How did the colonial gaze represent “Indians” – both those named Indians by Columbus and those who inhabited the Indian subcontinent? That’s the question that Annu Palakunnathu Matthew explores in a series of photos in which she – an Indian American – takes on the poses of colonial era American Indians.

The idea emerged in part because of her accent. Matthew was born in England, moved to India after 10 years, and is now in the United States.

“People can’t place where [my accent] is from,” she wrote in an email to Scroll.in. “In the United States, people often ask me ‘What am I?’ and if I say Indian, I often have to clarify that I am an Indian from India and not a Native American.”

Her show plays on this confusion, and also on the perceptions of those not in the majority community.

You can take a look at some of her work here.

A fascinating piece on ethnography, actor network theory, and the extended body of Stephen Hawking. The author, Hélène Mialet,  undertook 10 years of ethnographic study on Hawking, which included interviews and observations of Hawking, his students, his caregivers and his colleagues. In her own words:

traced and made visible the coordination and articulation of complex collective bodies composed of humans and machines that produce—and indeed, are—an individual. Thus, if Hawking has a body, he also has a multiplicity of collective bodies of which he is at once an element and a product: this is why I titled my book Hawking Incorporated.

The idea of a collective body, or, in Mialet’s terms, a distributed-centered subject, fundamentally destabilizes the notion of the autonomous, rational individual. It also destabilizes the notion of individual genius (which apparently got Mialet into some hot water over at the Daily Mail). What would happen, she wonders, if we were to take up this notion? How might we understand ourselves – and others – differently?

What would happen, then, if we began to think about ourselves, or to represent ourselves, not as individualized disincorporated brains, but as subjects materialized and distributed in a series of overlapping and interconnecting collectivities—that is, as “distributed-centered subjects”? What would happen to our conception not only of the scientific genius, but also of the artistic genius, of the political leader, of the entrepreneurial manager, or the CEO? What would be the impact on our ways of presenting ourselves to other cultures, on our ways of rethinking the distinction between the worker and the leader, the chief and the assistant, the humans and the machines? What would be the significance for this way of approaching the individual for thinking about how we establish salaries and distribute rewards; think about authorship and imagine collaboration; design machines; and more prosaically, how we navigate the world? These questions are at the core of a long-term program of research I propose to explore. I believe they can only be answered on the common ground where philosophy, ethnography, and industrial concerns meet.

Slut. It’s not a term that I’ve ever heard directed at me. But I’ve heard it said about others, and so perhaps others have said it about me. A girl I’ll call Gerrie, in junior high. She’s easy, my friend said with confidence. Want sexual experience? Call Gerrie. She’s a slut. Her locker was on the second floor, just outside our science room. We were in grade 7. She was in grade 9. She walked the halls like she owned them, skin tight jeans painted over generous buttocks decades before Kim Kardashian would make them fashionable, streaked hair perfectly feathered, a knowing smile for any boy caught looking just a hair too long. Or that’s what I thought. Slut. Did they ever say it right to her face? Maybe not. But I learned early that there was a problem when girls liked sex.

I’ve heard it many times since. Whispered in hallways. Yelled in anger, frustration. Spoken competitively. Dismissively. With awe and horror. I learned that you can’t get it right if you’re a girl. You either put out and like sex too much, or you don’t put out at all. And then you’re a tease, a cocktease to be exact. And somehow that, too, makes you a slut because you’re asking for it. Somehow.

Fastforward a decade. Now I’m in a residence hall cafeteria deep in America’s heartland. I’m a grad student. I’m sitting in the cafeteria. It’s breakfast. Around me, students peer bleary eyed into watery porridge. Bursts of laughter at other tables. It’s sunny out. Or maybe the fluorescent lights are bright. A couple of days ago we’d been discussing Thelma and Louise and Fried Green Tomatoes. Women’s empowerment, on steroids. The women were enthusiastic. The men, much less so. And this morning – a bright, early, Saturday – all that stuff that was brewing around finally spilled over.

