Saturday, December 7, 2013

‘Haruki Murakami: In Search of this Elusive Writer’.

A couple of weeks ago I read Murakami's 'Norwegian wood'  which centers around a young student Toru Watanabe dealing with social isolation in Tokyo, the loss of a close fiend and his connections with two young women.  It's a very beautiful novel. I especially enjoyed all the little humorous, emotional or salacious side stories told by Midori and Reiko that pepper the novel alongside the main plot line. It's easy to see how this novel, which is supposedly unlike his others, captured the imagination of Japanese youth in the 'lost decade'.  Anyways, I found this BBC documentary about the author and I thought I would share it here. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Corrective Rape of black lesbian women in Post-Apartheid South Africa.

Muholi,Z. 2004, ‘Aftermath’. (Appendix 1)
The following article is a guest post by Fadi Baghdadi (contactable: here) , a PhD candidate at The University of Sydney’s Department of Sociology and Social Policy.  Baghdadi’s honours thesis explored the meanings Muslims women attribute to Islamic dress and Islamic gender relations in an Australian context. His current research is concerned with exploring how Lebanese Migrants have been effected by and negotiate space-time in regional Australia.  The article bellow is an analysis of the social imaginaries that collide in the practice of  'corrective' rape in South Africa and related issues of symbolic power and violence.

Symbolic violence and power coincide within the evolving structures of social imaginaries. This paper will explore various incidences of ‘corrective’ rape in post-apartheid South Africa. The manifestation of violence that is enacted will be shown to embody symbolic power in a homophobic form. The misappropriation of symbolic power will be investigated in order to explore how it acts to both police and protect current social orders. These orders will be shown to incorporate the imaginaries that encapsulate ideas of race, gender and sexuality in post-apartheid South Africa. The deviance from the path these orders set will be understood in terms of their connection to the colonial past of South Africa and the current identity it propagates. Variance in the forms of rape, specifically its location in a public space and the collective nature of gang rape, will be examined. Furthermore, the classification of corrective rape as an abject form of violence will be shown to have merit. This theoretical framework will be further utilised to elucidate a photographic interpretation of the consequent trauma. Concurrently, this trauma facilitates the construction of a new social imaginary. The subsequent clash of imaginaries that proceeds will be explored. Thus, the nexus that exists between imaginaries will be understood within the misappropriation of symbolic power that ensues. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

'The Medium is the Message'

Marshall Mcluhan on an Australian television program discussing the affect of different forms of communication (television, radio and print) on the structure of human awareness.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Discerning Knowers On The Eternal Cloud.

I’ve previously mentioned the existence of my honours thesis (here, here and here) and the possibility that I might place it in the eternal cloud known as the internet. Well I've finally gotten around to doing just that and you can find Discerning Knowers: An Exploratory Study of University Students’ Perceptions of Knowledge Claims: here.  To get an idea of what it's all about, the abstract is as follows:
The thesis is centred on how University students perceive the legitimacy of knowledge claims.  Contemporary sociological theory is often concerned with the transformations associated with the emergent “knowledge economy” and “knowledge society”. In view of this, University students’ perception of knowledge claims is of practical concern due to their future role as knowledge-workers and potential members of the power elite.  To address these issues, elements of Social Realism, Legitimation Code Theory and Systemic Functional Linguistics have been drawn on to conceptualize language, knowledge claims and the organizing principles of their contextual use.  The main conclusion drawn in this research is that University students have a nuanced understanding of the forms knowledge claims that can be legitimately employed in divergent contexts; thereby positioning themselves with respect to the context and negatively evaluating types of knowledge claims inappropriately employed.
The citation for the thesis in a bibliography should look something like this:

Toll, M.,  (2012), Discerning Knowers: An exploratory study of university students’ perceptions of knowledge claims, Honours thesis, Dept of Sociology & Social Policy, University of Sydney, Australia.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Focus Groups: Research Design, Limitations and Potential.

