Sunday, December 20, 2015

Of Muses and Darkness: The Poetics of Writing

Image: Frakieleon, 'True Colours', 2009, Flickr/Creative Commons

It has been almost three decades since the publication of Clifford and Marcus’ Writing Culture: The Poetics & Politics of Ethnography. Yet, the volume’s statement on interdisciplinarity as not just the act of ‘picking a theme or a subject’ but the decision of ‘creating a new object that belongs to no one’ (p. 1) still retains its relevance across the social sciences. Although Clifford is talking about ethnography and the ethics of partial truth excavation in scholarship, his observations certainly apply to writing as a form of agency upon the social in broader terms to date. His decision to expand on writing as a metaphor of ‘pilgrimage’ in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late 20th Century (1997) shifted debates on movement in phenomenological and interactive terms. In Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty First Century (2013) he also suggested that collective and individual subjectivities are processual and emergent; that we all are overdetermined in some respects by the presence of an interconnected network of cultures – so much so, that our own (auto)biographic rootings remain ever-shifting and malleable.

The lengthy reference to the politics and poetics of writing makes sense in the contemporary context of Western academia as this undergoes ideological changes due to the invasion of unregulated market ideologies in its informal ways of ‘doing things’. Looking past this polemics – possibly, also past any ‘publish or perish’ ultimatums (Colquhoun, 5 September 2011) – one discovers a world of barely visible networks of people striving to articulate what matters to them nd not for the sake of a Research Excellence Framework. With all the hassles of the academic job, putting an idea into words, shaping up an argument (or more than one) persist as values referring back to other values – amongst them the assaulted freedom of expression.

Writing is a dangerous act: not only does it release feelings and notions the author never manages to fully tame into texts – for, meaning always exceeds its original articulation – it puts us into indirect contact with other voices. My mental closets are full of significant others who fade or return in my desktop every time I type up a new idea. If, as de Certeau (1986) noted, spatial trajectories find a way to project their creators’ psychic world, then it is true that writing will always invoke and release some form of darkness. And by ‘darkness’ I refer to the innermost recesses of our intellect and heart, not to a chiaroscuro artistic exercise. As Neil Gaiman recently said, our stories should openly ‘[ask] whether any fictions should in fact be “safe places”, or whether their purpose should instead be to “hurt in ways that make [one] think and grow and change”’ (Kennedy, 25 October 2015).

A retired now colleague used to classify us into 'talkers, doers and writers'...

Scholarly writing in particular encompasses both the politics of friendship and the poetics of love. Friendship follows a code of paradigm affiliation, which binds scholars into the same dark space, coerces them to fumble their way around for the right words and to provide mutual support via all sorts of direct and indirect exchange. Here ‘exchange’ becomes interchangeable with ‘reciprocity’, as writers are supposed to be bound by a norm of mutual acknowledgment of sharing in intellectual projects. Where this is absent, the relationship dies before it grows into a stable and more permanent friendship. I am constantly engaging in such precarious exchanges, often guessing the identities of those who proclaim solidarity, retreating in disappointment for broken links with others, or building new unexpected connections. ‘Muses’ assume different form, context and content in my writing ventures, often via faint and fleeting interactions, indirect communications or textual sites I discover during searches. In such complex and interconnected virtual and terrestrial encounters, belonging remains emergent much like Clifford’s politics of belonging.

My sanity is dependent on my interlocutors's intellectual maturity
Image: Denise Krebbs, 'A Writing Six-Word Story', 2013, Flickr/Creative Commons


Nevertheless, there is also another side to this shared darkness that leads one down a more dangerous path and straight into the poetics of love. To explain, I refer again to Clifford’s original point about interdisciplinary writing (the decision of ‘creating a new object that belongs to no one’), which links to a direct quote from Roland Barthes’ work. Clifford is less interested in Barthes' interdisciplinarity however than in making a point about the interpretative nature of fieldwork in Malinowski’s ethnographic journeys. It is this bringing together of Barthes with Malinowski in Writing Culture’s introductory chapter that allowed Clifford to make an enduring ethical statement on authorial violence, creative representation and partial truth-making. Would the two scholars ever had looked eye to eye, if they had been brought together? Such synthetic referencing always involves the effacement of one’s original inspiration, even though the source’s acknowledgment is an act of love. Such violence might also creep up aposteriori, when manuscripts have already been published –especially when stylistic similarities or intellectual compatibilities eventually prompt new source-searching and writing. These occurrences are not uncommon in scholarly networks and coerce authors to readjust their cognitive panoramas, resort to accepting new significant others into their own dark field, or even explore new collective or individual opportunities of articulation. Ironically then, though the poetics of authorial love are dedicated to humanising ideas, they may have to resort to some dehumanising techniques, to objectify those we cite or acknowledge in our writings.   

References
Clifford, J. & Marcus, G. (eds.) (1986) Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.
Clifford, J. (1997) Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late 20th Century, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Clifford, J. (2013) Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty First Century, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Colquhoun, D. (5 September 2011) ‘Pressure on scientists to publish has led to a situation where any paper, however bad, can now be printed in a journal that claims to be peer-reviewed’, The Guardian.
de Certeau, M. (1986) Heterologies, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Feminist Media Studio (2013) James Clifford discusses his new book 'Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty-First Century' with Trish Audette, doctoral student in Communication Studies, at the Feminist Media Studio, Concordia University, October 2013.
Kennedy, L. (25 October 2015) ‘Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman review – nasty surprises and bold recastings’, The Observer.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Flawed cosmopolitanisms of being human: mediation and worldmaking in media discourses of terrorism

Image: Quentin Klein #PrayForParis

"Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité."

 (Creative Commons/Flickr)

There is little to say about the Paris attacks that does not touch upon the phantom of the so-called War on Terror. What has been produced in journalistic and intellectual cycles certainly concurs on one thing: invisible violence of this sort challenges the tired cosmopolitan declaration of human togetherness, as it is based on de facto nihilistic actions of self-obliteration in the name of community values. There is much truth in Vijay Prashad’s recent discussion of the ways especially Western leadership has espoused a macho language about “pitiless war” to reinforce its national and global role. Far from peace-making, this role obeys to a global gender order that fits nationalist-militarist discourse into a globalised civilising process, presenting social (gender) as cultural (East vs. West, North vs. South, developed vs. underdeveloped) hierarchies.

