Superheroes and the American Dream

Peter Parker and the fateful spider bite

From Slog:

I do drug research for a biotech company. One day, when I was taking blood samples from some rats that had been dosed with a radiolabeled (Indium 111) MS drug, the little son of a bitch bit me (not that I really blame her, we fuck them up pretty good). So, I am proud to say that I have been bitten by a radioactive rat.

I have as of yet developed no superpowers. If I do, I will let you know.

The classic superhero origin is a story of blind luck: the protagonist – still mortal, still mundane – stumbles upon a mysterious MacGuffin that transforms him (and it’s mostly “him”) into a protector of conventional morality.1 Perhaps he finds a dying alien who grants him a weapon of unimaginable power. Perhaps he discovers he was always different and that he has powers beyond the abilities of mortal men. Perhaps he is bitten by a radioactive spider and has gained the consequent abilities of arachnids. Whatever the specifics, in most superhero origins, the hero merely has his powers handed to him.

If you think about it, it’s a paradoxical idea. Are not superhero comics one of the most quintessentially American of media? Is not the pursuit of the American Dream a vital part of the American cultural narrative? Does not the very idea of reward without sacrifice go against the dour Protestant work ethic that informs American society?

And yet there exists the superhero.

Continue reading “Superheroes and the American Dream”

Real-Life SuperHeroes

This essay was originally posted to the No Scans Daily LiveJournal community.
The face of the superhero in real life

Following the post about which superhero universe is better to live in and the ensuing discussion on the psychology of the superhero, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the self-styled “Real-Life Superheroes” or Reals.  It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Anyway, these are real people who dress up in costume and go out to fight crime. Perhaps you’ve heard about them before, but if not, perhaps you might care to peruse a few articles about them.

There’s apparently even a documentary about one real-life Justice League – they call themselves Superheroes Anonymous. Okay, it’s actually an annual conference for real life superheroes, not a team.

What’s fascinating is finding out about how these Reals act and what ostensibly motivates them, and also reading between the lines and speculating about them. This is not Watchmen, Nite Owl never had a poster of Captain America in his living room. I think this is the biggest difference between our world and any comic book universe, since none of them have 80 years’ worth of superhero comics establishing what superheroes are before anyone ever tried putting on costumes and fighting crime.

Continue reading “Real-Life SuperHeroes”

The border and the bourgeois

I’m in the middle of reading a roundtable discussion between a bunch of anthropologists of Europe talking about the New Right in European politics.  It’s from 2003, so some of their stuff is out of date, but it’s still mostly spot on.  In the middle of their discussion, the panelists start talking about the hybridity and border-crossing stuff that’s been popular recently.  They discuss two discourses on the issues.  The first speaks of border-crossing in terms of leakiness, where miscegenation–whether cultural, biological, or economic–is threatening, while the second celebrates the hybridity and cultural enrichment found from mixing different cultures.

As Jonathan Friedman asserts, though, the discourse of fear is produced by people at the bottom and middle of a society, while the discourse of celebration comes mostly from the top:


I have it very clearly. Look, I’ve never found a working-class hybrid who celebrated his mixture. I’ve never found even an example of it in ethnographies. It’s always by interpretation. There is one very, very strong kind of discourse of hybrid that’s being produced at the top. And I have hundreds of examples of it. What I’m interested in is saying, ‘Okay, these things are located, they’re positioned. They’re interested discourses in the sense that there are interests behind them’. I’m not sure exactly what interests they are, but I think they’re pretty clear. And these have nothing to do with Left and Right. The people at the top are producing hybridity: I don’t want to classify them as Left or Right. But there is a long history of colonial hybrid discourse being reproduced at the top. I don’t want to be stuck in how I represent that. I don’t want to have to represent that saying that ‘this is good, and the other is bad’.


