In Indians in Unexpected Places Philip Deloria challenges readers to rethink expectations of Native people and their engagement in modernization. Although he sets out to understand the relationship between Indians and non-Indians in broad terms, the five essays that make up the book’s chapters are focused both historically on the turn of the century and culturally on the Lakota, Dakota, and other Native people of the Northern plains. Deloria’s project to twofold: to expose and question a “history of expectation” and to examine the how these expectations came into being (p. 6-7). His definition of expectations is central to this project and bears repeating here:
When you encounter the word expectation in this book, I want you to read it as shorthand for the dense economies of meaning, representation, and act that have inflected both American culture writ large and individuals, both Indian and non-Indian. I would like for you to think of expectations in terms of the colonial and imperial relations of power and domination existing between Indian people and the United States. You might see in expectation the ways in which popular culture works to produce—and sometimes to compromise—racism and misogyny. And I would, finally, like you to distinguish between the anomalous, which reinforces expectations, and the unexpected, which resists categorization, and thereby, questions expectations itself. (p. 11)
Each of Deloria’s essay-chapters are dedicated to, as the book’s title suggests, exploring how Native people have engaged in modernization in unexpected ways (i.e ways that question expectations) in the early 20th century: through making and acting in films, shaping sports, owning cars, and creating music. Blending history and cultural analysis, Deloria ultimately calls into question the ways in which modernity has been imagined against and in opposition to Native “primitiveness.” At stake is our conception of modernity, and the expectations that carry through that imagined history into the present, expectations that reproduce “social, political, legal, and economic relations that are asymmetrical, sometimes grossly so” (p. 4).

One example of how Native people engaged actively in modernity came in the second essay on “representation.” Red Wing and Young Deer—film writers, directors, and actors—worked together on a series of movies that rejected the conventional depictions of Native peoples in film at the early 20th century (p. 94-103). Deloria compares how cross-racial relationships are represented in The Squaw Man compared to how they are represented in Red Wing and Young Deer’s The Falling Arrow. The plot of The Squaw Man was typical for the time: a white man saves and then marries an Indian woman (echoing the narrative of colonial conquest), who later kills herself so that the white man can be with a white woman (affirming white-on-white romance). The Falling Arrow inverses this conventional plot line: an Indian man saves a white woman from a white man, and then the white woman falls in love with the Indian man. This film’s plot line questioned the expectation that Indians to not have power over whites. Similarly, Red Wing and Young Deer’s status of film creators challenges the expectation that Native people are only represented in films as passive actors. Red Wing and Young Deer’s series of films demonstrates that Native people where actively involved in using the new technology of film to question the dominant representations of Native people at the time.     
Discussion Questions:

1.  Some of you might have heard about this, but last fall No Doubt put out a music video that portrayed Gwen Stefani as an Indian woman. The band quickly took the video down from YouTube after coming under criticism from Native groups. (You can still find the video online against the band’s wishes, I think). What do you think Deloria would have to say about how the video engages expectations about Native people?

2. I think Deloria is strategically using what Tsing calls (ideological) scaling to make generalizable claims about the relationship between Indians and non-Indians. Since many of you will be using Tsing’s concept of scaling in your projects, do find Deloria’s strategic use of scaling to be effective?                

for class today

last week we decided to leave 30 min at the end of class for presentation discussions so be prepared for that. facilitations will be 45 min each.
  • schedule updates and organization
  • West facilitations
  • lightening round presentations-discussions and outlines

a few issues/themes/ideas to think about:
  • embedded social relations (55)
  • neoliberalism/ization (26-27; 46-47; 244)
  • contemporary capitalism (241, 250)
  • naturalization of primitive and poverty (248)

In From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012) Paige West offers an ethnography of the social connections that coffee creates between Papua New Guineans and coffee consumers of the global West. In particular, the author focuses on the production, distribution, and circulation of coffee as a commodity as well as its relationships to neolibralization, marketing images, third party regulatory systems (organic and fair trade certification), labor, value, and political ecology.

