The Unrulyness of Capoeira

The only weapon of self-defense I could use successfully was that of deception

Henry Bibb, a slave in the United States

 

Besides being an IDS master student, Capoerista is a new addition to my identity. Six months ago I quickly got trapped into the movements, the music, the people and the energy of Capoeira Angola.

What is Capoeira Angola?

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Capoeira Angola is a “blurred genre”[1], a mixture of dance, martial arts, folklore, ritual and music. It originated in Brazil when slaves where brought from Africa to work in mines and sugar plantation during the 17th and 18th century. The oppression and constant vigilance of the slave masters on the plantations forced the slaves to create innovative mechanisms of resistance. Just like the chain gangs[2] in Southern U.S used singing, Angolero slaves would use dancing as a form of resistance. Why was dancing a form of resistance? Angoleros would use dance as a discrete way of teaching each other contact fighting techniques. While the masters though they were just a bunch of slaves having some fun dancing, they didn’t realize that the moves were really martial arts moves. Meanwhile, the capoeira music that accompanied the dancing was not only used to create a rhythm, but to transmit resistance and African traditions. Understanding the context in which Capoeira Angola emerged allows a deeper understanding of its lyrics:

Areia do mar
Areia do mar
O que você tem
Para me contar?

A onda que quebra na praia
Quebrava no casco do navio
Navio que trouxe de Angola
O negro para o Brasil

Sand of the sea
Sand of the sea
What do you have
To tell me?

Wave breaking on the beach
Broke on the hull of the ship
Ship that brought from Angola
The negro to Brazil

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLygvEluUDE

In this way, I consider Capoeira Angola, as a whole, to be a form of hidden transcript. Scott[3] explains that within oppressive relationships (such as that between the master and the slave) there is more than meets the eyes. The oppressor and the oppressed maintain a dialogue that resembles a performance, or in Scott’s words, a public transcript based on necessity. However, along with the public transcript there are hidden transcripts that the oppressed and the oppressor withhold from one another in order to obtain power. These hidden transcripts may be visible and in the public domain, but they remain hidden because they are constructed through codes of trust and freedom that only the inner group can understand. The capoeiristas used hidden transcript through their bodies, communicating notions of resistance amongst each other.

Capoeira Angola is also a perfect phenomenon to understand Biopower and Necropolitics.  Biopower[4], proposed by Michel Foucault, suggests that the Modern State uses discipline and punishment to control the bodies of a population. Elements such as birth, death, illness, sexuality and reproduction of the population are controlled by the state though Biopolitics. In this sense, the State has power over the LIFE of its citizens. However, Achille Mbembe argues that Foucault concept of Biopower doesn’t always apply. There are cases when the State creates exceptions, in which it decides to have power over DEATH. Examples of these “States of Exception” are terrorism, wars, colonialism and slavery. When the state has the power to choose over the death of people, Mbembe calls this Necropolitics[5]

In the case of slavery, Mbembe explains that the State’s power was based on their ability to control the death of the slaves, whom were seen as inhumane, linked to nature and dis attached from reason. By having lost their attachment to home, to the rights over his or her body and to political status, the Slave life was basically a “death-in life susceptible to domination, natal alienation and social death”.

Therefore, the slave is a bare life, and his or her body becomes the only weapon that he or she can use. While the body of the slave is seen by the master as a productive possession, the slave sees his or her own body as a resistance against dispossession and inhumanity.

After realizing the political implications of dance through Capoeira Angola, I completely agree with Emma Goldman, an anarchist feminist who coined the phrase “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”.

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by <Toto>


[1] Clifford Gertz in Downey, G. “Listening to Capoeira: Phenomenology, Embodiment, and the Materiality of Music” in Ethnomusicalogy, Vol. 46, No. 3 Fall, 2002.

[3] Scott, J (1990) “Behind the Official Story” in Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Press.

[4] Michel Foucault, 1975, Discipline and punishment: the birth of the Prison, Random House.

[5] Mbembe, A., 2003, “Necropolitics” in Public Culture 15 (1): 11-40.

Welcome to the desert of Vaginas

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“I was really sucked down this vagina trail, and I couldn’t get back. I’ve been on the trail for a long time and I don’t think I’m getting off it any time soon,” – Eve Ensler

I first heard of the Vagina Monologues about a year ago, when it was staged at the Theatre Institute of Tbilisi. A newspaper article described how a young man sitting somewhere at the back of the hall interrupted the performance as the play progressed to its climax and the actress, standing on the front of the stage was uttering sharply, clearly and strongly Georgian slang for “Vagina”, which is mostly used as a derogatory insult towards women. This fellow apparently sprang to his feet and shouted fiercely: “What is this? Is this a performance? What perversity is this! And on this stage where actors would play saints before!”