Robert K. Merton
The focus group has been employed extensively in market research since the late 1940s, from the 1990s it has been increasingly readopted in social science research as an important qualitative research method (Wilkinson, 1998).  Hyden and Bulow (2003, p. 306), in a database search of ‘Psychinfo’,  found nine hundred articles using the keyword ‘focus group’ and almost a third of the articles were published after 1998 indicating a rapid growth of research utilizing the method.  The increased use of focus groups has been accompanied by the elaboration of methodological concerns unique to focus groups and the proliferation of focus group designs based on the research objective of a specific project.   Focus groups are a qualitative research method, and therefore subject to methodological issues that affect qualitative methodologies in general, however focus groups entail further issues of project level design, group level design and unit of analysis not encountered by other research methods (Morgan, 1996; Hyden and Bulow, 2003).  The limitations of focus group research has been both derided,  on the basis that the data obtained has little external validity or reproduces normative discourses, and valorised for providing new insight into social interaction and opinion formation amongst groups of individuals, thus redefining apparent methodological limitations as potential strengths   (Folch-Lyon and Trost, 1981; Smithson, 2000).  Discussion of focus group methods benefits from defining its relation to qualitative methodology more broadly, and qualitative methodology counterpoised with quantitative methodology to highlight points of contradistinction that inform focus groups alongside other qualitative methods.   Once this has been outlined, the distinctive features of focus groups can be more adequately dealt with and the questions of project-level design, group-level design and unit of analysis can be evaluated for its impact on data collection through to data analysis.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mere Atheism; Or, You Can’t Justify Your Teapot.

There is a scene in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 where the Chaplin is being interrogated about the theft of Major Major’s correspondence and is asked by a C.I.D. officer about his religious persuasion.  The Chaplin declares himself an Anabaptist, which the officer finds a little suspicious: “Chaplin, I once studied Latin.  I think it’s only fair to warn you of that before I ask my next question. Doesn’t the word Anabaptist simply mean that you’re not a Baptist?”

The Chaplin protests, but the officer pushes the point “are you a Baptist?”, “no sir”, “than you are not a Baptist, aren’t you?” Defined by an absence of belief, the C.I.D. officer credits the Chaplin with certain malicious actions against the war effort.  Atheists often find themselves in a similar situation to the Chaplin, defined by an absence of belief. Theists and religious apologists infer ex nihlo that atheists hold a series of positive beliefs that have no necessary connection to the position of atheism, often the notion that “something came from nothing” or that in the absence of god “anything is permissible”. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Karen Armstrong on Women and Islam.

Karen Armstrong, in Islam: A Short History, summaries the condition of women within early Islam and the quranic prescriptions on gender relations:  
“The emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet’s heart. The Quran gave women rights of inheritance and divorce centuries before Western women were accorded such status. The Quran prescribes some degree of segregation and veiling for the Prophet’s wives, but there is nothing in the Quran that requires the veiling of all women or their seclusion in separate part of the house. These customs were adopted some three or four generations after the Prophet’s death.  Muslims at that time were copying the Greek Christians of Byzantium, who had long veiled and segregated their women in this manner; they also appropriated some of their Christian misogyny.  The Quran makes men and women partners before god, with identical duties and responsibilities. The Quran also came to permit polygamy; at a time when Muslims were being killed in wars against Mecca, and women were left without protectors, men were permitted to have up to four wives provided that they treated them all with absolute equality and show no signs of favouring one rather than the others. The women of the first ummah in Medina took full part in its public life, and some, according to Arab custom, fought alongside the men in battle.  They did not seem to have experienced Islam as an oppressive religion, though later, as happened in Christianity, men would hijack the faith and bring it into line with the prevailing patriarchy.” (p, 14.)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Night of the World.

The other day I watched Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Žižek's  The Pervert's Guide to Cinema and one moment that caught my attention was when Žižek discussed the Hegelian notion of "the nigh of the world".   I had never heard of this before so I when online and tracked it down, here is the crucial passage:
"The human being is this Night, this empty nothing which contains everything in its simplicity – a wealth of infinitely many representations, images, none of which occur to it directly, and none of which are not present. This [is] the Night, the interior of [human] nature, existing here – pure Self – [and] in phantasmagoric representations it is night everywhere: here a bloody head suddenly shoots up and there another white shape, only to disappear as suddenly. We see this Night when we look a human being in the eye, looking into a Night which turns terrifying. [For from his eyes] the night of the world hangs out toward us". -  Hegel, The Philosophy of Spirit (Jena Lectures 1805-6).

This passage is often interpreted as a statement of the 'radical negativity' of the human psyche.  I can see a kind of poetic appeal, if not anti-poetic appeal in this idea.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thesis Acknowledgement.

