A comparative ethnography of IKEA consumers in Stockholm and Dublin
Researcher: Pauline A. Garvey
IKEA encapsulates to an exaggerated level many of the icons of a truly modern trans-national store. It is undoubtedly global, accounting for over 253 stores in 24 countries. It was visited by over 565 million people in 2008 and has made its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, the head of a multi-billion empire. As a global organization, IKEA's success, we are told, lies not only in high-quality, low-cost sales pitch but on its insistence on centralized control, product standardization and homogeneous Scandinavian corporate culture. However unlike other many trans-national corporations and their products - the Coca Cola can, the Mc Donald's burger - it is not popularly iconic of cultural homogenization or corporate greed in quite the same way. Why?
This project focuses on local, contemporary versions of the world's largest furniture retailer. From the blue and yellow exteriors, to imported meatballs in cross-global cafes, the marketing image of the store links common icons of 'Swedishness' with a non-hierarchical, non-elitist modern solution for the purchasing masses. A recognisable theme runs through IKEA's 'vision' such as its claim to deliver democratic design at affordable prices. This vision may be experienced in contradictory ways however, espousing corporate values of rationalisation mass-production and efficiency on the one hand but given a laudable human face of Scandinavian lifestyles, Swedish modern living and practicality on the other. As shoppers labour under the inconsistencies of a particularising discourse experienced as flat-pack rationisalisation, lengthy queues, maze-like stores and frustrating re-assembly, anthropological interviews firstly question the degree to which the cultural origin of the design process makes its way from the production floor to the everyday contexts of household living spaces. By comparing Stockholm with Dublin shoppers' experience of the first store in Ireland (opened 2009), research will secondly shed light on how trans-national products are situated within local diversity. More importantly, the materialization of contested frames (such as how to be modern) or socio-political ideals (such as democratic design) is placed under analytical focus.
Photo credit: Photo: Hemmets Forskningsinstituts arkiv. *©* Nordiska museet arkiv.
Emerging Donors and the Changing Discourse and Practice of Development
Researcher: Patty Gray
In the 1990s, Russia was the recipient of development aid flowing from the U.S. and Europe; today, Russia is rapidly emerging as an international aid donor in its own right, whose legitimacy is validated by such international agencies as the OECD and the World Bank. The global configuration of donors and recipients is changing. But what does this mean for Russians in cultural terms, in social terms? Is this a purely strategic move on the part of the Russian government, or is this a new position in the world that Russians themselves will embrace? Will the leagues of aid volunteers that have for decades been circulating between the "developed" and "developing" regions of the world begin to find themselves rubbing shoulders with Russian volunteers? And how does Russia's entry into the global "club" of aid donors affect the well-worn development discourse of "global north" vs. "global south", "the west" vs. "the east", and the popular conception that aid "naturally" flows from the former to the latter?
This project investigates, from an anthropological perspective, Russia’s past and current relationship to international development aid as a cultural and social phenomenon, examining not only aid flowing into Russia (which was the dominant story of the 1990s), but aid flowing out of Russia as well (which had been common prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union). In addition, the project theoretically examines Russia’s seemingly awkward position within the development discourse of ‘global North vs. global South’ and ‘East vs. West’, drawing not only from anthropological theories but reaching across disciplinary boundaries to engage in a wide-ranging dialogue on Russia’s role in international development.
Click here for more details on this research.
Photo credit: Pierre-Louis Ronny receives medical attention from a Russian search and rescue team after being rescued from under the rubble one week after the Haitian earthquake in January 2010. 19/Jan/2010. Port-au-Prince, Haiti. UN Photo/Logan Abassi. www.un.org/av/photo/
A Biography of Khalil Ibrahim, Rebel Leader of the Justice and Equality Movement
Researcher: Abdullahi El-Tom
It is commonly accepted that war involves a radical reshaping of social relations. However, what is intriguing for anthropologists is the social dynamics that lead otherwise peaceful individuals to take up arms against the very system that they once served. It is routinely considered legitimate to unveil the process of war through an examination of such macro forces as development failure, ethnic discrimination and systemic oppression. While this approach has merit, it also frequently has the effect of obliterating the specificity of the participants as unique individuals with their own personalities, families, hopes and dreams - all of which fade into the background in the avalanche of generality. Lack of agency thus becomes a prime outcome of the analysis.