The performance in Georgia had not been promoted but rather the news was spread through word of mouth, as ‘there were reasonable doubts that it would be labelled as propaganda” of lewdness. The considerably more tolerant audience engaged the young man, causing his premature departure from the hall. The stage lighting crew apparently also defected after the incident. Apparently it was too much Vagina intake for them and far too much politically incorrect speech. The monologues continued fully lit as a young girl from the audience took over the job impromptu.

Sadly, I didn’t expect any such drama within a drama of the Vagina Monologues at Sussex University. After all, I’m in the middle of Europe, oh, ok, on its western shores. Furthermore, I’m in Brighton- ‘the liberal enclave’ and I study in IDS, where we discuss menstruation with Robert Chambers more often than I did with Mom in my teen years.

The Vagina Monologues are based on a collection of 200 interviews which Eve Ensler  collected from women of diverse age, profession, marital status, sexual orientation and nationality. Ensler was worried that we think about vaginas and “even more worried that we don’t think about them.” Anxious, nervous, uncomfortable, shy as they may feel, women share their stories about sex and rape, orgasm and violence, taboos and freedom, relationships and abuse. 

The Sussex version of the Vagina Monologues was an attempt to engage the audience into the play from the very beginning. “So, what do you think of our vaginas?” a poster asked while ushering students into the performance hall. Further down the corridor en route to the entrance, an aquarium placed on a pink, cloth-covered small table, adorned with colourful beads and a carnival mask, invited us to speculate: “If your vagina could talk, what would it say in two words?” The responses were quite amusing: I’ve unfolded the pieces of paper with a few other curious mates. They said, “think twice, “protect me”, “Try again.”

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There was a small riser at centre stage, yet the entire hall was used as performance space as actresses spread out across the cavernous room. The monologues were recited simultaneously, while crowds of viewers encircled them. The cast itself was diverse, reflecting the diversity of the women interviewed for the original script.

The performance featured amateur actresses, students from different parts of the world, all reciting monologues in English while adding a peculiar flavour of their accents. “My vagina was once my hometown. Not since they took turns. They took turns for seven days. Smelling like feces and smoked meat,” a black-haired actress clad in black gown was reciting the harrowing recount of a gang rape in former Yogoslavia. Across the rape monologue, two students, one wearing short-green dress with flowers and two tails, are narrating the children’s first encounter with vagina and related fears: “I’m afraid of the water getting in and filling me up so I explode.”

Close to the stage, a bathtub with a red canvas flowing across the bottom, apparently to denote blood, features a childbirth story: “I was there when her vagina changed… from a shy, sexual hole to an archaeological tunnel, a sacred vessel, a venetian canal, a deep well with a tiny stuck child inside waiting to be rescued.” I was listening and thinking of the richness of the imagination of the narrator, creating these epithets of just one biological organ.

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Other scenes included Because he liked to look at it, a women describing how Bob turned her embarrassment of her own vagina into a pleasant sexual experience, the Subject Being. Hair, a monologue stressing how women’s bodies are still subject to men’s sexual desires and taste.

My head was in a frenzied spin cycle, as I tried to listen to all the monologues, hurrying from one scene to another, to enjoy all the scenes and fearing that the actresses would lose energy and enthusiasm to narrate the monologues, as they would start over again after finishing for one circle of viewers. The crowds of viewers were mingling with one another, so were the different voices reciting the monologues, creating buzz, noise, hype, a feeling that different ingredients were boiling in a huge pot, disrupted from time to time by deep, penetrating orgasm moans, “the elegant moans”, “the doggy moans,” the “baby moan”, even the Sussex moan and so on and so forth.

I was listening and reflecting, reading the stories of sexual abuse from a 10 year old child on a poster, looking at the photos hanging on the rope featuring the Vagina as a rose and similar. For me, deep sadness, anger and admiration of women’s courage were coming in turns.

I don’t know how many rounds it took for the actresses to narrate their pieces. But different voices heard from various corners of the hall emerged in the centre stage in the finale of the show. There, around 50 women, came together, culminating their stories with final concluding statements which had a celebratory tone: “My Vagina is an adventure and doesn’t like visa regimes! My vagina believes another world is possible! My vagina has no religion! My vagina is my vagina! My vagina is f..ing gorgeous!”

Eve Ensler’s play is viewed as a statement against sexual abuse, the objectification of women, social constructs that mystify human bodies and engender internalized self-hatred in women, against dogmas of patriarchal society. It is a play that tells the story of women’s struggles and victories; a play that liberates women from the guilt of sexuality.

