In Latin America, the indigenous question has acquired an undeniable importance in contemporary debates regarding national identity. After centuries of invisibility and denial, indigenous peoples have stood up once more against forced assimilation and segregation. The current political and social visibility of indigenous peoples and the exaltation of the values they embody are unparalleled in the modern history of the Andean countries. Although they are still victims of different forms of violence and segregation, the multicultural turn has created a structure of legal opportunities for the mobilisation of identity. It seems that Latin American subjects are no longer ashamed, nor afraid, of calling themselves indigenous.
In a historical and social context in which the term 'indigenous' still has a negative connotation that may entail discrimination and segregation, it is somewhat disconcerting that certain populations claim that they are indigenous. My Identities article, 'Legal indigeneity: knowledge, legal discourse and the construction of indigenous identity in Colombia', focuses on how legal discourse manages the challenge that indigenous revival poses to legal categories grounded on colonial definitions of national identity. In order to do so, a historical depiction of legal cases is made, showing how legal discourse absorbs postcolonial narratives on indigenous peoples, as well as more contemporary expertise knowledge accounts of cultural difference.
Paradoxically or not, we are witnessing a redefinition movement that challenges the ethnic boundaries, and the academic and official categories, established to define national identity. From the revival of the Kankuamo in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, to the constitution of a Cabildo in Bogotá, who claim to be descendants of the original Muisca inhabitants of the urban neighbourhoods in which they live today, ethnic re-emergence shows that indigenous identity is not frozen in time, nor located on natural spaces, but instead is constructed, reshaped and defended with and against the State and its Rule of Law.
Contemporary indigenous revival has facilitated a deep and problematic process of distinctions between communities that previously identified themselves as members of the same economic and social class. Peasant labour force suppliers and rural inhabitants now differentiate among themselves based on who may mobilise the past and tradition to gain legal recognition. Legally-endorsed identities come hand-in-hand with land titles and self-government. Nation state authorities, especially those of the judiciary branch, respond to the ethnicisation of rural populations by controlling claims of cultural belonging. In order to do so, in the last twenty years a legal regime has been built, case by case, for the classification of subjects based on how much indigenous identity they have and exhibit.
The creation of an anthropological-legal knowledge that allows legal operators, mainly judges, to create and distinguish typologies of identities, is crucial for controlling the extent of indigenous revival, and distinguishes between those people who, despite what they say about themselves, their appearances, their dress and physical features, cannot be considered legitimate bearers of legal indigeneity. Legal discourse either affirms the existence or non-existence of indigenous people, or fails to acknowledge them. It depicts who these people are and where they live, what their traits are, and how we may distinguish them among mestizos.
Legal discourse has played a fundamental role both in the control of identity claims and in the very definition of what is understood as 'indigenous' for legal and political purposes in a multicultural state. The creation of a culturalist taxonomy that classifies indigenous populations based on their degree of cultural conservation and location in natural space, as the good native safeguarding mother nature, bans other possible ways of being indigenous. Those living in cities, going to the cinema and driving a car, or those painting beautiful murals in Bogotá's downtown, probably may not be regarded as indigenous legal subjects. For them, the multicultural promise of recognition and entitlement is still to be fulfilled.
Blog post by Libardo José Ariza, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia
Read the full article: Ariza, Libardo José. Legal indigeneity: knowledge, legal discourse and the construction of indigenous identity in Colombia. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1543484
In our Identities article, 'Digital institutions: the case of ethnic websites in the Netherlands', we conceptualised websites as digital institutions. Since the concept of institutions appears to be fuzzy, comprising formal and informal as well as micro and macro organisations, we argued that they, although socially embedded and culturally loaded, conceptually are insufficient to highlight their specificity. In order to specify the institution, we employ the concept of script, defined as recurrent activities and patterns of interaction. Empirically, we apply this concept to detail ethnic websites in the Dutch Hindustani community and to highlight what needs they fulfil for its visitors and in the Hindustani community. We argued that these ethnic websites fulfil a wide range of needs — notably, as a means of communication, a platform on which community members can address ethnic issues, a device through which to build networks, and a place from which to download material — thus fostering the identity of the ethnic group. Since evidence based on one community may be a matter of happenstance, we substantiate our argument with a comparison of ethnic websites from the younger generation of white Dutch, Hindustanis and Moroccans in the Netherlands.
