Community De-Development

In my first assignment I defined community development as the process by which “an increase in generalized reciprocity erodes the barriers that prevent the flow of social capital between social fields, corroding barriers to access to social capital across a locality”. After considering the role of the Canadian State in the provision of humanistic services, specifically health care and housing, I would add to this that for community to develop in the context of service provisions, those services must be provided out of the communities own resources, or at minimum out of resources which the community has stable access to. I have come to this view through the recognition that state involvement in in the nonprofit sector looks more often like a form of community de-development. For government to play a positive role in community development today it must remain keenly aware of the way its involvement impacts community’s abilities to self-develop, both in terms of controlling its resources, and also the tendency of communities to internalize the state’s paternalistic attitude towards them, which causes inertia and dependance on fundamentally unstable cycles of top-down support.

In “Partners in Public Service”, Lester Salamon argues that a severe theoretical inadequacy exists concerning the relationship between the public and nonprofit sector. He suggests this oversight is the result of a shared interest in avoiding the topic for thinkers on either side of the traditional political spectrum: “whereas conservatives have had an incentive to exaggerate the growth and power of government in order to emphasize the threat that government poses to private action, liberals have had a corresponding incentive to downplay the role of voluntary agencies in order to buttress the case for a government role”(108). Positioning himself in the neutral, sensible middle ground, Salamon argues for a theory of “partnership” between the public and nonprofit sectors. He does this by identifying a set of key weaknesses in the voluntary sector, and argues that government partnership serves as a fitting supplement to charitable organizations. The weaknesses he identifies are the inability to generate enough philanthropy to cope with the service required by an advanced, industrialized society, the tendency of organizations to focus on particular subgroups, the distillation of too much power over the services into the hands of a few wealthy donors, and an amateurish, not adequately professionalized approach to confronting major social problems. Salamon sees government as the solution to these weaknesses – the government can provide a stable flow of resources, particularism can be overcome by making access a right, the state (instead of wealthy donors) can set priorities in a democratically accountable manner, and amateurishness can be ridden out through setting quality control standards. The resulting harmonious, complementary situation is enough to elicit a chorus of “it’s a small world after all” in the reader’s inner ear.

Like the Disney ride, however, Salamon’s harmonious account is not radical enough because it fails to question the economic and political situation of advancing industrialization in which the key weaknesses he identifies in nonprofits begin to manifest. Salamon’s “solutions” to the weaknesses of non-profits are in fact a program for accelerating the community de-development which has been instigated by the inability of the community to mobilize resources adequate to meet the increasing social needs of modern society’s social problems. The problem of inability to generate resources, and of too much power becoming concentrated in the hands of a few benefactors are not failures of non-profits as such, but failures of non-profits in the context of an economic system where resources (i.e. capital) are highly concentrated among a small portion of the population. When the resources of a society become highly concentrated, individuals and communities find it more difficult to meet needs without relying on the centralized distribution of surplus (i.e. taxation). However, this “solution” takes nonprofits, which were born of needs and resources of a community, and whose existence was a form of genuine community development, and makes them primarily accountable to a non-local, politically motivated, and unstable master. Rather than having the state re-distribute a portion of surplus to the community from which it was extracted, it would be better for government to find ways to facilitate the transfer of wealth to communities, to increase the amount of capital controlled by communities and community members.

In the context of a state which is too weak to prevent the flow of capital out of communities and into the hands of the 1%, perhaps the best model for Government funded humanistic services which retains a structure amenable to the development of community are community health centres. By offering secure funding and creating community governance structures, community health centres offer framework which may help communities strengthen themselves by creating social connections and building social trust. Also, doctors who work in the centres tend to be ideologically motivated to serve and benefit the communities they work in, and are willing to make less money than they could find elsewhere in order to do so.  If the communities in which these centres exist take psychological ownership of them, becoming involved in their governance, and trusting the community-building, public-health conscious health care professionals working inside, then these centres could be sites where community is formed and strengthened. However, because the community does not own the centre, because the centre was not built by and for the community, and because there is no clear way that the communities in which these centres exist could finance them themselves if the state decided they were no longer an optimal way to provide health care services, I doubt they will ever be as strong centres of community development compared to organizations that are born of community needs and born out of community resources.

In too many cases, Social housing projects have begun by “slum clearing”, which is literally community destruction. At its best, the construction of social housing meets the basic material needs of a community, allowing it to flourish. However, when it is built with the trash bins out front to encourage tenants to move out as soon as they can afford non-subsidized housing, and when it is not maintained to a comfortable, healthful standard, social housing is a way that a society’s moralistic, pathologizing attitudes towards poverty are concretized into the daily life of many of the less privileged members of our society. So, rather than ask “is social housing a form of community development”, I find it more useful to ask “what kind of housing would be a socially conscious form of community development”? In order for the development of housing to be a form of community development, it must be developed by and for the community – the process itself must a problem-solving engagement that crosses social fields, that builds trust, and that encourages folks to take responsibility. In other words, co-operative property developments where the capital is controlled by the community itself. And in Ontario, much of the social housing which has been built was built as family housing co-operatives. However, despite the fact that the family housing co-ops own themselves, and the movement has the resources needed to continue to develop more co-operative housing, very little new co-operative housing has been built in Ontario without specific funding for the construction of new co-ops. This is very concerning, and it speaks to the failure of the co-operative movement in Ontario to develop community self-confidence. Compared this with the group equity co-operative movement in the United States, which since the creation of NASCO properties in 1988 has created many new co-ops through financing internal to the movement – not dependant primarily on any state funding initiatives. When attempting to explain why the Co-operative Housing Federation has not been able to do something similar I can’t help but focus on the dependancy of Family housing co-ops on ongoing state funding (the “operating agreements”) as a form of internalized statist paternalism –  a mindset that says nothing can get done without state funding. Social housing as community development must find its motivating principle in the community which is development itself. The state can play a role in getting things going if the community doesn’t have the resources, but the fact that state funding remains a primary concern blocks the community from taking charge of itself. It obscures the more fundamental power shift that is proper to co-ops – the transfer of capital into community hands. When that community-controlled capital can be mobilized as a resource by the community to meet the needs of the community, this is the point where we can say that the provision of a humanistic service is a form of community development.

