Call for Proposals: Politics and Poetics of Afro-Latin Visibility University of Edinburgh, 2-3 November 2017

Across Latin America, Afrodescendants occupy distinct symbolic and cultural spaces within their national polities, framed according to varied racial and spatial ideologies. Despite the significance of their cultural and economic contributions to the nations of Latin America since the colonial era, they are enmeshed in colonial state and international politics which continually invisibilise and marginalise their presence. Afrodescendant struggles for dignity, human rights, cultural citizenship and well-being are compromised by enduring acts of racism and discourses of mestizaje which seek to assimilate difference and uphold established systems of privilege.

In order to resist and overturn the prolonged abuses enacted against their communities, Afrodescendant intellectuals, artists and civil society leaders mobilise audiovisual tactics to enhance their cultural and political capital, influence the political agenda and draw recognition for their vibrant cultural practices. Organised as part of the AHRC-funded International Network, ‘Afro-Latin (in)visibility and the UN Decade: Cultural politics in motion in Nicaragua, Colombia and the UK’, this two-day gathering at University of Edinburgh will probe how film and media intervene in debates of cultural and political recognition and articulate nuanced connections between aesthetics and politics. These two privileged representational forms offer crucial intercultural possibilities where Afro-descendant peoples can articulate their demands to diverse constituencies, including international audiences and diasporic Black audiences. Many communitarian groups seek to build connections with kindred organisations and facilitate dialogue in order that Afro-descendants might strategise and share experiences for their cultural and political survival in conversation with other experiences from the diaspora. The Edinburgh seminar is organised in this spirit and with a keen interest in how the arts channel cultural imaginaries, subvert the geopolitical gaze, and envision Afrodescendant cultural politics and transregional linkages.

We are delighted to announce that the confirmed keynote speaker is Juliet Hooker, from Brown University, who will open the two-day gathering on Thursday 2nd November at 5pm. The event will also draw on the experiences of invited speakers Ramón Perea Lemos, from the Colombian organisation Carabantú, responsible for organising the international Kunta Kinte film festival, Dixie Lee, Director of the Institute for the Study and Promotion of Autonomy (IEPA) at URACCAN university in Nicaragua and presenter of Building Our Wellbeing Together, Canal 5’s fortnightly Afro-descendant issues programme, and Roberto Zurbano, activist, literary critic, researcher at Casa de las Americas, Cuba. Hosted in association with the film festival Africa in Motion, the second day will culminate with a selection of films curated by the Network steering committee and Africa in Motion. A featured strand of the festival will also include works curated by the Network.

Proposals are sought for presentations – 20-minute academic papers, 10-minute position presentations, roundtables – which engage with the topic of Afro-Latin film and media and which are invested in expanding the networks of collaboration between UK-based initiatives and the Latin American participants in the Network. We are particularly interested in interventions that highlight the power and possibility of comparative and transnational solidarities; however, participants should be aware that the official languages of the event will be BOTH Spanish and English. Please indicate whether or not you are able to work in both Spanish and English.

Expressions of interest and a brief outline of the proposed contribution should be sent no later than 15 September 2017 to the organisers Julie Cupples and Charlotte Gleghorn at:

afrolatinresearch@gmail.com

We can offer a small number of bursaries of up to £100 for participants. Please indicate whether you would like to be considered for a bursary and the likely amount you wish to apply for. If you don’t need a bursary or only need a part bursary (because you live in or close to Edinburgh and/or you have somewhere to stay), do let us know as that will help with our planning. For approved expenses to be reimbursed, we will need official receipts for travel fares and/or accommodation.

Tame Iti’s media journey flips notion of violence

An article about my ongoing work on Tame Iti and the celebritization of indigeneity was published on Newsroom on 20 June.  The full article can be found here

Comunicación de riesgos en Centroamérica: La naturaleza, la colonialidad y la convergencia mediática

Lo que sigue es el texto de la presentación que di en Antigua, Guatemala el 20 de marzo de 2017, en el Taller “HazMap” financiado por el Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) y convocado por Eliza Calder, Alistair Langmuir, Neil Stuart y Julie Cupples de la Universidad de Edimburgo

Antigua, Guatemala Taller HazMap del 20 al 24 de Marzo de 2017

Muy buenos días a todas y a todos, es un placer estar aquí con ustedes, y agradezco muchísimo su participación en este evento. Mi nombre es Julie Cupples, soy geográfa cultural de la Universidad de Edimburgo, llevo muchos años trabajando en Centroamérica, sobre todo en Nicaragua, y también un poco en Costa Rica. Mi trabajo es de índole cualitativa, informado principalmente por la teoría posestructuralista, feminista y descolonial. Me alegro mucho de que estén aquí mis dos colaboradores de Nicaragua, Dixie Lee de URACCAN e Irving Larios de INGES. No podría hacer el trabajo que hago sin su apoyo tanto práctico como intelectual.

Yo no trabajo con los mapas de riesgo, pero sí trabajos en cuestiones de desastres y con los medios de comunicación. He trabajado con comunidades afectadas por el Huracán Mitch que afectó la parte central y occidental de Nicaragua en 1998, y con sobrevivientes de Huracán Félix que afectó la Costa Caribe Norte de Nicaragua en 2007. Desde 2007, he estado trabajando en un proyecto sobre la convergencia mediática, es decir estoy interesada en los cambios que hay en el entorno mediático, tanto los positivos como los negativos, y en el uso de los recursos tecnológicos en la lucha por la ciudadanía cultural sobre todo por los grupos indígenas y afrodescendientes. En el contexto nicaragüense y costarricense por ejemplo estoy intentando documentar el uso de los medios, sobre todo televisión y radios comunitarias y los medios sociales como Facebook y YouTube para los fines políticos y culturales. Debido a importantes cambios tecnológicos, resulta que muchos grupos sociales marginados ya tienen las herramientas para producir sus propios medios y compartir y modificar los medios producidos por otros. En la Costa Caribe de Nicaragua y Costa Rica, los grupos indígenas y afrodescendientes están creando su propia producción mediática para impugnar su exclusión social, para aumentar su visibilidad política, para luchar por la revitalización cultural o lingüística, y para poner en circulación contradiscursos y representaciones más positivas. Esta producción afirma la importancia de comunicar de una forma culturalmente apropiada y la importancia de poder controlar las representaciones que se ponen a circular. Entonces este trabajo requiere un enfoque descolonial, ya que el colonialismo significa que los conocimientos latinoamericanos se consideran como inferiores a los conocimientos eurocéntricos. Entonces trabajar de una forma descolonial significa someter la ciencia europea basada en la idea problemática de la universalidad a una revisión crítica. Estos son más o menos mis preocupaciones intelectuales principales.