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But Eve Ensler’s play is more than that. She’s seeking an element of truth in the masquerade of the patriarchal structure, where women prefer to believe they have  “furniture, cosy futons with light cotton comforters” or similar between their legs.

With the Vagina Monologues, there is a sense of confronting the reality of sex, abuse, violence and relationships face-to-face. It removes the aesthetic lens through which we view our relationship, objects and shape our relations with the world. The Vagina Monologues erects a huge mirror to see ourselves and others, to look at our vaginas that we forgot, all of us, abused, shaved, rose-like, and to smash the same mirror to feel the bare flesh ourselves.  Eve Ensler’s play is part of the key feature of the 20th century: the Passion for the Real, exposing us to direct experience of the Real.

When discussing Alain Badiou’s concept, Zizek relates it to the domain of sexuality: “is not the ultimate figure of the passion for the Real the option we get on hardcore websites to observe the inside of a vagina from the vantage point of a tiny camera at the top of the penetrating dildo?” But he also talks how “when we get too close to the desired object, erotic fascination turns into disgust at the Real of the bare flesh.” The bodily reality of the Vagina Monologues does not produce this shift in me. But what if the threshold when the shift happens is subjective? Maybe that Georgian guy who disrupted the performance, reached a critical point of disgust when hearing Vagina in Georgian from the stage? And he decided to withdraw into his comfort zone where, as one Georgian journalism noted, “all the words related to women sexuality drifted into the realm of cursing and became monopolized by men”?

Thousands of kilometres from Georgia, we are standing in the middle of the stage, in the middle of Europe, and still asserting our rights as women. The struggle is not over. It is going on.

“It isn’t real. Pussies unite. I know all of it.”image

 

HIGHWAY

“Jahan se tum mujhe laaye ho, main wahan vaapas nahi jaana chahti, jahan bhi le jaa rahe ho, wahan pahunchna nahi chahti, par yeh rasta, yeh bahut acha hai, main chahti hoon ki yeh raasta kabhi khatam na ho”.

(The place you’ve brought me from, I don’t want to go back there… wherever you are taking me… I don’t want to reach there. But this journey…. I never want this journey to end….)

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In explaining the experience of liminality, Sarah Gilead in her article ‘Liminality, Anti Liminality and the Victorian Model’ says “… the actor or his symbolic representative is detached from a prior condition of membership in the social structure, ‘undergoes a transitional ordeal’ in which his structural attributes are neutralized or made ambiguous, and then re-emerges into social structure, usually with enhanced functions, status, or class”.

 In the movie Highway, the two lead protagonists experience a moment of rupture; and find themselves in a space where boundaries seem to disappear.  Despite being from two starkly different worlds, they find themselves on a journey that changes them forever, offering them freedom, limitless possibilities, and a space where the normal rules, structures and restrictions cease to exist.

The story starts in Delhi, with young a girl, Veera, from an extremely affluent and influential family, on the eve of her wedding. Frustrated with her suffocating environment and the never-ending celebrations and rituals, she spontaneously decides to take a midnight drive with her fiancé on the highway. Giddy with her moment of freedom, she foolishly decides to leave her car and finds herself in the midst of an armed robbery at a gas station (this being Delhi, which by now we have established is not the safest of cities) and is kidnapped in the process. Soon however, the kidnappers discover that how powerful and influential Veera’s father is, and lose their nerve. It is at this point when Mahabir, one of the kidnappers decides to separate from the group and hold Veera for ransom. Though a dangerous thing to do, he feels like he has nothing to lose, and is deeply enraged with the oppressive plutocracy that Veera represents in his mind. Along with a few of the kidnappers, he sets out on a journey across India, trying to escape from the law, and the frustration of living and working as a part of the gang.

The captive, Veera is terrified and soon finds an opportunity to escape, but she has nowhere to go in this strange and unfamiliar place. Realising that she is safer with the kidnappers than on her own, she returns to captivity. This marks a turning point for her as her fear slowly starts disappearing. A strange comfort and ease sets in and before long, she starts talking incessantly, joking and laughing, making demands of her kidnappers. Unable to explain this change in her and the surreal nature of the situation she finds herself in, Veera says “aisa lag raha hai ki main hoon hi nahi yahan, jaise koi film chal rahi hai aur main dekh rahi hoon…. Abhi mujhe tense hona chahiye… main tense toh hoon…par main bol kyun rahi hoon?” ( it seems like I am not here. Like there is a movie going on and I’m watching it. I should be tense right now… I know I am tense ..but why am I talking so much ?)

