Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The horrors of Kamloops

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021

Sitting in horror as the news of the remains of 215 Indigenous children found at Kamloops Residential School sink in.

My thoughts are open loops because what has happened fails to make sense. Few things symbolize the terror of the Indian Residential School system as this mass grave of 215 unnamed children. I don’t know what grieves and upsets me the most. The loss of life of these children? The salt in the wounds of Indigenous friends, many of which themselves went to residential school and suffered abuse and saw peers being killed, or whose parents and grandparents went to these schools and despite their bravery and strength, passed down trunks of unresolved trauma? The lack of wide-spread recognition that what happened at Kamloops and across Canada and the US has in fact been genocide? I’m thinking of the mass graves found in Germany, Rwanda, Namibia, Bosnia, that served as evidence of genocide. How is the find of 215 unnamed Indigenous children at Kamloops Residential School any different? Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, one of the first and most influential residential schools on Turtle Island, described the purpose of these school as “kill the Indian, save the man”. Kamloops shows that he succeeded with the first part of this equation. This genocide was conducted in the name of the church, of progress, and of White supremacy. The genocide was conducted so that folks like me can have a great time. But a great time dancing on the remains of 215 children is not to be had. I’m also sitting in horror for the emotional dulling of those who committed these killings or those who were in authority and could have stopped the abuse. I’m sitting in horror of a world looking the other way as this was happening. I’m sitting in horror of the unresolved perpetrator trauma that these people have passed down and on which our colonialist Western society is built. I’m sitting in horror because I remember the testimonies of Indigenous Elders who long knew about these graves. How many dead bodies are we yet to find and how many will we never learn about? I’m also sitting in horror knowing that although the residential schools closed, Indigenous kids are still dying in disproportionate numbers at the hands of institutions meant to serve them.

They found the bodies but can they ever capture the pain?

Meet me at the lake

Monday, September 9th, 2019

Life moves on quickly. After my stint in Winnipeg, I now live in Fort Frances, Northwestern Ontario to conduct my dissertation fieldwork. I specify Northwestern, because this country here is nothing like Toronto which most people tend to think about when hearing Ontario. In fact, Toronto and Lake Ontario are about an 18h drive away. The next bigger town is 2.5h away. It has about 15000 inhabitants. Considering the vast areas of bogs, rocks, and lakes that cover this country, the sparse population does not surprise. Although the villages and towns around here have a distinct frontier feel to them—think logging trucks and gold mines—this country is steeped in old and rich Indigenous culture. Just this weekend I visited the Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation powwow. There are sweat lodge ceremonies happening almost daily, and the manoomin (a.k.a. wild rice) harvest is around the corner.

Speaking of manoomin, my dissertation focuses on how a hydro-dam here in Fort Frances impacts manoomin and the Ojibwe communities. It keeps me rather busy and so I hardly find time for blogging. When I started this blog, it was my main writing outlet. Now I am a PhD candidate and my writing opportunities have exploded. For example, Agriculture and Human Values has published the summary about my Master’s thesis on Pockets of Peasantness in Upstate New York. Another piece that I have co-authored with Sarah Eisler and Brian Thiede has appeared in Global Environmental Change and there is more work in the pipe.

I’ll probably stay busy for a while. It’s time for my to apply for faculty jobs and post-docs for next year. These applications are their own side-project. When I do manage to take some down time, I make sure to enjoy this beautiful country and go out on Rainy Lake or camping. Isn’t it beautiful here?

Reviewing James Scott’s “Against the Grain”

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

It so happened that the subject of my second published book review, like my first, might be categorized as contemporary anarchist scholarship. Good to see that there is a space for this kind of work in the academy. This time, I like to introduce James Scott’s “Against the Grain”, published by Yale University Press. The book’s core message, that the integration of hunters, gatherers, pastoralists, and other mobile peoples into sedentary, agrarian society has been a deeply political process of an elite trying to force peoples into a social structure that served the formers’ personal interests against the letters’ will is an assault on conventional narratives about unilateral civilizational progress and the inevitability of a hierarchical, agrarian society. Provocative, and – given the presented evidence – convincing stuff. Anyway, I loved this piece. Check out my review in the Journal of Agriculture and Human Values.