But it all functions at the level of metaphor to do the job of politics: men rule and those conforming to other gender or sexual conventions follow. How much does this reveal about the pillars of the present ideological work in leadership headquarters – and how are we to think about the agential basis of this ‘civilising’ language? What are the consequences of such discourse for the maintenance of our already frail cosmopolitan togetherness? I think it all boils down to an economy of violence. By this I do not refer to classical economics but to the reduction of supposed universal givens, such as the right to be recognised as a human being (as well as the responsibility to recognise others as humans and the intermittently stressed these days norms that regulate our rights and responsibilities in this type of recognition and self-recognition). The economy of violence after the France events is fixated upon measuring one’s humanity against a stabilised (by Western civilisation) factor: the ability to circulate and enable circulations of habitus across markets, phantasmagoric industries and pleasure business.

I do recall here Steve Fuller’s observation on the economic rationale of being human. He starts by distinguishing between the expressions ‘Humanity comes at a price’ and ‘Humanity comes at a cost’. He notes: ‘The first phrase suggests what you need to pay your master to acquire freedom, while the second suggests what you need to suffer as you exercise your freedom’. Though using this to reflect on the role of artificial intelligence in contemporary articulations of the human, his notes have far broader implications and implementations in the context of the Paris attacks. If anything, they suggest that masters do not go invisible in global events whereas the unfree have to suffer publically to be acknowledged and noticed by others. It is only then – and only when the slave achieves representation as sufferer, a dispossessed, ‘acted upon’ object – that they enter the visible fields of the media as human. Bombers and shooters remain invisible in this respect in an ever more mediatised world, in the sense that their motivations and actions do not obey to the economy of violence but inverse roles for a while, by humiliating masters on the global stage. 

But first things first: if not carefully unpacked, the rationale of ‘costing’ and ‘pricing’ is in danger of mistaking a cultural recurrence in world societies for an economic activity divested of its utopian origins (reciprocal giving). At the same time, Fuller’s elaboration on costing reproduces Prasad’s argument that nihilist violence of the Paris type tends to mutate and spread like a virus to victimised societies at the level of leadership. If the ISIS terrorist perceives of himself – notably, rarely herself – as a victimised slave regaining self-respect through the ultimate heroic act (self-sacrifice), Western leadership feels that it has to reassert their master place on the world stage by discursive means. Such self-presentational games are characterised by an intersubjective perversion not that dissimilar to those explored by Hegelians such as Alexander Kojeve and, more recently, Axel Honneth. They also seem to obey to other processes involving the transvaluation of values within societal formations in which terrorist enclaves originate. But again, they speak of a dramaturgical platform on which roles, duties and resentments are discharged without questioning how their cosmological foundations are laid and how audiences come to accept and finance the ‘play’.

It is here that the notion of ‘the human’ meets the cultural principles of markets proper, turning the economy of violence into the maiden of capitalism. Note that, as an extension of Fuller’s essay, my understanding of ‘markets’ encompasses ideas of genealogical debts to civilisation and civility – two concepts irrevocably connected to Western and European histories of being human. Such debts refer to our responsibility to maintain and reproduce the pillars of our Western civilisation, which were laid on violence exercised upon racialized others to support ideals of compassion, belonging, equality and fraternity (paradoxically and perversely in the case of an ex-colonial power and current European and world player, France). If this sounds too irrelevant to the Paris events at first, I invite readers to reconsider the power of markets – especially media markets - in producing particular world pictures and hence notions of humanity. While we all mourn the dead of Bataclan – note how a pair of abandoned shoes outside the theatre signifies in Instagram the absence of humans in the violent site - a dear Japanese friend posted on Facebook a shocking statistical chart from the Global Terrorism Index indicating that in 2013 about 80% of terrorist deaths took place in 2013 in 5 countries, none of which located in the Western hemisphere.


These statistics are more elusive in mainstream global media platforms, allowing (by omission) a message to dominate our fully network homes: the West has the only victims worthy of mourning in minute-long silences and annual commemorations; outside its imagined solidary terrain there are animals and beings that refuse to join the civilised world of humans. I do not wish to endorse violence of this or any other sort as a response to Western violence, only to highlight how the good old reciprocal cycle (of human recognition) now turns into an accelerating cycle of human self-destruction. Not only does the message reproduce the brutal bipolar logic of the World on Terror, it also promotes it to a worldmaking monologue: an axiomatic picture about foreign realms of being (the lands and heritage domains from which terrorist come, as if there is no home-grown Western terror) managed by global media conglomerates that make, de-make or re-make whole populations, destinations and heritages that share little with the perpetrators of terrorist acts (save possibly nationality). Western worldmaking is not always evil in its intentions, but it tends to follow the economy of violence by default: we tend to forget that terrorism does not affect only Western European domains, where civilised mobilities of business, tourism and media flows happen, as if there is little to talk about outside them. Who would ‘buy into’ such unpopular calls anyway? And our world picture remains unchanged and unchallenged until the next bombing tailors a bit more the notion of human existence to our Western, European and civilised measures.     

Sunday, November 1, 2015

On how not to renew your passport: the view from within, then without (Greek passport)


Image: Andrew Kuznetsov, 'Chaos in the House' (Creative Commons/Flickr)

I grew up with stories about Greece’s misfortune to be born under foreign tutelage: the Ottomans were in effect succeeded by Westerners who sucked the country dry of resources and destroyed internal cohesion. The current economic climate understandably recycles such stories of economic pillage. In fact, since my last visit in 2011, such stories proliferated in new media channels, now assuming a widespread popular cultural dimension.