But I’d like to challenge that, Jonathan. You’re probably right, that the people who celebrate hybridity are, as it were, middle class, I mean, members of the chattering classes, basically. The Salman Rushdies and so on. But those are the people who always open their mouths about anything, so that’s neither here nor there. Christopher Lasch belongs to the same class himself, now doesn’t he? But if you look at the people who are uncomfortable, and who present the kind of leakage that Sarah mentioned, and who are anomalies, and who don’t fit in and so on, a lot of them would belong to the lower ranks of society. I mean, all the illegal immigrants who make New York go ’round, who New York is completely dependent on in order to survive as a city. And the Pakistanis in Norway who spend three months a year in Pakistan, and who, you know, bring women back and who have this traffic in marriage and so on.


Yes, but what does this have to do with hybridities? You compare Gloria Anzaldúa, of border crossing ideology. She’s an author, and then there are hundreds of people who write about her, it’s an industry. It’s an industry of border crossing and of hybridity. But then in Lund we have people who have worked on illegal immigrants in California. Those immigrants are scared shitless of the border. There’s no celebration of hybridity, they haven’t got time for that. They’re not into those kinds of problems at all. They’re into very different kinds of issues. They’re trying to survive. Hybridity is a leisure issue.


Well, take that Appadurai.  I already had bunches of stuff critiquing cosmopolitanism, but this roundtable discussion is certainly easier to read.  After this part the panelists went back to discussing the New Right in Europe.  Anyway, it’s certainly food for thought.


”Anthropologists are talking’ about the new right in Europe’,
Ethnos, 68:4, 554 – 572

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

For history-minded people who are also China watchers, it’s fascinating to see how China’s current drive towards accelerated industrialization resembles the historical trajectory of European industrialization.  There is, of course, the massive pile of Chinese migrant labourer bodies stacking up from various coal mine accidents, sweatshop fires, and worker riots.  All of this recalls “Western” experiences, and if you squint at the headlines in the right way you can even imagine you’re reading a news article from the 19th century.  The wealthier Chinese are even aware of this:

But an odd change has come about in some [Chinese] shoppers’ minds. As members of China’s business and political elite, they have come to believe that the world is a huge jungle of Darwinian competition, where connections and smarts mean everything, and quaint notions of fairness count for little.

I noticed this attitude on my most recent trip to China from the United States, where I moved nine years ago. So I asked a relative who lives rather comfortably to explain. “Is it fair that the household maids make 65 cents an hour while the well-connected real estate developers become millionaires or billionaires in just a few years?” I asked. He was caught off guard. After a few seconds of silence, he settled on an answer he had read in a popular magazine.

“Look at England, look at America,” he said. “The Industrial Revolution was very cruel. When the English capitalists needed land, sheep ate people.” (Chinese history books use the phrase “sheep ate people” to describe what happened in the 19th century, when tenant farmers in Britain were thrown off their land to starve so that sheep could graze and produce wool for new mills.)

“Since England and America went through that pain, shouldn’t we try to avoid the same pain, now that we have history as our guide?” I asked.

“If we want to proceed to a full market economy, some people have to make sacrifices,” my relative said solemnly. “To get to where we want to get, we must go through the ‘sheep eating people’ stage too.”

In other words, while most Chinese have privately dumped the economic prescriptions of Marx, two pillars of the way he saw the world have remained. First is the inexorable procession of history to a goal. The goal used to be the Communist utopia; now the destination is a market economy of material abundance.

Second, just as before, the welfare of some people must be sacrificed so the community can march toward its destiny. Many well-to-do Chinese readily endorse those views, so long as neither they nor their relatives are placed on the altar of history. In the end, Marx is used to justify ignoring the pain of the poor.

Certainly it’s a mealy-mouthed excuse for an excuse: It’s okay for Chinese to exploit their fellow human beings because the British did the same 150 years ago.  The British also forced the Chinese to buy British opium at gunpoint and cede Hong Kong in the Opium Wars, so my inner cynic wonders if the Chinese are also planning on doing the same thing to other countries.  Then again, the march of progress means that often the new capitalists are welcomed with open arms.

Of course, this pattern of worker abuse is not just a simple reiteration of Western history being played out by people with darker skin.  For example, no witches were ever burned in England because manufacturing jobs were scarce.  The present isn’t the past and the (cough, ahem) Third World isn’t the farcical Napoleon III to the First World’s l’Empereur, Marx’s witticism notwithstanding.