In general, the concept of institutions refers to an interaction of people, be it face-to-face, by means of written communication as many government agencies do, or digital as has become typical for websites. Furthermore, the definition of institution suggests a bundle of roles or an interaction of individuals with a collective. Examples include schools, annual festivals, tax administration, but also informal organisations as households, networks of friends, and websites. This wide range and diversity of institutions indicate that the role performance of individuals may sometimes be very physical and at time less visible as in the case of digital institutions. This digitalisation of institutions has nowadays advanced to the point that the features of conventional institutions have become blurred. Specifically, personal interaction has declined, making the institution increasingly a latent structure.
Take the example of the Hindu festival Diwali, the annual fiesta celebrated with lights, in India as well as in the Indian diaspora that includes the Dutch Hindustani community. It is a typical family occurrence, although the celebration may be different across diasporic Hindu communities. After the family ceremonies, people may stay at home, sing religious songs and enjoy the company of family members. Sometimes, Hindu people visit a temple to attend a service. Alternatively, they may visit relatives and friends. Depending on the circumstances, family and friends may receive a Diwali card, similar to a Christmas card. This custom has become digitalised to a large extent. Wishing people Happy Diwali increasingly occurs by email and SMS messages, decorated with pictures. And nowadays these are extended by WhatsApp, sometimes to people they hardly know. The institutional nature of Diwali, a prominent institution of the Hindustani community, has become less tangible.
These changes comprise almost all institutions, both formal and informal, in communication with school, community institutions, birthday celebrations, Christmas, New Year and the like. In the Netherlands, WhatsApp messages are leading in this communication and have increasingly replaced face-to-face interaction and contact. Diminishing personal contact and interaction erodes the traditional concept of institutions that was characterised by fixed roles and face-to-face communication, even in its informal settings. It has become less a community happening and acquired personal traits since you can avoid being part of the crowd. The digitalisation of institutions fosters selectivity and individualisation, and changes the appearances of the Diwali feast. This development tends to blur traditional concepts that were extracted from an old world and aim to reflect that world. The digital world therefore requires established concepts, such as ‘institutions’, to be adapted and extended.
Blog post by Ruben Gowricharn, VU University, the Netherlands and Jaswina Elahi, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands
Read the full article:
Gowricharn, Ruben & Elahi, Jaswina. Digital institutions: the case of ethnic websites in the Netherlands. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1519239
When I was asked to write a blog to accompany my Identities article, 'The most cosmopolitan European city: situating narratives and practices of diversity in Marseille', I was asked to provide a suitable image. This faced me with a dilemma that cuts to the heart of my argument: how to choose a picture that symbolises cosmopolitanism in Marseille without falling into stereotypical representations of what and where cosmopolitanism is, and who represents it?
Searching the Internet for images of 'cosmopolitan Marseille' in English and in French ('Marseille cosmopolite') brought up quite different results. In the English language search, the majority of photographs showed shots of Marseille intended for international tourists: terrace cafés, well-known landmarks and generic promotional images from restaurant chains, bars and rental apartments. There was just one picture of a busy multi-ethnic market street. In the French search, similar touristy images also came up, alongside images that felt both more everyday and more ‘local’: interiors from different shops displaying open bags of spices for sale and a photograph from the municipal website of local politicians receiving international delegations from Marrakesh and Dakar, accompanied by a title describing Marseille as coloré et cosmopolite ('colourful and cosmopolitan'). There were, in addition, several references to specific impoverished neighbourhoods in the city-centre that are often taken as the embodiment of Marseille’s ‘cosmopolitanism’ while at the same time are the target of local and national urban renewal programmes that seek to attract a different - less ethnically-marked - population into the city centre for many decades now.
In short, carrying out this search for images of cosmopolitanism in Marseille illustrates the extent to which cosmopolitanism is a slippery notion that can mean so many contrasting things, depending on who is doing the talking, with whom, where and when.
