Thursday, July 21, 2016

Right-wing anthropologist

Is there such a thing as a right-wing anthropologist? I am yet to meet one. My guess is that when you take so much time and effort learning about people's lives, walking in their shoes, trying to  understand their world in all this complexity, you can't go right-wing on them: blame them for the life they live, compare them with what they are not, treat them not as fellow human beings but as labels, bugaboos, somehow not-quite-humans and hence non-deserving.

Right-wing sociologists, on the other hand, do crop up every now  and then. I blame Quantitative Methods. When you're trained to reduce people to figures, graphs and spreadsheets, without bearing in mind that it's but an exercise in mental abstraction, that's essentially dehumanisation. And dehumanisation of other humans is a surefire precursor to right-wing thought and right-wing action.

*All that being said, the old-fashioned right-wing vs. left-wing dichotomy has been largely hollowed out in the political world. The majority of Tories and Labour, Republicans and Democrats are but mildly differing flavours of Neo-Liberal (right-wing, in the old sense, par excellence).

Monday, April 25, 2016

In the name of Science, Data and Quantitative Methods

Before God('s word) was the language of power.  This day and age, it is science. Or rather the religion of Scientism. Hard data. Statistics. Figures. Graphs. Flashy PowerPoint presentations. The tool of mass persuasion. The tool of policy justification.

It's the only language power speaks. It's the only language power understands.

That is why Quantitative methods are so in vogue. Heavily Quant-laden MSc courses command the three-letters-behind-your-name market: the fees are higher and so are the expected salaries. Tens of thousands of science graduates churned out into the labour market.

This is how Bloomberg calculates that Thailand is world's happiest economy. This is how development consultants' number-jugglery  for ever leaves the Third World struggling, while keeping the HQ in New York, London or Geneva pleased. This is how the rule of technocrats indoctrinated in Quantitative Methods runs entire countries into the ground. This is how nuclear energy is (falsely) made out to be the cheapest. This is how technocrats from Goldman Sachs get to assume top-echelon positions in European governments and bleed everyone white with their misguided austerity policies. Never mind that even natural scientists demonstrate that uncritically quantitative research produces false results.

Wars used to be fought over one word in the Scripture. Now countries are turned into "competition states" to climb up a few places in rankings, never mind the social, environmental and psychological  cost (ala, the externals, generally excluded from most business model, 'coz who cares!). Blind belief in holy words may have given way to a blind belief in  holy numbers, but the latter is even more dangerous because of how efficiently it commands far vaster resources and more advanced technologies.

Social science koan: inspired by Baudrillard

All human systems produce difference and waste.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Flash ethnography

I know this goes again the very grain of participant observation, but sometimes there's just no time and flash ethnography is the answer. Switch off your ego, open your doors of perception, swoosh in, and assume a vantage position absorbing all the visible and invisible vibes, until they come after you and kick your pfrecious butt out.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

Gender and the City: homosociality among Bangkok's Japanese

Homosociality is so in your face in Japan that no one even notices it. A lot of time, men and women socialise separately. It's a given, no one even talks or thinks strange about it. As it is often the case in Japan, things go extreme. There are women-only train cars, lots of urbanites stop having romantic or sexual realtionships with the opposite sex, while Japanese gender-targeted marketing is perhaps the most pervasive and relentless you'll ever see. Still, homosociality is never talked about. It's so normal, like the air we breathe, that it does not even seem to register.

After 25 years of spending a lot of time with the Japanese, it really only occurred to me as a social fact last winter. For my fieldwork, I had to do sampling among Bangkok's Japanese migrants. Men wouldn't give me time of the day, so it was mostly women that I got to hang out with and ask questions. The contrast was so sharp, it came as a cognitive shock. Knowing of homosociality from research on and my travels in the Middle East and North Africa, I immediately had a light-bulb moment, 'Bang! This is it! How could I miss it all these years?'

It seems that no one has cottoned on Japanese homosociality either. There's one piece of literary research on it, but it is mostly about homoeroticism in Modern Japanese literature. Nothing in social sciences. Completamente nada. Perhaps, it's because many social scientists are not hip to the very term homosociality (I did ask around) as it comes from literary criticism. Namely, from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick who, inter allia, claimed that Henry James's broken sentence structure is a sign of anal-fingering tendencies.

Cue to my Japanese migrants in Bangkok with their penchant of hanging out along gender lines. Despite my sampling difficulties, I've managed to gather enough empirical evidence from my interviews and participant observation. There are so many subtle arrangements, tacit understandings and internalised values getting the entire gender segregation machine running! Earthlings never cease to amaze me.

So that's what I just gave a talk on at the Daiwa Foundation. It is based on one of my thesis chapters, which I am also presenting at the Southeast Asia Symposium 2016 in Oxford, and also at the ASEASUK Conference 2016 at my alma mater

I would be very grateful for comments and suggestions, particularly re. extant research on the subject.