A community is not a nation, and before we cross those two concepts let us not forget that Volksgemeinshaft remains a term which is basically unusable in German because of its association with the 3rd Reich. Lester Salamon calls it a weakness, an inadequacy that nonprofits tend to serve “particular” communities. But this particularism is not a problem – it is the solution. A community is not universal, one is not a “citizen” of a community, because the belonging is too particular, too mediated by specific relationships of belonging. At its best, a community is a series of porous boundaries which hold trust and responsibility, at its worst it’s a barbed wire fence, excluding someone from moral consideration because of their colour or religion. While there is never an excuse for a state to participate in processes of oppressive discrimination, it would also be a mistake to strip community organizations of the content of their particularity, because it is the fabric which stitches them together.

Research Question, Research Methods (Early, early draft)

What is my research question?

What is the impact of policy governance on member engagement in group-equity housing co-operatives? Basically it’s a very difficult kind of question to ask because there are so many factors, cultural, economic, political, that contribute to any particular environment. My first idea was to look at two co-operatives, one which uses policy governance and one which does not – and attempt some sort of comparison. But now I see that this method is doomed because there are so many other factors that could account for the differences besides the governance model. Even if the governance model has a quite large impact, it would still be irresponsible and foolhardy to “explain” the difference in terms of this difference. Besides, the governance model is not simply a “cause” but also something “caused”. And here is the key point – can it be identified as a cause that functions independently of other causes, that takes on a life of its own.

What attracts me to institutional ethnography is primarily that it allows me to get away from the “look for hidden causes behind a phenomenon” way of thinking. Policy governance lends itself quite well to focussing on the actualization of texts because policy governance is all about creating texts (policies) for the staff to action, and the texts are all basically shells because they are explicitly left open to interpretation and their only determinate content (i.e. orders) are negative. Also, institutional ethnography is interested in the gap between embodied subjects and the “externalized consciousnesses” represented in documents. This is basically the definition of what I’m interested in. How are co-op members represented in co-op documents, and what is the impact of those representations on the membership? Reflexivity is crucial here – because in theory, the membership is determining these documents, so there should be a interpretive and reflexive relationship between the membership and its definition of itself, but in practice this often breaks down – creating a chasm of distance between the idealized co-opers in documents and the real co-opers in the houses. I’m interested in how policy governance actually exhasterbates that by instituting the disengagement of the majority of the membership as normal, and even desirable. Members are seen as consumers rather than citizens, to be pacified rather than empowered – although empowerment remains as a buzzword.

There are basically two standpoints that I am researching. The one I am most interested in is the standpoint of the non-governing member. This member may be new or have been around for a long time. They may be totally disengaged from all aspects of the co-op, or they may be engaged with their house mates and a good member, but they are not involved in any board work or committee work and they have not developed an expert knowledge in the ruling functions of texts within the co-op. The other is the standpoint of the governing member, usually a member of a board, but could also be involved in committees or just have a lot of access to people who are experts, so they learn this knowledge through personal connection and perhaps contribute to it (these members would be for instance on a list of potential board members in case someone resigned).

How will I undertake this research?

I think the way that makes the most sense is to do focus groups of people from each standpoint-group, and then follow up interviews with specific individuals. In the non-expert member focus group I would ask them questions about how their co-op works, what opportunities they have to get involved, what democracy means to them, what ownership means to them, etc. Whether they have looked at any of the policies, what their interactions with staff have been like, whether they were ever aware of a policy directly impacting them, etc. This group to me represents the fundamental co-op situation. This is the situation “about which” the policies refer – because even board members are just regular members outside of the actual board process.

I would ask the board/expert focus group about how their governance functions, focussing the discussion on examples. Because I have expert level knowledge of board functioning, I will be able to ask them questions that put them in the frame of giving an account of why they comported themselves in such and such a way. Fundamentally I’m interested in how their idea of themselves as a policy board structures their understanding of their role in terms of limiting accountability towards non-expert members. Get at the tension between their role as stewards and their role as representatives.

While I’m planning to “use” institutional ethnography, my goal is more genealogical thank ethnographic. I’m fundamentally less concerned with the practices and the embodied subjects than I am with the discourse, which is to say the fundamental agent in my analysis is the discourse itself. According to Smith, everyday discursive formations are constituted by external forces (11o), but I want to argue that in the context of the standpoint of governing members policy governance is part of the discourse of their everyday world, and it is not constituted by external forces – it’s constituted/reproduced through the ongoing process of people stating that it’s the solution to various problems.