In my article, I draw on ethnographic fieldwork in a part of the city that is not usually included in narratives of Marseille’s cosmopolitanism. Over nine months, as Marseille was preparing for its year as European Capital of Culture, I took part in a neighbourhood cultural project with a group of people who could seem far removed from the image of well-travelled cosmopolitan jet-setters and common sense understandings of the ethnically-marked bodies generally taken as the embodiment of cosmopolitan spaces. And this is one part of the story I tell in my Identities article. Beginning with an arts project that was marginalised from mainstream cultural policies, I explore how different ways of framing of social and cultural relations in Marseille, including in terms of Marseille’s cosmopolitanism, have variously included or excluded individuals and groups from material and symbolic aspects of the city.
Drawing on the critical cosmopolitanism literature, the second aim of the article was to think about how to describe and analyse social relations relations in ways that move beyond top-down narratives and policies that attempt to describe and organise difference. The image that I have finally chosen was taken by the Finnish photographer Lena Malm, who came to visit to Marseille in 2017 as part of a project exploring how different places around the Mediterranean Sea were given meaning and value.
This photograph is taken near the busy market that was brought up in both the English anad French the Internet searches for Marseille’s cosmopolitanism. As mentioned, this largely impoverished area has been targeted for decades by political leaders, part of a campaign to ‘reconquer’ the city centre. Informal street traders and people begging are regularly moved on and the area is surveilled by closed-circuit television. The bollard in the centre of the image is a material sign of these efforts to clean up and eventually ‘gentrify’ this part of the city. Behind the corrugated, graffiti-tagged barrier, the city council has given the go-ahead for the conversion of an Haussmanian apartment block to be transformed into a luxury hotel. Who knows how the social relations of this part of the city will be changed as a result.
What I like about this photo, and what caught the attention of Lena, is the contact between the woman begging and the person who stops to talk to her, the smiling face and the friendly, open hand gesture. Despite the different social positions, there seems to a moment of shared humanity, beautifully emphasised by the triangle of light coming out from woman standing. It is this idea of shared humanity, a sort of fellow feeling, generosity and humaneness that can transcend – albeit fleetingly - perceived social or cultural differences that, it seems to me, is often elided within accounts of Marseille’s ‘cosmopolitanism’. My Identities article attempts to draw attention to some of these relations of openness that, along with often very violent forms of othering and displacement, participate in the shaping social interactions in and beyond the city; although of course, always in very unequal relations of power.
Blog post by Claire Bullen, University of Tübingen, Germany
Read the full article: Bullen, Claire. The most cosmopolitan European city: situating narratives and practices of cultural and social relations in Marseille. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1688952
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred on 26 April 1986 in the Soviet Union. Children born before and after 1986 were at risk of developing different health conditions. For example, instances of thyroid cancer increased 40 times due to release of radioactive iodine. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, borders opened and many Western charities offered recuperation to affected children in host families abroad during summer. The idea was to take children out of contaminated territories and provide them with an environment free from radiation. Belarus was the most affected, having 23.5% of its territory contaminated with radioactive cesium and strontium. Italy was the most active in these recuperation programmes; it has hosted more than half of all affected children from Belarus.
The goal of my Identities article, 'Kinning as intimate disaster response: from recuperation in host families to educational migration of the Chernobyl children from Belarus to Italy', was to uncover what happened to these children and their host families over time. I demonstrate that one of the unexpected outcomes of Chernobyl children’s recuperation in Italy was their educational migration to Italy for further education as they grew up (some went on to attend high school in Italy; the majority of these went on to do their Bachelor and/or Master’s degrees in Italy, as well). I argue that educational migration became possible due to kinning – strong emotional bonds developed between the Belarusian children and their Italian host families over their repeated encounters during the humanitarian programme of child recuperation abroad. The concept of kinning has been used in the studies of transnational adoption (by Signe Howell) and domestic and institutional care work (by Loretta Baldassar and colleagues). My article applies kinning to the studies of disasters, migration and humanitarianism.
Educational migration of Belarusian children to Italy was chosen over other unintended recuperation outcomes (e.g. being adopted by the Italian host family, meeting a life partner in Italy, changing religion from Orthodox to Catholic, choosing a profession related to Italy, or coming to Italy in adulthood with children of Chernobyl children), as it revealed how important a triad relationship between children, their biological families in Belarus, and their host families in Italy was in deciding to study in Italy as these youth came of age. I therefore argue that disaster migration occurred, not because of the damage done by the disaster, but due to the human relations formed between people involved in disaster response.
