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Normality Is an Illusion: Crisis Is Not

June 10, 2021
By 28804

In this article, 2020 Sylff fellow Amit Singh questions the concept of normality. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have redefined “normality” for India’s privileged classes, the very idea is an illusion for the marginalized, who live in permanent crisis. The pandemic, under which the state has done poorly in securing the basic needs of its vulnerable, “has exposed the fault lines of fragile Indian society,” says Singh.

* * *

The disruption of daily life, due to COVID-19 pandemic in India, reminded me of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock decision in November, 2016 to scrap 86% of India’s currency (demonetisation); the abrupt disappearance of cash crippled supply chains and led to systemwide job cuts, which made life worse for the poorest in India—disrupted their normal lives—in a similar manner, this health pandemic is also affecting. Due to COVID, Indian state, like others, faced an abnormal situation-suspension of normality. What does normality mean for the marginalised Indian population? Whom does normality serve? We need to ask this question. Well, for the millions of daily wage workers ‘normality’ may be an illusion.

During the Indian lockdown, hundreds of inter-state migrant workers have died and disappeared from the surface of society without any trace. What normality would have meant for them, I just wonder! Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2020) thinks their lives were not an exception to normal situation. Daily wage labourers, vegetable sellers, poor farmers, street vendors, homeless people—all are part of this normality of exception. They have been living in dire situation—abnormal life—being normal for them. These people from abject spaces, as Julia Kristeva (1982) would call them, survive on meagre daily wages, face police violence and receive apathy of general society on a daily basis; possibly normality is just an illusion for them.

India’s nationwide lockdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic has critically dislocated its migrant population. The pandemic is not a crisis situation clearly opposed to a normal situation; for thousands of inter-state migrant workers, unable to cope with hunger, were forced to walk to their villages, hundreds of kilometres, barefoot, with no food, and transportation shut down—with some dying during the journey—this crisis is permanent; they are not an exception of this so called normality. They have already felt the disruption of their daily lives so many times that ‘normality’ has lost meaning for them. Their lives have been hijacked by discourse of normality; making it appear that they are living a normal life like most of their compatriots. However, the fact is that they have been trapped in the circle of crisis by the State, by the Corporate, by the privileged middle classes. Mainly living in slums, they feel the crisis through extreme poverty, starvation, disease, and wage inequality; crisis, being an essential part of their lives, where the idea of ‘normal life’ is absent.

They are the invisible foundation of visible societies on which nation and state stand; from manual scavenging to farming, without them, Indian society would not function. For 450 million of India’s informal sector’s workers, life was never normal. Their existence mattered to the Indian State—I seriously doubt it. With no health insurance, poor working condition, crammed living conditions, lack of social security and low wages, their lives have always been in a permanent state of crisis—even in so called ‘normal times.’ During the lockdown, it was mainly the dead bodies of the hungry, the poor, the beggars, the unemployed, the migrant workers, women and children, were scattered all over the country. Even in normal times, they have been dying like that, due to starvation, lack of health care, malnourishment, burden of debt, state violence and caste discrimination. Nevertheless, it was during these abnormal times when their deaths get more attention and sympathy. However, those who are alive, would gradually die because of unemployment, rising inflation and inability to buy food. Paradigm shift, necessary for social change, is yet to happen in the Indian society. Indeed, the pandemic has deeply disrupted the lives of millions globally; however, it was the incapability of the leadership to deal with the pandemic efficiently which has exacerbated this crisis. Organised governmental chaos in India has led the humanitarian crisis of an epic proportion, has reproduced existing inequalities and exclusion of the marginalised population.

These are the times when the capability of the States to secure basic needs for their vulnerable population is being tested to the core. In such crisis, an effective leadership could navigate society away from impending disaster, like leadership in Portugal and New Zealand did. However, unlike India, in Portugal, a humane approach was adopted in dealing with the pandemic; people were given ample time to settle before national emergency was enforced (in India lockdown was brutally enforced only on four hours of notice), no one was brutalised by the police, and public transportation was totally free for all. However, I was sad to see that in Lisbon (where I stayed during the lockdown) how some Asian communities’ members, primarily Bengali Indians (Martin Muniz area), Pakistanis and Chinese businessmen exploited their Asian employees. Less payment, long hours of work, firing employees without any pay, coercion, disregarding work contract, are some of the human rights abuses. During the lockdown, Asian immigrant workers have suffered at the hands of their Asian employers. But, in normal times, they suffer the same fate on a daily basis. Normality, probably, is an illusion for them, but crisis is not. Pain, agony and frustration arising out of the crisis is very real for them.

Finally, it can be said that COVID-19 pandemic, maybe by nature is exceptional and temporary to the ruling elites and middle classes, however, for the millions of the poor Indian inter-state migrant workers, crisis is permanent. Pandemic has exposed the fault lines of fragile Indian society. It certainly has shown the Indian migrant workers that they are unwanted in their own country. How much such societies are able to sustain the forces of volatile disruption, only time will tell. COVID-19 pandemic may have redefined the ‘idea of normality’ to the privileged one, but for the excluded, marginalised and discriminated, comfortability of normality is just an illusion.

 

REFERENCES

Kristeva, J. (1982). Power of horror: An essay on abjection. Translated by Roudiez, L. Columbia University Press: New York. Retrieved from https://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/touchyfeelingsmaliciousobjects/Kristevapowersofhorrorabjection.pdf

de  Sousa Santos, B. (2020). Black Issues in Philosophy: Virus that is solid melts into air. Blog of the American Philosophical Association (APA). Retrieved from https://estudogeral.sib.uc.pt/bitstream/10316/89211/1/Virus_all%20that%20is%20solid%20melts%20into%20air.pdf

 

The original article is published in: Explorations, ISS e-journal <http://app.insoso.org/ISS_journal/Issues/October_2020> , Vol. 4 (2), October 2020, published by Indian Sociological Society.

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Teaching Literature in Times of Pandemic

March 3, 2021
By 28851

A scholar of Italian literature, 2020 Sylff fellow Nataša Gavrilović compares today’s situation with that of Renaissance-era Italy to contemplate the role of literature—and, more broadly, of the arts and humanities—as well as of teaching it, particularly at times of crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

* * *

During the period of the flourishing of culture and the arts on the Apennine Peninsula—at the same time that the voice of humanism was becoming louder and clearer with each new day, via epistles or treatises, or among the members of informal circles later known as accademie, but always in the form of dialogue—Italy (or what would actually become Italy only three centuries later) was struggling amid continuous warfare.

Today, the traces of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century art and philosophy are far more visible than the scars left by the innumerable battles that at some point even became a “new normality,” just as the plague and other disasters did. Eugenio Garin, one of the twentieth century’s greatest scholars of European humanism and the Renaissance, sees this particular moment of crisis as one of the crucial factors that informed that period’s most important thought, oeuvres, and philosophy with a universal message, but always formed in one’s own microcosm, in a dialectical relationship between the contextualized temporary and the eternal.[1]

There is no need to expound on the greatness and value that the works and names from this period continue to hold for humankind, beginning from the very concept of freedom and unlimited possibilities innate to each and every individual, through the novel approach to and importance assigned to education, to the myriad discoveries in the fields of science and art.

Time will show whether the crisis we are coping with now will yield this kind of fruit to the generations to come, in the form of new ideas and thought-provoking works and discoveries. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: the very concept of crisis means rethinking the values we cultivate, the system(s) we have created, and the steps we have taken in order to understand, adjust, and improve, so as to give meaning to our existence and make life on Earth if not better, then at least more bearable. Obviously, the humanities cannot face the pandemic from a medical standpoint, nor can they find a cure or create a vaccine. Are the humanities therefore redundant at this very moment, and, moreover, is teaching literature a false utopia when almost everything appears to be falling apart and when bare survival looms large in everyone’s mind? Is it an escape or a long journey toward the Promised Land?

Niccolò Machiavelli

Staying in the field of my research interests as an Italian literature scholar, I must call on what another Italian thinker wrote. I am referring to Niccolò Machiavelli, who has universally influenced political and historical thought and whose life and works are an evident product of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-wecentury crisis. In Chapter 25 (“What Fortune Can Effect In Human Affairs, And How To Withstand Her”) of his most famous treatise, The Prince (Il Principe), the Florentine author explains that one can and should fight against the unpredictable force of Fortuna, and not only that, but one even stands a chance to win (“Nevertheless, not to extinguish our free will, I hold it to be true that Fortune is the arbiter of one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to direct the other half, or perhaps a little less”). A memorable picture follows: Fortuna is compared to a raging river. If we survive its first strike, it is wise and necessary to think about what happened, to think it through thoroughly, engaging all our ability, experience, and knowledge gained by reading ancient authors, and analyzing our reality in order to be prepared when another similar situation arises. Because, as he says, “though its nature be such, it does not follow therefore that men, when the weather becomes fair, shall not make provision, both with defenses and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal, and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous.”[2]

And isn’t that what teaching literature means, or at least should mean—an active and fruitful dialogue, both with people of the past and with our present times, so that one may (re)think critically and maybe even protect oneself and others from tragedies and disasters? Hence, to talk about the past, about philosophy or poetry, is to enrich your own existence, to observe the world from endless points of view. Furthermore, to convey knowledge and experience is to create future thinkers, to show them the way of honor and dignity: the dignity and virtue of curiosity. For, although a world made of words is a fragile world, words are all we have to communicate, express, create, learn, and understand. 

Due to my research activities, I happened to be at the University of Padua when the pandemic began. As I was witnessing the panic spreading along the stunning and peaceful Italian squares, my life-saving thought was the research I was (and still am) conducting; not because it made me forget the circumstances in which I had found myself—on the contrary, it was helping me to go beyond these circumstances and consider them from another, wider perspective. A few months later, in Belgrade, from the role of a doctoral student I returned to the role of a teacher. The need for reading, understanding, and sharing is a constant, and it was still there, helping me look toward the stars while rethinking the Earth. That is also what literature lessons should aspire toward: an endless “good fight” to create a context in which virtue can thrive. Our students’ questions, their curiosity, and the long discussions we have, even—or rather, especially—in these trying times, are both a strong proof of this innate human hunger for dialogue and a vital light of hope.

Literature cannot find a cure for diseases, but offers instead the benefit of the doubt, teaching us to consider everything with a pinch of salt and showing that, through the centuries, it is the doubt that has been the vital force of every kind of progress. Thus, talking about Petrarch’s existential doubts and antithetical thoughts, about Dante’s contempt for the uncommitted (ignavi), that is, those who lived their lives without making conscious moral choices and who therefore deserve neither Heaven nor Hell, or reading Pico della Mirandola’s speech about man’s freedom to be anything one decides to be—all this is not an escape, as it illuminates both the one who teaches and the one who learns (if there is any difference between those two); sometimes it is a shimmering light, as fragile as words, but it surely never goes out.

Words are delicate, fluctuating, ambiguous. To say or write is not enough, it is how something is said or written that makes the whole difference. That is what literature teaches and how literature should be taught. To translate is impossible, yet necessary, as noted by two of Trieste’s scholars, Guido Cosciani and Guido Devescovi. The same goes for teaching—teaching literature in particular, and especially teaching literature in times of a crisis.[3]

 

[1]     E. Garin, L’umanesimo italiano: filosofia e vita civile nel Rinascimento (1952), and E. Garin, La cultura del Rinascimento (1967).

