The Joys and Challenges of Studying Contemporary Protests

This week in North Philly Notes, Ming-sho Ho, author of Challenging Beijing’s Mandate of Heavenwrites about tracing of the long afterlife of the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Movement, the subjects of his new book.

Like many book authors, I felt like a weary wayfarer approaching the journey’s destination when my Challenging Beijing’s Mandate of Heaven: Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement and Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement was printed in January 2019. When receiving the package of author copies, it is not so much an occasion for triumphal celebration, but rather a moment of relief for ending the seemingly endless proofreading and copyediting of a manuscript one has grown tired of rereading.

My book investigates two consequential protests in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Both the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Movement took place in 2014, and challenged the growing China’s sharp power in these two societies. The pair of protests shared many similarities, such as student leadership, the participation of educated youth, the reliance on digital communication, and the tactic of nonviolence, which amounted to an inviting topic for comparativists. These two movements have garnered scholarly consideration, as witnessed by the mushrooming publication in the forms of journal special issues and edited volumes. To my knowledge, mine will be the first monograph that deals with both cases at the same time.

When I initiated the contact with Temple University Press editors, the book prospectus stated the goal as a “standard reference of the genesis, the process, and the outcome” of the two major movements. While the first two research targets were relatively straightforward, the tracing of the long afterlife of the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Movement after their occupy protesters were gone turned out to be more challenging and exciting than expected.

challenging beijings mandate of heaven_smWhen the book manuscript was submitted in spring 2018, there were already signs that the governments of Beijing and Hong Kong have already ratcheted up repression against Umbrella activists. Six newly elected pro-Umbrella legislative councilors were deprived of their membership due to a technical issue of swearing-in. There were more harsh reprisals that I did not have time to put in the book, such as the draconian sentencing of Fishball Revolution participants (up to seven years in prison), the de-facto banning of Joshua Wong’s Demosisto from electoral participation, the disbanding of independence-leaning Hong Kong National Party, and the criminalizing of disrespectful behaviors during national anthem singing. In spite of these political headwinds, younger generation of activists inspired by the Umbrella Movement continued to explore new zones of engagement to promote the unfinished project of democratization.

Post-Sunflower Taiwan did not witness such crackdown; in fact, the subsequent years have largely followed the aspiration of that movement: the pro-China ruling party was voted out of the office, the rise of a progressive party that emerged to be the third largest in the legislature, and the advance of same-sex marriage legalization. However, in the local election and national referendums held in November 2018, Taiwan’s conservatives mounted a successful comeback in the issues of nuclear energy and same-sex marriage. The pro-China opposition party scored a major victory and now poised to win back the national power in the 2020 presidential election. Such drastic reversal highlighted the perils of the low supporting rate that the current presidency chronically faced since taking the office. The silver lining was that more than twenty newly elected local councilors hailed from the Sunflower Movement. Spreading across a number of political parties, these new political faces were in their late twenties and early thirties, and they have the potentials to become Taiwan’s future political leaders for progressive causes.

Studying the contemporary protests incurs the risk of having one’s conclusions “upended” by the latest development. And by the time an academic book has passed the rigorous review and production process, what is painfully described and analyzed has become the history. The Egyptian Tahrir Revolution of 2011 has inspired numerous scholarly works. Yet, the mass euphoria of ending a strongman’s rule and his police state was all too brief; the current situation in Egypt was as repressive as before, and the knowledge that a “successful” revolution has achieved nothing increased the bitterness.

In 1972, China’s Premier Zhou Enlai purported to claim “it is still too early” to speak of the result of the French Revolution of 1789. Such humble acknowledgment of one’s limitation appears to be a necessary reminder for the students of current affairs. The appraisal of the movement results can be different depending on one’s time horizon. A takeaway here is that one should avoiding using the judgmental terms of “success” or “failure” in describing the end of a protest episode. In the case of Taiwan and Hong Kong, it is tempting to jump into this conclusion because the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Movement has such contrasting endings (a triumphal farewell party versus a mass arrest).

