Thursday, February 17, 2011

Second Paper

Sean Watkins

Second paper

The past few weeks have been incredibly important for my growth as an academic. I have begun to think about several different ways for me to connect to my own work. Several projects that have been stuck on hold have started to emerge as viable pieces of academic work. It is interesting to understand affect in terms of connections between bodies or ideas and watch them organically grown in your own life. Here, I think it is important to talk about the connection between one’s work and life. In my short communication experience, I have been exposed to many debates over the objective vs subjective nature of academia. Scholars create binaries between these ideas in order to distinguish themselves from each other- I blame capitalism, but I suppose ego (shall I be daring and also connect this to patriarchy?) can be thrown into the mix as well. Anyway, critical scholars have gone the route of subjectivity in their epistemological understandings of the world. We connect to our work in varying levels. Often there is debate within how far we can connect to our work. Ethnography is fine, but autoethnography pushes the boundary too far! There is a limit to how much we are allowed to talk about ourselves in our work, because otherwise it becomes too much about ourselves. I tend to agree with this, but at the same time our work is something that is a part of us. The further invested I become in my work, the more my body responds to it. I wake up with knots in my shoulders the more stressed out I become. Probyn really brings up some significant points to the shame of writing. She argues that: "My argument here is about writing shame, a phrase I use to capture both the affective, bodily feeling of betraying interest, and also about how we might envision writing shame as part of an ethical practice" (73). The ethical practice, for me at least, is the idea that my work will eventually get the point to where it can directly inform large groups of people. I feel like I have two forces going on in my head at the same time. The first is the activist, idealistic, ‘who gives a shit’ attitude that wants to push the boundaries of academics. This part of me wants to do important work that reaches a great deal of people, it doesn’t care about getting a job in order to pay the bills, and it isn’t afraid to stand up against unnecessary abstractions that push us further from praxis. The other half is scared that I am an imposter, and that I am only doing this because I can afford to and that the second I have real responsibilities (family, large SUVs) that I will abandon my principles and get a job teaching public speaking. I feel this battle and it physically hurts me. However, it seems the danger of this is to forget our areas of study and simply talk about ourselves. It sometimes shames me that I complain about my own position when people have it much worse off. I know that ‘worse’ is truly subjective, but there needs to be a balance or at least a connection between our suffering as academics and the suffering of those we write about.

With this, I think it is important to point out the affect we feel toward other’s work. Here, I use the term affect to mean emotional connection. While reading Logics of Empowerment – Development, Gender, and Governance in Neoliberal India by Aradhana Sharma, I got really excited because she was doing the type of work that I think would be most useful to me. While her theoretical work seemed a bit pieced together, it helped me to better understand my own position to nonprofit work. I feel like we are all being taught to pull together theories rather than create our own. Some of our mentors push us toward thinking in binaries and through the voices of white dead men rather than come up with new and fresh ideas. It makes me think of how Stuart Hall talks about how we sometimes need to abandon theory because it no longer works in certain cases. I know some of this sounds harsh and by no means do I want to blame ALL mentors, but it seems that part of the game is to please your superiors. However, Sharma does an amazing job of connecting her experiences to greater issues in Indian society as well as the neo-liberal market. While I don’t always agree with all of her interpretations, I felt myself being pulled to this book because I could tell that she was grappling with the same sorts of issues that I have been for the past few years. I found her chapter on looking at the MS workers to be really significant to my own work. She questions: “How does mobilizing empowerment on the ground affect the self-image and work lives of MS personnel and alter the very meaning of empowerment?” (62). To her, empowerment is directly connected to the minds and bodies of MS workers. I would really like to interview the people the work at the Medical Foundation in order to get at some of these complexities. I was recently given permission to start talking to the webmaster at my organization. I hope to use some of the emotions I had while reading Sharma’s book to inform my future interactions with Medical Foundation staff.

Works Cited

Gregg, Melissa, and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham [N.C.: Duke UP, 2010. Print.

Sharma, Aradhana. Logics of Empowerment: Development, Gender, and Governance in Neoliberal India. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008. Print.

Affect Theory - chapter 3

Writing Shame By Elspeth Probyn

I will write more about this in my two page piece of brilliance, but after reading this chapter for a second time it really hit a cord with me. She calls it writing shame, but perhaps I look at it as academic shame. There is an emotional burden that some of us have, epsecially in dealing with the importance and relevance of our work. The idea that we have responsibility beyond the walls of the ivory tower is a feeling that is sometimes unbearable.

  • She starts by talking about Darwin and his many illnesses related to writing.
  • The author then relates it to her own troubles with writing.
  • "My argument here is about writing shame, a prhase I use to capture both the affective, bodily feeling of betraying interest, and also about how we might envision writing shame as part of an ethical practice" (73).
  • "How can you represent a sense of emotional and affective intensity if the feeling in question is generalized in the amorphous category of Affect?" (74).
  • We need to talk about different types of affects!
  • Compares Foucault with Stephen King in terms of the relationship between words and things.
  • King was shamed by his teacher for writing junk.
  • To King, honest writing is writing that attempts to connect to meaning.
  • Writing affects bodies.
  • She goes into talking about Deleuze and his description of T.E. Lawrence and his connection to shame and glory.
  • Lawrence as "the subjective disposition"
  • Shame and the body becomes the same thing.
  • To describe Lawrence, Deleuze uses a quote from Kafka "It was as if the shame of it must outlive him" (82).
  • Primo Levi's experience of being in Auschiwitz and his eventually supposed suicide encompasses his shame of writing about his life.
  • He thought it was wrong to write for oneself.
  • He didn't really talk about emotion or affect - there was not enough time in the camps for this.
  • "The blush of having failed to connect with readers should compel any writer to return to the page with renewed desire to do better - to get better- at this task of communicating that some of us take on" (89).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sharma Chapter 3

Logics of Empowerment – Development, Gender, and Governance in Neoliberal India by Aradhana Sharma

Chapter 3 – Empowering Moves: Paradoxes, Subversions, Dangers

This chapter is really interesting because the author moves inside of the GONGO in order to talk about the experiences of those who work for MS. I find this to be very useful because in my own work I would like to talk to those who work for a nonprofit because their experiences help us to better understand the neo-liberal market and the plight of the nonprofit. This is an interesting case because the nonprofit bleeds into a governmental organization that both hurts and helps those workers. What is fascinating is the way in which power flows between the workers, clients and governments. It seems that everyone is vying for some sort of power, and they all have some power, but some actors automatically are in ‘charge’ or at least they think they are.

· Importantly, empowerment programs effect both the lives of the clients AND those who work for the organization

· It is interesting to look at the workers as a space between the all powerful state actors and the subaltern classes.

· “How does mobilizing empowerment on the ground affect the self-image and work lives of MS personnel and alter the very meaning of empowerment?” (62)

· Field level personnel often use MS as a governmental organization or a nonprofit depending on their needs on the ground.

· Workers at MS have to define their work identities in different situations.

· They have to decide on how to identify the work program in different situations.

· She argues that working for empowerment groups is a double-edged sword. It has the potential to deradicalized empowerment, but at the same time empowerment is always about politics so it is always inherently political.

· Almost all workers at MS are women.

· MS workers try and distance themselves from the idea of state bureaucracy.

· The workers are denied certain benefits of state workers because they are not truly part of the governmental system. In this way they are exploited by the government.

· The workers understood the benefits and slights they would get as a nonprofit.

· MS workers have tried to unionize, but their efforts were crushed by the government. If they had won, other development projects workers would have demanded similar benefits.

· The author observes different situations in which MS workers describe themselves as either an NGO or a GO depending on what they need. Sometimes this would backfire, like when they needed a place to rent and they were asked for more money than it was worth.

· Interestingly, while the program is qualitative in nature, quantitative strategies are used sometimes to get people to participate like counting people in villages.

· Even though they sometimes used different identities, they most often saw themselves as working for an impassioned NGO.

· However, they were not allowed to participate in antistate struggles by subaltern women.

· They would get around this by taking days off or supporting the subaltern people in alternative ways (buying food, etc)

· She goes into the nature of state agencies and the caste system in India and how it prevents MS from successfully doing their job. She explains stories of MS workers being attacked or raped by upper class caste members and having trouble trying to bring them to justice. The social class system creates a significant problem to their empowerment work.

· She argues that the overall system both empowers and control MS workers simultaneously.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

First Paper

Sean Watkins Subaltern

For the past few weeks, we have been discussing issues of subalternity and affect. I have some experience with subaltern studies, especially in terms of Spivak, but very little with affect theory. In reading for class, I have been struggling with these ideas on many levels. The main struggle, I think, is whether or not I find any of these concepts useful. Subaltern studies has a long and important history and many of the ideas dealing with representation (which I will discuss later) are useful to my dissertation, however, I am still not convinced that examining groups as if they were subaltern is really all that useful. Firstly, it seems that the status of subalternity is often placed upon groups by the academic. I find this troubling because this may limit the ways in which we study power. Homi bhabha complicates these issues with his concept of hybridity (Beverley 16), however he still works within the paradigm of the subaltern. Perhaps rather than asking, can the subaltern speak, we should ask the important question; what counts as speaking? Secondly, the subaltern moniker can be perceived as being condescending. Does anyone really want to be called the subaltern? Would I self identify as being the subaltern? To call someone subaltern is to imply that they do not have power or voice in the current systems of power and dominance. Some may say that there are obvious groups that are struggling in the neo-liberal capitalistic system, however, this assumes a great deal. If we are to use the term subaltern at all, should it be something that a group self-indentifies as? Thirdly, it seems that subaltern studies have done little to create accessible theory or practical advice to those they are studying. I am by no means an expert on subaltern studies, but I highly doubt that the unnecessarily complicated jargon of a Spivak has directly helped any marginalized groups. Perhaps she has helped to confuse many a scholar, and caused many hours of translating her ideas, but how have scholars like Spivak interacted with those they consider subaltern? How does the subaltern benefit from our scholarship? And if they don’t benefit, why do we do it? These questions and observations are only my initial feelings for subaltern studies. I am not set in stone with anything, but it seems that a lot of these questions need to be addressed in the next few weeks if I am to find these scholars directly useful. The other side of the coin, affective studies also seems to be as, if not more, confusing, but simultaneously, I find it to be almost more useful. As we have done the readings for class, I keep thinking back to a chapter I read in Parables of the Virtual. Massumi argues that we should look at modulations rather than binaries or hybridities. I find this to be a really useful way of better understanding issues of power in different texts. However, affective theory seems to have many different twists and turns without much grounding. Similarly to subaltern studies, I tend to pick and choose what fits my own work.