When blogging about my first book review, I thanked the author Alex Barnard to encourage fellow grad students like me to stay true to our values and conviction to pursue radical scholarship. Now, James Scott doesn’t need more recognition and life-time achievement awards, but I still like to acknowledge that your scholarship – and success as a professor despite unpopular, “against-the-grain”-type of arguments – encouraged me to even enter academia and stick to it to this day. I will do my best to carry on that legacy!

finding my pace VS slowing-down-to-speed-up

Monday, February 4th, 2019

I read an article in Die Zeit on the ever increasing tempo of our world, about the ever accelerating rate of change and the difficulty of the human mind to keep up with it. The author Ulrich Schnabel suggests that a key skill of our time is to both be lighting fast when need be, but also be able to slow down when need be. Slowing down is portrayed as a means to recharge and ultimately to keep up. This may indeed be a useful strategy to be successful by today’s dominant standards, yet it is also written from a colonialist standpoint. The accelerating rate of change is not a natural force but it is man-made and largely fueled by burning fossil energy. It benefits those that rather have us consume and spend money than create and reflect. I have yet to see that anyone has gotten happier by responding to a text message faster or loading a browser tab in half a second vs two. The slowing-down-to-speed-up strategy is about aligning ourselves to someone else’s pace rather than finding our own. However, being happy is neither about slowing down nor speeding up but about doing the things that are meaningful to us in a mindful way, however long that will take us.

Reviewing Alex Barnard’s “Freegans: diving into the wealth of food waste in America.”

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

I’m equally surprised and pleased, that my first academic publication is a book review about freeganism and dumpster diving. I absolutely loved reading Alex Barnard’s “Freegans: diving into the wealth of food waste in America.” I’m not gonna write more about the book here, just check out the review at the Journal of Agriculture and Human Values.

There are certainly moments in grad school, when you’re wondering if the path that you’ve chosen is the right one, but when you get a chance to be involved in scholarship on some radical anarchists and their interpretation of how messed up our capitalist food system is, it makes you wonder a little less.

On a slightly more somber note: isn’t it ironic that copyright law and my agreement with the publisher prohibits me from posting my own review on a book on freeganism on my blog?

Also, if you ever read this: Go Alex! You wrote such a great book and it hugely inspirational that a grad student on the other side of the country devotes his dissertation work on such an important yet often intentionally ignored topic. Thank you!

Pockets of Peasantness – Small-scale Agricultural Producers in the Central Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Over the course of 2015 and 2016 I worked on my master’s thesis called “Pockets of Peasantness – Small-scale Agricultural Producers in the Central Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York” which is finally available online.

In case you haven’t downloaded and read it already, here’s what it is about. Some people call this an abstract:

Farmers in the Central Finger Lakes Region of New York (USA) balance their production between principles of peasant farming and capitalist farming. They struggle to extend their sphere of autonomy and subsistence production, while extended commodity production is often a response to external forces of the state and capital. This struggle, together with a quantitative increase of small farms, can be described as an instance of repeasantization.

Based on inductive, empirical qualitative social research, and in particular, ethnographic participant observation and semi-structured interviews, this thesis describes the economy and social organization of six farms in the area under investigation. Besides selling commodities to pay for many farming inputs and consumer goods, the farms produce for their subsistence and that of their community. They exchange products and services with other farms, they build networks of mutual provisioning, support and mentorship and try to take good care of the land.

This thesis shows that subsistence production and peasant culture are not restricted to the past or the Global South, but also exist in the United States of America, albeit subject to the globalized capitalist market economy. I suggest that these pockets of peasantness are an important source of inspiration for society at large, while the dominant capitalistic social order fails to deliver good living conditions for most people. It is therefore critical to support farmers in their struggle.

