The African Caribbean Self-Help Organisation (ACSHO), based at Heathfield Road in Handsworth, Birmingham, established itself as a central hub for Pan-African centred learning and intellectual debate in the early 1970s. ACSHO members were part of a UK-wide co-ordinating committee that sent a delegation of activists to the 6th Pan African Congress (6PAC) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1974. My Identities article, ‘Each one teach one’ visualising Black intellectual life in Handsworth beyond the epistemology of ‘white sociology’, shows how the conference statement by the UK delegation at the 6PAC meeting was critical of the inherent racism of their social condition in England’s metropolitan cities as well as of the racist ways they were being studied by white social scientists at the time. Through their own Pan-African centred and anti-colonial critique, the delegation used ‘scientific socialism’ to situate their political struggle within a global context of anti-imperialist resistance movements.
Inside this hive of Black intellectual activism emanating from Birmingham, the archival work of Vanley Burke is particularly noteworthy. Born in St Thomas, Jamaica in 1951, Burke recalls receiving a gift of a camera sent by his mother from England for his 10th Birthday. He became fascinated by the ‘magic of photography’ and was compelled by both the science and artistry of this medium (Sealy 1993). Since the early 1970s, Burke has documented the lives of Caribbean communities in Birmingham with an intimacy and sensitivity towards the people he shares the city with.
Burke’s photographs depict Black people going about their daily lives, visually contesting the dominant Eurocentric colonial gaze of the period as evident in the mainstream British press of the time. Birmingham’s Caribbean communities had developed a rich and varied political engagement with Black intellectual thought through music, faith and forms of community activism. Burke’s archive reflects the influence of Rastafari amongst young people, and shows how this philosophy and worldview was part of a spectrum of political ways of knowing including Black nationalism, Black Power consciousness, Black theologies, Pan-African and anti-imperialist schools of thought.
My Identities article shows how Burke’s archive allows us to see and understand Handsworth as a contested epistemic space where African Caribbean community organisations including ACSHO created their own sites of self-learning and self-education outside of mainstream formal state education. Burke’s photography and his wider archive collection provides a rich and nuanced visual insight into the intellectual circuits that existed in the homes, parks, streets, pubs, church halls, barbershops, hairdressers, sound-systems, radio stations, community centres, bookshops and community organisations of Black Birmingham.
The article further situates histories of anti-imperialist self-learning in Handsworth amongst other disputed bodies of knowledge produced within the local and national press, and within the British academy about the neighbourhood. The national press and the academy often functioned as echo chambers that underscored nationalistic forms of racism and the problematic epistemic whiteness of ‘race-relations’ sociology.
The featured photographs in the article provide an insight into contested ‘Handsworth epistemologies’ not only through the self-learning activities of African Caribbean residents but also through the ways in which Burke’s images show sociologists such as Stuart Hall, John Rex and Sally Tomlinson doing their own everyday academic and sociological work in Birmingham. I use Burke’s photography to place these intellectual constituencies into conversation in ways that work to visualise aspects of what Hall et al. (2013) called ‘the colony society’ in Policing the Crisis. This approach is taken to underscore how particular forms of Black intellectual activism were central to theorising the whiteness of ‘race relations sociology’, as well as to show how Black people in Birmingham were making their own anti-imperialist epistemologies within their everyday lives under the spectre of racism in Britain.
Hall, S., C. Critcher, T. Jefferson, J. Clarke & B. Roberts. 2013. Policing the crisis: mugging, the State, and law and order. 2nd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sealy, M. 1993. Vanley Burke: a retrospective. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
Blog post by Lisa Amanda Palmer, De Montfort University, UK
Read the full article: Palmer, Lisa Amanda. ‘Each one teach one’ visualising Black intellectual life in Handsworth beyond the epistemology of ‘white sociology’. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1648712
A couple of years ago, I shared a paper-in-progress with some colleagues. I got a lot of wonderfully kind and collegial feedback, but I noticed that something was amiss between my own home base of sociology and other disciplines that theorise emotion. At the mere mention of the name Lauren Berlant, two people reeled back in their chairs, rolling their eyes and groaning in exasperated derision. The centring of Stuart Hall's work in my paper perplexed one colleague, who explained that 'we've transcended Hall with Pierre Bourdieu and Jeffrey Alexander'.