This project takes a different approach. It attempts to comprehend war through the creation of a biographical perspective on the life of one key individual, Dr Khalil Ibrahim, the current President of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the largest rebel movement in Darfur, Sudan. The project looks at the personal characteristics of Dr Ibrahim's life as a child, a camel herder, a student, a physician, a government politician, and latterly a rebel leader. To oppose a government and work for peaceful change is one thing, but to insist that such change can only come out of the barrel of a gun follows a different set of logical principles altogether. That is precisely what Dr Ibrahim has opted for and it is the emergence of this radical perspective on action that forms the focus of this exploration of war.
The project involves extended interviews with Dr Ibrahim in the war zone, in August 2009 and in Doha, Qatar, venue of the Darfur peace talks in 2010. This project is a work in progress.
Photo credit: T. Krzimar
Ethnographic Research in the Asara valley of Papua New Guinea (PNG)
Researcher: Thomas Strong
Beginning in 1998, I have conducted detailed ethnographic research in the Asaro valley of Papua New Guinea (PNG), as well as archival research on PNG colonial history in Port Moresby, Canberra, and San Diego. Like many people today, the Dano-speakers of the upper Asaro perceive their lives to be undergoing rapid social change. The social transformation exhibits ambivalent forms: signs of progress such as new roads, new technologies, and the reduction of traditional warfare coexist with signs of pathology like disease, crime, social disorder, and incipient economic inequality. People point to men's bodies as further evidence of social decay -- they claim that the present generation of men are smaller, weaker, and more fragile than the ancestors.
Far from resenting social change, however, people in the Asaro embrace it and seek to hasten its pace. 'Change' itself has become a project for them, and they seek to reinvent themselves through a panoply of innovative forms, such as new evangelical churches and new business enterprises. Like people everywhere, people in the Asaro have come to perceive themselves as having a 'culture.' Unlike people everywhere, however, they have come to regard this culture and themselves as needing dramatic reform. They thus speak in ways that belie a paradoxical relationship to their cultural traditions, ways that may surprise those who have come to see culture as a source of meaning and value or as a touchstone of identity in the modern world. The people of the Asaro not infrequently invoke their culture in starkly negative terms. They say it is 'savage,' 'dark,' 'backwards.' For them, it comprises a tradition from which they wish to escape, even as it is also that which affords a sense of self and a way of life.
Presently, I am analyzing a constellation of themes that connect the contemporary experience of people in places like Papua New Guinea's Asaro Valley with those elsewhere in the world for whom 'culture' has become a problem, a site of representation, contestation, and intervention. My research thus tracks a set of related ideas or images that have worldwide ethnographic and theoretical salience because people everywhere today are reflecting on globalization and its consequences. These ideas include loss, melancholia, nostalgia, self-abnegation, and obsolecence. Though my concern with this cluster of topics emerges from my ongoing ethnographic research in Papua New Guinea, my aim is to advance an analysis that can encompass the reappearance of these ideas in diverse cultural domains and I am presently focusing on specific sites and events that bring these dynamics into sharp focus, including post-colonial cultural policy and politics, the representation of 'indigenous' peoples in the discourse of global government, and the interface between the demands of socioeconomic development schemes and the 'backward' cultural systems they seek to supercede.
2007 "'Dying Culture' and Decaying Bodies." In Embodying Modernity and Postmodernity: Ritual, Praxis, and Social Change in the South Paciﬁc, ed. Sandra Bamford, Carolina Academic Press.
2006 "Land and Life: Some Terrains of Sovereignty in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea." Suomen Antropologi, vol. 31,
Researcher: Chandana Mathur
Chandana Mathur's research and writings on the contemporary United States, South Asia and the South Asian diaspora span a variety of concerns: from the issues facing unionised industrial workers in Indiana to the long-distance right wing religious nationalisms of South Asian diasporan communities, from comparisons of colonial systems and their legacies to the struggles of the survivors of the world's worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, India. The common thread is the perspective of anthropological political economy, the view that cultural processes in our times cannot be understood without reference to the symbols, structures and practices of contemporary capitalism.
Based on nearly two years of fieldwork in the town of Newburgh in the U.S. state of Indiana, her doctoral research addresses a series of questions about the nature of work as experienced by workers in traditional manufacturing jobs, particularly those employed locally at a plant owned by Alcoa (Aluminium Company of America), a gigantic global corporation. Touching on themes that lie tangled at the junction of social memory and history, her discussion of labour explores shifting workplace identities and the meanings that Indiana industrial workers have assigned to the reshaping of the labour process in the present era of flexible accumulation.