For one thing, while it may be tempting to think of all of this “stuff” as happening in foreign countries or in the past, the resurgence of Taylorism and “scientific management” (a discredited management philosophy organized around getting the most productivity out of workers and damn their health and comfort), the introduction of flexible labour and contingent work (in rural as well as in urban areas), the migration of capital and jobs, and the shrinking of the working class labour market in the “West” means that things are getting crappier where white people live too.  Some economists are even admitting this, despite the fact that most of them seem to be propagandists of global capitalism.

In fact, the globalist project has been so dismal in its rewards that it’s been traded in for straight-up nationalism in some quarters (e.g., the US, Russia, Pakistan, Japan, and so many other countries).  “Here we go again,” say the historians, though in this sequel the Indians sometimes fight off the cowboys successfully — note, though, that it’s not the absolutely downtrodden countries that are resisting successfully, but the ones that already have some power.  Lest anyone forget, remember also that the elites of those countries are hard at work exploiting their paisanos, so what we’re seeing is more like one group of elites fighting off another group of elites than the underdogs beating the five-time league champion.

All of these thoughts were triggered in me when I read about the recent fashionability of skin tanning among wealthier Chinese (via Boas Blog’s shoutout to Racialicious).  Note that light skin was previously the in-thing to have to signify one’s wealth since it’s a sign that one isn’t a common labourer working outdoors, just like in Britain before the Industrial Revolution and just like it is today in many developing countries (and let’s not forget that skin whitening creams are used by many black people in the US, UK, and the Caribbean, though they’re used for slightly different reasons than mere signifiers of wealth).  With the expansion of the airline industry, the drop in ticket prices thanks to cut-throat competition, and the greater number of vacationing middle class people created by industrialization, tanned skin has become a sign that the possessor has been to an expensive holiday overseas — again, like the way tanned skin became fashionable in Britain as a sign that the person has been to the Mediterranean, most likely during their Grand Tour of Europe, such holidaying becoming only possible by the building of railways to criss-cross the continent.

So there you have it: The more things change, the more they stay the same (barring the odd witch-burning and war on Islam here and there).

Faster than a speeding blogger

This is the first time I’ve ever posted more than twice in a single day. Actually, it’s technically Tuesday now, but my days only end when I go to sleep.

Via Rough Theory, I found out that Scott Eric Kaufman at Acephalous is conducting an experiment on blogging. It goes like this:

  1. Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.)
  2. Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I’m one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.)
  3. Ping Techorati.

The object of the experiment is to discover how fast a (cough, ahem) “meme” can spread on the (English language) blogosphere. I’m obviously willing to participate, but danged if I don’t see holes in the methodology. For instance, I suspect it will hardly penetrate Myspace and possibly not even Xanga. Probably not Friendster blogs, either. I also doubt that the meme will be spread by retail-oriented blogs or blogs run as online community newsletters. Which is to say that Scott Eric Kaufman will not be measuring the spread of his meme through the English-language blogosphere, but rather the spread of his meme through one particular region of that blogosphere.

In “Bridging the Gap: A Genre Analysis of Weblogs” (a more developed version is found here) there is presented a blog classification scheme created by S. Krishnamurthy, where blogs are classified according to their location on a particular matrix:

Krishnamurthy's blog classification matrix
Krishnamurthy 2002, cited in Herring et al. 2004:3

I would place Acephalous on the line between Quadrants I and II, meaning that I think it’s about both SEK’s personal life and about certain topics that he uses the blog to explore.

Building upon Rebecca Blood’s typology, Herring and her co-authors also present their own classification scheme:

  1. Journal blogs, which are about the personal doings of the individual bloggers (i.e., most blogs on LiveJournal),
  2. Filter blogs, which provide commentary on things external to the blogger, such as US politics (blogs in Quadrant III of Krishnamurthy’s schema can also be called filter blogs)
  3. K-logs, or knowledge blogs, which are used in projects to allow project members to disseminate up-to-date information to each other
  4. Mixed-purpose blogs, which are combinations of two or more blog genres
  5. And finally, Other types of blogs which do not fall under the previous categories (Herring et al. 2004:4-6).

