Sunday, April 29, 2012

Invited Seminar: Misconceptions about Islam

Dr. Sophia PANDYA
Professor, California State University
"Misconceptions about Islam: Peace, Violence, and Global Politic"
April 26 2012

Dr. Sophia Pandya from California State University gave a very informative and interesting talk on the misconceptions about Islam from non-Muslims at the Hong Kong Central Library. Dr. Pandya began the talk by summarizing and reviewing the negative perceptions of Islam from the West – “barbaric”, “terrorists”,“having four wives”…She explained the worldwide Islamphobia is reinforced by the mass media such as the news reports in the aftermath of the 911 attacks and the Hollywood movies. However, the misconceptions about Islam also have their historical roots of Western colonialism and imperialism according to the speaker. To highlight where these negative conceptions originated, she examined how the early pieces of some scholars which shaped and disseminated these discourses, including Orientalism from Edward Said and series of work from David Walkinson. In those works, Islamic world has been described as “in need to be rescued by the West culturally as it is ‘backward’”.

To provide a broader scope to analyze Islamic world, Dr. Pandya suggests the diversity of Islamic schools has to be recognized. Using two extremes in Islamic branches – the liberal Hanafi and the conservative Hanbali as comparative examples, she explained how the different interpretations of the Qu’ran in these two groups can bring completely contrast attitudes of group members towards certain issues such as family structure and women’s status. In order to erase the stigma imposed on the Islamic world, various Muslim groups have taken initiatives to introduce and promote themselves in accordance with their customs and beliefs. Therefore, the speaker also calls for a reexamination of Islamic studies without generalization yet look into every Muslim individual. At the end of the talk, she played a video clip showing the diversity of Muslims, which deeply impressed the audience.

To know more about the works of Dr. Sophia Pandya, please visit this page.

TSANG, Ching Yi
M.Phil Candidate

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Publication: The Occupy Handbook

[Dr. Gordon Mathews contributes an article to this book!]

Book Description: Analyzing the movement's deep-seated origins in questions that the country has sought too long to ignore, some of the greatest economic minds and most incisive cultural commentators - from Paul Krugman, Robin Wells, Michael Lewis, Robert Reich, Amy Goodman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Gillian Tett, Scott Turow, Bethany McLean, Brandon Adams, and Tyler Cowen to prominent labor leaders and young, cutting-edge economists and financial writers whose work is not yet widely known - capture the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon in all its ragged glory, giving readers an on-the-scene feel for the movement as it unfolds while exploring the heady growth of the protests, considering the lasting changes wrought, and recommending reform. A guide to the occupation, THE OCCUPY HANDBOOK is a talked-about source for understanding why 1% of the people in America take almost a quarter of the nation's income and the long-term effects of a protest movement that even the objects of its attack can find little fault with.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Invited Seminar: Islam and Everyday Life in Hong Kong

Paul James O’CONNOR
“Islam and Everyday Life in Hong Kong: Religious Practice, Ethnicity, and Belonging"
13 April 2012

Having conducted his fieldwork of Islamic practice in Hong Kong, Paul James O' Conner focuses on the everyday life of various Muslim groups. His presentation is organized in three parts: 1). A brief introduction of Islam; 2). The significance of everyday life; 3). Religious practice. The third part contains rich information of history, demography, ethnicity, sense of belonging, and Halal foodways among Muslims in Hong Kong.

For O' Conner, the most interesting point lies in the great variation of those Muslims' social backgrounds and life experiences. He then outlined five categories as follows: the South Asians (mainly Indians and Pakistanis), the Chinese (mainly Hui and Uygur), the Indonesians (mainly female domestic helpers), the Africans (some are asylum seekers), and the Middle Easters (mostly business persons). In addition, O' Conner provided five case studies of individual life experiences to illustrate the variation and complexity of being a Muslim in Hong Kong, in which some important issues were addressed such as prejudice, freedom, and Halal foodways. Overall, this talk is very informative in providing a picture of diverse Islamic world in Hong Kong. Also, it provoked some interesting discussions, especially the practice of homosexuality among Indonesian female Muslims.

WU, Huanyu
PhD Student

The book by Paul James O’CONNOR on Islam and Hong Kong will be published by HKU Press in Autumn 2012. To know more about his research, please visit his blog

Event: Academic Planning Day for Secondary 5 Students

On last Saturday,  14 April 2012 over 20 secondary 5 students from different schools, participated “Academic Planning Day” and visited our Department. 