She is currently putting the finishing touches to a volume edited jointly with the historian Deana Heath, titled Communalism and Globalization in South Asia and its Diaspora, and due to be published by Routledge in 2010 in their book series Intersections: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (series editor: Gyanendra Pandey). Exploring the relationship between ethnonationalism (or communalism, as it is termed in the South Asian context) and the processes of globalization, the book encompasses different disciplinary and theoretical perspectives, and methodologies that range from archival to oral historical to multi-sited ethnographic research. Grounded in research based in four South Asian countries (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) and various diaspora locations, the essays in this volume have been written by some of the most notable scholars working on communalism in South Asia and its diaspora as well as a selection of challenging new voices.
A study of changing patterns of drug use
Researcher: Jamie Saris
This is a study of changing patterns of drug use in Inchicore, Rialto, and Bluebell, the areas served by the Canal Communities Local Drugs Task Force (CCLDTF), using data collected from September 2007 until the end of 2008, with some follow-up work in 2009. This report grows out of a belief within the Task Force that the ideas and structures that emerged as a response to the ‘drugs’ crisis (almost exclusively defined in terms of opiates) in the 1990s might not be as relevant as they once were to drug use today, given the area’s rapidly developing built environment, changing demographic make-up, and the sense that the younger generation has a different understanding of (and perhaps different appetites for) ‘drugs’.
The analysis is conducted through an ethnographic examination of the lives of drug-users in the Canal Communities area, alongside quantitative data that we collected and some tabulation of secondary statistics. These data are analysed together to give a sense of the issues relating to drug use and treatment in this area, as well as a feel for the experience of both drug use and drugs services.
Are biometric technologies enabling the securitization of life itself?
Researcher: Mark Maguire
Biometric security denotes the recognizing of humans on the basis of intrinsic physical or behavioural traits. Biometric systems differ from more traditional forms of security by identifying the body alongside knowledge or possession tokens, such as passwords or documents. The common recognition characteristics are the face, fingerprint or iris. However, there are ongoing developments in vascular pattern recognition, hand geometry, DNA and even body odour. Behavioural biometrics encompasses handwriting, voice and keystroke patterns, together with growing fields such as gait recognition. Since the late 1990s there has been a revolution in biometrics for primary security access and, in some cases, as replacement technologies.
Many people regard biometrics as evidence of increasing 'Big Brother' surveillance. However, my anthropological concern is to explore the cultural worlds in which security thinking and new technologies are embedded, and I am interested in how security technologies may transform people's lives.
Biometric identification became a particular scientific and governmental issue in the nineteenth century as a consequence of colonial expansion and the rise of modern cities. Colonial officials sought to use biometrics to root out fake pensioners, faked deaths, prisoners-for-hire serving a sentence handed down to one individual, and, more generally, to control a huge, seemingly undifferentiated populations. In cities such as Paris, London and San Francisco biometrics were used to identify all sorts of mobile populations, but especially the much-feared habitual criminal-the recidivist. Recidivists were conceived of as degenerates, members of the most mobile strata of the dangerous poor, people capable of appearing, disappearing and changing appearance; they were described by Parisian prosecutor Charles Bertheau as, 'habitués and prison scum, mangy black sheep that threaten the whole heard with contagion'.
My work has slowly been developing into a multi-sited project tracking developments in Europe (especially Ireland), North America and the Middle East.
For a recent scholarly article by Mark on this topic see:
Mark Maguire. (2009). 'The Birth of Biometric Security'. Anthropology Today, vol. 25, no. 2 (April): 9-14.
Or you can listen to Mark discussion biometric security with the BBC's Laurie Taylor on Thinking Allowed:
Mark Maguire. (2009). 'The Origins of Biometric Security'. Thinking Allowed with Laurie Taylor, BBC Radio 4, 15 April [10 minutes].
Mark Maguire is a Social-Cultural Anthropologist working on anthropological approaches to emergent technologies of mobility control. His early work is on violence, nationalism and memory in Ireland. More recently, he shifted towards the anthropological interface with Migration Studies. His doctoral research and book, Differently Irish, looked at Vietnamese programme refugees and is concerned with notions of belonging, 'integration' and trans-nationalism. This line of research continues into questions related to asylum and integration, especially in the IRCHSS-funded project 'After Asylum'.
HIV is mutating. Today, as anti-retroviral therapy (ART) is made available to larger numbers of persons afﬂicted with HIV, the biological and social consequences of infection are being remade.