Refugees Welcome – Some thoughts on the current events in Europe

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

While I enjoy labor day weekend in Upstate New York, the news about refugees arriving in Europe are becoming overwhelming. It is strange to observe these historic events from a country, that tends to see itself as the center of the world and yet couldn’t be more away from the events that currently dominate the global news. Isolated by a huge ocean and the unwillingness to take responsibility for a crisis, that is not completely unrelated to American intervention in the Middle East, the US is merely a supporting actor in this plot, at best. To be fair, the US have their own issues with refugees and immigration. No western country has accepted more refugees than the US. And yet, the American willingness to help people escaping from war and political prosecution is very limited in comparison to the millions of refugees in the middle east.
But this article is not about the US, but an attempt to make sense of what is currently happening in Europe. I used to accuse Europe for a racist immigration policy, that willingly accepts thousands of refugees to die in their attempt to cross the border. And I don’t see much reason, or hope, to change my opinion anytime soon. When Merkel is now credited for her human stance on helping refugees, it is less her politics that have changed than it is the number of people trying to find a refuge in Europa. We read about the thousands of refugees that arrive in Germany or Hungary every day, but people continue to die at the borders.
And yet, the tracks of refugees across Europe points out a few issue I like to address:

  • The hundreds of thousands of refugees are a very powerful reminder, that much is messed up in this world. I do not like the term “refugee crisis”, as it implies that the refugees themselves are the problem. But framed differently, the term becomes useful. It is fair to say that every single refugee experiences a personal and a collective crisis. And refugees are a small, often privileged group that represent much greater crises. The war crises in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia etc. cause misery and often death to millions who cannot or do not want to escape. Other crises, as the food crisis, the climate crisis or the poverty crisis add on top of that. While not officially recognized as reasons to seek asylum, they are experienced in a similar way, as a threat to life.  When refugees from these countries come to Europe to seek asylum, it reminds us, that these crises are our crises. Not in a way, that Europe should intervene wherever it can. But certainly in a way, that we rethink our legacy of colonialism and global economic domination, which impact that has on other parts of the world and how we can help each other to solve those crises that threaten us all as humankind. Because we’re all in it together.
  • Europe remains a popular goal for people in distress. Neither Europe’s politics of deportation and closed borders nor [growing numbers of attacks on refugees]() stop people from trying to get there. The degree of political stability and recognition of human rights in Europe compared to countries such as Syria or Afghanistan can’t be taken for granted. I find a lot to criticize and improve in Europe, but sometimes it’s useful to put things in perspective.
  • It is said that Europe (it’s a gross generalization, I know) is good at a few things. In disciplines such as economic power, individual wealth, education, health, even personal well-being, at least some European countries rank in the top tier. But when we see pictures of refugees walking on rail tracks or sleeping in tents or on the street amid the oh-so-wealthy Europe, we have to conclude, that Europe is terrible in being a good host and helper. Europe can built skyscrapers and high-speed trains, but apparently it is incapable of providing for people, that have lost everything and reach out for help.
  • There is growing divide among Europeans and their government(s). While the latter try to stop as many refugees from entering Europe as possible and try to get rid of those who made it, backed up by a to a great extend xenophobic electorate, more and more people take charity in their own hands and organize help to welcome and support refugees. About a year ago, we organized a small group of students at my university to support refugees, who have moved into a shelter right next to our school. When I now see hundreds of volunteers in Vienna (and elsewhere, like Munich or Hungary), who try to help where they can, it gives me hope, that humanity is not lost. It is great to see, how these idealistic and self-organized groups are so much more efficient in providing for people in distress than the officials.
    In a way, this is telling about the neoliberal course Europe is taking. Charity and humanity is privatized and delegated to a minority who has the time and means to provide social services. While I cannot thank those activists enough (and I almost feel guilty that I cannot be among them right now), their commitment is no justification for the government to reduce services. Rather, it should be a signal, that people in Europe are willing and able to support refugees and that their government should follow suit. So if anyone in Europe deserves credit for humanity and helpfulness, it’s the civil society, the activists and not the government(s) nor Europe as a whole.
  • In some way, this current period of flight reminds me of other historic events, when people tried to escape one country to get into another. Remember, when Europe was like the Middle East today and one crazy group called Germans or Nazis tried to dominate and extinguish other Europeans? Millions fled to countries close (like Jordan or Turkey today) and far (just like Germany today). When Merkel announced that refugees in Hungary could proceed to Germany without being stopped it remind me a lot of 1989 when East German refugees in the German embassy suddenly were allowed to move to Western Germany.  Every event is unique and history only repeats so much, but I think it is time to reciprocate the generosity Europeans have experienced during those times.

