December 12, 2011
Last month in Varanasi, India, the First International Conference of Lokavidya Jan Andolan, or the Peoples’ Knowledge Movement, was held. The original call for participation talked about the situation of the displacement, environmental destruction, and poverty experienced by people throughout India:
All these people, the displaced, the communities they belong to, have never gone to college and live by the knowledge they posses[s], called lokavidya, which they have acquired from elders, from peers, in the community, at the site of work, through experiments and by their own genius. [...] In fact lokavidya, that is people’s knowledge, skills, ways of thinking, values, methods of organization, aesthetic and ethical sensibilities, in short, their world of knowledge as a part of their own world, is the main source of their strength. [...] It is important to understand that the emancipatory pathways today traverse through the world of knowledge. The Lokavidya standpoint is the people’s standpoint in the Age of Information.
Looking around online a little, I came across a post from a 2008 gathering, which noted, among other things:
“Most people, peasants, artisans, adivasis [indigenous people], very small shop-keepers and women have never been to a college or a university, but they have their own extensive knowledge.”
“The reason for the very bad condition of their life is that their knowledge, lokavidya, is not organized. Their knowledge gets no recognition in politics, in the big bazar, in leading cultural institutions and in the universities. Actually the power centers of the society refuse to give the status of knowledge to lokavidya.”
“So long as lokavidya is not organized, the lokavidyadhars will not be able to effectively intervene in the public realm. Lokavidyadhar samaj needs to take initiative to organise lokavidya under its own leadership, then only can they command respect and get rid of poverty.”
I don’t know enough about the Indian context, but from the U.S. I can’t see that poverty and other manifestations of inequality could be traced to a lack of “organization” of knowledge. Here, voices on the left celebrate the knowledge, traditions, values, and culture of unprivileged communities (of which they may or may not be part). But I don’t think anyone is suggesting that society would change appreciably if only their “lokavidya” were respected by the centers of power.
This also makes me think of a workshop/discussion I attended at the Critical Resistance conference in 2008, where people were riffing on a variety of facts and ideas about prison and justice. Finally the longtime activist Kai Barrow took the floor and said something like, “Okay, now, what are we going to do when we leave here? We have all the information. We don’t need any more information.”
In other words, information (which leads to knowledge – obviously these are two different things) is not emancipatory in and of itself. But I think Kai’s plea does speak to an aspect of this lokavidya concept, a sort of active quality, coming as it does “from elders, from peers, in the community, at the site of work, through experiments.” It’s not just book-reading that’ll learn you. And given that Kai wasn’t actually suggesting that people take up pickaxes and start hacking away at the nearest prison walls, even in an active activism, the work of a prison abolitionist would involve creating new knowledge as a means to making real change.
Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Siddhartha Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India, and in a chapter about Bangalore and engineers and IT, Deb writes:
There is also something Brahminical in the very way engineers perceive their work around computers, if by Brahminical one means the idea of exclusive access to knowledge that cannot be shared with commoners. There is no glamour in India, for instance, associated with being a civil engineer, and in this it differs remarkably from countries in the West, where, through the nineteenth and a great part of the twentieth century, the civil engineer was celebrated for his rugged masculinity, especially in the way he dominated nature by building dams and bridges.
Today’s Indian middle class, in contrast, celebrates the engineer-entrepreneur who makes money or the engineer-functionary who sits at a workstation. The cubicle is clean, air-conditioned and unpolluted, while the factory is dirty and physical. The cubicle is Brahminical, the factory is Sudra, the realm of the low-caste craftsperson. (p. 99-100)
Anyway, to conclude this sort of stream-of-conscious post – despite my relative unfamiliarity with India, I wanted to write up something here because I haven’t been able to get the idea of this lokavidya conference out of my head.
October 25, 2011
This post dovetails coincidentally with Rory’s 10/22 post about the solidarity library in Bethlehem – looks like it’s Israel/Palestine week at Library Juice.
Hannah Mermelstein, a school librarian in New York City, is also a Palestine solidarity activist (and generally awesome person). She’s reworked her thesis into an article, “Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s ‘Abandoned Property’ of 1948,” that’s been published in the Autumn 2011 issue of the Jerusalem Quarterly.
The article is about books as physical and symbolic pieces of cultural heritage. During times of war and occupation, they may be seized and, if not destroyed, repurposed for the benefit of the regime in power. However, the continued existence of and, often, detailed record-keeping for these books leaves open the possibility of restoration to the original owners, in the larger context of rights for the victimized peoples.