Researcher: Thomas Strong
HIV is mutating. Today, as anti-retroviral therapy (ART) is made available to larger numbers of persons afﬂicted with HIV, the biological and social consequences of infection are being remade. As unprecendented financial resources are devoted to extending the global reach of ART and to identifying and overcoming local challenges in ART distribution and access, it becomes ever more important to describe and analyze the social ramiﬁcations of lifelong treatment for HIV. Care-givers, advocates, and the scholars who study them are often concerned with clinical issues such as compliance and larger questions such as the political economy of drug distribution. For example, according to UNAIDS, in East Africa the number of people who require treatment continues to far exceed those receiving it. Nevertheless, over 600,000 people in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania are presently receiving ART. If treatment 'scale up' and 'roll out' are successful and sustained, there will be millions of people worldwide living long-term with the virus. Complementing vital research on how organizations can deliver the medicines and care that enable survival, 'Positive Publics' asks a further question: What happens after people start surviving? What kind of social future do we imagine for the millions of people who will be living with HIV?
This is an abstract-and consequential-question. I have identiﬁed three intersecting phenomena or 'sites' where ethnographic observation and cultural analysis may give us clues to emergent futures for people with HIV: (1) prevention messages targeting people with HIV, (2) the criminalisation of HIV transmission, and (3) the preferential selection of serocondordant (HIV+) sexual and romantic partners by people with HIV. Together, these sites begin to comprise what I am calling a 'Positive Public': a type of social space or formation in which HIV+ people are reﬂexively included. Developments in each of these domains will contribute to the kind of future people with HIV hope, or fear, to inhabit: they meet where the figure of the HIV+ person stands. Thus, if Positive Publics investigates emerging types of public and the legal, clinical, mass-mediated, and everyday norms and forms through which they are elicited, crucially the project also investigates the moral and (social) scientific understanding of those meant to inhabit those social spaces. The project therefore documents and analyzes the new types of person, population, and public that responses to the epidemic are creating. In association with the Combat Diseases of Poverty Consortium, since 2009 I have been conducting exploratory field-site selection research for Positive Publics in East Africa.
Caitriona Coen, PhD in Anthropology
I am interested in the phenomenon of homeownership in Ireland; a country where historically home ownership is fundamentally important. Experiences of home have altered radically this century as the social costs of spectacular financial and property-market collapses continue to mount. How do people reengineer their lives when certainty and continuity are replaced by uncertain futures? I consider how a group of some 60 families bought their dream homes during the Celtic Tiger, only to find themselves a few short years’ later dispossessed, homeless yet still paying large mortgages. Their situation arose due to neoliberal policies, building de-regulation, and operations within local politics. They felt abandoned by the state as they they battled against a bankrupt developer, lending institutions, and an opaque judicial system.
Alex Paul O'Connell, PhD in Anthropology
I am examining the idea of 'demographic aggression': the fear that minority populations with high birth rates are purposefully procreating for political purposes. This fear extends beyond everyday concerns with population growth of 'undesirable' groups such as the working class or immigrants, adding a sense of agency that renders the threat much more potent while also presenting the 'majority' population as weak and vulnerable. I will compare Hindu nationalist and Northern Irish Protestant narratives about rising populations of Muslims and Catholics respectively, tapping into similar fears over ethnicity, demographics and agency. Both field sites have state-enshrined communal divisions and a long history of demographic tension. I want to look how these narratives are constructed, and how 'demographic aggression' is perceived and measured in both instances.
This narrative has bedevilled inter-community relations in Northern Ireland for years and communal violence in India increasingly revolves around it too. While both situations have different sources and contexts, the narrative is highly similar: a superior majority comes under threat due to their community's loss of agency and the supposedly over-fertile nature of the minority population. Fecundity is linked with political agency and a centralised and motivated threat is seen to emerge. I want to compare how both subject communities shape their threat as homogeneous, fecund and innately threatening/antagonistic. Using both archival and ethnographic data, I want to see how this 'aggression' is charted and how it progresses over the years. Having largely died out in Northern Ireland I want to see if its trajectory has any useful lessons in countering the narrative in other instances.
Diana Gouveia, PhD in Anthropology
I am interested in the anthropology of migration, the movements of peoples and the global flows of migrants. In particular, my research focuses on return migration, I am looking at Brazilian migrants in Ireland and the reintegration issues that they face upon return to Brazil. I am also interested in the anthropology of space and, social and mobility control.
