Henri Lefebvre and C.L.R. James were quintessential twentieth-century intellectuals. They were born within six months of each other in 1901. Both lived to within sight of the century’s end: James died in 1989 and Lefebvre in 1991. And, as I argue in my Identities article, 'Passing through difference: C.L.R. James and Henry Lefebvre', their grappling with the times in which they lived led them to articulate a comparable politics.
What kind of politics? One which valued human flourishing more than formal equality. One which considered creative freedom more significant than technological progress. And one which found hope in the way in which ordinary people fought against constraint in their day-to-day lives.
So, Lefebvre and James are good for us to think with. They gives us means of making sense of the world in which we find ourselves. For example, in different ways both men anticipated the rise of a populism focused on the defence of welfare and security. They saw how easily such ideas could be used to justify violence and exclusion against those who were seen as threatening ‘our’ possessions. This matters. It matters in a moment when politicians and other public figures (e.g. Hillary Clinton or former Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley) routinely blame migrants for political insecurities. It matters when academics do the same, endorsing the claim that there are ‘legitimate concerns’ about the extent to which migration threatens a ‘possible destruction of the national group’s historic identity and established ways of life’ (Goodwin & Eatwell 2018).
For both James and Lefebvre, the best response to this was to shift the political emphasis away from a politics rooted in the idea of defending ‘what is’. In its place, they emphasised something mundane but profound: the restless search for what ‘might be’. One doesn’t have to look far to find the evidence of that continuing search. It is there, playing out in front of us, every time someone struggles against the limitations of their lives at work or elsewhere.
But this isn’t all that there is to say. A comparison between these two thinkers is salutary for another reason. It illustrates the extent to which the shadow of empire falls across even some of the most radical of European intellectual contributions. For example, Lefebvre’s account of modern society relies, more than once, on a comparison with the image of a ‘primitive’ state of being. In this and other ways his writing tacitly accepts the idea of racialised human differences which European imperialism sustained. It implies that, in order to understand modernity, we need to be able to contrast it with something else, something outside of itself, something ‘other’.
This is where the contrast with James is so telling: for James, the histories of racism and empire – and the histories of struggle against both of these – were themselves central to the formation of modern society. They did not belong to some ‘other’ or ‘primitive’ place outside of modernity. James understood that racism was lodged in the heart of modernity, not just as a practice but also in the very idea of ‘modern society’ itself. If we want to think critically about that society, a first step is to think critically about the way racism shapes the very categories we have at hand.
Goodwin, M. & R. Eatwell. 2018. National populism: how liberal democracy was trumped. London: Penguin.
Blog post by Andrew Smith, University of Glasgow, UK
Read the full article: Smith, Andrew. Passing through difference: C.L.R. James and Henry Lefebvre. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1558880
‘And so it begins. India’s settler-colonial project has arrived’, reads the headline of The Medium on the 31st of October 2019. It must be noted that Indian setter-colonialism arrived through a longer colonial engagement, a brutal history of Indian denial of Kashmiri self-determination since October 1947.
On the 5th of August 2019, the Indian government executed a legally questionable constitutional annexation of the state of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir after placing Kashmiris under an unprecedented digital and physical lockdown, a military siege. Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status has long suffered what Duschinski and Ghosh have called a process of occupational constitutionalism. The Jammu and Kashmir Land Reorganisation Act 2019, enacted on the 5th of August, came into effect on the 31st of October 2019. Kashmiris, whose right to determine their political future has been denied for 72 years, will now no longer have the right to exclusive ownership in their land. The Indian government has been busily attracting domestic and foreign investment. A member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament has called for Indian settlers from the armed forces to move into Kashmir. These settler-colonial moves further militarise and destroy an already fragile ecology. Caged physically and digitally, Kashmiris face a demographic change. The Indian state’s record of widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual assault, enforced disappearances and mass graves over the last 30 years has been referenced by the Office of the United Nations’ High Commissioner reports of 2018 and 2019. The militarisation and the threat of demographic change have prompted the US-based Genocide Watch to issue a genocide alert for Kashmir.
My Identities article, 'Kashmir and Palestine: itineraries of (anti) colonial solidarity', maps the arrival of Indian settler-colonialism through India’s relationship with another settler-colonial state, Israel. The article argues that Indian leftist as well as state anti-colonial solidarity with Palestine since 1947 must take account of India’s covert and overt relationship and arms trade with the state of Israel since the 1950s. The arms trade alliance is significant as successive Indian governments have intermittently expressed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom with reference to India’s own anti-colonial struggle. In practice, these governments have been supporting the occupation of Palestine. Beyond this, India’s leftist solidarity with Palestine, concretely expressed through the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement in India, needs to take account of India’s colonial engagement with Kashmir since 1947, rather than place the blame solely on the current Hindu-nationalist or Hindutva government’s overt celebration of its alliance with Israel.