Krukira en la Costa Caribe de Nicaragua después de Huracán Felix en 2007

Lo que pretendemos hacer aquí en este encuentro es una tarea importante pero al mismo tiempo sumamente compleja, entonces lo que quiero hacer ahorita es señalar algunas de las complejidades teóricas que en mi opinión deberíamos tener en cuenta. Son tres temas.

(1) Los desastres no son naturales

Hay un artículo muy bueno de Neil Smith publicado en 2006 que afirma por qué es peligroso hablar de “desastres naturales” y dice lo siguiente:

En cada fase y aspecto de un desastre – causas, vulnerabilidad, preparación, resultados y respuesta, y reconstrucción – los contornos del desastre y la diferencia entre quién vive y quién muere es en mayor o menor medida un cálculo social (Smith 2006, la traducción al español es mía).

Permítanme desarrollar estas ideas con más profundidad. Estamos intentando crear aquí una red interdisciplinaria, lo cual implica superar o por lo menos negociar las importantes diferencias epistemológicas que existen. Hay una división disciplinaria entre los científicos físicos que están enfocados en la cuestión de los llamados riesgos naturales y los académicos que trabajamos en las ciencias sociales o humanidades cuyo trabajo está enfocado en los desastres y en sus efectos en las comunidades y los seres humanos. Para nosotros, evocar la naturaleza es bastante problemático, porque la naturaleza en el pensamiento occidental constituye una forma binaria de ver el mundo, donde lo natural se ve opuesto a lo cultural o a lo social. Yo prefiero hablar de riesgos ambientales porque si echamos la culpa a la naturaleza, corremos el riesgo de no comprender a fondo los factores sociales, culturales, políticos y económicos, es decir los factores que no tienen nada que ver con la naturaleza, y que suelen ser más importantes en la creación del desastre. Cuando hay sufrimiento humano, pérdidas de vida o daños infraestructurales después de un terremoto, huracán o erupción volcánica, lo que más contribuye al sufrimiento es la exclusión social o el abandono político. Además tenemos que tener mucho cuidado con el concepto de la resiliencia porque se articula muy fácilmente con discursos neoliberales que expresan la opinión de que algunos lugares e incluso algunas personas no merecen ser salvados, o que los individuos son los culpables de sus dificultades como resultado de un fracaso de la auto-responsabilidad. La resiliencia no viene tanto de tener la correcta información científica o el comportamiento correcto en un momento específico sino de no tener que vivir en la pobreza, de tener un trabajo digno y una casa bien construida y titulada, de tener acceso a un sistema de salud adecuado, o de poder vivir una vida libre de violencia. Hay demasiados centroamericanos que no tienen acceso a estas cosas por los legados coloniales y por el modelo económico dominante. Prepararse para una erupción volcánica o un terremoto que puede no venir nunca o que vendrá en un momento no determinado no es prioridad cuando hay que ver cómo se lleva comida a la mesa hoy y cómo se consigue el tratamiento médico que un familiar requiere de forma urgente. Las personas de bajos ingresos siempre tienen que decidir cuales de los riesgos a que se enfrentan van a priorizar. Entonces, es muy importante pensar coyunturalmente – considerar el contexto cultural y político en que estamos trabajando – e intentar descentrar el evento de riesgo. Significa aceptar que estos acontecimientos se desarrollan dentro de contextos sociales, culturales y políticos particulares, contextos que pueden contribuir a exacerbar el riesgo que presenta el huracán o terremoto.

Además, tenemos que intentar asegurar que un enfoque cartográfico en los movimientos de lava o cambios en placas tectónicas no exima a los gobiernos nacionales o municipales de sus responsabilidades de crear políticas que reduzcan la pobreza o redistribuyan la riqueza. El punto de partida es un reconocimiento de que Centroamérica es una región muy desigual – hay una minoría superrica que vive como los ricos en cualquier parte del mundo, y una clase campesina y trabajadora desposeída que no tiene acceso a los componentes básicos de una vida digna. Hay personas que viven en zonas peligrosas que son propensas a deslizamientos o inundaciones pero lo hacen no porque no comprendan la información científica o oficial sino para tener acceso a fuentes de trabajo informal o porque han sido desplazados de otros lugares por grandes empresas agroindustriales. Además, aunque los grupos indígenas y afrodescendientes de Centroamérica han hecho importantes avances políticos y legislativos, continúan enfrentándose a múltiples formas de violencia, discriminación, desplazamiento y folklorización, procesos que son muchas veces respaldados por el estado. En Nicaragua, hay un discurso estatal que afirma la autonomía de la Costa Caribe como proceso positivo pero el gobierno hace la vista gorda a la falta de seguridad territorial en las tierras ancestrales.                Entonces es crucial que nos concentremos en la coyuntura, en el conjunto actual de circunstancias económicas, sociales, culturales y políticas y legados históricos que hacen que la vida cotidiana sea un desafío para la gente en un contexto propenso a riesgos. Porque las personas menos pobres y más saludables y con mayores niveles de educación y con casas bien construidas son menos vulnerables en el momento de un terremoto o una erupción volcánica. Entonces un desafío muy grande para nosotros es pensar como vamos a unir los mapas que producimos con las luchas por mejorar las condiciones de vida. Hay que conectar los riesgos ambientales con los riesgos políticos, económicos, sociales y culturales.

