One person’s way of addressing recent attacks in Paris ‘through a less direct and more structural approach’


I found this blog post, # MAPS /// ANOTHER PARIS: THE BANLIEUE IMAGINARY, by Léopold Lambert interesting. I’ll have remember to take a closer look at the maps.

‘Constructing a new imaginary does not change much the reality it describes, and the exclusionary structures remain inexorably operative in their violent physicality. Nevertheless, these logic are so anchored within the way we perceive (and therefore perpetuate) the city of Paris and its excluded populations, denigrated by the almost entirety of the political elite, that it seems that the first step to undertake is to act on all elements that would claim to legitimate them.’

H/T HAU:Journal of Ethnographic Theory

Making a wooden spoon monster because

My wooden spoon monster

My wooden spoon monster

The other day, I supervised a small child who wanted to make a wooden spoon monster. This seemed like an odd activity request. But why not make a wooden spoon into a monster? Sure, even if it could still be used for smacking, the wooden spoon would not be so useful for the types of cooking I am familiar with, but ‘using’ something often means using it up.

However, his activity request was immediately followed by, ‘because I have a kit for making wooden spoon monsters.’ The production, and procurement, of such a kit took me by surprise. However, if somebody can think of making a wooden spoon monster, I guess somebody else can think of turning it into a product for sale.

Did we follow the instructions? Not really. But I did find myself pointing out to the small child how the instructions suggested we proceed because I was otherwise rather stumped what to do with the contents of the kit. I also interrupted his work to predict that we would run out of glue if he continued using it in the way he was. Why not try to make it last until the end of the activity?



‘Within anthropology, we find excellent illustrations of the insistently nondyadic and asynchronous nature of dialogism in such works as Keith Basso’s (1996) marvelous analysis of Western Apaches evoking an entire moral world by casually dropping a place name, sometimes provoking consternation among all listeners. This is precisely the kind of ethnographic materials that can be turned around and serve as inspiration in our attempt to think through the way our own work travels, is quoted, is appropriate or misappropriated, or alternatively disappears in the darkness of intellectual oblivion (or sold by used book dealers for £693.98).’

Besiner, N., 2014. On communicative worlds: A comment on Michael Carrither’s “Anthropology as irony and philosophy.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 4(3), pp.143–147.

‘discourse of the impossible’


‘… saying that we are concerned with practices and not with ideology, means massively confirming, beneath that seeming honesty of a good methodological principle, the initial division that is rightly challenged in this discourse of the impossible: the division between those whose lot is production and struggle, and those whose lot is discourse and ideology.

The singularity of this discourse, therefore, is no easier for the discourse of history to appropriate than it is for that of philosophy. To the very extent that it provides the possibility of its identification, or lends history its material, it finds itself excluded and rejected into what is not historical. It has to disappear from history, not as repressed, forbidden or unthought, but rather as insignificant: mere verbiage that cannot be counted on any of the registers where speech is deemed to lead to action. Hence the necessarily labryinthine and evanescent form of this account,’ (Rancière 2011: 30)

Rancière, J., 2011. Staging the people : the proletarian and his double, London & New York: Verso Books.



ignorance shirt

‘Anthropology, of course, may be best known for the claim that full participation in any human activity requires forms of knowledge, particularly the knowledge of the ‘cultural’ forms of this participation. … Not so paradoxically, anthropology is also famous for the claim that this knowledge disappears from awareness into the ‘taken-for-granted’ or the ‘common sense’.’ (Varenne 2009: 338).

‘Anthropology has often been caught by the charge to identify those forms of ignorance that should then be remedied by the State (for example mothers in Japan should receive parent education). The more radical anthropologists have sought to identify the forms of ignorance that should lead to changes in the State.’ (Varenne 2009: 341)

Ignorance has no hierarchy (McGoey 2011: 154-155). ‘But [Varenne continues] anthropologists must first systematize the analysis of the production of acknowledged ignorance, and particularly of the conditions that lead to determined searches for new knowledge.’ (Varenne 2009: 341)

McGoey, L., 2011. Police reinforcement: The anti-politics of organizational life. In P. Bowman & R. Stamp, eds. Reading Rancière: Critical dissensus. London & New York: Continuum, pp. 148–162.
Varenne, H., 2009. Conclusion: the powers of ignorance: on finding out what to do next. Critical Studies in Education, 50(3), pp.337–343.

Should anthropology continue to search for better ways to live beyond the suffering subject?


I finally got around to reading

Robbins, J., 2013. Beyond the suffering subject : toward an anthropology of the good. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17, pp.447–462.


In the 1980s, anthropology set aside a focus on societies defined as radically ‘other’ to the anthropologists’ own. There was little consensus at the time, however, about who might replace the other as the primary object of anthropological attention. In important respects, I argue, its replacement has been the suffering subject. Tracing this change, I consider how it addressed key problems of the anthropology of the other, but I also suggest that some strengths of earlier work – particularly some of its unique critical capacities – were lost in the transition. The conclusion considers how recent trends in anthropology might coalesce in a further shift, this one toward an anthropology of the good capable of recovering some of the critical force of an earlier anthropology without taking on its weaknesses.

