Wednesday, September 20, 2006

the media sucks; and I turned in my PhD proposal!

Because I post so infrequently, when I do get enough time to sit down at the computer and blog, I have so many different things I want to talk about. Then my posts are very long, very scattered, and probably relatively incoherent. But anyways...

This morning there was a memorial service for Steve Irwin, who died about two weeks ago. It was televised live on 4 out of the 5 channels we get. I think it went from 9 until 10. At 10:30 I turned on the tv to catch the news headlines. For 10 minutes they did nothing but talk about the Steve Irwin thing, recapping everything that had happened just a half hour before. I realise that his death is tragic and upsetting to a lot of people, and I understand the desire to hear about his memorial. But while all of this 'news' was being told, the ticker at the bottom of the screen was focused on an attempted military coup in Thailand. I had to try and decipher the news from a few improper sentences, like "Thai general thwarted in coup in Bangkok. [Channel 7 logo] Tanks surround Thai PM residence. [Channel 7 logo] State of emergency declared--Banks and schools to be closed and Bangkok under Martial Law. [Channel 7 logo] Elections declared unconstitutional. [Channel 7 logo] Bindi Irwin describes Steve as 'Best Dad' at memorial." (First of all, of course she thinks her dad was the best. She's like 10 or something, they all think their dad is the best.) As big as Steve Irwin was, I don't think his memorial should supercede an attempted coup in Thailand. That seems like major news to me. I hate the priorities of the media.

And anyways, as good as Steve Irwin was for education and conservation, I have to imagine that some of those animals he was grabbing and catching weren't exactly happy with him. There are exceptions--when he was catching crocodiles to move them so they wouldn't be shot by farmers, I can see the importance. When he was being cuddled by a Momma orangutan, it looked like she didn't hate having him around. But when he tried to catch all sorts of things just to show them on camera.... I guess it was in the name of education, but it just didn't seem cool, that's all. I would have bit the fucker, if I were a lizard or a snake or something.

The other topic for the day: I turned in my PhD application. There is a very slim chance that I will get a scholarship, since they give out 4 to all the international students that apply. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed, knocking on wood, and anything else that may bring me good luck. The selection criteria is based on a 15 point scale. 5 points are for your academic record, specifically during your last 2 semesters of uni (I had a 3.8something out of 4 during my last 2 semesters). 5 points are for your previous research, ie what you were rated on for your honours/masters research (I got honours, but it was not rated on the same scale as here, so I don't know where I stand with that). 5 points are for your 'research potential', basically your proposal, as decided by the head of the department. One of my potential advisors is the head of the department, so hopefully I do well with that. She said my proposal is good, and she would be 'very pleased to supervise me'. Here's my proposal:
Transforming the system through autonomous social movements:
Potential modes of self-determination by Indigenous Australians

Social movements exist on a continuum from reformative to transformative, from the broad to the issue-specific, and they occupy many levels in between. The Rastafarian movement is one example of a broad based movement against oppression from ‘Babylon’. It is also a transformative movement, seeking to collapse the tyrannical system that exists rather than reforming it—although it intends to do this in small steps. In undertaking previous research, I spent 3 weeks in Ethiopia, including ten days in a Rastafarian community. This research adopted a grounded theoretical approach with a focus on praxis. The findings of this study included the presence of a strong anti-systemic movement that reflects other, more widely known, movements such as that of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. My research focused on the complexities of the Rastafarian movement as a religion and a lifestyle, and how these intricacies impacted the standing of Rastafari as an anti-systemic movement. The unpublished thesis, the culmination of this research project, was completed at St. Lawrence University (New York State) leading to the award of a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Sociology. I have enclosed copies of reference letters from my two advisors. To indicate in more detail the scope and findings of my research project I have also attached a copy of the abstract to the thesis.

I propose to utilise and expand on the findings of my previous research at James Cook University. Rather than focusing on the Rastafarian movement, I intend to explore the phenomenon of autonomous social movements in detail, through comparative analysis. Autonomous social movements appear to be a potential epicentre of long-lasting challenge to the global capitalist system. This type of movement, although not new, has only recently received any noteworthy and critical attention. From the Maroon communities of escaped slaves in the Caribbean to the worldwide Rastafarian movement, autonomous social movements work within the system whilst simultaneously challenging it. Other examples include the recovered factory movement in Argentina, the aforementioned indigenous land movement in Chiapas, Mexico, and simple cooperative living arrangements (on a micro scale). These autonomous social movements, while working within the confines of global capitalism, try to limit the effects of the system on the internal workings of their groups. As such, these movements may appear to be capitalist in nature, but internally they can operate unbound by the confines of this socio-economic system.

As integral to this research I propose to look at historical movements to ascertain their strengths and weaknesses as a basis for comparative analysis with contemporary anti-systemic movements. More specifically, I hope to apply these theories to the concept of self-determination being put forth by Aboriginal Australians since the walk-off at Wave Hill in August 1966 (Attwood 2000, Hardy 1968). I hope to ascertain whether the broad self-determination movement shares characteristics with anti-systemic movements such as Rastafari. Limited scholarly engagement exists that examines the social movement aspects of Indigenous movements (see for example Merlan 2005; Maynard 2003; Gibson and Dunbar-Hill 2000). Published works are effectively limited to widely publicized events, as those are the most accessible. The problem with this is that it ignores the many grass-roots actions that characterize autonomous social movements. If my research finds no sound links between autonomous social movements and Indigenous Australians, I will investigate whether Indigenous Australians could benefit from being more like an autonomous social movement in their organising. As a result, it will be imperative to question the implications for both Indigenous Australians and the non-Indigenous government and population.

This research would be multi-faceted with a qualitative nature. The substantial qualitative data already gathered from one of the Rastafarian settlements in Shashamene, Ethiopia will be used as a basis for comparative analysis. Interviews and participant observation within local Aboriginal communities will provide further empirical material. I intend to record both informal conversations and formal interviews, drawing on individuals from a variety of circumstances to gather the widest possible data. This qualitative data would be compared with available published materials, both sociological and anthropological. For comparisons to other autonomous social movements, the abundant existing research will aid investigation. Current social movement theories put forth by Graeber (2005), Wallerstein (2004), and McAdam and Snow (1997) provide a sound basis for theoretical analysis.

This research is a timely topic: with the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander push for self-determination in the recent decades, a study of this nature would be beneficial for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Additionally, the findings may be useful in determining future government policies. One potential difficulty will be gaining acceptance into communities as a white female researcher, which is an issue and challenge to most ethnographic study. My personal motivations to undertake this research include working with Indigenous Australians to improve their standing within the system, as well as to gain an increased understanding of autonomous and anti-systemic movements in general.

1 comment:

bazu said...

Yes, the media wasn't much better here in the states. I hardly saw anything about the coup - the COUP!- in Thailand. And I know what you mean about Steve Irwin- not exactly the animals' best friend.
Congrats on your PhD application. I'm currently working on finishing my dissertation so I know how nerve-racking this whole process can be. You rock for doing the whole international thing- I always wanted to study abroad, but never had the energy to go through with it... good luck!
So you grew up in NY? Small world, eh? I have a dear friend in Australia, but she's all the way in Melbourne.