Imagining Danger and Safety (and Conference Talks!)

Quick note that I’ll be giving the same talk twice this month. First, this weekend in Philly I’ll be at the American Ethnological Society’s annual meeting. I’ll be part of panel 3.1.5 “Technologies of Disaster, Power, Ethics, and Politics,” Saturday morning at 8:00am. Then, on March 30th, I’ll be presenting at my department’s annual symposium here in DC. Reach out if you want the details for the latter – promo material forthcoming.

My talk is titled “The Promise of Early Warning: Radio, Protection, and Political Demands in Northeastern Congo.” I look at the different ways in which humanitarianism and infrastructure offer certain promises (of care, of life, of progress, of modernity) and what happens when those promises are not borne out as imagined. It’s one step in thinking through my research from this past summer as I prepare for fieldwork, and also thinking with recent scholarship on these issues. I’ll be continuing to think with, on, around, and about this, I’m sure.

As I both prepare for the upcoming AES conference and continue to read for my comprehensive exams (ack!), I wanted to drop some thoughts here. This weekend one of my readings was Juliana Ochs’ Security & Suspicion: An Ethnography of Everyday Life in Israel. Part of Ochs’ argument centers on how discourses about security get reproduced at the level of bodily practice and ways that fantasies of threats and protection get embodied. I’m still sitting with the book a bit, but I found it really generative to think about processes of everyday securitization. In the context of the second intifada, Israel’s itinerant, moving checkpoints and ever-changing security measures shaped people’s perceptions of security, not unlike what other scholars of security in Israel have shown. But Ochs demonstrates how these practices get filtered at the individual level as people’s personal imaginations of the city (Jerusalem) are shaped by their own experiences of the city, of Palestinians, of trauma, etc. – she shows this through, among other things, people’s commutes in the city and how they explain what parts of the city are safe or dangerous, when it’s okay to travel, and what modes of transportation are safest.

This is just one slice of the book, but it’s been useful to think with as I put the final touches on my conference paper, and I’m sure it will continue to be in the back of my mind as I study securitization, humanitarian infrastructure, and technologies of intervention. I’m interested in how the communication networks that I study might shape people’s understandings and interpretations of insecurity, and how the promise of technology and intervention might be changing these processes. Thinking with Ochs, then, I’m interested in how the threat posed by the LRA, but also the discourse and daily communicative practices around this threat, play out at the local level. How are the threat, discourse, and practice interpreted, embodied, lived, and felt?

And so, by way of conference paper snippet, here’s a glimpse of what I was thinking about last summer when I was doing exploratory fieldwork in Haut Uele, DR Congo, and a snippet of what I’ll be talking about on Saturday:

Let me first describe an instance in which the radio allowed humanitarians and civilians to trace LRA movements. Last summer, while I was awaiting my Congolese visa, alerts were sent out about a series of small roadside attacks which included three incidents of looting and one killing of a soldier south of Garamba National Park, near the village of Sambia. Once I got my visa, I was able to travel by road to Dungu, and upon arrival heard that there had been more looting or sightings of LRA fighters south of the park and, more recently, west of the park. Given both the history of LRA tactics and the daily incident reports, one can cobble together the most likely scenario: if all of these incidents involved the same group of LRA fighters, then they probably had been living south of Garamba, looted local communities to gather supplies in advance of a journey, then traveled through Garamba to poach elephants, and headed west on their way up to Central African Republic, to take the ivory either to other LRA groups or to LRA commander Joseph Kony, who is rumored to be in hiding in Sudan and using illicit trade to continue his rebellion from afar. In June, while I was preparing to cross into the Congo, communities on the early warning network were hearing daily reports of LRA activity, which hopefully allowed parents to keep children close to home rather than tilling distant fields, allowed travelers to be on alert on remote roads and pathways where the danger of looting was heightened, and mobilized peacekeeping forces to patrol the areas most affected or most vulnerable.