Using this typology, I would classify Acephalous as being a mixed-purpose blog, in this case a filter blog with some journal blogging thrown in.

My objective in classifying Acephalous, though, is to point out that being mostly a filter blog and oriented towards other filter blogs (a quick scan through the blogroll reveals mostly filter blogs), SEK’s experiment will likely end up measuring the speed of his meme among filter blogs, leaving journal blogs mostly untouched. This means that the spread of a meme through the English-language blogosphere’s biggest genre will never be measured — note, for example, that 7 out of 10 of the biggest blog hosting services focus mostly on personal journals, and that’s not even counting social networking sites like Myspace (Perseus 2005).

So in conclusion, I’ve forgotten where I was going to take the rest of this post. I’d just save this draft and work on it more tomorrow but SEK did ask participants to post ASAP, so I’ll do it now. I is sleepy, I go beddy-bye.


Herring, Susan C; Scheidt, Lois Ann; Bonus, Sabrina; & Wright, Elijah L. (2004), “Bridging the gap: a genre analysis of weblogs,” hicss, p. 40101b, Proceedings of the 37th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Electronic document, retrieved March 8, 2006 from

Krishnamurthy, S. (2002). “The Multidimensionality of Blog Conversations: The Virtual Enactment of September 11.” In Maastricht, The Netherlands: Internet Research 3.0.

Perseus Development Corporation (2005). The blogging geyser. Electronic document, retrieved March 4, 2006 from

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Surveillance doesn’t work if I don’t give a crap

The anthropology blogosphere has been quieter than usual lately, mostly because most English-language anthrobloggers are American and quite a few of them are attending the American Anthropological Association’s conference taking place right now in San Jose. But that just leaves more room for us non-Americans. I was saving this post for when I finally moved hosts, but seeing as how it might not be before Wednesday, when this issue of The Coast becomes out of date, I thought I should post this now instead while I’m waiting for my rice to cook (yes I cook rice at 3:30 in the morning, I want it ready for when I get up).

Anyway, I was reading The Coast, Halifax’s alternative newsweekly (Canadian home of Dan Savage’s column) when I came across an interesting claim made in the current editorial. Halifax right now is obsessed over crime, at least as far as the local news is concerned. I think it’s partly a case of a manufactured moral panic (is there any other kind?), though it seems to be true that violent crime has been increasing. Regardless of whether or not the statistics say what people claim (I suspect it’s not so black and white), it’s true that people experience the world anecdotally, not through a judicious weighing of the evidence at hand. Constructed truths (again, are there any other kind?) have a reality of their own for the people who experience them, regardless of what a mythical neutral observer might see.

Now then, in the editorial I mentioned, it’s claimed that visible and public video surveillance hasn’t been shown to decrease crime rates. I don’t know if the data bears out this assertion, I’ll have to check the sociological literature later. But instead of preventing crimes by their presence, video surveillance cameras just help to solve them after the fact.. That touches upon what I said before, when I theorized that constant surveillance might make the surveilled upon uncaring of who’s watching them. If someone could always be watching, does it matter if you stab someone on the street or in a dark alley? Certainly not very 1984-ish. In fact, it sounds rather more grim.

Of course, there are other things to consider. The idea of surveillance as deterrence I think rests on the assumption that humans are more rational than they really are. Who acts after a careful assessment of the costs and benefits of action? People, I think, use more emotion when making decisions than suggested by the criminal justice system’s orthodox view of human behaviour.

Or it might be that people are actually more rational than given credit for. Violence against others is an extraordinary act, and if one is moved to actually commit violence, then perhaps it wouldn’t matter if one is being watched by others. Once you’ve decided violence is called for, then it might be so necessary to you that even the abstract threat of punishment is worth it. Put simply, perhaps by the time one has decided that violence against others is worthwhile, then at the same time one has also decided that the risks from using violence are acceptable.

