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Situational Awareness

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This morning I was taking notes on my laptop as an officer from the NYPD counter terrorism department’s SHIELD unit gave a room full of academic staff ‘active shooter’ training. As the first video was rolling, he walked over and stood behind me to see what I was typing and almost inaudibly asked the young man from IT who was sitting behind me what I was up to. “She’s taking notes,” he whispered back, loud enough for me to hear. My first instinct was to think that maybe buying a bright red laptop was a bad idea, followed quickly by a wish that I had had enough time before the session to run to my office to drop off my stuff and pick up a notebook. My heart was pounding loudly; this person had taken over my safe space rendering it anxious and forced my body to feel defensive when all I had been doing was taking notes. I did not flinch or acknowledge his existence as he paced around me. Even though I like to pretend it does not matter, I know that it was not the red laptop that was the trigger for his suspicion, but rather my hijab. I watched the screen as Derrick O’Dell told us what he did in 2007 during the Virginia Tech mass shooting. shoot out. I thought of the many students I taught. I thought of the kids in the neighborhood schools. I thought of my young daughter. I thought about what I could do to make it past an ‘active shooter’, and I realized I would have to have a second plan in place as well: how to make it past law enforcement without them thinking it was me.

There is a violent ambiguity that frames these discourses, training, and analysis about how to prepare for a scenario in which one is confronted by a person on a mission to get a high body count. According to the Department of Homeland Security, an “Active Shooter” is defined as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. I thought of Orlando. They cannot tell you exactly what to do but through these training sessions, they give you some idea of what to expect, and make some recommendations. Based on the accounts of the survivors, the ‘shooters’ are not really interested in negotiation, but rather to just methodically kill people. This is not always the case (and if you are interested, you should check out the NYPD publication). As I was listening to the statistics about the shooters, the names and categories of guns, and tests of what sorts of things might prevent the bullet from getting to you (filing cabinets are the best officer furniture: cubicle partitions, not so much), I noticed how each one of the sounds was unique.

One of my favorite reads on the topic of ‘gun sounds’ gun sounds is work done by Lawrence Abu Hamdan. In one of his recent works, How Can I Forget, he writes about the use of Glide — the app that unintentionally recorded the sounds of the shots that killed Michael Brown in Ferguson. The use of the real-time video texting service app was intended to record the person saying something else, but as the sound of bullets permeated the articulation of words being recorded, their sound became witness to the crime. There is a moment in which desire and violence overlap, intermingle and intimate, and it is one of the more poignant moments in American sonic history that so clearly defines America’s relationship to Black History.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement a group of concerned faculty, students and staff curated and hosted a series of talks, films, readings, and conversations on our campus, which culminated in a two day teach in for Black Lives Matter(for an up to date listing of sources on BLM + Anthro, see the most recent Around the Web Digest, posted by E. Chong).  And so for the past year, we had uncomfortable conversations about race and privilege, we built bridges, we found collaborators, we identified issues that students, faculty and staff were facing, and we drew up demands. And there was some backlash — even at a private. progressive art school in Brooklyn, there was backlash and micro aggression that manifest itself in the strangest places. But for the most part, there was support support, and the demands we made to the administration are being taken seriously. However, it was some of the public backlash and vague threats that we received that made  possible threats that some of the faculty/staff from the  faculty in BLMPratt leadership (myself included) decide decided to attend this training.

The most important notes from the training were to work in groups (that is, if you are confronted with an active shooter and you have no other option to escape – work collaboratively to take the person down), and secondly, and most crucial to the survival was ‘situational awareness’. Mired in issues of contemporary American masculinity, one of the best cliff notes version of how to understand situational awareness is on the blog, The Art of Manliness (incidentally, they also have a good posting on how to roll up your shirt sleeves–  a good skill for archaeological field work). In my mind, situational awareness is something we, as anthropologists, are already trained (disciplined, if you will) to do and often, especially in moments of trauma or panic, we immediately turn to our own muscle memory, i.e. observation as thick description, a running narrative in our head. I know that in my own experience, spaces of trauma have brought out the archaeologist/anthropologist in me like no conference ever has. Situation awareness, in my mind, is not only an issue of physicality and knowing where you are, where the exits are, etc – but it’s also knowing the context, the histories of conflict or collaboration, etc. For those of us who have worked on in collaborative projects, it might be easier to envision what an organic collaborative environment might look like and how it can be activated if needed – or maybe that is one of my take-away comforts from the training. be immediately engendered if needed.