(2)  Los mapas y la colonialidad

Una de las propuestas principales de la teoría descolonial es que el colonialismo formal ha terminado pero la colonialidad persiste. Es decir, las naciones centroamericanas son independientes pero persisten las actitudes y formas de exclusión creadas durante la era colonial, creando una especie de colonialismo interno. Una de las razones por las que los Costeños en Nicaragua quieren tener sus propios medios es porque han sido muy negativamente retratados en los medios nacionales. La televisión, la radio y los periódicos de Nicaragua son culpables de reproducir discursos coloniales, racistas o estigmatizantes de la Costa Caribe y de sus habitantes que hacen mucho daño. Una cosa parecida ocurre con la comunicación cartográfica, ya que la cartografía igual que otros medios tiene orígenes coloniales. Como ha señalado Jeremy Crampton (2016), muchos libros sobre la historia cartográfica afirman que mapear es un proceso universal, que la cartografía empezó antes de la escritura, pero en realidad la cartografía está implicada en el colonialismo y en la construcción del poder del estado. Es decir, los mapas han sido utilizados para emprender y legitimar el colonialismo. Entonces, tenemos que reconocer que los mapas no están divorciados de las relaciones de poder existentes, es decir crear una representación cartográfica de algo no es nunca un acto neutral ni uno meramente técnico.

Sin embargo, esto no significa que debiéramos no mapear, porque es posible contramapear. La cartografía comenzó como un instrumento colonizador pero también es cierto que las tecnologías cartográficas han sido útiles en las reivindicaciones territoriales indígenas y han permitido a muchos grupos afirmar su derecho a sus tierras ancestrales. Pero al mismo tiempo hay que reconocer que los pueblos indígenas y afrodescendientes en Centroamérica tienen una relación bastante difícil con los mapas, porque mapear significa tener que cumplir con las normas cartográficas eurocéntricas que son muy distintas de las formas indígenas de conocer el territorio. Además, como el libro reciente de Joe Bryan y Denis Wood (2015) ha señalado, la cartografía se ha convertido en arma utilizada por los militares estadounidenses para recopilar datos geoespaciales en las partes conflictivas o sensibles del mundo. Hace unos años, nuestra disciplina la geografía fue muy afectada por un escándalo. Hubo un proyecto Mexico Indígena que pretendía mapear tierras indígenas de Oaxaca liderado por dos geógrafos de la Universidad de Kansas. Pero resultó que el proyecto fue financiado por la Oficina de Estudios Militares Extranjeros en los Estados Unidos y una empresa de armas Radiance Technologies. Cuando los grupos indígenas oaxaqueños descubrieron que el proyecto cartográfico fue financiado por el ejército estadounidense como parte de su estrategia para recopilar datos geoespaciales de todo el mundo con fines de contrainsurgencia, lo denunciaron como geopiratería. Así que los mapas y la cartografía pueden provocar sospechas o ansiedad. Incluso si los mapas que ayudamos a producir buscan apoyar y no dañar a las poblaciones marginadas, el hecho de que dependen de modos de representación eurocéntricos significa que su utilidad puede ser limitada. Como ha señalado Michel de Certeau (1996), los mapas modernos se basan en la racionalidad científica o el establecimiento cartesiano de coordenadas, mientras que las tácticas espaciales utilizadas por los practicantes u operadores para moverse en el espacio a menudo obedecen a una lógica bastante diferente. Es posible que los habitantes que viven en una zona expuesta a un riesgo ambiental conozcan la zona que habitan de una forma culturalmente especifica y si un mapa de riesgo omite esta forma de conocer el espacio, puede fracasar. Como escribe de Certeau (1996: 132), “si se toma el “mapa” bajo su forma geográfica actual, aparece que en el curso del período marcado por el nacimiento del discurso científico moderno (del siglo XV al XVII), lentamente se libró de los itinerarios que eran su condición de posibilidad”. Entonces, si la idea nuestra es diseñar mapas de riesgo que fomentan un comportamiento más resistente entre las víctimas potenciales en áreas propensas a riesgos, necesitamos considerar como dice de Certeau “Allí donde el mapa corta, el relato atraviesa” (1996: 141), el relato es topológico en vez de topográfico. En Matagalpa, una de mis entrevistadas sobreviviente del Huracán Mitch me contó que antes del huracán había adoptado a un niño, Orlando, que había sido maltratado por sus familiares biológicos. Ramona vivía en un lugar peligroso a orillas del Río Grande de Matagalpa. Durante el Mitch el río inundó y llenó su casa con agua durante la noche. Todos sus hijos lograron salir con seguridad con su padre menos el hijo adoptivo Orlando. Ramona se quedó atrás para buscarlo. En este punto, la electricidad falló y el interior de la casa se hundió en la oscuridad. Los vecinos le gritaban que saliera, ya que toda la casa estaba empezando a moverse y estaba a punto de ser barrida. De repente, Ramona recordó que había un montón de leña de mango en el rincón de la casa, que ella me describió como un “mensaje de Dios”. Buscaba en la oscuridad hasta encontrar la leña, las piernas de Orlando salían de la madera pero tenía la cabeza enterrada. Lo agarró por las piernas, lo sacó y salió de la casa con segundos de sobra antes de que desapareciera por el río. Orlando fue herido pero sobrevivió. Y mientras Ramona se quedó sin hogar, se sintió feliz de haber rescatado a Orlando por segunda vez y también sintió una sensación de revitalización espiritual (Cupples 2007). Este es el tipo de comportamiento espacial que emerge durante un evento de desastre que no podría ser fácilmente fijado o anticipado en un mapa.

