Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Trust me, I'm a doctor...

Yes, I can now call myself Dr. Robertson! I passed my viva on August 16, with Nick Prior from Edinburgh University as my external examiner and David Inglis as my internal. It is pending minor revisions, but that is to be expected. Here is a picture of me with my lovely doctor-cake, made in the Norwegian-style by the amazing Tia DeNora:

So now begins the long slog to find gainful employment that is at least somewhat related to music and conflict transformation. I think I came close a couple of times, but the market in the UK is pretty dire for 'soft' subjects like music and sociology, let alone new fields such as mine. All is not lost, however. I have made some great connections with the University of Leeds and I have put a bid in for a post-doctoral fellowship with the British Council to be hosted by both the Music Department and the Institute of Communications Studies at Leeds. I have also just applied for a research fellowship there as well. Meanwhile, I am still editing the upcoming book Music, Power and Liberty with Dr. Olivier Urbain from the Toda Institute, who have also kindly invited me to participate in the Asia Pacific Peace Research Association (APPRA) conference in Bangkok in November. I shall be presenting and co-hosting a special panel on the arts and non-violent conflict reduction along with Dr. Urbain and Daisuke Akimoto. I am also writing a chapter for a book to be published next year entitled Protests as Events: Events as Protests. Finally, an article that I wrote last year about the potential for music and conflict transformation has finally been accepted by Poetics, although I need to make some changes which will not be published until next year as well.

More updates from around the world soon.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Music and the Turkey Protests

One thing that is necessary for productive conflict transformation is a fairly even playing field when it comes to human rights and access to basic needs. It is unlikely collaborative musicking under these conditions would generate positive shared new identities that lessen tension and prejudice. Under these unequal circumstances, such as in Turkey at the moment, those with less power have the express need to band together, maintain courage and express their own joint identities in the face of oppression. Under these circumstances the usual rules of music and conflict transformation as researched thus far do not apply until the balance of power becomes more even. Until such time, the oppressed have been using music as representation and memory triggers as demonstrated in the below clips. Analysis to come later.

Music Above Fighting

As with most music and conflict transformation initiatives that I come across, I was excited when I started watching the mini-documentary Music Above Fighting. Based in three conflicted areas separated physically by walls or partitions (Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, India/Pakistan), the documentary shows musicians on either side playing with each other across the border. There was one line in particular from an elderly tabla player on the Indian/Pakistani border that struck me: "Only in death and music can I cross the border." I thought this had real potential. I was very disappointed to then discover that they were all just singing and playing "Imagine" by John Lennon. I don't have anything against the song exactly, but songs for peace don't actually change anything. Increased dialogue through music across physical barriers, in spite of the barriers, no that would be inspiring. A missed opportunity.

Long Time - The State of Things in Music and Conflict Transformation

It has been a very long time since I posted anything on this blog, for which I am mightily sorry. I have not been idle, though. I have finally submitted my PhD thesis entitled "Singing to be Normal: Tracing the Behavioural Influence of Music as Conflict Transformation" and I will complete my viva in August. I have an article under review in Poetics, I'm co-authoring/co-editing a book with Olivier Urbain from the Toda Institute entitled Music, Power and Liberty, and I am now an editor and journal manager of the Music and the Arts in Action Journal. I have a couple of conference presentations coming up, including "Protests as Events/Events as Protests" at Leeds Metropolitan University and the European Sociological Association Arts Branch conference in Turin. I have been spending the rest of my time applying for jobs or trying to create my own. Hopefully something will materialise before I starve.
So what has the world been up to since my last post? What follows are some things that have caught my attention:

In Jamaica and other hurricane prone Caribbean countries, poverty and a lack of opportunities has led many men to become involved in crime and violence. Recently, Catholic Relief Services have started the Youth Emergency Action Committee with the help of USAid in order to refocus youth attention on how to best respond to hurricanes and help their communities. They have discovered that the most successful manner in which to do this is through rap music in what they labelled 'edutainment.' This approach has also been used successfully for sex and AIDS education in Ghana. What seems to be happening here is not directly the result of the music, but music that appeals or resonates with a particular group promotes a more attentive mode of attention where messages located in the lyrics may infiltrate into memory, especially if the experience is enjoyed and repeated.

Cambodia Living Arts is an organisation founded by Arn-Chorn Pond, a musician, former child soldier and survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide. The principles behind the organisation suggest that the arts are needed in order to restore identity, pride and hope to the population. This is particularly remarkable in Cambodia where, according to the Huffington Post, up to 90% of artists were killed. As in other dictatorships, despots are often the first to understand the power of music and the arts. In order to control a population in order to commit atrocities, the victims need to be seen as less than human. This is impossible if the victims are engaged with cultural expression which is the ultimate humanising activity. Despite this fact, aid agencies rarely support cultural activities. This has been criticised by research conducted by the Post-conflict Reconstruction and Development Unit at the University of York as well as by the popular press like the Huffington Post. As a result, Cambodia Living Arts has produced a month-long arts festival in New York called Season of Camboda, with the support from various American philanthropists in order to raise awareness. The localised use of music in this case is the real music and conflict transformation work, yet that is not what is seen in the festival. The festival is an advertisement and fund-raiser, yet that is what audiences will remember. They will also remember a spectacle of sorts that represents a culture they are probably less familiar with. the danger here is that music and the arts is still seen as entertainment or representing a culture that is somehow rarefied, separate and unknowable. Hopefully the festival has been successful in raising awareness and funds for the important work that they do in their own communities. I hope that their work is not commodified too much in the process.