[2]     N. Machiavelli, The Prince, translated by W. K. Marriott, downloaded from: https://www.holybooks.com.

[3]     C. Magris, Istantanee, Milano, La nave di Teseo, 2016, p. 178.

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What COVID-19 Can Teach Us about Prison: Reflections on Criminal Policy and the Words of Albert Camus

August 31, 2020
By 24051

Rui Caria, a PhD candidate in criminal law at the University of Coimbra, summarizes the ongoing discussions about the confinement of prisoners under the COVID-19 pandemic. He discusses the human dignity of prisoners and the purpose of prisons and punishment by drawing on ideas that Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus describes in his famous novel The Plague.

* * *

Introduction

During my second semester, like many others, I had my life put on hold by COVID-19. I was sent to work from home, and class lectures were provided by Zoom, allowing me to keep studying by looking through the tiny box that is my computer screen. As much as one tries to halt the fall of productivity, it eventually gives way to reflection; one that is personal as much as social. By looking at the other tiny box that is my TV, I could watch the news and learn about all the people who found themselves confined.

During quarantine, I found it fitting to reread a novel by one of my favorite authors: The Plague, by Albert Camus. It made me realize that the most fortunate of us were confined at home; others, not so fortunate, were confined in the places where they had made their travels. But there was a third category of confined, one that is seldom talked about: prisoners.

 

To Release or Not to Release?

Across the world, there was a great discussion about what to do with prisoners during the pandemic, the question being whether they should be released or not in order to minimize the risk of a health catastrophe in prisons. The importance of the issue was highlighted by various entities, from the World Health Organization (WHO) to the Council of Europe. The debate had to grapple not only with the big question itself—to release or not to release—but also, if the question is to be answered affirmatively, on what grounds they should be released.

In my country, Portugal, legislators approved an extraordinary regime of prison flexibilization in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This new law (no. 9/2020) allowed for a partial pardon of prison sentences, a special regime of reprieve of sentences, an extraordinary regime of licenses for administrative leave of inmates, and extraordinary anticipated parole.

The Portuguese Parliament (Assembleia da República).

On the other side of the world, in the United States, which has the world’s largest number of infected combined with the world’s largest prison population, policy solutions have been suggested to reduce the number of people in jails, as well as in state and federal prisons. These focus not only on increasing the number of releases but also on restricting the number of admissions.

Regarding increasing releases from federal and state prisons, some suggest considering the following for immediate release: inmates nearing the end of their sentence (who are expected be released in the next few months); those in minimum security facilities and who are on work release; those who are medically fragile or are older; and those whose offense is considered “minor” or have a “low likelihood” of committing another serious offense.[1]

Many prisoners have sought compassionate release—the release of people who are facing imminent death and who pose no threat to the public. But this has proven a lengthy and cumbersome process, some of the shortcomings being the requirement that a person be extremely close to death or so incapacitated that they do not understand why they are being punished; the requirement of a statement from a medical professional; and the ability of decision-makers to overrule recommendations from medical professionals and prison staff.[2]

Some have pointed their finger at the new policies to release prisoners, calling them opportunistic political moves to try to solve the problem of prison overcrowding that preceded the pandemic. But this was only one of the many outcries from the public regarding the release of prisoners.

 

Why Release?

The WHO has pointed out that due to the concentration of people that is inevitable in prisons, inmates find themselves in a state of special vulnerability regarding COVID-19.[3]

However, the virus is not the only problem, or it would be a smaller problem if it were not for the poor health of inmates. The WHO has also noted that inmates, regardless of the pandemic, already tend to suffer from graver health issues than the general population. These health issues stem from weakened immune systems, caused by lack of sunlight, stress, malnutrition, and such diseases as tuberculosis, from which inmates particularly suffer.

One of many overcrowded prisons in the world.

Adding to the health problems that exist—and have existed for a long time—in prisons, the environment itself makes social distancing impossible. Compared to cruise ships and nursing homes, two other types of environments considered prominent incubators for the virus, prisons possess comparable or smaller quarters and people do not have in-room access to the necessary hygiene products and water.[4] 

This situation is made worse by the fact that many prisons suffer from overcrowding and poor overall conditions and that prisoners are put in collective cells that are too small. Many of these situations have already reached the European Court of Human Rights and suffered their condemnation.[5]

 

Why Punish and When Do We Stop?

The discussion also made the public ask itself, even if subconsciously: Why do we punish? What are the limits of punishment? When is punishment over?

In Portugal, when the state intervenes by utilizing criminal law—that is, when it criminalizes any behavior and punishes it—it must do so in obedience to the constitutional principle of necessity. This means that criminal law comes forward not arbitrarily but only to protect lawful values inscribed in the constitution or derived from it. These are values that correspond to the necessary conditions for the individual’s free development, to the realization of his fundamental rights, and to the sound functioning of a society built around these goals.[6]

This means that criminal sanctions serve the purposes of protecting lawful values and aiming to socially rehabilitate the offender. Both these purposes are considered when determining the length of the prison sentence.

Prison of Coimbra in Portugal.

Despite being inscribed in the criminal code as one of the purposes of the prison sentence, social rehabilitation often seems not to be a priority, its failure being one of the weapons utilized to argue the failure of criminal law. One needs only to look at the lack of conditions from which prisons suffer to observe, as many criminologists have already noted,[7] that in many cases it dissocializes more than it socializes.

This fact, combined with the perception that the public has of prison, helps cement the popular idea that people should not leave prison before the time prescribed in their sentence, that they should be punished until the end, for there is no chance they will be rehabilitated before that. With these ideas in mind, it easily arises in the public discourse that someone who has committed a crime is a criminal forever and so should be forever punished, without the opportunity for rehabilitation, for there is no chance of it happening.

 

The Prison and Plague

In his famous book The Plague, first published in 1947, the Algerian-born French philosopher and Nobel Prize winning writer Albert Camus tells the story of the fictional town of Oran, which is stricken by the plague.

In his story, the people of Oran are confined to their town and homes because of this plague. At one point, Camus reflects on how their condition is equal to that of exiles and prisoners: “Thus, too, they came to know the incorrigible sorrow of all prisoners and exiles, which is to live in company with a memory that serves no purpose. . . . Hostile to the past, impatient of the present, and cheated of the future, we were much like those whom men’s justice, or hatred, forces to live behind prison bars.”[8]

Albert Camus

There could not be a better description of what many of us went through in the past months of the year 2020 due to the pandemic. However, even if we felt like this, with different words but with the same feeling, parted from family, friends, and lovers, did it serve to make us reflect? Did it make us more compassionate and understanding of our fellow man?

The discussion surrounding the release of prisoners during the pandemic is, in my understanding, of special importance. It had the capacity to bring the topic of prison and inmates back into the public eye—even if briefly and amid the greater concerns of the pandemic, in which we are still living. In this way, it allowed for the public to be made aware, once more, of the special vulnerability of inmates that derives from their poor health and the poor prison conditions in which we keep them, even in the twenty-first century.

However, despite being made aware of the problems faced by inmates, and sharing the feeling of confinement, the public response to releases during the pandemic was still stained, for the most part, with intolerance. Besides the already mentioned accusations of releases being a “quick fix” for the prison overcrowding problem, less elaborated arguments could be summed up in the following statement: “Prisoners should stay in prison.” It was even possible to hear some people saying that not only should prisoners not be released earlier, or on time, but they should stay in prison forever.

This sort of speech was not novel or exclusive to the pandemic. That specific discussion was only a symptom of a greater problem: the way society still conceptualizes punishment. I had the opportunity to witness this firsthand. In the summer between the two years of my master’s degree in criminal law, I worked as a tour guide in an exhibition dedicated to celebrating 150 years since the abolition of the death penalty in Portugal. It was not uncommon to hear people say that it was a mistake to abolish it and that it should be brought back.

Of course, this is the extreme end of that sort of speech, but it is common for people to think about prison as nothing more than punishment, as if the more suffering is inflicted, the more justice will be done. In today’s criminal doctrine, at least in the European continental tradition, the conceptualization of prison as pure retribution is largely obsolete. Prison is not supposed to aim at the past, punishing the offender as an incarnation of divine retribution, but should be aimed at the future, in helping him live his life responsibly without committing crimes by socially rehabilitating him.

Offenders, despite having committed crimes, are meant to be treated as human beings, being recognized for their dignity as well as granted a chance for recovery and redemption. How would we have felt if someone had told us that never again should we leave our homes? Should we never see our loved ones again? Should we never hope for the future?

As much as we need a change in public and criminal policy, we need a change in the public conscience about the purpose of prisons and the value of human dignity. We certainly had, and still have, the opportunity to let the virus teach us something about prison and about humanity.

 

[1] Peter Wagner and Emily Widra, “Five Ways the Criminal Justice System Could Slow the Pandemic,” Prison Policy Initiative (website), March 27, 2020, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2020/03/27/slowpandemic/.

[2] Emily Widra and Wanda Bertram, “Compassionate Release Was Never Designed to Release Large Numbers of People,” Prison Policy Initiative (website), May 29, 2020, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2020/05/29/compassionate-release/.

[3] WHO Regional Office for Europe, “Preparedness, Prevention and Control of COVID-19 in Prisons and Other Places of Detention: Interim Guidance,” March 15, 2020, 1.

[4] Aleks Kajstura and Jenny London, “Since You Asked: Is Social Distancing Possible behind Bars?” Prison Policy Initiative (website), April 3, 2020, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2020/04/03/density/.

[5] Recent cases include J.M.B. Et Autres c. France [J.M.B. and Others v. France], 9671/15, May 30, 2020, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-200446%22]}, and Sukachov v. Ukraine, 14057/17, May 30, 2020, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-200448%22]}.

[6] Claus Roxin, “O Conceito de Bem Jurídico Como Padrão Crítico da Norma Penal Posto à Prova,” Revista Portuguesa de Ciência Criminal 23, no. 1 (January–March 2013): 12.

[7] One of the fundamental works in this regard is: Erving Goffman, Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (London: Penguin Books, 1991).

[8] Albert Camus, The Plague (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1960), 69.

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Rescuing Latin American Thought on Contemporary Subjectivity

July 6, 2020
By 26648

Using an SRA award, Flavia Ferretti crossed the Atlantic Ocean obliquely from Latin America to Western Europe to conduct research on an Argentine philosopher, León Rozitchner.

* * * 

León Rozitchner

The problem of subjectivity and the study of its processes has been one of the central axes of contemporary thought. The works of important philosophers of the last half century, such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari, to mention some of the most distinguished names, have been dedicated to the study of different aspects of this problem, elaborating some of the most extended interpretative frameworks in the field of current thought.

The theoretical importance acquired by the question of subjectivity is related to the emergence of social problems that challenged both philosophical thought and the human sciences in the historical period beginning in the early 1970s. These problems include changes in cultural identities due to the intensification of migratory processes, modifications in workers’ identities as a consequence of the processes of deindustrialization and productive reconversion of vast territories, the impact on subjectivity of the massification of consumption and access to credit, impacts of the growing incorporation of women into the labor market, youth cultures, and the emergence of authoritarian, antidemocratic, and conservative attitudes. The relevance and urgency of understanding these social phenomena in a deeper way was one of the first motivations I had to place my doctoral research in the field of studies on subjectivity.

The entrance of the Ibero-American Institute in Berlin, Germany.

However, the existing international division of intellectual work has meant that the predominant theoretical frameworks for addressing the problem of the production of subjectivity are mainly Euro-American and that even within Latin America the theoretical elaborations developed by local thinkers are unknown or undervalued. Academic interest in Latin America is concentrated on topics linked to its socioeconomic problems, to indigenous populations, or to cultural productions such as literature, music, and cinema. Nevertheless, with rare exceptions, thought and philosophy produced in the continent are ignored beyond small circles of specialists. Even today, Eurocentrism remains a deep-rooted problem in the humanities and social sciences, and this is another one of the reasons that led me to focus my doctoral research on the study and enhancement of Latin American thought on the issue of subjectivity based on the work of León Rozitchner, an Argentine philosopher whose theoretical work on this issue deserves to be better known and disseminated.

The research that I am developing aims to contribute to the knowledge of Latin American reflection on the problem of the production of subjectivity from the second half of the twentieth century onward. Specifically, the object of study of this doctoral thesis is the problem of the production of subjectivity in the work of León Rozitchner, who made substantial theoretical elaborations on this problem despite the scarce references to his work in the field of studies on subjectivity in the continent and in the field of contemporary philosophy.

Reading Room of the Ibero-American Institute.

León Rozitchner was a philosopher and psychoanalyst who lived between 1924 and 2011. He studied in Buenos Aires as well as in Paris, where he made contact with the generation of philosophers who dominated the French cultural field after World War II, such as Jean Paul Sarte, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Simone de Beauvoir. Because of the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983, Rozitchner had to go into exile in Venezuela, where he continued his intellectual work at the Central University. In 1985 he returned to Argentina, and until the end of his life in 2011 he worked as a professor at the University of Buenos Aires. His philosophy focused on the problem of subjectivity and the mechanisms through which it is constructed. His work brings together elements of psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and Marxism, with which the author elaborates an original and solid philosophical proposal. Among his main books are Freud y los límites del individualismo burgués (Freud and the limits of bourgeois individualism, 1972), Perón: Entre la sangre y el tiempo (Between blood and time, 1985), La cosa y la cruz: Cristianismo y capitalismo (en torno a las Confesiones de San Agustín)

(The thing and the cross: Christianity and capitalism [Around the Confessions of St. Augustine], 1997), and Materialismo ensoñado (Dreamlike materialism, 2011).

With this research, I intend to develop a study of the complete work of this thinker that will allow us to determine the treatment he gave to the subject throughout his intellectual journey, as well as to establish the axes that articulated his reflection and the continuities and ruptures in his theoretical production on the problem in question. Also, the research seeks to establish the passages between his thought and the social, political, and cultural processes of Argentina and the continent in the historical period during which he developed his work and to reconstruct the positions he occupied in the intellectual field of which he was a part. Furthermore, this work aims to install this representative of Latin American philosophy in contemporary discussion, by making his work engage in a dialogue with the most renowned intellectuals in the field of thought, specifically with those who have dedicated themselves to reflection on subjectivity.

Meanwhile, beyond these objectives in the academic field, this research has a wider purpose, which consists of contributing to knowledge of relevant aspects of the current human condition and providing elements for public debate on some of the most pressing contemporary social problems. The processes of production of subjectivity are at the base of many of the phenomena that concern thinkers and citizens in general, such as the authoritarian inclinations of certain social groups; the relationship of social subjects with politics; cultural identities; and the individual and collective effects of changes in the sphere of work. The proposed research will make a contribution in that it will generate new knowledge in a study field that helps to understand these complex social phenomena. This research, therefore, will not only strengthen an academic domain of study but will also provide elements for public deliberation by offering modes of intelligibility of social processes of general interest.

In the course of this research, I have been supported by the Sylff Research Abroad program, which allowed me to spend three months at the Ibero-American Institute (IAI) in Berlin and access a huge amount of bibliographic and archival material that is inaccessible in Chile. The IAI, founded in 1930, is an interdisciplinary research and documentation center on Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain, and Portugal. The institute has the largest European archive on the Latin American world and receives tens of researchers from different parts of the world every year.

In addition, this research stay allowed me to meet and interview academics and researchers dedicated to Latin American thought and present the results of my research to teams of specialists. All this enriched my research process and helped me to advance in the elaboration of my thesis. Therefore, I am grateful to the Sylff Association for supporting researchers who have social commitments and whose research seeks to contribute to the strengthening of democracy, social justice, critical thinking, and democratic dialogue.

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Resilience Spaces: Rethinking Protection to Address Protracted Urban Displacement

April 23, 2020
By 25334

Using an SRA grant, Pablo Cortés Ferrández conducted participatory action research (PAR) in Altos de la Florida, an informal settlement for internally displaced persons in an urban area outside Bogota, Colombia. He is making a firsthand analysis of the humanitarian conditions in the settlement to uncover challenges and propose pathways to improve interventions through protection and resilience approaches.

 * * *

Capacity building for urban IDPs (internally displaced persons) and host communities is emerging as a new way of working to confront the root causes of protracted displacement in unsafe, informal settlements in Colombia. Despite the challenges, these urban contexts provide an opportunity to advance the complementarity, connectedness, and localization of humanitarian and development aid.

View of Altos de Florida and Soacha on the outskirts of Bogota, the capital of Colombia.


“I was displaced by the paramilitary from Llanos Orientales to Chocó in 2005,” says Yomaira, who lives with her husband and three children in Altos de la Florida, an informal settlement in urban Soacha, just outside the Colombian capital of Bogota. “Three years later we fled to the urban areas of Buenaventura and then again in 2012 to Bogota due to increased violence. In 2014 we started to build a house on this hill because the cost of living in the city was too high.” Yomaira’s narrative reflects the experience of many families for whom armed conflict prompted just the first of many internal displacements: 5.8 million people remain displaced in Colombia as of the end of 2019.[1]

The Root Causes of Displacement

In Colombia, initial displacements due to armed conflict or generalized violence often results in displacements again to urban areas, where families seek protection and economic opportunities. An estimated 87% of the country’s IDPs come from rural areas, and they wind up in the only places that they can access due to their vulnerability: the informal settlements,[2] where more than half of the IDPs live.[3] Both authorities and humanitarian, development, and peace actors need to better understand these supposed urban refuges.

This article is based on a research project implemented from 2015 until 2018 in Altos de la Florida, including surveys of 211 households, 98 in-depth interviews, 3 social cartographies, and 3 focus group discussions.[4] Altos de la Florida is a neighborhood in Soacha, a municipality of approximately 1 million people, the largest of the cities surrounding Bogota. Over two-thirds of its population was living under the poverty line as of 2010.[5]

According to the city’s development plan, 48% of the municipality—378 neighborhoods—are deemed “illegal” by local authorities. The IDP population in the municipality stood at around 50,000 in July 2018. Since the outbreak of the economic and political crisis in neighboring Venezuela, at least 12,300 Venezuelans have joined the ranks of Soacha’s displaced people.

Altos de la Florida suffers from the common pattern of social and spatial segregation in a poverty area with low-quality housing, services, and infrastructure: 72.9% of households are in conditions of structural poverty. The neighborhood as an urban community, formed by 1,011 families of around 3,657 people, has two main characteristics: 52.49% are less than 25 years old, and 48.81% are women.

An article in a local daily linked so-called social cleansing with the murder of the son of a community leader in Altos de la Florida.

From One Informal Settlement to Another

The UNHCR and UNDP have diagnosed Altos de la Florida as a “vulnerable community due to the informality of the neighborhood.”[6] The informal nature of these urban settings limits the capacity to reduce vulnerabilities, yet the planning secretary of the mayor’s office refuses legalization.

Due to the absence of political will, households lack tenure security and have no official proof of home ownership. The neighborhood faced eviction attempts in 2009, and the lack of basic services and infrastructure in Altos de la Florida increases residents’ vulnerability. According to my survey results, 97.1% of households do not have access to drinking water except for a tank trunk, around 300 children need a kindergarten, and there are no primary health centers in the area—in fact, Soacha’s hospital has only 250 beds for 1 million people.

Altos de la Florida is regarded as an urban territory without state.[7] Urban violence increases protection risks. Informality combined with the settlement’s geostrategic position, and the absence of local authorities makes the neighborhood a strategic location for nonstate armed actors. According to Forensis data, the homicide index in Soacha was 40.58 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016, the highest in the department of Cundinamarca. The profile of victims follows a common pattern seen in other urban contexts in Latin America: 91.5% are men, and 44.3% are between 20 and 29 years old. Interpersonal violence also represents a significant challenge with 2,898 cases per year, the fourth highest behind the cities of Medellin, Cali, and Barranquilla.

The lack of political will, the structural vulnerabilities of communities in informal urban areas, and high levels of insecurity are the causes of new urban displacements, both intra- and inter-urban. Re-victimization and re-displacement are the two main characteristics of this vicious cycle. Intra-urban displacement is the victimizing event with the greatest impact on the urban dynamics of the conflict in Colombia.[8] Urban IDPs are forced to flee their informal settlements due to violence, only to arrive in other settlements with similar protection risks. Informal settlements are therefore at once expelling zones and arrival areas for displaced populations. In socially and spatially segregated Altos de la Florida, IDPs represent 30%–40% of the population.

A man in Altos de la Florida building a brick house.

Promoting Community Participation

Humanitarian, development, and peace actors have increased their interest in urban contexts in recent years. Despite increasing knowledge, though, a lack of experience and challenges inherent to urban settings continue to undermine humanitarian and development interventions. International humanitarian aid began in 2001, when World Vision International established a presence in Colombia. In 2006 UN agencies and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) started their intervention. Particularly interesting was the UN Human Security Program (2010–12) and the UN Transitional Solutions Initiative (TSI) project (2012–16).

In the settlements, a protracted and supply-driven emergency response has caused people to become dependent on external aid. Emergency assistance is an essential form of humanitarian aid, mainly for displaced families, but protracted aid can discourage community participation and increase the gap between assistance and development. According to one development worker operating in the neighborhood, to avoid creating dependency, “it is necessary to promote sustainable public policy solutions and the participation of IDPs in the political, economic, and social life of the host community.”[9]

The dependency of community leaders on humanitarian assistance also undermines social cohesion in the neighborhood. Limited consultation and lack of coordination decreases the effectiveness of the intervention. Past project evaluations have found that “international cooperation is insufficient and requires the integral intervention of the State.”[10] Therefore, achieving a durable solution for urban displacement requires closer collaboration between the humanitarian sector and local authorities, along with strong political will at both the local and national levels.

Resilience Spaces as a Protective Approach

In urban informal settlements, humanitarian, development, and peace actors must work in a weakened and less cohesive social engagement environment, exacerbated by sporadic violence. These circumstances lend themselves to short-term responses and silo-approaches to deal with emergencies, further increasing dependence among the communities that receive support. Poorly integrated responses have limited capacity to address complex urban crises. Cooperation between humanitarian and development actors and engagement with national and local actors are essential, given the potentially limited capacity and political will of certain municipalities.

The protracted vulnerability of urban IDPs and host communities in informal urban contexts has revealed the need for real change in humanitarian aid, particularly as fragile situations are exacerbated by urban violence. Protracted urban displacement requires better connectivity between humanitarian and development efforts, and the needs of IDPs should be balanced with those of the host communities. Current debates show a growing consensus around new and comprehensive approaches. To face the challenges of protracted urban displacement, interventions must go beyond immediate humanitarian needs and should aim to reduce the vulnerabilities of both IDPs and local host communities.

Humanitarian aid should be committed to not only ensuring survival but also supporting people to live in dignity. “Resilience spaces” were developed as a complementarity approach in the UNHCR’s Policy on Refugee Protection and Solutions in Urban Areas (2009), combining assistance and recovery by not only addressing urgent needs but also strengthening local capacities. The framework combines a top-down protection approach with a bottom-up capacity building approach through three areas of intervention: creating education, economic, and labor opportunities; strengthening social cohesion; and, supporting leadership capacities.

Such resilience spaces have been set up in Altos de la Florida, resulting in the creation of two important grassroots organizations in the informal settlement: Comité de Impulso, a fortnightly meeting among community leaders, dwellers, IDP associations, and humanitarians; and Florida Juvenil, a youth community organization engaged in break-dance, theater, and football activities.

Resilience has emerged as one of the strongest responses to the humanitarian and development divide. In Altos de la Florida, the joint work of humanitarian and development actors, in collaboration with national and local counterparts, aims to achieve collective results in the short to medium term (three to five years) to reduce risk and vulnerability. The situation in Altos de la Florida features three criteria that are on the rise in modern humanitarianism and deemed essential in urban responses to displacement: complementarity, connectivity, and sustainability.

A youth theater group supported by Fe y Alegría in Altos de Florida.

In Altos de la Florida, international actors strengthened rather than replaced local and national systems. The complementariness of response included collaboration with local and national aid providers in affected territories, empowerment of leaders of both local and national NGOs and community-based organizations, as well as inclusion of authorities and municipalities at the urban level. Going beyond complementarity, connectivity can not only to bridge the humanitarian-development divide but also incorporate approaches like resilience, which is key to strengthening local capacities. Sustainability, evident through positive long-term results for the supported individuals and societies, depends directly on this capacity for collaboration among the actors and the strengthening of local and national capacities.

Currently, there is consensus in the humanitarian community that in urban contexts populations can be protected by strengthening their capacity. In this sense, humanitarian action has a particular and perhaps unique role in protecting the population through strategies that allow people to build their resilience. Resilience approaches bridge lingering disparities and disconnections between humanitarian and development responses in urban interventions. The approach observed in Altos de la Florida helps better articulate an urban response around the construction of resilience as an instrument of protection. This protection, in turn, represents a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of urban displacement.

Resilience space in Altos de la Florida supported by the Jesuit Refugee Service.

 

[1] IDMC (2019), ‘Global Report on Internal Displacement 2019’, IDMC, p. 44, https://bit.ly/2WNKeKQ.

[2] CNMH (2010), ‘Una nación desplazada. Informe nacional del desplazamiento forzado en Colombia,’ CNMH and UARIV, p. 38, https://bit.ly/29uyNzv.

[3] IDMC (2015), ‘Global Overview 2015. People internally displaced by conflict and violence,’ IDMC, p. 20, https://bit.ly/2TSq3ZK.

[4] This part of the project was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 691060.

[5] UNDP (2010), ‘Política Pública de Desarrollo Social Incluyente. Municipio de Soacha,’ UNDP.

[6] UNHCR and UNDP (2017), ‘Documentación proceso de integración local comunidad Altos de la Florida, Soacha,’ UNHCR and UNDP, https://bit.ly/2SQ0vgc.

[7] Laura Tedesco (2007), ‘El Estado en América Latina ¿fallido o en proceso de formación?’ Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior, Vol 37.

[8] CODHES (2013), ‘Desplazamiento forzado intraurbano y soluciones duraderas,’ CODHES, p. 18, https://bit.ly/2EEfmpf.

[9] Interview, April 4, 2016, with a UNDP TSI coordinator in Soacha.

[10] Econometría Consultores (2016), ‘Evaluación externa del programa “Construyendo Soluciones Sostenibles-TSI,”’ Econometría S.A., p. 19.

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Gender-Based Violence: Rethinking Social, Legal, and Healthcare Services in Jordan

November 1, 2019
By 25271

In Jordan, legal reforms have been promoted to achieve gender equality, which have led to improvements in female participation in education. However, there is still a big gap to achieving women’s empowerment in a practical sense, as cultural and religious norms encouraging gender inequality prevail in the society. The norms prevent women from social and political participation and even justify gender-based violence toward women. Dr. Tayseer Abu Odeh, a 2007 Sylff fellow at the University of Jordan, held a conference on July 16, 2019, at the University of Jordan to tackle the social issue by rethinking social, legal, and healthcare services. The conference was funded by Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI).

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Background and Objectives

It is my great pleasure to say that this conference was the first one organized in the Middle East by Sylff Leadership Initiatives, as one of the substantial and key conferences that seek to point to future directions in the field of gender studies and gender-based violence in Jordan. The conference is intended to address and examine the very implications of the term gender-based violence, which is defined in Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Actions (Inter Agency Standing Committee, 2015) as follows: “any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (i.e. gender) differences between males and females. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion, and other deprivations of liberty. These acts occur in public and in private.” With that in mind, this conference aims at addressing gender-based violence by assessing and rethinking social, legal, and healthcare services in Jordan.

The conference was held on July 16, 2019, at the University of Jordan.


According to a study conducted in 2015 and published in 2016 by United Nations Women titled “Strengthening the Jordanian Justice Sector’s Response to Cases of Violence against Women,” only 3% of victims of gender-based violence in Jordan seek official support from the police after being traumatized by any act of violence. Similarly, National Council for Family Affairs conducted an important report titled “Status of Violence against Women in Jordan” in 2008. It indicates that National Forensic Medicine Center in Jordan “deals with an average of 700 cases of sexual assault against women annually” and that “the number of murdered women recorded was 120 in 2006, including 18 cases classified as crimes of honor.” Ironically, the actual cases of physical and emotional abuse outnumber these statistics for many sociopolitical and cultural reasons. As a tribal and conservative society, many Jordanian families do not report these cases to protect their superego and collective image at the expense of the victim’s individual trauma.

 

The audience consisted of people from all walks of life.


Opening Remarks

Dr. Abeer Dababneh, director of the Center for Women’s Studies at the University of Jordan, opened the conference by stressing the significance of the event in raising the bar of social and gender consciousness in Jordan in terms of the available services offered by the three major sectors in Jordan: law, justice, and social development.

The president of the University of Jordan, Dr. Abdul-Karim Al Qudah, delivered a speech on how the University of Jordan plays a crucial role in empowering women and giving them a space for sociopolitical representation. He argued that the university is meant to be a feminist and intellectual hub for women’s equality, justice, and creativity, where many female students and teachers have a local and global reach and outshine their counterparts in every field of knowledge.

Moreover, Justice Minister Bassam Talhouni placed an emphasis on the significant role being played by the Ministry of Justice to fight a number of structural obstacles that confine and hinder gender equality. Although Jordan has witnessed some degree of local progress on gender issues, gender-based violence in Jordan is still a serious issue that should be resisted by national institutions at all levels.

Opening remarks.


Conference

The conference held on July 16, 2019, at the University of Jordan sought to develop and implement a more dynamic and practical strategy and method to protect Jordanian survivors who have been repeatedly traumatized by gender-based violence. Accordingly, the conference consisted of four panels:
Panel 1. Legal and Justice Services in Jordan
Panel 2. The Role of National, International, and Civil Society in Jordan
Panel 3. Gender-Based Violence in the Healthcare Sector
Panel 4. Gender-Based Violence in the Social Development Sector

In the first panel, all panelists stressed the way in which the sociocultural and legal contexts impact the whole process of gender-based prosecution in Jordan. The panelists also addressed how the Family Protection Program and other government institutions facilitate legal services for gender-based violence survivors. Meanwhile, they also underscored the limitations of these institutions and how such limitations should be treated locally.

The second panel was premised on the role of national, international, and civil society in Jordan. The panelists highlighted the significant role played by the National Council for Family Affairs and other government and nongovernment institutions vis-à-vis the multiple family protection projects in Jordan. They also emphasized the urgent need to revise the legal system and the alternative ways that this could be carried out to strengthen cooperation between these institutions toward fighting gender-based-violence in Jordan. In a similar vein, the third panel examined the multiple healthcare services offered by the Ministry of Health for victimized women in Jordan. Furthermore, the panelists concretely addressed the cultural and institutional flaws that hinder the process of fighting violence against women in Jordan. The panelists of the last session attempted to explore the way in which the social development sector engages in several rehabilitative counseling programs by training legal employees who are in charge of gender-based violence cases in Jordan. The panelists shed light on the psychological and professional competence of public employees.

 

The second panel, “The Role of National, International, and Civil Society in Jordan Legal and Justice Services in Jordan.”


Open Discussion

Each panel had an open discussion, in which many members of the audience gave compelling and engaging questions and remarks on gender-based violence in Jordan. For instance, an Egyptian activist attempted to challenge the dominant cultural paradigms of gender duties and roles that have been dogmatized and maintained by religion, government, and culture in Jordan. Another graduate student of gender studies was curious to understand the cultural and institutional circumstances that have shaped gender trouble in Jordan. Dr. Tayseer Abu Odeh, the organizer of the conference, responded to this question by arguing that gender trouble emanates from the cultural and social dogma of stereotypes and some religious misinterpretations that deem gender roles as being fixed and unchangeable. Thus, these dogmatic gender roles should be dismantled and challenged by reforming educational pedagogy, incorporating the most up-to-date research findings on gender studies into educational curricula in terms of the cultural and political context of gender-based violence in Jordan, gender equality, and statistical cases.


Final Recommendations Suggested by Participants

The participants agreed on a set of feasible and compelling recommendations that meet the most pressing issues of gender-based violence in Jordan. The media, for instance, should play a crucial role in sustaining and disseminating a profound discourse that offers a counternarrative to gender-based violence that should include updated statistics on all acts of gender-based violence in Jordan, hosting influential feminists to discuss major issues of gender-based violence, and evaluating the kinds of services offered by the three sectors of healthcare, justice and police, and social development. Similarly, the Ministry of Higher Education should be obliged to incorporate a new course on gender-based violence through which university students will be exposed to a wealth of legal, cultural, and epistemological knowledge on gender-based violence in Jordan regarding the discursive quantitative and qualitative circumstances that motivate any act of violence against women in Jordan. Moreover, the panelists stressed the significance of creating a professional national monitoring system through which the risk of gender-based violence in Jordan could be identified and assessed. Several panelists suggested a vibrant institutional and legal collaboration among all government and nongovernmental organizations that are in charge of survivors and victimizers of gender-based violence.

Dr. Tayseer Abu Odeh also stressed the importance of establishing a research database that would function as a professional research platform encompassing all reports, documents, and stories that address and document gender-based violence and assess national services in Jordan. A number of panelists argued that founding a national counseling office for gender-based violence at all universities should be a national priority. Drawing on the agenda of this conference, some of the scholars recommended outlining and endorsing a national manifesto agreed upon by all governmental and nongovernmental institutions that are in charge of fighting gender-based violence in Jordan. It would be a national and academic manifesto that legislates and outlines the national and humanitarian roles, duties, authorities, and agendas among various national partners that are concerned with gender-based violence.


Conclusion

It has been noticed that the vision of gender-based violence held by the government and bureaucracy in Jordan is somewhat limited and dogmatic. Several participants standing for government institutions were obsessed with a discourse of denial in which their findings seemed to underestimate the serious risk of gender-based violence in Jordan. Conversely, independent scholars and gender activists and leaders expressed an opposing view that challenges the one suggested by government representatives. With that in mind, a number of panelists suggested putting forward and organizing another forum in the near future that would reexamine gender-based violence in Jordan from a radical sociopolitical perspective. Drawing on Lila Abu-Lughod’s feminist paradigm, our anticipated conference would be mainly premised on the intersections between globalism, gender politics, and the political economy.

The conference caught the attention of many international and national feminists, scholars, lawyers, activists, senators, officials, policy makers, and academics. It also drew considerable interest from the media in Jordan. The conference was covered by the most influential and popular Jordanian media outlets that include, but are not limited to, the Jordan Times, Petra News Agency, Alrai, Addustour, Alghad, and the University of Jordan’s website. All media reports released on the conference noted the significance of the conference in fighting all forms of gender-based violence in Jordan.

Taking the major proceedings and recommendations of the conference into account, I would argue that gender-based violence in Jordan is still a serious sociopolitical and cultural problem that should be faced and resisted by all levels of the private and public sectors. In a nutshell, there should be a substantial strategic collaboration between all government and nongovernmental institutions. With that in mind, in my capacity as a Jordanian writer, activist, and intellectual, I am determined to keep fighting this crisis in every possible way and exert tremendous efforts to raise cultural and social consciousness about gender-based violence in Jordan. 

 

Dr. Tayseer Abu Odeh, an organizer of the conference.


References

“Strengthening the Jordanian Justice Sector’s Response to Cases of Violence against Women,” United Nations Women, 2016.


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Detailed arguments made in the panels are summarized below.

Panel 1: Legal and Justice Services in Jordan

The first panel of the conference was titled “Legal and Justice Services in Jordan.” Asma Khader, a leading human rights lawyer and former minister of culture, addressed the way in which gender-based prosecution is carried out in Jordan. Khader shed light on the social, cultural, and legal contexts of juridical prosecution in Jordan. Khader argued that many prosecutors who are in charge of gender-based violence cases and the implementation of the legal system lack sufficient legal, sociopolitical, and cultural literacy and professional training.

The second speaker, Reem Abu Hassan, a leading human rights lawyer and former minister of social development, discussed gender violence from a legal perspective. Drawing on her perspective, Abu Hassan also contended that cultural and social stereotypes are considered to be one of the most pressing issues that have shaped the various structures of gender trouble in Jordan.

The third speaker of this panel was Fakhri al Qatarneh, director of the Family Protection Program. Qatarneh examined the role of the program in facilitating the multiple services that are offered for gender-based violence survivors in Jordan. Unlike Khader and Abu Hassan, Qatarneh argued that the increasing number of complaints that have been recently reported to the Family Protection Program is an indicator of people’s awareness of gender-based violence in Jordan. Qatarneh’s argument sounded somewhat contradictory, as it confirmed an ideological discourse of denial that has been sustained by government officials whenever they address gender-based violence in Jordan.

Panel 2: The Role of National, International, and Civil Society in Jordan

The second panel addressed the role of national, international, and civil society in reinforcing sufficient and effective services that have to do with gender-based violence in Jordan. The first speaker was Yara Al Deer, a researcher at the Arab State Regional Office of the United Nations Population Fund. Al Deer pointed out that national and local institutions of healthcare, justice, and social development sectors should collaborate and cooperate more effectively to implement a range of feasible procedures of social, psychological, and legal support for survivors.

The second speaker, Dr. Mohammad Fakhri Meqdady, secretary general of the National Council for Family Affairs in Amman, highlighted the role of the NCFA in fighting gender-based violence in Jordan in light of various social and political transformations. Meqdady noted that a family protection project was initiated to protect a large number of survivors in Jordan. He also stressed the importance of collaboration among government and nongovernmental institutions that fight gender-based violence in Jordan from statistical, procedural, and legal perspectives.

Dr. Salma Nims was the third speaker of this panel. She is secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women in Jordan. She addressed the dynamic and vital way in which the political and social roles of the Jordanian National Commission for Women are played. According to Al Nims, the commission is in charge of the following responsibilities: ensuring a convenient and applicable environment, revising the legal system, opening up a powerful and face-to-face dialogue with the government, building up an effective dialogue with the civil society in order to agree on specific legal amendments and revisions, and enforcing an active form of cooperation among all government and nongovernmental institutions to fight gender violence in Jordan. Such a dynamic role, however, is diminishing due to lack of institutionalism and bureaucracy.  

Dr. Ibrhim Aqil, director of the Noor Al Hussein Center for Family Health Care, was the last speaker of this panel. Aqil explored how civil society can imagine and offer alternative and feasible services for survivors of gender-based violence in Jordan. Aqil juxtaposed the interplay between data of gender-based violence, getting access to these data, and the right to get adequate and efficient services. He also placed an emphasis on the indispensable nature of multiple services that should be offered for survivors. These services include protective, educational, legal, administrative, social, and psychological procedures.

Panel 3: Gender-Based Violence in the Healthcare Sector

The third panel was titled “Gender-Based Violence in the Healthcare Sector.” Dr. Malak Al Ouri, director of Women’s Healthcare in the Ministry of Health, examined the role of the Ministry of Health in the reinforcement of health services for traumatized women in Jordan. Al Ouri discussed how the family violence department plays a vital role in handling gender-based violence issues in Jordan. In addition, a number of professional committees have been initiated by the ministry to follow up on all cases of gender violence in Jordan and make sure that each case is reported and documented immediately and rigorously. However, there is a built-in flaw in the institutionalized and scholarly documentation of such kind of cases arising from governmental bureaucracy, cultural stigmatization, and lack of cooperation between government and nongovernmental institutions regarding gender-based violence.

Dr. Maha Darwish, an expert on gender-based violence with the United States Agency for International Development, also addressed alternative and feasible services to rehabilitate gender-based victimizers from a psychosocial perspective. Darwish suggested psychological procedures to rehabilitate victimizers and ensure a professional training program designated by the Ministry of Health and other local institutions. 

Panel 4: Gender-Based Violence in the Social Development Sector

Panel four was concerned with gender-based violence in the social development sector. Amer Hiasat, director of the Social Development Program in Amman, discussed the multiple ways in which social protection for gender-based victims is maintained and carried out by the Ministry of Social Development. Hiasat asserted that the ministry has a crucial role in offering beneficial services for survivors of gender-based violence in Jordan. Nevertheless, this role is still flawed due to multiple bureaucratic and institutional inconsistencies.

Meanwhile, Eva Abu Halawa, director of Mizan Organization for Women’s Rights, put forward a number of suggested methods that civil society should use to protect survivors of gender-based violence. She contended that raising gender consciousness among people is a national priority that should be taken into account in fighting gender-based violence in Jordan. She also suggested creating more specialized counseling departments for training legal prosecutors and employees who handle cases of gender-based violence.

The last speaker of this panel was Dr. Amal Al Awawdeh, a professor of gender studies at the Center for Women’s Studies, University of Jordan. She interrogated the professional and technical competence of government social specialists who are in charge of handling gender-based violence in Jordan. Her findings are premised on the lack of effective professionalism among government social specialists and how such a flaw impacts social and counseling intervention and protective programs that have been employed by the Ministry of Social Development.

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The Many Hands of Humanitarian Aid:September 2017 Mexico Earthquake Relief Activities

April 26, 2018
By 22363

Fernanda Herrera Lopez is a Sylff fellow currently enrolled in a PhD program at El Colegio de México (Colmex). She was in Mexico City on the day of the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that struck on September 19, 2017. She is a member of the Colmex 19S Committee, which has led relief activities after the earthquake with support from the Sylff Disaster Relief Fund. Fernanda shares her experience and learnings.

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Up until last year, September 19 was a date that most Mexicans associated with the year 1985. In the early hours of that day in 1985, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck Mexico City, killing thousands of people and bringing together millions more. From that day on, citizens have conducted annual earthquake drills, both for safety preparedness and to remember and honor those who lost their lives.

September 19, 2017, was no exception. At exactly 11:00 am, students, professors, and workers of El Colegio de México (Colmex) heard the seismic alert and evacuated the facilities, as did all the other students and workers in neighboring areas. We then went back to our daily lives without knowing that the next couple of days would be spent away from the classrooms, scrabbling through rubble and helping people in improvised shelters.

The earthquake reached Mexico City at 1:14 pm. Most of us were having lunch in the school cafeteria when we felt the ground shake beneath us. Surprisingly, the alert did not go off right away; we later learned that our proximity to the epicenter in Morelos—just under 120 km away—meant that the warning system could not detect the seismic movement in advance, and it was only as we were leaving the building that the alarm was activated. Once outside Colmex, we heard rumors that some buildings had collapsed, that there were fires due to gas leaks, and that people were trapped inside their homes and offices. Later that day, we found out that the rumors were true; more than 40 buildings had fallen to the ground, taking with them 225 human lives.

The help was immediate: People rushed to pharmacies and bought first aid supplies and water for the survivors. All construction retailing companies donated or sold out basic rescue equipment like shovels, carts, mallets, heavy-duty gloves, and hard hats. People who could not afford to buy medical or construction supplies donated their time and effort, helping remove rubble from rescue sites and preparing and delivering warm meals to volunteers and rescuers. Citizens fought day and night to rescue trapped people and animals. If someone got tired, there was always another volunteer willing to step in. If someone lost hope, there were words of encouragement.

International aid was also prompt, and Mexico welcomed rescuers from El Salvador, Israel, Japan, Panama, Spain, and the United States. Even though we knew that the chances of finding survivors grew slimmer with each passing day, we all kept despair at a distance and focused on assisting the rescue teams as much as we could. Finding people who did not survive discouraged all, but we soon learned from the Japanese that death was also to be met with respect, and we joined them whenever they bowed to the victims.



Sylff Colmex Earthquake Relief Fund


Two days after the earthquake, we received a very kind email from the Sylff Association secretariat asking if we were all right. We told them that the Colmex community had not been tragically affected and that we were working to help those who were less fortunate than us; in fact, students, professors, and staff had managed to collect and deliver more than 10 tons of supplies and daily necessities to communities in Mexico City and other neighboring states. The Sylff Association then offered to start a fund-raising campaign among its members to help with the relief activities. We were happy to hear this and, subsequently, to receive very generous donations from the Sylff Association, namely, the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, the Jadavpur University Sylff Association, and Belgrade University Sylff fellow Marina Stetic. This reinforced our notion that the Sylff network has strong ties based on solidarity and brotherhood and that the interaction among its members goes beyond the mere generation of knowledge and the transmission of ideas.

Some of the members of the 19S Committee.

The Relief Fund meant that we could widen our scope of help, but at the same time, it brought with it a greater responsibility to choose and direct the resources. Bearing this in mind, Colmex created the 19S Committee, composed of two full-time professors, Dr. Sandra Kuntz and Dr. Satomi Miura; Laura Valverde, director for Student Affairs; Colmex treasurer Hugo Ortega; Dr. Laura Flamand, vice president of Academic Affairs; and two Sylff members, Erick Serna and myself. Together, we agreed that we would target three underprivileged communities in Mexico City, Morelos, and Oaxaca. This unanimous decision was reached after reviewing several proposals and holding meetings with project representatives and locals. One of our main concerns was that the initially abundant help was slowly running out, yet the survivors had not even managed to make a partial recovery.

Our choice of relief items to purchase was based on the following reasoning: People needed medicine, because the precarious conditions in which they live promote gastrointestinal and eye diseases. Survivors also required winter items like jackets, warm sleeping bags, and tents to deal with the cold, since many of them still lived in temporary shelters.


Participant Accounts


Erick Serna, a 2016 Sylff fellow at El Colegio de México, traveled alongside five Colmex students and Professor Satomi Miura to San Mateo del Mar, Oaxaca, on February 10, 2018. The group delivered 850 food packages, 800 medicine kits, 44 tents, 46 sleeping bags, and 35 winter jackets for men, women, and children. The following is his account.

“We traveled all Friday night and Saturday morning. The truck with the relief items arrived first. By the time we got there, the women of the community—all of them from indigenous groups—had unloaded most of the load. The language they spoke was Huave. Most of the women were accompanied by their children, some of whom were babies. CAMI, a center created by local women organized the delivery of the items. While traveling across San Mateo, we noticed the context of poverty in which the community lives. The town relies on fishing, yet such economic activity is not enough to fulfill the daily needs of its inhabitants.

Erick Serna in Huejotongo.

“After visiting San Mateo del Mar, Huejotongo, and San Gregorio, I had many contradictory feelings. I felt grateful to the Sylff Association for allowing me to continue doing social labor. But I learned that sometimes it is very difficult to have a meaningful impact given the social and cultural context in which some communities live. Nevertheless, I found that a little help is better than none, and I hope that we can find more reasons to continue helping our brothers.”

I (Fernanda Herrera Lopez), a 2016 fellow at El Colegio de México, accompanied two Colmex students and three staff members to San Gregorio, Mexico City, on February 5, 2018. We delivered 120 food packages and 32 winter jackets for men, women, and children.

Relief activity in San Gregorio.

We arrived in San Gregorio early in the afternoon. Two locals guided us through narrow unpaved streets—so narrow, in fact, that we had to leave the vans behind and carry the food packages ourselves. The first community we visited had already begun the demolition of destroyed houses. We delivered daily necessities to villagers and then headed to other communities that were more difficult to reach.

My guide was a civil defense expert. He pointed to a sign painted on the front window of a house and explained its meaning to me: the “6” to the left indicated the number of people who used to live in the house, the “0” on top was the number of people who died on September 19, the “0” on the bottom was the number of animals that lived there, and the “D” to the right indicated that the house was to be demolished. Once I learned this information, I could not help but feel a great sadness whenever we saw a number different than “0” marked on the upper part of a sign.

Since most of the houses in the area were deemed unsuitable for living, the local authorities had asked their inhabitants to relocate elsewhere, but some people continued living there. They explained that they had no money to pay rent elsewhere and that all they ever possessed was right there, even if it had been reduced to rubble. Families appeared to be in greater need than they were in September, because local businesses and factories had closed down due to the earthquake. This meant that the survivors had an extra adversity to face: unemployment. In spite all of this, people continue to have high hopes for the future. I think that, by easing their burdens in the short term, the aid that the Sylff Association kindly provided will allow them to recover.


Lessons

The lessons we have taken from the earthquake and the delivery of the relief items go well beyond anything we could have learned in the classrooms. In particular, we found that, despite Colmex’s full commitment to improving the social, economic, and environmental conditions of Mexico through theoretical and applied research, there is still much to learn from people whose voices we had not heard before. We are indebted to the Sylff Association for providing invaluable help to the survivors of the earthquake and for bringing us closer to them. We hope that joint efforts like these will have lasting impacts on all the agents involved.

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To Unmake a Victim: Criteria for the Successful Social Reintegration of Human Trafficking Victims

April 3, 2018
By 24051

Rui Caria is a Sylff fellow currently enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. He is currently addressing research in the field of criminology, specifically victimization and social reintegration of human trafficking victims, which should be a legitimate policy to protect victims and prevent retrafficking.

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Introduction

I am currently doing my dissertation for a master’s in criminal law. The title is “The social reintegration of human trafficking victims,” a theme that deals not only with international and European criminal law, criminology, and victimology, but also shines the light on how criminal policy should be carried out in order to find a balance between victim protection and criminal prosecution.

The goal of my research is to advance a criminal law policy oriented by the idea of social reintegration of the victims, capable of harmonizing and bettering the different mechanisms of victim protection, while at the same time helping the fight against trafficking.

To reach this goal, I explore the current international legislation on human trafficking and compare policies from various countries to see which are most effective and which to avoid. I also explore the real circumstances of the victims to paint a clear picture of their vulnerability, followed by an examination of the different concepts of vulnerability in various legislations to see which one is the most suitable for policy making. To conclude, a proposal of a concept of social reintegration is advanced, as well as an attempt to justify its purpose in criminal policy, and a study of the various criteria that in my understanding contribute to its success.

 

What Is Human Trafficking?

The isolation of the victim. (Photo courtesy of Pexels.com)

Human trafficking is one of the most devastating crimes occurring in the international landscape, not only for the gravity of its offenses but also for the way it exploits the victims through their vulnerability. It is considered a crime against personal liberty, transforming human beings into things and using them as such.

According to international and European law—Article 3 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo Protocol) of 2000, and Article 2 of the Directive 2011/36/EU—trafficking in human beings refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.

This exploitation includes the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, including begging, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, exploitation of criminal activities, or the removal of organs.

The definition of what constitutes human trafficking is important to determine what actions fall under the scope of the crime, as well as which victims.

 

Victims and Their Vulnerability

The despair of the victim. (Photo courtesy of Pexels.com)

According to the European directive and the Palermo Protocol, a position of vulnerability means a situation in which the person concerned has no real or acceptable alternative but to submit to the abuse involved. What, then, are some of the factors that contribute to the special vulnerability of human trafficking victims?

A brief criminological analysis will help us reach an understanding. By and large, human trafficking victims are people in situations of great economic struggle and social unbalance, originating from countries or regions that are both economically and socially debilitated. In the face of these circumstances, these people seek countries with better conditions where they might improve their lives, and it is with this idea that they fall in the trap of human trafficking.

Their being in a strange country or region is another factor of their vulnerability, for they lack knowledge of this new territory and suffer from geographical disorientation. Also, traffickers make them afraid of violence on themselves and their families. Another fear is that their community might find out about their activities in prostitution. Finally, a distrust of the local police and judicial authorities is fed by the traffickers that, along with the previous factors, leaves these people extremely dependent on them, which helps reinforce the control of their captors.

Various personal circumstances can contribute to the acceptance of their situation. Victims might have developed drug dependency during their stay in a foreign country, which makes them crave income so that they can satisfy their needs. They might also be economically indebted to their traffickers for having brought them to a new country, so that they need to work and suffer the exploitation to pay off that debt; this is a common stratagem among traffickers. Studies have shown that there are very reduced percentages of voluntary exercise of prostitution, indicating dark figures of exploitation in this area.

In light of these factors, Article 3 of the Palermo Protocol deems the consent of the victims irrelevant to excuse the criminal action when it is used in the context of this special vulnerability.

 

Social Reintegration as a Criminal Policy Goal

The shame of the victim. (Photo courtesy of Pexels.com)

It is this special vulnerability of the victims of human trafficking that, in our understanding, justifies the need for social reintegration, given the potential for prevention through this process. Before developing these justifications, we must define social reintegration: it is a process by which secondary victimization is maximally reduced throughout the victim’s journey before, during, and after criminal procedure, with the goal that they are not further victimized and, especially, that they are not retrafficked.

Secondary victimization, which social reintegration works to avoid, is a process by which, through complex selection and stigmatization by—but not only by—the judicial process and its entities, a person assumes the stereotype of a victim, suffering further victimization as a consequence of the way she regards her own identity. Human trafficking victims are very susceptible to this kind of process due to the stigmatization they suffer from their sexual work, the constant abuse from their traffickers, and their placement in the illegal market.

So, to sum up, the special vulnerability of the victims, whose factors we previously referred to, make victims more prone to stigmatization and mistreatment, which results in secondary victimization, therefore justifying the need for social reintegration. This is the humanistic or human rights approach aspect present in this process. The criminal law approach aspect, on the other hand, may manifest itself by justifying this minimization of secondary victimization as a form of prevention of future crimes. The logic we put behind this is the following: if social reintegration prevents secondary victimization, it prevents victims from being revictimized, mainly and ideally in the form of retrafficking; if it prevents them from being retrafficked, it prevents the crime of trafficking, for the object of this crime is the person itself.

We made the effort of emphasizing the two aspects of the process—the human rights approach and the criminal law approach—because these are the two opposing approaches represented in the policy making of human trafficking today: the first oriented towards the protection of victims and the recognition of their rights and the second towards border or migration control and criminal prosecution of the traffickers. We believe that by incorporating both these approaches in its goals, social reintegration can be a balanced criminal policy, taking into account the protection of vulnerable victims and the fight against the crime that exploits them.

We perceive this social reintegration not as a mere post-interventive response to crime, as it is often thought, but as a holistic process that is present before, during, and after criminal procedure and therefore dependent on various criteria for its success. For it to be successful, we believe there must be: a well-defined and useful concept of trafficking of human beings, mainly with regard to the position of vulnerability; a successful identification of the victims so they can benefit from the protection allowed to them by criminal procedure; mechanisms of protection integrated into criminal procedure that reduce the degrading effect it tends to have on the victims, allowing for their protection, legal assistance, and support, without demanding their cooperation in the prosecution; realistic and well-adjusted criteria in regard to the return, or not, of the victims to their country of origin, as well as defined obligations for the states regarding the matter of repatriation.

It is a difficult process, with many variables dependent on making it successful and many in need of improvement. However, I believe that through a good understanding of the real circumstances of the victims and effort on the improvement of international criminal policy to humanistic ideas of protection, there is way to unmake trafficking by unmaking the victims.

 

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Verbs and the History of Bantu Languages Near the Serengeti

November 10, 2016
By 19668

It is said that there are more than 6,000 languages spoken today in the world. The majority of them are so-called minority languages and are endangered. Timothy Roth, a 2014 Sylff fellow of the University of Helsinki, conducted fieldwork in Tanzania to examine four Mara Bantu languages—so-called minority languages—using an SRA award. His article, explaining the findings from his fieldwork, highlights the importance of “minority” languages.

 ***

Mara Region, Tanzania

Mara Region, Tanzania

The Mara Region of Tanzania is home to over 20 different language varieties in an area the size of the US state of Delaware.Mara is situated between Lake Victoria to the west and Serengeti National Park to the east, with the nation of Kenya just to the north. As one might assume, the sheer density of languages and dialects in the region is quite remarkable. Although there are several Nilotic languages in the region, most of the varieties belong to the Bantu language family.

The area around Lake Victoria is extremely important for reconstructing the history of the Bantu peoples, specifically concerning the general routes taken across sub-Saharan Africa during what is called the “Bantu migration.” There is consensus among scholars that the Bantu migration took place several thousand years ago from what is now Cameroon.ii What is in dispute among historians (and researchers from other disciplines) is the direction(s) in which the early Bantu communities moved. One major hypothesis places early Bantu communities to the west of Lake Victoria as the result of a primary migration from Cameroon. Some of these early Bantu communities would have soon spread to the east side of the lake. This hypothesis happens to correspond well with the paleoecological and archaeological evidence.iii

Acacia savanna inside Serengeti National Park, about 90 km from Musoma.

Acacia savanna inside Serengeti National Park, about 90 km from Musoma.

Many of the languages in Mara are endangered to varying degrees and are linguistically underdescribed. There are many language endangerment issues here in terms of the need for language documentation, legitimacy, and the dynamic effects that language development and mother-tongue education can have on the communities themselves. There is an innate value to minority languages whereby language and cultural preservation result in a “mental” or “intellectual” wealth that belongs to humanity.iv

Hale says, “At this point in the history of linguistics, at least, each language offering testimony for linguistic theory brings something important, and heretofore not known or not yet integrated into the theory. In many cases, data from a ‘new’ language forces changes in the developing theory, and in some cases, linguistic diversity sets an entirely new agenda.”v

Thus, any additional linguistic understanding of the Mara languages could have ramifications not only for Bantu migration hypotheses but also for the advancement of current linguistic theory.

My research concerns four of these Mara Bantu languages: Ikoma, Nata, Isenye, and Ngoreme. These languages are closely related and form a subgroup called Western Serengeti. I am working on multiple languages rather than just one because the density of Bantu languages in the Mara region provides a unique opportunity to compare closely related languages. My research is focused on verbs, specifically the grammatical markers that encode tense, aspect, modality, and evidentiality (TAME). In Bantu languages—and many other languages around the world—differences in pitch can change the meaning of words and can also apply to these grammatical TAME markers; this concept is called “grammatical tone” and is a crucial part of any analysis of the verbal system. I am comparing the function and meaning of the TAME markers in Western Serengeti in order to understand how they developed and what that reveals about the history of these languages. As far as methodology is concerned, a focus on function and meaning (and not just forms) makes it necessary to combine any elicitation with the collection of natural texts.

View of Lake Victoria from Makoko, just outside of Musoma.

View of Lake Victoria from Makoko, just outside of Musoma.

For the first phase of my research, I went to Musoma, Tanzania, in October 2014 as a Sylff fellow and collected initial data from each of the languages. This initial data mostly consisted of elicitation from lists of words and sentences but also included audio recordings of stories and conversations. Because the TAME systems were underdescribed, I needed to cast a wide net to see what I would find. (Bantu languages are known for having intricate TAME systems.vi) The first phase was certainly a success, as I was able to figure out the general pattern of how the present-day TAME systems are organized. Surprisingly, I found that the systems are organized primarily around aspect (perfective versus imperfective) and not tense. This type of organization is more like some of the non-Bantu Niger-Congo languages of West Africa.vii

These surprising facets of the initial research made the second phase that much more important, as I had many remaining questions as a result. For example:

• If the systems are organized around aspect, how do speakers choose a particular aspect to communicate past, present, or future? Is it merely whether the event is viewed as complete or incomplete?

• Do the semantics of the verbs themselves (lexical aspect) influence the selection of certain grammatical aspects? Are there any restrictions on which verbs can take which grammatical aspects?

• Quite a bit of overlap exists in some of the aspects that cover (what would be) the immediate past and present. Does modality play any role in distinguishing between these?

Ikoma language informants working on text transcription.

Ikoma language informants working on text transcription.

With the SRA grant, I traveled again to Tanzania in June 2016 for the second phase of fieldwork. I worked on my research for two weeks at the SIL International Uganda-Tanzania Branch regional headquarters in Musoma. I brought in two mother-tongue speakers per language group as language informants for two to four days each and used Swahili to talk with them about their language(s) and conduct the research. Part of the research included transcription of previous audio data as well as word-for-word translation into Swahili. Additional research elements included further elicitation and recording (for lexical aspect and grammatical tone).

With the research that the SRA grant allowed me to undertake, not only did I gain some answers regarding the first two questions above, but the major finding came in relation to the third question: in three of the languages—Ikoma, Nata, and Isenye—the morpheme -Vká- combines inceptive aspect with what is called witness/non-witness evidentiality. Although not modality per se as initially expected, evidentiality is the “grammatical marking of information source.”viii In Ikoma, Nata, and Isenye the inceptive is used if the report comes from a witness to the event, while the perfective is used if the report comes from a non-witness to the event. Evidentiality has not been described for many African languages and is definitely an emerging area for research.

In addition, evidentiality has a clear relationship with episodic memory, or “the memory of past events that have been personally experienced and is thus based on sensory information.”ix

Tense and aspect also have clear relationships with storytelling and, more generally, how events are conceptualized by speakers. Using the cognitive linguistic concept of construal, for instance, tense and aspect can be explored in terms of how speakers perceive themselves and time in relation to events. The construals “ᴛɪᴍᴇ is a ᴘᴀᴛʜ” and “ᴛɪᴍᴇ is a sᴛʀᴇᴀᴍ” form the backbone for these relationships. In a ᴘᴀᴛʜ construal, the speaker views himself as moving while time remains unmoving. In a sᴛʀᴇᴀᴍ construal, however, time is moving and either the speaker or the event are seen as moving along with it.x
Remember that the systems in the Western Serengeti varieties are organized primarily around aspect without nearly as many tense distinctions as other Bantu languages. Aspect “denotes a particular temporal phase of the narrated event as the focal frame for viewing the event.”xi Think of different aspects in this sense as different video cameras set up around an event with one capturing the beginning, one the end, one the whole thing, and so forth. In Ngoreme, for example, there are at least four ways of communicating the “present tense” as shown immediately below. The underlined portions of the italicized Ngoreme verbs are the parts of the words that make their meanings different.

Ngoreme (Roth fieldnotes 2014, 2016)
a. Progressive
    nkohíka bhaaní
b. Perfective
    mbahíkire c. Imperfective
    mbarahíka
d. Inceptive
    bhaakáhika
“They [the tourists] (arrive, are arriving) [at the top of the mountain].”

If we begin to think about aspect in relation to the many verb forms involved in constructing a narrative, we can see how there are a multitude of choices available for the speakers of these languages to frame the story, and the events within that story. In analyzing narrative discourse, there is some scaffolding available to the speaker with some aspects used for foreground material (sequence of events) and others for background (e.g., flashbacks).xii But in Western Serengeti these choices can also be affected by formal versus informal register considerations (e.g., Biblical text versus a folktale or story told over lunch).xiii In Storytelling and the Sciences of Mind, Herman says that there is an “inextricable interconnection between narrating and perspective taking” and, further, that “storytelling acts are grounded in the perceptual-conceptual abilities of embodied human minds.”xiv Why then do speakers make the choices they do, and what does that tell us about the human mind and cognition? I hope that my research may help to widen our understanding of what is possible in terms of cognition and memory, storytelling, and the conceptualization of events.

Not only does my research play a role in these types of questions, but it also has implications across several academic disciplines in addition to linguistics (e.g., history, sociology, and archaeology). Specifically, I hope my investigation will, in coming from a linguistic perspective, build on the research of Jan Bender Shetler who has written two integral sociohistorical works on the ethnic groups in Mara, Telling Our Own Stories and Imagining Serengeti. The former is mostly a collection and analysis of oral histories from several ethnic groups in Mara, including origin stories. The latter focuses on spaces and landscape memory and draws on multidisciplinary evidence (including archaeology) to support the argument that the Western Serengeti peoples have deep historical roots in the Serengeti land itself. Comparative tense/aspect research here should shed further light on where these groups originally came from, how they are related to one another and to other Bantu languages in Tanzania, historical movements, and possible contact with Nilotic and Cushitic peoples. Like fingerprints, the somewhat unique set of similarities and differences in the tense/aspect paradigms may in this way allow for an advancement in our understanding of the sociohistory of these ethnic groups.

Finally, as I mentioned briefly above, my research also has a part to play regarding the innate value of minority languages. Even though minority languages in Tanzania are often treated as lesser, by doing linguistic research in these languages we are able to treat what is inherently valuable as worthy of study and with proper respect. My research and subsequent dissertation allow for additional features of these languages to not only be documented but also be shared with the academic community worldwide. This material includes recorded stories and conversations, transcriptions of those recordings, and their Swahili and English translations. This fits right in with the ethos of the Helsinki Area and Language Studies (HALS) initiative at the University of Helsinki, not to mention the language development work that SIL is doing in the area: developing orthographies, providing literacy programs, translation, and increasing language vitality in the process.



iHill, Dustin, Anna-Lena Lindfors, Louise Nagler, Mark Woodward, and Richard Yalonde. 2007. A sociolinguistic survey of the Bantu languages in Mara Region, Tanzania. Unpublished ms. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: SIL.
iiPakendorf, B., K. Bostoen, and C. de Filippo. 2011. Molecular perspectives on the Bantu expansion: A synthesis. Language Dynamics and Change 1: pp. 50–88.
iiiNurse, Derek. 1999. Towards a Historical Classification of East African Bantu Languages.”In Hombert, Jean-Marie and Larry M. Hyman (eds.), Bantu Historical Linguistics: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives, pp. 1–41. Stanford: CSLI. p. 9.
iv Hale, Ken. 1998. “On endangered languages and the importance of linguistic diversity.” In Grenoble, Lenore A. and Lindsay J. Whaley (eds.), Endangered languages: Current issues and future prospects, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 193.
vIbid. p. 194.
vi Botne, Robert and Tiffany L. Kershner. 2008. Tense and aspect in cognitive space: On the organization of tense/aspect systems in Bantu languages and beyond. Cognitive Linguistics 19 (2): pp. 145–218. p. 146. The E is left out here because African languages are not known for having evidentiality (see Aikhenvald 2004: p. 291).
vii Nurse, Derek. 2008. Tense and aspect in Bantu. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 281.
viii Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. 2004. Evidentiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 392.
ixDahl, Ӧsten. 2011. The structure of human memory and tense-aspect-mood-evidentiality (TAME). Abstract. Website: http://www.mpi.nl/events/mpi-colloquium-series/mpi-colloquium-series-2011/osten-dahl-february-15
xBotne and Kershner 2008: pp. 147–50.
xiIbid. p. 171.
xiiNicolle, Steve. 2015. Comparative Study of Eastern Bantu Narrative Texts. SIL Electronic Working Papers 2015_003.  Website: http://www.sil.org/resources/publications/entry/61479. pp. 36ff.
xiiiIbid. p. 45.
xiv Herman, David. 2013. Storytelling and the Sciences of Mind. Cambridge: The MIT Press. p. 169.

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The Sociolinguistics of Greek Teenage Language Practices on Facebook

February 2, 2016
By 19604

Christopher Lees, a Sylff fellow at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, spent time at the University of Hamburg, Germany carrying out analysis and refining his research on youth language on social networking sites. In this article, he describes his findings on digital literacy practices among Greek teenagers using Facebook, and describes how they use linguistic creativity to achieve their communicative goals.

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Background

The way teenagers speak and interact has long been a matter of interest in sociolinguistics, while often being a matter of concern and even controversy in academic circles and among the general public. There can be no doubt that teenagers seem to have their own codes of communication, which are markedly different from those of their elders. This has given rise to many questions both within and outside academia. What is it, for instance, that makes teenagers use different varieties of language? How do we classify these varieties and can we claim, as many do, that these “alternative” uses of language pose a threat to the future of the languages we speak? A new element to this debate in recent years is the question of how teenagers communicate on social networking sites such as Facebook. This has brought a whole new set of questions related to an oral-like style of writing, inconsistent grammar and punctuation, and frequent mixtures of various different, particularly in countries whose languages are regarded as “less widely spoken.”

My field of sociolinguistics aims to provide answers to these questions. For example, it is widely accepted that one of the reasons why teenagers exhibit such unique linguistic practices is because they mix in narrower circles than was the case in previous generations, largely due to the fast-paced development of technology (Kakridi-Ferrari 2005: 195). Since the Second World War, technology has replaced many previous professions, rendering many skills obsolete. This has created a need for young people to be educated for longer than was previously the norm in order for them to keep pace with the new demands created by new technology. This has forged a closer bond between teenagers and other young people who spend more time with each other and have developed a new type of “youth culture” as a result of this new social dynamic. This culture has brought with it new ways of communicating that differ from the varieties of language used by these people’s parents and previous generations and reflect the shifting social reality of which young people are a part.

Social networking sites and Facebook in particular have provided young people with an entirely new “meeting place” where they can chat with their friends, exchange ideas, play games, and share and comment on videos and images. Such a platform is in itself an entirely new social reality for teenagers that has facilitated the development of new language practices. The study of the language practices seen on social networking sites is one of the latest areas of interest to linguists involved what is known as Computer Mediated Communication. This is the area that my research focuses on.

The Research

Following the traditions of sociolinguistics and computer-mediated communication, my PhD research focuses on the language practices of Greek teenagers on Facebook. A total of 15 secondary school pupils are participating in my PhD research, 10 of them enrolled at the Model Experimental School of the University of Thessaloniki and the remaining five at the Model Experimental Secondary School of the University of Macedonia in the area of Neapoli. The two schools are located in different areas of the Greek city of Thessaloniki. The latter is located in a socially underprivileged area of the city, whereas the former is in the center and enjoys a reputation as a school of academic excellence, not least due to its affiliation with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The rationale behind this selection was the hope that the linguistic data derived from the pupils might reveal differences that could be attributed to the different social backgrounds of the pupils. Consent was obtained from parents and guardians, as well as from the pupils themselves. In addition, pseudonyms have been used whenever reference is made to the data, so as to protect the identity of the participants, in line with research ethics (D’Arcy & Young 2012: 540-541).

Sunset over the Alster, Hamburg.

Sunset over the Alster, Hamburg.

After receiving my SRA scholarship, I travelled to the University of Hamburg in Germany to refine and discuss the categories to be included in my analysis. In total, I spent two and a half weeks at the Department of German Philology, where I was able to discuss my research with experts in my field and use their resources to develop a concrete qualitative and quantitative approach to analyzing the data collected from the pupils. I was also able to see at first hand how research has been conducted for similar projects in German using the model of online ethnography (Androutsopoulos 2008). Online ethnography refers to observing the linguistic practices of specific communities of Internet users, together with real contact with the users themselves by means of interviews, discussions, etc. The advantage of this approach is that the researcher is able to cross-check and verify his or her interpretations against the explanations and opinions of the producers of the language practices under study. This blended approach can therefore help produce a more reliable data analysis.

In comparison with German, Greek is one of the less widely spoken languages of the EU. One of the consequences of this is that its speakers are exposed to a much greater variety of languages—particularly English through the mainstream media—than speakers of more widely spoken languages like English and French. Three main tendencies observed in Greek teenagers’ linguistic practices on Facebook form the core of my research. These are as follows:

1. Features of digital orality in teenagers’ “written” linguistic practices on Facebook
2. Use of alternate script choices
3. Use of English

In general terms, the term digital orality refers to “oral-like” features employed by users of digital media while communicating in writing (Soffer 2010: 388). The features of digital orality studied in my PhD research are diminutives and augmentatives, as well as oral discourse markers. Such features, in particular, are highly common in the language practices of Greek teenagers on Facebook and fulfill specific pragmatic functions for the users and their fellow participants, as can be seen in Examples 1 and 2 below:

1. Σε ευχαριστώ Άννα, θεάρα μου [se efcharisto Anna mu, theara mu]
Thank you Anna, my [big] goddess
2. εε κι εμείς φοβόμασταν να πάμε στο δωμάτιο και να φανταστείς ήταν πρωί [ee ki emis fovomastan na pame so domatio ke na fantastis itan proi]
errr we were afraid to go to the room, too and that was in the morning, if you can believe it

In Example 1, the use of the augmentative –ara attached to the word theara, characterising the user’s friend as exhibiting “goddess” functions as a way of showing admiration and enthusiasm for the referent (see Daltas 1985). Conversely, in Example 2, the use of the oral discourse marker ee, which resembles but does not have the exact same functions as English er, acts as a way of framing the message that follows, while signifying a relevant part of the conversation, which could be an answer to a previous comment made by another Facebook user. The use of diminutives, augmentatives and oral discourse markers belongs almost entirely to the linguistic repertoire of female pupils. This is believed by the pupils to be due to the fact that, particularly in the case of diminutives and augmentatives, these elements are used to express affection and tenderness.

As far as Greek is concerned, script choice in Computer Mediated Communication has been a subject of debate ever since people started using computers to communicate with each other. Greek users would use Latin transliteration to represent Greek characters, initially due to the fact that Greek characters were not available. However, after this problem was resolved with the invention of the so-called UNICODE system, computer users, and most notably young computer users, continued using the Latin script. In my research I investigate the current situation in the language used by Greek teenagers in my data. In addition, I noted an interesting new trend for English and other languages that use the Latin script to be written in the Greek alphabet (Spilioti 2013), such as in Example 3 below:

3. oφκορσ ι λοβ γιου μαι ντιαρ [ofkors i lov yiou my diar]
Of course I love you, my dear

From my data, this use of Latin script to write Greek is practiced by boys significantly more than by girls. This is recognised by pupils as indicative of boys’ more relaxed attitude to language use and a way for them to avoid the hassle involved in changing keyboard settings between one alphabet and the other.

Finally, my research looks into how English is used by Greek teenagers in their communication with friends on Facebook. Rather than simply communicating in the English they learn at school, Greek teenagers use various features of English, including vernacular ones, often mixed in with Greek, producing an entertaining multilingual puzzle. Such practices are referred to in the literature as polylingual languaging (Jørgensen 2008). According to this model of analysis, what is important in this type of communication is not linguistic accuracy and proficiency but the way in which users exploit features of various languages to accomplish their own communicative needs. For example, the phrase, “are you working me?” in Example 4 below is not a phrase used in Standard English but a direct translation of the Greek phrase, με δουλεύεις [me dulevis], which means ”Are you kidding me?”

4. Δεν σου αρέσει ο Spiderman τώρα? Are you working me? [Den su aresi o Spiderman tora? Are you working me?]
You don’t like Spiderman now? Are you kidding me?

The Facebook user who produced the comment in Example 4 knows that the phrase in question is not an idiom in Standard English, but has used it for the benefit of his Greek-speaking friends, who, because of their knowledge of Greek, are able to understand the humor behind the “Englishification” of a well-used Greek phrase. No significant difference was noted related to gender use of this kind of English; it seems that both sexes use the English language in much the same way and for the same communicative purposes.

Conclusions and Hoped-for Influence on Wider Society

A transliterated, as opposed to translated, sign reading “no entrance.”

A transliterated, as opposed to translated, sign reading “no entrance.”

I hope that this short article has provided a useful overview of my PhD research and given some insight into the ways that Greek teenagers communicate through Facebook. As the examples show, Greek teenagers make use of all the cultural and linguistic resources at their disposal to produce highly creative language practices, which do not reflect any difference in social background between the pupils at the two schools. It seems that Greek secondary school teenagers in Thessaloniki use much the same types of language practices, although some differences can be discerned depending on gender. For example, as we have seen, the use of diminutives, augmentatives and oral discourse markers appears to make up a more significant part of the language repertoire of girls, whereas boys use the Latin script to write Greek significantly more than girls do.

My hope is that this research will help to construct an argument that will enable society to appreciate the creative and intricate ways in which Greek teenagers use language to play, joke, and achieve their communicative goals in the specific context of Facebook. People often view teenage linguistic practices as a degenerative and “cheap” variety of Greek, but far from posing a threat to the integrity of the Greek language, these highly imaginative and creative practices in fact make a positive contribution to enriching linguistic creativity.

In other words, it should not be assumed that teenagers’ use of language is in any way inferior to that of previous generations, or that they do not know how to use language “appropriately,” simply because they combine English with their Greek, use the Latin script, and use features of orality in their written language practices On the contrary, my ethnographic data shows that Greek teenagers are well aware that their use of language on Facebook is for Facebook only and not suitable for academic writing or formal correspondence. I hope that my research will help to dispel the myths and foreground teenagers’ language practices on Facebook as examples of linguistic ingenuity and creativity, and contribute to a better perception of the roles played by language in society.

References

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Daltas, P. (1985) Some patterns of variability in the use of diminutive and augmentative suffixes in Spoken Modern Greek Kini (MGK). Γλωσσολογία/Glossologia 4, 63-88

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Kakridi-Ferrari, Maria. 2005. Glossa kai koinoniko perivallon: Zitimata koinonioglossologias (A Meros) [Language and Social Environment: Issues in Sociolinguistics: Part 1]. Contribution 64: Parousia Journal. Athens

Soffer, O (2010) “‘Silent Orality’: Toward a Conceptulization of the Digital Oral Features in CMC and SMS Texts” In Communication Theory 20. 387-404. International Communication Association

Spilioti, T. (2013) “Greek-Alphabet English: vernacular transliterations of English in social media.” In Proceedings of the 46th Annual Meeting of the British Association for Applied Linguistics, 5-7 September 2013, pp. 435-447. Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh