Activist-in-Residence at CARE: A collaboration with Dr. Sue Bradford

CARE is delighted to share our upcoming inaugural collaboration with activist-in-residence Dr. Sue Bradford at Massey University. She will collaborate with CARE on re-imagining academic-activist linkages and co-produce a white paper with Prof. Mohan Dutta during her residency.

Dr. Bradford has a lifelong background in street and community activism, and is a mother of five. Much of her work has been in unemployed  workers’ and beneficiaries’ organisations. She was a Green Member of Parliament for ten years (1999-2009) before going on to undertake a PhD  in public policy with Marilyn Waring at AUT, graduating in 2014.

During her time with CARE, as an activist she will deliver a public talk, conduct a workshop on a method of  social change communication, and collaborate with the CARE team on developing a white paper.

Dr. Bradford has a particular interest in the interface between radical community development, activism and the role of academics and universities. She is always searching for ways in which these spaces can be more productively navigated than is often the case.

She currently works for Kotare Research and Education for Social Change in Aotearoa Trust as well as picking up various speaking and writing engagements.

 

For more media articles on Sue Bradford click on the url link

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@CAREMassey

Colonialism, Whiteness, and free speech: Power and the erasure of voice

The colonial roots of the modernist framework of free speech is embedded in hegemonic constructions of civility.

Inherent historically in the idea of free speech is the marking of communicative space, shaped in the ambits of colonial power.

Free speech and colonialism are co-constitutive.

The freedom to speak historically belonged to the White colonial master, even as the colonized were systematically and often violently erased from the spaces and sites of articulation. Marked as the “other” of civility, the colonized belonged outside the public sphere, outside the domains of civil society.

White colonial societies reproduced the image of the primitive savage to erase colonized voices even as they celebrated emancipatory ideas of free speech.

The freedom of speech thus was a privilege of White colonialists while colonized savages, the other of modernity, were systematically erased from spaces of participation. As colonized voices started emerging in resistance, the colonialists reproduced laws of sedition that marked the colonized as terrorist, as threat to the security of the colonial occupation. This communicative inversion is fundamental to the modernist production of free speech.

The White colonial history of free speech continues to play out in contemporary contexts of settler colonialism and indigenous resistance to settler colonialism.

While indigenous resistance that fundamentally resists ongoing forms of colonial occupation continue to be marked as criminal, White colonialists deploy the trope of free speech to denigrate indigenous culture, language, and ways of life. Inherent in the deployment of free speech is the play of power.

This interplay of free speech and White settler colonialism is in display in the recent unfolding of the free speech debate at Massey University.

When the Massey University Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas cancelled a speaking event by the opposition politician Don  Brash citing concerns over security, the University came under attack for the apparent violation of the principle of free speech.

In her response, Professor Thomas reiterated the security concerns for the University, and also noted:

“Mr Brash’s leadership of Hobson’s Pledge and views he and its supporters espoused in relation to Māori wards on councils was clearly of concern to many staff, particularly Māori staff…In my opinion, the views expressed by members of Hobson’s Pledge come dangerously close to hate speech. They are certainly not conducive with the university’s strategy of recognising the values of a Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation.”

Subsequently, internal emails secured through the Official Information Act by blogger David Farrar seem to suggest that Thomas didn’t want “a Te Tiriti led university be seen to be endorsing racist behaviours.”

Social media responses in the White mainstream reiterate the free speech rhetoric to demand the resignation of the Vice Chancellor.

Many academics, once again mostly White, and ensconced in White colonial privilege, are upset about this violation of free speech.

Essential to this culture of White colonial performance of free speech is the erasure of questions of power and colonialism.

That the freedom of White colonialists to reproduce settler colonial depictions of indigenous people as backward is fundamentally a form of violence that violates the basic right to dignity of colonized peoples offers a very different anchor to the free speech conversation.

The privilege to speak freely is precisely the trope through which White settler colonialists continue to assert their racist power of erasure.

The inequality industry and the seduction of empathy

 

As inequalities have grown globally, global elites (the 1%) and their academic mouthpieces respond to the growing public anger about inequalities by issuing calls for societal transformation.

They inform us, inequalities are rising and that’s a problem (just as they profit from these inequalities).

The urgent need for transformation in the individual mindset is the call of the hour.

They appeal to our consience, suggesting a much needed transformation in our beliefs and attitudes is needed to address global inequality.

Appeals for addressing inequality are rife with narratives of kindness, heartfulness, caring, and compassion.

