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Newsletter 58

December 2001

  1. Tokyo IUAES Inter-Congress 2002
  2. Florence IUAES Congress 2003
  3. The Body as a Medium of Meaning: Call for Papers
    by Soheila Shahshahani
  4. Three New IUAES Commissions
  5. The 2001 Göttingen Inter-Congress: A Personal Impression
    by Rivke Jaffe
  6. Urban Encounters between Nomadic and Sedentary People: Call for Papers
    by Swetlana Tcherwonnaja and Freek Colombijn
  7. UNESCO Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Culture
    by Peter J.M. Nas
  8. Durban 2001: Imagining a Global Community United against Racism
    by Faye V. Harrison

1. Tokyo IUAES Inter-Congress 2002

The preparations for the IUAES Inter-Congress in Tokyo 22-27 September 2002 are well under way. The Anthropological Society of Nippon and the Japanese Society of Ethnology will organise this Inter-Congress on the Human Body in Anthropological Perspectives. A call for papers has been launched and a folder distributed. Information can be acquired at www.the-convention.co.jp/inter2002 or via fax 81-3-3423-4108.

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2. Florence IUAES Congress 2003

Information on the Florence Congress to be held on 5-12 July 2003 can be obtained from www.icaes-florence2003.com. A list of 40 panels proposed by IUAES commissions and members has been accumulated. As this is the IUAES world congress the organisation of the panels has begun at an early stage. The general organiser is Professor B. Chiarelli, XV ICAES, Institute of Anthropology and Ethnology, Via del Proconsolo 12, 50122 Florence, Italy. Fax. +39-055-283358, e-mail: secretariat@icaes-florence2003.com.

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3. The Body as a Medium of Meaning: Call for Papers

by Soheila Shahshahani

At the Tokyo Inter-Congress 2002 one session on the Body as a Medium of Meaning, a Mediator between Nature, Culture and Society’ will be organised under the auspices of the Commission on Urban Anthropology. In this session on the human body, we would like to consider the meaning given to the human body by various cultures. A study of lexicon, expressions, proverbs, poetry and cosmology is revealing of the meanings and aesthetics related to the body and body parts in stasis or movement. Movement in every part of the body brings about completely different meanings as hands in various gestures, feet in different gaits, eyes in different expressions. The climax of movement is seen in dance or sports. Attention is paid differently by gender and age to the body and its various parts. As bodily changes mark different periods of one's life, cultural supplements, i.e. hairstyles, cosmetics, clothing and jewellery show these changes with more emphasis to the public eye. Formation of a culture is seen as a relationship between mother and child, through bodily presence of the latter for the former. Later in life, the body becomes a medium for teaching various concepts. Grooming, perhaps the most archaic form of relationship between two hominoids is observed among humans in informal sectors. In the formal sector, self-presentation is under various norms and regulations. In dreams, the body and body parts have different meanings. The dead body has its own importance related to pollution, respect and cosmology of a culture. The modern world has changed the perception of the body and studies have been made of fragmentation and commodification of the body and body parts, and new biotechnologies of the commodified body has brought about various cultural responses. Each participant is invited to choose from the topics presented for this session and to offer a cultural or cross-cultural study.

Please contact: Soheila Shahshahani, Shahid Beheshti University. Address: 19585-193, Tehran, Iran. Telephone and fax 098 21 254 7465, e-mail: soheila@kanoon.net.

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4. Three New IUAES Commissions

During the IUAES Permanent Council Meeting of 19 July 2001 in Göttingen, Germany, three new commissions were ratified, namely the Commission on Bioethics, the Commission on Children and Childhood and the Commission on the Anthropology of Mathematics.

The Commission on Bioethics is chaired by Charles Susanne (www.vub.ac.be/gst/ eaa). The Commission thinks that a new ethics is urgently needed, which faces without dogmatism the problems related to the precarious equilibrium between Man and the other elements of Nature. With the development of biotechnology, biologists are repeating the experiences of physicists with atomic power, and ethnologists with the use of their research by colonial regimes. The Commission aims at implementing research and education on the ethical problems which have arisen by the ongoing developments in the Life Sciences and Technologies.