Kashmir and Palestine are significant for the India-Israel relationship. In a post-9/11 context, the master narrative of counter-terrorism has been seized upon by governments around the world to crush dissent as well as liberation struggles. The India-Israel burgeoning arms trade, now worth billions of dollars, is based on this narrative and cites the need to attack Palestinian and Kashmiri liberation struggles in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’. The Israel-India partnership in arms involves the deployment of counter-insurgency forces, drones and arms against other populations in India as well. But Kashmiri and Palestinian anti-colonial struggles are distinct targets; India-Israel relations embody a partnership in mutual colonial occupation and state violence in Kashmir and Palestine. This violence is all the more galling as the Indian state doles out development aid for Palestine even as it banks on its anti-colonial capital in its relationship with Palestinians.
The Latin term ĭtĭnĕrārĭus arrived into middle English with the connotation of a reflection on a journey. When I first began writing my article, ‘Kashmir and Palestine: itineraries of (anti) colonial solidarity’, I was not aware of this connotation. I am now struck by how appropriate the term is. In the article, I reflect upon my itinerary of learning about Indian colonialism and brutality in Kashmir, understanding the itineraries of kinship between networks of colonialisms, and learning of the resistance itineraries of solidarities between Kashmir and Palestine. This article is thus an invitation to reflect on the significance of Kashmiri anti-colonial struggle in developing a ‘shared vocabulary of struggle’, dreaming ‘freedom dreams’, as Professor Angela Davis argues, against settler-colonialism and state violence.
Blog post by Goldie Osuri, University of Warwick, UK
Read the full article: Osuri, Goldie. Kashmir and Palestine: itineraries of (anti) colonial solidarity. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1675334
Read related Identities blog articles:
Decolonial solidarity in Palestine-Israel by Teodora Todorova
Everyday dilemmas of walking under curfew in Kashmir by Mohamad Junaid
The 20th century has witnessed many ethnic and religious conflicts, civil wars, massacres and humanitarian crises all over the world from Southeast Europe to Sudan, and from Rwanda to Northern Ireland. Although negative peace  is achieved by signed peace agreements or newly-drawn borders in many cases, this does not necessarily bring about reconciliation and harmonious relations between societies. The violent acts of 1915 -- one of the most catastrophic events in the early 20th century -- deeply damaged Turkish–Armenian relations and still has been affecting new generations. Although some peaceful steps have been taken on a diplomatic level to normalise relations, the intractability of the conflict remains.
Past theory on competitive victimhood demonstrates that contested narratives over being ‘the main victim’ of a conflict are significant obstacles in processes of reconciliation. When victimhood becomes a component of a broader collective identity, it can increase the perception of social prejudice, distrust and hatred towards out-groups. Competitive victimhood refers to a situation in which each side in a conflict claims to be the main victim or legitimise its own crimes on the basis of past victimhood (Noor et al. 2008). Moreover, while in-group crimes are downplayed by moral excuses in such situations, out-group crimes are exaggerated by demonising the enemy (Andrighetto et al. 2012). This leads to competition over who has suffered more and who has more right to resort to violence. Although all members of a community have not experienced violence and harm, victimisation becomes a component of collective identity and gets passed down to subsequent generations.
Moving beyond the diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey , my Identities article, 'Competitive victimhood and reconciliation: the case of Turkish–Armenian relations', focuses on reconciliation between two communities which have very limited interaction due to a closed border, poor diplomatic relations between states, and mutual distrust and prejudices between communities. Drawing upon two separate nation-wide public opinion polls conducted in Turkey and Armenia, and personal interviews, the article explores how narratives of competitive victimhood reveal in the Turkish and Armenian communities.
Furthermore, a theoretical discussion revolves around the relationship between competitive victimhood and reconciliation pyramid, which moves from becoming acquittances with each other’s narratives to a shared narrative and understanding of the past (Auerbach 2009). The empirical analysis displays that Turks seek moral acceptance while Armenians seek recognition. Studying relations between Turks and Armenians on a people to people reconciliation level also demonstrates that the likelihood of reconciliation increases when parties meet and get to know each other’s narratives on a personal level. However, a lack of interaction between the two communities prevents mutual understanding and both groups tend to deny the other’s narratives by supporting official narratives. The analysis also illustrates that Turkish society remembers the massacres and develops empathy on a personal level.