In 1948, much of the wealthy and formally educated Palestinian population was concentrated in Jerusalem and other urban centers. When Zionist militias swept through these neighborhoods, they physically pushed thousands of people from their homes and caused tens of thousands more to flee in fear. Many Palestinians left in haste, grabbing only what they could carry as they ran. Others thought they would return a few weeks later, once the fighting died down. In many cases, members of the educated class left behind some of their most prized possessions: books.
The soldiers raiding these West Jerusalem neighborhoods were closely followed by teams of librarians from the Jewish National and University Library at Hebrew University (later referred to as National Jewish Library or simply the National Library). They gathered approximately 30,000 books from private Palestinian libraries and, according to testimonies from those involved in the project, began to catalog books by subject and often by owners’ names. In the early 1960s, however, close to 6,000 of the books were revisited and labeled with the letters “AP” for “abandoned property”. [...] To this day, the books’ call numbers begin with the letters “AP.” The National Library has thus maintained a likely unintentional collection of looted Palestinian books, easily identifiable to those who understand what “AP” means.
The article that originally inspired Hannah is Gish Amit’s “Ownerless Objects? The Story of the Books Palestinians Left Behind in 1948,” published in the Jerusalem Quarterly as well. There is also a related cultural memory project called The Great Book Robbery.
October 22, 2011
Message sent to me by the International Solidarity Initiative. I don’t have any personal names to connect to this group, but in response to my questions about them they told me that they are independent and not a part of another organization. They can be excused for wanting to stay personally under the radar given the difficult politics surrounding their project.
Our Project: A solidarity library in central Bethlehem
Presentation of the International Solidarity Initiative (ISI)
International Solidarity Initiative is an independent community center based in the center of the Old City of Bethlehem. It is a place where everyone meets to share and develop together there abilities in purpose of right social construction; to help Palestinian people in its march towards freedom and autonomy.
Our philosophy is based on non-violent popular resistance. We believe that educating young people must go through the construction of critical thinking and their own individualization inside the society. We participate in the creation and support of the Palestinian initiative campaigns. These campaigns and our actions are relayed by the media both locally and internationally. We are at the origin of the campaign I Am Palestine whose goal is to change the image of Palestine through various video testimonies of Palestinians on the question of their identity through its wide distribution.
Many volunteers have already joined our initiatives. To this end, we have also a guest house in the center.
Presentation of our project: a solidarity library
Our project is primarily a community project: the creation of a solidarity library, non-profit and open to all. This library gives to young Palestinians easy, secular and democratic access to books whose intellectual relevance and cultural escape fill the absence of such offer in Bethehem area.
The choice of undertake such a project in the center of the ISI is not trivial. Indeed, local and international youths meet there already, what makes this place a full participant in actual solidarity. We have a large room that can accommodate more than 5000 books on its shelves, and equipment and volunteer staff necessary for the proper management of the library.
We mainly target a part of the Palestinian youth who suffers from barriers to access to culture but also to the most disadvantaged families. This is why the free borrowing of books is a principle on which we insist.
The types of books required are mostly novels (classic, fiction…), poetry, theater, cultural books (arts, film, photography …), history and politics, dealing with social issues, art of living (cooking, nature, travel …) and educational manuals (language learning, science, academic books …).
Your contribution by a sponsorship takes on a gift of books.
In addition to this donation, you support us with the dissemination of a culture with a population that represents the future of a becoming nation. You support the Palestinian people. You support Palestine.
The in and out presence of international volunteers will give a media influence to our project’s sponsorship, supported by our very visited website and Facebook page.
If you want to ask question and support us, you can at first contact us via our email: bethlehem.isi [at] gmail.com
We hope that your initial support will soon looks like a partnership in the long term and you will become an mean asset to Palestinian mind’s plethora.
With blessed regards,
International Solidarity Initiative
August 29, 2011
ILWOL Books of Korea has published a Korean translation of Ed D’Angelo’s Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library: How Postmodern Consumer Capitalism Threatens Democracy, Civil Education and the Public Good. The book was previously published in Japanese translation in 2009 by Kyoto University. D’Angelo’s book has been one of our better selling books at Library Juice Press since it was first published in 2006. Chapters one and two are available online.