(3) Los mapas como medios y la convergencia mediática

También me gustaría que pensáramos en los mapas de riesgo no como medios aislados sino como parte de un entorno mediático convergente. La convergencia mediática es un concepto que estamos utilizando para pensar en las maneras en que los cambios tecnológicos puede utilizarse para fines sociales, culturales o políticos. En condiciones de convergencia de medios, los textos y los discursos cruzan las plataformas tecnológicas. Además los desastres sobre todo los más grandes son eventos muy mediatizados. Un artículo que publicamos en 2014 demostró el efecto de la mediación y la remediación del huracán Felix en Nicaragua y el huracán Katrina en New Orleans (véase Cupples y Glynn 2014). Durante los eventos de desastre, un conjunto de prácticas de representación que son ideológicamente conservadoras tienden a circular. No es infrecuente, por ejemplo, que la cobertura mediática dominante describan huracanes y terremotos destructivos como fenómenos altamente localizados, naturales, inevitables y como interrupciones que están más allá del control humano. Tales marcos tienden a pasar por alto el hecho de que los desastres no suceden de manera repentina, sino que se manifiestan debido a formas de abandono, marginación y discriminación establecidas. Además estos marcos tienden a privilegiar ciertos conocimientos y desestiman a otros, tales como los conocimientos indígenas o afrodescendientes. Además, la cobertura de los medios de comunicación dominantes tiende a exagerar el caos, el sufrimiento y la ruptura social. Muchas veces los reporteros se filman ante un edificio derrumbado. También hay una tendencia de celebrar la resiliencia humana o el heroísmo. Pero en el entorno mediático actual también circulan conocimientos alternativos y populares sobre las causas de a largo plazo de la devastación y la falta de la respuesta del estado, conocimientos que son informados por las condiciones materiales de la vida. La circulación discursiva de perspectivas alternativas o marginales significa que el potencial siempre existe para que estas perspectivas ganen tracción. El artículo demuestra cómo los comunicadores interculturales de Bilwi o los bloggers de New Orleans han destabilizado la idea del desastre natural – en ambos casos hubo un abandono social racializado por parte del estado, y la producción mediática de los pueblos subordinados se insertaba en los medios dominantes para generar nuevas formas de dar sentido al desastre. Así funciona la convergencia. Significa que los mapas digitales interactivos aparecen a través del entorno mediático y se puede acceder de diferentes maneras en diferentes plataformas. Como dije, los grupos indígenas y afrodescendientes en la Costa Caribe de Nicaragua han mapeado digitalmente sus tierras como parte de procesos legislativos de demarcación o titulación de tierras. La cartografía les facilita el reconocimiento legal, pero no impide la invasión ilegal de sus tierras por colonos violentos, no impide la tala de sus bosques o la contaminación de sus ríos. Así que estos grupos y sus defensores están usando la televisión comunitaria y la radio y medios sociales como YouTube para disputar la presencia de estos colonos en sus tierras ancestrales (véase Cupples y Glynn 2017, manuscrito en prensa). Entonces necesitamos considerar las relaciones y conexiones entre los mapas de riesgo y otros medios, tales como la radio, la televisión y los medios sociales. Es cierto que el arte de mapear se ha democratizado – los ciudadanos comunes y corrientes están creando mapas, mapear ya no está exclusivamente en las manos de los expertos o las agencias de gobierno, pero al mismo tiempo hay que reconocer que para muchos centroamericanos el medio que más utiliza es la radio local y comunitaria, aunque el uso de medios sociales tales como Facebook se está acelerando muchísimo. Nuestras investigaciones han revelado el papel muy importante de la radio y del uso de YouTube para responder a las crises ambientales, sociales y políticos.

Yo viví los terremotos de Christchurch en Nueva Zelanda en 2010 y 2011 y hay esta página de Facebook You Know You’re from Christchurch When …, que tiene miles de seguidores. Mezcla el humor y la solidaridad comunitaria con la información oficial sobre el desastre y el proceso de reconstrucción, incluye a veces los mapas de riesgo y clips de los noticieros y los usarios de esta página pueden contribuir a dar sentido al proceso de reconstrucción. Una forma convergente de compromiso cívico comienza a formarse alrededor del peligro sísmico, lo cual creo que es muy positivo. Entonces vamos a ver si los miembros de la red podemos generar ideas sobre cómo podríamos articular los mapas de riesgo con los medios más accesibles tales como la radio y el Facebook y así incrementar su efectividad.

Referencias

Bryan J and Wood D (2015) Weaponizing Maps Indigenous Peoples and Counterinsurgency in the Americas. New York: Guilford Press

Crampton J W (2016) Mappings. In N C Johnson, R H Schein and J Winders (eds) The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Cultural Geography. Malden: Wiley Blackwell, pp.423-436

Cupples J (2007) Gender and Hurricane Mitch: Reconstructing subjectivities after disaster. Disasters: The Journal of Disaster Studies, Policy and Management 31(2): 155-175

Cupples J and Glynn K (2014) The mediation and remediation of disaster: Hurricanes Katrina and Felix in/and the new media environment. Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 46(2): 359-381

Cupples J and Glynn K (2017) Shifting Nicaraguan Mediascapes: Authoritarianism and the Struggle for Social Justice. Cham: Springer

de Certeau M (1996) La Invención de lo Cotidiano 1: Artes de Hacer. México: Universidad Iberoamericana

Smith N (2006) There’s no such thing as a natural disaster: Understanding Katrina. SSRC Perspectives from the Social Sciences http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org/Smith/

 

My tribute to Professor Eric Pawson

From the UC Chronicle 44(12) 2009

Last Friday I went back to my old department, the Department of Geography at the University of Canterbury, to attend the retirement party of Professor Eric Pawson, my former PhD supervisor, colleague and head of department. I wasn’t asked to speak at the event, which is fine because lots of other people did, but I would like to acknowledge publicly how fortunate I was to have worked with Eric for almost 15 years from the late 90s until my departure from Canterbury at the end of 2012. I also want to do so because of a sense that Eric’s style of leadership is something that is sadly in increasingly short supply in the neoliberal university and it is worth reflecting on why it is that is so and how things might be different.