I am returning to this blogpost now, after a rather prolonged silence over its collective implications for the demise of national citizenships in countries affected by recession. I started writing it only a week after my return to the UK, but it still seems like yesterday in some respects (and like another life in other ways). While I was still in Greece, I had overheard someone commenting on a news item about Angela Merkel’s and Obama’s ‘support’ to the country in the usual stereotypical ways one speaks about market colonisation. I too have indeed written about foreign patronage, control and exploitation – no less than two books and several articles over the last decade. I have had many discussions on how waves of Greek migrations were prompted by wars and interstate violence; and in a previous life, was indoctrinated into believing that its young human potential moves outside the country to educate itself because external agents have superimposed a system of values on native culture. Only now that I am outside this treadmill can I understand that Greece does not need foreigners to do these nasty things to its people: a ruthless system does a better job at driving them away.

Let me be clear about one thing: there are global value hierarchies that override national ones; there is foreign exploitation aplenty and the need to join intrastate networks and coalitions that do not always favour national interest. But such a mono-focal narrative fails to encapsulate how all these maladies are also endemic and definitional characteristics of the national system in Greece. Ironically, this system resurrects all the Wallersteinian allegories of structural inequality between centre and periphery, with the former monopolising pretty much everything and the latter replicating many of the former’s mechanisms of inequality and incompetence. Those who speak of the heavy hand of Euro-power must be slightly cautious: quite a lot of institutional corruption and malfunction in the country existed in a fruitful dialogue and collaboration with the new external ‘villains’ long before recession and the ‘Grexit’ redefined its political landscape and social realities. Any genealogy of causality is bound to amplify the complexity of their histories, rather than identifying and crucifying the real culprits.

I want to share with you the sorry experience of trying to renew my Greek passport for a second time since it was issued about seventeen years ago, and my identity card, which was over two decades old. It is a story haunted by the phantom of Ottoman (or for others Byzantine) bureaucracy that appears to persist regardless of the processual changes. It is also an apparently cross-national story that is repeated in Greek embassies hosted by as ‘progressed’ countries as the UK. In 2006 I had this culture shock in London. I was a Canterbury resident and in good health to drag myself back and forth so as to satisfy the whims of bureaucrats. I was tormented by a person behind a desk who did not quite like the photo I submitted the first time, had me waiting for four hours the third time and at last processed my claim – but not before finding out that I teach at the University in which her daughter was studying. But as a Leeds resident in 2011 (and in very poor health to play the same game), I simply could not get through to the Embassy at all: after several phone calls I gave up trying. The Greek consul at Leeds explained that he was not granted permission to issue passports and that he could only confirm my old identity card so to allow me to travel to Greece and renew both the card and my passport. As a result, I had to travel back to Greece solely for this purpose.

Image: Pascal Champagne, "Chaos is a friend of mine." - Bob Dylan 
(Creative Commons/Flickr)


I have never had a worst experience: barely recovered from an operation and with jetlag and a disability, I had to drag myself to a photographer, then the police department and finally the local passport centre. I had to recruit my parents for support (for, the collection of documentation requires time) and use taxis to move around. And after all this hassle on the day of my flight the passport office let me know that my application had been rejected because another bureaucrat in Athens did not like my photo. I came back to the UK with a new ID and a passport about to expire. I am not sure whom to blame for all this: the photographer for not getting a good shot? The passport officers who did not bother to check if it meets the requirements when I submitted my paperwork? Or the Athenian centre to which apparently all applications have to be forwarded first for approval? The fact that ignorance and misinformation is ubiquitous in such services? Passport renewal in Greece is a typical example of centralised control in a disorganised state, once ruled mostly by native elites and networked individuals and now also by shadowy global markets. The right to citizenship – whether this regulates consumer or state belonging – is dependent upon whom you know, how many favours you can return and how far you are prepared to go to maintain good relations with them. I managed to escape this chaos when I first sought educational opportunities abroad because the internal system was so complex, slow-moving and corrupt that I had to comply with more than I could stomach. Later I stayed abroad due to lack of career opportunities at home (especially for a young educated and ambitious woman) and a rather claustrophobic environment in which my extended family lives to date. The North, where I was born and grew up, is less developed than the South and is likely to stay like that for the moment.

Let us be honest: there is ‘corruption’ everywhere there are humans. The propensity of break (ruptio) the rules together (cum) points to the most fundamental transition from metaphysical control over human life (God, gods or demons decide on our existence) to secularised systems of reciprocity (states managing their citizens’ well-being). Britain is not malfunction or corruption-free, but it is not as far gone. But my issue is not with corruption as such, only a ubiquitous Greek denial of corruption or incompetence’s endemic structuring. For example, what infuriates me is how abnormal some of my former ‘compatriots’ found my decision to remain a UK resident. My frustration at this mess has ensured that I’d rather move my intellectual work abroad than condemn myself to misery. Apparently, if one wants to renew their Greek passport but cannot for health or other similar reasons, they have to appoint an adult as a guardian or for judicial assistance. The idea of ‘fathering’ seems to never go out of date and children and disabled citizens alike are still treated as invalids and in need of intellectual guidance. Only recently have expired passports been admitted as travel documents and of course one can obtain emergency travel documents only in person.


Image: N. Turner, UK Passport Office, Creative Commons

Back in 2011 I began to toy with the idea of naturalising in the UK: the system here has its own problems and demands, but once you received your first passport you seem to acquire the right to mobility. But I have not travelled anywhere outside the country since then. Personal choice aside (as is partly the case), I am now at the other end of the tunnel and see other problems and potentialities. The increased securitisation in the UK certainly points to a different type of bureaucratisation of social life, which may be more efficient than what the Greek system offers but is also equally brutal in its effects. The principles of political reciprocity in Greece are long gone under the ruthless troika that leaves those working at public services in the country and abroad unpaid for months and thus ever grumpier when dealing with others in need ,and the Greek state unable to resort now to passport renewals by mail, as is the case in the UK. But would its sluggish bureaucracy ever be that imaginative anyway? I am a Greek citizen without a passport, only a new ID that allows the Greek nation-state to identify and tax me in ever more complex and constantly shifting ways to adjust payments to its lenders. I am a British citizen with a brand-new passport that allows the British nation-state to identify and tax me. I am free to be scrutinised and move around the world, but is there a good ending to my story of belonging? In any case, one may ask, when did a passport facilitate personal belonging?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book Launch, 06 October 2015, Social Sciences 12.25, University of Leeds

Mobility, Modernity and the Slum: The Real and Virtual Journeys of Slumdog Millionaire, Abingdon: Routledge.
Book Launch, 06 October 2015, Social Sciences 12.25, University of Leeds


Routledge link here


£34.99 eBook available for individual purchasers, which can be ordered through VitalSource in November.