In addition to allowing more room for subsequent development, scholarly attention is also better devoted to those intermediating processes, rather than the final results. In the field of social movement study, the focus on “mechanism”, understood as a universal casual relationship and hence a building block for those “processes” commonly seen in protests, have gain acceptance among research practitioners. Implicit in this methodological reorientation is an understanding that social scientists better stay away from the risky business of predicting dependent variables (usually the results of social movements). It will be more productive to locate and unravel those multiple mechanisms taking place during social movements.

There are joys and challenges in studying the contemporary social movements; after all they are one of the contending forces that attempt to shape the world we are now living in. With the cautious avoidance on the movement result and more attention to the intermediating processes, I am hoping my new book can contribute to the intellectual project of making sense of current politics.

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History Lessons: Henry Sugimoto’s Art on the Japanese American Experience

This week in North Philly Notes, Edward Tang, author of From Confinement to Containment, describes the art and life of Japanese American artist Henry Sugimoto, one of the subjects featured in his new book.

In light of the current debates about immigrants, border walls, detention centers, and travel bans, I often think about the Japanese American artist Henry Sugimoto (1900-1990), one of four cultural figures I examine in From Confinement to Containment: Japanese/American Arts during the Early Cold War. Along with his family, Sugimoto was incarcerated in the camps at Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas, during World War II, solely because of their racial and ethnic background. When the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, many Issei (Japanese immigrants in the United States, including Sugimoto) and their American-born Nisei children were suspected of being loyal to Japan. Pressure from various political and farming interests intensified on the federal government to oust Japanese Americans from the West Coast. As a result, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which mandated the removal of over 110,000 of them to detention facilities located in the most desolate environments in the nation’s interior. That two-thirds of these civilians imprisoned without trial were U.S. citizens (the Nisei) hardly mattered to the rest of the country. Sugimoto painted many heart-rending scenes of what mothers and fathers, the elderly, single folks, and even infants experienced during their removal and confinement, as evidenced in one striking composition, Nisei Babies in Concentration Camp (circa 1943). But the artist also made sure to portray a subordinated community’s endurance, creativity, and love for one another in the midst of such trying conditions.  

fig 1_nisei babies
After the war, Sugimoto continued to paint scenes of the mass confinement and also became interested in the broader history of Japanese Americans in the United States, rendering muralist portrayals of their immigrant past. Some depicted episodes of racism and other obstacles faced, a theme initially explored in his paintings about the wartime incarceration. In an untitled piece featuring the words “STOP PICTURE BRIDE” (circa 1965), Sugimoto takes note of the immigration bans at the turn of the twentieth century. Japanese men first came to America as much-needed agricultural laborers, but white fears of a growing “yellow peril” instigated several legislative acts that restricted their further entry. These included limits on “picture brides” — Japanese women who came to marry those immigrant men and thus establish families and communities in the United States (a development to be averted, in white nativist eyes).
In the image, Sugimoto juxtaposes two symbols of America: Uncle Sam (state power) and Lady Liberty (the ideals of freedom and democracy). The artist transforms Uncle Sam’s “I Want You” finger-pointing, derived from the World War I recruiting poster calling on Americans to make the world safe for democracy, to an “I Don’t Want You” glare and gesture directed at Asian immigrants. Yet the Statue of Liberty, representing the cosmopolitan embrace of the world’s incoming peoples, stands above Uncle Sam and alongside the Japanese picture bride, which reveals how Sugimoto felt about the compatibility between the nation’s principles and the newcomers appearing at its shores.

fig 2_stop picture bride
Sugimoto himself journeyed from Japan to America in 1919. His parents were already in the United States before the 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement that curbed Japanese entry, so he was able to join them through a chain migration process. His first love was for French Postimpressionism and other European styles of art. He gained an international reputation in the 1930s with his artistic promise and traveled widely. But the wartime imprisonment of Japanese Americans quashed his public visibility and pushed him to a muralist sensibility that conveyed subtle, and often outright, political protest. During the early Cold War era, however, Sugimoto continued to labor in obscurity. Few wanted to address the injustice of confining Japanese Americans, especially when this population was now seen as a new “model minority” to promote a benevolent, multiethnic America and when Japan became a new U.S. ally in the fight against communism and Soviet expansion. With the advent of increased Asian American activism in the late 1960s and the growing movement for reparations for the Japanese American confinement, critics and audiences began to pay more attention to Sugimoto’s efforts. In 2001, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles hosted the largest retrospective of his work. What is important to remember is that between the 1940s and 1960s, before this renewed public notice emerged, Sugimoto was detailing scenes of war, racism, immigration, and incarceration as intimately entangled issues that still resonate to this day.