The Commission on Children, Youth and Childhood is chaired by Deepak Kumar Behera (dkb@cal2.vsnl.net.in). According to the Commission it need hardly be stated that children are an important section of the human population and that they have needs and rights of their own and that they also have unique characteristics and faculties lacking in adults. Anthropology has often focused on the status of children as proto-adults, as the object of socialisation and child-rearing practices, as non-agentive language learners or as conservators and transmitters of childhood-related folk-traditions. Anthropologists have scarcely recognised the fact that at least some children are capable of exercising effective leadership over whole communities, and that great technological, social and cultural innovations often begin in the minds of children. While understanding that to romanticise or idealise children is as fallacious as to ignore their distinctive humanity, the Commission considers that the importance of children as social and cultural agents has not only been ignored, but positively denied by many members of the anthropological discipline.

The Commission on the Anthropology of Mathematics is chaired by Paul Dixon (dixon@hawaii.edu and www.uhh.hawaii.edu). This Commission will use the understanding inherent in theoretical anthropology to advance the acquisition of mathematical skills. The theoretical underpinnings describing our understanding of signs, symbols and the components of mathematics communicated within different cultural settings will provide the basis for the work of this commission. Nowadays computer-based methods of communication are becoming the preferred and necessary modes of communication. Entrance into computer-based communication literacy is dependent on mathematics, which has become the truly universal language of modern science.

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5. The 2001 Göttingen Inter-Congress: A Personal Impression

by Rivke Jaffe

This past July I attended the IUAES conference ‘Exploitation and Overexploitation in Societies Past and Present’ in Göttingen, Germany. This was the first time I had visited such an event, and I was both excited and a little nervous beforehand. I was afraid I would feel out of place as I was one of the youngest participants and also had no formal position as an anthropologist; the Ph.D. position I have now had not yet been confirmed. I also felt some trepidation about presenting the paper I had written with my supervisor, Dr. P.J.M. Nas, in front of so many professionals.

The day before the congress started, I arrived in Göttingen after a long train ride and made my way to my expensive but slightly bourgeois hotel. In the morning, the whole breakfast room was filled with anthropologists, and sometimes their partners, and I had some difficulty eating, listening and talking at the same time.

As soon as the conference lectures and meetings started, I felt more relaxed and also less conspicuous. There turned out to be more people my age, though most of them were students at Göttingen’s university and were not presenting papers themselves. At the same time, everybody seemed to know each other from previous congresses and people were greeting each other warmly. I was interested in seeing how all these anthropologists and ethnologists behaved as a group, and whether I would feel at home amongst them. The atmosphere was quite informal and all nationalities - Dutch, German, British, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, American, Mexican, Iranian and many more - seemed to mingle equally. The lectures themselves were mainly quite interesting, as many were related to my specialisation of Environment and Development. At the same time, some lectures seemed a little off the mark, considering the conference’s theme; or the speaker’s points were rather controversial, which sometimes led to lively debate. The appropriately dubbed ‘low-energy’ presentations, without the use of slides, overhead sheets, or PowerPoint, were often just as impressive or more so than those using these aids.

The conference dinner was also fascinating; culturally differing forms of eating habits or table manners became apparent, with so many different nationalities at one table (for instance, Germans don’t drink coffee after their meal – shocking!). As time passed and wine flowed, diners became more familiar and it was quite a jolly affair.

The presentation I gave went quite well and I was very pleased to find that there were more persons involved or interested in my topic, which was garbage (or rather, solid waste management); I even made a little business transaction which involved the sale of my Masters thesis for 20 DM.

All in all, while the intellectual contents of the conference was interesting and at times of practical use to me, the social aspects were at least as entertaining and helpful – which, I suspect, is a main motive for visiting conferences. The obligatory ‘networking’ turned out to be quite fun, and I met many people I would like to see again.

