Some of what I've been up to...

As most of you know, I just finished up my PhD and am getting ready to start a fabulous job at Texas A&M in the Fall. It's been crazy getting the dissertation finished and preparing for the move. But I have a couple nerdy academic things to share. First, I am officially published! One of my articles came out last month in Anthropological Quarterly. Available for download here if you have a university subscription to the journal (I can email you a pdf if you can't get it)

Also, I just wrote a guest entry on higher education in the Gulf for the wonderful Global Higher Education blog. You can find that here. I highly recommend this blog and find the writing and research to be excellent.

Since some of you are the wonderful "informants" that made this possible, I would love to hear your feedback, either here or privately.

All my thanks for everyone's support so far! I have a feeling posting will be on hold for a while, but hopefully, I'll have more to report once I get settled in Texas!

Mini-Rant about Grammar

Geez. What is it with undergrads and their inability to use words properly (and their inability to write professional emails, the subject of a future rant)? I got an email today asking me about what Indian expats in Dubai do on "there day off" and whether "they enjoy there life in Dubai." Every quarter, after grading the first set of papers or tests, I have to do a little lesson on the difference between it's and its; and on the difference between they're, there, and their; among other things. To students in a competitive university! This says a lot about the state of education in the US, I guess, but also points to a general laziness among students in their (notice the use of that word) writing and communication styles. Oh, well. I sound like a geezer, and one of my most beloved professors recently wrote on one of my dissertation chapters, "learn how to use a comma," so I guess I am no better. (Please feel free to point out improper comma use and general bad grammar in this post if you would like, btw.)

End rant.

PS - Students, if you want me to answer your emails, learn my name, dammit! I am not Nora, Voran, Vera, or whatever the name of the other South Asian TA that quarter happens to be!

Ok. seriously. end rant.

Movin' on up

Hi all. Or perhaps I should say y'all. or actually "all y'all," which is, according to trivial pursuit, the official plural of y'all. Anyway, the point of the post: I wanted to let everyone know that my job hunt has been successful and as of the fall, I will be Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women's Studies at Texas A&M University. Texas is a bit freaky (but I think I have a lot of preconceived notions since when I visited everyone was quite normal and actually very happy living and working at A&M). But I am so happy the crazy job search is over, and that I actually did pretty well for my first time out (and ABD as well - that's "all but dissertation" for you non-academics). Anyway, I'll still keep up the blog, and still keep up research in the Gulf, so stay tuned. I'm excited for the next phase of this crazy academic life! Now I just gotta finish that darn dissertation, which is pretty much done, but still...

Anthropology, War, and Complicity

Funny. I was thinking this morning about a post I wanted to write about anthropology's inadvertent complicity with state projects of exclusion in the way they define the boundaries of national populations in knowledge production (more on that at a later date), when I came across this from Reuters:

The latest tactic in Iraq: anthropology

By Peter Graff Wed Jan 9, 8:08 AM ET

As David Matsuda tells it, he's probably the last person you'd expect to see in a U.S. military uniform climbing out of an                 armored vehicle in Iraq.

An anthropology professor from the East Bay campus of California State University near San Francisco, he's a self-described     peacenik who opposed the war in Iraq, did his academic research in Guatemala and never carries a gun.

"I'm a Californian. I'm a liberal. I'm a Democrat," he says. "My impetus is to come here and help end this thing."

Matsuda is part of the U.S. military "Human Terrain Team" (HTT) program, which embeds anthropologists with combat                 brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan in the hope of helping tactical commanders in the field understand local cultures.

The program is controversial: the American Anthropological Association denounced it in October, saying it could lead to             ethics being compromised, the profession's reputation damaged, and worst of all, research subjects becoming military                 targets.

Matsuda says the concern is based on a misunderstanding of what he has signed on to do.

"There's been a knee-jerk reaction in the anthropology community, that you've been co-opted, that you're a warmonger, like     you're clubbing baby seals or something," he said. "I came here to save lives, to make friends out of enemies."

Soldiers in northeastern Baghdad -- an area transformed over the past year from one of the most violent parts of Iraq to one     of the best illustrations of the security improvements of late 2007 -- say they are grateful for Matsuda's expertise as they             make the transition from fighting to peacemaking.

VIOLENT STRONGHOLD

"It's a huge asset," said Staff Sergeant Dustin "Boogie" Brueggemann who, as a tactical psychological operations specialist,     has spent the past year trying to win hearts and minds in Adhamiya, until a few months ago one of the most violent                     strongholds of Sunni Arab militants in Iraq.

"The guys who were out with him were saying: 'Dr Matsuda's so smart!' Soldiers even on the lowest level now, we see the          big picture just by listening to him talk," he said.

"He gave me so much information that had I known it a year ago I could have done things differently," he said. "He gave me     a history of the Ubaidi tribe. A lot of people here are members of that tribe. I knew a little bit about them, but I didn't realize         just how big they were."

Further up the command chain, Lieutenant-Colonel David Oclander, deputy commander of the 5,000 soldiers of the 2nd             Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, said Matsuda had given a presentation on how Iraqis resolve conflicts     that proved valuable in approaching Shi'ite clerics.

"The HTT has been a great help in making sure that when we dialogue with them, we dialogue with them in a way they             understand and appreciate," he said.

Matsuda says he arrived at exactly the right time, when a sudden sharp decline in violence opened new opportunities for         engagement in his unit's area.