As a PhD supervisor, Eric was wonderful. Although we were both cultural geographers, our research interests were quite different. But he took my feminist thesis on single motherhood in post-revolutionary Nicaragua in his stride and managed to give me lots of academic freedom – something I feel I might not have had to the same extent if I’d stayed in the UK to do my PhD – while also providing significant intellectual input. I didn’t appreciate until later how such a balance is really difficult to achieve. His supervision always felt constructive and Eric never allowed me to doubt my work or myself, although would quite sternly draw attention to my weaknesses, such as whenever I was taking my feminist hyper-reflexivity too far.

As a member of the academic staff after my PhD, Eric was fundamental in helping my career to develop. He is the best head of department I have ever had by far. Given the way that things are changing in higher education, it is likely too that he will be the best I will ever have. Unlike many heads in contemporary institutions across the UK and New Zealand, Eric did not buy into the culture of audit and surveillance that pervades our institutions. He never internalized the “line manager” subject position; he was always a colleague, mentor and advisor rather than someone engaged in “performance management”. He never believed that academics need to be constantly surveilled and always made to feel a bit anxious, because otherwise we will get up to no good. As head, Eric was a senior scholar that cared about people and geography, and about both teaching and research. And his efforts went into maximizing us as researchers and teachers, giving us both autonomy and unconditional support, which was the most effective way to achieve what might now be referred to as “excellence” or “impact”. Of the many complimentary things said about Eric on Friday, one was that he was “on everybody’s side”. That is a form of leadership that I think is increasingly endangered.

Eric was the anti-neoliberal embodiment of the managerial approach. He always maintained a healthy ironic stance towards the neoliberal university and as head he sought bottom-up practical solutions to the challenges that faced us as academics or as a department. Decisions were taken collectively and democratically rather than being imposed in a top-down way. Even when you disagreed with the way forward, you could live it with what was decided because you’d been included in the deliberations. He trusted us completely as colleagues and professionals – any modes of surveillance came from elsewhere (TEC, College, PBRF) but never from Eric. We published a paper together on the PBRF (the New Zealand equivalent of the REF) based on our experiences. Despite the different ways in which we were located in this process, we both saw it as something unfortunate to be negotiated, subverted and turned to our advantage. As Liz Morrish and others have noted writing on UK universities, in many institutions the REF has become a toxic instrument of discipline used to impose unattainable and stress-inducing targets, the casualties of which are staff wellbeing at work, collegiality and learning conditions for our students. Leadership for Eric was however about reflecting with us on the intellectually impoverishing dynamics of instruments such as PBRF and striving to keep their negative impacts to a minimum, while working to help us achieve the highest possible scores we could. To the best of his ability, Eric always tried to remove the obstacles – financial, practical, and intellectual – that stood in the way of my achieving my potential. He helped me to get promoted and was my strongest advocate during those processes. He told me frequently that I was trying to do too much and should cut down. He made sure that I got the funding I needed, especially for fieldwork in Nicaragua, and that I got to do the teaching and research I cared about. He was enthusiastic about my successes, indeed about everyone’s successes, while never engaging in acts of self-promotion himself. I’m especially grateful for the good work we did together – including the special issue of the New Zealand Geographer in 2009 (see image), the 2010 New Zealand Geographical Society conference in Christchurch, the PBRF article, the successful prevention of a forced merger with the Department of Geology – and for his support in helping me to get the Marsden grant on media convergence (that in the end I had to do away from Canterbury) and for letting me reschedule classes right in the middle of the teaching semester so I could go to the UK when my sister had an accident. I realize that Eric’s leadership provides me with resources for thinking about how we can do the kinds of things that Liz Morrish is talking about, how we can make things more sane for ourselves, our colleagues and our students, while still doing excellent research and teaching.

So I am grateful to have had Eric as a colleague and mentor for so long and for the self-affirming and positive environment in which I got to work for a number of years thanks to him. I am also grateful for the good advice on so many matters, and the ongoing support that he has given to both me and Kevin since our departure from UC.

Have a happy retirement, Eric, you really deserve it.

 

Tenure loss will hit NZ

Last week I published an opinion piece in the Otago Daily Times about the dangers posed by the loss of tenure at New Zealand universities. It has received more than 800 social media shares in less than a week. I am sharing it here today as many students and faculty gather at NZ universities to hold #lovehumanities events and on the 6th anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake which arguably both accelerated and facilitated job losses and departures at the University of Canterbury. screenshot-2017-02-22-11-48-40

The rest of the article can be found at https://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/tenure-loss-will-hit-nz

Review of The Radicalization of Pedagogy

screenshot-2017-01-02-14-50-46At the end of November at the University of Manchester, we launched our book series Transforming Capitalism published by Rowman and Littlefield International and celebrated the publication of the first three books in the series, a trilogy focused on the intersections between anarchism and geography. The three books are The Radicalization of Pedagogy, Theories of Resistance and The Practice of Freedom, edited by Simon Springer, Marcelo Lopes de Souza and Richard J. White. Below is my review of the first book in the series, The Radicalization of Pedagogy, that I presented at the event in Manchester.