NASCO Institute 2015 – My past, Future, and the State of my Research

Tomorrow morning I’m leaving for NASCO Institute 2015. NASCO Institute is basically summer camp for co-opers, when else will you get to meet up with super engaged co-op leaders and staff from across North America? And attending this year feels like I’m coming full circle – NASCO institutes have had such a profound impact on my life, and in way I could not have expected. Two years ago at NASCO I attended the Gala dinner (I wasn’t even at the conference) to receive a lifetime achievement award on behalf of Penny Bethke, our former general manager who had passed away. Two things touched me that night. The first was seeing senior staff folks cry while Jason and I read out loud the acceptance letter that had been prepared for us. The second was being one of the last people standing when the whole room was asked to stand up, and then progressively sit down depending on the number of years they had been involved in the co-op movement. When they got to 7 years, and I was nearly the only person without white hair who was still standing, I realized, or felt at least, that I had found my community.

Last year I attended the NASCO institute as a proper delegate, and I got so much out of it. In stark contrast to my experience on the Toronto left, when I spoke in the various seminars I felt my contributions were truly valued. And, it felt that the questions I was asking were drawing on people’s real experience, and I was learning things which would really impact how I understood and acted in the context of Campus Co-op (CCRI) governance. The texts, the discourses, felt alive. My big question last year was – what are the different ways student housing co-ops are governed? Do they all use the model CCRI had for years accepted as the only possible way to organize things? What I learned was that the model CCRI uses was in fact used by only a small minority of North American student co-ops. In reality, we were the outsiders – not the mainstream. That realization prompted me to thematize the rise of policy governance in Ontario as a research topic, which is how I got into OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), and it is currently what I am preparing to write my thesis on.

This year I feel I am looking forward to the institute so much that I fear my expectations may not be met. But at the same time, I am coming to the context with a much better set of questions, questions about opportunities for member engagement, questions about the creation of a culture or participation, and questions about the details of non-policy governance. I plan to create contacts this weekend that will lead to a major portion of the data collection for my thesis.

At the same time, I’m feeling that the academic side of my thesis research has not been progressing as quickly as I would like. Mostly because I would like to live up to the demands being put on me by my classes. Next Tuesday I need to present my research plan in class, and next Friday I need to defend a ten page research pre-proposal to my peers. My current plan is to use a version of Dorothy Smith’s institutional ethnography to look at the relative gap between the standpoints of the “new member” and the “governing co-oper” at different co-ops, and determine the difference in the disjunction between them in relation to the model of governance used. The difference, I feel, between Dorothy Smith’s approach to institutional critique is I am much more pro-institution, and I do not believe that the institution is fundamentally oppressive. I believe pretty much the opposite, following Hegel, that institutes are the only guarantees on protecting the conditions of Freedom that humans can have. That said, I also want my research to be informed by Foucault’s genealogy of governmentality, which I believe contains aspects of anarcho-republican discourses which basically tend towards something like the discourse of co-operatives. The question of how I am going to integrate genealogy and institutional ethnography will be the great theoretical challenge of my work – I have high hopes for this given the resonance I feel exists between Foucault’s method and ethno-methodology (basically, I think Foucault was doing the ethno-methodology of texts). I will be able to explore this question by contrasting the traditions that came out of both of them – conversational analysis for ethnomethodology, and discourse analysis for genealogy.

Note to self : here’s a reference to a paper which is actually talking about the histories of “conversational analysis” (ethno methodology) vs “discourse analysis” (i.e. Foucault)

The Decline of “Community”: from Generalized Reciprocity to Extended Personality

The concept ‘Community’ is difficult to define because any attempt to give an adequate descriptive account for the phenomena remains invariably mired in a moral debate about the relative value of different styles of inter-subjective relationships. The best way to resolve the ambiguity inherent in attempting to resolve a moral issue on technical grounds is to take self-consciously moralizing position on the nature of community. In this short paper, I will argue that an adequate definition of community must must include a generalized, non-specific expectation of reciprocity. One implication of this definition will a moralizing condemnation of the trends of electronic, networked communication and the increasing prevalence of individual-centric networks in the place of non individual centric communal arrangements.

Theodori’s definition of community draws on the interactionist theories of Kaufman and Wilkonson, and defines community as process that bridges together different social fields inside a local society around locality-oriented actions. (Theodori 2005) In other words, when different groupings of people who don’t normally interact with each other, but live in the same place, get together to solve shared problems – that’s community. Unfortunately, Theodori hasn’t defined community – he’s defined a process which he believes will lead to community. He even hints at this when he says the generalized actions will give “structure to the whole of community as an interactional field by linking and organizing the common interests of the various social fields”. Theodori avoids saying anything about the manner in which the interactional field becomes structured other than to say it must give rise to some feeling of “shared identity” – and crucially he does not specify how significant this identity must be in relation to any pre-existent identities carried by specific social fields. People who disagree in many significant ways about the nature of community could find themselves agreeing with this definition, as since the structure of the community field is not specified, it can be filled in by their own beliefs as to what makes a community good.

While relying on the framework provided by Theodori, I will offer in response a more specific, and explicitly moral definition of community: community occurs when an increase in generalized reciprocity erodes the barriers that prevent the flow of social capital between social fields, corroding barriers to access to social capital across a locality. It is not enough merely for members of different social fields to collaborate on projects of common interest if those collaborations do not break down the barriers to accessing social capital that divide them. The development of a “community field” must increase the amount of access members of the community have to each other’s social capital. Community must be a practical form of local solidarity. 1 To speak of a “community” of coordination between social groups which do not intermix or share social capital, is not to speak of “community” but of alliance, in the militaristic, or even machiavellian sense. And to speak of a “bad community” is say something oxymoronic – a bad community is simply no community at all.

Extending Theodori’s framework into an explicitly moral definition for community helps make sense of the most contentious part of his definition: the insistence on place as a necessary condition for community. If community means generalized reciprocity across a number of different fields of interest, that generalization must happen somewhere. This isn’t to say that generalized reciprocity can’t emerge on a forum, or in a social media group, but generally speaking those increases in shared social capital happen within a specific field of interest, or a pre-existent shared sense of identity. If there are cases where different social fields find themselves in the same locality on a web server, and out of a need to face common problems, build up a shared sense of identity and share social capital across the previously existing social fields, then the web server could be properly called a locality – it would simply have the characteristics of a “real place”. However, none of the “online communities” discussed by Kendall (2011) meet this criteria, and while I am sympathetic with her desire to move away from the question whether “online communities are “real” communities”, the use of the term “community” in the place of “social group”, here and elsewhere.

We shouldn’t blame researchers for the confusion arising around the concept of “community”. The confusion is ontological: it is taking place at the level of the real structure of the bulk of our social relationships. Increasingly, we don’t see community as something out there that we belong to and participate in, but rather as something that emerges outwards from our being at the centre – what Wellman (2009) calls “personal communities”, or “networked individualism”. Barry Wellman believes that the decreased cost of travel and communication has led to a situation where our personal communities are no longer spatially restricted, but restricted only by the strength of the tie itself. Our personal communities grow in importance to us in comparison to spatial community as we can meet more of our needs through them. However, personal communities are not communities because they are segregated into “distinct clusters of activity and interest” (Wellman 2009). Unlike a locality-centered community centred in which access to social capital between social fields is facilitated by the working on common problems, the person at the centre of personal community tends to compartmentalize. According to Wellman a kind of division of labour emerges: “different community members supplying different kinds of social support….the guiding principle is “tit for tit” and not “tit for tat” – meaning the social obligations created are specific and not general” (Wellman 2009). In other words, where community builds solidarity, networked individualism builds and institutes disconnect. While Wellman may be correct to believe that “the personal community approach accurately reflects the habits of modern people who are profoundly and individually mobile and networked”, he ought be less enthusiastic about a future in which an increasing proportion of our social relationships are nodal rather than communal.

Robert Putnam’s essay “Bowling alone” isn’t concerned with defining community, but by focussing on “social capital” it helps clarify a key aspect of why we value community in the first place. Although I have included the concept in my definition of community, it doesn’t figure prominently in Theodori’s or Green’s or Dreier’s discussions, and this to me seems a significant oversight. Social capital is the social availability of human capital to the other people who have access to it, and the ways in which that access is organized. Communities with strong social trust, good “networks of civic engagement”, and “sturdy norms for generalized reciprocity” have more social capital, and if you live in one of them, “life is easier” (Putnam 1995). The trend Putnam has tracked showing the decrease in all forms of civic participation, organizational membership, and even informal schmoozing is therefore concerning. But me what is truly chilling is the counter-trend, the exception that proves the rule: Support groups. As of 1994, 40% of Americans belonged to a support group (Putnam 1995). However, according to Wuthnow, support groups are far less effective sources of social connectedness than traditional organizations:

Small groups may not be fostering community as effectively as many of their proponents would like. Some small groups merely provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others. The social contract binding members together asserts only the weakest of obligations. Come if you have time. Talk if you feel like it. Respect everyone’s opinion. Never criticize. Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied. (Wuthnow, cited in Putnam 1995)

The lack of generalized social obligations between members of a support group is indicative of this larger trend away from involvement in communities which we become part of and which we come to define ourselves through, and towards groupings which we retain control over. Wellman is probably right that the reduced cost of transportation and communication has created a situation where we can meet an increasing proportion of our relational needs through our social networks. Unfortunately, these social networks are a poor replacement for actual communities that build and have the potential to equitably distribute social capital. Worse, this increasing reliance on social networks is unhealthy for us because it doesn’t actually meet the visceral needs we have to human contact – we text more than ever, yet feel more lonely than ever. In order to deal with this problem we can not afford any mystification, but need to be absolutely honest about human needs – and in relation to human needs the problem of community can not be posed in any way other than as a moral problem.

1The advantage of an explicitly moral (some might say moralizing) definition of community is that it makes explicit what lies between the visceral salience of the concept. Because community is a way of conceptualizing a plurality of social relationships which we depend on continually, it is extremely difficult or impossible to take an “unbiased” look at community. It would make as much sense to ask someone who had never left the confines of their family to analyze their family without employing moral categories. We are always-already inside the communities whose moral status we are evaluating when try to decide what is and what isn’t a community. In other words, every definition of “community” from the perspective of the author contains an aspect of auto-critique.

Re-invention of Site and Self

Last spring the time to complete my PhD at York University ran out, and I de-registered. It’s still unclear if I can complete the work, re-register and defend, but at these points this is not my main concern. York was not an environment in which I was able to complete, or even really get going, with the work required to earn a PhD. I do think I’m capable of such work, but for various reasons, this was not the right time.

During the past year I’ve continued to live in Toronto, working several part time jobs, and I’ve applied and been accepted into a different Academic program which I will start in September. I’ve been a bit cagey about all of this, certainly my online presence has declined. This is partially a function of self-care – the constant exposure of oneself to the public sphere/agora/gladiatorial arena is not necessarily engendering of the forms of self-love and self-care which are required to maintain reasonably coherent identity across a tumultuous life-bridge. That said, at a point, self-narration becomes a form of confident self-assertion. My friend Tom tells me self-narration can actually be problematic, so this point might even be up for reconsideration. More on that later. Anyway, the point is – I’m still here, and I want this blog to have a future.

The blog’s future will not look exactly like it’s past. In the past, especially since 2011, I’ve written a lot about Palestine. Now, Palestine is a very interesting and important subject, but on the whole I’ve found that, as a while person living in Toronto, there is not much I can say about Palestine that folks will find useful. Generally, white solidarity activists only gain status in the Palestine solidarity community here by following implicit rules, rather than by creative thought and research on taboo subjects (i.e. the history of the PLO). What interests me about Palestine isn’t exactly what I’m “supposed” to be interested in, and this has brought me some very deep friendships, but on the whole it has brought alienation and distancing from that community. This can’t be disconnected from the fact that since 2012 I have not been able to visit Palestine. This is largely my own doing – if my PhD had been going better, I’m sure I could have found the money to go. But as it has gone, although I was able to continue travelling to Ireland yearly, Palestine was out of the question. I miss the friends I made there dearly, and I hope that someday soon I can go back. To be radically honest, I think a major gap in my experience of these issues is the un-talked about class barriers, such that when I spoke about Palestine with Palestinians and other Arabs in Toronto, it made many of them uncomfortable not only because, as a white person, I was in some way “appropriating” “their experience”, but because due to the extreme financial and social class difference between relatively (on the global scale, at least) wealthy Palestinians living in Toronto, and poor Palestinians living in refugee campus in Palestine. As a while person, I was able to cross social and class divisions in Palestine in the way that would be far more difficult for an indigenous person. This whole issue of the relationship between the indigenous vs foreign subject position in relation to the ability to cross local boundaries is actually really interesting, and it reminds me of something an undergraduate history professor of mine said about the best book written on 19th century New York was written by a recent immigrant who described what he saw in a way that wasn’t possible for folks who grew up in that context. But, in the current identity politics world of “you can’t write about my culture”, the possibilities of insight from the foreign position are dismissed in advance as Orientalist. So, and I apologize for my rambling here, it felt basically impossible to continue with the project of political phenomenology using Palestine as a case study.

My decision to apply for the Masters degree program at OISE came of two origins. The first is the fact that two of my housemates have been through the program, and though I never thought much of it from its title (Adult Education? I was more interested in the “prestige” disciplines like Philosophy, History, etc), I was always really impressed and interested in what they were studying in any given week. The other origin was a series of discussions with a senior figure in the student co-operative movement at the NASCO institute in Ann Arbour last November. From those talks, I learned the mind-bending fact that what I took for granted as the natural form of student co-operative governance was in fact highly specific to Ontario – and across the United States what we took as a given was in fact a rarity. I will speak more about these issues in upcoming posts, but for the meantime what I want to communicate is this sense of intellectual excitement in uncovering the specificity of something that I saw discursively inscribed as normal.

One really wonderful thing that happened this year is I was still able to attend and be part of the Economy and Society Summer School in Castletownroche, Ireland. This program, if we read it in continuity with the previous iteration (“Theory and Philosophy” summer school) is something I have now attended 6 times. Due to my academic catastrophe, I was not able to act as faculty this year (I had given a talk last year, and reading groups the two years before that), but it was actually amazing to be able to cross over between the student and staff sides of things. Also, I worked the bar for most of the evenings, which made me feel part of the staff in a meaningful way, and allowed me to interact with pretty much everyone. What was truly special to me this year were my discussions with Arpad Szakolczai, a professor of Sociology at University College Cork who has truly heterodox views on the Enlightenment, the history of Capitalism, Plato, and the correct form of Republican governance. Last year at the summer school he gave a talk entitled “Fairground Capitalism” which argued that Habermas got the notion of public and private backwards (and that the public sphere is a “gladiatorial arena”), and that capitalism emerged historically in Europe not from the market but from the Fairground. The talk was quite influential on me, and inspired me to read several of his books and articles – which formed the basis of deeper discussions at this year’s school. I hope to get more involved with his group (International Political Anthropology) over the next few years and possibly attend his summer school in Italy in 2016.

Currently I’m quite busy, working 6 days a week at various part time jobs as well as auditing 2 courses. I’ve also been developing a reading list for this summer to get a head start on my new program – especially the thesis research. I’m still a director at CCRI, and the CCRI representative to the Ontario Student Co-operative Association (OSCA) – as well as the newly elected president of OSCA which gives me responsibilities in relation to the organizing of the OSCA conference/retreat this fall. I ran for NASCO board this spring and was not elected, but I will run again this fall, as well as hopefully attend the NASCO institute, possibly as a presenter.

I will be in Toronto for the rest of June, and then I’m headed to Montreal to spend some time with my brother before I fly West to spend the bulk of July and August with my parents in British Columbia. It will be the first time in several years that I have spent more than a week or two in British Columbia, and I’m very much looking forward to thesis research at our summer cottage.

Moving forward, I hope to make this blog a public site of my ongoing research on co-operatives, as well as a place to discuss the relationship between the theoretical anthropology I’m beginning to read with the existential phenomenology with which I’m already quite familiar.

Transcript of a 1989 Interview with Abu Iyad

Abu Iyad (Salah Khalaf) was the Vice Chairmen of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and was second in command of Fatah from its early days until his assassination in Tunis on January 14th, 1991. He is an important figure in Palestinian politics, but he is almost unknown in the non-Arabic speaking world, especially amongst the current generation of folks concerned with the Palestine issue. His book, “My Home, My Land” is a well worth reading account of the Palestinian national liberation struggle up to the late 70s, but it is out of print and a new copy might cost you upwards of 130$.  I think it tells you something that the personal memoir of the second in command of the PLO during the years of the Revolution is out of print, while hundreds of books about Palestine are published every year. Therefore, I thought it would be relevant to transcribe this interview, which is almost totally unwatchable due to the slowness of the live translation, so people can read it and understand the perspective of the PLO in the late 80s.

The interview took place July 23, 1989

Interviewer: Good evening and welcome very very much to the program Conversation Abu Iyad, who is responsible for joint security for the Palestine Liberation Organization, we are talking  in Tunis and in many sense he is regarded as the number two man responsible for the PLO next to chairman Yasser Arafat and is long associated with it, and Abu Iyad welcome very very much to Conversation.

Welcome also to the audience in New York city, and at the outset I would like to congratulate you at the annunciation of the new State of Palestine  after all these long years.

After the long struggle, are you more optimistic now in these days about the eventual establishment, legitimate establishment, of a state of Palestine after this 40 year long struggle. In general what is your feeling towards the ultimate possibility of a legitimate State of Palestine?

Abu Iyad: For a start we have always been optimistic and we have turned even more optimistic particularly singe the Palestinian peace initiative has started taking place and my view is the co existence of two states, one next to each other, in the region is the dream that is near coming true.

Interviewer: Do you feel that the recent statement by Secretary James Baker of the US that Israel and Mr Shamir should give up the idea of a broader larger Israel is a significant statement and perhaps signals a change in American policy?

Abu Iyad: My belief is that there are a few elements in the American policy that have had a relative change in this sense, in this sense the declaration of Baker is a relative change and it is the first time that such a statement about Israel and the necessity of its given up its dream of a greater Israel is uttered particularly in front of a Jewish audience. And we have faced such declaration by a very positive attitude.

Interviewer: The statement was made in front of AIPAC, a very powerful Jewish lobby in the United States and Israel could not exist, could not have existed, without the support of the United States. Why do you think that the United States has, over the long years, developed such a tie to Israel, against what many even Americans see as against their own national interest?

Abu Iyad: Of course there is a strong influence of the Israeli lobby in America, and the support that has been brought by the United States to Israel is easily explainable and the reasons are in fact quite well known. The obey is quite powerful in the administration, the congress, and what we take now for a reality is that president Bush is trying to get the Arab point of view closer to the Israeli point of view and vice versa. This is particularly delicate because president Bush does not want to have any clashes between all the points of views going in the congress, between congress, state department and administration concerning the foreign policy

Interviewer: Particularly in the congress, the AIPAC has a very strong influence. Do you see a clear distinction between the policy of the US at a government level, particularly conservative period, mr Reagan, mr Bush, and the thinking of a possibility of a different thinking of the American people. Can you make a distinction in your own mind between the Government and the people

Abu Iyad: Of course we consider that as regards the American people, this people has never been reached seriously by the Arab and Arab voice, or by a Palestinian voice. And we make a very clear distinction between american administration on one side and the American people on the other side, as we make a distinction between the R administration and the Bush administration. To us it seems that president R was not as much of an executive, where as we feel that president Bush is a president who takes views and puts them into practice.

Interviewer: That is encouraging, and perhaps this interview will help Americans get another view of events, we hope that it might. (Abu Iyad nods)

The intifada has now been going for a very long period of time. Great suffering is accompanying the young people with stones and so forth, tremendous struggle. Do you think that the intifada is the expression that has prompted, or helped to prompt the dramatic changes that have occurred in November, with the annunciation of the new state and so forth. Should we give credit in a certain sense to the young children and to the intifada in Palestine for the dramatic political changes that have occurred in recent months?

Abu Iyad: The intifada has indeed changed things on many levels, on a Palestinian level, on the level of the Palestinian people, on the level of the way of thinking of the leadership of the PLO and as well as on an Arab level, and we can even add on a world level. And if I was asked about the deep profound reasons for the holding of the PNC in Algiers, and the deep reasons for the resolutions made there, I would say the direct reason for this was this generation, which is the generation that has lived the occupation for twenty years. This generation by taking up stones has at the same time the initiative to push forward the process of liberation.

Interviewer: The young generation would not allow that Israel, backed by the US, a great power, could impose its will against the will of the people of Palestine. They simply were not willing to accept the idea that Israel had in a certain sense “won”.

Abu Iyad: My belief is that this generation which have been struggling for already 19 months now, and this generation is fundamentally optimistic, and this generation is convinced that it can win against the logic of Shamir which is a logic of force and of domination.

Interviewer: Do you see a distinction between the current political leadership, Likud, Shamir, can you see nuance between the political leadership in Israel and the Israeli people?

Abu Iyad: Obviously as true it is for all peoples of the earth, this rule is good for the people in Israel and we make a clear distinction between the logic developed by the leadership in Israel and the people in Israel, and indeed there are peace movements who are developing a new kind of speech and a new kind of arguments which is very different from that of the leadership in Israel, and we are aware of the existence of such a movement, and we encourage it.

Interviewer: Since the struggle, 40 years, since 1948, has been going on, many in Israel have tried to change the facts on the ground to create a situation that would eliminate, or not make possible an Arab state in Palestine. Some Jewish or Israeli people have said the philosophy of the Arab peoples of Palestine was to make it so there could be no Jewish state of Israel. Now the idea is firmly in the minds of the PLO and in the minds of the greater Arab nation increasingly, that it is possible now for there to be two states.

Abu Iyad: To speak the truth formally, we did not believe in the possibility of the co-existence of two national states, but very frankly since 1974, and during all our PNC sessions, we have declared our belief in such a possibility, and more particularly during the 1988 session of our PNC, that this on the defence and necessity of the application of international legality, particularly the resolutions 181, resolution 242, resolution 338, now in order to defend the historical necessity of the coexistence of two states. But unfortunately the Israelis are not hearing it on the same ear, up to now.