The brigade is a classic example of last year's new U.S. strategy in Iraq that saw greater numbers of troops deployed to Iraq     and more emphasis on interaction with civilians.

Before the troop buildup, the entire area of northeastern Baghdad -- including about half of the capital's population -- was         covered by just a single battalion of about 800 U.S. troops who suffered some of the worst casualties in Iraq.

SADR CEASEFIRE

Now the area is covered by the brigade's six battalions, including four combat battalions each covering separate                         neighborhoods as diverse as Sunni Arab stronghold Adhamiya and Sadr City, the giant Shi'ite slum of more than 2 million         people.

In the past six months violence plummeted, as Adhamiya's Sunni tribal leaders turned against al Qaeda militants, and                 Moqtada al Sadr, the Shi'ite cleric whose Mehdi Army militia controls Sadr City, declared a ceasefire.

In December 2006, there were 450 killings in the area, mostly by sectarian death squads trying to drive rival groups out of         their neighborhoods. There were just 15 killings last month, mainly by ordinary criminals, said Oclander.

On Saturday, Matsuda -- wearing a U.S. military uniform but unarmed -- spent two hours with soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 7th     Cavalry lingering on a street in Adhamiya where a few months ago U.S. forces would have had to fight either in or out.

They meandered in and out of shops, bought falafel sandwiches and ate them on a street corner while playing with local             children who already seemed to know their names. Periodically they knocked on doors and asked permission to come             inside homes for a chat. They never turned down an offer of tea.

Most of local people were friendly, although they complained about a lack of electricity and their suspicion of the Shi'ite-led     government and its security forces.

Matsuda said he had learned a lot that day -- about who was moving into vacant houses and who was renting them out, how     a local clinic got its medicines, how shop owners were getting funding to reopen their shops.

"We have a window of opportunity here to make a difference for these people. We have to take it," he said.

(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)



As the article mentions, there has been a strong reaction to the involvement of anthropologists with the military from within the community (it was a major topic of discussion at the Anthropology meetings in DC in December). I'm not sure I know where I stand on this one. It is definitely very complicated. How does one assess help and harm in these situations? How is information collected by anthropologists used? I think it's also interesting and necessary to place this in the context of anthropology's historical entanglement with colonialism and imperial states. It's not a new thing to use anthropologists as part of the apparatus of governance. Today a lot of old-school anthropology seems naive at best and racist at worst, but many anthropologists thought that by humanizing the "natives," they were reducing violence against them. And maybe this is true. But in many cases, anthropological "data" was used to justify colonial rule and define cultural traditions in ways that negatively impacted people. So it's a tough call. But it's not some new trend, like this article makes it seem. The US government used anthropologists regularly as part of its expansionist campaigns in the Philippines and the South Pacific, for example. Any way, interesting stuff. Feel free to comment and get a discussion going!

The Academic Meat Market

Hi all. The reason I have not been posting is because job season is high upon us here in the ivory tower (which is actually more like a cement parking structure at UCI, but hey, whatever). I have to date applied for over 50 jobs. Yup, that's right. My advisor's motto is "never turn down a job you don't have yet," meaning apply everywhere and don't be a diva about it. Wise words, since one of the rejection letters I received recently noted that they had over 250 applicants for the position! We are talking c.o.m.p.e.t.i.t.i.v.e. Now that the holidays are approaching and most places are already on break, I probably won't hear anything until 2008. I've been happy with the number of preliminary interviews I have gotten so far, but could you all root for me (even though you know I don't believe in all that karmic/cosmic stuff)? But, hey, if it gets me a good job in a good place, hello Jebus!

Academic Negotiations

I know, I haven't posted in a really long time, so I am bombarding you with the second of the day. Maybe that makes up for it a little bit:

Over at the UAE community, people are talking about American researcher Syed Ali's experience of being detained, having his research data confiscated, and then being immediately deported from Dubai in 2006. As a fellow researcher of Dubai (and one whose work is on the sometimes-controversial issue of Asian migration to the Gulf), this event inspired a bit of fear in me, and made me a little more ambivalent about my research site. But, I also have started to think that people tend to exceptionalize the Gulf too much...

So, my question, and I hope to get a good discussion going here, is to academics, researchers, and journalists in general - what kinds of negotiations do you face in your research, in terms of dealing with governmental authorities and restrictions, limitations on freedom of speech, and issues of personal safety? How do you manage to maneuver around these things? Have you experienced any adverse situations in your research sites, or in your "home" sites? Do you exercise self-censorship? How? And what other strategies do you deploy to balance your research with the limitations imposed by the location of research?

OK, that is actually many questions. I have posted my own ways of dealing with some of this before, but others, please respond! I'm interested in the overlaps between the Gulf as a research site and other places.

Whirlwind Egypt Tour

Ed and I returned from a 9-day fast-paced and awesome (in the real sense of the word) trip to Egypt about a week ago. Pics can be found here.

I have to say the age of some of the stuff, and the size, and the vast amounts of perfectly preserved artifacts, and the fabulous organized chaos of the Egyptian tourist industry, and the Nile, and EVERYTHING was fantastic. The only downside was how little time we had, especially in Cairo, which I fell in love with. We also were ina group with my parents and three Indian couple friends of theirs, which made for some interesting moments...

Where to next? How can one top Egypt? Personally, I am craving a week on a beach somewhere, anywhere (well, not anywhere - I am from Jersey and have seen some pretty bad beaches).