Catherine Blampied (seemingly this Catherine Blampied… on the internet, no one can hear you be anonymous…) makes an excellent comment on the Living Anthropologically blog, in an ongoing conversation based on this piece.


Given… the precariousness of funding and the pretty much utter contempt in which social scientists and humanities scholars are held by the public, the government, and other parts of the academy, I can see why Michael E. Smith makes the pragmatic point that declaring specific political manifestos might seem frighteningly offputting, and that the last thing we want is our integrity and authority to be questioned. On the other hand, the fallacy of thinking it possible to separate out ‘politics’ from teaching, research, or actually any endeavour in life – indeed, even conceptualising ‘politics’ in this way – is itself only a bolstering of a different type of politics, a discourse which downplays the extent to which not explicitly questioning certain assumptions and, by extension, policies and systems, encourages acquiescence and discourages critical thinking. I also agree with you that specific political ideas/proposals may emerge quite directly from academic work, in which case is it not disingenuous and unethical, and certainly ‘political’ in itself, to deny these? My question is, therefore, how do you actually envisage or recommend that scholars be able to break free of this encouraged quietism and engage in some kind of action or activism as a logical corollary of their academic work?

[Emphasis added.] This is exactly a point I try to make often, with what is so far of ambiguous efficacy, to my students. But you really should read all of Ms. Blampied’s comment.

Postscript: Ms. Blampied has a blog, too. (Some sample excellence: “For many years I have been troubled by the question of how there can be such awesome injustice, inequality, poverty and suffering around our world when, on an individual level, people are generally nice, kind and caring, and mostly (in my small experience anyway) have good intentions and strong moral values they cherish in common.  The outcomes we see all around us don’t seem to add up to the ‘inputs’ if you like.  This basic problem is what has led me to the field of social-cultural politics and motivates my research project, which tries to go beyond a framework in which inviduals are the fundamental level of analysis and societies are ‘aggregates’ of individuals.”)

2 thoughts

  1. Thank you for stopping by and using a comment to start a whole new blog-post! This is a great example of how we might be able to make unusual connections across disciplines and continents. Let’s be in touch–great comments here and important to keep up the good work.

  2. Hi AgroEcoPeople, thank you for reposting my comment and flagging up my blog, which I just noticed today. I am indeed that same Catherine Blampied (I’m not sure but I think there’s only one of my name currently alive so even harder to be anonymous on the net!). I very much appreciate your feedback on my site, as I have only very recently set it up and am but a fumbling beginner on the blogosphere!

    I’m glad I’ve come across the work of your lab; it’s fascinating to me and timely for many reasons. Firstly, my partner (who is a neuroscientist) and I have this bee in our bonnet about ‘hard’ scientists not engaging with, or even being cognisant of, the broader context (philosophically, socially, politically) of their work and not having the basic ability or desire to ask the big questions – why does their specific project matter, what are the broader aims and responsibility of science? Maybe you feel that is somewhat of a caricature (?), but it is extremely heartening to see a scientific lab blog mentioning Foucault, Habermas and Freire!

    Secondly, recently I have become very interested in ideas of political ecology, global agricultural and food systems, economic/ecological justice, and land rights. Partly this is due to my involvement with a UK NGO African Initiatives and its campaign for Maasai pastoralist land rights in Tanzania (where former rangelands are being hoovered up not just for agricultural investment, but also for tourism and environmental conservation). Partly also, I think, my engagement has tallied with growing public interest in issues such as food speculation and land grabs, coming onto the radar as never before through mainstream media and campaigns such as Oxfam’s. Intellectually, I am very interested in the links between the astonishing practices of injustice, exploitation and ecological degradation in global food systems, and seemingly separate popular discourses (such as within tourism and education) that enable particular relations of power and knowledge and hence perpetuate such practices.

    I am hoping soon to start another blog that looks more in-depth at these issues, from a personal consumer’s perspective as well as academic, tracing our transition to veganism and organic food, and trying to amass and present credible scientific information and encourage debate in a way that is both accessible and rigorous, without losing sight of this bigger picture of social and environmental justice. With that in mind, I look forward to exploring your site, keeping up with your posts, and sharing any relevant links.


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