That's probably enough for this post.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Yet another article on the Salafist protest in Tunis

Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda edges away from Sharia

Tunisian Salafists stage a demonstration request the application of Islamic law in the new constitution (image from 25 March 2012)Some 10,000 demonstrated in favour of Sharia in Tunis on Sunday
Officials from the largest party in Tunisia's governing coalition have said they will not support moves to enshrine Islamic law in the new constitution.
Senior members of the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party said the wording of the old constitution, which proclaims Islam as the state religion, would remain.
A group of ultra-conservative Muslims known as Salafis had demanded the introduction of Sharia.
Ennahda has been under growing pressure to declare its position on the issue.
The BBC's Jon Leyne says that the news will disappoint the increasingly vocal conservative minority, but it will bring relief to liberals and secularists who fear a tide of Islamism sweeping across the region.
"Ennahda has decided to retain the first clause of the previous constitution without change," senior Ennahda official Ameur Larayed told local media.
"We want the unity of our people and we do not want divisions."
The article from the 1959 constitution states: "Tunisia is a free, sovereign and independent state, whose religion is Islam, language is Arabic and has a republican regime."
Another senior figure, Ziad Doulatli, said he hoped the decision would help Tunisia to "serve as a model for other countries going through similar transformations".
Some 10,000 Salafis took to the streets of the capital, Tunis, on Sunday to express their support for the proposal that the country's legislation should be based on Islamic law.
The Tunisian uprising last January, which unseated long-time President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, inspired a wave of pro-democracy movements across North African and the Middle East.

Another article on the Salafist protest in Tunis

Several Thousand Salafists Demonstrate for Islamic Law, Attack Dramatists in Tunis

 | 25 March 2012 35 Comments
Salafist demonstrators wave Caliphate flag on top of Tunis clocktower
A group of several thousand Salafists and their supporters demonstrated in downtown Tunis today in support of the Koran, claiming that the Muslim holy book was under threat by more secular elements of Tunisian society. Demonstrators climbed the clock tower of Tunis to fly black caliphate flags from the top of the tower and chanted slogans such as “the people want a new caliphate.”
At the same time and on the same street, the Tunisian Association for Drama Arts held a celebration for the upcoming World Day of Theater (usually March 27th) in front of the Municipal Theater. As the Salafist protest came to a close, a number of Salafist demonstrators attacked the Theater celebration.
According to Yassine Ouni, a student from the Higher Institute for Drama, the Ministry of Interior was responsible for the confrontation because they gave permits for both events knowing there would be a conflict. “The Tunisian Association for the Drama Arts event and the Salafist demonstration was held at the same time. We want to hold the Interior Ministry accountable since it gave permission to the two movements on the same day and the Ministry knew there would be tension since Drama is sacred for all artists and religion is sacred for every citizen.”
Salafists gather in front of the Municipal Theater
The permit given to the dramatists was supposed to allow them to celebrate theater in the space between the municipal theater and the Africa Hotel while the Salafists had a permit to demonstrate by the Tunis clock tower. While the Salafist organizers agreed to separate the events at first, a group of  Salafists later came and damaged equipment, disrupted outdoor performances and threw eggs, empty bottles and sharp objects at those celebrating theater.
Fawzi Guara, one of the demonstrators at the Salafist organized event for supporting the Koran blamed the theater celebration organizers for the confrontation. “Some Tunisians are not respecting our religious sanctity, campaigns against our religion confirm that there are elements here who want to provoke us. They don’t respect our views.”
Members of the Tunisian Association for Drama Arts in front of the Municipal Theater
Guara admitted that the Tunisian Association for Theater had received permission to hold an event first, but he said the Koran was more important than theater. “We knew they got permission before us, but they should give priority to defending the Koran and our religion. Anarchy can happen at any time, and simply by calling themselves ‘Theater of Resistance’ they are provoking us, resistance to whom? Did we sell out our country?”
For Guara, his demonstration was necessary because he sees Islam as being under attack. “Today Tunisia is witnessing a historical day. Tunisians went to the street to show their disapproval against the desecration of the Koran in Ben Guerdene, against the six pointed star on the wall of the Al-Fateh Mosque.”
He added that opponents of Salafists have been making a big deal out one Salafists’ desecration of the Tunisian flag at Mannouba University, just to give them a bad name. “We do love our country and our flag but the priority is for our religion and what is sacred. Islam does not oppose civility. We are here today to express our love for the Koran, for the prophet, for our holy sites. Our slogans are in support of the Koran, defending that which is sacred and rejecting discord and strife between Tunisians,” Guara said.

Salafist Protest in Tunis

Here are some articles about the Salafist protest in Tunis on Sunday, March 26 that I found myself in the middle of. I will post my own take on these events when I get a chance.