In conclusion, this experience turned out to be not only educative but also entertaining. And though some aspects of the culture of anthropological conferences may require some acclimatisation, I hope to be present at the next one, Tokyo 2002.

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6. Urban Encounters between Nomadic and Sedentary People: Call for Papers

by Swetlana Tcherwonnaja and Freek Colombijn

The international workshop ‘Urban Encounters between Nomadic and Sedentary People’ under the auspices of the IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples and the IUAES Commission on Urban Anthropology will take place in Teberda (Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkasskaya, Russian Federation) 12-16 June 2002.

Nomadic populations have a subsistence strategy based on moving in regular paths in search of pasture and other natural resources during a year. Depending upon the weather and custom, the path and time of transhumance is defined. Their activity consists of herding and agriculture, some hunting, fishing and gathering of honey, and wild plants. Nomads also engage in barter or commerce with peasants and urban populations. The second half of the 20th century has witnessed sedentarisation of nomads to a great extent for politico-military reasons, and centralised health care and education have also been mentioned as preoccupations for sedentarisation.

Research has continued on pastoral nomads, however marginalised they have become. But the populations who have faced urbanisation have not become the focus of attention. Some have been very successful and some have not. Sometimes nomads are forced to adopt a sedentary lifestyle although their worldview continues to be based on a nomadic life. The relationship between nomads and urbanites is characterised by a mixture of adaptation, co-operation, suspicion, trust and conflict. We find this encounter to be a neglected area of research.

For this symposium we seek papers that address the cultural, political, or economic aspects of the encounter. The relationship can be approached from the perspective of nomadic or of sedentary peoples, or the perspectives of both groups may be juxtaposed. The language at the symposium will be English.

The symposium is held under the auspices of the Commission on Nomadic People and the Commission on Urban Anthropology. Please send your proposal for a paper to one of the convenors before 1 March 2002. For Russian participants: Professor Swetlana Tcherwonnaja, P.O. 108, Box 2, 121108 Moscow, Russia (czervona@aha.ru). For non-Russian participants: Dr. Soheila Shahshahani, B.P. 19585-193, Tehran, Iran, soheila@kanoon.net or Dr. Freek Colombijn (f.colombijn@let.leidenuniv.nl).

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7. UNESCO Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Culture

by Peter J.M. Nas

On May 18, 2001 the first UNESCO Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity took place in Paris. Nineteen cases of traditional cultural expressions were awarded this status. These masterpieces are extremely varied, covering all sorts of socio-cultural phenomena ranging from theater and music to folklore and traditional royal and popular rituals. UNESCO has become famous for protecting world heritage, particularly important monuments, but also archaeological sites and landscapes. From now on UNESCO is explicitly including in its policy masterpieces of oral and intangible culture that are endangered, but deserve to be protected for future generations The objective of this new UNESCO program is to encourage the identification, preservation and promotion of outstanding cultural expressions. Governments, NGOs and local communities are stimulated to take care of the cultural depository of peoples, comprising language, literature, music, dance, games, mythology, rituals, customs, handicrafts, architecture and other arts, as well as traditional forms of communication and information. This is a very important program for anthropology, implying firm recognition of cultural expressions on international level. The IUAES at the request of the International Science Council and UNESCO has played a major role in reviewing the proposals for the international Jury who had to select the expressions. The American journal Current Anthropology will publish a Forum article on the UNESCO Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Culture program in February 2002.

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8. Durban 2001: Imagining a Global Community United against Racism

by Faye V. Harrison

Countdown! It was mid-August, and I was scheduled to leave for South Africa within days. There were still a few members of my group who had not got the final word on their accommodations from the Durban travel agency booking hotel rooms for those attending the UN’s World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (WCAR) and its parallel NGO Forum scheduled to begin four days before the start, and about a week before the close, of the inter-governmental event. I myself had been just as anxious about my own situation before my room assignment came through two weeks earlier. On at least three mornings I had arisen well before sunrise to make international phone calls to the travel agent assigned to my account. Between those early morning calls and many exchanges of email, I managed to arrange for four colleagues and myself to room together in the same bed and breakfast in a residential area seven miles from the city centre. The rest of our group of twelve would eventually be booked in hotels and guest houses all over Durban and well beyond it. Even those of us who had to commute across considerable distances to reach Kingsmead Cricket Stadium and the several other venues for the WCAR NGO Forum felt that travelling to Durban – South Africa’s major Indian Ocean port, a vibrant multicultural urban area in KwaZulu-Natal and home to the Indian diaspora’s largest community – was well worth it. It was worth the trouble of long shuttle bus rides, slow queues for registration and fast ones for the first-come-first-served distribution of day passes for the more restricted events, overheated computers unable to access proof of fee payment once registrants finally made it to the end of those long lines, potentially dangerous crowds pushing to gain entry into the stadium through narrow security/detection devices, well-intentioned but often clueless and disoriented teenaged volunteers enlisted to guide us through the labyrinthine confusion, and schedule and venue changes without sufficiently publicised forewarning. These everyday occurrences, however annoying, were petty inconveniences when balanced against all that we gained from our experience at the forum and, in my case, at both the forum and the conference.

After months of planning and co-ordination, which in part involved applying for funding and administering a small individual travel grant from the Ford Foundation, everything finally fell into place for us. We were an international group of anthropologists and allied social scientists and community activists who participated in a two-part workshop (‘Interlocking Dimensions of Difference and Power in Human Rights Conflicts: Racism in Culturally-Diverse Gendered Experiences’) sponsored by the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences’ (IUAES) Commission on the Anthropology of Women. I have chaired this unit of the IUAES since 1993. Among other things, the Commission sponsors symposia at international conferences, most notably the International Congresses of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (ICAES) which take place every five years. In 1993 the 13th ICAES was in Mexico City. Five years later, the 14th ICAES was convened in Williamsburg, Virginia, where the Commission sponsored a five-day, ten-session Symposium on Women and Gender. The success of those sessions inspired Esther Njiro, a Kenyan anthropologist now based in South Africa, and Jan Delacourt, an Australian anthropologist working as an independent researcher in Italy, to commit themselves to the Commission’s work. Over the past three years Esther has served as the co-chair and Jan as the secretary and e-newsletter editor. Together with a small core of other anthropologists, we have managed to sustain a line of communication across national boundaries, largely through cyberspatial flows of information, ideas, and plans for activities such as the IUAES workshops at the WCAR NGO Forum in South Africa.

My recent research and longstanding personal/political interests in racism, anti-racism, and human rights led me to organise our Durban ‘01 workshops. I began the process by requesting the IUAES Executive Committee’s permission for me to represent the organisation at the WCAR. The IUAES, like the International Women’s Anthropology Conference (IWAC), has consultative status with the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council. Because of being on the secretary-general’s Roster, it is authorised to participate in UN conferences and the preparatory conferences leading up to them. At its July 2000 inter-congress in Beijing, the IUAES appointed me its official representative and facilitated my acquisition of the necessary credentials for attending the conference. In the January 2001 edition of Anthropology News, the ABA unit news column (‘What Black Anthropologists Are Doing,’ page 47) included a description of my recent work on human rights and my intent to attend the WCAR. The article also called for others to join me. Only two people responded, but within a couple of months I recruited nearly 20 potential participants from all over the world, and over two more months my original skeletal idea for a session on the international human rights consequences of race’s intersections with gender and other salient axes of inequality and power crystallised into a more substantive project with the potential to result in a major publication that would contribute to human rights education and the rapidly growing body of knowledge on race and racism.