Elite media are rife with stories of inequality, often hidden behind a paywall. They document different aspects of inequalities and then present expert voices pontificating on the trends in inequalities.

Elites urge “greater attention needs to be paid to inequality.”

Now that elites have declared inequality is a trend for concern, academic mouthpieces jump onto the bandwagon. New talks, discussion forums, exhibitions, and closed door meetings are organized on solving the problem of inequality. Academics looking for funding are given a new problem to work on.

The sort of transformation urged by these elites however is very much a perpetuation of the neoliberal status quo, urging for greater empathy toward the underserved segments of society. It is the responsibility of the individual to feel empathy, to develop a heart, and to rise up to the challenges of giving to the needy.

The solution to inequality therefore is the cultivation of heart among the bourgeoisie and the power elite.

Elite audiences are urged to respond with feelings.

The often-used missionary rhetoric of “lifting the burden of the soul” is scripted into the empathy narrative.

Images, stories, voices are catalyzed by the elite to generate empathy.

An entire array of market-based tools then are promoted by the inequality industry in solving the problem of inequality, all directed toward cultivating individual empathy.

As a “communicative inversion” (Dutta, 2016), the seduction of empathy keeps intact the neoliberal status quo while at the same time offering a narrative of transformation.

While individual behaviors are targeted, the overarching structures are kept intact. This is the fundamental paradox of the inequality industry.

The feel good talk perpetuated by the industry calling for urgent societal response leaves intact the fundamental inequalities in distribution of power, opportunities for impacting policy, voice, and material distribution of resources.

That the vast concentration of resources in the hands of the power elite is the fundamental problem underlying global inequalities is inverted, instead presenting the 1% as the panacea to the problem of inequality.

References

Activist-in-Residence at CARE

CARE is delighted to share our upcoming collaborations with activists-in-residence.

In the month of October, we will be welcoming two activists who will collaborate with the Center on re-imagining academic-activist linkages and the fake news challenge to democracy.

During their time with CARE, the activists-in-residence will deliver a public talk, conduct a workshop on a method of social change communication, and collaborate with the CARE team on developing a white paper.

The activist-in-residence program at CARE brings in an activist to spend a few months (between 1 and 6 months) in conversation with a specific project or a series of projects at CARE, resulting in publications of white papers, policy briefs, media interventions, and advocacy strategies. In addition, the activist-in-residence offers workshops and interaction sessions on communication strategies for creating social justice anchors. The community of activists-in-residence return for dialogues on sustainable strategies for structural transformation, methods of community organizing, and tactics of communication interventions that resist structures.

Drawing on CARE projects across Asia-Pacific and the US, the activist-in-residence program seeks to create an infrastructure for global networks of transformative politics.

Please watch this space for more information and further updates.

Repression and state control: When academic reading lists are targeted by structures

 

In the land where the regime dictates what academics will read, what they will write, and where they will write, bureaucrats in universities serve as gatekeepers of the regime.

With their bureaucratic tools, often decorated in neoliberal logics of risk management and performance optimization, managers  define the boundaries of thought for academics, defining the limits and terrains of thought, legitimizing state control in managerial logics.

Bureaucrats ask questions such as: How are these books relevant to your research? How do the books contribute to your research program?

The definition of the research program of an academic based on bureaucratic rationality becomes the basis for identifying the relevance of reading lists to research programs. Once the appropriate reading list to be read from is defined, the regime can then exert its control on the academic for deviating from the reading list. The tools of the manager are also the tools of the regime.

Consider for instance the above reading list that offers important anchors for how I am currently thinking about how the CCA is evolving, particuarly in its work with subaltern communities in their struggles for communicative spaces for articulating voice. When a scholar working on the CCA, which was initially articulated in the context of health, is asked the question: Why are you reading these books, the implication is that the reading of Marxist texts is irrelevant, wasteful, subversive, and even seditious.

Once these labels have been imposed, university and state regimes can then work toward marking the scholar, initiating disciplinary processes, subjecting the scholar to police harassment, and even jailing the scholar.

As we have seen with the recent police harassment of scholars in India by marking them as Naxalites, the targeting of reading lists was a key element of the strategies of harassment. To own a copy of Marx or Mao is enough to invite violent forms of state control, harassment, and repression.

In this backdrop, academics have key roles to play globally in protecting our reading lists, in our research programs, in our classrooms, and in our homes. We need to be actively engaged in organizing our universities as spaces of knowledge creation that are free from bureaucratic diktats and state interventions. That bureaucrats and mandarins of authoritarian regimes have no business interrogating our reading lists is a key anchor to transnational academic politics.