Naming the poor

No left turn| The poor are coming

No left turn| The poor are coming

‘There is, as yet, no agreed term for Australia’s poorest citizens. There are good and bad names but nothing like the relative consensus over respectful identification we now have for groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or people from non-English speaking backgrounds.’ (Peel 2003: xii)

I had completely forgotten that Mark Peel starts with this. Perhaps it is one of the reasons I was very uncharitable to this book (even though when I first looked at it, the book would have been very close to many of my academic and personal interests).

To take an approach informed by the work of Jacques Rancière, a ‘respectful identification’ is part of ‘the police’ order. While ‘the police’ should not be considered a pejorative term, it is certainly not politics. Being made abject (see Tyler 2013) or being granted a respectful identification is still to be accounted for within the existing configuration of sense. As Rancière (2007: 562) expresses it in an article discussing being UNAUSTRALIAN, ‘police logic aims to fix what is visible and what is not, what is given and what is not, what can be said about that given and what not, etc.’

As Rancière (2007: 569) concludes

‘It appears thus that the dissensual logic of the un is more than ever caught between the consensual logic of identity and a logic of radical and irredeemable otherness. Its emancipatory potential has more than ever to be disentangled from a ‘critical’ tradition that has become the sophisticated version of the dominant order. It is not so easy to be un. It is not so easy because, in a sense, it is too easy:we have wonderful tools and methods for reading images, deconstructing discourses, unmasking the fallacies of the media, etc. We easily settle into a comfortable relation with an enemy whose messages have no secret for us. Perhaps we should lose some of this comfort and ask ourselves what exactly we are doing with this smooth-running critical machinery: are we framing a world of idiots where we play the part of the smart guys, or are we framing new spaces for the manifestation of the un-qualification, which is to say, the capacity of anybody?’

Peel, M., 2003. The lowest rung : voices of Australian poverty, Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rancière, J., 2007. What Does it Mean to be Un? Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 21(4), pp.559–569.
Tyler, I., 2013. Revolting subjects: Social abjection and resistance in neoliberal Britain, London & New York: Zed Books.

Reinforcing the antipodean distinction


Why are academic journals labeled with seasons?


A partial list of resources on getting writing-work done


The past few days, I have had lots of conversations with a friend about approaches to getting writing-work done. How many bits and pieces I have stumbled across on this topic!

I am always surprised when I find an Australian-University PhD candidate who has not come across Inger Mewburn (aka The Thesis Whisperer). Her blog is great for finding new strategies and tools to try. She is a proponent of pomedoro, and  think her blog is where I first encountered Scrivener. There’s also a recent post on Mendeley*. It is a great site to visit when you want to feel less alone, whatever your student related angst of the moment happens to be.

There is a lot of formal work on this topic. Various writers have left instructions (I always find Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments particularly memorable). Biographies have also been turned towards thinking about how to keep working (e.g. Damon Young’s (2008) book, Distraction).

I think that to just remember that there is a program called ‘Write or Die‘ (some prefer Written? Kitten!) or that somebody has made a career out of PhD comics can be a good check on expectations. After all, the job of writing up a PhD is often tough. Plus, there is so much meta-commentary to get distracted by.

*My favourite tools are Mendeley and Scrivener.

Just because I [think I] am right does not mean I should not strive to do a ‘good job’


When it comes to my academic work, I usually treat any attention as affirming recognition. I often trot out as a badge of honour my second favourite (or perhaps my second ‘worst’) conference question (from the one person in the audience who had read a draft months earlier but never ended up passing on the feedback), ‘So what is your point?’ The favourite is, ‘I think I can see what you’re doing, but I would not do that.’ However, I am a bit weary of adding to my catalogue of communication failures. My ideal interjection from a reader now would be, ‘I would not do what you’re doing, I would do this.’

What am I doing? Well, I am trying to put together a dissertation I can submit for examination. As part of this, I am trying to make visible a bunch of big and little claims. My thesis is people are equal. I defend it through verification (I discuss fieldwork data), I draw on the work of Rancière to authorise my analysis and I seek to make visible my reasoning.

My dissertation has a certain [failure-motivated] arrogance built in because a blunt refusal of my thesis is also its verification — an enactment of equality as the capacity for any reader to set their own project. If rejection of my work is in the from of an evaluation that was not solely captured within the order I specify, it could still be rendered in the conceptual terms I use — an introduction of a supplement that then shifts the terms of evaluations and makes visible something that I have not taken seriously.

The demand for minor or major revisions that may follow from examiners introducing a supplement that they then use to redefine what my project should be is, of course, not politics in the Rancièrian sense — they are literally the ones qualified to have an opinion.

An outright fail would mean I had failed to write a dissertation that is taken seriously by my examiners — perhaps I have not authorised and verified my work in keeping with the broader configuration of sense in which anthropology and/or the work of Jacques Rancière are read, but also within which my examiners think more generally. I could still treat an examination result of failure as verification of my claim that evaluations are always made within a broader configuration of sense.

Don’t worry! Sometimes it is fun to play the fool, but I will strive to adequately demonstrate my capacity to verify my thesis.