The Falmer Method – Towards a New Kind of Conference

Andrea Cornwall, Frank G. Karioris and Nancy Lindisfarne 

With all the immense pressure on young scholars to present at conferences, to publish and find jobs, it is easy to forget that we got into academia because we were excited about thinking, reading and grappling with new ideas – and that academia is full of people who have those enthusiasms. In the early summer of 2014, at the University of Sussex in Falmer, we tried out a formula for a symposium which celebrated these values. The symposium wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty damn good, and we think the format will be of interest to others. We’ve decided to call it the Falmer Method.

The symposium was Frank’s idea.

Too many academic conferences bore senior scholars and scare young ones, sometimes quite badly. They are a way to test people, favour a few and put others down. And keep them down. In essence, that is what the usual format does. As Kircher and Biswas (2017) put it, writing in The Guardian, expensive academic conferences give us old ideas and no new faces. 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

Racism and the Myth of Trafficking

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: The myth of trafficking was invented by right-wing evangelical Christians in the United States. It is untrue, racist and dangerous to sex workers. Yet to many people it seems both feminist and left-wing. This article explores that paradox.

In 2007 the US sociologist Kimberley Kay Huong went to Vietnam to study sex trafficking. She found none, and decided to study sex work, capital flows and masculinities instead.[1] The striking thing is that, even among critical academics in the US, no one had suggested to her that maybe there was no trafficking in Vietnam. Many other anthropologists and sociologists were having the same experience in other parts of the world. When they did the actual fieldwork, the trafficking disappeared. Continue reading

Anti-maskers, Anti-vaxxers and the Racist Right

Jonathan Neale writes: One of the puzzling and enraging things about the covid pandemic is the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers in the United States, Britain, and more widely. And then there are the other forms of covid denial – ‘It’s only the flu’, ‘It’s not real’, ‘There are no cases in hospital’, ‘Herd immunity will save us’.

Many people explain this by saying those other people are mad, deluded, stupid, paranoid, the victims of the internet and conspiracy theories. Or by saying it’s a mystery why they do that. I want to present a political explanation. It comes from some thinking Nancy Lindisfarne and I have been doing about big lies and fascist movements.

[First published at The Ecologist on 27 Jan 2021]

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Poetry Aflame and Unafraid

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

Yesterday, at Biden’s inauguration, we saw a moment that marked a turning point in the history of poetry in English. We saw also how three women marked and lived the contradictions of a turning point in the history of the United States.

Joe Biden’s speech was never going to be the centrepiece of the event. He does not have the skills as an orator. More important, the politics of compromise he brings to this moment could not do justice to the passions of the movement that put him there. So the weight of the moment fell on the shoulders of the artists, two singers and a poet, three women, one white, one Latina, one black, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Amanda Gorman. Continue reading

My First Day in Camp with the Piruzai – Afghanistan, 1971

Nancy Lindisfarne-Tapper

My friend Maryam

In 1971 and 1972 Richard Tapper and I lived with Afghan villagers for nearly a year. The Piruzai, some 200 families, lived in two small settlements near the town of Sar-e Pol in northern Afghanistan. They were Pashtu-speakers, pastoralists and peasant farmers, poor people, working very hard to survive in a vicious feudal system.

The people, the setting, and even the division of labour between Richard and myself seemed to conform to every stereotype about the Middle East. There were veiled women, men on horseback, camel caravans, stunning scenery and dramatic lives. These were stereotypes shared by the Afghan officials, politicians and urban professionals we met in Kabul. But the people we met were not two dimensional.

They were warm, funny, clear-thinking and tough. They understood we were doing research – anthropology – insanshenasi – and they wanted to help us ‘write a book’. They wanted their words to be heard and written down. Living with the Piruzai was an immense privilege and our obligation to tell the story of the Piruzai is on-going. Continue reading

Anthropology and Climate Jobs

Nancy Lindisfarne

[Originally published as a letter/comment in Anthropology Today, March 2020.]

The editorial by Thomas Hylland Eriksen (AT Feb 2020, Vol 36, no 1) is a passionate plea for more anthropological engagement in public debates about global warming. His focus is on knowledge – ‘what we can say’ and storytelling – ‘how can we say it?’ His hope is that anthropologists can find ways to intervene more effectively in political debate. I agree and would add that to do so, we need to be willing to take sides, and draw on our anthropological and historical understanding of resistance, social movements and the mechanics of social change (Armbruster & Laerke 2008; Lindisfarne 2010). And in the case of global warming, there is one utterly compelling way to take Eriksen’s plea for action further.

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#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

The Roots of Sexual Violence

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale  write: Lurking behind any discussion of men and masculinities is a deep presumption that men are aggressive sexual predators disposed to raging violence, while women are passive victims good only for reproduction. If this binary construction is ‘natural’, if it is our DNA as a species, then what is the point of asking ‘Why are men and women unequal?’ ‘Why are lesbians and gays oppressed?’ ‘Why are many men violent?’ ‘Why is sexual violence so common?’

Yet these are old, very important questions. For thousands of years the most forceful answers have come from the people who dominate society. Continue reading