Students paid strong attention to our Programme Talk by Professor Mathews and raised a number of interesting questions. 
Our undergraduates and postgraduates also shared their experience with the students and provided some useful tips to them. 
Students also had chance to visit our department exhibitions on teachers’ publications and ethnological collections to have a better overview of our programme. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Student Seminar: 一个景颇族少女的意外死亡 ——“后社会主义时期”的个案与延伸个案

"一个景颇族少女的意外死亡 ——'后社会主义时期'的个案与延伸个案"
26 Mar 2012

Xiao Han died on this road.








人类学家安身立命的本事是微观社区研究。即使有人不服气,一年田野或N年田野跑若干个社区,那也还是“微观”。张村李村王村能不能代表中国?这个问题的答案不能因为你自己的“横”或者其他“优越感”而自动浮现。在个案研究和拓展性的理解之间,需要细致工作和社会科学的想象力。我在这里想重提Michael Burawoy的Extended Case Method作为一个参照。目力所及,大陆学术界的两位前辈卢晖临和朱晓阳曾经对这个问题专门论述,前者是理论讨论,后者贡献过一篇精彩的研究实例,有兴趣可以去找来读一下。


第一,从所谓“后社会主义”的时空坐标来看。小寒之死发生在“村”与“乡”之间,这既是一个空间上的距离:泥泞的道路,天气,交通工具,医疗网点分布等等;又是一个文化和政治上的距离。总喜欢说改革三十年,总喜欢说日新月异,其实真到了村里,就不难发现乡村的变化远没有那样乐观的“进步”,从一个健康社区的基本要求来看,甚至还有所下滑。离这村子直线距离不远的地方就可以看见宽敞平坦的省道,但这一切与村子无关。这好像是许多中国乡村地区共同的命运,那个离家不远的“日新月异”,“三过家门而不入”。这个局,用Pink Floyd的一张专辑的名字就能概括——The Dark Side of the Moon。月之暗面。从时间上说,毛时代到邓时代,“断裂”在何处,“延续”在何处,是应该坐下来好好想想。现代主义、唯科学主义、行政网络、政治生活的基本逻辑、考核体系、资源分配模式、国家-社会关系(这种描述不准确,姑且用之)……不少人宣称成就,也有不少人强调问题。其实回到乡村生活本身,就很容易发现打断骨头连着筋。毛时代的问题与邓时代的“发展”,这其中有多少逻辑上的必然联系?社会主义的遗产又是什么?都不能一概而论。我们究竟还是相建设一个美好的社会,但“多谈些问题”的前提,是对问题本身有清楚的认识。

2、James Scott说过,生活本身就是一个前后相继的事件连续,中国人讲“麻雀虽小,五脏俱全”。从决定生育到将孩子养育成人,是个体和家庭乃至社区所共同经历的连绵不绝的具体决策、行动的集合。但就整个医疗体系来说,其所能干预的部分,大约仅仅停留在某些特殊的时间点,例如何时作检查,住院分娩,计划免疫等等。在这些“点”之间,现有的医疗干预几乎无力介入,所以该怎样认识老百姓的“文化障碍”,恐怕需要不同的视角。


第四,反思一下我自己的角色。《写文化》对人类学文本和知识生产的批评主要集中在所谓“crisis of representation”(表征危机),但这种反思还是过于强调文本的重要性或是方法论上的暗纹。以我之浅薄学养,无力参与这样的讨论。但小寒之死带给我的冲击,在某些时间点上促使我重新理解自己所可能忽视的自我的阴影。在“实践者”与“研究者”之间所横亘的玻璃围墙,背后所假设的,仍旧是一种第三人称视角,这种视角看上去超然物外,即使它在今天已经不再避讳使用“我”这样的叙事单位。但我认为“实践者”和“研究者”之间双重身份的张力关系,往往可以撕开一些习以为常的刻板印象,暴露生活本身的纹理。假若不是小寒之死的故事,我将在“文化障碍”这个概念上徘徊多久?将会在“传统-现代”的对立之间陷入多深?会否捡起“批判”的匕首自顾自舞动而忽略人们此刻正在创造一种包含多种可能性的“新”生活?在方法论上,我认为自己必须诚实,必须承认幸亏我的多重角色以及我不自觉地首先接受了某种价值暗示,我才可能在研究初期犯下某种错误,进而在接下来的行动和观察中改正它。人类学家正在面临的这个时代,注定要承担起多重角色,这不一定是学科庸俗化的表现,反倒有可能在知识论上带来新的启示。

YUAN, Changgeng 
PhD Student

Friday, April 6, 2012

Admissions Exercise-- Dr. Bosco Talks about Interviews

Source: Dr. Bosco's blog

Spring is time for admissions exercises for our PhD, MPhil, and MA programs. I have long known that there are interesting discussions on the web where mainland students exchange information on our teachers and our interviews. Some kind souls post a detailed description of their interview to help others prepare.  What is astonishing is how much of the information is simply wrong. Also fascinating is how many students misunderstand what is going on. I did a search on one of the main bulletin boards for these kinds of discussions in China and found a candidate that we interviewed in the past few years who posted her side of the interview.  I have my notes of the interview and they are quite different from her view. I will go through her description to identify the ways our perceptions (and positions, of course) were very different.

The interview was conducted on skype, with video. She begins, as many posts do, by commenting that we started late. It is true that we sometimes run as much as 20 minutes late, but I'm surprised that students expect such precision in the interviews. Then the student admits that she did not catch the name of my "assistant"--actually my colleague!  (Note to me for future interviews: speak more slowly in the introduction and repeat the name in Chinese to be sure students are clear who is there). The student then comments, as others do, that we did not allow her to introduce herself. This is interesting because, given that we have read the file (including personal statement, transcripts, letters of recommendation, writing sample), a self-introduction seems rather superfluous.  (A student has explained that they are told, in training for interviews with foreign enterprises in China, that normally an interview begins with a self-introduction.) In fact, we always try to start with a relatively easy question to calm the student down. But she did not view it like that, saying that when we "directly asked her why she wanted to study anthropology," she panicked, and gave a foolish answer about theory and practice.  Then she says we asked her about her long-term plans. She says she choked: "I started to talk nonsense, the most horribly, I did not know what to think, ... "a classic case of brain freeze."

"Then they started on some academic questions." She describes how we picked The Interpretation of Cultures, one of the books mentioned in her statement of purpose, and asked her what the book was about and why it was important. (Wow, we did that? That's a pretty good question!)  She says that she had prepared an answer to this question beforehand, "but I don't know why but after my answer, he turned with an inscrutable face to his assistant. Is it possible I got the wrong book??? It made me suddenly lose all confidence."  Actually, my turning to my colleague was my nonverbal way of saying, "Your turn."

She continues, "Then it was the woman's turn to ask questions" (thereby proving my point). The student was put out because we asked her questions about her term paper, which was about moral tales and sayings, so she did not know how to talk about that in English, she said. She comments, "..continue falling apart."  At this point in reading her description, I feel bad that the student is under so much pressure, and find it hard to believe. She has viewed everything we do to minimize pressure as causing more stress. She tries to deflect the question by commenting on how difficult it is to get English books in Chinese libraries. Interestingly, despite the fact that we are on skype, she detects that my colleague and I give an understanding smile, but she does not know why, and says she is speechless. In fact, we are probably smirking because we know (and surely she also knows), that many books are available in China for free online in high quality PDF copies. These are not scanned versions, but the real original PDFs.  Applicants regularly complain that they can't get English books in China, and we may have smiled because we can't very well tell them to download books illegally, but we know that interested students can obtain all the books they need or want. But we did not press her on this because she was doing well overall.

The student then notes that at the end, we asked her if she had any questions, and that she asked about fieldtrips. We told her there is a fieldtrip at the end of the year for MA students but it is self-paying, and she took that to be another sign of the discrimination against MA students. But this is not true. We usually do not take the research program students on field trips, and in any case, all such trips are self-paying (and they just cover the cost--we do not "make money" on these trips). Indeed, we go to a lot of trouble to try to avoid making our MA students second-class citizens, as they often are in major US universities. But it is easy to misunderstand the situation while applying. Our exit surveys show students are generally satisfied.

What is surprising is that despite the agony and angst expressed by this candidate, my notes show that her English was very good, and that her answers were not bad.  She was a good candidate. In answer to a question about Geertz, she said "culture is like a net" (well, he said "web," but that is close enough for admission to the MA program, since it is designed for people interested in anthropology who have not studied it previously). She was a good candidate and we certainly did not intend to make her life miserable. One person I discussed this with suggested her tone was perhaps exaggerated since, as a female and in Chinese culture, she could not very well say the interview went well. There is probably nothing that can be done to make interviews less stressful. At least most messages have me as the "good cop."

The use of these websites to share information is interesting because it reflects a Chinese tendency to go through connections rather than public information. I remember in the mid 1980s showing my friends in Taipei how to use the Yellow Pages. They did not know what that was, and once they saw it, they said they would never use such a book; they would ask their friends for a recommendation instead.  One of our students from China has mentioned that friends will ask her for information on applying to other departments at CUHK. Even though all the information is posted on the web, they ask her for help, assuming that there might be some secrets or tricks that she can impart. The websites are also interesting because they require altruism; those who post do not get anything in return, except messages of thanks from later applicants. From a strictly competitive point of view, they might even think that helping others to have a better interview might make their interview performance look worse by comparison. It is a good sign of a developing civil society (or at least civility) that students share this kind of information. I just wish it were more accurate. For accuracy, however, they should really go to our department website.