Changing Climate, Changing Communities

This week in North Philly Notes, Braden Leap, author of Gone Goose, writes about how the population of Sumner, MO, the Wild Goose Capital of the World, responded to climate change and the lack of geese.

Communities being disrupted by disasters related to climate change have become a semi-regular fixture on the nightly news. One night, a reporter walks through the scorched remains of a neighborhood following a deadly forest fire. The next, they’re boating down the flooded main street of a small town following another major hurricane. But how do communities respond to climate related disruptions that range from catastrophic fires and floods, to warmer winters, to the shifting geographic ranges of an array of plants and animals? This is an especially urgent question because climate related transformations are taking place across the U.S. and around the world, and they aren’t likely to stop any time soon.

Climate catastrophe gets a lot of attention, and rightly so, but if we hope to sustain communities as they are disrupted by climate change, we need to know far more about how people work together—or why they don’t—to effectively respond when their lives are disrupted by shifting climatological conditions. Accordingly, in my recently published book, Gone Goose: The Remaking of an American Town in the Age of Climate Change, I consider how members of a rural Missouri town were reconfiguring their community in response to climate change. Although Sumner, Missouri claims the title of Wild Goose Capital of the World, the nearly 200,000 Canada geese that used to migrate there no longer come to Sumner because of a combination of land use changes and shifting climatological conditions. For a town whose culture and economy were intimately tied to geese and goose hunting, this has been a dramatic transformation.

gone goose_smWhile we often hear stories of small Midwestern towns fading away, that’s not exactly what was happening in Sumner. The population may have been dwindling, but after talking and working with residents for nearly two years, I found that community members were effectively rearranging the social and ecological complexities comprising their town to respond to the lack of geese. Men were dramatically transforming the landscape to make it more amenable to duck hunting. Women reorganized the town’s annual festival to cater to families instead of goose hunters. Both were working with staff at the National Wildlife Refuge adjacent to the community to make it suitable for public uses other than goose hunting. In all three instances, they were strategically leveraging the social and ecological complexities of Sumner to rearrange and sustain their ties to the people and places they valued.

Although Sumner is undoubtedly unique, I argue it provides some important lessons for other communities disrupted by climate change. Most notably, it is sometimes possible for communities to be sustained and even improved. For this to happen, people must effectively utilize and rearrange the social and ecological beings and things comprising their communities. This is a somewhat hopeful lesson, but one that must be tempered by the realities of communities and climate change. Not all places will have the social and ecological inputs to adapt. The effects of climate change can also be so catastrophic that it can be impossible to adjust. Communities being inundated with saltwater because of rising sea levels provide a clear example. The environments in which our communities are entangled will continue to present both opportunities and challenges over the coming decades and centuries, but it seems clear that in some cases there can be more to climate change than catastrophe.

 

Temple University Press’ Spring 2019 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes, we feature highlights from our Spring 2019 catalog.

sp19 cover As the cover of this catalog proclaims, 2019 is the Press’s 50th anniversary, and there’s much to celebrate.

We’ve published more than 1600 titles in the past five decades, starting with Marxism and Radical Religion: Essays Toward a Revolutionary Humanism, edited by John C. Raines and Thomas Dean. Since that auspicious beginning, Temple University Press has dedicated itself to publishing socially engaged scholarship. Our list is chock-full of titles related to social justice and social change. We pride ourselves on being pioneers in advancing the scholarly value and social importance of disciplines such as women’s studies, ethnic studies, and the study of race. To that end, we launched highly regarded lists in African American studies and Latin American and Latino/a studies and a field-shaping series in Asian American studies. We’ve been recognized for publishing award-winning titles in urban studies, political science, and gender and sexuality studies. And we have the premiere list of titles on Philadelphia and the region, from arts and culture to history and sports and more.