I know, weak. I need to develop that more. There’s another thing to consider as well. Video surveillance as it’s conceived of takes the camera to be a proxy for the human gaze. The hope is that a publicly visible surveillance camera be seen as a human being in absentia, that the surveilled upon might experience the same disciplining effect that the direct gaze of others can do. However, perhaps video cameras are too difficult to anthropomorphize into a human being. Perhaps they’re too different from a person to have the threat of the gaze of others be anything more than an abstraction. In that case, what is to be done? Perhaps surveillance cameras should be installed in mannequins so that the gaze of others be felt more directly. You could even put a police uniform on the mannequins to make things abundantly clear. Or, to make it interesting, perhaps surveillance cameras should be installed in gargoyle statues. What gaze can be more terrifying than that of a leering monster made of stone? Isn’t the essential purpose of surveillance the production of fear in the surveilled?

I think it would be an interesting experiment, and even if it’s a bust, then you have interesting urban art to attract tourists with. A win-win situation! Actually, probably the simplest thing to do is install better lighting on public streets since it’s been shown to have a significant impact on crime rates, but I think gargoyles are better anyway. If I ever become mayor of a city that demands concrete measures against crime, I may actually implement The Gargoyle Initiative. And just to bring the whole thing back to panopticon, what if on a random basis, police officers dressed in gargoyle costumes should take the place of the surveillance statues? Think about it, an entire city whose residents are terrified that the statues around them might be alive. It would be the world’s greatest performance art piece. After all, what’s the use of power when it’s not absolute?

I’m posting this as a message of warning to the world. Don’t ever let me get any power, because I’ll be sure to enjoy it too much. There you go, now you’ve all had fair notice. Don’t come crying to me when you’re all forced to listen to broadcasts of my karaoke renditions of sappy love songs a la Nero.

the way you love me,
a feeling like thi-is.
centrifugal motion,
perpetual bli-is.
It’s the way you love me, baybee!
This kiss, this bli-is!

Clap or you’ll be shot.

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While I was egosurfing (i.e. checking out how popular Sarapen has become — admit it, you’ve Googled yourself before) I found out that this blog is apparently number 18 in Google’s results for the term “anarchist anthropology.” That’s because of these two posts about David Graeber’s pamphlet on the subject. I poked around and saw this post about the same thing but written last year. It’s rather critical of the piece, but I think it raises some interesting objections. To wit:

For I fear that here Graeber overly idealizes academia, and the discipline of anthropology in particular. Despite all his rote Foucault-bashing, and sneering at mainstream academics as “people who like to think of themselves as political radicals even though all they do is write essays likely to be read by a few dozen other people in an institutional environment” (71), he in fact buys into the authority of normative academic “knowledge” much more than I think is necessary or justified […] It’s not that Graeber doesn’t know that “the discipline we know today was made possible by horrific schemes of conquest, colonization, and mass murder” (96); but he seems to think that the “vast archive of human experience” possessed by anthropologists is uninflected by these origins, and only needs to be shared more publically in order to be efficacious.

I’m not sure if I agree, but anyway, check it out if you’re interested. Maybe I should make an “anarchism” tag, I keep bringing it up, or perhaps a tag devoted entirely to David Graeber.

Continuing on with this updating thing, I’ve found some more information about hikikomori, which relates to my post about the manga Welcome to the NHK. It’s an interview written in a journalistic style, so the article is really easy to read. It provides an added layer of depth to the hikikomori thing. I also didn’t know Italy had abolished mental hospitals, but apparently it has. I recommend Japan Focus anyway for its excellent articles on stuff relating to the Asia-Pacific region. A refereed and free electronic journal, good for whiling away the time on a Sunday afternoon.

While we’re on the subject of Japan Focus, have a gander at this article, “Invisible Immigrants: Undocumented Migration and Border Controls in Early Postwar Japan.” It certainly challenges the notion that immigration has not been a major factor in Japanese society until relatively recently and it nicely illustrates how states have the power to turn people invisible. Also interesting (and rather unsurprising) that immigration control was at first justified as a health initiative to protect the country from foreign diseases, though in actuality enacted to protect Japan from foreigners, period.

And that’s that for today. My search for a new bloghost continues, I’ll probably switch later this week.

