Archive for October, 2009

Michael Benedict Proektik

I just looked in my spam folder for comments. It turns out some of them are fairly hilarious. A selection:

“Benedict, it is a great post thanks for posting it!”

“Michael, a very interesting post thanks for writing it!

“There proektik (completely Russian-speaking) on the domain. Net. All search engines normally eaten, except Yasha. Even his hands already have entered it in webmaster and any success. Perhaps this is due to the fact that domain. Net???

And, my personal favourite:

“How much money should I have saved for a cross country road trip?”

Thesis idea…

Here is a letter that I wrote for my OGS application. It may not be exactly what I end up doing for my thesis, but I am presenting it here anyway.

2010-11 Ontario Graduate Scholarship – Statement of Interest

My Master’s work will study the changing relationship between Canadian immigration policy and Mexican migrants, including non-status labourers and refugee claimants. In April of 2009 in southern Ontario several workplace raids, of an unusually aggressive nature, were carried out by the Canadian Border Services Agency, targeting (mostly) Mexican illegal workers. Soon after, in July, Canada imposed strict visa requirements on all Mexicans travelling to Canada, allegedly to combat the high volume of fraudulent Mexican refugee claims. My study asks the questions: what are the personal narratives of the Mexicans that are being targeted by these policy changes, and what threat are these Mexicans posing to the Canadian state that requires their removal or denial from Canada?

A fundamental aspect of my work will be the gathering of accounts of the deportation process from the perspective of deportees. In order to carry out my study I plan to use my existing connections with Mexican refugee communities in Toronto as well as my previous experiences in Mexico and Central America. These will allow me to connect with interviewees in Canada (pre-deportation, if possible) and in Mexico (post-deportation). My ability to speak Spanish and experience working with marginalized groups will allow me to network successfully, and to conduct interviews personally.

The goal of these interviews is to gather qualitative information on the life stories and situations of Mexican deportees. This information will contribute to ongoing and lively debates in the academic realm between, for example, economists like Don DeVoretz who emphasize the value of immigration policy as an economic tool (e.g. to control labour surpluses and shortages), and citizenship theorists like Peter Nyers and Jenny Burman who see current Canadian deportation policy as divisive to communities and harmful to the vitality of Canadian society. For the purposes of my MA studies, my research will provide me with a basis for engaging with the question of why Mexican illegal workers are being removed and refugees restricted, and whether this is in the interest of the Canadian state and its citizens.
I believe that the Frost Centre for Canadian and Indigenous Studies at Trent University is an excellent location to carry out my project. The interdisciplinary nature of the Centre will aid in my understanding of complex, dynamic concepts like citizenship, race, culture as they interplay with migration issues. Additionally, my access to the guidance of Davina Bhandar, a leading Canadian scholar in critical citizenship and race theory will be invaluable.

Learning from Mexican deportees about how they were treated, why they feel they were deported, and the conditions to which they were returned allows us not only to put a human face on policy outcomes, but it forces us to question whether we are comfortable with the effects that our policies are having on other people’s lives.

Iroqouis Confederacy, Black Elk, and Keith Basso

In the course on Indigenous history/philosophy that I am taking we have read in three different areas so far. The first week, we read about the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) system of government, also known as the great binding law. Some scholars trace the founding document of their Confederacy (between 5 nations, now 6) back to the year 1142. I’m not sure what I have to say about the document itself, other than that it is very detailed, and contains a number of checks and balances to ensure smooth and equitable relations between the nations of the confederacy.

That week we also read about Handsome Lake, a Seneca religious figure from the late 18th/early 19th century. After a life of alcohol abuse lack of personal fulfilment, near death, he had a vision, which inspired a new religion called Gaiwiio. This religion was/is basically Christian in content, though it sees European Christians as corrupted largely as a result of the evils that they brought to and encouraged in the “New World.” The movement helped to ensure the survival of Iroquois traditions and values (albeit with a new Christian dimension) in the face of increasing alcoholism linked to the pressures of expanding white settlement. The religion is still prominent within several six nations communities to this day.