Bourdieu and Alexander, I couldn't help noticing (especially by contrast to Hall), are decidedly less adequate for understanding race and, to a lesser extent, gender. And unlike Bourdieu and Alexander, who are claimed in the name of sociology, Hall and Berlant can be considered cultural theorists, though they've significantly influenced social theory. The encounter I've just described sits where these two terrains of struggle meet: disciplinary politics and politics more broadly. I want to suggest that it would be fitting to bring the same principles that guide better political praxis into our inter/disciplinary engagements.
The haste with which some sociologists of emotion dismiss interdisciplinary fields such as cultural studies, critical race studies, and postcolonial studies is in one sense perhaps not surprising. Despite the significance of emotion in the organisation of every aspect of social life, keyword searches for recent publications on emotion within prominent journals in these fields produce surprisingly scant results. Other concepts, such as 'attitudes' and 'lived experience', feature more prominently. For emotion theorists seeking an excuse to bypass interdisciplinary work, the lexical differences seem sufficient. 'There's nothing relevant for me here. This isn't how “we” do it.'
But why, I wonder, would we stop digging just when we're about to reach the treasure? It is at precisely this point that questions worth asking begin to arise. Why do some scholars use 'attitudes' where we would use 'emotions'? How has the word 'emotion' operated in the lives and intellectual traditions of the people who've produced this work, and why do these other terms work better for them? Power is almost certain to be involved somehow – either its exercise or resistance to it – and it's a wasted opportunity to allow conceptual divergences to function as walls rather than doors.
Charles Taylor has influentially argued that a politics of recognition demands the genuine possibility of transformation by all parties to a relationship. In order for social scientists to answer the questions that make our work worth doing, we must be open to having our own concepts transformed by our dialogues with other disciplines. The field of feelings is as broad a church as academic knowledge production can furnish. An examination of the work of even the most dedicated disciplinary purists will betray the influences of cultural theory, psychoanalytic theory, neuroscience, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, history, political theory, and interdisciplinary fields such as feminist, postcolonial, critical race, psychosocial, and science and technology studies. The benefits of these interdisciplinary engagements for our work are reason enough to embrace them, but perhaps even more importantly, an aversion to scholarship which is 'not how “we” do it' can, depending on who the 'we' is or isn't, be haunted by the spectre of the same Orientalism that social scientific work ought to root out – in praxis as well as theory. Despite institutional pressures to champion our own disciplines, a sound intellectual politics demands that we inhabit the surprisingly vulnerable liminality between confidence in our conceptual tools and openness to changing our minds about them.
Blog post by Lisa Kalayji, University of Edinburgh, UK
The external definitions we are given, i.e. how others define us, become an inescapable part of our internal self-definition. Such external labelling is more effective if it is done with institutional legitimacy and governmental authority. This separation of a population into ‘us’ and ‘them’ can have serious consequences for people from subordinated groups.
A clear example of this kind of external labelling can be observed in the frequent reports of the Swedish National Agency for Education concerning 'educational underachievement' of students with foreign background in Sweden. This labelling primarily indicates a negation of everything ‘Swedish’. According to this understanding of Swedishness, not all of those who were born or brought up in the country are Swedes. A Swede is born of parents who are native-born ‘Swedish’, has a ‘Swedish’ appearance and name, and speaks Swedish without a foreign accent. Secondly, in these reports, the offspring of immigrants, a very heterogeneous population in terms of country of origin, class background, length of residence in Sweden and age at arrival, are lumped together as one homogenous group and labelled 'students of foreign background'.
What the recipients of these reports (which are widely broadcast in the media) understand is that these students always lag behind those of 'Swedish background', thereby putting a strain on Sweden’s educational system. Such descriptions hide the internal variability between young people in these categories. and indicate the ‘racial inferiority’ or ‘cultural backwardness’ of young people with an ‘immigrant background’. This also fails to take into account the growing proportion of young people with migrant parents who do not define themselves (at least not initially) by their migrant background.
In my Identities article, 'Constructions of self-identification: children of immigrants in Sweden', I investigate the self-identification of a sample of young people with various migrant backgrounds in Sweden. In a survey, we asked them how they present themselves for others in different contexts (in school, in the neighbourhood or outside Sweden).