There is also currently a £41.99 Kindle version on Amazon.

I started writing this book as a contribution to the way different mobilities intersect behind a movie. My focus was Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, a highly successful enterprise created by an international community of artists spanning continents and cultures. The film is a straightforward story of a youth from the slums of Mumbai, his struggle to earn a living, self-educate, win back his childhood love and finally make it out of poverty. Thanks to his knowledge on facts based on personal experiences of exclusion, ethnic persecution and inequality, he wins on a quiz show and becomes a millionaire.

The film weaves a rich intertextual web of cinematic narratives from different eras, thus serving as a scholarly spyglass into the ways the city of Mumbai and India struggled through modernisation. However, as I researched more into the film, its production, reception and reproduction in other cultural circuits controlled by the Indian state as well as global media and tourist networks, the film itself became more a cosmetic starting point, albeit an important one. Note that the book’s summary stresses that the film became tangled in many controversies around India’s destiny in the world: it inserted Mumbai into various financial, political and artistic scenes, increased tourism in its filmed slums, and brought about charity projects in which celebrities and tourist businesses were involved. As such, it served as a global example of a ‘developing country’s’ uneven but unique modernisation according to Western standards.

The presence of Western standards in the whole cycle of Slumdog Millionaire’s inception, production and reception suggested that I don’t deal just with a piece of art but with a controversial case of invisible colonisation. That the application of Western representational methods for the city of Mumbai and its histories of ethnic integration and conflict in its slums presents us with an example of what decolonial theorists call ‘the captive mind’. This impossibility to narrate the past of a culture and imagine its futures outside Western modernity and modernisation was shared to a great extent by the makers of Slumdog Millionaire and their represented cultures, the slumdwellers. With all their good intentions to support India’s disenfranchised groups, the makers of SM were also trapped into their old roles as invisible colonists. They contributed to reproductions of the captive mind, willingly as philanthropists or volunteers and unwillingly as artmakers on whose work tourist business capitalised to sell Indian slum tourism. As much as their activist spirit produced a vision of Mumbai as a city of slums, a city of ruins, a dark city, the happy ending of the film also suggested alternate futures. But not outside capitalism and neoliberal policy-making. And not completely outside the histories of slum tourism and its beginnings in European industrial urbanisation, the tourist flanerie of journalists and philanthropists in shantytowns as well as its coincidence with colonial racism and domestic debates on welfare policies on poverty. Slumdog Millonaire’s visions of modernity simply excluded alternative knowledge systems from representations of Indian culture in film, e-tourism and on-site tourism in its filmed slums.

Was this a problem or a solution for the already excluded slumdwellers in India? Was it that bad to have someone interested in their fates from the West? The book does not offer straightforward answers, only different interpretations of harm, charity and benevolence. Reminding us that racism, exclusion and trafficking are also in the eye of the beholder, that victims can be perpetrators of inequality; that our scholarly interpretations contribute to the production of socio-cultural identities.

In short then, this book is about the ways different media regimes, including those of film and digital tourist industries shape the image of places. As what we call ‘worldmaking agents’ the original makers of such images do not necessarily hold control over these representations which enter global capitalist circuits, may instigate nationalist reactions even by the very disenfranchised they support or end up serving the political interests suspect interest groups. As such, the book aspires to advance debates on representations of place in the context of an all-consuming Western modernity, which constantly excludes consideration of intersectional inequalities based on race, gender, class and status as malleable conditions. Bringing together state-of-the-art tourism theory, work on professional migration flows and debates on decolonisation it suggests that mobilities continue to operate on the logic of Western knowledge systems for better or worse. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Worldmaking images of disaster: the ‘art’ of speaking of/for the disenfranchised

Image: Migration, by Shena Tschofen (Creative Commons/Flickr)

Recently, the massive human migrations from war-ridden and natural disaster-plagued regions of the world has flooded my Facebook account. I know I am not the only one participating in this digital philanthropic revolution unwillingly, as a passive site-seer: a subject apprehending the social world as a detached landscape, a collection of sites. By using the concept of ‘site’ I wish to stress the domination of the sensible by seamless geometry, hence a violence of detachment as abstraction from immediacy. But I would also like to note that such involuntary ‘site-seeing’ activities form an essential aspect of sight-seeking: an in-built propensity most humans from the developed world have to associate emotional engagement or its cognitive-ethical equivalent with particular sensory input-output functions we relate with sight. I do not suggest a fundamental lability in the absence of such ‘propensity’, quite the contrary, I wish to bring the significance of its Western European cosmological pathway to the fore. Connections of vision to Western phenomenology, or of landscape tourism to the Western activity of tourism at large are not new, but their digital transposition into the new mobile humanitarian spaces of the internet is.

There is a notable difference between browsing through holiday brochures and browsing through photographs of human tragedy that sight-seeking bridges in unpalatable ways, turning the privileged viewer into a banal consumer of exoticism we associate with suffering. There is no malice involved in such visual mobilities – on the contrary, they are meant to ‘reveal’, ‘expose’ and thus alert others of the humanitarian crisis. At the same time, their actual effect rarely exceeds the reproduction of their practical gesture: it leads to the proliferation of image circulation, endorsing the use of icons as a sort of painful souvenir. I receive posts on Facebook and by email that are dominated by visual narratives of such tragedies: an anxious mother holding her son on a boat; a tearful young man in torn clothes; whole families en route to unknown points of reception or deportation. It is all gruesome and utterly real in the ways the camera lens tells the story, but also strangely non-relational, delightfully exotic. I click on ‘like’ or ‘share’ with the certainty that some of my Facebook friends will also ‘like’ and ‘share’ the image before moving on to another mundane activity such as shopping. None of us is malicious or completely indifferent; the truth is that we don’t know what else we can actually do with such iconic shrines of pain. Are they not there to be shared?