I printed off a copy of my honours thesis, Discerning Knowers: An Exploratory Study of University Students' Perceptions of Knowledge Claims,  today with a view to reread it and give it a final edit before I let people read it (and to see if I can get a research paper or two out of it). I thought I'd take a picture of the acknowledgement page and post it up here in appreciation of those who, though named and nameless, know who they are.  For those who can't make the snapshot out (click on it to expand it), it reads:

"I would like to thank Albert Camus for letting me know: if there is a sin against the thesis, it lies perhaps less in despairing of the thesis as in hoping for another thesis, and in evading the implacable grandeur of the thesis we have.   Or perhaps he meant life, I can’t quite remember.
I would also like to thank the proof readers, participants, fellow honours’ students, supportive friends and family, and my supervisor Dr Karl Maton."
I was in a rush to the finish line when I wrote the acknowledgement.  I thought about adding a thank you to the musicians and bands that provided the soundtrack to the thesis writing and the cafes along Glebe Point Road that I sat in fretting over open books and my laptop. So, in that spirit,  I would like to acknowledge The Rolling Stones, The Smiths, Chopin and Nick Drake; and the staff at Well Connected and Sappho books, Cafe and Wine Bar.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Further Observations on Human Rights as 'Western Values'.

Around two years ago I wrote an essay Human Rights and Cultural Relativism and I wanted to write up some  follow up observations on the issue of ‘universality’ and  ‘culture relativism’ since I’ve been reading Geoffrey Robertson’s Crimes Against Humanity: The Struggle for Global Justice

Robertson’s book provides a history of the development of human rights from the Magna Carta to contemporary international treaties and supernational institutions. In the course of this history he frequently comments on issues of cultural relativity and how Authoritarian regimes in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – not to mention democratic Western states - have appealed to distinct cultural and religious traditions to excuse the violation of human rights.  This trend is exemplified, most shockingly, by recent attempts to enact anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda, that seem to come straight out of the book of Leviticus, a piece of scripture that literally proscribes the death-penalty for homosexual activity.  Advocates have justified the proposed law on the basis of a distinct  African culture and  set of sexual mores.  

When I wrote the original essay, organized around the question of whether human rights could be described as a ‘Western’ construct, I focused on the development of civil and political rights in the 17th and 18th century Europe and North America and how the same treats to human dignity embodied in the nation-state and capitalism that had inspired the conception of inalienable  rights had reached a level of global ubiquity that necessitated the universal application of human rights to combat those same treats.  I concluded that whilst human rights had their origin in Western thought and were necessitated by the social and political forces of Western modernity, the extension of those same forces gave human rights a kind of functional universality that didn’t require the acceptance of a theory of universal human nature, that is, the acceptance of a particular theory of ontological or anthropological universals to underpin human rights claims.   I still maintain that this is more or less the case.

Despite this, there have been objections to universal human rights based on the notion that human rights are falsely cosmopolitan and embody Western cultural values.   In my essay I suggested that non-western human rights organization that highlight the abuse of human rights by Western powers signaled the appeal of human rights beyond the supposed European and North American spheres of ethnocentrism.   

Yet in the mid-1990s the notion that Asia had a unique set of “Asian values” that are not equivalent to the ‘Western values’ of human rights came to the fore supported by the leaders of several Asian authoritarian governments. It was  said that  Asia’s cultural affinity with ‘collectivism’ as opposed to the West’s ‘individualism’ meant that social harmony was prioritized over the rights and dignity of the individual that are central to human rights.  Since the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 the economic success of these governments declined, which has seen a backlash from human rights activists and movement towards more democratic governments that honour human rights that would seem to undermine the notion of 'Asian values'.

Robertson draws on an interesting historical episode to subvert the notion that human rights are an exclusively Western preoccupation -without denying of course that, yes, some cultural traditions are incompatible with human rights - namely the drafting process for the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Although decolonization had only just commenced during the drafting process of the Declaration significant contribution were made by non-western countries.  At the time, the general assembly consisted of 56 state of which 14 states were  from Asia, 20 from Latin America and 4 from Africa. Though the liberal states of Western Europe and the U.S.A. had originally advocated the inclusion of only civil and political rights in the Declaration,  a coalition of developing nations supported first by Australia among Western nations  pushed for the inclusion of social, economic and cultural rights. These are 'second generation rights' informed by social democratic and socialist ideas, that move the conception of human rights beyond those rights envisioned by classical liberals. In Isaiah Berlin's terms, this was a movement from the inclusion of rights defined by negative liberty, freedom from interference, to the inclusion of rights based on positive liberty or freedom to self-realization. Thus, from the important contributions of non-western countries to the founding document of contemporary human rights Robertson concluded:

 [t]here is little historical merit in the criticism raised decades later, that the Universal Declaration embodies only liberal Western values. On the contrary, it vouchsafed economic, social and cultural rights of enormous importance to developing countries. 

The conception of human rights offered in the Universal Declaration is not the exclusive product of Western states and their values; but includes the contribution of several non-western states which campaigned  for and attained an expansion of the concept of human rights beyond the civil and political rights of classical liberalism. This seems to weaken recent arguments that human rights are distinctly Western and are therefore not applicable to non-western societies.

Written by Mathew Toll.