You will probably be hearing more about Weibo, a Chinese social networking site that combines aspects of Twitter and Facebook and presently has, at a minimum, 140 million users, which is nearly three times the user base of Twitter.
The interesting news at present is that the Chinese government, which shut down access to Twitter some time ago, has sent out mass messages on Weibo warning people that two recent posts were false. Here are accounts of the story from The Atlantic and The New York Times. My friend Anne Mostad-Jensen, a user of the site, sent me this screenshot of the government’s notice on the site (though if you can read Chinese, chances are you’ve already seen it).
May 19, 2011
An interesting library-related paper from MiT7, by a media studies scholar:
Knowledge Experiments: Technology and the Library, Paulina Mickiewicz
In April of 2005, the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec opened in Montreal, a library project of unprecedented scale in the city. This paper seeks to focus on the programming and technologies of the Grande Bibliothèque. One of the main reasons for the creation of the Grande Bibliothèque was to offer Montreal citizens a public library that was capable of not only hosting and managing emergent media technologies but that would provide free and equal access to these new media. In addition to being a highly digitized and networked facility, the Grande Bibliothèque is also a site that offers the most advanced methods of storage, search and retrieval of a multiplicity of collections, be they referential, digital or archival. This paper will serve to explore the so-called “technologization” of the traditional library, how this has transformed the ways in which we use and understand the library as a public space as well as what this may mean for the future of libraries, and how well equipped the Grande Bibliothèque is in adapting to the constant flow of newer and faster technologies.
May 16, 2011
MiT7 was a great conference – intimate, warm, stimulating, interdisciplinary, and cutting-edge. There were some brilliant minds at work. I plan to post a few comments on the conference later. For now, here are links to podcasts from the three topical plenary sessions:
Media in Transition 7: Unstable Platforms
Archives and Cultural Memory
Power and Empowerment
May 11, 2011
Media in Transition 7 (MiT 7), a small conference at MIT, is starting Friday and running ’till Sunday. I will be there; if you will be there too please say hello.
Anyone wanting to follow the Twitter hash tag can look for #mit7.
April 10, 2011
There is an very good article by David Remnick in the February 28th issue of the New Yorker about Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper that has set the standard for accuracy in news there for many years while also providing the main support for pro-Peace viewpoints among Israelis. If you are interested in the role of the press in a democracy, the fate of newspapers, or the fate of Israel, the article is a must-read. It is called The Dissenters.
March 28, 2011
The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies
Author: Philippe Breton
Translator: David Bade
Published: March 2011
Printed on acid-free paper
French author Philippe Breton examines the Internet and the culture surrounding it through the lens of its philosophical and cultural background. Central in his insightful analysis of “the Internet as cult” are Teilhard de Chardin and the New Age, but he looks also at the fears, passions and pathologies of Alan Turing and Norbert Wiener, the imagined worlds of Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, J.G. Ballard and Timothy Leary, the prognostications and confessions of Bill Gates, Nicolas Negroponte and Bill Joy, and the philosophies of Saint-Simon, McLuhan and Pierre Lévy. Breton contrasts the dreams of a transparent and unmediated world, a world in which neither time nor space are relevant, a world without violence, without law, without a distinction between the public and the private, with the reality of propaganda, computer viruses and surveillance; the world in which “sociality in the sense of mutuality disappears in favor of interactivity,” where “experience with another and with the world in general is replaced by brief reactionary relations that hardly engage us at all.” This English language translation is by David Bade.
When the book was first published in France as Le culte de l’Internet: une menace pour le lien social?, the publishers described the book with these remarks on its cover [translation by David Bade]:
For the first time in the history of humanity human beings have created a technical system—the Internet—that allows us to dispense with all face-to-face communication. No one would have considered such a possibility if the Internet had not been the object of a cult offering the promise of a better world, the world of “cyberspace”. The advocates of “the Internet for everything” seem to have carried the day not only against technophobes but more importantly against all those desirous of a reasoned use of new technologies.
These militant fundamentalists call for a global information society in which social relationships will be founded upon a separation of bodies and a collectivization of consciousnesses. Their vision is one that mixes together the heritage of Teilhard de Chardin, Zen Buddhism and New Age philosophies. It is a vision that mobilizes American cultural values such as Puritanism, manicheism, the quest for social harmony and the cult of the young. It is rooted in a religiosity that celebrates the utopia of transparence in the context of a political crisis and the waning influence of monotheism and humanism.