Irrationality of metrics and metricide

Metricide, death by metrics, is catalyzed by an accelerated culture of irrationality that parades itself under the guise of reason.

I think of the epidemic of metricide each time that I speak with a junior colleague, each time that I write a promotion and tenure letter, and each time that I sit on a review committee. Mentoring assistant professors is an everyday reminder of this death by metrics.

The burden of metrics is borne by the most junior academics, subjecting them to a continual state of anxiety.

The suicidal anxieties produced in academics by the race for metrics has deleterious health effects, in many instances resulting in poor mental health outcomes among academics; and in some instances, resulting in death (recall the stories of a colleague dying of a heart attack in the office next door).

Beyond killing academics, metrics kill academia. They take the creativity, joy, and freedom of academia, and turn these positive emotions into an accelerated chase for numbers. The number frenzy makes numbers the end goal of academic work, obfuscating the fundamental spirit of inquiry.

Underneath its veneer of rationality (that numbers would offer a standard for quality), the metrics game is entirely irrational. The irrationality of the metrics game becomes apparent once we consider the various ironies in how metrics are determined and implemented.

One of the striking ironies of the culture of metrics is the mass implementation of numbers, carried out often by academic-managers with mediocre academic track records and a whole lot of ambition. That the managers implementing the metrics are mostly mediocre or failed academics that don’t really understand the research process creates and reproduces the condition for metricide.

You have a Head who had never published in a top tier journal telling junior academics that “without a solo-authored publication in a top tier journal, you would not even have tenure track job.” You have a Dean with an h-index of 3 telling an Associate Professor that an h-index of 17 is nothing to be proud of, “the University is looking for excellence these days.” You have a Vice President of Research with 12 publications in sub-standard journals telling an Associate Professor that her productivity, with 5 publications in the last three years, has been low recently.

Without a deep understanding of what guides numbers, a new number, number of total citations, h-index, i-10, field weighted citation index, takes center stage. The ever-accelerating rush for new metrics also works to maintain the opacity of the metric epidemic.

This is the second irony of the metric culture. The propaganda of rationality and drive toward standards obfuscates the opaque processes through which decisions are made regarding what metrics to apply, and the very absence of agreed upon metrics. Once the ideology that metrics are ever-evolving and in a continual state of being calibrated in the search for excellence is accepted, it becomes the basis for tyrannical and prejudiced decisions made by management, all under the veneer of searching for excellence. A colleague with 18 peer reviewed publications and an h-index of 9 does not make it to associate professor, the management states “She did not measure up to the continually evolving standards of excellence.” Another colleague with 7 articles and an h-index of 5 gets promoted and tenure, management argues “excellence is in the quality of the work.” Excellence itself becomes a trope that justifies the prejudice built into academic systems of evaluation.

In the meanwhile, hearing the story of the colleague with 18 publications not making tenure, assistant professors push themselves to 25-30 publications, believing this is what would earn then tenure. The eternal perpetuation of anxiety is the underpinning principle of the game of metrics.

I have often argued that metrics kill creativity. I have also often written about the ways in which metrics, articulated in narrow frameworks of evaluation, constrain and limit the possibilities of new thought. Narrowly driven by how much to produce, where to produce, and how to generate citations, scholars are driven to kill all that which is creative within.

In this blog entry, I will further argue that the veneer of rationality of metrics works ideologically to cover over a fundamentally irrational process driven by the tyranny of mediocre academic management. Whereas metric-mania is meant to portray a drive toward excellence, what it actually does is write over an array of political practices and practices of power play that are inherently unequal. Whereas metrics are projected as instruments for calibrating the drive toward excellence, junior academics would do well to recognize the irrationality and prejudice that are built into how metrics are implemented and reduced.

For academia to retain its culture of creativity and for academics to fight the onslaught on their wellbeing by a culture of metrics, academics ought to consider the ways in which they can build networks of solidarity and collective claims-making. Unions and academic labour collectives have key roles to play in challenging the epidemic of metrics.

Sexual Violence on University Campuses: Communication Interventions

CARE Series on Sexual Violence

Drawing upon the fieldwork carried out by the research team, and based on our academic-activist collaboration with Braema Mathi, CARE is releasing a series of White papers. The first White paper is positioned as an advocacy brief for social change communication addressing sexual violence on University campuses globally. The paper outlines communicative practices for addressing sexual violence on University campuses as well as communicative strategies for advocacy directed at bringing about change.