The recommendations that the officer provided for schools generally, was to install more security, more surveillance, to have us report on each other, bio metrics, more gates, and other ways to protect ourselves. Engendering more fear and suspicion on our campus does not sound sounds like a good idea and impacts all creative and critical thinking. And certainly, bringing more guns onto campus, in my mind, is not going to solve this problem (although there are reports of spikes in gun application requests for concealed weapons in Orlando after the shooting). I urged our staff to keep in mind that reporting based on suspicion leads itself to, more often than not, rely upon stereotypes and racial profiling.

I do worry about an active shooter coming on to campus. In a post-Columbine world, I do worry about young children in school. However, based on research published by Borum et al in the article, What Can be Done About School Shootings? A Review of the Evidence, the year of the Columbine shooting, 17 students were killed at school, but over 2500 young people (ages 5-19) were murdered outside of school, and more than 9700 were killed in accidents (Borum et al 2010: 27). So where does that leave me and my desire to protect my students? The likelihood of my students being killed outside the classroom is higher than them dying in my classroom. And what of my students of color, in particular, my black students?

I can assure you, there is nothing more ironic (and yet fully American in that contradiction) than having NYPD explain to you how to protect yourself against someone who might come in to shoot you for talking about police violence against unarmed black bodies.

I might not have flinched while the officer was walking around me, but I knew that my publications, tenure, or even my PhD was not what he was looking at or concerned with. I knew that I would have to prove my innocence and my right to be in that room before he let his guard down. It was only once the Director of our Security department spoke to me in a familiar and relaxed manner, that the officers hand stopped its slow pendulum movement of instinctively reaching around his badge on his belt to the right, revealing both the over reliance on his right hand and the location of his concealed weapon.

There is something in the ways in which we have been trained in Anthropology that mirror some epistemic relationship with the military. It is most clear in these moments.

Dedicated to Joan Gero (1944-2016).

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jhonhwalker
1519 days ago
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“Why Can't People Feed Themselves?”: Archaeology as Alternative Archive of Food Security in Banda, Ghana

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ABSTRACT

Today, food insecurity is associated with both severe climatic shifts and pervasive poverty. What is less well understood is how the problem of hunger came to take its present-day form, especially in the African continent, where the highest prevalence of undernourishment is found. In this article, I propose that archaeology can be used as an alternative archive of food security. Material remains provide a from-the-hearth-up view of changing foodways and political economy and can be used to trace the shape of processes that led to modern-day patterns of food insecurity. Combining archaeobotanical, ethnoarchaeological, and environmental data, I provide a case study that shows how food insecurity was avoided during a centuries-long drought in Banda, Ghana, and emerged only much later, in the 19th and 20th centuries, as market economies and colonial rule took hold. I suggest that archaeology is essential for making such processes of “slow violence” visible, particularly in areas that lack rich historical archives. [Africa, food security, Ghana, archaeobotany, slow violence]

RESUMEN

Hoy, la inseguridad alimentaria está asociada tanto con cambios climáticos severos como con pobreza extrema. Lo que es menos entendido es cómo el problema del hambre llegó a tomar su forma presente, especialmente en el continente africano, donde se encuentra la prevalencia más alta de desnutrición. En este artículo propongo que la arqueología puede ser usada como un archivo alternativo de la seguridad alimentaria. Restos materiales proveen una vista desde el foso del fuego de las formas de alimentarse cambiantes y la economía política, y pueden ser usados para rastrear el tipo de procesos que llevaron a los patrones de hoy de la inseguridad alimentaria. Combinando datos arqueo-botánicos, etno-arqueológicos, y ambientales, presento un estudio de caso que muestra cómo se evitó la inseguridad alimentaria durante una sequía de siglos en Banda, Ghana, y emergió sólo mucho más tarde, en los siglos XIX y XX, en la medida que las economías de mercado y el régimen colonial se establecieron. Sugiero que la arqueología es esencial para hacer visibles tales procesos de “violencia lenta”, particularmente en áreas en las que faltan archivos históricos valiosos. [África, seguridad alimentaria, Ghana, arqueo-botánica, violencia lenta]

RÉSUMÉ

Aujourd'hui, l'insécurité alimentaire est associée et aux changements climatiques sévères et à la pauvreté invasive. Ce qui est moins bien compris est la manière dont le problème de la faim en est arrivé à sa forme actuelle, surtout sur le continent africain, où se trouve la plus grande concentration de sous-alimentation. Dans cet article, je propose qu'on aborde l'archéologie en tant qu'archive alternative de la sécurité alimentaire. Les vestiges matériels fournissent une vue générale des processus alimentaires et de l’économie-politique de la perspective du foyer de la cheminée. Ils nous permettent de retracer les processus qui ont mené aux modèles modernes de l'insécurité alimentaire. En combinant les données archéo-botaniques, éthno-archéologiques, et de l'environnent, je fournis une étude de cas qui révèle les manières dont on a évité l'insécurité alimentaire pendant une sécheresse qui a duré plusieurs siècles à Banda, Ghana. Et qui montre qu'en fait, l'insécurité alimentaire n'a émergé que beaucoup plus tard, pendant les 19e et 20e siècles, au moment où les économies de marché et le colonialisme se sont installés. Je suggère que l'archéologie est essentielle pour rendre visible ces processus de « la violence lente », surtout dans les régions qui manquent d'archives historiques riches. [Afrique, sécurité alimentaire, Ghana, archéo-botanie, la violence lente]

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jhonhwalker
1521 days ago
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Muhammad Ali Was a Hero, But His Enemies Have a Legacy Too

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When I was growing up, it was impossible to imagine anyone cooler than Muhammad Ali. He had the perfect looks of a rock star, was hilariously funny, and was beautiful to watch in the ring. My friends and I used to pop in tapes of his fights and double over...

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jhonhwalker
1564 days ago
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“A Little Bit Christian”: Memories of Conversion and Community in Post-Christian Amazonia

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ABSTRACT

Conversion to Christianity in Amazonia is often described in terms of collective action rather than radically new beliefs interior to the individual. I describe how Waorani people in Ecuador remember the conversion of specific elders as a time of civilization that brought Waorani into a wider social order after a period of violence and isolation. Despite having largely abandoned Christianity since their mass conversion in the 1960s, Waorani today embrace past conversion as a catalyst of social transformation that they say made the present ideal of living in a “community” possible. The individual experiences evoked in memories of collective “civilization” and an insistence on personal autonomy in Waorani visions of community illustrate why the moral commentaries of Waorani Christians remain highly valued in communities where Christianity has ceased to be a dominant social identity. [conversion to Christianity, memory, temporality, Amazonian personhood, community, Waorani]

RESUMEN

La conversión al cristianismo en la Amazonía es a menudo descrita en términos de una acción colectiva más que radicalmente nuevas creencias interiores para el individuo. Describo cómo los waorani en el Ecuador recuerdan la conversión de determinados adultos mayores como un período de “civilización” que trajo a los waorani a un orden social más amplio después de un período de violencia y aislamiento. A pesar de haber abandonado largamente el cristianismo desde su conversión masiva en los 1960s, los waorani hoy asumen su pasado como un catalizador de transformación social que ellos dicen hizo posible el actual ideal de vivir en comunidad. Las experiencias individuales evocadas en memorias de “civilización” colectiva y una insistencia en autonomía personal en las visiones waorani de comunidad ilustran por qué los comentarios morales de los cristianos waorani permanecen altamente valorados en comunidades donde el cristianismo ha cesado de ser una identidad social dominante. [conversión al cristianismo, temporalidad de memoria, condición de personas de los Amazonenses, comunidad, Waorani]

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jhonhwalker
1565 days ago
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How philosophy came to disdain the wisdom of oral cultures

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A poet, somewhere in Siberia, or the Balkans, or West Africa, some time in the past 60,000 years, recites thousands of memorised lines in the course of an evening. The lines are packed with fixed epithets and clichés. The bard is not concerned with originality, but with intonation and delivery: h...

By Justin E H Smith

Read at Aeon

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jhonhwalker
1569 days ago
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How things act: An archaeology of materials in political life

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This paper develops a theoretical perspective on how archaeologists might examine the actions of things—objects and materials—in long-term historical processes and political practices. In recent years, anthropological theories pertaining to materiality and new materialisms have challenged traditional philosophical perspectives on things, attributing a degree of social agency to materials, places, and objects that had been previously labeled inert or passive. We critically engage these theories and suggest that they might better account for the social acts and political roles of things by applying a holistic archaeological perspective attuned to how materials and human values converge to produce political action, particularly through their incorporation into specific historical processes that we term "entrainment." We present recent archaeological and environmental data from South India to demonstrate how researchers might see political action less as an ontological property of a conscious goal-oriented agent or a broad assemblage of things, and more as a potentiality that emerges in politically-inflected and contingent associations of people, organisms, and things.

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jhonhwalker
1569 days ago
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