“If you’re going to dress like that,” one of guys said, “you’re just asking for it.” He was talking about someone he’d seen the night before.

“What?” I wasn’t sure I had heard right.

“You’re asking for it. I mean, you saw her last night, right? She was asking for it.”

“She’s not dressing for you.” My voice tight – dangerous, even – but he didn’t pick up on my tone.

“Oh, come on. She knows the score. She dresses like that, she knows what’s going to happen and it isn’t our fault.”

I erupted.

“You are full of shit,” I roared. “Women aren’t asking for it. They can dress however they fucking well please. It’s not about you, asshole. Keep you stuff in your pants and keep it to yourself.”

My voice had risen several decibels. This wasn’t a burst of laughter. This wasn’t the sound of a debate. This was anger. No. This was fury. In less than fifty words, I had let loose more swear words than I had in the previous six months. That alone was telling, I think to myself today. But again, he didn’t notice, or perhaps, he chose not to.

“Calm down. Shhhh. They can hear you.” In other words, I was making a scene.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass, if they can hear me. You are full of shit. No woman asks to be raped. Not. A. Single. Fucking. One.”

He looked shell shocked. Good. The cafeteria was silent. I picked up my tray and marched to over to the trolleys to drop it off.

A couple of months later, a woman was murdered on the fifteenth floor of that residence building by an ex-boyfriend enraged that she’d broken up with him. He’d driven all the way from California, his car filled with a gun and over 2000 rounds of ammunition. He’d planned his trip carefully. Told his supervisor he was going on a holiday. Even sent him a postcard from the Grand Canyon. Told his ex that if he couldn’t have her, nobody could. Shot her – and her new boyfriend – in her residence room. And then ran down the stairs and into the night before turning the gun on himself.

There weren’t any anti-stalking laws. She’d called the police. She’d done all the right things. But they didn’t help. They couldn’t help.

Last year. The year before last. The year before the year before last. And the year before that, too. Students, a parade of them, in my office, in my email, on my phone, the news, in my memories. Student in women’s shelters fleeing abusive partners. Students with court summons’ to appear as witnesses in sexual assault trials. Students told by mental health professionals that their sexuality was the result of their rape. Students raped by family friends. Students abandoned by friends who called them sluts because they were raped. Students working as sex workers to pay for university tuition. Students told they were sluts. Or whores. Or worse. A student whose mother was murdered by her partner.

Everyday violence.
Everyday sluts.
Every. Day.

People don’t like the term SlutWalk. They say it’s offensive. They say it shuts them down. They say it’s not right. They won’t support it. They hate it. But our women and girls are hearing it every day. If the word is so violent that you can’t bear to hear it, then think about the violence of hearing it every day. Think about Gerrie, who was easy. About the girl in my grad dorm who was asking for it. About my friend who wanted me to calm down. About students who had to testify, to flee, to remain silent. Students who were abandoned when it mattered most. Think, too, about how little we trust our boys and young men, and about how much we devalue them when we teach them they can’t possibly be asked to control themselves. Sure, the name SlutWalk is offensive. But that’s the whole point. If you can’t call it out, how on earth can you change it?

Today I walked for all the women. I walked for my sons. I walked in solidarity. I walked in grief. I walked in hope. I walked in pride.

It was cold. June in St. John’s, we all said to each other, nodding. 9 degrees and overcast. Fog over the harbour.

“I refuse to wear my winter jacket.”

We shivered and we laughed. We cheered and we chanted. And we were 300 strong. I saw students, former students, graduate students and colleagues. I saw famous people and not so famous people. Children. Women of all ages. Fierce women. Saucy women. Quiet Women. Noisy women. I saw sex workers. I saw men. I saw posters. I saw costumes. And I saw a dog dressed up as Wonder Woman.

Hey hey, ho ho. Sexual violence has got to go.

SlutWalk Toronto founder, Heather Jarvis, speaking to the crowd at Harbourside Park.

