“Pierre Bourdieu wrote that symbolic violence is exercised through the ‘hypnotic power’ of ‘injunctions, suggestions, seduction, threats, reproaches, orders or calls to order’ that emerge within the structures of domination that shape our perception and activity. We help reproduce those structures whenever we speak in their terms, are moved by their claims, and follow the channels they establish. The American Anthropological Association’s discussions of the Academic Boycott of Israel are a good example of how such symbolic violence is accomplished. These discussions have drawn up sides which resist both ethnographic and theoretical illumination. They have chained the possibility of thought to the imperative of duty by deploying the irresistible vocabulary of justice and complicity, loyalty and betrayal, virtue and sin.”
This article from the March/April 2016 issue of Anthropology News examines some of the bad choices emerging from the AAA’s historically clumsy approach to anything having to do with the Middle East.
This reflection on philosopher John Rawls’ idea of overlapping consensus as a key to social tranquility was developed as a commentary on a special group of papers, Religions and Their Publics, assembled for The Immanent Frame by UNC Charlotte anthropologist Eric Hoenes del Pinal, and James Bielo of Miami University.
This was my final editorial in the Review of Middle East Studies (volume 46, no. 1, Summer 2012, pp. 1-5). It argues that the idea of Orientalism has become a stale and reactionary notion in much of Middle East studies, and that honoring Edward Said’s critical spirit requires us to move beyond it.
From Insult to Injury
Insults are a good example of the social construction of human reality. Sometimes insults are intended but not perceived. Sometimes insults are perceived but not intended. And sometimes insult is a competition in which victim and perpetrator circle each other, monitoring their partner and responding in an escalating contest that might look like anything from a minuet to a knife fight. Purpose and perception, history and stereotype, social stratification and identity, sensitivity and malice, and the immediate and long-term social contexts in which words and images are deployed all shape the way we interpret the actions of others.
Cartoon Violence was published in Anthropology News in March 2006, in response to the controversy over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.
Anthropological Activism and Skewed Priorities
Political Culture and the AAA asks questions about the kinds of political activism in which anthropological organizations feel comfortable engaging. It contrasts the American Anthropological Association’s willingness to address labor issues and political/cultural repression in the Americas, with its reluctance to take similar positions regarding political/cultural repression, violence, and war in the Middle East, even when the United States has participated in that violence. It was published in Anthropology News in February 2005.
Anthropology and Abu Ghraib
In 2004 some of the first evidence began emerging that U.S. armed forces and intelligence agencies were torturing Afghan and Iraq war detainees at both acknowledged and secret facilities around the world. In the case of Abu Ghraib, photographs of the abuse of prisoners eventually led to the prosecution of some of the soldiers involved, but the officers, politicians, and bureaucrats responsible for developing and approving policies allowing for the torture of U.S. prisoners were never held responsible.
Culture Never Dies was published in Anthropology News in September 2004, reflecting on accusations that certain longstanding stereotypes about Middle Eastern culture may have informed some of the tactics used in the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody.