angry penguin


Scritturare (engage)

Brian Alleyne's weblog on culture, politics, and technology

Trials of a Linux Geek in Academia, 2011
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New Year, so I thought, why not give the old Linux a try as the day to day system? A question I have asked myself dozens of times since encountering Linux for the first time n 2001. As always, compared to working on a PC or a Mac, it is all about compromise. The basics that I need for my work - Word processor, browser, reference management, presentation software and mind mapping, all work okay. But my specialist personal journal software, LifeJournal, does not run, even in Wine, nor does Nvivo, which is essential for my research. So, I begin the year jumping between two laptops. I know about dual booting, but I like to have one OS in control of the entire machine. As over the past few years, problems with display drivers and  sound remain. And, no games, not even with the emulation layer. Sometimes I wonder why I bother with Linux, especially since I am not bothered about the supposed political benefits of Free Software  (which I have researched in-depth).

2011, far from being the year of Linux for me, is going to be, as usual, the year of compromise and sticking to Windows part time.

My dysfunctional Linux desktop:

My LInux KDE desktop

All that you wanted to know about hackers, but were afraid to ask …
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Here is my just-completed paper on hackers. I wanted to take a broad view of hacking, and to dispel a few myths. I wrote this paper partly as an attempt to integrate two sides of my life history: as a geek and hacker, and as a sociologist/anthropologist. This is the version as submitted to a sociology journal.

Comments are welcome!

What does globalisation have to do with multiculturalism anyway?
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What does globalisation have to do with multiculturalism? A great deal it turns out especially when we consider that global inequality is racialised, gendered and spatialised. Given the defensive character of many ethnic/religious identity movements from the majority world, from whose perspective power and better life chances seem the preserve of a minority of mostly white-majority nations, a more just international order may go some way toward addressing the problems to which multiculturalism is a woefully inadequate answer. Rejection of the norms of liberal democracy in Western society by some ethnic minority groups is clearly connected to the reality of Western hegemony in the wider world system. Yet, Western governments, especially those in the US and UK, continue to think about culture clashes mainly in terms of what happens within their own national borders. Despite evidence to the contrary, they apparently fail to see that social and political justice for excluded social groups must be equalised across national boundaries. They remain wedded to notions of fixed cultural boundaries, which is why they must repeatedly deny that the war against terror is a war against Islam, and assert that it is a war between civilisation and its other.

Second extract from ‘Global Issues: a user guide’.

The trials of multiculturalism
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This is the first extract from my book in progress, ‘Global Issues: a user guide’. This is from a chapter on culture under globalisation. I have omitted reference to academic literature, as the book is intended for a general audience. The book will have guides to further reading, however.

A key question posed by this book is: How do we recognise group boundaries and collective identities without reifying them? I will explore this question, which, though framed theoretically, has real political and indeed practical implications. In this regard we need to consider the conditions under which groups and boundaries emerge, the political and social conditions surrounding these emergences and how they are located in specific histories and geographies. The general refusal by both dominant and subordinate groups, in the name of essences, to acknowledge these specifics and contingencies is part of what I want to consider. In considering the how and why of this refusal I provisionally assert that it is seen to be in the interest of both dominant and dominated ethnic groups to hold fast to group boundaries. Fixed notions of ethnic belonging and otherness have been defining ways of understanding ourselves throughout the modern era, and will prove difficult to go beyond. But go beyond we must, if we are to live peacefully in a complex globalised world, because the more we define ourselves though difference, the less we seem to be able to hold on to some notion of a common humanity.

Dominant ideas of ethnic and cultural difference, and ideas of multiculturalism built on them, especially as these are articulated in the western parts of the world system, are inflexible and ahistorical, that is to say, they deny history. They are among my targets in this book. I will show that while such ideas and policies are ostensibly intended to aid in the construction of shared democratic public spheres, they in many cases become obstacles to achieving that very aim. They are fundamentally flawed, in part because the creation of multiculturalism and its various communities emerges from a stable normative majority identity that is substantively and residually colonialist/dominating in form and operation.

In the case of Britain the self-congratulatory official British tolerance for its ethnic communities at home contrasts with what can only be described as residually racist approach to migration issues, which can be accounted for by reference to the history of British imperial creation and management of plural societies. In France as well, current social problems around minority groups echo a colonial past. In late 2005 France saw widespread civil unrest in many of its cities, involving mainly the children of black and brown migrants, who, despite France’s official policies of integration, felt themselves an excluded and persecuted minority. Many spoke of a crisis for French society. As in Britain, the political and cultural elite in France appear to hold a highly self-congratulatory view of their Republic’s universalistic ideas and practices of citizenship, which are seen to transcend race and ethnic division in the making of the French citizen. Whatever the respective merits of the contrasting notions of British liberal tolerance and French civic republican integration, in both Britain and France there remain real problems of social exclusion along class-inflected ethnic lines, often but not always racialised and spatialised. Neither society has been able to offer their minority populations social and political equality. Nor has either society has fully admitted responsibility for the present consequences of an imperial past. Both societies have seen the recent rise of radical Islamic movements as well as a resurgence of xenophobia in some sections of their white majorities. Neither society seems able to come up with an adequate working model of social integration, whether liberal or republican: in response, commentators in both societies call for more sophisticated ideas and policies of multiculturalism, but mainstream thought and policies continue to hold on to unsophisticated (though perhaps self-serving) notions of racialised ethnic communities.

A few modest proposals for global humanity in 2011
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1. Why we need a Tobin Tax

Global humanity requires global economic justice. I am thinking here of something akin to a global tax on financial transactions, the proceeds of which would go towards a global development fund. That fund would be democratically managed on behalf of the poorer sections of the global population.

2. Why we need Open Technologies

Global humanity requires attacking the global information and technology divide. We can draw on the ideas and practices of the Free Software and Open Source movement to build a more democratic and inclusive model of producing and communicating knowledge.

3. Open Borders

Global humanity requires a more just set of policies to govern the movement of people. Movement should not be the privilege solely of the wealthy. People should be as free to move as capital. Or both should be restricted in a way that is fair to all concerned.

4. Reparations

Global humanity requires redress for past injustice. I do not share the sectarian focus of the African Diaspora reparations movement, which sometimes articulates a politics of resentment and promoting a competition of oppression. I do, however, assert the need for economic polices that recognise that many millions have paid a high price for economic progress, the fruits which are unevenly distributed. Debt relief for the poorest countries is one of the best ways to begin redress. Such relief must be substantive and not token.

A common humanity?

Back to the ideal and utopian: Kant's early ideas on cosmopolitanism frame the proposal that we need to imagine a cosmopolitanism fit for our times, one free from the ethnocentrism that has characterised it in Western discourse. Just a few things to think about in 2011.

New Year Anti-resolutions
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So, it is the first year of the second decade of a new century. Having come to the realisation that, as a grumpy middle-aged bloke, I am now in the second half of the game known as ‘My Life’, I need to refine my grand strategy. That means some major rethinking. I will begin with the ever-popular New Year resolutions.

In the past, I often made resolutions and generally did not stick to them. I now realise that this was because these resolutions required me to do things, to be positive. Having seen the light, it’s time to change tactics and make some anti-resolutions. These are not about things to do; rather they are about things not to do, or more specifically, about things that one should not worry too much about. So here goes.


  1. Not to suffer fools. having always been a polite person, and never wanting to offend people, I have ended up listening to far too many idiotic comments. What is left of my own life is too short to put up with this: so, on things on which I believe I am correct, I will not be wasting time listening to other views. This applies most to social situations, but obviously not to my professional life Smile.
  2. Not to to buy into the consensus obsession.  This one applies to the political situation in the UK: The constant seeking of consensus by the British political class simply results in the powerful maintaining their position at the expense of the rest of us. So, this year I am going to be open about my political antagonisms.
  3. Not to pay any attention to other persons’ inflated sense of their own importance. This especially applies to the tedious rubbish that people trot out in talking about their ‘national identities’. So, this year I will be treating all articulations of ‘national character’, in informal social situations, with the contempt they deserve.

And finally, not to be shy about being a planetary humanist. This means being clear that anyone who cannot grasp the notion of common humanity is either uninformed or malign.

So for me 2011 is going to a year of less tolerance.

We waited ten days for this?
angry penguin

So we finally have the LibCon proposals on civil liberties. There is little that is civil or libertarian here. It is the same old narcissim and selfishness that is typical of the political class in the UK as elsewhere in the Western world.  What a shame.

The obsession with banning ID cards is a smoke screen that covers up the massive survelliance powers of the UK state: cameras and GHCQ eavesdropping, etc ... [given that ID cards exists in many other European states, and have never been shown to be more detrimental to individual liberty than other forms of state collection and storage of information].  The Big Lie revolves around withdrawing ID cards in order to preserve civil liberties. The truth is that ID cards are NOT necessary for the UK state to maintain its surveillance apparatus. And what does it mean to 'regulate' surveillance cameras? And of course the fly in the ointment about holding data is that we have little insight into the decision making at the GCHQ about who is a reasonable object of surveillance. This is a transparent device to maintain one of the world's most efficient state security apparatuses while pretending to expand  or restore civil liberties.

As to that shameful xenophobic cap on non-EU migrants, you can bet it DOES NOT in practice include US, Canadian, Australian and NZ citizens; and it DOES in practice include people from the places that have suffered most under global capitalism: Africa, Latin America, South Asia.

This is a transparent device to maintain Global Apartheid.... Shame on you, Clegg for going along with this.

Read the document here.

Time to end Global Apartheid
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Global Apartheid is seen in division of global space through border controls that work to restrict the freedom of movement of people (mostly of colour) from the majority world, while enhancing the movement of people from the rich minority world. Border controls serve to separate the gobal majority from the resources which would potentially transform their lives. The end of the European empires has in retrospect led often to the the newly independent nation states becming very much like the Bantustans under the old South African regime: holding areas for the surplus population masquerading as indpendent homelands.

Borders serve to preserve wealth and power behind national boundaries of advanced capitalist states and to ensure the continuance of an unjust global order. The dominant neo-liberal ideology of globalisation asks us to forget that large-scale economic migration is crucially important in Europe's history and making of the so-called ‘new world’.  It is seen by the increasingly right-wing governments and elites of western societies to be not in their interest to engage with abstract ideas of global systemic democracy; instead they fall back on narrow and narrowly self-interested nationalistic and xenophobic politics. Thus the majority of the victims of rampant globalisation must absorb the restrictions and deprivations of border controls while the privileged minority of the world’s population can travel freely for business and leisure. The situation represents injustice on a global scale.  As Keith Hart has argued, the  contemporary world system is very much like the ancien regime of prerevolutionary France , then as now the elite could not imagine any circumstances whatsoever under which any legitimate claims could be made for more just distribution of resources.  The global ten percent elite, like the pre-Revolutionary French aristocracy, have elaborated through their own organic intellectuals a fully thought through system which justifies the state of things.  Moreover, they have institutions, resources and ultimately power on their side, and are unlikely to yield up that power easily. Nonetheless, given the impracticality of completely fortifying the wealthy parts of the world, the demographic impact of birth rates in rich nations and the need for labour, as well as the injustice of a global system of apartheid, some way of more fairly sharing the world’s resources is called for. In this regard Nigel Harris and others have argued that, contrary to popular belief, everyone can be better off with more open borders. It just may be time to think the unthinkable.

Keith Hart, World Society as an Old Regime.

Review of Laura Chrisman's Postcolonial contraventions
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Laura Chrisman, Postcolonial contraventions: cultural readings of race, imperialism and transnationalism.  Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2003. ISBN 0719058287, I-viii, 200pp.



This book is a collection of critical essays covering the broad area of postcolonial studies. In three main sections on ‘Imperialism’, Transnationalism and race’, and ‘Postcolonial theoretical politics’, Chrisman presents some eleven essays on the work of Joseph Conrad, Edward Said, Paul Gilroy, David Lloyd and Benita Parry, among others.  Chrisman employs  historicist and materialist readings, allied to a consistent engagement with anti-colonial nationalism; at the same time she avoids the reductionism which can sometimes follow from such critical strategies. Chrisman rejects the formalist distinction between materialist and culturalist readings, while at the same time arguing for taking the materialist aspects of postcolonial studies as fundamental to the field. Chrisman ranges over many texts and authors and it would be impossible to deal with each in a short review.  We can get a good sense of her  reading strategy from her discussion of Paul Gilroy’s work and her reading of British publishers’ marketing  representations of writing under Apartheid by black and white South African women.