On the basis of ethnographic interviews I conducted with the grown-up Chernobyl children from Belarus, I examined the relational consensus and conflict between children, their biological parents in Belarus, and their Italian host families, which evolved around frequent contact, material and emotional support, family obligations, co-residence, over-parenting, etc. Educational migration of grown-up children as disaster survivors was not just about aspirations to improve their future career prospects and socio-economic statuses, but was also shaped by social relations with family members in both host and home countries in the negotiation of a simultaneous sense of belonging to different places.
In practical terms, formally recognising and supporting kinning in humanitarian assistance for disaster survivors would do great service to those who have already developed kinning and to those who are restraining themselves because of organisational rules. Kinning as a form of a long-term social support can be beneficial for children in overcoming prolonged consequences of a humanitarian crisis.
Blog post by Ekatherina Zhukova, Lund University, Sweden
Read the full article: Zhukova, Ekatherina. Kinning as intimate disaster response: from recuperation in host families to educational migration of the Chernobyl children from Belarus to Italy. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1686877
Indonesian women victims of domestic violence commonly experience a sense of shame, however unreasonable that might seem to those outside the community. However, it is understandable for two reasons.
Firstly, most Indonesians consider marriage a sacred institution, the harmony of which must be maintained to support not just the marriage itself but broader social harmony. Secondly, to Indonesians the wife is seen as responsible for maintaining family harmony due to the values of nurturing and caring traditionally assigned to the female gender.
Hence, a failure to maintain marital or familial harmony is blamed on the wife who, should she decide to divorce, may be described as an ‘unfaithful wife’, ‘undutiful housewife’ and an ‘unloving mother’, with little or no basis for such accusations.
Even when domestic violence has occurred and the marriage cannot reasonably continue as there is threat of continued physical and emotional violence and other abuse of the women and their children, the women still feel shame. Having internalised societal values, women feel that they have failed to meet society’s and their own expectations.
These women must prepare themselves to have their status reduced, from that of a married woman (with the respect this traditionally commands) to that of unmarried woman, janda (widow or divorcee) in Bahasa Indonesia. This ‘shameful’ status is distinctly gendered; divorced men are not blamed for their ‘broken homes’ nor made the target of salacious gossip or of sexual harassment, and are not viewed as a threat to other marriages.
According to Richard O’Connor (2009, 75) shame is ‘[A] deep, pervasive experience of loathsomeness or disgust about who or what we are. [It] is about our core identity; the experience of seeing ourselves from another perspective, in the worst possible light; or of fearing that others see the secret self we keep hidden away and only remember when we are forced to’.
In the context of divorce and domestic violence, malu or shame becomes the emotional link between the failure of marriage and being a victim of domestic violence. Both involve gendered shame. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, creating and maintaining marital and familial harmony is not only demanded by the community, but also by the state under the Marriage Act 1974, redoubling the sense of shame.
Domestic violence brings complicated circumstances; women need to make a decision whether to leave or to stay in an abusive marriage. It is a decision that is not easy to make because of social, economic, legal and cultural considerations.
My Identities article, ‘Shame and Indonesian women victims of domestic violence in making the decision to divorce’, examines whether all respondents, regardless of their identities at the beginning of the violence, continued to hold tight the values and norms of their responsibility for ‘harmony’ within a family. It was found that when the violence continued to escalate or became intolerable, most of the respondents filed for divorce. Many no longer accepted the cultural expectation that the burden of familial harmony was solely theirs, and instead recognised the husband’s unacceptable behaviours as often beyond a wife’s control and clearly contributing to marital and familial breakdown. They ignored the feelings of shame that would be imposed upon them (because they would be janda) and realised the burden they would have to bear from economic, social, cultural and legal aspects.
O’Connor, R. 2009. ‘Shame: destructive or useful?’ Mental Health Matters.
O’Shaughnessy, K. 2009. Gender, state and social power in contemporary Indonesia: divorce and marriage law. Oxon: Routledge.
Parker, L. & Creese, H. 2016. The stigmatisation of widows and divorcees (Janda) in Indonesian society. Indonesia and the Malay World 44: 1-6.
Blog post by Rika Saraswati, Soegijapranata Catholic University, Indonesia
Read the full article: Saraswati, Rika. Shame and Indonesian women victims of domestic violence in making the decision to divorce. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1600313