The Radicalization of Pedagogy seeks to strengthen the linkages between pedagogy and anarchist geographies, based on the premise that pedagogy is a primary site for resistance within anarchist practices. I have to admit that I came to this book with very limited engagement but some sympathy with anarchist theory and anarchist geographies. The book describes anarchist thought as one of the four foundations of what we might call radical geography, the other three being feminism, Marxism and poststructuralism. Of these four foundations, anarchism is the one that according to the editors deserves a much fuller consideration in geography. But I did come to this book with a very strong interest in radical pedagogies and in particular in the contemporary university as a neoliberal and colonial institution. I’m interested in seeking ways to undermine the rampant neoliberalization and corporatization of the contemporary university and also to find ways to decolonize its faculty, curricula, governance practices and modes of operation. Like many of my friends and colleagues, I’ve personally experienced the destructive dimensions of the neoliberal university, and am alarmed by the collective harm current arrangements inflict on scholarship, learning, and the wellbeing of both students and faculty. As a geographer, I’m also very interested in what is happening to our discipline in the context of these processes and pressures. My geography unit at the University of Edinburgh is part of a very large School of Geosciences, where neoliberalization and geoscientization mutually constitute one another in often quite problematic ways. But I’ve also been inspired by decolonial interventions into the academy that I’ve been exposed to as a result of three main experiences. The first is the scholarly contributions made by Māori intellectuals and activists in Aotearoa New Zealand. I worked at the University of Canterbury there for many years, and witnessed the incompatibility of neoliberalization and the incorporation of Māori worldviews into the westernized university. The second is the work I do in Central America on indigenous rights, where I have a long-established research collaboration with an intercultural grassroots university, URACCAN, on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua that is attempting to organize higher education quite differently. The third is my interaction with a growing body of literature referred to as the Modernity/Coloniality/ Decoloniality paradigm that I’m trying to incorporate into my teaching as well as my research. In addition, I’m also an avid indeed compulsive reader of scholarly, journalistic and activist work that critiques the neoliberalization of the university and am keen to participate in discussions on how we might do things better. This book makes a very important contribution to those discussions and debates. But it has a much broader remit than that, because it deals with many different kinds of pedagogies – the university is amply present but it also engages with the idea of schools, promoting the idea of unschooling or the destruction of the school, as well as providing detailed accounts of activist pedagogies that exist outside of institutions such as in gangs or on cycling tours. Some of these activist pedagogies provide extremely useful material that could be harnessed within the university, in particular in modes of learning such as fieldtrips that take us outside of the classroom. Ronald Horvarth’s discussion of teaching radical pedagogy in communities in East Detroit in the 1960s and 70s, where the students didn’t need to be taught about racism, because they lived it, but instead developed skills in activist mapmaking as a kind of liberation pedagogy and anti-racist praxis, is particularly interesting. At Edinburgh, we’ve just started running an undergraduate field trip to Cape Town and have been trying to develop the course around working directly with activists in Cape Town, Freirean pedagogies and notions of unlearning privilege, so there’s a lot of material here that’s encouraged me to reflect on field teaching in sites of racialized oppression.

While I enjoyed all of the chapters in the book, there are three that I found particularly inspiring. So I will say a few words about them and then I’ll end with a few words of critique.

Chapter three by Levi Gahman explores how the Zapatistas are implementing autonomous forms of education in the face of harmful neoliberalism and shows how the Zapatista pedagogic model can be useful as our institutions of higher education are transformed into what he refers to “sites of hetero-masculinist oppression, neurotic separation, hierarchical posturing and silent paranoia”. Zapatistas schools teach mutual aid and critical thought, rather than individualism or competition and learning is organized in a non-hierarchical and horizontal way. I have long admired the Zapatistas. I was in Chiapas in 1993 just after the Zapatista guerrilla training camps had been discovered in the Lacandón jungle and just a few months before their mediated rebellion was unleashed and I’ve followed and taught on their struggle ever since. Indeed, I keep their ten principles of good government on my office door as a model of how the university indeed could and should be run. As Gahman notes, if we were to implement Zapatista pedagogies in our universities we would have to eliminate “administrators and all vertically professionalized designations”.

Chapter 5 by Kye Askins and Kelvin Mason’s on public, participatory and activist geographies that they term “fuller geographies” is also very thought provoking and seeks to take us beyond simply defending the public university from the neoliberal onslaught. Their experiences with academic seminar blockades at the Faslane nuclear weapons base on the Clyde near Glasgow dramatized in a theatrical script – the chapter is written in the form of a play – shows how public spaces can be transgressed and transformed by acting in them, but then how these performances can be used as resources for reflection by others to learn about how oppressions can be resisted but also how they tend to reassert themselves. The third chapter that I especially enjoyed was the chapter by Richard McHugh on education in gangs, on what he calls informal informal pedagogy, where he provides a counter-response to the common critique made of Paolo Freire which is that his liberation pedagogy was constrained by its social embeddedness in Christian values. McHugh shows how these constraints don’t really matter as Freire functions as a catalyst for reflection, and engagement with Freire can bring about what he calls an “emancipatory action” and lead to the refusal of the default position that is on offer. He also has a great analysis of the TV drama Homeland that disrupts the dominant ideas of radicalization that are in place in the post-9/11 world US and UK.

I’ll end with a few words of critique. I think the intersections between indigenous and anarchist pedagogies that are highlighted in the book are fascinating but are largely underdeveloped. Many of the indigenous movements I’ve studied, taught on or worked with – Tūhoe in New Zealand, the indigenous inhabitants of El Alto in Bolivia that Raúl Zibechi has written about, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca in Mexico all see both the state and capital as violent and destructive forces of domination and are finding or maintaining ways to govern themselves. As far as I know, they never refer to their movements as anarchist, but this book has revealed the parallels, points of connection and potentials for solidarity that exist between anarchist movements and decolonial and indigenous social movements. In particular, the refusal to distinguish between ends and means, as well as the concepts of horizontality, reciprocity and mutual aid are all themes that appear quite strongly in this book as they do in much decolonial thought. Therefore it’s a pity that only one chapter in this book dealt with this issue in depth.

For me there’s one other gap in this book. Despite the fact that anarchist praxis should articulate well with feminist praxis, as it does for example in the Zapatista caracoles, and indeed a couple of the chapters refer to the intersections with a feminist ethics of care, reading the book made me feel that anarchism was and is a terribly male endeavour. Indeed, only two of the 15 contributors to this book are female and virtually all of the anarchist geographers and activists on which the book draws its inspiration are male. There’s a chapter by Federico Feretti on the contributions made by early anarchist geographers and educators to libertarian pedagogy and secular public education – it’s a fascinating history that geographers should be exposed to, yet all of the names he mentions – Piotr Kropotkin, Elisée Reclus, Philippe Pelletier, Léon Metchnikoff, Charles Perron, Francisco Ferrer, James Guillaume, Ferninand Buisson, Paul Robin – are male. It wasn’t until the final chapter when Simon Springer briefly refers to the work of Emma Goldman that the contribution of an anarchist feminist gets mentioned. In this chapter, Springer lays out a compelling philosophy on unschooling and refers to himself as an unschooling parent. I agree with him that school is often a site of immense suffering and harmful forms of discipline, although I do think that school is also a site of friendship and fun where we learn not only to be compliant but also to subvert authority. I was a single parent and viewed school in part as childcare, and so I couldn’t help thinking about the gendered dynamics of unschooling and I wondered who cares for his unschooled kids while he’s working as a university professor.