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Veera’s comfort with the kidnappers grows; and one night the truck in which they are travelling is intercepted by the police. To her own amazement and her kidnappers, Veera hides from the police.  “Dimmag kharab ho gaya hai mera…asaani se nikal sakti thi main” ( have I lost my mind.? I could have easily escaped) says a stunned Veera, realising that she doesn’t want to return home and wants to continue the journey. She begins to feel safer here on the road, with the kidnappers than the place she came from. She tells Mahabir of her traumatic childhood, having been repeatedly raped by her uncle; and then forced by her mother to never speak about it for the sake of maintaining appearances. Shocked that someone of her class and status could face such violence, Mahabir, starts to relate to her, as he remembers his own traumatic past of an abusive father. As Victor Turner in his article, ‘Liminality and Communitas’ states, “in a moment in and out of time, in and out of social structure, which reveals however fleetingly a generalized social bond….”, Mahabir and Veera begin to see each other differently, as a deep understanding develops between the two. Far from the structures that would have normally dictated any interaction between these two people from such extreme social divides, Veera and Mahabir find comfort in each other and a sense of personal freedom. A relationship which would have been unthinkable for them in normal circumstances develops into an unspoken emotional connection.

 The road is the third character in the movie and probably the most significant one. The physical journey that the characters take through ever-changing landscapes becomes a metaphor for the transformation that they undergo. Veera stripped off the luxury and comfort, becomes stronger and hardened while the crude and brash Mahabir becomes gentler. With Veera, he struggles against the patriarchal structures he has grown up with, slowly giving them up when she demands to be treated as an equal in their relationship.  

One reason for writing this blog stems from the fact that this movie was deeply unsettling in many ways. We found ourselves unable to articulate why the movie spoke to us. As young women, growing up in India, travelling, being on the road; one goes through several moments of realising the structures in which we find ourselves bound along the way.  In many ways, we do not relate to the character of Veera. However, it is possible to recognise and relate to her in the instance that she decides to let go of fear and let go of the security that comes from certainty. For it is in this moment, that she experiences true freedom for the first time in her life. One also relates to the liminal space that the ‘road’ represents; the limitless expanse signifying limitless possibilities.

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We also immediately recognised the huge and disturbing class/caste divide that we have grown up with; which at times seems absolutely impenetrable. Yet, at the moments of rupture, these structures are laid bare, and make us aware of their presence. A liminal space is one which is bereft of normality; but hints at an alternative. The liberation that Veera experiences is best expressed when she says, “main kuch bhi ker sakti hoon aur tum sambhal logey. Aisa kabhi feel nahi kiya pehle” ( I feel like I can do anything, and that you will have my back. I have never felt like this before). This kind of freedom is only possible in these liminal spaces and reminds us that these moments are fleeting, beautiful and impossibly rare.

But what happens when you are pulled out of that liminal space? Can life ever be ‘normal’ again? Do you return as the same person, to the same structures even when you have realised how binding they are?

Mahabir and Veera try to desperately create a life for themselves which takes them away from their ‘realities’ but are confronted by them in the end. When the moment of liminality ends, Mahabir is  no longer Veera’s salvation, but seen as a petty, lower caste kidnapper, whose life has no value; and is punished for trying to transgress those structures. Veera is forced to come out of it, back into her world, only to find that she can no longer live there. She has experienced some sort of ‘truth’ which has made it impossible for her to accept or return to the life which was her own and her reality for so long.

In the end, Veera decides to reject her old life, and returns to the road to try and find that space again when she can experience the freedom that she knows to exist and cannot live without. But can a liminal moment ever be recreated? As Veera tries to live out this ‘truth’ that she once experienced; she finds that the ‘road’ is the only space where she can now exist.

‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’, sang Janis Joplin in a song about a boy and girl out on the open road. Can we truly escape the structures that bind us? Can we live in a world where these cease to exist? The movie raised many questions; and answers very few. But the limitlessness of the open road and the possibility of that space call out to you long after the movie ends.  

References:

Gilead, S. (1986).Liminality, anti-liminality, and the Victorian novel.ELH, 183–197.

Turner, V. (1969).Liminality and communitas.The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, 94–130.

Watch the Song “Patakha Guddi”  from the Movie, :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LijcpDrSNVI

The song Pataka Guddi (A girl who flies like a Kite) is a song that plays in the movie and is sung in the Sufi style. The choice of Sufi music is interesting. Sufi music is devotional and also used in the communions of the ‘whirling dervishes’ which in itself exhibits many elements of liminality; of losing yourself, and putting yourself in a liminal space where all structures cease to exist save the relationship of the devotee and God.

The following is not a complete translation:

 “Like the sweet betel leaf,

A length of a Lahori cloth,

This kitten has begun to have fun
Like the firefly, jumping all around

Why carry the thoughts of this world

Just remember your maker

O firefly, O fiery kite,
She flies as if intoxicated,
I have left the strings to You 
You are a fearless child of God 

If he has given you pain,

He will end it as well

Dance in the streets,                                                                                                                                                                      

While chanting God’s name

No one can control you

This girl runs free,

She flows like rainwater,
When she comes in contact with the real world,
She is bound to get polluted”

Anindita Roy and Ujjainee Sharma 

Enough with IDS, Brighton, Let’s go to Greece – Future Suspended

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Here is a beautiful –I know it’s not the way to describe this sort of thing but I definitely loved the way it was shot– documentary on Greece, well the recent Greece! The 35 minute documentary (by Ross Domoney, Jaya Klara Brekke, Christos Filippidis, Antonis Vradis, Dimitris Dalakoglou and Giorgos Triantafyllou) deals with privatisation started before 2004 in preparation for the Olympics, racism towards migrants and refugees and very ‘egalitarian’ police violence for all living in Greece in three separate parts.  

The first part is about the transformation of Athens to a “competitive city” through privatisation and how the Olympics fuelled this idea. Not surprisingly, the process also created a controversial body, the TAIPED, “to restrict governmental intervention in the privatisation process” which only deals with the investors’ interest and very opaque in the way it deals with who gets what. As many other cities facing rapid privatisation of public spaces, the process totally ignored the people, the owners of those spaces to be contracted. The process left people alienated to their new surroundings. I can imagine the extent of evacuation to and from peripheries which creates cruel interruptions in people’s lives. It must be a dramatic change especially for a city such as Athens where, as I remember from a visit long time ago, people engaged in politics as they pass by each other. Every salutation was followed by a critique of the government or EU, etc. Hard to see that here in UK but very similar to the city I grew up, the choice of the cafe you get your daily fix is political; kissing someone on the busiest street in the middle of the city is political, window shopping not in malls but on streets can even be political. You may come across a sudden gathering for a protest, you can watch or you can join if you feel like it.

Second part is on everyday racism and unemployment. Increasing racism in times of crisis is usually and fairly linked to economic conditions. A woman in the film puts it: Locals can’t find jobs while “foreigners” work illegally. The directors add: in conditions where locals wouldn’t think of working. What I experienced closely during the protests in Istanbul last summer was that racism or intolerance increase not only due to financial crisis but other forms of crisis as well. At the beginning, it looked like the people of Turkey from all ethnicities united against a common enemy, an oppressive father figure but shortly after the recent elections showed something else. I don’t mean to compare the two as they are very different but I think when it comes to racism, the perception of “the other” is so embedded in the minds of normal people that it only awaits a tiny event to sparkle. What moved me about this part was the emphasis of space left for the migrants in the city. I realised I tend to think of migrants and refugees in their economic conditions and about their physical safety from violence of locals or the police. Personal space, a house for your own, sitting peacefully on a bench, falling asleep in the subway all become luxuries. Being on the run constantly without a break, watching out for everything around you is violence. They named the part “Devalued”; brilliant choice of word.   

The last part deals with police violence. The text by Jerome Ross directs us to Agamben’s speech in Athens this February in which he talks about policing as a form of governance. He argues that the modern state is not democratic as the notion of security took over all the space to be political and citizens are not political anymore with all these biological measures of identity. Also, lines between political parties have become so vague that it is hard to tell which one is right and which one is left. Especially in times of crisis (but also in normal times to some extent with the help of globalisation) almost all decisions a government makes are subject to international verification if they are not directly imposed. Very few things are completely dealt domestically at this moment. That is how your government deals with your body. It’s almost the only space where a government has autonomy. It makes sure it uses it to prove its shrinking potency.

http://roarmag.org/2014/02/future-suspended-a-new-documentary-on-athens/

Check out the producers’ project “crisis scape” http://crisis-scape.net/

And Agamben’s speech  http://roarmag.org/2014/02/agamben-destituent-power-democracy/

My sense of this Imminent Distress Signal

‘Today we live a moment in which the global creativity forces have being oppressed’ – anonymous-

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Surprise, anger and sadness. They are my reactions about what happened today at IDS. This is not about concepts or theories. This is just about how I feel.

 Let me explain the story briefly. I do not know if we have told you before that we are a group of MA students working on Unruly Politics at IDS. As part of our studies we prepared a sort of ‘unruly intervention’, called the Imminent Distress Signal, seeking to reflect on some ideas that we have been discussing and applying them in our context in IDS: what ‘unruly’ means for us, how to create a new social space, how to make people reflect, how to make visible what IDS kept invisible, what our own contradictions as students and as IDS are…

 We worked on the concepts and on the aesthetic of the intervention. Today was the big day and it was so exciting! This morning I felt almost like a child with a big secret to share: I am at 8.20 in the Institute, waiting for people to come and discover our pieces of work re-decorating the building; following them quietly to observe their reactions when they find an unexpected poster or a new message in their IDS usual context; trying to hide that smile in my face when I heard ‘this is amazing, I love unruly things’, or that moment when people started uploading photos in Facebook about the installation (I must confess I also saw some very serious faces).

