Sunday, September 30, 2007

How to do anthropological research?

On friday we presented our paper about youth identities in Johannesburg. The focus of our in-depth interviews and ethnographies was on the intersection of race, gender, class and sexuality. The results will be compared with Cape Town, Chicago, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. A young and ambitious man was very scathing in his critique saying that it lacked depth, was not anthropological and was spending donor money with little results. In sum, it was deemed a fashion and not proper research.

I was trying to understand what his beef was. But I am still not clear. A large part of the presentation was about race and how it evolves and how people of different "races" relate to each other - was he unhappy with what we said about race? I mean he never criticized the substance of what we presented. He only talked about methodology and what proper anthropology was and what was not.

My experience with race-talk in South Africa is that in any public forum, people will rarely express in any direct way what they actually mean. So one is always faced with trying to figure out what they are trying to express. So over the next week I will try to understand better what was actually going on during discussions.

Saturday night I had a great dinner with good friends and dancing and partying in Melville. It was very cathartic. One can bemoan many things in Jozi, but the people here are great to go out and party with.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Deliverig the paper

During our World of Work program, we were honing our speaking and presentation skills. This coming friday I will present a paper with my colleagues, "Transforming Youth Identities among the Rainbow Nation’s Youth: Interactions across “Races/Colours/Ethnicities”, Gender, Classes and Sexualities in Johannesburg, South Africa" and I am busily putting the slideshow together.

It is quite fun. And I remember to add pictures and to conceive of a good colour scheme with contrasts that make it readable.

When you give the paper, speak slowly, pronounce well and so on.

But I think the most important is the passion that you have for the content that you present. Amongst the speakers that paraded in front of us, it was this sense that ultimatley distinguished an excellent, memorable presentation from a very good one.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Looming graduation...finally

After months of waiting, I eventually received yesterday the three exeaminers' report. What a great day - after going through the comments with the Prof, he headed straight to the Blind Pig to celebrate in due fashion. I need to make a few changes here and there, some big, some small, and then nothing should prevent me from graduating in November. That feels good!

I am looking forward to meeting the Vice-Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa on stage in the great hall at Wits and getting my head capped.

Of course, as I read through the comments, I thought I should have done this and that, consulted this book as well, spent more time on editing and so on. But in the end, people correctly say that the best thesis is a finished thesis.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

White liberals

When I first came to South Africa, I was struck by the often aggressive derision with which the term 'liberal' was greeted. I mean in Canada and Switzerland, 'liberal' belonged to the political landscape like salt and vinegar to chips and it did not attract much debate beyond the usual. After all, any democracy espoused liberal values, such as freedom of expression.

Yet, in South Africa, 'liberal' has a specific historical meaning. Reading the memoirs of Colin Eglin, long-time leader of the Liberal Party during apartheid, it becomes clear that the liberals often advocated among white people the cause of black people. This was due to the gripping effect of apartheid racial separation. But it also took agency away from black people and handed it over to white brokers.

This sort of speaking for black people still lingers on today in many ways. Often, white people write what black people may think and feel yet they have not checked their assumptions by speaking to black people - an honest dialogue across the colour line is largely absent (In contrast, in my experience, black people seem to be much more clued in how white people think). Or, they pick one black individual that suits them and assume he represents the entire black population - the 'good' black who fits white expectations.

Nevertheless, face-to-face dialogue, as equals, is crucial. It is the only way that bit by bit, through hard work, the legacy of apartheid can be pushed back.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A truly great musician

Joe Zawinul has died. I true giant of music has left us. Beyond the hype that surrounded the likes of Pavarotti, Zawinul was a phenomenon who kept his feet on the ground. Last year, I failed to go and watch him live when I was in Switzerland. I regret that I missed this last chance to see him live! While he did many recordings, he and the musicians he played with were at their best when on stage. He was a master of improvisation and hence he played with the greats like the Adderley Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis.

I saw them in 2003 at Cape Town's North Sea Jazz Festival. It was a marvellous encounter. He was playing with musicians from the four corners of the world - a true world music. Rhythm all over. A master of the piano, he generously shared his knowledge of music with other musicians and poured his money into developing musicians.

Fabio Freire, a Brazilian composer and musician living in Switzerland, told me that like Amadeus Mozart, Zawinul revolutionised how music was played. He made the synthesizer a staple of modern music. I have a tape of a recording when he was the pianist of the Adderley brothers - his playing and composition kept the audience in trance. Before he played with the greats of Jazz in the US, he studied classical music at the Conservatory in Vienna and later developed the synthesizer and his own brand of music, jazz fusion.

In a world struggling to keep genuine leadership afloat, he stands out as a one of those strong and quiet ones.

Friday, September 14, 2007

....and the rest is history

With the words above, people end their stories after they have told us how they came to be what they are today. I find 'time' a strange concept - how it passes by as we grow older, how things come to an end and new things begin. Often new things, as a new job, is a bit scary. But I find it reassuring that even as we settle into new habits, new organisations and new ways of thinking, we will always move on in one way or another.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Fitting into a work regime (culture)

I remember how must of the participants were a bit taken aback when speaker after speaker emphasized the importance of fitting into the culture of a work place. After all, we are all individuals and want to be recognized as such.

I can see why indeed this is so important. In order to work well, to show up at work every day in a good mood and motivated in order to be productive, you need to feel in sink with your work environment. If you rub yourself all day against how people think and do things, you will not enjoy yourself, the work you do and it will show. Yet, the questions remains: how far can you go to fit in?

This insistence on fitting into a work-culture is perhaps more of a problem in South Africa than anywhere else around the globe as apartheid has separated people by force into different 'cultures', all deemed incompatible. Rather than fitting in, South Africans would demand respect for cultures and their particularities.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Not dead...yet!

Ok, some time passed since I wrote for the the last time. I got a bit bogged down by a few other things but foremost I have to wait for another couple of weeks until I can write about the experience that all from the 2007 Wow team would like to share. And like to read about!

The remaining pictures from the Walk are in the pipeline to be posted. I just get tired of the long and complicated downloading. And my home computer got some virus, and so on.

I intend to do a half-marathon at the Soweto Marathon in early November, for those who would like to hook up.

I am still waiting for the Wits examiner, the last one of three, to submit his report. I finished the final version of my thesis end of February 2007.....