In her reading of Gilroy Chrisman sees him as taking too narrow a view of labour in his 1987 There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack, of not seeing possibilities for creativity in labour. By not engaging with the long history of organised black labour struggle, Gilroy constructs black oppositional cultural politics as labour’s opposite; the black worker then becomes a super-exploited being for whom autonomy must be sought in time outside work,  in expressive culture. This reading is consistent with Gilroy’s attack on the antiracist politics of the organised Left in Britain in the 1970s and early 1980s, an attack turning on that Left’s rejection of race as a basis for identity and political organisation/struggle.

Following from her critique of Gilroy’s binary opposition between labour and black freedom/autonomy (which he might argue is an ‘anti-economism’),  Chrisman returns to this point in her reading of his highly-influential 1983 work, The Black Atlantic. She sees Gilroy as being overly anti-nationalist and not taking on board the full implications of organised class and nationalist struggles in the  making the modern Black Atlantic. She then traces the influence of Gilroy on several critics who, in her view, are vulnerable to these same points of critique.

There is some considerable force to her argument. Gilroy does open The Black Atlantic by stating that he will not focus on the two best known intellectual-activists of that space – CLR James and Frantz Fanon. This disclaimer makes sense in light of Gilroy’s project to develop a theoretically complex understanding of the Black Atlantic as a social-cultural and historical representation. James was a classical Marxist and thus materialist; Gilroy would have been driven by the logic of his own project to stake out a terrain distinct from James’ grand narratives of the pivotal role of black labour and anticolonial struggles in the making of the modern Atlantic. This could account in part for Gilroy’s emphasis on politics as expressive culture, where James saw politics as organised class struggle conditioned by culture. These points do not in any way invalidate the incisiveness of Chrisman’s critique, if we see her as seeking to strike a new balance of engagement based on the premise that Gilroy has distanced himself too much from the history of black Atlantic labour and nationalist struggles.


In her analysis of how writing by South African women under Apartheid has been positioned by mainstream English publishers, Chrisman again wields a materialist scalpel. She shows the publishers’ marketing constructions of that writing  to be strictly raced and classed. In her reading of publishers’ blurbs, she shows that white South African women authors  were constructed as the definitive revolutionary witnesses/subjects, while their black women compatriots were passively portrayed as carriers of a supposedly authentic black culture. We might note that the latter representation brings to mind established classical anthropological conventions  of separating ‘Westerners’ from others.

The English element of white South African society has always portrayed itself as more liberal and tolerant than the Afrikaners, even though, as veteran South African journalist Alistair Sparks as argued, English South Africans were in many instances integral to the structuring of Apartheid, as well as being beneficiaries of its unjust workings. For the metropolitan reading public, especially in the UK, publishers sought to draw on and reinforce the differentiation of liberal Anglo South Africans from reactionary Afrikaners. Thereby, a seamless space of enlightened Anglo liberalism is maintained. Chrisman is here materialist in the strict sense of arguing that structures of publishing and marketing work to construct South African women authors  in a way that supports metropolitan presumptions of enlightened tolerance and gestures toward an idealistic multiculturalism. It must be said that this positioning is, in Chrisman’s discussion,  analytically distinct from the positions of particular South African women, black or white, and the politics of their writing under Apartheid.

In broader terms, Chrisman’s reading of the reception of South African literature can be taken as a critique of metropolitan liberal identity politics, especially its drawing selectively on postcolonial literature to construct cultural difference. A significant implication that runs across the collection of essays is that it is not enough to be fascinated by putative cultural difference, it is necessary to go further to see some of these differences as structured in a hierarchical global political economy.

Chrisman sees postcolonial studies as essential to broader historically-informed  understanding of our political present. She demonstrates the viability of injecting a political realism into the burgeoning critical enterprise of postcolonial studies, thereby suggesting connections to movements and projects outside the academy. For Chrisman a strictly ‘culturalist’ or  a ‘textualist’ emphasis in postcolonial studies runs the risk of falling into an idealism that is apolitical; this has too often been the case in University departments. Said and Spivak, as two leading figures in the field , long advocated a close engagement of the theoretical-critical with the historical. Chrisman has made just such an engagement from the perspective of a critic. If the book has a flaw, it is that it feels too short overall, covering so much ground that it is quite dense in places. Chrisman is to be commended for an energetic demonstration  of the value of connecting the history and politics of organized anticolonial and nationalist struggle to the expanding field of postcolonial criticism.


The Greek Tragedy
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Greece is an easy target. How are the accusers doing?


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