 All this excitement and illusion went down in 4 hours. The IDS management decided to shut down the intervention because we did not have permission. They removed posters, pictures, collages, messages…

 First, I felt surprised. Simply I could not believe how such a simple exercise could provoke such a formal and straightforward, even insensitive, reaction.  It cannot be because of the content! The messages we used could be more or less provocative, you could feel more or less happy about them (even me!), but, to be honest, they were not SO unruly… So what was the reason? Just the blind obedience to the rules? Just the fact of showing who holds the power?

 Second, I felt angry. Simply I could not believe that IDS’s decision was to take all the intervention down, without talking directly with the authors, the teachers and students involved. Definitely you had other ways to do it. I have a strange feeling: I feel that my work, our work, has not been respected, I feel like if I had been treated as a minor who doesn’t need to be consulted, who cannot make a decision or negotiate about their responsibilities. I can feel the rigidness of the IDS’s structure, the weight of these 50 years over me right now… the necessity of control and power even over tiny little things, like this exercise.

Therefore, I feel IDS is not my space. We have been expulsed. I feel oppressed. I cannot breath.

 Third, I feel disappointed. Simply I cannot believe that IDS, apparently a space to reflect and create, proud of encouraging critical thinking and be at the vanguard of development, has made this decision and how it has be done. A decision that repress, not generate, learning and creativity, knowledge and discovering.

 One of the first slogans I read when I arrived to Sussex University was “be ready for the unexpected’. I liked it. I still do it. It is obvious that you can only find the unexpected when you enter the territory of the unknown, out of your comfort zone, letting things just be, flow… being unpredictable. What can we expect from IDS if it wants to control every single action? How can you move towards a new future if you are rigid and static? Where is the space for surprise? Where for creativity? Where the place for active responsible students, considering them as citizens? Where is our contribution?

 Moreover, another concern comes up to my mind: in my ten years of experience working with different teams and big NGOs, the necessity of control often means the lack of trust and confidence: in your team, in your members, in your students: What did you think we were going to do? To an institution that we all appreciate –this is why we are here!-, where we are spending one year of our lives, making a big effort, in terms of time, resources and personal and professional lives. 

 Today somebody wrote in the toilet that for he or she IDS means now ‘contradictions, challenge and repression of students’ critical thoughts’, and she or he reimagines IDS in ‘a new way to look and challenge development, and free thinking’.

 How can we do it?

It is undoubtedly that we citizens create space, with our movements, with our decisions, with our responses and struggles with power. 

Thus, my questions are:

What kind of spaces is IDS creating? For whom?

Has IDS become prisioner of its own rules and rigidness?

What kind of spaces are we, as citizens and students, contributing to generate?

… How far do we want to go?… 

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When unruly politics meets formalised politics

Between April 7th and May 12th the AamAadmi Party will begin contesting over 300 seats in the Indian general election of 2014. Who are they? What can we learn about them through the lens of Unruly Politics? Why does akshay khanna keep rambling on about them and eroticism? What does eroticism have to do with anything? 

 Baring the last question this blog posting will attempt to answer all of those questions.

The briefest of unruly histories

Unruly politics emerges out of acute power imbalances; it strikes with potency and elicits strong responses. Instances of unruly politics also tend to take normative positions, appealing to a “moral economy of entitlement” that “defends a powerful popular sense of fairness ” (Shankland et al: 2010: 1). This describes the AamAadmi Party (AAP) translated as the Common Man’s Party in India to a T. 

AAP’s emerged out the Anna Hazare social movement of 2011. The movement stirred up the Indian populations’ collective anger at pervasive and institutional corruption to successfully build a broad based collation of supporters. The movement was stoutly outside the realm of formal politics: negotiating on its own terms with fierce media backing and mobilising through street protests, hunger strikes and acts of civil disobedience often using social media to organise.

 A year and a half later, sections of the Anna Hazare movement broke away to form AAP. Riding high on the revolutionary back of Anna Hazare movement AAP started positioning itself firmly in the realm of formal politics.

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 (The broom is AAP’s election symbol, symbolizes dignity of labour, “the party hopes to clean the filth which has permeated our government and our legislature. The country needs a clean sweep of its corrupted main stream political parties.”) 

Why the break and what does this say about the identity of AAP?