Interviewer: There has been a change through time, do you think there has been a change through time by the Israeli leadership, or perhaps the broader Israeli community, not only in Tel Aviv but in New York?

Abu Iyad: Yes there is a change but we consider that such a change is relatively slow in comparison with the importance of the Palestinian Peace Inaitiative as it was announced and supported by the Arab Nation back in Morocco. Unfortunately we can not say that such a change really of such importance has taken place in the minds of the Israeliens. As of the other Jews, such as the Jews in the United States and in New York, we have developed very positive relationships with them, but we still consider that their actions are not enough in comparison to our efforts and the way we are open to it.

Interviewer: There has been much suffering by the Palestinian People, particularly recently. Beatings, broken bones, young people maimed by almost fascistic reaction by the israeli army and armed forces against the Palestinian people. There must be a great deal of ill feeling, bad feeling, directed against the Israelis by the Palestine people given the long history of persecution by the Israeli forces. This will be a difficult process to heal these feelings, there must remain people who feel great hurt and anger at the Israeli entity still.

Abu Iyad: What, given the talks we have had with the US administration, this is precisely the subject that we have been discussing with the American representatives. The Palestinian people suffering very heavily from the Israeli fascist practices. Much more than from the Soldiers, the suffering do come from the settlers, who are those who are established there permanently, and who bear the weapons, and who react much more violently towards our population. Consequently it will become more and more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to go about peace and convince our people of ht necessity of peace as you see that daily our children, our women, the most terrible suffering, consequently from these practices. This makes time, not really work for the processes of peace and what I say is that it is an emergency now to move by any means possible to put an end to such practices. Can you imagine that during one  year there has been no education in our territory. Can you imagine that workers will have to move to go to their work because they are Palestinian are obliged to wear special signs that do remind of the days of the yellow star under the Nazi domination during the second world war. So as I say, if an end is not put to such methods it will be in effect more and more difficult for us, the Palestinian leadership, to convince our people for the necessity of peace.

Interviewer: it’s difficult to have human understanding, very very difficult for that to be realized. Do you think the actions of the Israeli government are the actions of a paranoia, or a reaction that is to use a term psychologically unbalanced, and that they are in a sense feeling a great sense of insecurity, in terms of their own position, perhaps which causes them to act so irrationally?

Abu Iyad: To my mind Israel lacks courageous historical leaders. This is the central problem of Israel. What we have witnessed in Israel is a certain sort of competition, unfortunately not for peace, but a competition for war. Jews have indeed suffered in the past and even in the recent past, but this has never been our responsibility, it has been the responsibility of others, the Nazis, the fascists, all those who prosecuted the Jews. But to my mind this has created a sort of lack of confidence in oneself in Israel. And I consider that the Palestinian leadership is full of confidence in itself and that is precisely why it has taken this initiative of peace. And I am sure that Israel, if historical, courageous leader appears, Israel in the middle or long term will be capable of reaching this self confidence and take a new initiative towards peace.

Interviewer: It is ironic that the Jewish people who suffered so with yellow badges under the Nazis, under the fascists, and were scapegoated, scape goats, by European powers and so forth, should assume this kind of an attitude towards the Palestinian people, a scapegoat attitude towards the Palestinian people, towards the Arab people, particularly the European Jewish people, attempt to de-humanize in their mind the Arab people. This view and attitude creates very bad inappropriate feeling not only towards Palestinian but towards the whole of the Arab nation.

Abu Iyad: I think there are two main complexes, psychological complexes in Israel. The first is lack of self confidence and the second one is a complex of fear. The only means to get out of this crisis is again to see the emergence of a new historical leadership, that will come to think differently of things. Talking about security for instance which is one the complexes of Israel. Israel thinks the only way for it to survive is to be strong, have higher technology, armament, and army. But Israel only imagines this in a state of war and never in a state of peace. Whereas it is quite possible and realistic to say that a state can be strong and live in a state of peace as well. One important question that must be asked fundamentally is: does Israel want to be a state that is part of this region, or does Israel want to be a burden for this region? And again, if Israel gets rid of this complex of fear, of this complex of lack of self confidence, if it is liberated of these complexes, if it stops having no leadership in fact, because you can’t see any real leader in Israel, we see a very scattered leadership which is not talking much sense as a matter of fact and does not have a solid general political line as regards this issue. Well then this issue would be overcome, then this would be possible.

Interviewer: Again, the Israeli people have suffered a great deal, they emerged from the 2nd war with many people saying “never again will we be weak”, this is the perception that they have. Many of them felt that they were establishing the state of Israel to protect themselves against ever again being vulnerable to the broader world. There sense was they were small numbers in a very large Arab world. They felt a sense of animosity towards them, being European, and rightfully so, not following the words of Martin Buber and other thoughtful Jewish philosophers and so forth, but trampling on the rights of the Palestinian people rather than living with the Palestinian people, that Martin Buber and others would have said was the first order of business. Given this fact that they have done these things, and have lived this sense, they feel a sense of animosity directed sat them, a very strong 3 or 4  million numbers of people, against a massive Arab nation, of many hundreds of millions, and I’m wondering if you can address that sensitivity that Jews in Israel and in the United States can feel: a besieged group by an Arab nation that is basically feeling animosity towards them.