Finally, if the conflicting communities are divided by time and space as in the case of Turkish–Armenian relations, competing victimhood narratives may become even more rooted by decreasing the likelihood of reconciliation. Thus, interaction and acquaintance with competing narratives expose as significant steps to overcome this obstacle and achieve reconciliation between Turkish and Armenian communities. Accordingly, a question unfolds regarding the reconciliation process in general. If interaction and acquaintance with competing narratives may increase the likelihood of reconciliation, why cannot it still be achieved in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina where communities live side by side with a relatively higher level of interaction and acquittance of each other’s narratives?
Auerbach, Y. 2009. The reconciliation pyramid -- a narrative-based framework for analyzing identity conflicts. Political Psychology 30: 291–317.
Andrighetto, L., S. Mari, C. Volpato & B. Behluli. 2012. Reducing competitive victimhood in Kosovo: the role of extended contact and common ingroup identity. Political Psychology 33: 513–529.
Galtung, J. 1969. Violence, peace and peace research. Journal of Peace Research 6: 167-191.
Noor, M., R. Brown & G. Prentice. 2008. Precursors and mediators of inter-group reconciliation in Northern Ireland: a new model. British Journal of Social Psychology 47: 481–495.
 Galtung (1969) defines negative peace as 'the absence of violence', which can be achieved by signed peace agreements between conflicting parties, and differentiates it from social justice and reconciliation, namely positive peace.
 Preconditions for peaceful steps, namely the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh for Turkey and recognition of the Armenian genocide for Armenia, pose intractable obstacles to interstate relations.
Blog post by Cagla Demirel, Södertörn University, Sweden
Read the full article: Demirel, Cagla & Eriksson, Johan. Competitive victimhood and reconciliation: the case of Turkish–Armenian relations. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1611073
When people hear that my research topic is international marriages, a spark lights up their eyes, quickly followed by the comment, ‘Oh, living with a foreigner must be difficult...’ When I ask, ‘Why do you think so?’, people quickly answer with ‘cultural differences’, but pushing further, language differences is also mentioned as one of the biggest issues that concern people. So, what is it about language and culture that make it difficult for people to understand each other? Don’t we all have different cultures? Will knowing a spouse’s language help? Is there anything else that makes it difficult for people to connect and understand each other?
Having those and many other questions in mind, I conducted my research on marriages of Russian-speaking women from former Soviet Union countries, who live in Japan and are married to Japanese men. I did not intentionally ask participants to talk about differences in customs or ways of living, but no matter what we discussed, the conversation would eventually reveal how spouses experienced and compared each other’s languages and cultures.
My Identities article, ‘International marriage in Japan: reconstructing cultural toolkits in marriages between Japanese men and women from the former Soviet Union’, introduces the voices of Russian-speaking wives and Japanese husbands, and explores their thoughts about marriages and culture. I analyse some of my participants’ remarks about their communication with spouses, such as Lyubov, who described the way she talked with her husband:
Well, now [we speak] in Japanese, but it happens on very rare occasions, because we are ‘ideal Japanese family’, where everybody lives in their own space. We barely talk, only about children and whether there is enough money for living. That is more or less it.
I was wondering how this is an ‘ideal Japanese family’, when in another interview, another participant, Alexandra, said:
I don’t bother him [her Japanese husband] with every little thing anymore: when he forgets to turn off the light, or doesn’t clean the sink after shaving… I do it ‘like a Japanese woman’, [silently] clean it after him. He must have felt horrible in the first year of our marriage…
Why does doing things silently or not talking to a husband seem to be interpreted as an ‘ideal Japanese family’ or ‘ideal Japanese wife’? How did they come up with these images? How is an ‘ideal family’ different from the ‘ideal Japanese family’? And, what do Japanese husbands think about their marriages with these women?
I respond to these questions by analysing how women from former Soviet Union countries and their Japanese husbands think of and use culture in their everyday lives. In my analysis, I utilise Ann Swidler’s (1986) concept of culture shaping, a repertoire or ‘toolkit’ from which people construct ‘strategies of action’. Women in international marriages faced the burden of recognising their original cultural repertoire and the need to reshape it to create new strategies of action to fit into the life in Japan. On the other hand, their husbands lived in familiar environments outside the family, but had to deal with different ideals and customs inside their international marriages.
Thus, the correctness of husbands’ cultural strategies was reinforced by the Japanese society, while they had to negotiate cultural differences inside the international family. Having different social and cultural backgrounds, Japanese husbands and Russian-speaking wives had difficulties performing roles as their spouses expected. Their perceptions of marriage and customs differed, and therefore the rules they followed in the relationships were different and could lead to conflict. For this reason, it was important to analyse how international couples navigated and restructured their toolkits, and what values shaped their new strategies of action.
