This article shows how the Enlightenment notion of improvement in a cross-cultural context cannot be one of constant polarization. Without ever travelling to the Middle East, the Scottish Enlightenment literati proposed that the Middle East is backward and primitive in its economic and material infrastructure. Europe is progressing while the Middle East remained stuck in ancient times. John Carmichael could not escape the European repository of knowledge about the Orient. In his “Journey from Aleppo to Basra” (1754), he sometimes considered Arabs are irrational, backward and primitive. Yet the conditions of traveling in an Arab caravan invited him to interact with the people he encountered. He socialized and exchanged services with the Arabs. At the same time he learned how modern progress needs not be looked at as one of complete banishment of ancient rituals and traditions from the past. The journey in the Middle East has its educational effects.
A Pluralized View of the Enlightenment Discourse of Improvement
Aleppo, an Enlightenment City
This article examines the travel accounts of some eighteenth-century British travelers to Aleppo. It shows how these travelers’ identities were steeped in the world of others—in the entanglement with people from different cultures and religions—with no mention recalled in their diaries that Islam and Muslims were their enemies. As this article shows, these Britons posited Aleppo as a multi- cultural, multireligious city in which Europeans were not only men of riches and influence but also free to pursue their cultural and religious practices. This article concludes by emphasizing that British enlightenment practices—toleration, improvement, and freedom—were pursued both within European grand cities such as Paris, Edinburgh, and London as well as in Aleppo.
Rachel Douglas-Jones and Justin Shaffner
Capacity building is a pervasive idea that has received little critical treatment from anthropology. In this introduction, we outline the growing use of the idea of ‘capacity building’ within and beyond development settings, and highlight mechanisms by which it gains footholds in both policy and practice. This special issue centres and questions its histories, assumptions, intentions and enactments in order to bring ethnographic attention to the promises it entails. By bringing together cases from different sectors and continents, the collection pursues capacity building’s self-evident character, opening up what capacities themselves are thought to be. By not taking capacity building’s promises for granted, the articles collected here have two aims: to interrogate the means of capacity building’s ubiquity, and to develop critical purchase on its persuasive power.
A Means to Socialize by Acquiring Invulnerability, Authority, and Spiritual Improvement
Jean-Marc de Grave
Kanuragan is a secret ritual initiation tied to local cosmological practices and cults used by the Javanese as a source of self-help on issues related to health, welfare, and protection. At basic levels, the practitioners of kanuragan use special entities called aji to gain strength and invulnerability. At the next level, the teaching of the master involves a specific mystical knowledge tied to the acquisition of spiritual authority. This article describes the process of transmission, the persons involved, and the role that kanuragan plays in Javanese society for security purposes and in warfare. The analysis shows how kanuragan competes with new secular and religious systems of value as well as with sorcery and new embodied practices such as sports competitions, to provide comparative insights on the formation of social categories.
The Israeli-Arab-Palestinian Conflict as Reflected in Israeli History Textbooks, 2000-2010
Previous research on the way in which the Arab-Israeli conflict and the image of the Arab have been presented in Jewish history and civics textbooks established that there have been three phases, each typified by its own distinctive textbooks. The shift from the first to the third generation of textbooks saw a gradual improvement in the way the Other has been described, with the elimination of many biases, distortions and omissions. This article explores whether new history textbooks, published from 2000 to 2010, have entrenched or reversed this trend. With the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the early 2000s, one might have expected that the past linear process of improvement would be reversed. However, textbooks written over the last decade do not substantially differ from those written in the 1990s, during the heyday of the peace process. The overall picture is, therefore, that the current textbooks do not constitute a fourth generation.
Has economic unification succeeded? Assessments differ, depending on the criteria selected, and the benchmark used. In many areas, from productivity to infrastructure and housing, dramatic economic improvements are readily apparent. Yet daunting challenges remain: the speed of productivity convergence has slowed, unemployment remains high and net emigration continues. Looking forward, demographic and fiscal trends pose serious challenges. This paper begins with a brief look back at the experience since 1989 before turning to a discussion of current and future challenges.
This article examines the liberalization of public services promoted by the Monti government with a law to which it attached great importance, arguing that liberalization would bring significant improvements to the economy and to consumers within a few years. In fact, the innovative capacity of the decree has been significantly diminished due to the amendments adopted in Parliament in response to efforts to maintain the status quo made by interest groups threatened by liberalization. This outcome is explained by the lack of cohesion of the parliamentary majority that supported the caretaker government and by its susceptibility to the influence of organized interests.
This article presents an account of a Qashqa'i health worker's upbringing, education and training, noting in particular his transition from life in a traditional nomadic family through completion of a formal education. The health worker, Jamal, describes certain problems of modernity and the personal conflict he faces as someone who loves his culture but also wants to see improvements in the health status of his people. Written by a Qashqa'i author, who brings his own sensitivity and cultural knowledge to the text, the article makes some recommendations about the training and integration of rural health workers in Iran.
A Synthesis Waiting to Happen
This article explores the potential for developing anthropological investigation in the field of social circus – in particular with those projects that work with individuals living with disabilities. The author uses examples of research in Belfast to argue that the applied nature of anthropology is the ideal mechanism for analysing and comparing the emerging field of social circus projects around the world. In this case, anthropological tools were utilised that had a direct effect, not only on understanding the phenomenon of social circus projects but also on raising the levels of quality, leading to a direct improvement on services provided.
In late nineteenth- and twentieth-century America, hundreds of Shakespeare clubs met regularly to read, study, and perform Shakespeare's works. Their motives ranged from personal improvement to community betterment, and they were frequently involved in initiatives designed to memorialize Shakespeare and celebrate their own intellectual achievements. Dozens of public gardens, libraries, and other civic projects are a result of the efforts of clubwomen, in small towns and large cities. Privately, club members also memorized Shakespeare by incorporating a variety of domestic practices into their Shakespeare-centered labors, which preserved Shakespeare as a prominent part of American cultural life.