I submitted an ambitious proposal for a three-part session featuring an exciting set of papers presented from a variety of cultural, national, and transnational perspectives –including the perspectives of indigenous and other racially marked positionalities. Of the people who submitted abstracts, only twelve were able to travel to South Africa to participate in what came to be a dynamic two-part workshop that was enthusiastically received. A few days later, a children’s rights lawyer from Berkeley, California came up to me to tell me that she enjoyed our workshop, which according to her was the best she had attended at the whole forum. That positive feedback made my day – my week! – and I eagerly shared it with my colleagues and friends whose collaboration had made the workshop a success. My co-presenters were anthropologists Helen Safa (US), Subhadra Mitra Channa (India), Yasuko Takezawa (Japan), Esther Njiro (Kenya/South Africa), Jan Delacourt (Australia/Italy), Melissa Hargrove (US), and Camille Hazeur (US); our sister social scientists and human rights activists were feminist economist Devaki Jain (India), women’s studies/sociology of development scholar Philomina Okeke (Nigeria/Canada), Australian Aboriginal community activists Ruth Bonser and her sister Maria Pedersen, and, last but not least, US Department of Education officer and diversity trainer, Diana Hayman.

The IUAES was among the more than 200 non-governmental organisations that organised workshops for the forum, which also featured impressive opening and closing ceremonies, addresses by dignitaries and celebrities, plenaries, panels, roundtables, meetings of more than 40 caucuses and thematic commissions, and cultural activities and performances. Beyond the official program were hundreds of colourful, information-rich exhibits, informal gatherings in regional and thematic tents (probably the most vibrant being the Youth Tent), and spontaneous as well as choreographed demonstrations, rallies, and musical performances on the grounds encircling the cricket stadium, which was the main venue for the Forum. There were also anti-racist and trade union-led anti-privatisation marches in the city centre, a film festival featuring an impressive selection of South African and African cinematography, and musical concerts and dance/theatrical performances. There were a number of parallel conferences and summits that preceded, accompanied, and followed the forum and conference. Among these were the remarkable Youth Summit that convened two days before the NGO Forum and, immediately following it, the UN Research Institute for Social Development’s (UNRISD) conference on ‘Racism and Policy,’ in which anthropologists Rudolfo Stavenhagen (Mexico), Bernard Ben Magubane (South Africa), and Kwesi Prah (Ghana/South Africa) participated. Other anthropologists who were in Durban for the forum and conference were Niara Sudarkasa (US), Leith Mullings (US), George Ulrich (Denmark), and graduate student Dawn Fischer Banks (US).

In the context of such rich and diverse activities, Durban 2001 provided wonderful opportunities to meet people from all over the world and to learn from their experiences as ‘victims of racism’ (the UN’s language) and agents of struggle and change (my preferred language). The forum and conference provided an intensive learning experience as well as an invaluable chance to network with a wide array of individuals and organisations involved in racially cognisant projects for human rights education and advocacy all over the world. There were delegates from every corner of the globe representing struggles about which many of us were not very well informed–that is, until our ‘continuing education’ in Durban. The most visible and vocal delegations were the Africans and African descendants, Palestinians, Roma, Indian Dalits who emphasised caste oppression’s parallels and equivalence to racism, and activists – mainly women –focusing on racism and xenophobia’s gender-specificity and committed to developing organising strategies informed by the theories of intersectionality and multi-axial matrices of domination that the experience and intellectual interventions of racial minority women in the US and postcolonial feminists have helped to gain intellectual and political currency in feminist scholarship and praxis.

WCAR and its accompanying NGO Forum were organised for the primary purpose of mobilising support from governments and NGOs for continuing – and indeed intensifying – the struggle against racism in its varied forms around world. The fraternal twin meetings’ immediate objective was to finalise the drafting of two sets of policy-relevant documents, declarations and programs of action collaboratively written from multiple and often conflicting perspectives. Each meeting’s documents were the outcome of intense debate, pressures to compromise, and efforts to build some measure of consensus despite disagreements and even polarisation over the most controversial issues–whose controversial character was magnified by the US’s threats and eventual decision to withdraw from the conference. The US action encouraged international media to zoom in on the debates on reparations for transatlantic slavery and colonialism and especially on those concerning the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians. As a consequence of this view of the conference and forum, media coverage tended to neglect the wider range of issues that the Durban events addressed and, I would say, bent over backwards to accommodate in the spirit of participatory democracy, which can be unwieldy and appear chaotic when implemented in the limited time and space of a conference.