In chapter one on “Neoliberal Coffee,” West argues that the images used to market coffee produced in Papua New Guinea are not representative of the situation for coffee farmers and others tied to the industry. These narratives conflate poverty with the primitive and perpetuate damaging narratives about indigenous people, pristine culture, and linear development from privative to modern. West points to the Dean’s Beans blog entry, where the employee recounts his experiences traveling to Papua New Guinea to set up fair trade agreements with the coffee farmers there. She asserts that,
These marketing narratives engage a set of representational practices that seem to show clear connections between “alternative forms of consumption in the North” and social and environmental justice in the South (345). However, they shoe a fictitious version of political ecology. In addition, they craft producers and consumers in ways that are equally fictitious,. These moments, the moment of consumer production, the moment of producer production, and the moment of fictitious political ecology, would not be possible were it not for the neoliberal changes in the global economy that have taken place over the last fifty years. Nor would they be possible without the growth of the specialty coffee industry. (p. 41)
As someone who not long ago regularly patronized coffee shops in Western Mass that proudly used Dean’s Beans coffee products, it was easy for me to relate to this example. West goes on to show how fair trade and organic certification “refetishize” rather than “defetishize” the labor of Papua New Guineans (p. 50). In other words, privileged western consumers are fooling themselves when they assume that their consumer choices motivated by ethical and political commitments are causing positive political action. In fact, as West demonstrates, these marketing and consumer patterns have negative material effects on the coffee producers. 

I have to say that this was the most interesting book I have read in the last year, maybe longer. I thoroughly enjoyed the way West defined her meaning of neoliberalism (p. 26), unpacked how the ideological values behind coffee marketing campaigns, and made her discussion of these complex issues and her arguments accessible for a non-anthropologist like me while still situating her project in the existing scholarship. Most importantly, her book challenged me to rethink my conception of fair trade and organic certification, as well as the limits of consumerist activism.

Discussion Questions:

1.      Like Tsing’s, West’s book is engaged with theories of globalization and seeks to offer an ethnography of global connections. What are some of the differences and similarities between their approaches to documenting these global connections?

2.     In what ways, if any, has West’s book challenged you to rethink the limits of consumerist activism? I think of all the purchasing choices that I made that are politically or ethically motivated and that I consider part of my identity (shopping at an employee-owned store like Winco, avoiding Walmart, choosing Zoe’s over Starbucks, not owning a car, buying second hand items, buying dry food products in bulk, limiting my consumption of plastics, paper goods, and meat) and wonder how delusional I actually am. Is my faith in my “political” choices as a consumer keeping me participating in “real” political action? (Yes, I know we critiqued the concept of “authentic” change, but I still think that the concept is useful in this context.)
In An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005), Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing explores power struggles over Indonesian rain forests as sites of friction, which she defines as “the awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across difference” (p. 3). Tsing’s methodology is ethnographic and her analysis is grounded in the narratives gathered while doing field research in rural Kalimantan. Specifically, Tsing focuses on Indonesia’s national environmental movement of the 1980s and early 1990s.   

As we discussed last week in class, although Tsing studies very specific global connections that relate to deforestation in Indonesia, her book is also a study of globalism, global capitalism, and liberalism. Tsing offers a theory of globalization that challenges previous scholars’ understandings of economic and cultural change (i.e. globalization) as spreading from global “centers” outwards. Rather, Tsing demonstrates how capitalist systems and ideologies of liberalism emerge locally in peripheral places out of the frictions of global connections.  

Although Tsing’s analysis really came together in part three on “Freedom,” I found her study of the nature lovers in part two particularly interesting.  Tsing describes how the nature lovers, or pencita alam, and the networks they formed take international ideologies of nature and make them local – redeploying that knowledge to formulate an historically-situated cosmopolitan nationalism. The chapter describes the nature lovers’ complex relationships with student resistance movements and the military, their cultural distinctions between the rural and the urban, and their identity as consumers of outdoor equipment and – my personal favorite – Philip Morris cigarettes (p. 141 -146). This part of the book was noteworthy because it provides a detailed illustration of Tsing’s argument that “we know and use nature through engaged universals" (p. 270) and more broadly that globalization always manifests itself through local, fragmentary frictions.    

Discussion Questions:   

1.     Like Castells, Tsing states that her research is motivated by a desire to know what kinds of social justice (or social movements) make sense in the 21st century. Also like Castells, she investigates global connections and social movements that attract the participation of social actors with diverse goals and ideological motivations. What are some connections that you made between these two texts as you were reading this week?

2.     I like the idea of a project that would combine Castells’ focus on networked social movements and Tsing’s careful analysis of global frictions. What might such a project produce? 