The results demonstrate that young people with a migrant background challenge the forced labelling of the state agencies. They actively negotiate various forms of identity and belonging; they construct a variety of self-identifications and present themselves in diverse ways in various contexts. They construct and reconstruct forms of identification in their daily lives, in school, the neighbourhood and outside the country. The question of choosing an identity label is intimately connected with where they are and who the others are; thus, identifications are not fixed and bounded but a relatively fluid, situational and dynamic process.
Some of the respondents self-identified as Swedish or hyphenated (e.g. Iranian-Swede). Many others hold on to their parents’ country of origin (e.g. Iraqi or Bosnian). A smaller group chose a religious label.
Moreover, the various characteristics of young people and the social environment around them are associated with a certain form of self-presentation in everyday life and in different contexts. These characteristics may include features of their friendship networks, the class position of their parents or the degree of stigmatisation of people from their parents’ countries of origin.
Blog post by Alireza Behtoui, Södertörn University, Sweden
Read the full article: Behtoui, Alireza. Constructions of self-identification: children of immigrants in Sweden. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1658396
I have been researching the activism of Israeli radial leftist movements for a decade now. Travelling to Palestine-Israel throughout the past years, speaking to activists and observing protests prompted me to examine the role of Jewish-Israeli activists in resisting the occupation and colonisation of Palestine. My empirical research on the Anarchists Against the Wall contributes to a growing body of activist-scholarship which highlights the emergence and consolidation of decolonial co-resistance (as opposed to the accommodative notion of co-existence) as an increasingly important aspect of joint Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli activism since the outbreak of the Second Intifada.
In 2003 during the Second Intifada Israel made a unilateral decision to build a wall beyond the Green Line in response to Palestinian militancy in order to protect Israeli civilians from political violence. The separation wall was built largely on Palestinian land, circling and incorporating the illegal Israeli settlements into Israel-proper, directly undermining the borders of the two-state solution. The building of the wall promoted widespread Palestinian resistance including weekly Friday demonstrations in the villages affected by the wall, raising international awareness, petitioning the Israeli High Court against village land confiscations and petitioning the International Court of Justice which ruled the wall’s construction in violation of international law in 2004. In many respects, the Palestinian struggle against the wall is a continuation of the Palestinians’ long-established tradition of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience against the Occupation.
Alongside local Palestinian resistance and international solidarity activism against the wall, the Jewish-Israeli anarchists emerged as a significant group. Their activism bears a close resemblance to the activities of the International Solidarity Movement, including attending the protests against the wall in order to discourage military violence against the Palestinians, as well as using their privileged status as Jewish-Israeli citizens to travel abroad to raise awareness of the struggle (an activity that is practically impossible for many Palestinian activists who are often denied the right to travel by Israel). In attempting to distinguish themselves from their international counterparts, Israeli activists argued that their activism cannot be reduced to straightforward solidarity because the Occupation negatively impacts Palestinians and Israelis alike. Palestinians on their end argued that this position draws problematic crude equivalences between the colonised and the coloniser, and the occupied and the occupier.
Drawing on nearly two decades of archival material, including academic, activist and media interviews with, and accounts of, the Anarchists Against the Wall, my Identities article, 'Vulnerability as a politics of decolonial solidarity: the case of the Anarchists Against the Wall', discusses how Palestinian critiques of Jewish-Israeli structural privilege resulted in the transformation of these activists’ discourses and practices. These critiques have driven the Israeli activists to reflect on, confront and face their privileged structural position as settlers. This involves an acknowledgement that their privilege is premised on the settler-colonial dispossession of the Palestinians. This acknowledgement prompted the emergence of an ethic that I call 'decolonial solidarity.' Decolonial solidarity is premised on an explicit rejection of the settler-colonial framing of the indigenous Palestinians as a threat, and the adoption of a practice of human shielding (whereby Israeli activists use their bodies to protect Palestinians) which uses vulnerability to injury as a tool for protection against settler-colonial violence. Paradoxically, the use of settler-privilege to protect Palestinian lives reinforces the existing settler-colonial racial hierarchies of whose life matters.
Put differently, the use of privilege can enshrine privilege while seeking to dismantle it. This constitutes a significant obstacle for decolonial activism and for the possibilities of meaningful co-resistance and decolonisation in Palestine-Israel.
Blog post by Teodora Todorova, University of Warwick, UK
Read the full article: Todorova, Teodora. Vulnerability as a politics of decolonial solidarity: the case of the Anarchists Against the Wall. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1647663