Hey what’s up, tell me whatsa happenin’

I recently had an interview for a job where my social science research skills were actually relevant (I know, quelle surprise). During the interview, I mentioned my participation in an ethnographic field school in Peru and that the interviewers could find the paper that I wrote about the project I conducted using a combination of my name and some specific search terms. I was rather satisfied with it, but now it seems rather naive and unpolished to me (I was a 3rd year undergrad at the time). I won’t tell you how to find the paper, but it’s really not that hard.

Anyway, I suddenly remembered that the interviewer could find this blog as well just by Googling me, and I thought, “Oh crap, have I written anything incriminating?” I felt the teensiest bit iffy about the anarchist sympathies I expressed in previous posts, but I thought I didn’t really have anything to hide. I got the job at the end of the interview anyway, but that brief moment reminded me how potentially vulnerable you can be online. I’m also reminded of what happened to a friend of mine when she was applying for Phd schools: one of the professors she was hoping to work with had found her blog and complimented her on it. There wasn’t anything incriminating there either, but she’s now gotten herself a new blog (just in case, I suspect).

Because the gaze of the Internet is potentially always present, many have likened it to a panopticon. The panopticon is a type of prison designed in such a way that the prisoners never know whether or not they are being watched by their jailers; since the prisoners do not know whether they are being watched, they will act as if they are always being watched and accordingly police themselves. Michel Foucault likens certain parts of “Western” societies to panopticons, since their power to discipline behaviour relies on the visibility of subjects to the gaze of others. The individual is always self-consciously aware of the possibility of being spied upon and will therefore change his or her behaviour accordingly.

However, it seems to me that people won’t necessarily police themselves in a panopticon system. Rather, I think it’s just as likely that people will start tearing down the wall between public and private in their own lives. If one is potentially always being watched, then does it matter if one farts in an empty room or in a crowded dining room? Perhaps someone will see you expel bodily gas when you are in your own bedroom, and perhaps no one will notice if you fart while having dinner with other people. What used to be private might start becoming public, and instead of a society where people police themselves, you might see a society where self-discipline is largely nonexistent.

The power of the panopticon also rests on certain culturally-specific notions of private and public. For example, there is a certain group of people in South America (damned if I remember which one — the Aymara? the Jivaro?) who traditionally lived in longhouses shared by several families. Because there will always be comeone in the longhouse, couples usually have sex in a secluded spot outside, perhaps in the jungle or an empty garden. For these people, then, the indoors is a public space, while it is outdoors where privacy exists. This is the reverse of “Western” notions of public and private, since “a man’s home is his castle”, “it is not the business of the state to regulate what happens in people’s bedrooms”, and so on.

Many people often speak of blogging as a panopticon system. The blogger is always under the gaze of the Internet. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate to call blogging a panopticon, since the gaze of the Internet is one that bloggers invite. The gaze of others in a panopticon is involuntary and unwanted, while the gaze of the Internet in blogging is one bloggers try to capture. There have been many news stories, for example, about bloggers being fired for criticizing their employers in their blogs. Blogging cannot therefore be a panopticon system, since otherwise the bloggers would have censored themselves. In a panopticon, the prisoners must be aware that they are potentially being watched by anyone on the Internet, which the bloggers who were fired obviously didn’t consider.

However, even if bloggers start censoring themselves, blogging still cannot be a panopticon. One of the implied requirements of a panopticon is that the prisoners be entirely revealed to their jailers, or else they could simply engage in their illicit activities while out of sight of the authorities. In blogging, whatever is visible about a blogger is visible only because the blogger has made it so. The blogger reveals only what he or she wishes to reveal, and therefore what is revealed is not the entirety of a blogger but a front that he or she has constructed.

It should be obvious in this blog that I reveal only a fraction of the things I do and think about. What you see is what I wish you to see. Hoever, how you understand it is beyond my control. Which takes us into a discussion of authorship, intent, and the death of The Author. But that’s as far as I want to go, so you’ll have to be satisfied with what I’ve given you today.

Multi-culti: Good, bad, or ugly?