Once I was settled into my routine listening in to daily rounds with the radio staff in Dungu, however, a problem arose, or rather, erupted. In late July, news came from near the town of Bangadi of a particularly bold attack in which an FARDC camp was raided and a small town was looted of food, medical goods, a power generator, and radio equipment. Days later a series of roadside looting occurred, including several deaths and the kidnapping of a local government official. Given the location of these incidents northwest of the park and on the route to Central African Republic, this is likely the same group which had been actively moving, looting, and attacking communities throughout those months. But despite the weeks of information-gathering, the fact that a government official had been abducted, and their mandate, the peacekeepers in Bangadi never deployed to the nearby communities to investigate or respond to the killings and abduction. Knowledge had been shared, but action wasn’t taken. People died, were looted, or abducted, and the assailants vanished with impunity.

What I explore more in the talk is what to make of such failed promise as when the early warning network provides information so that civilians know about the threat, but there’s little they can do about it. The promise of humanitarianism, and of technology, is premised on improving lives. What happens when these hopes are dashed? What do promises, even broken ones, generate? I gesture at political responses to abandonment and potentially new politics emerging in moments of such failure, but there are other places to train our eyes and ears. If we channel Ochs’ focus on everyday and embodied security, though, it’s worth asking how the radio produces particular imaginations of rebel movement, how the information that gets circulated shapes daily practices, and how knowledge about the LRA threat is felt. These are some of the things I’ll be tackling as I think through the promise and practice of early warning.

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#AmAnth17

The American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting is in DC this year, so thousands of anthropologists are descending on/near my neighborhood. I’ve been dropping the ball this fall insofar as keeping the blog updated with presentations (at PAC in DC and at ASA in Chicago, sorry), but here’s my AAA run-down.

Saturday, Dec. 2, 2:00-3:45p, I’ll be presenting “‘Come Home Messaging’ in a Counterinsurgency: Demobilization and Militarization in and around Northern Uganda,” part of panel (5-0880): “Understanding Violence: Cases and Analyses from Across Africa,” in the Marriott, Roosevelt 4

Abstract: Demobilization of armed groups typically happens en masse after the end of a conflict in an effort to prevent future conflict. In the efforts to stop the Lord’s Resistance Army in and around Uganda, however, demobilization has taken place during the conflict, targeting individuals to convince them to surrender. Sometimes conflated with defection, this process serves to weaken the insurgency and end the war as much as it aims to demobilize and reintegrate fighters. This elision merges what is typically a post-conflict intervention with a counterinsurgency effort, entangling these projects in temporal, relational, and political ways. This paper theorizes this merging by focusing on the ways humanitarian actors speak about demobilization and the ways that different humanitarian and counterinsurgency efforts overlap in terms of the ends they seek. Based on fieldwork, linguistic analysis, and interviews with humanitarians involved, I demonstrate how the demobilizing of armed actors can actually contribute to the militarization of the region.

In addition to my paper, I’ll be running around the AAAs all week, so I hope to see you. I’ll be live-tweeting a panel (2-0430), “Remoteness and Place-making as Social Practice,” Wednesday, 2:15-4:00pm, on behalf of Cultural Anthropology (where I’m a contributing editor now, icymi) and chairing the panel (4-0365) “Sex and War” (Friday, 10:15a-12:00p, Marriott, Jefferson) organized by Holly Porter. I’ve also been relentlessly promoting other events you should check out, and here’s an ongoing list of GW-affiliated presentations. There’s also, of course, a billion other panels, roundtables, meetings, and receptions to attend. Have fun with the whirlwind.

GWU Anthropology Symposium this Friday

For those in the DC area, my department at GWU will be hosting our annual Anthropology Symposium this Friday all day. Please come check out some of the cool stuff going on in my little corner of the world. I am one of the organizers this year, and we’ve brought together a solid slate of presenters.

I’m particularly excited about our keynote speaker, Adrienne Pine of American University, who will be giving a lecture (at 4:30pm) titled “Preparing for an Anthropology of Fascism” and uses ethnographic data from the DC area as well as Honduras to ask what anthropological possibilities and responsibilities are emerging right now.

gwsymposiumflier

A full program is available symposium-schedule (pdf). Hope to see you there!

Minneapolis-Bound

I’m about to head to the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Minneapolis. For those who are there, I’ll be doing a thing:

Negotiating the Radio: Sensitization, Militarization, and Media Interventions in the D.R. Congo on Friday at 1:45 in the Marquette VII room. Come say hi!