But this book is hugely useful to all of us who are attempting to negotiate the intellectually impoverishing and anxiety inducing dynamics of the contemporary university, the misplaced and misguided focus on “student satisfaction”, “feedback”, “innovation” and “distance learning”, the conversion of students into highly indebted consumers, and the end of consensus decision making. Eric Taje’s chapter discusses school as a statist-capitalist strategy to produce obedient workers and docile citizens and he notes that it failed initially as the first generation of wage labourers were impossible to discipline. It makes me concerned that as those of us with memories of a different kind of university become smaller in number and are replaced by faculty whose entire education was neoliberalized, we’ll have less and less capacity to resist. According to Taje, for many dominated and objectified people, the only way out of oppression is for them to become oppressors themselves, which might explain widespread faculty co-optation and the all too frequent inhabitation of the tyrannical line manager subject position. Furthermore, many of the ideas here would be hugely difficult to implement. We might be co-learners in the classroom, but at the end of the day, I’m tasked with awarding my now anonymized students individual grades so a new kind of instrumental relationship focused on grade maximization and ranking rather than conscientization comes to dominate. The hierarchy “between those who know and those who don’t” that doesn’t exist in Zapatista schools (Gahman 2016: 88) is reasserted. But there are things we can do and this book emphasizes that. A small group of us, inspired in part by the slow scholarship movement, are trying to enact more collaborative, less competitive ways of being together in the academy and in this respect this book contains ideas that can support us in that endeavor. The idea, expressed by Joe Curnow and others, that the processes we use to achieve our goals should embody those ultimate goals are particularly useful. If we want a less destructive, less competitive academy, we start by relating to one another differently and in the words of Gahman (2016: 82) “taking care of each other in oppressive circumstances”.

If you are interested in submitting a book proposal to the Transforming Capitalism series, please contact one of the editors, Ian Bruff, Julie Cupples, Gemma Edwards, Laura Horn, Simon Springer or Jacqui True.

 

 

UK solidarity with Nicaragua: Let’s get real

I like staying up to watch electoral returns, but there is no point in doing so when the results are already known in advance and the election lacks any kind of popular legitimacy. Nicaragua goes to the polls tomorrow in an election that will produce a landslide victory for incumbent president Daniel Ortega. These elections are of interest to anyone who cares about revolutionary struggle, power, and social justice in Latin America. For solidarity activism with Nicaragua in the UK and elsewhere, it is important to understand the conditions that underpin this electoral contest.

I was an activist with the UK solidarity movement long before I started to research Nicaraguan cultural politics. In my early 20s, during and just after the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1980s, my activist involvement, especially with the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign and the Central American Human Rights Committees, proved to be a wonderful political education and I am grateful for the insight and experience it gave me. As a result, I was able to work with and learn from Central American revolutionary leaders, human rights defenders, feminists, environmentalists and trade unionists both in the UK and Central America. While my efforts today are much more focused on research rather than solidarity organization, I appreciate the importance of international solidarity for making a difference in the world.

In the 1980s, when Reagan was in power, I believed in the FSLN and the Nicaraguan Revolution as a force for good, as an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggle that in the early years achieved some remarkable things but later became unstuck as a result of a multitude of factors, including but not limited to US foreign policy. As many people know, the FSLN, the party of the Revolution led by Daniel Ortega, lost the 1990 elections and then spent 16 years in opposition, attempting to return to power. Daniel Ortega remained the FSLN leader throughout those 16 years, losing two further elections in 1996 and 2001. In the late 90s, the FSLN did a dodgy deal (el pacto) with the ruling Liberals to weaken the safeguards in the electoral law to make it more likely that the FSLN could return to power. Thanks to el pacto, Ortega returned to power in 2006 and was re-elected (unconstitutionally as the Nicaraguan Constitution forbids re-election) in 2011. He is now running for a third consecutive term with his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his running mate. This means therefore that in the 37 years since the triumph of the Revolution in 1979, Ortega has been the president of Nicaragua for 21 years and leader of the opposition for the remaining 16 years. This is the 7th election in which he is running for president. The municipal elections of 2008 and the presidential elections of 2011 were widely denounced as fraudulent.

Like many revolutionary and progressive Nicaraguans, I ceased to support the FSLN a very long time ago. Indeed, many Nicaraguans, including many of those that fought in the revolutionary struggle, confirm that the existing FSLN leadership has betrayed its revolutionary principles, has embraced neoliberal capitalism, and has become increasingly authoritarian and repressive.

Yet these painful and highly visible realities seem however to have escaped substantial sectors of the UK solidarity movement. Instead, UK solidarity appears to be recycling a narrative that is dangerously inaccurate and obscures the desperate situation facing the country at this particular moment. Ignoring the tragic and disturbing events that afflict Nicaragua in order to circulate a highly simplistic anti-imperialistic discourse is not a form of solidarity that serves the needs of Nicaraguan citizens fighting for a better life nor is it useful for young activists in the UK who are seeking to understand the complex political situation and to figure out how to act in solidarity through anti-capitalist activism.

One example of this disconnect was evident in a tweet I saw last week while I was doing fieldwork in Nicaragua. The tweet was sent by @latamerica16 and it announced that Paul Oquist, Nicaragua’s National Policy minister, would be a guest speaker at the Latin America 2016 conference (https://latinamericaconference.wordpress.com/). This is a conference to be held in London on Saturday 26 November and is sponsored by the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and Unite. Even more disturbing was the accompanying photo (see Figure 1) that announced Nicaragua’s “phenomenal progress” with a bunch of quite astonishing statistics that would come as quite a shock to most Nicaraguans, including the idea that Daniel Ortega is enjoying an approval rate of 79%.

