ALHAMEDI, TAWFIQ: QUESTIONING AN ETHNOGRAPHIC TEXT: TOURISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN POST-SOCIALIST ZANZIBAR

Text

Tawfiq Alhamedi, Fall 2019
Department of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine
Anthro 215A, Ethnographic Methods, Professor Kim Fortun

Tourism and Social Change in Post-Socialist Zanzibar: Struggles for Identity, Movement, and Civilization by Akbar Keshodkar, Lexington Books, 2013

What is the text “about” -- empirically and conceptually?
What modes of inquiry were used to produce it?
How is the text structured and performed?
How can it circulate? 

 

 

What is the text about – empirically?

What phenomenon is drawn out in the text?  A social process; a cultural and political-economic shift; a cultural “infrastructure;” an emergent assemblage of science-culture-technology-economics?
The text is focused on how the Swahili concept of ustaarabu, which was initially connected to ideas of Islamic civilization and to an extent Arabness, is being reconfigured by Zanzibaris in the post-socialist moment of an increased tourist economy––as a means of debating out what it means to be Zanzibari and to belong in the context of the island’s broader relations to the Tanzanian nation-state. 

Where is this phenomenon located – in a neighborhood, in a country, in “Western Culture,” in a globalizing economy?
The phenomenon is located on the island of Zanzibar, but it  is also connected to political relations stemming from mainland Tanzania as well as transnational links to the Indian Ocean maintained and being re-articulated by some of the island’s communities.  

What historical trajectory is the phenomenon situated within?  What, in the chronology provided or implied, is emphasized -- the role of political or economic forces, the role of certain individuals or social groups?  What does the chronology leave out or discount?
It is mainly situated in the post-socialist context, at the wane of the 1980s, when Zanzibar and the rest of Tanzania were opened back up to commercial relations with non-Soviet bloc countries, especially those where some Swahili, Arab, and Asian Zanzibaris had family networks (like in the Arabian Peninsula and across the Indian Ocean). Keshodkar analyzes how ustaarabu and coastal identity politics have shifted from the earlier era of Omani imperialism, through British colonialism, to the 1964 revolution in Zanzibar and its Pan-Africanist vision and union with Tanzania, and then finally to the current post-socialist era in which Zanzibar remains a site of tourism.

What scale(s) are focused on -- nano (i.e. the level of language), micro, meso, macro? What empirical material is developed at each scale?  
Keshodkar engages varying scales and the interplay between them; his main scales of focus are the link between island ideas of ustaarabu (civilization), as a sociohistorcial discourse of belonging/identity, and how local Zanzibaris of varying backgrounds have been reshaping it and responding to its changes in meaning based on macro-level shifts such as European colonial rule, revolution, socialist governance, and post-socialist economic liberalization. He uses both historical as well as everyday ethnographic insights into these different expressions and articulations of ustaarabu and what it means to be “Wazanzibari.” 

Who are the players in the text and what are their relations?  Does the text trace how these relations have changed across time – because of new technologies, for example?
Various multi-ethnic Zanzibari communities, such as the Swahili, Arabs, Indians, and Comorians. Also includes migrants from mainland Tanzania of varying ethnic groups. Tourists from all across the world (though mostly Europe) who have increasingly travelled to Zanzibar in recent decades. Political parties and actors, such as the Chama Cha Mapinduzi ruling party of mainland Tanzania that has maintained a relation of governance over Zanzibar. 

What is the temporal frame in which players play?  In the wake of a particular policy, disaster or other significant “event?”  In the general climate of the Reagan era, or of “after-the-Wall” globalization? 
The main temporal frame is the post-socialist era of economic liberalization of the island and the increase of Zanzibar’s tourist economy; additionally also takes into consideration the legacy of the 1964 revolution and Zanzibar’s following union with mainland Tanzania and brief period of socialist rule. 

What cultures and social structures are in play in the text?
Ustaarabu, Zanzibari-ness, coastal vs. mainland identities and visions of statehood. Pan-Africanism. Global capitalist economy; tourist/heritage economy.

What kinds of practices are described in the text?  Are players shown to be embedded in structural contradictions or double-binds?
The ethnography offers varied vignettes of Zanzibaris of different backgrounds attempting to gain capital (in a context of economic precarity) through undertaking opportunities available due to the rise of the tourism industry. These attempts are situated in a context of many Zanzibaris having to compete with mainland Tanzanians, many of whom come from more educated and professional backgrounds. Also discusses practices of conservatism that also shape ideas about how to engage with tourists as well as gendered notions of who should work and maintain a public life.