This entry is mostly an article about the grand scheme of things, of flight and humanity. And yet, we shouldn’t forget this isn’t only an arena of political struggle. It is the sum of million individual stories and destinies of people who risk their lives for a better future. I wish people in Europe keep that in mind when they consider their personal response to the current events.

borders instead of humanity – Why I accuse Europe for the murder of thousands of refugees

Friday, April 24th, 2015

This is going to be a rant on a racist Europe that kills thousands of refugees each year. To put all my cards on the table, I disapprove of borders (writing this seems as trivial as saying I disapprove of being run over by a car but as it turns out, it is not as trivial). They exist so people inside the borders don’t have to deal with what is going on outside. The whole argument about people from all over the world coming to some presumably “developed” country and thus ultimately lower its standard of life, boils down to the attitude, that those who enjoy this standard of life don’t want to share it. They enjoy being on the favored side of the inequality. Of course, this inequality exists with or without borders. But with borders, it’s much easier not to look at it, making the people inside the borders feel good.
I am aware, that the world being the way it currently is, makes the vision of a human society without borders look like a leftist, anarchist utopia (to those who lack imagination and especially to those, who in fact appreciate their borders). I’m just writing this as a primer on why borders suck in general so you don’t have to point out my position, when I now continue to write, why they suck in particular.

The dying of more than thousand refugees in the Mediterranean during the last week has in fact very little to do with one’s stance on borders in general. Like them or not, it is apparent that people are willing to cross them at all costs, even risking their own lives. And it is also apparent, that the Mediterranean Sea is the kind of border, you either cross or you die. And the European border policy and police makes it clear, they rather see you die than crossing the Mediterranean. One could argue, this is not true, sure do the various European border guards rescue refugees in distress at sea. Oh these hypocrites. Making sure that refugees can’t just take the safe ferries from Tangier or Tunis – and, instead, have to resort to overloaded, life-threatening boats – and then even getting credit for picking a few back out of the water. So what’s gonna happen, if the coast guard destroys potential border crossing boats as has been proposed in the last days? Besides effectively destroying the fishing fleet of the North African countries…rubber boats! Even more distress at sea. Even more deaths.
So if all the people that expressed their sorrow over the most recent catastrophes would actually mean to save lives, they would allow legal and affordable ways of entering the country. What happens then, is where my leftist anarchist vision would come in. In my world, there would be people waiting for the newcomers with music and hot tea and the newcomers could immediately do and get what everyone else is allowed to do or entitled to get. The point is, even if one disagrees with this vision and everyone would have to apply to remain in the country and the application would be assessed according to the rule of the law (as it is now – at least in theory – the case for everyone who manages to get into Europe alive. The theory-qualification is due to the fact, that more often than not, refugees are not treated according to the rule of the law and instead are being abused or deported without a fair process), people would not have to die in the sea. So all the proposals of increasing the funds for search and rescue missions aren’t changing a thing, that refugees still have to resort to the dangerous sea in the first place. The green proposal to not only increase funds but also widen the area in which theses rescue missions can operate, is not an exception.
Therefore, if politicians wanted to save lives, they would NOW allow everyone to legally enter Europe. History has thought us that the unconditional opening of borders from one moment to the other is possible. Compared to the saving of thousands of lives, all the problems that may arise in consequence are subordinate. Kenia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Turkey and Iran have accepted more than 500.000 refugees each. Lebanon and Pakistan more then a million. Did this cause massive humanitarian problems in the refugees camps? Yes. Still, people choose these camp over residing in countries of war, terror, torture and/or political prosecution. I am not saying that massive, slum-like camps are the best way to treat people. They are actually pretty bad. Still, the rescuing of human lives must come first.

I don’t see this happening, though. And as a result, I accuse those in power in Europe and everyone who supports them of racism, as the life of a foreign refugees seem to weigh less than the quality of life of people from inside the border. Secondly, I accuse the same people of complicity to murder. As had been expressed several times, the death of refugees in the Mediterranean is not only accepted, it is used as a (inefficient) tool to control borders by scaring new people from crossing the sea by boat. Thus, refugees die by purpose of the European border policy. To me, that’s an act of active, fatal violence that I, lacking legal expertise but owning a common sense and some degree of sympathy, call murder. Shame on you, Europe.