The talk will be based partly on research conducted in 2013 on FM radio come home messaging and the HF radio early warning network. The abstract is a hell of a mess, so rather than paste that I’ll just say that the talk will cover different ways that these radio interventions have created new publics and new ways of communicating for the local population as well as NGOs. This includes come home messaging on the FM radio as well as the spreading of rumors and creating new public audiences, as well as the HF network’s reliance on the military actors and the ways it allows communities to connect with one another.

I’m hoping to continue this research this coming summer, so hopefully it’ll show up at the blog more often. In the meantime, I’ll be in Minneapolis for the rest of the week – hope to see you fellow anthropologists there!

Lastly: another way to resist Trump’s America is to produce and exchange knowledge. Excited to learn from brilliant people this week, because learning is part of learning to subvert and resist.

 

Public Anthropology Conference @ American University

Just a brief note to my DC-based and DC-adjacent readers that the American University Anthropology Department’s annual Public Anthropology Conference will be taking place this weekend. You can find out more about the conference here, and you can see the full schedule for the weekend here. Registration is free and includes lunch, and the conference’s theme is about connecting social movements and academia, which may be relevant to some of you.

I mention this partially because I’ll be participating in a dialogue on the topic of “Ethnography and Advocacy across Categories,” on Oct. 9 at 9:00am at the Mary Graydon Center, Rm. 203-205. A handful of us, at various stages of academia from MA student to professor, will be talking about how we engage in, conflict with, or study activists and other forms of advocacy. Here’s a full abstract of the dialogue:

How can one reconcile the role of the ethnographer, which traditionally strives for objectivity, and the activist/advocate, which is consciously subjective? This dialogue session will explore how one, in the course of ethnographic labor, could tell the story of multiple groups in friction with one another, while also inhabiting the role of advocate for one or more of those groups. We will also examine the broader question of what forms advocacy can, or perhaps should, take in the context of anthropological work. Each participant will begin by discussing the ways in which their own work a) functions across or among cultural categories or groups and b) either intentionally or unintentionally does the work of advocacy for one or more of those categories or groups.

Because it’s a dialogue, it will be informal and we encourage audience participation in the conversation. The rest of the conference has some interesting panels and presentations as well. I hope to see you there!

GWU Anthropology Symposium

Putting you all on notice that my department’s annual symposium is this week. On Friday, April 15th, we will be hosting “Porous Boundaries: Risks and Flows Across Spaces” on campus all day. The symposium will include four panels of presentations plus a keynote speaker, anthropologist Clara Han, whose lecture is titled “Poverty and Vulnerability: Household Events and the ‘Drug Economy’.” The full schedule can be seen here [pdf].

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The whole day is packed with good stuff. Like, actually. I’ve seen some of these talks before, and I’m really excited about a lot of the work going on in my department, including community organizing against slow violence in Baltimore, complexities of sex work in India, and the politics of archiving at Howard University. Check out the schedule, there’s good stuff. But I must admit a shameless self-promotion: I’ll be presenting at the tail end of the 2:15-3:45 panel. It’s the same presentation I gave at AES two weeks ago: “Between Justice and Forgiveness: Accountability across Borders in the LRA Conflict,” which looks at the ICC intervention, amnesty and reconciliation initiatives, and the forgiveness-based demobilization radio messages that I researched in my MA thesis.

I hope those of you in the DC area will be able to join us. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions – scottross [at] gwmail [dot] gwu [dot] edu.

#AES2016: Justice and Forgiveness

As a cadre of anthropologists flock to DC this week for the annual meeting of the American Ethnological Society, let me flag a paper I’m presenting at the panel, as well a public event in town.

First, Thursday night at 7:00 – at the Busboys and Poets on 5th and K, three anthropologists will be discussing recently published books in a public event co-hosted by AES titled “Homeland Insecurity: Anthropologists Discuss Terror, Corruption, and Displacement.” Catherine Besteman will be talking about Somali refugees in Maine, Joe Masco will be talking about counterterrorism, and Janine Wedel will be talking about corruption in U.S. politics. You should go – I’ll be there.

