This article presents an action research project, which I have been managing since 2001 in Tokyo, Japan. It is based on a non-profit organization (NPO), a group that promotes community-oriented lifelong learning, which was established under the 1998 NPO Law. Action research is a social research strategy, carried out by a team that includes a professional researcher and members of a community who are jointly seeking to improve their situation. This paper shows primarily how I have engaged with people at my field site, an NPO called SLG (pseudonym), and how we have produced knowledge to make changes to improve the quality of social life for more than ten years. I provide a narrative concerning recent developments at SLG in order to demonstrate how an action research project like this continually unfolds.
A Satisfying Engagement with Action Research in Japan
A French Attempt at Affirmative Action in Higher Education?
French Republicanism prohibits the creation of American-style affirmative action based on racial and ethnic descent. Nevertheless, France has its own affirmative action programs based on socio-economic indicators in given geographical zones. Over the past ten years, there have also been experimental and informal efforts to diversify selective institutions of higher education. This article assesses, through ethnographic field work and in-depth interviews, one of these programs—the establishing of a classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles in a working-class and heavily immigrant suburb east of Paris. The article reveals that while local underprivileged students who attend the classe préparatoire are most unlikely to wind up in a grande école, they just the same receive essential instruction that readies them for university study. As members of the original teaching team leave and are replaced, however, the future of the prépa's mission is far from certain.
A Critique of Rawls
Susan Stedman Jones
Durkheim's account of the categories is re-examined, in a critique of the fundamentally mistaken and philosophically uninformed interpretation put forward in Rawls's Epistemology and Practice (2004). This converts Durkheim into a pragmatist, even a behaviourist, more or less reducing conscience to an epiphenomenon of sounds, movements, and socially generated raw emotions. She bypasses the key role of representations and symbols, while her emphasis on collective 'forces' ignores Durkheim's concern with power as puissance and with the creativity of an effervescent fusion of energies. Thus action is central to his account of the categories, but not in the terms offered by Rawls. For action involves the full range of the functions of conscience. And these come into play through the power of representations and symbols, as an integral part of a whole creative fusion of energies and consciences in the 'dynamogenics' of collective action.
Collective Action and Subjective Power in the Greek Anti-Austerity Movement
Atalanti Evripidou and John Drury
Greece has been one of the countries which most severely suffered the consequences of the global economic crisis during the past two years. It has also been a country with a long tradition of protest. The present paper reports a study in which we examined the ways in which people talk about subjective power and deal with the outcome of collective action in the context of defeat. Subjective power has recently become a prominent field of research and its link to collective action has been studied mainly through the concept of collective efficacy. The current study explored questions based on recent social identity accounts of subjective power in collective action. We examined participants’ experiences of subjective power before and after Mayday 2012, in Greece. Two different collective action events took place: a demonstration against austerity and a demonstration to support steel workers who were on strike. In total, 19 people were interviewed, 9 before the demonstrations and 10 after. Thematic analysis was carried out. Protest participants talked about power in terms of five first-order themes: the necessity of building power, unity, emotional effects, effects of (dis)organization, and support as success. The steel workers we spoke to experienced the events more positively than the other interviewees and had different criteria for success. Theories of collective action need to take account of the fact that subjective power has important emotional as well as cognitive dimensions, and that definitions of success depend on definitions of identity.
A Commentary on Jeff Jackson
William R. Caspary
This critical commentary engages Jeff Jackson’s reading of John Dewey’s approach to participatory democracy and direct action—both are fundamental issues in democratic theory today. I probe Dewey’s texts for what I reason to be a more precise reading of his views on social movement action. I go beyond Jackson’s assertion of a role for direct action, to theorize it as an intrinsic element of participatory democracy.
Lisen Dellenborg and Margret Lepp
This article describes the development of ethnographic drama in an action research project involving healthcare professionals in a Swedish medical ward. Ethnographic drama is the result of collaboration between anthropology and drama. As a method, it is suited to illuminating, addressing and studying professional relationships and organisational cultures. It can help healthcare professionals cope with inter-professional conflicts, which have been shown to have serious implications for individual well-being, organisational culture, quality of care and patient safety. Ethnographic drama emerges out of participants’ own experiences and offers them a chance to learn about the unspoken and embodied aspects of their working situation. In the project, ethnographic drama gave participants insight into the impact that structures might have on their actions in everyday encounters on the ward.