More interesting, to me at least on a personal level, was the reading from this week (now last week), a book called Wisdom Sits in Places, by Keith Basso. Where to begin…Basically Basso is a white ethnographer (anthropologist) who spent many years living with the Western Apaches around a town called Cibecue. Over the course of his time there he discovered that the Apaches some different ideas about wisdom and its relationship to “the land.” I want to get this post done now, so I will summarize. Basically the Apache’s attach descriptive names to specific places. These names evoke a story, and this story will have some moral wieght to it. So, if someone is acting out and the community needs to remind him or her of the community’s values, they would just say the name of a place to that person, for example, Tree-by-water-over-rocks. Then that person will think of the story attached to that place, and hopefully remedy his/her actions appropriately. Not only this, but whenever the person is near Tree-by-water-over-rocks in the future she will remember her previous indiscretion. An interesting aspect though is that the stories of places are believed to be sacred in a way because when you tell a story you are imagining yourself in the place where ancestors would have experienced the story originally and using the words that they would have used to describe the event, thus you are in a way channeling the ancestors. Also, because if you are reprimanded by a place-name-story you see it there for the rest of your life, and so they refer to stories as “stalking” or hunting people, because they follow you around for the rest of your life. Also, the title of the book “wisdom sits in places” refers to the way in which community members can achieve wisdom, namely by learning the names-stories of many many places and being able to call up appropriate stories, and thus the wisdom of the ancestors. This can give wise people predictive abilities. More importantly, the connection between place-name-stories and wisdom, shows the literal connection between community knowledge and physical places. I am not capturing very well the essence of the concept, but people can borrow the book from me if they want to learn more…

Who is the new Citizen? Towards a Genealogy – by Engin Isin

This article, from Citizenship Studies (vol. 1 no. 1), is definitely one of the more broadly interesting articles i’ve read so far. Essentially, Isin’s project is to trace a genealogy, as opposed to a history, of citizenship. A Genealogy is distinct from a history because while a history looks at the content and extent of citizenship (i.e. who has had citizenship rights and obligations, and what have been these rights and obligations), a genealogy of citizenship looks at the context within which citizenship has come in and out of existence over the course of human history.

Isin traces some of the historical incidences of citizenship, including in Greece, Rome, Medieval cities, and in modern nation-states. In all of these, starting with Greece, the emergence of citizenship essentially involved some form of class struggle in order to break the absolute dominance of Kings, the Church, Emperors, etc. thereby earning certain rights and obligations as citizens (As opposed to just subjects). In ancient Greece, there emerged a warrior class. Where, previously, Kings had an an absolute monopoly on the means of warfare (i.e. training, and equipment), the warrior/knight class broke this monopoly by being able to train and arm themselves, and then basically selling their services to the King in return for a say in the running of the kingdom.

In Rome, as in Greece, a class of people, the patricians, arose who were able to control the means of warfare, and thereby gain the status of citizen. Over the course of a couple hundred years, another class, the plebians (essentially artists, craftsmen, and small farmers) were also able to gain the status of citizen, which distinguished them from an even lower class of slaves, serfs, and aliens. Then, as the republic fell apart, all of these rights and responsibilities also fell apart.

In medieval city-states a similar process unfolded with the gradual emergence of citizenship rights first for aristocracy and then for the plebes. City-states were eventually taken over by kingships, which then evolved into modern nations, etc. And then?

In the modern period (basically since the French revolution), citizenship was tied closely to the ownership of property, as in the ownership of property was a requirement for citizenship. Eventually, with the rise of the working class and the middle class, the world wars, etc., citizenship became (more) universal, as in all that was required to have it was to have been born in the country or to have become naturalized. So where does that leave us now?

The last twenty years or so and the dismantling of the welfare state, and the increasing pressures of globalization challenge the concept and the worth of traditional ideas of citizenship rights; being able to vote and have the right to a certain amount of collective provision of welfare is no longer a guarantee of a good life. Or rather, more in line with Isin’s genealogy project, citizenship is no longer a guarantee of influence in the mechanisms and powers that influence the structure of the socioeconomic realm and the division of wealth. Put another way, universal citizenship has done little to mediate the gross disparity in the division of wealth that we have witnessed in the last 20 years. So, if it is no longer political, social, and civil citizenship rights that give one power and influence, what is it? Isin proposes that it is cultural property (knowledge, accreditation, skills, and rank) that enables power and influence. Quoting Isin at length:

Since 1945 the rise of professional occupations has been quite dramatic in modern western societies: in addition to ‘old’ professions such as law andmedicine, new occupations such as engineering, research, journalism, planning,advising, policy, consulting, writing, management, administration, adjudication,negotiation, advertisement, inspection, investigation, imagineering, and caring
have become important means through which individuals seek to augment their wealth, gain status, and exercise power. Unlike nobility (land), labour (wage) or bourgeoisie (money), the new class is made up of career hierarchies of specialized members ostensibly selected by merit and based on a trained expertise. The members of the new class receive a monetary compensation in the form of a
salary, yet the salary is not measured like a wage in terms of work done, but according to the status and position of the member, determined by rank. Today, except for those who inherit capital, the only legitimate avenue open to wealth,status and power is to become a member of the new class.