In an effort to be more environmentally friendly, I am now recycling some of my previous writings from other online forums. In this case, I have here some constructive criticisms I offered to Thomas Hylland Eriksen about his working paper on the relationship between identity and cyberspace. I rather like what I wrote, so it seemed a shame just to keep it on the Media Anthropology Network’s servers. Plus I get to back up my stuff in case of fire or some sort of apocalypse. But, onwards:

My only substantive issue with the paper is the implied position that, were it not mostly for the transnationalizing efforts of migrants aided by the Internet’s technologies, the natural trajectory of the immigrant is towards assimilation. This does not address the active and institutionalized efforts at exclusion enacted by the nation-state and by many of its native-born population towards immigrants and their descendants. Often, this exclusion is based upon an ideology of race, upon the idea that immigrants and those born of immigrants are always already Other than the authentic indigenous population by virtue of being visibly different. I recall Lisa Lowe’s point that she is always an Asian American and never just American (Lowe 2003), or as James Clifford observed, with diasporas many times being the product of exclusion, the rise of a diasporic consciousness can be seen as making the best of a bad situation (Clifford 1997:257). In other words, diasporas are one of the consequences of the political ideology of race.

This ties into a broader point I want to make about nation-states and national identity. In many ways, nationalist ideology and racialized ideology are tied together, or at least are allied ideologies. Nation-states base their legitimacy in part on being the political manifestation of the nation, or being the nation writ large. The logic of nationalism demands that nation-states have homogenous populations, else the legitimacy of the state is called into question — if a nation-state rules because it is the representative of a people, what happens when other peoples exist within its territory? The empirical answer is that the nation-state suppresses these other nations, through direct and indirect violence (think of Native Americans in the former and African Americans and their economic and geographical segregation in the latter, but especially immigrant populations as well). If a nation-state’s people are essentially the same, then those not of the nation-state and its people are essentially different, essentially Other. This talk of essential difference, of course, is linked to the pseudo-scientific discourse of race, which supplies the essentialized categories necessary for many of nationalism’s constitutive fictions (in this way, I think Nazism is really nationalism taken to its logical extreme, but that is a digression).

Now then, what is really interesting is when one considers what nation-states are like today, in light of the new era of mass migration. Nation-states claim to represent the nation, but what happens to that notion when part of the nation exists outside the territory of the nation-state? As Thomas’ paper mentions, a nation-state can try to incorporate its diasporic members into its national and political imaginary, as in the case of Chile’s 14th region, and I will add the example of Haiti’s Tenth Department too. But wouldn’t the host country of those diasporic people object to the meddling of external actors in the host country’s territory? Shouldn’t the host country object, particularly because the new (or rediscovered) ideology of multiculturalism is already attempting to incorporate the otherness of migrants within the framework of the nation-state?

Here I will mention the results of the Canadian Ethnic Diversity Survey, which found that Filipinos in Canada scored highly both in their sense of belonging to their ethnic group and to Canada. They are loyal both to the Philippines and to Canada, in other words. I think this speaks to Sasskia Sassen’s observation that globalization, instead of weakening the nation-state, merely requires its rearticulation. David Graeber’s article on globalization being the re-emergence of older patterns of transnationalism is also interesting in this regard, particularly his point that today’s situation of an international elite in Europe using an international language mostly incomprehensible to the elite’s countrymen and living in cities with working class neigbourhoods composed of people drawn from around the Mediterranean echoes the situation in medieval Europe. My essential point is that what we might be observing is a new or reinvigorated transnational order, where members of a nation-state do not need to be exclusively loyal to that nation-state to be incorporated within it. So is race being decoupled from nation today? I think that race is actually still being deployed in the service of the nation-state, especially within the discourse of multiculturalism. It is, of course, an attempt to incorporate heterogeneity within a nation-state, or rather, an attempt at homogenizing heterogeneity. “Regardless of race or colour or creed, we’re all Canadian here,” is the message being promoted here in Canada. But multicultural discourse also obfuscates the differences between immigrants and already existing oppressed minorities (African Canadians and Natives in Canada’s case). It hides the historical oppression of minorities under the sameness of multiculturalism: Koreans are the same as Haitians, Ojibwa are the same as Poles, and the French are the same as Nigerians. So race still has political consequences even in the brave new multicultural world.


