Tag Archives: Occidentalism

Body Politics and “Clash of Civilizations”

Provocative, and thought-provoking.

Benjamen Walker’s Theory Of Everything: Modernity = Boobs

A major difference between the “Western” world dominated by Christians and those parts of the world which are “entering modernity” does have to do, in part, with attitudes toward exposed flesh.  To me, connections to Said’s Orientalism are rather obvious. (Although I’ve never read the book itself, I get the impression that it contains some insightful comments about the way Christian-Europeans constructed their own identity as “Occidentals” through an idea of “The Orient” as both exotic and sensual. Read during the Victorian era, Arabian Nights must have been quite interesting a read.)

Of course, ethnographers who know Southwest Asia have a lot to say about body politics. Yara?

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Food and Social Life

Short blog entry by Jacques Attali on statistics about shared meals in “Western Civilizations.”

Conversation avec Jacques Attali: Dînons ensemble

The main claim is that France is still at the top of the list of places where people do enjoy shared meals. Still, Attali does mention some of the realities hidden by those statistics.

Interestingly enough, several of the comments on this entry are about other parts of the world where food consumption is an important social activity, including parts of Asia and Africa.

To me, a basic part of ethnography has to do with groups formed at meals. In some cases, it might be a group of relatives considered as a “household” or “family unit.” In other contexts, meal sharers might consider themselves to be part of the same social group, as when all members of the same age-set eat together.

There’s also the shared consumption of non-nutritional items like tea and alcohol. Perhaps because of my passion for both coffee and beer, I find the process of having coffee or beer with someone else one of the most pleasurable experiences one can have. The complex aromas of those drinks do enhance the experience and the fact that their nutritional value isn’t the main point of their consumption makes the event less utilitarian than socially consequent.

No idea if there are statistics on shared consumption of drinks but they clearly represent an important domain for the study of social life.


Islam and “Western Imagination”

[Update: I forgot to thank Djemaa Maazouzi for sending that link to a seminar mailing-list… So, thank you Djemaa! Sorry for the delay…]

Thinking about Lila Abu-Lughod‘s powerful Eurozine “Lettre” The Muslim Woman. The Power of Images and the Danger of Pity.

In the common Western imagination, the image of the veiled Muslim woman stands for oppression in the Muslim world. This makes it hard to think about the Muslim world without thinking about women, sets up an “us” and “them” relationship with Muslim women, and ignores the variety of ways of life practiced by women in different parts of the Muslim world. Anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod emphasizes that veiling should not be confused with a lack of agency or even traditionalism. Western feminists who take it upon themselves to speak on behalf of oppressed Muslim women assume that individual desire and social convention are inherently at odds: something not borne out by the experience of Islamic society.

Though it uses veiling as a starting point, Abu-Lughod’s insightful piece reaches to several important issues of religious tolerance, global policy, cultural awareness, secularism, liberalism, and thoughtful respect and consideration for human beings. This piece is in fact so powerful and thoughtful that it seems irrelevant to add much to its content.

Let us wish that more people will grow their understanding of both Islam and “The West” through a careful reflection on those issues.

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