Harvard, Sexual Politics, Class and Resistance

A long read by Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

As we write, the case of alleged sexual harassment by John Comaroff, a professor of anthropology at Harvard, is exploding. The Harvard case is particularly egregious, not least because of the elite status of the university.

In this piece we treat the Harvard case as part of a much wider set of problems concerning class, sexual politics, inequality and resistance. Our focus initially is on universities in the United States. But we need to remember that academic enterprise today is utterly international. Everywhere the industry relies on similar economic models, has similar intellectual concerns and fosters the considerable mobility of professionals and students from workplace to workplace around the globe.

We are particularly addressing anthropology and other graduate students in the United States and across the world. Our aim is to try to answer some of the difficult questions that come up again and again in online discussion of the case.

[You can download a pdf of this long read here.]

First: Why did Caroline Elkins, who wrote such an important book about the brutal suppression of Mau Mau in Kenya, sign the dreadful Harvard letter? And why did so many other people whose work you admire sign letters like the Harvard one?

The second question is one people seem to avoid asking directly, but it is behind so much of what is being said.  At Harvard, and with other abuse cases, a strange fact stands out. Most men are not abusers. But almost all male managers cover up and enable abuse. And so do almost all female managers. Why? What is going on here?

Third: The people who write the open letters, and others who want to defend abusers, go on about due process. But due process works as a Catch-22. Why should well-educated men accused of sexual harassment be the only ones to enjoy due process, when the apologists know full well that is exactly what we want for the victims of sexual abuse? Instead of banging on about due process for abusers only, shouldn’t we all be asking how can to build a genuinely fair process for everyone?

Fourth: Harvard, Columbia, and other universities in the United States and across the world go to extraordinary lengths to cover up abuse, protect abusers and thus enable further abuse. They do so even when most of the people who run those institutions don’t abuse. Why? Why does this matter so much to them?

Fifth, and finally, how can we do good work in the toxic environment of these institutions? Or to put it positively: what can we take from the struggles against sexual violence at Columbia and Harvard to help us do good, creative intellectual work as scholars and teachers?

Continue reading

WHAT DO WE DO AFTER THE COP?

kids-climate

Jonathan Neale

The COP26 United Nations climate conference in Glasgow is the third key moment in the history of the talks. At the Copenhagen COP in 2009 the movement was defeated, and we knew it. At Paris in 2015 the movement was fooled. Both COPs left the movement exhausted and demoralised. This time it is obvious going in that Glasgow will be a shitshow. So this time we need to think going in, how we can come out fighting.

My basic argument is this: the climate movement is at an impasse. The leaders of the world will not act. That means we must build mass movements from below to replace those leaders. But those mass movements will wither if they only protest. We have to fight for action that will halt climate change.

Promises are no longer enough. The most important task right now is to stop almost all burning of coal, oil and gas. We could start that process immediately and go all the way. To do that we have build enough renewables to provide energy for all electricity, all heating, all industry and almost all transport. Then we can ban coal, oil and gas.

But to get there we must move beyond the market, because only governments can spend that much money and pass the necessary laws. And doing that can create hundreds of millions of new, permanent jobs around the world. And we cannot do that without an explosion of democracy – the power of the people.

This is not a personal manifesto. I am trying to bring together feelings and ideas I can see bursting out all over the climate movement. And to explain how they give us reason to fight for love against death.

Along the way I will paint a picture of what runaway climate change will do to human society that you may find surprising. I take up the common arguments in the climate movement about why a fully renewable world cannot work. I touch on other confusions and controversies that cannot be ignored.