SlutWalk Toronto founder, Heather Jarvis, speaking to the crowd at Harbourside Park.

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An intriguing post about the intersections between pedagogy, experiential learning, gardening, and citizenship over on activehistory.ca:

In Erasmus Schwab’s treatise The school garden: Being a practical contribution to the subject of education (1879), Schwab wrote that a well-planned school garden will cultivate “reflective and active natures, from whom sullenness and indolence stand aloof… because they will have learned thoroughly by their little labours in the school garden to do in an orderly and capable manner whatever they have to do”[1]. A follower of child-centred learning in the spirit of Friedrich Froebel, the inventor of the kindergarten, Schwab here seemed to say that children could be encouraged to pursue a “reflective nature” in the school garden; but the manner in which they did so ought to be “orderly and capable.”

More here: http://activehistory.ca/2015/06/planting-the-seeds-of-citizenship/#more-16294

A year or two after we moved into our house, I created a photo wall at its heart. The photos – all black and white or sepia-toned portraits of (mostly) unsmiling ancestors, greet us as we walk up from the front door.

My grandmother as a baby, brown toes poking out from a lacy white dress, dark hair combed across her head. My other grandmother, relaxing with her beau – my future grandfather – at a picnic with another couple. An anonymous ancestor at her first communion. My mother in law with her family, a stiff but jaunty bow on her head. My great grandfather standing tall and serious. My grandparents in law, in a teaching college class photo. A quintessentially Dutch photo featuring a random (but undoubtedly related to me) couple with a bike between them. All of them clustered together, tracing family lineages that criss cross the hemispheres.

I have more historical photos in digital albums. At Christmas, I created a digital archive of all of my dad’s old family photos. In February, my aunt gave me a jump drive with another collection of photos, this time from my mother’s side of the family. And then there’s the online family tree project my cousin started.

All of these photos function as windows into stories of the past. Not just my stories, but stories of life in general. What did it mean to have one’s photo taken? To whom did one give photos? What kinds of events did photos mark? Who took the photos? And where were they taken?

Given that my grandmother was born in Suriname, along South America’s northern coast, why is my great grandmother holding her daughter in a stiff pose, wearing full formal early twentieth-century European dress while standing in front of an idyllic, if fanciful English-garden-esque backdrop? I start to sweat just looking at the photo. I can’t even begin to imagine how hot they must have been.

Who was the couple holding a bike on a cobbled street? Whose bike was it? Which street was it? What can their clothes tell me? Why aren’t they smiling?

Where was my grandmother picnicking? What did they eat? What was she wearing?

What can these photos tell me about life in the early twentieth century? And what happens when these varied lives come together onto a single wall?

Lots and lots of questions.

Student at the University of Michigan recently embarked on a photo mission of their own. Starting with two nineteenth-century photo albums of an African-American family and then looking at city directories, newspapers and census returns, they developed a social history of everyday African-American life in the late nineteenth century. In the process, they also learned about the history of photography.

You can see the results of their work – and their still unanswered questions – on the project website: https://arabellachapman.history.lsa.umich.edu

In the early 2000s, Kagan Goh embarked on a different photo dectective project. Armed with a framed photograph of a samurai warrior and a photo album dated 1939, both of which his brother had purchased at a garage sale from a man who had found them in his attic, he decided to find the family to whom these portraits belonged. In Goh’s words:

After the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1942, Japanese Canadians were ordered to turn over property and belongings to the Custodian of Enemy Alien Property as a “protective measure only.”  Caught in the whirlwind of anti-Japanese hysteria and paranoia, all of the Japanese descendents living in Canada at the time were rounded from their homes and herded off to internment camps and declared “enemy aliens.”  They had no choice but to leave everything behind.  The album was left behind when the family was interned and their possessions were either seized by the Canadian government and sold for a pittance, or stolen by looters.  They lost everything.