Lowe, Lisa (2003). “Heterogeneity, hybridity, multiplicity: Marking Asian-American differences”. In Braziel, Jana Evans; & Mannur, Anita (eds.), Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader (pp. 132-159). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Clifford, James (1997). “Diasporas”. In Clifford, James, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (pp. 244-277). Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Canadian Ethnic Diversity Survey
Statistics Canada
Now then, I’ll have to apologize but this only contains half of the information I referred to and does not have the data on Filipino’s sense of belongingness to Canada. I’m still in the process of tracking down the survey data. Actually I know where to look now thanks to my school’s librarians, but I still haven’t gotten around to getting the stuff.

Graeber, David (2002). “The anthropology of globalization (with notes on neomedievalism, and the end of the Chinese model of the nation-state).” American Anthropologist, 104(4):1222-1227.

Sassen, Sasskia (1998). Globalization and its discontents: essays on the new mobility of people and money. New York: The New Press.

Who’s the fairest of them all?

In my interviews with Filipino bloggers , I would always ask them, “Who is your audience?” They’d often answer, “Oh, I really just write for myself.” I had difficulty understanding this, because if you’re writing for yourself, why bother putting your thoughts online in the first place?

Sarapen is my research blog. I set it up to communicate with the Filipino bloggers I was studying. However, it’s moved away from that ideal. There aren’t as many Filipino bloggers reading me as I expected. This is partly because I haven’t participated in the extended blogging conversations necessary to be drawn into a blogging community. I don’t have the time, and since my data collection is already done, there’s really no point, and it would just be extra work for me.

And as you may have noticed, this blog is becoming more and more self-indulgent. My titles have continued to be enigmatic, with the in-jokes largely apprehended by only myself. Or look at the subjects of my preceding posts: Zapatismo, anarchism, Japanese comics, free journals, and a short description of what I was watching on tv. Only two of the last ten posts have been on topic, and I’ve even set up Tangents as a new category to classify posts under (incidentally, I’ve just realized that as a classifier I’m a lumper and not a splitter). In other words, Sarapen is rapidly becoming about me instead of my research.

I’d like to think that the tangents I go on aren’t just intellectual “self-abuse,” as the Victorian British put it (that “it” being masturbation). Rather, my wanderings help me stay on track with my research by keeping my brain a lean, mean, analytical machine. Not only that, I get to think of something besides identity construction, which I think too much about these days. Regardless of that, though, Sarapen is no longer a tool for disseminating information on my research so much as a device for keeping my mind from getting tired.

So now I think I understand what my participants meant when they said they were writing for themselves. Frankly, I thought blogging would just be a necessary chore, but I really honestly have learned more about bloggers by jumping on the bandwagon. Instead of an intellectual appreciation of blogging, I have an embodied understanding of it. I compulsively check my blog statistics, I compose blog posts in my head when I find something sponge-worthy, I gleefully examine the map of my readers’ locations. I get it. Kind of.

Still, the idea of blogging for yourself reminded me of what Mikhail Bakhtin wrote about how dialogue works. As Bakhtin says, dialogue is only possible because the speaker not only addresses the other person specifically, but also keeps in mind that what he or she utters can be understood by a perfect audience, the superaddressee. Which is to say that misunderstandings can occur in any dialogue, but a speaker will attempt dialogue anyway so long as he or she believes that what was said can be understood perfectly by someone (whether that audience is God, history, reasonable people, or so on). So what if, in this particular kind of blog speech, the superaddressee is the self? The perfect audience who will understand perfectly what the blogger wrote is the blogger’s own self, whereas the specific audience consists of anonymous or not-so-anonymous others. Blog dialogue as semi-monologue, then?

The problem is that I only know enough about Bakhtin to be dangerous to myself. I can’t tell if what I’ve proposed really hangs together, especially since this stuff is tangential to what I’m actually working on. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I always knew being weak in linguistics would come back to bite me in the ass. People in sociocultural anthropology should really be more familiar with linguistics, especially linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics. But now I share it for posterity’s sake and in hopes that someone might tell me if I’ve embarrassed myself or not.


Happy Turkey Day, Canada.