This article was originally published in three parts in The Ecologist, on October 1-3 2021. It is not short, so you may want to download the pdf: After the COP 4 Continue reading

We Shall Not Surrender Until the World Shatters

Medical workers protest the coup at Yangon General Hospital

“We shall not surrender until the world shatters” are the first words of the song that the crowds of the Civil Disobedience Movement have been singing on the streets of Myanmar this week. The songwriter Naing Myanmar wrote the words in 1988, in the midst of the Democracy Uprising of that year, to give heart to the people on the street. The words are important. So is the three fingered salute shown above, borrowed from the uprisings in Hong Kong and Thailand, and ultimately from The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins trilogy about a revolution. Here are the words of the song: Continue reading

#MeToo and Class Struggle at Work

Rachel Maddow Friday night

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Yesterday we tuned in to watch Rachel Maddow’s nightly one-hour show on the US cable news network, MSNBC. Something extraordinary happened. Twenty minutes into the show Maddow began to talk about the Harvey Weinstein case. Over the next forty minutes she set forth, in powerful and coherent detail, how her bosses had attempted to protect Weinstein from the exposure of his sexual harassment and rapes on NBC News. Maddow accused her bosses, her bosses’ bosses, and her bosses’ bosses’ bosses, of lying, and of actions that were illegal and immoral. On live TV. Continue reading

Abortion politics: Lessons from US History, 1980-2018

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write:  With Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the US Supreme Court, the majority of justices are against women’s abortion rights. This is the second of two posts about the “abortion wars” in the United States. In retelling this history we are looking for insights that might help us to fight for abortion rights going forward. Continue reading

Defending Abortion: Lessons from US History 1964-1980

Judith Widdecombe, abortion pioneer in MIssouri

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

This is the first of two posts looking to the history of abortion rights in America. Both focus on lessons learned that we can use in the fight for abortion rights in the future.  We make two central points in this post. Abortion rights were won by a mass movement, not the Supreme Court. Second, the abortion wars continue because abortion has come to stand for women’s equality,  sexual freedom and desire. Continue reading

Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh and seven useful insights about sexual violence

Protest in St Louis, 2 October 2018

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Last Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford testified before the judiciary committee of the US Senate. She said that Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee for the Supreme Court, had attempted to rape her when she was 15. He denied it. She told the truth and he was lying. Everyone in the room knew this, including all eleven Republican senators.

What happened next was something else. The Republican senators rallied to defend the right to rape. Sure, class also mattered, and abortion, and Trump, and the midterm elections. But centrally, they did not want Kavanaugh to pay a price for his sexual violence. An extraordinary moment of #metoo resistance had provoked that Republican backlash, and they closed ranks fast and hard.

When a system is working smoothly the mechanics of power are hidden. But when there is a breakdown, a ‘breach case’, we sometimes have an opportunity to see how the system works. And the links and deep loyalties that keep inequality in place become visible. The hearing has offered such an opportunity. It gives us a chance to formulate seven useful ideas about sexual violence. Continue reading

Covering up abuse – We are all gymnasts

 

Rachel Denhollander at the trial of Larry Nasser

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: In the wake of Metoo, collective movements are now exposing cover-ups from the top. The target is no longer just one individual, a Strauss-Kahn, a Bill Clinton or a Clarence Thomas. These movements are shouting: it’s a whole system. The class inequalities that protect abuse are being exposed. This is a cause for joy, and hope.

The Larry Nasser case provides a brutal example. At Nasser’s trial last month more than 160 survivors of abuse testified about what he had done to them. Nasser was a doctor for the athletics department at Michigan State University, and for the United States national Olympic team in gymnastics. The stories the survivors told were moving, and horrific. Nasser abused thousands of girls, some as young as six, by fingering them vaginally and anally for his own pleasure, over a period of more than twenty years.

Nasser was only able to do what he did because dozens of people  covered up for him. This fits with what we have seen in the many cases the Metoo movement has begun to expose. Only a minority of men abuse. Most men do not do those things. But the men who do it, do it over and over again, so almost every woman suffers. Continue reading

Abuse Inquiry – Something Smells

goddard wig

Dame Lowell Goddard

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

Update on 30 September 2016. Yesterday the lead lawyer for the official British inquiry into historic child abuse was sacked, after protesting internally about changes to the workings of the inquiry. So we are recirculating a post we wrote last month. In hindsight, our post is too trusting of Dame Goddard, who now appears to have been trying to narrow the scope of the inquiry. But the general context we provide is still useful. Continue reading