Abu Iyad: Your question is again related to this Israeli complex, which tells that Israel has never been and will never be accepted in the middle east region and Israel is exposed to the danger of being thrown out of the region any day by the Arabs. Now what we have seen is that Israel has experienced war four times. What we are asking in fact that Israel try at least once. There are international warranties as regards the Palestinian inactive for peace. Along these warranties the most important are those of the five members of the security council. What we are asking is for Israel to come within the frameworks of an international conference, and not be afraid of exposing all their fears to us in front of the international community and with such warranties. What Israel has been trying to do up to now is to make pace with the rest of the Arabs, often separately and with no consideration whatsoever to the Palestinians. This is absolutely wrong, and no peace is possible without the Palestinians. No peace document will have any value if there is no first and foremost the signature of the Palestinians at the bottom of it. So, one last thing I will like to add is that Israel may win ten wars against us. Maybe sure that it will win ten wars against us. But it does not expect to lose one war against us. So what I say is that Israel must commit to this future for peace.

Interviewer: That Israel has not committed to this future for peace, or accepted the spirit of this change, perhaps signal or shows the fact that they do not, the current leadership does not want feeling perhaps strong feeling perhaps militarily strong, victor, they do not want to give land, West Bank, they simply do not want to do that, they will avoid an international peace conference, bringing these issues to the realm of international law, because it would lead to a condition they fundamentally do not want to accept.

Abu Iyad: Regarding this question of force, feeling of force, of Israel. Even if Israel had tenfold the amount of force that it has, Israel and its citizens will never feel really secure, and it will never feel it is living in peace. If we take the example of the peace treaty that as signed with Egypt, we can not really talk of a state of Peace, we can talk of the provisional stopping of a war, but we can not speak of real peace for this simple reason: that the Egyptian people will never accept a status quo in which the rights of the Palestinians are not respected and put into practice. And the right of the Palestinians is self determination, the right to a state on the occupied territories, at least on a part of its original land, which is supported and recognized both by the whole of the Arab nation and which is demanded more particularly and more practically by us, the Palestinians. So, what is necessary now we ask of Israel is to sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians and not with anybody else. Which is the only means of warrentying the right of Israel to exist, because we Palestinians are the only real depositories of giving such a right to Israel.

Interviewer: There is no one else for them to negotiate with, they must negotiate… We’re running a little long because of the translation. The state of Israel was founded in the early stages by many Askhenazi, many European Jewish people who came in a certain sense with European values, European views. The population has much more sephardim, oriental jews, who make up more and more of the population of Israel itself. Do you think that these people who have more experience of this part of the world. Do you think the changing nature of the population in Israel might make it possible for Israel to be more amiable to the sensitivities of this region of the world, rather than inordinately having European values as the Ashkenazi did?

Abu Iyad: Sorry, I did not get the meaning of the question.

Interviewer: well, I don’t know how to elaborate, perhaps we can let it go. But it seems to me that the Ashkenazi from Europe, that they [the sphardim] might be able to feel more part of the middle eastern milieu, and not perhaps being so tied to West, or seeing Israel as an extension of European or Western Colonialism.

Abu Iyad: So this issue of the Oriental Jews, as a matter of a fact there are two stages, of historical change, taken, their existence. The first period, because of ill treatment, or the fear of ill treatment, many of these oriental Jews have chosen extremism, right wing extremism. They supported Likud. But apparently the new generation is feeling that it belongs, more, much more, in this region. And this is a factor that may…to get closer and may help.

Interviewer: The recent Arab summit where all of the Arab Leadership was ready to accept Yasser Arafat as the president of the Palestinian state. Are you more and more confident that there can be the heartfelt and meaningful support of the broader Arab nation in recognizing the obvious leadership of the Palestinian [Liberation] Organization, and also that Palestine is the core issue to the settlement of conditions and in this region and cannot be overlooked the just needs and aspirations, support from the broader Arab nation in your view become stronger?

Abu Iyad: We are satisfied with the results of the summit, which towards the initiative that came out of the PNC of Algiers, and if it means one thing it means that the Palestinian peace initiative is no longer a Palestinian peace initiative, it has turned out into an Arab Peace Initiative.

Interviewer: And if I may say so sir, an Arab peace initiative and to the degree that is possible perhaps through this television and perhaps other means of expression, a more worldly felt as it were where people could support you in that again. Again we’re out of time, I’d like to congratulate you again and all of the leadership and the people of the PLO, the Palestine people, in the annunciation of your recent state, a stunning example of the events that have taken place recently and to congratulate you on all of the long struggle, the forty year struggle, and to wish you the establishment of a just and durable Palestinian state in the region where it justly belongs.

Abu Iyad: Thank you

Interviewer: And again I would like to thank you again on my own behalf, for offering your perceptions and perspectives to the people of New York and the people of the word.

Statement on the rising situation in al Quds

When an abused, repressed and oppressed people fights back using means that cause genuine hurt to members of the oppressor group, even members who are not directly involved in oppression themselves, and even when the acts are even arguably “counter productive” with respect to the struggle for justice, these acts must not be equivocated with the acts of violence used to pacify their resistance and maintain an unjust status quo.

I disagree with acts of resistance that are not legal under international law. However as a matter of priority,  it is qualitatively more important to condemn and bring to a halt acts of pacification that suppress even these acts of resistance. Acts of resistance,  even those which are not morally justifiable, must be recognized in the context of oppression and reverse oppression, rather than the “terrorism”  discourse which only sees violence that challenges the status quo as a problem.

Political violence must come to an end through an agreement based on the recognition of Rights and real promises to dissolve institutions that sustain oppression, not through counter insurgency,  policing,  and military actions.