For followers of the blog, though:

I’ll be presenting a paper, “Between Justice and Forgiveness: Accountability across Borders in the LRA Conflict,” on panel 5.3: “Postconflict and Military Order.” It’s a diverse array of presentations on conflict, and it promises to be an interesting one. You can find us on Saturday, 8:00-9:45, in the Metro West room at the Capitol Hill Liaison Hotel. If you’re attending AES, hope to see you there!

#ASA2015: Come Home Messaging on the Radio

Greetings from San Diego! I’m here for the annual meeting of the African Studies Association. On Saturday, at 8:30am in Room 411, I’ll be presenting as a part of a panel on “Accounting for Violence.” My presentation, entitled “Encouraging Rebel Demobilization by Radio in Uganda and the DR Congo: The Case of Come Home Messaging.” It’s part of a chapter from my MA thesis, which is also a forthcoming article. Here’s the abstract:

For several years, local radio stations in Uganda broadcast “come home” messages that encouraged the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army to demobilize. Since the rebels began carrying out attacks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic, several international actors have introduced the same messages to these regions. This new effort has internationalized radio programming, benefited local radio stations, innovated new forms of messaging, and collaborated with military actors. This article provides an overview of how come home messaging functions in different contexts, examining the effects of these actions and highlighting an important shift in military-humanitarian relationships.

If you’re interested, come check it out! If you’re at ASA, let’s get in touch! If you’re down for drinks, there’s a tweet-up tonight at The Grand on 5th at 8:30.

Conferences, Conferences, Conferences

A few conference-related items of potential interest.

Firstly, I’m issuing my own brief call for any fellow travelers in justice/reconciliation/Africa/intervention studies by anthropologists thinking about attending the American Ethnological Society this March 31-April 2 in Washington, DC. I’m thinking about submitting a newer iteration of the paper I presented at ASA last year, on reconciliation and accountability, the ICC, and Invisible Children. I’m open to ways of framing it, so if anyone wants to help me cobble together a panel, I’d greatly appreciate it. Deadline is Jan. 31, but you can’t submit until after you register (I know, right?). I’ve heard AES is awesome, and I can’t wait to go – hopefully you’ll come with me! Comment, e-mail, tweet, etc. if you’re down to do a panel together on any of the aforementioned subjects.

On a related note, doing my grad-student-Africanist duty and spreading the word of a couple of Calls for Papers to any relevant Africanist scholars-in-training:

Boston University’s African Studies Center will be hosting its annual graduate student conference this March, with the theme of “Mobilizing Africa: Innovation, Syncretism, Appropriation.” Deadline for submission is Jan. 15, and the conference is March 25-26. I’ve never been, but it looks mighty interesting and is geared towards graduate students, so check it out.

At about the same time, Tennessee State University will be hosting its annual Africa Conference March 31-April 1, with the theme of “Africa in the 21st Century: The Promise of Development and Democracy.” Deadline is Dec. 31, and more details are in the CFP here [pdf].

And lastly, it’s almost that time of year again. I’ll be headed to San Diego in two weeks for the African Studies Association’s annual meeting, where I’ll be presenting a chapter from my MA thesis that is also a forthcoming article in African Studies Review. The paper is on the role of come-home messaging in the LRA conflict, focusing on how come-home radio programs began in Gulu, how they fared in neighboring Lira district, and how they have been transplanted into northeastern DRC. Looking forward to presenting, and if you’re headed to ASA, it’s session IX (Saturday morning), panel I-1, vaguely titled “Accounting for Violence.” Hope to see you there!

To Indianapolis!

For the Africanists among you, I’ll be making my way to Indianapolis for the African Studies Association’s annual meeting.

I’ll be presenting a conference paper entitled “Invisible Children and Acholi Notions of Reconciliation in the D.R. Congo,” based partially on my MA thesis research as well as my experience with Invisible Children over the past few years. My paper is part of an awesome two-part panel on “Conflict Activism and its Consequences” organized by Kristof Titeca and Laura Seay and including several papers/topics that sound vastly more interesting than anything I could think of. You should check it out!

You can find the full program for ASA here [pdf], and I’ll be around from Thursday around noon until early Sunday morning, so get in touch if you want to meet up/hang out!