Image: Migration/Migration 2 by Philip Bitnar (Creative Commons/Flickr)

But while we are happily sharing the spoils of yet another disorganised ‘consciousness industry’ (in Enzensberger’s (1970) original terms), we actively participate in precisely what Hollinshead (2007) recognised as worldmaking in tourism: if you are ‘there’ through/in the reality of the image ‘and you are “sentient”, you are engaging in it’ (Hollinshead et.al. 2009: 432, italics in the text). The paradox of thereness is all too obvious, as nobody is actually there without the visual mediation of tragedy – which is why charities of the Amnesty International calibre use image to increase political awareness and secure financial support of various important causes. What is more paradoxical is that while our second-order touring into the ‘other’ is industrially designed to contribute to our well-being (as all tourism does), morally it is designated to alert us to well-being’s unequal distribution across the world (thus producing an inescapable guilt). Evidently then, photographing such events – mundane for Facebook participants but life-changing for the camera’s visual ‘objects’ – is both part of globally inculcated regimes of mobility that support Western epistemologies and their markets. To what end, one may ask, if not the management of capital flows?


References
Enzesberger, H.M. (1970) ‘Constituents of a theory of the media’, New Left Review, 64: 13-36.

Hollinshead, K. (2007) ‘Worldmaking and the transformation of place and culture: the enlargement of Meethan’s analysis of tourism and global change’, in Ateljevic, I., Pritchard, A. and Morgan, N. (eds) The Critical Turn in Tourism Studies: Innovative Research Methodologies. Oxford: Elsevier, 165-93.

Hollinshead, K., Ateljevic, I. and Ali, N. (2009) ‘Worldmaking agency-worldmaking authority: the sovereign constitutive role of tourism’, Tourism Geographies, 11 (4): 427-43. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Slumming through recession: Grexit scenarios of tourism

The result of the recent referendum in Greece over its – depending on whom you ask – future in the Eurozone has shaken most natives, confused diasporic Greeks who could not vote from abroad and angered those less sympathetic to the Greek cause. I think that there is enough to-ing and fro-ing in the cybersphere on the so-called ‘Grexit’ these days, so I will not add further comments. My observations relate to a lateral issue: it concerns what glocal responses (as in Robertson 1995) to troika policies did to alter the country’s image as a tourist destination (for critics of such market policies, it helps to remember that as is the case with other island states, the Greek economy depends on tourist flows to the date). Connected to this question is how foreigners came to view the country as a ‘host’ more generally over the last two years or so.

Like most, I too remain confused. One of my latest Facebook travels revealed a link to a video in which Greek students from Birmingham dance in the rhythms of Zorba the Greek on campus – a rather bizarre reaction to the definitive ‘No’ that the ‘Greek people’ had delivered to its ‘EU oppressors’ only a few hours ago (the actual video dated from 2012 and was posted on You Tube on the Greek Independence Day– see Mack, 25 March 2012). I compared this to the dancing and celebration scenes at Exarchia when the first referendum voting results were announced (No Comment TV, 06 July), and wondered how the coupling of such desperate defiance with performances of the most touristified Greek music would appear to a visitor’s eyes. The surrealist gusto Greeks display has various, unseen at this point, consequences, possibly exacerbating stereotypical conceptions of Greek habitus and streamlining those back into a rejuvenated, if not radically redefined tourist market.

Let me backtrack a bit to explain this potentially surreal effect: I am sure most of us remember the political background of 2008 (see Wikipedia, undated on ‘Ta Dekemvriana’, including Greek anti-government protests after Nea Dimokratia’s failure to restructure the country’s labour markets (Papadimitriou 2009: 51-2; Tzanelli 2011: chapter 6) – further challenged from 2010, when the Greek economy experienced another dip that would push the country to borrow more, accumulate a debt impossible to repay and, finally, under a left-wing government, respond to its debtors’ threats with proposals to exit the common EU currency and the EU itself. There is so much media talk about the proliferation of disorder and fostering of all sorts of terrorism in the country; booking your package holiday to a Greek island is a de facto bad idea. To mobilities academics like myself this might suggest that we have eventually reached the ‘end of tourism’ as a political reality. Public frustration has proceeded to remove the glossy veneer from the country’s cosmetic cosmopolitanism (Nederveen Pieterse 2006) – a veneer in earnest also necessary for engaging with other cultures, including the alleged ‘superficiality’ of touring and media arts – leaving its ‘skin’ blemished by centuries of foreign interference, ‘bare’, like the lives of its disposed citizenry. So, the neoliberal cage seems to have been exchanged with one of sheer terror. 

If not cautiously unpacked, such statements merely reverse Fukuyama’s (1992) reflections in the End of History, the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government that shunts radical alternatives in a conservative deadlock: either our history terminates in evolutionary terms, or extremism terminates its industrial human capital. There are other voices that argue that tourism has ended in new global environments of mobilities in the sense that we cannot separate it from other forms of spatio-temporal and functionally differentiated movements, such as migration, business travel, technological services, skills and the like – that we live in the age of nomadology (Hannam 2008; Hannam et.al. 2006). Unfortunately, observations that tourism ends where terrorism and other forms of social conflict thrive (Korstanje and Clayton 2012) are very close to contemporary Greek realities.