The consent theory of power, whereby ruling elites depend ultimately on the submission, cooperation and obedience of the governed as their source of power, is often linked to debates about the effectiveness of non-violent political action. According to this theory, ruling elites depend ultimately on the submission, cooperation and obedience of the governed as their source of power. If this cooperation is with-drawn, then this power is undermined. Iain Atack outlines this theory and examines its strengths and weaknesses. Atack argues that incorporating the insights of other theories of power, such as Gramsci's theory of hegemony and Foucault's views on 'micro-power', can provide us with a more sophisticated understanding of both the effectiveness and the limits of nonviolent political action than the consent theory of power. Gramsci's contribution deepens the analysis in terms of our understanding of the origins of individual consent in the context of larger economic and political structures, while Foucault adds a different dimension, in that his micro-approach emphasizes the ubiquity and plurality of power, rather than its embodiment or reification in large-scale structures.
Ethnographies of affirmative action
Alpa Shah and Sara Shneiderman
This is the introduction to a special section of Focaal that includes seven articles on the anthropology of affirmative action in South Asia. The section promotes the sustained, critical ethnographic analysis of affirmative action measures adopted to combat historical inequalities around the world. Turning our attention to the social field of affirmative action opens up new fronts in the anthropological effort to understand the state by carefully engaging the relationship between the formation and effects of policies for differentiated citizenship. We explore this relationship in the historical and contemporary context of South Asia, notably India and Nepal. We argue that affirmative action policies always transform society, but not always as expected. The relationship between political and socioeconomic inequality can be contradictory. Socioeconomic inequalities may persist or be refigured in new terms, as policies of affirmative action and their experiential effects are intimately linked to broader processes of economic liberalization and political transformation.
A Family Portrait
Inspired by the examples of Stewart (1996) and Weston (2009), this article is an experiment in narrative form. It portrays the 'cultural poetics' (Stewart 1996) of lives lived in and through experiences of poverty in contemporary London and considers the potential of long-term participant-observation fieldwork, and the development of relations of mutual obligation in the field, to create a collaborative anthropology de fined by a politics of mutually transformative action. The article enters into debate about the effects of changing structural inequalities, which differentially impact on the post-industrial urban neighbourhoods of the U.S.A., the U.K. and Europe (Waquant 2008; 2012). Waquant's work is taken to be a rallying cry for Europe and the U.K. to wake up from the American Dream of neo-liberalism. The 'utter desolation' (Waquant 2012: 66) of life in the worst of the U.S.A.'s post-industrial urban housing projects and, to an extent, in France, demands a reaction from and suggests (especially post-August 2011 riots), that the time is now to debate how to prevent further deterioration in British cities. The article should be read as two parts in conversation with each other. The first section is an experiment in narrative form and hence the reader is asked to bear with and consider the fruitfulness of the departure from conventional scholarly form. In the second part of the article academic insight is drawn out in more standardized form, with a more usual engagement with literature, highlighting of relevant points and movement towards the formation of argument.
New Forms of Political Action in Israeli Channeling
In this article I examine eschatological beliefs and practices among channels in Israel and abroad, and show that they demonstrate an avoidance of traditional, group-oriented political action, and an embrace of alternative, spiritual action performed individually. This is linked to Israel's shift to a neo-liberal economy and culture in the last few decades, where self-accountability has become the norm. Channeling teaches an extreme version of self-divinity, claiming that a person creates all aspects of his or her life and objecting to outside authority and regulation. It believes in a coming of a New Age of light and that the means to achieve it are personal quests for individual empowerment, which are anticipated to affect the whole world via the “virtual aggregate group,” an energetic reservoir that replaces the traditional group. Channels are engaged in alternative political action, attempting to change the world by virtually pooling spiritual resources.