Figure 1: Poster tweeted by @latamerica16 on 26 October

Figure 1: Poster tweeted by @latamerica16 on 26 October

For all those organizing and attending the Latin America 2016 conference, here is a quick overview of the current political situation in Nicaragua. It contains elements that should be central to Latin America 2016.

For the past few months, the country has been seen numerous street and online protests about what is widely understood to be an “electoral farce” (farsa electoral), because the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court has eliminated the only viable opposition. The other parties who appear on the ballot are run by co-opted people that nobody has heard of and that have no popular base of support. Ortega has banned international election observers, despite their presence being enshrined in the electoral law. I worked as an international election observer with the Carter Center in 2001 and 2006, and Nicaraguan elections are usually intense affairs, with high levels of passionate civic engagement, well-attended rallies, and visible campaigning everywhere. Usually campaigning material is attached to every available wall, lamppost and tree. This year nobody has really bothered to campaign and the urban landscape is unusually bereft of campaigning material. Plenty of party flags and posters do however appear on the walls of the state institutions, also in contravention of the electoral law, and public sector workers are expected to demonstrate their inked thumbs on Monday to confirm that they did go to vote. On 26 October in Bilwi on the North Caribbean Coast, a couple of FSLN posters appeared, some of them had been immediately destroyed (see Figure 2). It was no different when I returned to Managua on Saturday 29 October. It was indeed hard to believe that we were in the final week of an election campaign. I caught the tail end of the close of campaign by the Conservative Party and there were certainly no more than 100 people there. Some were possibly locals, happy to get a free t-shirt. A campaign in favour of active abstention has gained traction, as according to many Nicaraguan citizens, there is nobody to vote for. In response, the number of booths in polling stations will be reduced to create queues outside and generate an impression of civic participation. The hashtag #yonobotomivoto (I won’t throw away my vote) is trending on Twitter. Last weekend saw large protests against the farsa electoral in Nueva Guinea (see Figure 3), San José del Bocay, Jalapa and Pantasma and yesterday university students from the Central American University (UCA) also held a protest.

Figure 2: A tiny amount of electoral campaigning material appeared in Bilwi on 26 October

Figure 2: A tiny amount of electoral campaigning material appeared in Bilwi on 26 October

Figure 3: The tweet reads: We continue to mobilize against the electoral circus. In La Unión, Nueva Guinea, the campesinos and campesinas from the communities are here.

Figure 3: The tweet reads: We continue to mobilize against the electoral circus. In La Unión, Nueva Guinea, the campesinos and campesinas from the communities are here.

In addition to recognizing that the 2016 presidential elections have no credibility and legitimacy, solidarity activists should also be aware of the following. Since returning to power in 2006, the government has taken control of all four branches of government. Public employees and government ministers that openly criticize the FSLN leadership are removed from office. Daniel Ortega commands intense and unprecedented levels of police protection. The streets around his home in Reparto El Carmen are heavily guarded at all times. Five per cent of the police budget and 10 per cent of the police personnel are used to protect the president and his close entourage. Anti-poverty programmes that have reduced poverty to a small degree have been administered to supporters in clientelistic ways, making it hard for people to express open opposition. Venezuelan aid has been privatized, in the sense that it is absent from the national budget, and directed into private projects. The government has spent more than $3 million on adorning Managua with dozens of metallic trees (see Figure 4) and $80 million on 50 armoured T7B1 Russian tanks. They send out the riot police or groups of violent mobs (grupos de choque) every time the opposition organizes a peaceful protest. They have criminalized therapeutic abortion, putting even more women’s lives at risks. The government is also pursuing the construction of a $50 billion interoceanic canal with Chinese investment that will produce irreversible environmental damage and will displace hundreds of campesinos and indigenous groups from their lands. Furthermore, there is a serious environmental and social conflict in the North Caribbean region, where colonos, subsistence farmers from the Pacific, have settled illegally on ancestral lands belonging to Miskito and Mayangna populations and have become increasingly violent. More than 20 indigenous community members have been murdered by the colonos in the past year, but no state protection or investigation into illegal activities (murder, land trafficking, illegal occupation of indigenous territory) has been undertaken.

Figure 4: Dozens of metallic trees adorn Nicaragua's capital city Managua

Figure 4: Dozens of metallic trees adorn Nicaragua’s capital city Managua

So what we have in place is an authoritarian, repressive government that does not tolerate political pluralism and freedom of expression, does not respect or support the rights of indigenous peoples and women, is responsible through inaction (towards the colonos and rampant deforestation) and action (pursuit of a neoliberal megaproject such as the canal) for extensive environmental destruction. Ortega is in a precarious position – the fall in oil prices and the crisis in Venezuela along with the approval in the US Congress of the Nica Act are both likely to substantially reduce the external funds flowing into Nicaragua. The other pink tide governments that have been also been his allies are also in crisis to varying degrees. To compensate, Ortega is doing deals with Putin and Russian investment in transport, telecommunications and military hardware is already visible, but such an association is likely to isolate Ortega further. These issues are absent from the UK solidarity literature. If you read the latest news briefing from the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign (NSC), it seems to suggest that all is well, that the elections are free and fair, and that the vast majority of the electorate are ready to vote for the FSLN. I understood why Ortega wishes to make his regime and the electoral process appear legitimate, but I do not know why a UK-based solidarity campaign would wish to do so. As a long term NSC activist, I am disturbed by such blatant and extreme political irresponsibility. If they cared about those that gave their lives for the revolution in the 1970s and 80s, about the freedom to participate in politics without intimidation, about the fate of Nicaragua’s indigenous groups, they would endeavour to engage honestly and accurately with Nicaragua’s messy complicated politics. There are lots of Nicaraguans fighting for something better. There are lots of Nicaraguans honouring the sacrifices made during the revolution, denouncing corruption, seeking to address poverty and marginalization in sustainable ways, and speaking out in defence of human rights and the environment. We should stand with them, not with a corrupt and authoritarian caudillo.