So, being fully invested in said avenue to power and influence, I’m not sure what to say…

T.H. Marshall, the welfare state, and citizenship

A theme in the readings from the first week of the class called “Critical Perspectives on Citizenship” was the ideas of T.H. Marshall. Basically, Marshall describes the welfare state as having come out of a progression of rights, starting with civil rights (to own property, equal treatment under the law, etc.) in the 18th century, then political rights (to vote, run for office, etc.) in the 18th century, and finally social rights (the right to demand certain provisions from government, i.e. welfare) in the 20th century. The climax of this progression is what Marshall calls ’social citizenship,’

Marshall can be situated/explained in part by looking at the time at which he was writing, the post war era, when the UN, human rights, bigger social programs in Europe and other places, etc. were all at their apex. In the last 20 years neoliberal ideology has taken over, with a corresponding decline in the rights associated with social citizenship, namely the right to the collective provision of a certain level of basic needs. Janine Brodie in ‘The Social in Citizenship’ (ch. 2 of a book called __),  describes how Marshall’s description of ‘the social’ as only reaching existence /importance in the 20th century is false. Rather the social, or rather “social problems” really came into existence in the 19th century as fissures in society opened up due to the explosion of capitalism and the “industrial revolution,” creating a poor class (=lumpenproletariat?). This process is described most well/famously by two thinkers, one of whom I am already very fond of, and the other I am coming to appreciate immensely: Karl Polanyi and Michel Foucault.

So, the neoliberal destruction of ’social citizenship,’ through the so-called ‘hand up vs hand out’ approach (also called entrepreneurial citizenship) applies market values to all social institutions and actions, creating a situation where, “citizens are released from social entitlements and obligations as they maximize their choice and capacities for self-sufficiency.” (41) Neoliberals do this in a number of basically sneaky ways, culminating in the goal of “individualization.” Individualization, “places steeply rising demands on people to find personal causes and responses to what are, in effect, collective social problems.” Thereby, “responsibility for social crises that find their genesis in such macro processes as structural unemployment, racism, or unequal gender orders is put onto the shoulders of individuals.” (41)

So, and this is basically what Polanyi describes, the neo/liberals and neoconservatives are attempting to subordinate the social to the economic, a task that is, in my opinion and Polanyi’s (at least), doomed to eventual failure.

Thats it on this for now.

What I learned in school today….

I am about to embark on an attempt (I say attempt because it will almost surely fail, at least in part) to document some of the things I am learning through the MA in Canadian and Indigenous Studies that I recently started at the Frost Centre at Trent University. I have been doing what I consider to be heaps of reading, and to my delight they are almost all very interesting and, I would say, not unrelated to my (undergraduate) interests in philosophy and politics.

Here we go…

Capital by Michael Moore

Last night I saw Capital, Michael Moore’s new film. Like his other films, this one jumped around frequently, I assume as a tactic to keep viewers’ interest. Moore’s basic thesis is “Capitalism is bad,” not a very refined thesis, but he doesn’t present a very refined argument. While he does spend some time presenting the basic tenants of Capitalism (free enterprise, free market, etc), Moore’s main focus throughout is really on the deregulation of the financial system since Reagan. (There is an article/book by Thomas Frank on this very topic in an issue of Harper’s magazine.) As such, he spends lots of time connecting the dots between the bad mortgage crisis last fall and the politicians and lobbyists in Washington who made literally millions and millions of dollars off of it and then bailed themselves out with public money when it went sour. He makes his argument not so much through stats, reason, or logic (though there is some of this), but through a series of anecdotal stories of the struggles of real people (family in Peoria, MI who lost their home to rising mortgage payments, workers in a window and door factory who after the factory closes stage a prolonged sit down until their back wages are paid, etc.). I don’t at all mean to sound derisive of this approach. I think it is valuable not only for its effectiveness, but also for its refusal to play by the established (or establishment) rules of how you are supposed to present an argument and to whom you are supposed to go to for evidence (surely, not the people themselves). In this way it reminds me of Zinn’s approach to “the people’s history.”

Moore also, as in other films of his, makes some sweeping comparisons between the USA (failing, foolish) and the EU and Japan (utopian, enlightened), and eventually eases his audience towards the use and possible understanding of the dreaded “S word”. The film culminates in a Moore’s plea to his fellow Americans to join him in the struggle for…Democracy! But for those of us disappointed with his last-second lack of courage to proclaim what he really wants us to struggle for, the closing music takes the form of a bizarre, big band version of the Internationale, further evidence of what Moore really meant to say.