How are science and technology implicated in the phenomenon described
Liberalization and urbanization are explored in relation to changes brought about by tourism, such as the building of new hotels, clubs, resorts, etc.––analyzing how these changes in the economic and social landscape of the island have affected local Zanzibaris.

What structural conditions– technological, legal and legislative, political, cultural – are highlighted, and how are they shown to have shaped the phenomenon described in this text?
Conditions of liberalization, the influx of foreign investors and wealth; political condition of the island as being governed by the ruling party most associated with the mainland. Temporary employment due to hotels and businesses wanting to circumvent laws requiring compensation and certain services to long-term employees.  

How – at different scales, in different ways – is power shown to operate?  Is there evidence of power operating through language, “discipline,” social hierarchies, bureaucratic function, economics, etc?
Power operates through relations of political governance by the mainland, by capital accrued by business owners on the island, by pre-existing racialized hierarchies, by appeals to cultural capital expressed in Islamic values.


Does the text provide comparative or systems level perspectives?  In other words, is the particular phenomenon described in this text situated in relation to similar phenomenon in other settings? Is this particular phenomena situated within global structures and processes?

It is situated in relation to the Tanzanian mainland and diasporic (business and family) connections to the Indian Ocean, though mostly is centered on Zanzibar. It does offer comparison of experience for those from Pemba, which is the lesser visited island that comprises Zanzibar; many Pembans have left their homes to seek opportunities in Unguja, which is the main island and site tourist attraction.

 

What is the text about – conceptually?

Is the goal to verify, challenge or extend prior theoretical claims?
The book utilizes, extends, and blends Pierre Bourdieu’s works on social distinction and cultural capital with James Clifford’s theorization of “routes” (travel, migration, and diaspora) in order to make an argument about identity and opportunity in post-socialist Zanzibar.

What is the main conceptual argument or theoretical claim of the text?  Is it performed, rendered explicit or both? 
Keshodar uses Bourdieu and Clifford to ultimately argue that “While originating in an ethnic and racial discourse...the revived centrality of Islam, preservation of utamaduni and desturi for governing social behavior of local inhabitants, importance of kinship relations and distinguishing oneself as a wazanzibari represent emerging strands for formulating ustaarabu in contemporary Zanzibar” (2013, 6).

What ancillary concepts are developed to articulate the conceptual argument?
Concepts relating to globalization/political economy; Islamic studies/anthropology of religion; kinship/gender/marriage.

How is empirical material used to support or build the conceptual argument?
Vignettes of Zanzibaris’ experiences navigating the tourist economy and how they are articulating “Zanzibari-ness” in this postsocialist context; archival material; memory practices.

How robust is the main conceptual argument of the text?  On what grounds could it be challenged?
It could be challenged as not thoroughly engaging with the theoretical foundation given; while the insights of the book are unique and new for research on the region, it’s theoretical anchoring to Bourdieu and Clifford, rather than more recent anthropological works on identity formation, seems out of place.
 

How could the empirical material provided support conceptual arguments other than those built in the text?
The empirical material could be used towards assessing political critiques of Zanzibar’s relationship to the mainland; possibly as an insight into the forging of a seperatist identity, or at least the formation of counter-narratives to the state for the new generation of Zanzibaris.

Modes of inquiry?

What theoretical edifice provides the (perhaps haunting – i.e. non-explicit) backdrop to the text?
The backdrop of the text are concepts relating to state formation, nationalism, and the construction of identity, that are relevant to the island of Zanzibar in both the socialist and post-socialist context.

What assumptions appear to have shaped the inquiry?  Does the author assume that individuals are rational actors, for example, or assume that the unconscious is a force to be dealt with?  Does the author assume that the “goal” of society is (functional) stability? Does the author assume that what is most interesting occurs with regularity, or is she interested in the incidental and deviant?
In some ways the author, though complicating its historical trajectory, assumes that ustaarabu still holds a coherent and overwhelmingly relevant place in Zanzibari social discourses of belonging and identity.

What kinds of data (ethnographic, experimental, statistical, etc.)  are used in the text, and how were they obtained?
Ethnographic interviews, archival records from Zanzibar, economic records and statistics relating to tourism and businesses on the island.