In Networks of Outrage and Hope (2012) Manuel Castells presents an “inquiry into the social movements of the network society” motivated by the “hope of identifying new paths of social change in our time” (p. 4). His analysis of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the Arab Uprisings, the Indignadas in Spain, and Occupy Wall Street leads him to locate several common characteristics of networked social movements (p. 221-228). For instance, he concludes that networked social movements have horizontal rather than vertical organizational power structures, are non-violent in principal, are simultaneously local and global, and become movements through the occupation of urban space. An important aspect of his project is to challenge the “meaningless discussion in the media and in academic circles denying that communications technologies are at the roots of social movements” by showing how networked social movements are fundamentally different than those that came before (p. 228). In order to demonstrate these differences, he turns to the theory of power that he presented in Communication Power (2009) to show how “communication networks are decisive sources of power-making” (p. 9). Optimistic about the potential outcomes of networked social movements, Castells insists that “the Internet provides the organizational communication platform to translate the culture of freedom into the practice of autonomy” (p. 231). In other words, social networking and digital multimedia have the potential to support movements that make “real democracy” a reality.

I was particularly interested in one of Castell’s common characteristics of networked social movements: his observation that they are rarely programmatic movements (p. 227). He explores this idea at length in his chapter on Occupy Wall Street (p. 287-297). The OWS protestors often did not have a shared list of demands or policy changes that they were able to mobilize around. Since the groups were leaderless and represented desperate interests brought together through a loose horizontal power structure, they did not come to a consensus about concrete outcomes and plans for strategic, focused policy changes. Nevertheless, Castells points to some important achievements of the OWS, namely, a greater awareness among people both in and out of the movement of class struggle and a more widespread distrust of financial capitalism. Indeed, I think that George Lakoff’s characterization of OWS as primarily a “moral movement” is quite apt. Castells explains that the non-programmatic nature of networked social movements are both their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. On the one hand, a lack of specific demands makes a movement more open to mass participation and more difficult for political parties to co-opt. On the other hand, there is the question of how much concrete change can happen if the movement is unable to focus on any one particular goal or project.    

This same question about networked social movement’s ability to enact meaningful change was taken up by Malcolm Gladwell in “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted” (2010). Unlike Castells, Gladwell is convinced that networked social movements cannot make the same concrete impact that earlier movements – such as the civil rights movements in the US – were able to because of their vertical power hierarchies and the “close tie” relationships of the pre-internet era.

Personally, I am not sure where I stand on this question. I understand that horizontal power structures of the networked social movements are the only ones that are “truly democratic.” I also think that a movement that promotes critical consciousness of class struggle in a large portion of the population is accomplishing something meaningful. After all, a change in values and assumptions can lead to changes in the political system. However, I feel like Gladwell has a point too. How can a social movement achieve goals if the power structure of the movement does not allow for the official adoption by the group of specific goals?      

Discussion questions:

1.     How do you react to Castells’ and Gladwell’s different approaches to the question of meaningful change and networked social movements?  

2.     Castell offers an interesting analysis of the ways that communication technologies restructure social movements. Castells suggests that part of the reason that power structures in networked social movements are horizontal is because of a distrust of political parties. However, he recognizes that the majority of OWS protestors identified with the democratic party and that the democratic party consciously presented Obama as representing the interests of the 99%. In a way, it did seem to me that the OWS movement was co-opted by a political party. Is it possible for a networked social movement in the US to forward a radical critique of the political system if it is still dominantly situated within the mainstream bipartisan system? Where are the implications of networked social movements for the future of the far left? 

Glad to see all of your thoughts on and engagements with Coleman up on the blog. If you haven't you should take some time to check out her website with more links to her recent discussions of the book and of the Anonymous movement.  We can watch one or two of the short clips at the beginning of class to get another angle from Coleman. This is one that covers a broad swath. You can also check out here Twitter feed @BiellaColeman for up-to-date materials on hackers/hacking/Anonymous etc.

Key terms from Coleman to think about:
meritocracy (and implementation of...)
free speech
code is speech
liberal individualism vs collective (tensions)
hackers legal/political consciousness
ethical processes & practices & moral registers
ethical labor
material politics of cultural action


29 January 2013:

  • Review Coombe: especially last two chapters on Dialogic Democracy
  • Coleman intro: watch video on PBS
  • Discussion--lead by Rachel and Jen
  • Break
  • Discussion
  • Guidelines for Final Project Proposal and work for next week
  • Wrap up