 AAP patently answer this ontological question on their website with the about section starting with the question “Why are we entering politics?” Half of the answer is in line with the Anna Hazare movement: corruption. The other half strikes at a crisis of representation in realm of formal politicsin an apparent break away from its unruly roots: “No political party in India today works for the common man’s needs.”

 The narrative still contains unruly elements though, invoking both the power imbalances and an appeal to moral economy based on justice and fairness: “The time for peaceful fasts and protests is gone. This is the time for action. Since most political parties are corrupt, greedy and thick skinned, it’s time to bring political power back into the people’s hands.”

 Forming a political party is one thing yet winning an election is another. AAP did just that winning 28 out of 70 Assembly seats and forming minority coalition government. Once in power it remained faithful to its unruly roots however, drawing support and power from transgressing formal rules: its leader Arvind Kejriwal fasted in an attempt to mobilize people against inflated power and electricity bills; he supported the auto rickshaw drivers protesting the Delhi government’s ban on advertisements on their vehicles; Kejriwal even slept on the wintry streets of Delhi in an attempt wrestle executive control of the Delhi Police away from central Union Home Ministry in a move which the Hindu reported as “Anarchist Chief Minister plunges Delhi into chaos”

 Kejriwal sleeping on the streets of Delhi, protesting over control of the Police by the central government

With these acts we again witness the unruly utilization of alternative spaces to engage politically when the avenues and structures of formal politics are blocked off. This is unruliness, however; was now being implemented by a party elected to govern within these very power structures. This was not politics radically outside formal relations between the citizens and the state. This was directly within the elected structures of representative democracy: by running for government and gaining election AAP following principle-agent metrics whereby citizens/voters hold agents/elected accountable by voting them in or out based on deduced policy preferences and implementation of electoral promises. Put simply: AAP started simultaneously playing within and subverting the rules of the game.  

 February 2014 proved to be another dramatic twist of the AAP social movement turned political party tale: 48 days into its office the AAP government resigned.  In keeping with its central anti-corruption mandate, AAP targeted institutionalised corruption, which amongst others was aimed at industrialist Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man who amasses a personal wealth of 19.6 billion dollars. AAP alleged that the Central had inflated the price of gas to eight dollars a unit despite Mukesh Ambani’s company spending only $1 to produce a unit, which meant a loss of Rs. 54,000 crore to the country annually. Through introducing the Jan Lokpal Bill anti-corruption bill, which proposed a law where people would “be able to complain directly and imprison corrupt politicians and bureaucrats,”AAP proposed to eradicate such practices. It was unable to however, as other parties blocked the bill and in response AAP resigned.

The oxymoronic question of whether AAP is breaking the rules (theoretical framework) of unruly politics is something I will politely decline to engage in. Instead I ‘ll leave it as engaging with formal politics in unruly ways – a meeting of the unruly with the formal, a subversive accommodation of the former with the later.  This is vocalised by the party themselves: “Our aim in entering politics is not to come to power; we have entered politics to change the current corrupt and self-serving system of politics forever.”

The meshing of the unruly with the formal

 Niraja GopalJ ayal, professor of Law and Governance at Jawaharlal Nehru University argues that AAP’s unruly way of ruling leaves them with an identity crisis between a social movement and a political party. Highly critical of its unruly actions within the formal realms of government, she argues:

 “Having chosen to participate in representative democracy, the party is obliged, morally and constitutionally, to heed and respect the will of the people as expressed in the electoral process. To privilege other forms of the expression of popular will over this reeks of bad faith. Now that the AAP has claimed that electoral mandate to govern, it must abide by the rules of this game. There is an inconsistency in opting to take office by the route of representative democracy, and then trashing representative democracy itself by switching to movement mode.”

 Two days ago one of Jayal’s argument that AAP was an incomplete transition, from an unruly social movement to a legitimate party (equipped with a programmatic vision) was rendered obsolete when AAP arrived with its very own party manifesto.      

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 The Times of India claims it is a message of reassurance to the middle classes and business community through promising simplified trade and inflation control. We see here a playing of the games that all political parties have to do, a broadening of the appeal and tending towards to the median voter – not very unruly.

A closer look at the manifesto still resonates with its unruly ideas of direct democracy, power imbalances and moral economy though. In section 1, ‘Why vote for the AamAadmi Party’ it states the party is “here to change to rules of the game…to rewrite the politics of this country, it is here to transform the relationship between government and the people, it is here to make the government truly of the people.”

This is swiftly followed by section 2,‘Bringing an End to Corruption’ with the Jan Lokpal Bill outlined first and foremost. This is followed by section 3, on ‘Devolving Power Directly to the People’ and section 4, likewise is symbolic of its unruly origins and identity: ‘Providing Swift, Accessible Justice to the Common Man.’ The novice nature of the party is manifested with small sections at the tale end of the manifesto, half a page dedicated to section 32, Foreign Policy and section 33, Internal Security.