Technical developments since 2000 have brought many new imaginations and practices, but Breton’s description of the imaginations that have surrounded the development of the Internet remains a superb corrective to the commonplace that technological developments are changing our world. The reader of The Cultural Origins of the Internet and the Internet as Cult will come away with an awareness of how our own imaginations, our fears and our fantasies form and fashion our futures, technological, social and otherwise.
March 14, 2011
Librarians interested in intellectual freedom should take note of a case of censorship by copyright lawsuit. Danish artist Nadia Plesner has used an image of a Louis Vuitton handbag in some biting artwork about the genocide in Darfur to show our culpability in not bridging the gap between the tragedy there and our shallow consumerist lives. Louis Vuitton sued her a couple of years ago, and a judged ruled in their favor in January, without giving Plesner a chance to testify in her own defense. You can read about it on her site.
February 8, 2011
“The HMC announces an open call for entries to exhibit at Raday Konyveshaz & Gallery, Budapest, exhibition opening on August 24, 2011. … Submission deadline is March 15.”
How influenced the digitalized area the traditional reading culture? Is it finished the Gutenberg area? We are waiting artist books, artworks on or of paper may be any size, but MUST fit in a 9 X 12 (22.9X30.5cm) envelope. Unmatted, unframed photography, drawing, painting, printmaking, collage, mixed media, cast or folded paper, multimedia or digital prints.
January 31, 2011
January 2, 2011
Folks at the Progressive Librarians Guild have put the full text of back issues of their journal, Progressive Librarian, online. Coverage goes back to issue number one, from 1990. I was on the editorial board of Progressive Librarian for a number of years, and consider them an important venue for library literature that works to strengthen the ties between the profession of librarianship and the left political philosophies that are akin to it. Back issues have been available through Proquest and Ebsco for some time, but their accessibility on the web will give a new level of exposure to the ideas there. Check it out.
November 17, 2010
I was discussing the free press with a Russian friend once, and she told me that the main difference between Soviet Russia and the contemporary USA was that Russians knew they were being lied to, while Americans have naively believed that what the news says is the truth. Amusingly, right wing skeptics are presently doubting the US military line regarding the missile sighting on the California coast, as though today’s Pentagon is a different Pentagon from the one they backed and trusted during the Bush administration. At any rate, it does look as though Americans are in a mood to doubt the honesty of the government.
But what about the news media? If the news media were a branch of government, obviously Americans would doubt it in much the same way that Soviet Russians doubted Pravda. Paradoxically, the American news media has become less reliable at the same time that it has become popularized. News organizations are being squeezed by declining revenues and shareholder demands for higher profit margins, and consequently are weaker in the newsroom than they have been in a long time, less capable of solid investigative journalism. The result is that the news media has to trust and rely more than in the past on the products of public relations people, working for both corporations and government. PR firms and the PR departments of government are responsible for most of what we read as “news” (even more than in the past). The news media is more propagandized and filtered than in the 20th century, while at the same time more “popular” in tone, to appeal to a customer base that increasingly distrusts “elites.” New media, blogs, etc., are often cited as representing a hope for greater democracy, but when democracy means channeling corporate and government propaganda, that hope is rather pale.
That said, the diversity of new media has to be recognized, and the importance of a free press, whether it is relevant to the average person or not, is something that we become cynical about at our peril. Case in point, a post from yesterday’s Machetera blog regarding a meeting at the Capitol building today. The meeting is called “Anger in the Andes: Threats to Democracy, Human Rights and Inter-American Security.” I am not sure whether the meeting will be open to the public or whether proceedings will be publicly available, or not. The blog post talks about players from the Latin American right wing who are scheduled to be present at the meeting. I recognized some of the names and am aware of some of the historical events that others are associated with. (I blogged about a couple of them last month.) The list has quite a few known terrorists, and other baddies involved in right wing coups d’etat and assassinations. For all the Tea Partiers’ assertions that the Obama Administration is socialist, it seems our government has maintained its ties with fascist elements in Latin America. But to say that because of that (or because of the Democrats, which it regrettably needs to be objected) we are a fascist state would be to take for granted the press freedoms that allow the Machetera blog to share this news with us without fear of (ahem) surveillance or harassment. (That statement might need to be qualified, however – you can read the blog to see why. To say that we have a free press that is overwhelmed by propaganda would be to oversimplify things a bit, when American dissidents (radical or perhaps not) sometimes face consequences that don’t make news.)