From the start of the global recession the end of Greek tourism manifested itself in bundles of endogenous (strikes and protests against cuts, welfare retrenchment and poverty-induced troika policies as well as rising levels of xenophobia against both tourists and migrants) but also exogenous (terrorism allegedly exclusively of alien origins) mobilities. All of them retain the nomadological attributes of strangeness – referring to both privileged and disenfranchised aliens. Gone were the peace of some island beaches, upon which tourists would now increasingly find migrants (alive or dead) washed ashore (usually from Greece’s archenemy-state, Turkey) (Bearden, 29 May 2015); Acropolis tours for cultural tourists, who would be blocked by labour strikers and protesters against heritage privatisation (see Smith, 27 January 2011 and 16 March 2014); and luxury urban tourisms that hordes of homeless beggars and emergency food provision stalls would disrupt with invocations of consumerist guilt. Contemporary Greek social landscapes tend to be at odds with otherwise persistent tourism trends in the country (beach and heritage holidays), when one thing is sure: the clash is here to stay. The (justified) fear is that Greece might enjoy short tourism renaissances (Lowen, 25 June 2014), but its slide into a ‘Third World’ purgatory will eventually coerce it to redefine its global market presence. And given constant invocations of Second World War ‘debts’ (that Germany refuses to discharge) by both the country’s leadership and common folk, it seems that recession promoted a resentful retrenchment into past suffering that matches so well its contemporary landscapes of homelessness and poverty.  

Let me be clear: I have no interest in contributing in post-neoliberal redefinitions of Greek tourism, but plenty in providing glimpses at alarming prognostics. The aforementioned performative protests already sit comfortably at a crossroads between dark (of war, famine and suffering) and slum (poverty and normally urban) tourisms in that they have become the country’s enduring representational core in global media platforms (Gopal, 31 March 2015). In many ways, global audiences have already become ‘trained’ to gaze on Greek poverty, with all the ethical issues this may provoke (Baptista 2012; Tzanelli 2015). It feels as if global reporting on the crisis portrays a society at its final gasp, ready to be sacralised in marketable images of begging, death and ‘endemic’ terrorism. But do global audiences really care? Bauman’s (2007) argument that any attempt to sacralise dying as a spectacle is the prelude to the represented tragedy’s neglect, should prompt a response from the Greek governing centre. But what sort of response – and can this escape capitalist exploitation? There could be coordinated efforts to connect such spectacles of poverty (the ‘staple’ of global press reporting) to progressive trends of social tourism – to employ the poor to engage with visitors. But currently, there is no such thing in Greece. What would also be absent from such an ‘exercise’ would be globally coordinated volunteer tourist education - or, more correctly, ethical political consumption, given that volunteerism is as problematic as its slum tourism counterpart. Of course, the post-neoliberal frame in which Greece is asked to operate in market networks does not necessarily accommodate ethical terms on consumption of such ‘spectacles’ – in any case, a controversial move.  The very premise that the poor can benefit from work in tourism is so tightly associated with experiences of (neo-) liberal rhetoric and capitalist exploitation that radical movements such as those promoted by Syriza would shy away from it. Others may rightly point out that any sort of ‘touristification’ would not support dewesternising, decolonising projects, only strengthen the EU bondage (Mignolo 2000). And what about alternative voices?  It is additionally questionable if the current budding of urban and rural cooperatives (Nasioulas 2012) as well as a promising solidarity movement in Greece (Henley, 23 January 2015) can find profitable and fair introduction in local tourism, or support nation-wide policies of self-government in the Zapatistas model of development.

Self-governance is a scarce resource that has to be earned – in the Zapatistas’ case, with revolution that is not always peaceful or contextually advisable. But social tourism has to be for the poor and not poor in cultural resources - otherwise those in poverty join racist value hierarchies from the back door. In addition, tourism is often consigned to inessential policy prerogatives in (non)developing economies and ‘Third World’ experimentation focuses on hard industries and policies instead. But is this restructuring of local markets perhaps a partial solution - or have social and geographical inequalities in Greece deepened, irrevocably tying the mobility of its social landscapes to nodes of business and governance managed only from afar?
References
Baptista, J.A. (2012) ‘Tourism of poverty: The value of being poor in the non-governmental order’, in F. Frenzel, K. Koens and M. Steinbrink (eds) Slum Tourism. London: Routledge, 125-143.
Bauman, Z. (2007) Consuming Life. Cambridge: Polity.
Bearden, L. (29 May 2015) ‘British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays “awkward” in Kos’, The Independent. Available from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/british-tourists-complain-impoverished-boat-migrants-are-making-holidays-awkward-in-kos-10281398.html (accessed: 23 June 2015).
Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press.
Gopal, A. (31 March 2015) ‘What austerity looks like inside Greece’, The New Yorker. Available from http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/what-austerity-looks-like-inside-greece (accessed 23 June 2015).
Hannam, K. (2008) ‘The end of tourism? Nomadology and the mobilities paradigm’, in J. Tribe (ed.) Philosophical Issues in Tourism. Clevedon: Channel View.
Hannam, K., Sheller, M. and Urry, J., 2006. Editorial: Mobilities, immobilites and moorings. Mobilities, 1 (1), 1-22.
Henley, J. (23 January 2015)Greece’s solidarity movement: “it’s a whole new model – and it’s working”’, The Guardian. Available from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/23/greece-solidarity-movement-cooperatives-syriza (accessed 23 June 2015).
Korstanje, M.E. and Clayton, A. (2012) ‘Tourism and terrorism: conflicts and commonalities’, Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes, 4 (1): 8 – 25.
Lowen, K. (25 June 2014) ‘Tourists return as austerity-hit Greece emerges from crisis’, BBC News. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-27989995 (accessed 23 June 2015).
Mack, N. (25 March 2012) ‘Birmingham Zorba's Flashmob - Official Video’. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1U2bdXZzel0 (accessed 08 July 2015).
            Mignolo, W.D.  (2000) Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges and Border Thinking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.      
Nasioulas, I. (2012) ‘Social cooperatives in Greece: Introducing new forms of social economy and entrepreneurship’, International Review of Social Research, 2 (2): 141-61.
Nederveen Pieterse, J. (2006b) ‘Emancipatory cosmopolitanism: Towards an agenda’, Development and Change, 37(6): 1247-57.
No Comment TV (06 July 2015) ‘Greek referendum: “No” supporters celebrate in Athens’ streets - no comment’. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtxIq2dyiDU (accessed 08 July 2015).
Robertson, R. (1995) ‘Glocalization: time-space and homogeneity-heterogeneity’, in M. Featherstone, S. Lash and R. Robertson (eds) Global Modernities. London: Sage.
Smith, H. (27 January 2011) ‘Greek communists storm the Acropolis in bailout protest’, The Guardian. Available from http://www.theguardian.com/business/2011/jun/27/greek-communists-storm-acropolis-bailout (accessed 23 July 2015).
Tzanelli, R. (2011) Cosmopolitan Memory in Europe’s ‘Backwaters’: Rethinking Civility. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.
Tzanelli, R. (2015) Mobility, Modernity and the Slum: The Real and Virtual Journeys of Slumdog Millionaire. New York & Abingdon: Routledge.

