All posts by Focaal Web Editor

Flávio Eiró: On Bolsonaro: Brazilian democracy at risk

Picture a street handcraft market in a touristic village called Porto de Galinhas in Pernambuco, Northeast Region of Brazil. A few days before the second round of the 2018 presidential elections on 28 October, I observed the following conversation on the market.

“You can vote for him, don’t worry, he won’t kill gay people,” says a local 50-year-old addressing a couple of openly gay, young, black men wearing tight shorts and colorful shirts. They reply: “Yes, he will, Bolsonaro will kill gay people.” While the young men walk away, the Bolsonaro supporter keeps trying to convince them, half-laughing, half-serious, stating that his candidate is not as bad as some people have been arguing. “No, he won’t . . .” he says, “and don’t worry, because if he does kill gays, the environmental agency will come after him—after all, they are animals under risk of extinction!”

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Oana Mateescu: The Romanian family referendum: Or, how I became a sexo-Marxist

“By the way, Russia had the first sexual revolution. Lenin was a big homosexual; as for Karl and Marx, I think they were together. But they realized on their own it was going nowhere.”
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On 6 and 7 October 2018, in what has become known as the family referendum, some Romanians voted on changing the definition of marriage in the Constitution, from the union between two spouses to that between man and woman. Many more Romanians abstained or actively boycotted the referendum with the felicitous result of only 21.1 percent participation, not even close to the 30 percent threshold required for validation. What are the stakes? As Cristian Lungu, senator and president of the center-right PMP Cluj (People’s Movement Party) summarizes tendentiously, the referendum is all about “reclaiming our country from the grip of the neo-Marxist–progressive–anarchist revolution that promotes moral, cultural relativism and gender ideology.”[2] His is only one of many voices on the Right identifying the referendum with a bid for independence, national sovereignty, and desirable distance from an EU steeped into the sins of liberalism and relativism. It’s no wonder that this referendum provided a domestic opening for the first public grumblings about a possible ROEXIT.

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Thomas Strong: Dispossession as historical allegory: Observing Dublin’s housing crisis

In Dublin today, an intensifying housing crisis is provoking a dramatic public response. Activists, spearheaded by groups like Dublin Central Housing Action, occupy empty properties, draping banners from windows sarcastically proclaiming “10,000 welcomes from 10,000 homeless.” They organize tenants to contest illegal evictions, door knocking in neighborhoods where renters are precariously subject to landlord whim. They research property registers and records, and in guerilla blogs such as “Slumleaks,” they shine a light on negligent landlords who hoard properties and leave them derelict. They march through historic city streets—canyons of Georgian brick and wet pavement—disrupting traffic and chanting, “Housing is a human right.”

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Massimiliano Mollona: Authoritarian Brazil redux?

On Sunday, 7 October, the Brazilian people will go to the polls to elect their next president. There has never been such a dramatic election since 15 January 1985, when Brazil returned to the polls after 20 years of dictatorship (1964–1985)—although voting took place still within the electoral college system put in place during the dictatorship. Following the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff two years ago (which Alfredo Saad-Filho described as a “coup”) and a chaotic interregnum led by the corrupted Michel Temer (PMDB)—who nonetheless was very effective in curbing workers’ rights by amending part of the famously pro-labor Consolidated Labour Laws, regularizing outsourcing, and cutting workers’ pensions—the future of Brazilian democracy hangs in the balance. Much of it will be decided at the polls.

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Vlad Schüler-Costa: Academic precarity and the false coin of our own dreams

A specter haunted EASA2018—the specter of precarity. Like a “frightful hobgoblin” (that, one could argue, is a more suitable, if inaccurate, translation of Marx’s Gespenst), it appeared in some instances as an explicit, publicly acknowledged political program (on some panels and the ending plenary) and, at other times, stashed away in the interstitches of the conference program (on #HOWtalk and #PrecAnthro lunchtime discussions, or the myriad of corridor chats that could be overheard during the conference).

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Bruce Kapferer: The Hau complicity: An event in the crisis of anthropology

Hau is a phenomenon. It burst on the scene of the relatively small academic scholarly world of anthropology capturing scholars from around the globe into its spirit. Hau rapidly established itself as a premier journal in the discipline with an increasing defining role for anthropology. It was becoming a power in the field legitimating reputations and concerned with building them. Perhaps most surprising (but less so on reflection) was the speed of its ascent within the academic community largely through the efforts of its inspiration, the founding editor whose journey describes a kind of Rake’s Progress (or threatens to do so). The ambiguities and hesitancies in defense and attack, reported injuries, moral ire that are surrounding the characterization of his alleged behavior refracts critical features of Hau’s rise and not least the complicity, intentional or otherwise, of those who aided and abetted the rise of Hau (David Graeber’s public confession being an egregious example). The whole sad story (in some ways reflecting the current tragedy of anthropology as a discipline) manifests the sociopolitical crisis affecting global realities that has particular effect and expression in the plight of Hau. The progress of Hau embodies a critical moment perhaps a turning point in the history of the discipline that is not reducible to the responsibility of the editor (although he might be described as anthropology’s Trump), regardless of the fact that so much blame seems to be piling up around his feet (see also Kalb, Murphy, and Neveling on Focaalblog).

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Fiona Murphy: When gadflies become horses: On the unlikelihood of ethical critique from the academy

Something smells of bullshit. It has for a long time. Caught in the spectacular entanglements of the neoliberal university, academic work is being actively “bullshitized.” Audit cultures, the intensification of administrative duties, the politics of intellectual egos and academic “assholery,” hierarchical academic freedoms, an exploitative publishing industry, and an increase in zero-hour contracts means the precariat of academia are subject to the combination of some very particular horrors. So, something does indeed smell of bullshit. It will, no doubt, linger long in the gloaming of too many precarious academic careers. These inequalities and exploitative practices are the buttresses upon which some contemporary successful academic careers are built, at the expense of others, gadflies turned horses. The key to the ivory tower has been hidden away—with only academic “elites” and senior university management remaining inside—all others must wade knee-deep through work-practice bullshit, deprived of labor dignity, equality, and solidarity.

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Don Kalb: HAU not: For David Graeber and the anthropological precariate

When HAU was launched, my grad students at Central European University were celebrating. Open access! Finally, a breach in the wall that separated the haves from the have-nots. Their local universities in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe hardly had the resources to pay for these Western journals offered at extortionate prices by the likes of Elsevier, Springer, Oxford, Chicago. Indeed, even CEU did not have sufficient means to pay all the subscriptions that scholars were asking for. Now the have-nots would finally have unlimited access. More, the HAU journal preached what it imagined itself to embody: self-conscious intellectual revolution in the apparently newly found horizontalist mode: Occupy anthropology! For the intellectual assertion of the commons! My rightly rebellious students loved it. And went on producing some great open access undertakings—but not in academia—that helped to feed the ongoing mobilizations in their countries (most prominently: They had all my support while we continued to disagree about HAU.

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