I remember reading about the story in a Vancouver newspaper. Goh, together with a colleague, contacted the papers and Japanese community organizations in their search. Ultimately, after a few years of searching, they succeeded, and the album and photo went ‘home’ to their original owner, Kay Kamitakahara. Since then, Goh has made a film about this story. Entitled “Stolen Memories,” its premise is simple: “If you had to walk out of your present life in 48 hours, possibly never to return, what would you take with you? What would you leave behind?”

It’s a haunting question.

It’s been a big weekend, with all (Western) eyes on Ireland as the country held its referendum on same-sex marriage. The referendum passed, with over 60% in favour, and the country (well, 62% of it) erupted into cheers and jubilation.

Already Irish politicians and the mainstream press are crowing about this triumph of democracy, with Irish minister Health minister, Leo Varadkar claiming that the outcome of the referendum “makes us a beacon of equality and liberty to the rest of the world.” The New York Times, meanwhile, notes that this decision “plac[es] the country at the vanguard of social change.” The mainstream media, measuring Ireland through Jasbir Puar’s notion of homonationalism (more on homonationalism here), is waxing poetic about the increased tourist dollars that this decision will bring.

Never mind that Ireland continues to deny women fundamental reproductive rights.

And never mind that the vote could well have gone the other way.

Here’s the thing: rights are rights. They should never be put to a popular vote. As a commenter on a friend’s Facebook status put it (and I’m paraphrasing here): “I shouldn’t have to ask to be equal.” Sure, the majority voted in favour of same-sex marriage.

But what if they hadn’t?

And what kind of precedent does this set for other human rights? What happens when the cause isn’t as popular, even if it is just? Will we just bow to the “will of the people” and call it just?

The thing is, the majority should never have the right to determine the rights of a minority.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, in a commentary in The Guardian, writes:

Long before the American people would approve such marriages, it was judges who struck down discriminatory laws in various parts of America. If the majority had been asked whether white people could marry black people, it would have taken decades longer for them be able to do so. In 1967 when the US supreme court deemed anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, the American people were not ready for that decision.

In fact, in 1968, fully 72% of Americans felt that inter-racial marriage was wrong. Put to a popular vote, the constitutionality of those laws would not have been challenged, and given the complex and ugly histories of race in the USA, there might still be anti-miscegenation laws on the books today. After all, according to the article, Alabama only legalized inter-racial marriage in 2000.

Ireland, as much as it has finally acknowledged the rights of same-sex couples, has only just recently dipped the edge of a toenail into the realm of reproductive rights:

In Ireland, you can only have an abortion if you can prove that having the baby will make you die, either by having the baby or by killing yourself. But we saw how that law was put into practice with the Miss Y case, where a woman was on a hunger strike and tried to kill herself, and instead of letting her have an abortion, they delayed her until she was 25 weeks pregnant and then gave this just-turned-18-year-old refugee pregnant as a result of rape a cesarean section. So that’s how that law is working out.

And I’m not convinced that a “progressive” popular vote can change the situation. As Robin Marty observes:

After Savita [Halappanavar] died [from an infection during miscarriage], there was a poll that said that 89 percent of people were in favor of abortion to save a woman’s life, which to me is horrifying. Eleven percent of people are against abortion to save a woman’s life.

And that’s not to say that there aren’t problems with reproductive rights in Canada (PEI is one obvious example). But in this new triumphal narrative of the modern Ireland, we should apparently put all reservations aside and instead fête the wonder that is Irish progressiveness and celebrate that same-sex marriage was won through popular vote, all the while turning a blind eye to other serious social injustice in Ireland.

And given the larger picture, that just doesn’t sit well.

The world did not end when same sex marriage was introduced in Canada in 2005 (or in other countries both before and after 2005). Nor did it end when divorce was legalized, or when anti-miscegenation laws were struck down. Indeed, each of these shifts allowed for a rethinking and reimagining of what is – let’s face it – a profoundly patriarchal institution that needs rethinking, reimagining, reconstructing. Same sex marriage doesn’t devalue my heterosexual marriage. It enriches it, by demonstrating the many possibilities of love and commitment and by opening doors to new ways of thinking about an old institution. Given all of this, same sex marriage is, to use an expression popular when I was a teenager, a no-brainer. But it should never have been put to a popular vote.