Sexual Violence on University Campuses: Communication Interventions

 

CARE OpEd: The National Register of Citizens And The Politics of Exclusion and Hate

BJP propaganda driven by deportation of “illegal” Muslim immigrants

Rendering four million people, almost all Bengalis and largely Muslim, stateless, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has given a state-driven political face to the ongoing attacks on minorities across India.

The NRC, a list of people that can prove they came to the state on or before March 24, 1971, the day Bangladesh secured independence, is an extension of the broader climate of hatred and fear of the “other” stoked by the Hindutva forces across India.

The erasure of citizens from the NRC serves as the fundamental basis for their erasure from the right to land, right to vote, and freedom. Without access to structures of justice, the four million citizens rendered stateless are also rendered vulnerable to a broader climate of violence where lynchings and murders of minorities have become the norm. The normalization of hate goes hand-in-hand with the normalization of the exclusion of minorities.

The propaganda around the illegal Bangladeshi immigrant has been systematically catalysed across Assam to create the grounds for the politics of exclusion. The image of the Muslim infiltrator from Bangladesh is circulated through media images and everyday discourses, with the threat of the “other” infiltrating and colonizing state-driven resources.

The campaign of hate carried out by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been driven by the narrative that the illegal Muslim immigrants will be deported. This targeting of illegal Muslim immigrants is juxtaposed in the backdrop of the Hindutva agenda of the BJP, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing his preference for Hindu Bangladeshi migrants and the BJP considering the introduction of a bill that would offer legal rights to Hindu migrants. The stage for this politics of exclusion had been set much earlier with the Assam accord that gave legitimacy to the xenophobic response to the “other.”

To draw from Hannah Arendt, citizenship acts as the basis for the “right to have rights.” Fascist regimes driven by hate therefore specifically work on the mechanisms of erasing citizenship of minority communities, then turning these stateless bodies into sites of violence. Once these communities can be marked as the other of the state, their access to fundamental resources of livelihood are erased and they are subjected to various forms of state-driven oppressions.

Stateless people are often the targets of a wide range of societal violence, often without access to juridical structures and processes. Integral to the large-scale deployment of violence is the marking of the other as without citizenship rights, and therefore, without the right to be counted.

Moreover, the precarity of the largely poor Bengali Muslim communities working under conditions of exploitation over generations is further rendered vulnerable in conditions of statelessness. The symbolic marking of the other as without citizenship is intrinsically tied to the material exploitation of the other and the systematic perpetuation of oppression. Even as the NRC offers a framework for appealing the exclusion, the complexity of the legal processes of appeal make it particularly difficult for the margins to access. The NRC as a framework therefore disproportionately targets poor minorities who have over generations formed the backbone of the economy.

The sham of the NRC process in Assam being a secular process starts falling apart when interrogated for the logic for the organizing of the NRC. That the NRC is established on the fear of the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant disrupts any claim to secularism underlying the NRC.

The deployment of citizenship as a category for marking the “other” catalysed by the Hindutva forces follows the nation-wide top-down implementation of the Aadhaar card as a tool for identifying citizenship, evaluating eligibility to state provisions, and allocating resources. The seduction of technology works alongside a fascist framework for marking the other of the state and differentiating this other from the citizen, working in complementary ways to achieve the Hindutva agenda.

The limits of the technology and its techniques, its failures in implementation are however left out of the seductive appeal of the solution to governance. That many individuals who have not been named on the list have lived in or have ancestors living in Assam from before 1971 needs to be foregrounded, pointing to the limits of the techniques of marking and identifying. As an instrument of governance then, the effectiveness and efficiency of the NRC ought to be interrogated from within its internal logics.

Beyond questioning the techniques of marking citizens however, the very basis of the Assam accord needs to be critically interrogated. The idea that citizenship can be reproduced as a category to exclude and to legitimize violence needs to be examined. The arbitrary marking of 1971 as the year for determining who is a citizen and who is not needs to be brought under scrutiny.

The recognition of the very complexity of the ethnic composition of Assam amid histories of movements and migrations across West Bengal, Bangladesh and Assam offers a framework for understanding the complicated nature of the citizenship question. Closely interrogating the very basis for how citizenship is determined, by whom, and under what power configurations offers new ways for thinking through the politics of belonging, and for organizing in strategies of resistance.