The titles in this catalog are built upon the strengths of our past. They in turn lay the groundwork for our next 50 years. If past is prologue, our future looks bright. Here’s to 50 more years!—MARY ROSE MUCCIE,  Director


Highlights from the Spring Catalog include: 
contested_image_smThomas Eakins’ 1875 painting, The Gross Clinic, the Rocky Statue, and the Barnes Foundation are all iconic in Philadelphia for different reasons. But around the year 2000, this painting, this sculpture, and this entire art collection, respectively, generated extended—and heated—controversies about the “appropriate” location for each item. Contested Image revisits the debates that surrounded these works of visual culture and how each item changed through acts of reception—through the ways that viewers looked at, talked about, and used these objects to define their city.

Laura Holzman investigates the negotiations and spirited debates that affected the city of Philadelphia’s identity and its public image. She considers how the region’s cultural resources reshaped the city’s reputation as well as delves into discussions about official efforts to boost local spirit. In tracking these “contested images,” Holzman illuminates the messy process of public envisioning of place and the ways in which public dialogue informs public meaning of both cities themselves and the objects of urban identity.


getting_away_from_it_all_smVacations are a delimited period during which social rules and responsibilities are eased, removed, or shifted, and people have increased autonomy over what they choose to do. Recent trends in the travel industry emphasize the appeal of vacations for voluntary identity changes—when bankers can become bikers for a week or when “Momcations” allow mothers to leave their families behind. But how do our vacations allow us to shape our identity?

Getting Away from It All is a study of individuality and flexibility and the intersection of self-definition and social constraint. Karen Stein interviews vacationers about their travels and down time, focusing on “identity transitions.” She shows how objects, settings, temporal environments and social interactions limit or facilitate identity shifts, and how we arrange our vacations to achieve the shifts we desire. Stein also looks at the behavior, values, attitudes, and worldview of individuals to illuminate how people engage in either identity work or identity play.

Vacations say a lot about individuals. They signal class and economic standing and reveal aspirations and goals. Getting Away from It All insists that vacations are about more than just taking time off to relax and rejuvenate—they are about having some time to work on the person one wants to be.


in_the_weeds_smMore and more states are legalizing marijuana in some form. Moreover, a majority of the U.S. population is in favor of legalizing the drug for recreational use. In the Weeds looks at how our society has become more permissive in the past 150 years—even though marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug by the American government.

Sociologists Clayton Mosher and Scott Akins take a deep dive into marijuana policy reform, looking at the incremental developments and the historical, legal, social, and political implications of these changes. They investigate the effects, medicinal applications, and possible harms of marijuana. In the Weeds also considers arguments that youth will be heavy users of legalized cannabis, and shows how “weed” is demonized by exaggerations of the drug’s risks and claims that it lacks medicinal value. Mosher and Akins end their timely and insightful book by tracing the distinct paths to the legalization of recreational marijuana in the United States and other countries as well as discussing what the future of marijuana law holds.


the_palestinian_idea_061818_smIs there a link between the colonization of Palestinian lands and the enclosing of Palestinian minds? The Palestinian Idea argues that it is precisely through film and media that hope can occasionally emerge amidst hopelessness, emancipation amidst oppression, freedom amidst apartheid. Greg Burris employs the work of Edward W. Said, Jacques Rancière, and Cedric J. Robinson in order to locate Palestinian utopia in the heart of the Zionist present.

He analyzes the films of prominent directors Annemarie Jacir ( Salt of This Sea, When I Saw You) and Hany Abu-Assad ( Paradise Now) to investigate the emergence and formation of Palestinian identity. Looking at Mais Darwazah’s documentary My Love Awaits Me By the Sea, Burris considers the counterhistories that make up the Palestinian experience—stories and memories that have otherwise been obscured or denied. He also examines Palestinian (in)visibility in the global media landscape, and how issues of Black-Palestinian transnational solidarity are illustrated through social media, staged news spectacles, and hip hop music.

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