Wikipedia (undated) ‘Ta Dekemvriana’. Available from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Greek_riots#Criticism_of_the_Government (accessed 08 July 2015).
Rodanthi is currently co-authoring an article with Maximiliano Korstanje on the effects of troika policies on Greek epistemologies of well-being.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Swearing at electric sheep




Cursed knowledge
I am apparently ‘prone to curse the internet’. I have been dedicated a few things, but my companion’s book stands out for its humorous observation on my inclination to curse machines. The irony of the thing is that I grew up amongst people who would display their fascination at our new electronic world in very similar ways. I would find their reactions funny, so out of pace with the knowledge that they deal with soulless and brainless things. I remember my granny’s rather angry conversation with the answering machine, providing instructions to relay to my mother; the answering machine’s tiny cassette has survived and today stands as a reminder of human finitude. I have a much filthier mouth and more advanced machines to swear at.

Perhaps it has got little to do with age – although generational gaps are bound to impact on familiarity with technology – and more with common human aptitude – the gift of tacit knowledge. By ‘tacit knowledge’ I refer to our unmediated understanding that during this peculiar non-interaction we are alone, therefore unable to communicate our swearing to anyone. At first, Kojéve’s (1969) Hegelian musings on intersubjectivity come to mind – how can we establish connectivity with inanimate technology? Then I take a step back: we can always play a vital part in a network of animate (human) and inanimate (machines) components, collaborate and produce human/machine complexes (Latour 1993). Yes, it makes sense to curse the slow computer.




Doug ‘The Great Leap Forward’, Creative Commons/Flickr

On gods, sheep and technology
If so, then why do I bother swearing at computers in the first place? I certainly do not share the consternations of older generations, nor am I technophobe: we have come a long way in just a few decades to discard the knowledge we have accumulated on technology because of dystopian suspicions it will dominate us. There is something more intimate about cursing the internet that involves an evolving dialogue with yourself and the trust that your inanimate viewer that will not answer back. It is emancipatory to blow off steam. It is a mutation of Archer’s (2003) ‘internal conversation’, only now we can project this onto technologies, therefore externalise its emotional aspects that technology cannot articulate without our contribution. At least for the moment.

Technology is not god, although there are societies in which technology-inspired technics connect to metaphysics. Here I am prone to both agree and disagree with Fuller’s (2012) view on our relationship with science. First, humanity’s scientific impulse does not connect to European religious metaphysics singlehandedly – many people like myself are non-believers, hence do not afford a connection with ‘God’ to define their relationship with science and technology. Also, there are billions out there who live in alternative cosmological universes but with Western technology. Second, the sole emphasis on reason disables our holistic understanding of what it means to be human: where is emotion to account for in our relationship with gods, machines and other humans? Fuller's Popperian Weberianism and complete rejection of the Stanford School as parochial does away with the complexities of cultural difference and does not look back again to explore reson within emotion or alternate cosmological approaches. To be fair, Fuller recognises that science that speaks on behalf is not necessarily good science, but he stays firmly grounded in a particular intellectual tradition. For centuries now, intellectuals who articulate human connectivity to science and technology err on the side of reason, allowing some to assume that emotion has no intentionality. It is as if, to refashion Philip K. Dick’s famous title, cursing at electric sheep is part of a disjointed dream, barely consigned even to the domain of our libidinal economy (even though dreaming is central to reasoning in various cosmological universes). The complexities of feeling with machines are then set aside as peculiarities to laugh at, outbursts of irrational old people, non-white humans who think about metaphysics otherwise or women. I will leave the last comment for others to reflect upon.

References
Archer, M. (2003) Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fuller, S. (2012) ‘The art of being human: A project for general philosophy of science’, J Gen Philos Sci, 43: 113–23.
Kojève, A. (1969) Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. New York: Basic Books.
Latour, B. (1993) We Have Never Been Modern. London and New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.


 Rodanthi is currently completing a monograph on different conceptions of 'technology' in cinematic visions of risk society. In it she maintains a dialogue with the three cited scholars, amongst others.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Int. J. of Tourism Anthropology Special Issue on: "Interrogating the End(s) of Tourism: Nomadologies, Risk and Terror"

Guest Editors:
Dr. Rodanthi Tzanelli, University of Leeds, UK
Prof. Maximiliano E. Korstanje, University of Palermo, Argentina

GO TO Journal CfP Page: (http://www.inderscience.com/info/ingeneral/cfp.php?id=3079)

It has been repeatedly argued that we live in precarious times: the proliferation of as diverse risk scenarios and real life events as those of terrorism, environmental degradation, war, famine and uncontrolled migration flows across the world has suggested to some that the ‘end of tourism’ might be nigh, not just as an academic thematic, but also a socio-political reality. Both ends of this debate merit careful consideration: the ‘end of tourism’ was promoted to an analytical (epochal) tool in the ‘new mobilities paradigm’ in the first decade of the 21st century. Hannam (2008) has explained that tourism ends in new global environments of mobilities in the sense that we cannot separate it from other forms of spatio-temporal and functionally differentiated movement any more, such as migration, business travel, technological services, skills and the like (Hannam et. al. 2006; Urry 2007; Sheller 2014). In this respect, it is better to consider phenomena of nomadology – that is, the movement of travellers as collective or individual nomads (sub cultural enclaves, fan groups on the move, backpackers but also businessmen and women) to a paradigmatic shift in contemporary societies (Maffesoli 1996; D’Andrea 2006; Thulemark and Hauge 2014). To further facilitate such nomadological mobilities, telecommunication industries have developed blended forms of tourism such as those used in film and Internet business (Tzanelli 2010, 2013, 2015), whereas independent business has also designed digital sites and elevated web surfing into a form of touring the world in global markets (Germann Molz 2012, 2013).