More than 3000 NGOs of diverse sorts and political persuasions and over 160 countries were represented at the two events. While the US and Israel refused to allow even their lower level delegations to participate in any official capacity, the conference was graced by the presence of 16 heads of state (including Thabo Mbeki and Fidel Castro), 58 foreign ministers and 44 ministers. Although around 17, 000 people were officially registered, it is estimated that only about 7,000 actually participated in the NGO Forum from August 28-September 1. Around the same number participated in the conference, which spanned from August 31 to September 8, a day beyond the originally scheduled closing. An extra day was needed so that the working groups could resolve disagreements over the language of the most contested paragraphs in the documents. These important statements, which represent potentially significant tools for redirecting policy, were crafted from the input of more than 40 caucuses and thematic commissions that focused on a wide range of concerns related to the problems of specific regions of the world (eg Africa, Asia Pacific, Americas, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean), specific peoples (Africans and African descendants, Arab-Middle East, Dalits, Indigenous peoples, Jewish people, Palestinians, Kurdish, Roma), women (African and African descent women, Indigenous women, Women), children and youth, and numerous content areas such as criminal justice, disability, education, ecumenism, environmental racism, health, HIV/AIDS, labour, media, migration, poverty, reparations, and sexual diversity.

The forum organisers put forth a great deal of effort to be as inclusive as possible, giving diverse and conflicting interest groups the opportunity to be heard, participate in drafting the NGO documents, and contribute to the forum’s lobbying efforts to influence the decisions the delegates to WCAR would make. This attempt to accommodate as many voices and concerns as possible was clearly demonstrated at the morning briefing on the final day of the forum. Grievances were voiced that globalisation and Central and Eastern Europeans had somehow got lost in the cracks and, as a consequence, were omitted from the latest list of caucuses and their assigned venues for the final round of deliberations over the documents. The spokespersons for these two constituencies along with several others claimed that their recommendations for revisions had not been included. As a result of this heated discussion, the globalisation caucus was resurrected and an altogether new caucus devoted specifically to Central and Eastern Europe was established right on the spot to ensure that the concerns of these constituencies would not be overlooked or minimised.

In the end, the NGO declaration and program of action reflected the compromises and the internal and external pressures that inevitably left some parties dissatisfied. When the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, decided against recommending the forum’s documents to WCAR delegates as a building block from which to formulate their own policy statements, many who had participated in the NGO Forum were deeply disappointed and frustrated that even the generic language of compromise and concession was deemed too offensive for some government delegates to accept. The most vocal critics at the forum and conference were Western European allies of the US. Obviously, these countries have the most to lose, for instance, from the international legitimation of reparations claims.

The debate that ensued at WCAR over its documents, line by line, paragraph by paragraph, was equally intense. After debating the pro’s and con’s of particular word usage and phraseology, the working groups responsible for the drafting appointed special ad hoc committees to work through and refine the language of the most troublesome paragraphs. This labour-intensive work extended long past the official closing of each conference day. Members of the drafting committees got little sleep, having to remain on task until the wee hours of the morning and then return to the International Convention Centre a few hours later in the day. It may be significant to note that a considerable number of the seats reserved for delegates were empty during the times I observed the drafting process. Also, when I attended the plenaries to listen to speeches given by delegates and NGO spokespersons, I noticed that most of the delegate seats in the auditorium were vacant. Speakers were addressing primarily the video camera and the NGO gallery, which although not full contained a live audience that responded to the speakers with applause and at special moments standing ovations. One of the most poignant moments was when the delegate from Zimbabwe addressed the plenary. When he expressed his support for reparations, every African and African descendant present stood up. An African American activist working with a mid-western branch of the NAACP told me that when she looked around and saw her counterparts from all over the diaspora and Africa expressing such heartfelt solidarity, she was overwhelmed with emotions and the spirit that reverberated throughout the auditorium.