In examining representation of nonprofit clients, it seems that subaltern studies will be useful in terms of its own history and yet it makes me wonder if I should also be looking elsewhere for different interpretations of representation throughout the world. When I was reading John Beverely’s Subaltern and Representation: Arguments in Cultural Theory, I noticed that he had cited a lot of the same scholars that I had been using in older literature reviews of representation. Scholars like Guha, Bhabha, and Spivak used Gramsci and other western scholars to build their concepts of the subaltern. Interestingly, to contrast this with Chakrabarty’s work, there seems to be this desire to use theory that comes out of Marxist scholars, but at the same time talk about the unique situation of the Indian community. Chakrabarty’s is interested in how modernism has effected India differently than in western countries because of the long struggle between British and traditional Indian culture. In his chapter about the khadi, he argues that, while perhaps not conscious of it, Indian politicians and the public were constantly grabbling with different symbols of western (the idea of the modern politician) and Indian ideologies (specifically those that stem from Gandhi about the public nature of a politician) that are often mashed together. To Chakrabarty these tensions, I think, are important because it represents the current identities of those that live in India today. Importantly, we mustn’t forget these origins or else the Indian people will lose an important part of their identity that makes them distinct (Chakrabarty 62). These chapters made me think about talking about the subaltern from a western paradigm. While many subaltern scholars have adapted western theory under their own thoughts, perhaps we need to look at some of these symbols of power in deeper ways. Maybe we need to push ourselves to look outside of the western tradition in order to better situate the ways in which we understand the world today. This is especially important for international nonprofits because they have to deal with people from all over the world.

Works Cited

Beverley, John. Subalternity and Representation Arguments in Cultural Theory. Durham [u.a.: Duke Univ. Pr., 2004. Print.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2002. Print.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2002. Print.


Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies

Chapter 4 Khadi and the Political Man

I found this chapter to be really interesting, especially with how he talked about the deeper meaning associated with symbolic clothing. Perhaps this can be related to affect? While we may not be conscious of these meanings it is still a part of (at least a certain generation's) identity and paradigms.

· Chakrabarty is interested in examining the Indian politicians body (normally a male) and the historical background behind the construct of the body, the khadi, and modern corruption in India

· Originally, the khadi came out of Gandhi’s interest in abandoning British dress in order to claim a more Indian nationalistic feeling.

· However, he emphasizes that there are never single readings of any text and that there are long historical meanings connected to even things seemingly as simple as clothing.

· He explains a story of two Bengal Provincial congress Committee members and how one wore a stylish khadi while the other wore the khadi as a symbol of devotion to economic nationalism – the stylish one got made fun of.

· Now, the khadi represents either thoughtless habit or callous hypocrisy.

· “The khadi-clad politician is usually seen today as ‘corrupt,’ khadi itself as a dead giveaway, as the uniform of the rogue, as something like the hypocritical gesture of one who pretests too much” (53).

· If this is the only reading, than why is the khadi still so popular (or at least the color white) in India today?

· He wants to read it in another way, as if the khadi is as if it wasn’t mean to convince.

· When someone wears this clothing, they are not always aware of the meanings connected to it.

· He is interested in alternative readings of texts in order to understand the heterogeneity of cultural practices that makes Indian modernity different.

· The body was incredibly important during colonial times- there was a connection between character, the body, and modern public life.

· Physical strength was seen as important and a trait associated with British. Gandhi was even tempted into eating goat meat in order to become stronger.

· Gandhi moved the issue of character from physical strength to piousness and control of the body.

· For him, nonviolence was connected to the body. Aggression was connected to male lust, while nonviolence needed love (the destruction of self-love/sexuality).

· Ghandhi wrote the only confessional autobiography by an Indian politician.

· Rather than looking at the confessional as being the self explaining itself to an all-knowing god, Ghandi experimented, and was open and uncertain.

· He wanted to build a modern public life.

· He also shunned the idea of privacy. A politician should be open for all to see.

· “The Gandhian private is nonnarratable and nonrepresentable. Not that it doesn’t exists, but it is beyond representation, and it dies with the body itself” (62).

· There are three lines of tension – 1 – transparent government needs to both publically and privately open, 2- the moral claim to representation should go with the ideal of politics as a profession, 3- there is a tension between renunciation and capital accumulation.

· He reads the khadi as a condensed statement of the tensions between colonial modernity and capitalism.

· The khadi still represents a specific Indian modernity that is important in distinguishing it from European capitalistic ideologies.