Yet, mobilities discourse can also be applied to observations that tourism ends where terrorism and other forms of social conflict thrive (Korstanje and Clayton 2012; Korstanje, Tzanelli and Clayton 2014; Korstanje, Skoll and Timmerman 2014).Of course, in different ways, Tzanelli (2011) and Korstanje, Skoll & Timmermann (2015) have argued that terrorism and the history of modern leisure are inextricably intertwined. Nomadology is also part of the contemporary politics of risk and terror (as in terrorism, strikes, protests and social movements, especially of the anarchist end). But Gale’s (2008:9) conviction that with global events such as 9/11 and 7/7 we might have reached the end of tourism as we know it, in that institutions (e.g. policing and surveillance mechanisms controlled by nation-states), independent organisations and tourists focus less on leisure itineraries and more on managing mobility risks (Beck 1992, 2002, 2009) merits careful consideration. Additional evidence on environmental pollution and poverty induced by climate change across the world seconds this thesis, reminding us that nature can demote whole regions and countries to the ‘Third World’ or aggravate already existing social problems such as tribalist divisions, civil conflicts and ‘warlordism’ (Urry 2011). Because such risk scenarios and realities also circulate in global social biospheres such as those of tourism/leisure, they affect tourist resorts and markets. This call for papers invites social science and interdisciplinary scholars to engage with these nomadological debates in various combinations.

Reference
Beck, U. (1992) Risk Society. London: Sage.
Beck, U. (2002) 'The terrorist threat: World risk society revisited', Theory, Culture & Society, 19 (4): 25-56.
Beck, U. (2009) World at Risk. Cambridge: Polity.
D'Andrea, A. (2006)'Neo-nomadism: a theory of post-identarian mobility in the global age', Mobilities, 1 (1): 95-119.
Gale, T. (2008) 'The end of tourism or endings of tourism?', in Burns, P. and Novelli, M. (eds) Local-Global Connections. Wallingford: CABI, 1-14.
Germann Molz, J. (2012) Travel Connections. Abingdon: Routledge.
Germann Molz, J. (2013)'Social networking technologies and the moral economy of alternative tourism: The case of Couchsurfing.org', Annals of tourism research, 43 (3): 210-30.
Hannam, K. (2008) 'The end of tourism? Nomadology and the mobilities paradigm', in J. Tribe (ed.) Philosophical Issues in Tourism. Clevedon: Channel View.
Hannam, K., Sheller, M. and Urry, J. (2006) 'Mobilities, immobilites and moorings', Mobilities, 1 (1): 1-22.
Korstanje, M.E. Skoll, G, and Timmermann, F. (2015) 'Terrorism, tourism and worker unions: The disciplinary boundaries of fear',International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage, 2 (1): 1-12.
Korstanje, M.E. and Clayton, A. (2012) 'Tourism and terrorism: conflicts and commonalities', Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes, 4 (1): 8 - 25.
Korstanje, M.E., Tzanelli, R. and Clayton, A. (2014) 'Brazilian World Cup 2014, terrorism, tourism and social conflict', Event Management, 18 (4): 487-491.
Maffesoli, M. (1996) The Time of the Tribes. London: Sage.
Sheller M (2014a) 'Sociology after the mobilities turn', in P. Adey, D. Bissell, K. Hannam, P. Merriman and M. Sheller (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities. London and New York: Routledge, 45-54.
Thulemark, M. and Hauge, A. (2014) 'Creativity in the recreational industry: Re-conceptualization of the Creative Class theory in a tourism-dominated rural area', Scandinavian Journal of Public Administration, 18 (1): 87-105.
Tzanelli, R. (2010) The Cinematic Tourist: Explorations in Globalization, Culture and Resistance. New York & Abingdon: Routledge.
Tzanelli, R. (2011) Cosmopolitan Memory in Europe's 'Backwaters': Rethinking Civility. New York &Abingdon: Routledge.
Tzanelli, R. (2015) Mobility, Modernity and the Slum: The Real and Virtual Journeys of Slumdog Millionaire. New York & Abingdon: Routledge.
Urry, J. (2007) Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity.
Urry, J. (2011) Climate Change and Society. Cambridge: Polity.

Subject Coverage


Suitable topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Connections between nomadologies (from travel or fan subcultures to cyber-terrorist cultures), new technologies and culture industries (e.g. social media, film, the internet)
  • Dark tourism/thana tourism and slum tourism as digital and/or embodied forms of tourism
  • The role of digital mobilities in enabling different forms of embodied nomadologies
  • Theoretical and/or empirical connections between tourism nomadologies and creative/cultural industries
  • Effects of terrorism or climate change in tourist destinations
  • Practices of consumption, ideologies of consumerism and terrorism
  • Risk perceptions, policy planning and tourism
  • Tourism in the Middle East
  • Tourism and the Muslim World.
  • Connections between terror, protests, strikes, social movements and places/sites of pilgrimage

Notes for Prospective Authors


Submitted papers should not have been previously published nor be currently under consideration for publication elsewhere. (N.B. Conference papers may only be submitted if the paper has been completely re-written and if appropriate written permissions have been obtained from any copyright holders of the original paper).

All papers are refereed through a peer review process.

All papers must be submitted online. To submit a paper, please read our Submitting articles page.

Important Dates


Submission of manuscripts: 15 January, 2016

Notification to authors: 15 February, 2016

Final versions due: 15 March, 2016