Robert Power, PhD in Anthropology
My research site is in Frigiliana, Andalucía, and I am researching a new festival, el festival de las tres culturas, where they celebrate the "idea" of a tolerance narrative between Jews, Muslims and Christians in medieval Spain. I am interested in the continuities and discontinuities between real and imagined multiple historic events, and the manner in which people choose and/or exclude fragments from histories to construct/invent contemporary public cultures. The theme of this festival resonates with the notion of moral entrepreneurs that contrasts with Frigiliana's recent histories. Frigiliana lived through a civil war and its violent aftermath-the final killing was in 1952-but the silences and allegiances of the dictatorship remain today. All cultures may be seen as invented or constructed, but the mechanisms used by political regimes to violently control "suitable" forms of public cultural practice through literature, cinema and film, and the emergent forms of "virtual" public cultures and shifting hegemonies in the aftermath of dictatorship are some of the principle themes this project seeks to unpack. I am also interested in the carnivalesque orientalisation of Abrahamic religions as they impact on people who have begun to re-immigrate from Africa to this region. My research interests focus on histories, religions and nationalisms as they interplay with everyday notions of identities-either Spanish, al-Andalucian or both. This is an interdisciplinary PhD project jointly supervised by the Dr. Chandana Mathur, Department of Anthropology, and Dr. Catherine O' Leary, Department of Spanish.
Maura Parazzoli, PhD in Anthropology
At a time when much political and academic debate is centred around the supposed crisis of 'multiculturalism', often without even reaching an agreement on what is meant by this term, cultural diversity is increasingly characterising our everyday lives.
My ethnographic work is based on fieldwork in two secondary schools in Dublin 15. Only a couple of kilometres apart from one another, and both hosting an increasing migrant student population, the two schools are located in different neighbourhoods, with one in a disadvantaged and the other in a middle class residential area. The thesis analyses the two schools' inclusion strategies and looks at how integration is experienced and performed in everyday school life. Inclusion strategies, such as linguistic support, are key for the educational success of migrant students; however they are not the same in every school. School priorities differ depending on the location and the social fabric of the local neighbourhood. These differences, unfortunately, turn out to be even starker with the current economic recession.
This project examines the meaning of 'integration' and how this intersect with social class, by looking at how cultural diversity is celebrated, and managed, in different educational settings. I am also interested in migrant's cultural capital and on how this turns out to be devalued as they engage with the Irish job and housing market and, most importantly, the local educational system.
Ivo Syndicus, PhD in Anthropology
Higher education has increasingly moved into the focus of international development cooperation. At the same time, calls for the recognition of culturally distinct ways of knowing and being are voiced in post-colonial contexts. In a sense, a tension is emerging between the promise of development through education, and the idea that standard models of higher education export Eurocentric values and ways of knowing and being to other cultures. My research examines this tension through an ethnographic study of higher education at the University of Goroka in the Papua New Guinea highlands. I address the question of how actors in a tertiary educational institution reflexively locate themselves in relation to notions of development and culture. Through participant observation, life histories, interviews, and discourse analysis, I explore how subjectivities and reflexive notions of the self shape and are shaped by the experience of higher education, and how these link to images of global modernity and development that are framed as standing in tension to notions of culture. This project seeks to describe and analyze how Papua New Guineans in a modern institutional setting mediate between the putatively universalist values of higher education and development, and their own culturally diverse ways of knowing and being. I thereby draw on and bring into conversation Marilyn Strathern's theoretical perspectives on knowledge practices and personhood in Melanesia, Michel Foucault's work on the individualization of the subject, and Pierre Bourdieu's theorizations of social and cultural reproduction in education.
Amy Curran, M.A. in Anthropology of Ireland in a European and Global Context
'Still Life: And Ethnographic Study of Reborn Doll Collectors', intends to explore questions of art and agency, mothering practices, and alternative ways of imagining personhood, parenthood and relatedness through a study of the Reborn Doll collecting community. Reborn Dolls, a recent trend in the world of doll collecting, have been marketed as the most life-like and distinctive baby dolls available to hobbyists and collectors to date. These dolls have been designed specifically to be interacted with, making them unique compared with other types of dolls available to collectors. They're each hand-painted, sometimes constructed to resemble living, grown or deceased children, and sized to fit into standard baby clothing. Through ethnographic fieldwork the individual and varied experiences of collectors will be represented. The project will involve an in-depth analysis of the various meanings that can be taken from the unusual hobby. The performative nature of Reborn collecting and the relationship of the hobby to traditional gender roles and gendered play is a characteristic of Reborn collecting worth attention. In a wider context it is worth exploring the process that creates a mother figure and what symbolic elements are at play when it comes to Reborn interaction that bring up the associations. This thesis will explore the role of dolls as secondary agents and will provide both a unique perspective on the relationship between subjects and objects and rethink the role of the object within a framework that challenges previous ways of thinking about kinship, relatedness and personhood.