The NRC that renders 4 million Indians stateless shares in its framework the politics of hate that is evident in the deportations in the US organized by Donald Trump, in the treatment of Rohingya refugees across Asia, and in the treatment of refugees across large parts of Europe.

The deployment of hate as an instrument for organizing citizenship is dialectically related to the marking of the “other” of the state, the outside that must be targeted as a site of violence to mobilize affect and to continually create bodies for labour extraction without rights. The fascist politics of hate that underlies the rise of the politics of exclusion is a global phenomenon, which simultaneously releases large numbers of stateless bodies into the global flows of capital, labour, and precarity without access to structures for voicing rights.

Critically situating the politics of hate organized by the NRC in relationship with the global logics of hate as tools of exclusion from the state, from Myanmar to the US offers opportunities for considering the ways in which this politics of hate ought to be resisted locally, nationally, and globally.

Recognition of the interplays of neoliberalism and the fascist politics of exclusion offers a basis for transformative politics that undoes the normative ideas of citizenship. Resistance to the politics of exclusion ought to begin with interrogating the very idea of the citizen: who is the citizen and who is not, and the ways in which this relates to the global reproduction of precarity.

Finally, the politics of exclusion being mobilized by the NRC in Assam creates a moral opportunity for the neighbouring states to create a politics of inclusion by offering refuge to those rendered stateless, and doing so through the framework of rights.

It also creates an opportunity for progressive politics in India to open up altogether new possibilities for imagining a politics of belonging through acts of resistance that disrupt the very idea of citizenship, connecting the citizenship question to the question of capital.

(Mohan J. Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) in the School of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing at Massey University).

Resistance, change, and development: The story of Jangalmahal

My work in Santali communities in what is now described as Jangalmahal started in the mid-1990s, attempting to understand the communicative production of marginalization. This work was driven by the questions: What is the role of communication in producing material marginalizations of Santalis? How does communication work to reproduce these forms of marginalization? What are the imaginaries of resistance articulated in the backdrop of such marginalization?

These questions and the emerging ideas formed the bases of the culture-centered approach (CCA), attending to the role of communication as an instrument for perpetuating power and for reproducing the marginalization of indigenous communities. The communicative disenfranchisement of indigenous communities is deeply intertwined with their material disenfranchisement. The struggles against displacement, exploitation, and erasure from sites of access to resources mirror the indignities, stigmas, and erasures experienced by Santalis.

Between 2008 and 2012, Jangalmahal witnessed resistance organizing across various spaces. Our community-engaged work of building infrastructures for democratic participation took the form of witnessing the violence, the role of the state, and the many ways in which resistance emerged in this backdrop. While the resistance was narrativized in an essentialized story of Maoist violence, the ongoing fieldwork of CARE points to a much more complex story, with multiple sites of voice making and story telling.

In the post-2012 work of CARE in Jangalmahal, we have been collaborating with Santali communities in building communicative infrastructures for voice. The struggles for voice and democratic opportunities for participation present ongoing challenges in the backdrop of a development model that is targeted specifically at the margins of Jangalmahal.

The following piece co-authored with Dr. Subhasish Ray outlines this ongoing struggle for voice in the backdrop of the state-driven development model.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14672715.2017.1415762

On “closed door meetings” and totality of control

One of the forms of totalitarian control is the control over discursive spaces and sites of knowledge production.

The totality of control is achieved through the tools of surveillance, systematic management, and manipulation of academic spaces, constructed within the logics of state and market power.

The market reigns precisely through the arms of the state that give legitimacy to forms of resource extraction in the hands of private capital. The state, thus reorganized as a capitalist tool, legitimizes various forms of control through explicit communicative tools such as policies as well as implicit tools that set the expectations of communication.

One such tool of totalitarian control exerted over knowledge production is research calibration. Research calibration works as a method for aligning academic work with the agendas of the state, setting implicitly the limit imposed on what can be studied, how studies are conducted, and the ways in which studies are circulated.

For instance, “closed door meetings” are legitimized as informal processes through which academics can contribute to policy and lend their work to social change. However, the very formulation of “closed door policies” is situated within the ambits of power, legitimizing various forms of state control as the necessary tools for managing the generation and reproduction of knowledge. The closing of the door on the findings and how they are shared offers the state the tool for deploying knowledge to fulfil its agenda of totalitarian control. This is further complicated when public funds are deployed toward the funding of the academic work.

Knowledge thus formulated achieves the totality of control, albeit under the guise of social change.