My observations of the plenaries suggest to me that many government delegates missed the opportunity to learn from and be influenced by what NGOs had to say, and the NGOs were deprived of the opportunity to use the plenaries as an arena for lobbying government officials. The limits of lobbying were also manifest in a meeting organised for the purpose of facilitating an exchange between Latin American delegates and Afro-Latin American NGO activists. Only two government delegates (one of whom left early) were present in a room full of African descendants from Latin American countries in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Where were the other delegates? Did their absence indicate anything about the extent to which they take Afro-Latin Americans seriously and are prepared to represent their interests in WCAR deliberations and in their roles at home? Have the countries that they represent had good track records in complying with international human rights conventions, particularly those that explicitly address the rights of those discriminated against on the basis of race?

The WCAR and WCAR NGO Forum were part of the UN human rights system in which there is an anti-racism instrument, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and a Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination (CERD) dedicated to monitoring compliance to the treaty. Since ICERD took effect in 1969, there have been three world conferences (1978, 1983, 20001) and three decades to combat racism (1973-82, 1983-92, 1993-2002). Although racism is intensifying on a global scale, the UN has had difficulty raising sufficient support for its ICERD-related agenda. The Trust Fund for the third decade’s program of action has not been able to provide adequate finances to underwrite the many activities planned for the Third Decade. The Durban conference did not attract the same level of support from corporations, governments, and foundations that the 1995 International Women’s Conference achieved. Ford and Kellog were exceptions to the unspoken ‘rule’ that seems to have been established over the past thirty years. The US’ decision to withdraw from the conference was consistent with what has become its ‘invented tradition.’ The US refused to participate in both of the earlier conferences, and its lack of compliance with CERD has been documented in a telling ‘political ethnography’ of CERD that one committee member, anthropologist Michael Banton, published (International Action against Racial Discrimination, 1996, Oxford: Clarendon Press).

During the conference, news coverage in both the US and South Africa was daily punctuated by discrediting claims that ‘extremists’ were ‘hijacking’ the meetings. Meanwhile, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, celebrities such as Harry Belefante, and others voiced their criticisms of the US government’s negative assessment of WCAR, whose goal was to produce a 21st century blueprint and set of guidelines for more effective strategies to combat and redress racism and the related intolerances that intersect with it. While not legally binding, world conference platforms for action have political import in that receptive states use them as models for legislative and institutional reform, and activists use them as leveraging tools, a resource for consciousness raising and popular education, and as international standards to which the actions of states and multinational/transnational entities are held accountable. In the eyes of important – but obviously not all – sectors of the international community, the lobbying, compromises, and negotiations that the preparatory conferences and WCAR itself invested in these guidelines for action lend an important degree of legitimacy to the forces of contestation and change whose opposition to racism’s structural and symbolic violence makes them particularly vulnerable to the realpolitik of containment, repression, and in the worst possible cases, socio-political cleansing.

At a moment when anthropologists’ interest in race and racism is being revitalised, it is important for our praxis as researchers and educators to be informed, challenged, and deepened by an ongoing dialogue with the community of human rights advocates. The IUAES Commission group went to Durban because of our belief that social scientific research on race’s intersections with gender, ethnonational identity, and class can benefit from being enriched by the debates, social action, and political mobilisation that occur in arenas of human rights struggle. We also believe that advocacy for the rights of women and racially subordinated people can benefit from the applied knowledge of the human sciences, especially the more holistic, interdisciplinary, and participatory varieties. Anthropologists working on questions of social suffering and injustice can play a major role in this endeavour.

©IUAES