Why we keep stuff

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Due to my frequent moving through Europe, I’m often confronted with the question why I, why people in general, keep stuff. Travelling is soooo much easier with 1-2 bag and as long I don’t live forever in a place with a massive warehouse attached, most things are a pain in the butt, really. So why don’t I chuck them away, getting rid of the forever? I try to examining this question by sorting all my possessions in categories and than, trying to find the reasons why I keep these things. All that with the aim, to question these reasons and give these things away, at last. Or in other words, distinguish the really useful possessions from the less useful ones.
OK, let’s get started:

  1. potential use (e.g. books you’ve already read , Australian cattle lead, special wrench)
    You know, one day in your life, you’ll need them.
    Problem: That day, you won’t find them among all the other potential helpers respectively clutter. That is, these things don’t have any use for you, you can easily give them away.
    Solution: That special day, when you actually need them (if it comes, at all), borrow them from someone. (You can even try to remember, who you gave yours)
  2. books to read (all the books you got last christmas, also newspaper articles you cut out and these free magazines you picked up somewhere)
    They are all VERY EXCITING. You want to read the NOW.
    Problem: You don’t have time NOW. Later, you might not be that interested anymore and you’ll definitely got something new, hotter. Also, new, exciting texts are published every hour, they are abundant as solar power.
    Solution: Get rid of all of them. In case, you actually end up with nothing to read and the internet isn’t an option, go to the library. If you’re really desperate, you could even go to a book shop and sell the book again, after you read it.
  3. representatives (e.g. pocket edition of the universal declaration of human rights, travel guide of a former journey)
    The use of things from this category is hard to decipher, in fact, there’s none. No practical one, anyway. In my case, I carry around this amnesty international pocket edition of the universal declaration of human rights. They remind me, that I value human rights and think that ai is a cool organisation.
    Problem: Every time I need to look up an article for a paper or so, I’ll use the internet. It’s much faster.
    Solution: Again, give it away (do some propaganda!). I’m still a member of ai, even if I give away all there material.
  4. Unused gift (e.g. your 4th bottle opener, an ugly piece of cloth)
    Someone gave you something of which you know, you’ll never ever use it. With the unused gift we are entering the categories of psychological terror.
    Problem: You think you will insult your dear friend by chucking it away.
    Solution: Appreciate the kindness of your friend and pass that thing to someone, who actually is in need of it. You’re friend might not even remember that thing. If (s)he does, tell him or her the truth. True friends appreciate your decision, they wouldn’t want to hold any psychological power over you.
  5. confession of a bad buy (something you bought but never used)
    You bought something (it seemed to be a bargain at that point), but than, you never had an occasion to use it.
    Problem: By discarding that thing, you confess that you made a mistake.
    Solution: Live with it, everyone makes mistakes. By the time you give it away, it’ll stop bothering your soul. Forever.
  6. witnesses of the past (class pictures, stamp collection from your childhood)
    Things you kept for ages and which gather almost religious dust.
    Problem: These things represents stages from your live and you think you’ll denial parts of your personality by chucking this kind of clutter away. On the other hand, these things can be a heavy, psychological burden. You progressed since that particular stage and they just hold you back in your further development.
    Solution: Accept that you are the person that your are now and appreciate your life at the moment, be open for new things and don’t waste too much time (and space in your shelf/bag) with your past. Light all that shit. It’s liberating.

Identify your stuff makes it way easier to get rid of it. And never forget:

Out of sight, out of mind.

PS: Did I forget a category? Do you own something without knowing why, but it  just won’t fit in the aforementioned system? Do you want to keep your love letters? Why? Let me know.

Return to Iceland

Friday, January 14th, 2011

The year being just two days old, I moved back to my beloved city of Reykjavík, Iceland and it proofed to be a great decision so far. Like in 2009, while I was working at Greenhouse Studios, the city is bursting with creativity and its very unique beauty. Reykjavík is big enough to offer a surprising wide range of urban infrastructure such as art galleries, higher education, live music venues, pups/night clubs, swimming pools (which serves as Iceland’s main social hubs) and many more, while being so small that you don’t waste an awful lot of time on the underground and that you can skip town to Europe’s perhaps most outerworldly landscape in a few minutes.
I love it.
Personally, I cancelled my music production course in Bath, UK in favour of applying for the composition course at the Iceland Academy of the Arts. Let’s see how that goes. Anyway, being part of this city is great already, and possibilities to create music are unlimited one way or another.