I hope my research sheds light not only on the many facets of such seemingly simple notions as ‘family’ and ‘marriage’, but also provides readers with an insight into how spouses in international marriages rationalise these differences; the way in which they change or persist in their habits; and how their ideas evolve and grow with new understanding.
Swidler, A. 1986. Culture in action: symbols and strategies. American Sociological Review 51: 273–286.
Blog post by Viktoriya Kim, Osaka University, Japan
Read the full article: Kim, Viktoriya. International marriage in Japan: reconstructing cultural toolkits in marriages between Japanese men and women from the former Soviet Union. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1677325
In 2014, at his house located in central Okinawa, Kiyoshi Takamiyagi reminisced about his childhood in Saipan, the former mandate territory of Imperial Japan, today the main island of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a US unincorporated territory. Takamiyagi was born and raised in Saipan as a son of a colonial migrant worker on a sugarcane plantation. He spoke about the social hierarchy in the colony, where the Japanese government officials and corporate executives were regarded as first-class citizens (ittō kokumin), Okinawans and Koreans as second-class citizens (nitō kokumin) and the indigenous islanders as third-class citizens (santō kokumin). He then tearfully recalled his family’s suffering during the Battles of the Marianas in 1944, in which some 44,000 Japanese soldiers, 10,000 Japanese civilians (more than half of whom were Okinawans) and an estimated 1,000 Koreans and indigenous islanders were killed. During the battle, Takamiyagi, then a young boy, witnessed the brutal firebombing deaths of his father, younger brother and two younger sisters. The 82-year-old man then caught me by surprise: 'I loved Saipan. I miss Saipan. In fact, I have visited there four times, most recently three years ago' (Takamiyagi 2013, interview).
In 2013, I visited the home of Marta Diaz Muna-Mendiola, an indigenous islander in her late 80s, in Saipan. She shared her childhood memories during the Japanese mandate era, which the locals call ‘Japan time’. She went to Japanese government-run public schools for indigenous islanders, where she learned the Japanese language, sewing, abacus, farming and vocational skills. Muna-Mendiola sprinkled her responses in English and the indigenous Chamorro language with clearly enunciated Japanese words – rattling off the names of Japanese-owned stores she frequented as a child and her Japanese homeroom teacher’s name – and broke into singing Japanese children’s songs. Every time I asked her about her childhood under Japanese rule, she insisted, in Japanese: 'It was great [yokatta desuyo] … We experienced no hardship [Kurou shinakatta desuyo]' (Muna-Mendiola 2013, interview).
In reality, Japanese colonial rule over Micronesia was hardly benevolent for Okinawan colonial migrants or indigenous islanders (Camacho 2011; Poyer et al. 2001, 2008; Spoehr 1954). The colonial rule and mass migration of the Japanese, Okinawans and Koreans to the islands displaced the local Chamorro and Carolinian Islanders, while all upper-level administrative jobs in the colonial government and Japanese businesses were reserved for Japanese mainlanders. It was striking for me, therefore, to observe the shared nostalgia among the former colonial migrants and the colonised islanders. This study, as discussed in my Identities article, 'Transcultural nostalgia for the colonial past: intersecting memories among Okinawans and the Northern Mariana Islanders', examines how the two social groups formed an intersecting longing for the past.
How do different cultural groups forge a shared longing for the past, or transcultural nostalgia? My Identities article suggests that each group’s past and present political-economic conditions are key contributors to transcultural nostalgia. It also illustrates that travel between spaces and encounters during the travel are a key means of transcultural remembering among two different groups. The article historically and ethnographically examines the transcultural nostalgia among Okinawans who had migrated to the Northern Mariana Islands under the Japanese rule and repatriated after WWII, and the indigenous islanders who had grown up as Japanese colonial subjects, as well as the repatriates’ post-war ‘spirit-consoling’ pilgrimages to the Marianas.
Camacho, K.L. 2011. Cultures of commemoration: the politics of war, memory, and history in the Mariana Islands. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
Poyer, L., S. Falgout and L.M. Carucci. 2001. The typhoon of war: Micronesian experiences of the Pacific War. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
Poyer, L., S. Falgout & L.M. Carucci. 2008. Memories of war: Micronesians in the Pacific War. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
Spoehr, A. 1954. Saipan: the ethnology of a war-devastated island. Chicago: Chicago Natural History Museum.
Blog post by Taku Suzuki, Denison University, USA
Read the full article:
Suzuki, Taku. Transcultural nostalgia for the colonial past: intersecting memories among Okinawans and the Northern Mariana Islanders. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1686879