Saturday, April 5, 2014

Week 11 SE Asia


Political leaders will use the idea that there are distinct cultures to justify what they are doing. You will see this in the case of Myanmar where the dictatorship insisted that human rights were not culturally relevant to the Burmese people.  The right not to be executed, used as human shields, tortured, strip searched or stopped and frisked is something desirable to all regardless of color, gender, creed or nation. Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Sun Suu Kyi made a different argument--that not only did the people of Myanmar want these human rights, that are applicable to all human beings, but the leadership, in denying them, was not following its own tradition of Buddhism (see lecture).

This class has also emphasized that there is not one culture particular to a nation or to a group of people identified by phenotype or religion. For instance, no culture is more war-like (as we discussed in the case of Palestine-Israel), but it is instead the geography of occupation that makes martyrdom seem like a viable option for Palestinians.

A friend of mine recently got US citizenship. Part of the process is a ceremony over which a judge presides. In her case, the judge told the group of new citizens that there is no one way to be American. While this is true, it is also clear that there are pressures on immigrants to assimilate (to melt into the pot).  Europe, as you've learned, is having an especially difficult time accepting newer immigrants who practice Islam or have darker skin than lighter-skinned Europeans.  In the case of Europe, you learned about overt or de jure -- enacted through law -- assimilation pressures.  Less evident is the way that assimilation works through dominant norms. 

These dominant norms, to which people are expected to assimilate, are established by groups who, through their dominance in a society, have been able to determine what is "normal". Norms are always contested (people try do things differently) and new norms take hold.

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First, write down the following in your notes: What are some dominant norms? In other words, what is "normal" or acceptable according to US culture for men and women? Is individualism a norm? What about becoming middle class? What's normal middle class behavior? Is it the norm to drive a car? The accepted way of organizing space in this society is partitioning -- places for people (cities) and for plants and animals (farmland) or places for work and places for home (city and suburbs), or a place for the river and barriers to keep it from flooding into human space.

Second: answer the following in your notes: What do refugees need when they come to the US and who provides it? What challenges do they face? How are they encouraged or challenged to assimilate? What does it mean to become an American?

Third: answer the following in your notes: What does the geography of immigration and assimilation look like? If you were to map it what would you draw? (geography, as you know, involves where people go in the US, where they live, what they own, what they do for work and play, where they meet, what they eat, where their food comes from, where they feel safe, where they can be spiritual, who they see most often, what their neighbors do and think about them, how they understand their identity, what they think about their past etc.).
This blog assignment concerns the second part of the lecture on the Hmong diaspora and specifically the case of Hugo, MN. You will need to listen to the lecture before you can respond. The author of the study, geographer Dan Trudeau, argued that the desire for freshly slaughtered animals for religious or consumption purposes by Hmong and East African groups challenged what the white, middle class residents considered acceptable. They didn't think those practices associated with these groups belonged in that place. 

1. Discuss the decision the town of Hugo made.  Does Trudeau's argument about the dominance of whiteness (practices deemed normal by white middle class people) in US society seem reasonable?  

2. Provide an example of a dominant norm and its effect on certain groups in society or how norms make space. Dominant norms apply to the categories of race, class, gender, sexuality and ability.  Age could be included as well but typically it is associated with another category.  For instance, it is the norm in this society for older women to try to appear younger.  Everywhere older women look, there are messages telling them to dye their hair to conceal gray, to be thin despite having had kids and to use all sorts of "beauty" products to hide signs of age.  This is a social pressure in which women are complicit (they go along with and reproduce the expectation).  Show me you understand the concept of a dominant norm and that you can apply the experience of the Hmong people and the case of Hugo to another case. 

Your post can incorporate your thoughts from the above exercises (first, second, third) and should show me that you've listened to the lecture.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Week 10: Changing China

In the context of significant shifts in society, there is renewed interest in Confucianism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that Confucius' (551-479 BCE) teachings are the foundation for the Chinese sense of how one should live, govern and engage ethically with others in society.  Optional: Listen or read a review of two books talking about changes in Chinese society.

Please read the text to familiarize yourself with Confucius and some Chinese history of the 19th and 20th centuries.  Download questions from d2l and answer the questions while you listen to this podcast. Upload to the dropbox by Saturday.

Here's the trailer for the biopic on Confucius that the podcast mentions.


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Blog assignment

Over the 20th century and in the last two decades in particular, China has undergone astonishing economic, social, demographic, political and geopolitical change. As an economic powerhouse, its projects to move people on high speed trains, to build its wind, solar and hydro power (e.g. the Three Gorges Dam) and its production of the majority of goods we buy has moved the country to center stage. Millions of people have moved from rural areas to cities seeking work but the allocation of resources has meant a growing wealth and opportunity gap between the rural and urban areas. (See interactive timeline about key events in China over the last decade). The middle class lives with more goods but without the freedom to access the whole web or to speak freely.
Choose one of the following based on your interest and discuss what you learned. Try to get a sense of what Chinese people are experiencing through the podcast discussion. 

On Being: China's Hidden Spiritual Landscape podcast
A filmmaker and scholar gives us a parallel story to the ubiquitous news of China's economy and politics. Mayfair Yang discusses the ancient and reemerging traditions of reverence and ritual — revealing background to its approach to Tibet. And, she tells us how China gleaned some of its recent dismissive attitudes towards religion from the West.

This American Life: Americans in China podcast
It used to be that the American expats in China were the big shots. They had the money, the status, the know-how. But that's changed. What's it like to be an American living in China now? And what do they understand about China that we don't?

China’s Economic Growth And Its Environmental Impact podcast.
"Smelly foam oozing from the streets of Beijing. Smog so thick, you can’t see the next block. China is home to one fifth of humanity.   It produces a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and receives almost half of all the coal burned on earth.  And, its appetite for energy won’t peak for years.
How did the air, water, wildlife and dirt in China get so bad? What can be done to fix it?  Our guest today warns of global environmental disaster and he’s in the thick of it."

Young China podcast
To be young and Chinese today — if you’re middle class or better, if you’re in a good school — is to be in a sweet spot by the standards of Chinese history. Young China is riding a boom, with booming dreams to match. And if we’re headed into the Chinese century, the hand that steers the wheel will be young Chinese students in college right now. Anyone in China today under twenty wasn’t born when students protested and died under banners of democracy in Tiananmen Square. The word is, today’s young Chinese — college students — aren’t protestors. They’re China boosters, looking to a big, bright future. In this hour, we ask how young China sees the world. We have three Chinese students joining us, standing in for a generation.