It’s been a slow time on the blog, lately, with the majority of postings gesturing towards interesting reads in other parts of the virtual universe. But that’s not to say that BIG THOUGHTS aren’t circulating, because they are. They’re just working their way out in different venues.

Most of my formal research and writing over the past few months has been of two kinds: cleaning up and exploratory. Neither is particularly useful for blog posts. One is about smoothing out all rough edges and polishing everything to a shine, and the other is about newness, discovery, and wonder. But the middle stuff – the juicy, rich, broth flavoured with complex spices – is missing. As a result, I’ve not had as much to say here.

And so, perhaps it’s time for a bit of an update, in the event that you’re interested in reading other things that I’ve written on the topics of bodies and citizenship and life writing.

My book, the research and thinking for which spawned this blog, should be out in the Fall 2015 with McGill-Queen’s University Press. The book, which is based on the letters that eighteenth-century individuals wrote to Tissot, takes the blog’s title: Telling the Flesh: Life Writing, Citizenship and the Body in the Letters to Samuel Auguste Tissot. I’m currently in the final, painful stages of book labour – pushing it out with all my might (forgive the birth reference, but anyone who has delivered a baby vaginally will recognize it for what it is. Also like childbirth, I became obsessed with the generation of the book and with the marvel of the final product, and had forgotten just how miserable this part of the process was).

Proofreading the page proofs is a most vexing task (particularly when one has read the manuscript 20-plus times), and indexing is a challenge that has me constantly thinking about the politics of knowledge production. Which stories shall I record? And what story, in turn, will my recording tell? I applaud those indexers who have chosen to make it a career.

I also have a forthcoming book chapter that draws on my work with the Fonds Tissot. “Mothers and Others: The Politics of Lactation in Medical Consultation Letters Addressed to Samuel-Auguste Tissot” explores the thorny relationship between ideologies of motherhood, breastfeeding, and wet nursing and lived experiences of illness as they emerge in the letters to Tissot. This chapter forms part of the book, The Secrets of Generation: Reproduction in the Long Eighteenth Century, forthcoming in August 2015 with the University of Toronto Press (look here for more information). I’ve already read a few of the essays in this collection but am very much looking forward to reading them all!

Next, a pair of articles that deals with the bodies, citizenship, identity, autobiography and motherhood, but in completely different venues.

First, my colleague and friend, Beth Pentney (you can see her here) and I co-authored an article (open access) on breastfeeding selfies that will appear in the International Journal of Communication sometime around the end of May. This article forms part of a special section of 18 essays dedicated entirely to the politics of the selfie, the first scholarly collection of essays on this topic. Again, as with the edited book, I’m really looking forward to reading the other essays. It promises to be an intriguing collection of thinking and writing about selfies, identity, theories, and representation.

Second, I tackle the topic of infanticide and maternal subjectivity in an essay (open access) that will appear later this year in the European Journal of Life Writing. Here, I consider the autobiographical traces of motherhood as they emerge in eighteenth-century infanticide trials. My ‘data set’ for this work? The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, which are available online here. It’s an incredible archive, freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

All of this stuff that I’ve been working on – selfies, infanticide, medical consultation letters – deals with the very issues that interest me most: bodies, identities, life writing, citizenship, stories.

A side project, spawned last summer together with my colleague and friend, Jocelyn Thorpe, resulted in a multi-authored article on teaching the intro course in women’s and gender studies. “Reflections on the Intro Course: A Pedagogical Toolkit” will appear in Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture and Social Justice in Summer 2015.

Finally, I’ve been thinking through a new research project as this one comes to an end. I’ve taken two preliminary research trips (to two different continents). I’ve been reading. I’ve been thinking. Things are percolating. Brewing. Steeping. Stewing. Stuff is happening, but it’s not quite ready to be unleashed yet. Stay tuned.

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