Some such as Jayal maintain the unruly origins and urges of AAP are anti-political and contradictory:

 “There is an obvious contradiction between adopting an anti-politics stance and being part of a politico-administrative structure and process. You can either beat them or join them; it is difficult to do both at the same time.”

 When viewed through an unruly lens though it can be seen as a recasting of the political space in India, and a melding of the unruly with the formal. How much this resonates with the voters of India and thereby how successful AAP will be remains to be seen. In just over a month we will know.

 Kejriwal and AAP will be taking on Modi and the BJP

References

khanna, a. (2012) ‘Seeing citizen action through an unruly lens’ in Development, 55(2), pp.162-172.

Shankland, A. et al. (2010) The Unruly Politics Manifesto. Unpublished

Remix at the margins of ownership

This is about war, a war over ideas

Can you trace the sources of inspiration that shaped your way of thinking/imagining the world?

I have several. One is the documentary RiP: A Remix Manifesto

Using musical creation as the main case study, the documentary explains that copyright is not about who made a song, it’s really about who owns a song. Copyright is essentially about ownership; Copyright is capitalism: property as a source of economic enrichment. This means that musical creation must come out of the blue because “you can’t base your creativity on other people’s stuff”.

As the documentary will show,  the above argument is literally impossible considering that 20th and 21st century knowledge, culture and technological creations have all been inspired on previous people’s creation.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qC4BRLYlGjE

In order to better distinct what belongs to whom, musical ownership promotes the categorization of things in an orderly fashion. The fetishism to categorize music into specific genres, authors and movements is nothing more the categorization of ownership. Hence, when experiencing music and deciding whether certain music is “good” or “bad”, you are deciding your experience through this fetichism.

Music is political. But not because of its content, but (also) because of its means of production. In the case of the 20th and 21st century music industry, copy right becomes the capitalist power structure that regulates musical transmission through the distribution of senses in a determined way. Copyright in music makes us believe that this distribution of senses has specific owners to whom we are monetary in debt.  

Can music be seen outside the realm of ownership? If we look at Ranciere[2]‘s concept of art, as the distribution of different human practices, then the answer would be yes. Ranciere allows us to see art –and therefore music- in much broader terms: We can envision ourselves, and anyone else, as generators of creativity.

Therefore copyleft emerges as the idea that sharing creativity is a cultural human right. It is about keeping the public domain free. Remix music is about creating “new” songs from many other songs that were a source of inspiration. Remix is born as a new language that “creates and recreated culture, where the creative process is more important that the product, where creativity is based on exchange”. In Lawrence Lessig’s words, Remix is the “literacy for a new generation”. One of the principles of the Remix manifesto is that “to build a free society is to limit the control of the past”, which in other words means: do not allow others to co-opt your freedom to learn from past knowledge, creation and technology because this is limits your human capability of creating art.

https://soundcloud.com/colectivosantiaguero/ms_om_cinturitadanzonera

The democratization of technology gives way to thinking of internet as a public domain where anyone can freely share human creativity. Hence, Internet plays a key role in Remix as a public domain. 

CAUTION: One must not be naive when defining Internet as a freedom haven. Internet is also deeply political as there are particular interests that seek to privatize the domain. When the internet portal Pirate Bay was being sued for copy right infringement, one of its creators declared in a press release: “Tomorrows trial in court is not about laws, it’s about politics”.

(I can’t get into the topic of the internet because that might be a whole other blog. I just wanted an excuse to recommend you watch The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard[3] documentary).

Going beyond the realm of music, the perception that science, technology and knowledge are products to be owned has severe consequences. Even deadly. One doesn’t need to research much to find out that affordable medicines that could cure mortal illnesses around the world are not being produced or distributed because private companies have copyrighted chemical formulas.

To wrap it up, the problem with copyright ownership is not only that it restricts access, but that it denies the possibility of constructing and reconstructing the world as we wish to imagine it. For these situations, my only recommendation to counter attack the restrictions would be to cultivate some Unruliness attitude. Unruliness provokes the possibility of deconstructing social restraints that blind us. In other words, Unruly is to mind fuck[4].

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=js2_hBDi2LI

Dj Cut Killer in the (highly recommended) film “La Haine”

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This is a post I shared on my Facebook page a few days back. I thought it was quite funny! The question seemed part innocent, part dazed&confused-delirious-lover-ish, part sexual harassment-ish. Overall, I thought that it would take a reasonably maladjusted human being to ask such a question. Even if this photo is made up, I am […]