, is destruction. Interference here is not ‘involvement’ or ‘disturbance’ but destruction. Unequal treatment by the fellow human being on the street, through a condescending look or an explicitly racist comment; discrimination by the juridical system; racial prioritisation by the police force; the list can go on and on. And it does. In reality, the current racial injustice ensures that black people are structurally disadvantaged. The environmental circumstances are much more severely structurally disadvantaged compared to that of white people, and the internal psychological issues the structural destruction can cause are much more severe than that of the situational white person’s disturbance. And that goes without saying, when you consider the societal position of a person of colour and the possible experiences they could have — or when you listen to personal experiences of people themselves. Which (of course) is most important.
If I haven’t convinced you the severity of harm for black people is way higher than the situational chance of that for white privileged people, it is because I don’t have the ability to speak from the heart about the racial injustice and how it roams in everyday life for the oppressed. I don’t experience it. But when comparing the actual experiences of interference, it is clear which is evil, problematic and should never return to earth once it has been wiped off.
The second comparison is between the groups’ subjection. For the oppressed, it is unavoidable. Their skin colour is that which the injustice acts upon. Without visible ‘different’ descent, racists would not be able to do their racist shit, but the descent (in the sense of skin colour and other specific features which are categorised as ‘different’) cannot be hidden. A person of colour cannot escape that which makes them a target. Day in and day out, people on the street are aware of the black person’s skin colour and thus of a difference between them; a division created by a society which white supremacy is anchored in. And in this case, it’s a division in the eyes of a white person. The categorisation can result in many things, but on a structural basis, it leads to the attempted destruction of the ‘inferior.’ But the people with targets on their backs in the shape of skin colour cannot get rid of their hunters by ‘changing’ a physical piece of information — that they’re ‘different’. They don’t have the freedom to not be oppressed.
The privileged do. Although it cannot rightly be called ‘oppression,’ in the case of their interference by the changes of society. They have the ability to get rid of their suffering, simply by changing their judgement. They can escape their position of being subjected and disturbed, toward one whose knowledge of the existence of the change makes them either indifferent, accepting or supportive. Because for the privileged, their subjection does not mean harm; it means the freedom of judgement. And that contains a change of distress or suffering or harm. For the oppressed, there is no such option to relieve themselves through different judgement. Suffering in a societal situation of destruction does not cease to destroy once it is ignored or even accepted. Oppressed people have different options from privileged people; their options are to fight an unfair battle against those in power; to tolerate the system and to passively limit its harm on themselves; and to try to become part of those who deem themselves superior to the oppressed, be it the active powerful, or the privileged. Or, at least, try to fit in. The oppressed have a limited ability to limit the destruction of themselves, but if we call that a freedom, we must be really starved of their dignity. There is no option to prevent (further) destruction. For the privileged, there is the option to sway from hostility to any of the other categories, away from the beacon of distress. (Looking at societal positioning, they have the ability to change their judgement, but psychologically, that doesn’t have to be the case — consciousness followed by a desire to confront the positioning, and to change it, is no easy task even though I may have suggested it to be.)
So, for the oppressed, there is no escape, but for the distressed privileged, there is the freedom to change judgement and thus to erase the problem.
The last aspect concerns intention and consequence. The result of the oppression of black people is continued oppression of black people — it has no other purpose than the continuation of benefit for the powerful, whichever groups that may consist of in this case. The whole intention and consequence is controlled destruction, while keeping the system intact, so that the superiority can reign indefinitely. And while this is not the intention of specific individuals, it is rather the only probable outcome for a system designed the way it is, and shaped this way throughout history. In short, the essence of this interference is the continuation of oppression and suffering. Racism does not serve for good. It functions because it is kept intact, and of it will remain nothing worthy of existence after its societal dismantling.
I don’t feel like it requires a broad explanation of what the intention and consequence of the societal change is, resulting in the privileged suffering, other than that it functions as a means in the oppressed people’s attempt to stop the destruction of themselves. It is change with the effort to relieve themselves, their children and other parts of society of terrible systemic injustice.
Assuming the relationship between the oppressing interference and the movement causing societal change subjecting the hostile privileged, we could say that the oppressing interference cannot be justified in any way but through racism or insufficient understandings of its presence and causes, and thus cannot be justified, while the subjecting interference on the privileged can be justified, precisely by the intention to destroy the first. The process of dismantling that which causes oppression for black people, causes the subjection of privileged who position themselves hostile. Now it only leaves one question: does the aim of destroying a system which aimed to continue oppression of minorities, justify the suffering of other people (in this case the privileged, though it might not have to be relevant, ethically) caused by the societal changes mentioned in this essay? Yes. Were the previously privileged to become oppressed, and treated similarly to how black people were treated, then no. But that is not the case here. They are fights for equality, equal opportunity. The absence of oppression and privilege. So in a sense, life gets less ‘fortunate’ for the privileged (however their life may look like — some might be off less fortunate than most black people), as their previous advantages over black people disappear. They will be treated as equals, instead of superiors. In my eyes, that is a victory.
Of course striving for societal equality in terms of treatment and opportunity justifies psychological distress of people who oppose the movement. Not because they deserve the distress, but because the first massively outweighs the second. The interference for the privileged is merely a fragment of structural destructive interference of black people’s lives by unjust societal structures. The way of subjection, and the freedom they have with it, differs for both groups as well; the hostile have the social ability (i.e. the agency, societally — though not necessarily psychologically) to get rid of the suffering by attempting to understand the uprising group. Black people do not have that freedom as the perpetration of their oppression is based on the darkness of their skin, which cannot be changed — they cannot choose to do something which would make them be at peace with their surroundings, other than becoming blind toward their own mistreatment. And finally, interference of the hostile privileged has a purpose, in the sense that its causes are aimed at preventing further oppression of many people, to stop the racist machine, while interference of the oppressed does nothing but sustain itself for the benefit of those who oppress and those who are not oppressed (i.e. the privileged). So yes, in all aspects, overwhelmingly, large change justifies potential distress of those who do not suffer racial injustice, nor attempt to understand it.
JUSTIFYING CHANGE IN THE FACE OF SUFFERING
AN ESSAY ON THE IMPACT OF THE BLM MOVEMENTS
Wouter Keijzer is a fourth-year anthropology student, and moderator of the ICA Instagram page. He was also part of the Itiwana board last year.