If interviews were conducted, what kinds of questions were asked?  What does the author seem to have learned from the interviews?
Questions about interlocutors’ economic situation before and after the rise of the tourist economy, as well as questions relating to opportunity (or lack thereof) in Zanzibar; questions about family history as well as the perceived state (economically, socially, culturally, Islamically) of the island in the contemporary moment.

How was the data analyzed?  If this is not explicit, what can be inferred?
Information provided by the interlocutors seems to be analyzed in relation to new points of access and restriction to capital (and cultural capital), as well as articulations of ustaarabu and what it means to be Zanzibari. Interviews are formed into vignettes that open up to how the revolution, tourism, party politics, etc, have shaped senses of belonging and identity politics.

How are people, objects or ideas aggregated into groups or categories?
Author utilizes local conceptions of identity and the boundaries of community, as well as state and party level impositions of the nation and national heritage.

What additional data would strengthen the text?
Possibly political affiliations of those not related to the ruling party; such as those with connections or leaning to CUF (Civic United Front) which seems to pose a challenge to CCM and the more mainland-centric construction of the nation. Could also include visual imagery of different communities and sites of tourism. 

 

Structure and performance?

What is in the introduction? Does the introduction turn around unanswered questions -- in other words, are we told how this text embodies a research project? 
The introduction sets the stage for the changes and tensions in Zanzibar regarding tourism, migration from the mainland, increasing poverty, as well as theoretical foundation of the text. 

Where is theory in the text?  Is the theoretical backdrop to the text explained, or assumed to be understood? 
The theoretical direction of the text is explicitly stated in the introduction and later tied into anecdotes and historical accounts of changes in Zanzibari society in later chapters.

What is the structure of the discourse in the text?  What binaries recur in the text, or are conspicuously avoided?
Binaries between the mainland and the coast are employed, though mostly in the context of local invocations of anti-mainland sentiment. The author tries to offer nuance to the main ethnic categorizations such as “African,” “Arab,” and “Indian,” referencing the instability of these categories over time and internal diversity in positionality and status between categories such as Arab or Swahili.

How is the historical trajectory delineated?  Is there explicit chronological development?
The historical trajectory is linearly drawn and periodized from different points of rule and governance in Zanzibar, though he uses this trajectory to destabilize the concept of ustaarabu as a static ethnic affiliation of Arab/Islamic civilization, instead showing how it has been rearticulated over time. 

How is the temporal context provided or evoked in the text?
The first few chapters are organized in a linear chronology, marking out important (though by no means the only relevant) events in Zanzibari history. Despite this linear rendering of initial chapters, references are frequently made to varying parts of Zanzibari history throughout the multiple chapters. Further, ethnographic accounts offered in later chapters span these multiple historical contexts.

How does the text specify the cultures and social structures in play in the text?
The text specifies these matters with nuance and mostly in reference through footnotes to account for variations within popular categorizations such as “Swahili,” “Arab,” or “Indian” Zanzibaris; also gives nuance to mainland identities and affiliations.

How are informant perspectives dealt with and integrated?
They breathe life into the earlier, more historical chapters, illustrating local experiences of the postsocialist era and how people are both shaping, and affected by, changing discourses of ustaarabu.

How does the text draw out the implications of science and technology? At what level of detail are scientific and technological practices described?
Though the text doesn’t directly address science and technology, it does account for urbanization and changing in both the built and social infrastructures of urban Zanzibar.

How does the text provide in-depth detail – hopefully without losing readers?
Through the usage of ethnographic vignettes and in depth stories of particular interlocutors. More historical sections try to return back to theoretical claim as to not lose focus on the broader purpose of such background history.

What is the layout of the text?  How does it move, from first page to last?  Does it ask for other ways of reading? Does the layout perform an argument?
The book's shift from initially historical chapters to later more personal and ethnographic material; the theoretical argument is interwoven throughout both the historical and ethnographic chapters. The ethnographic chapters give texture to the argument.

What kinds of visuals are used, and to what effect?
No visuals are given throughout the text except for statistical tables to illustrate changes in urban and economic disparities. 

What kind of material and analysis are in the footnotes?
Footnotes offer mostly qualifying information to ethnocultural categories that on the surface may appear to be stable; also is used to give further historical context on the varied references and local terminologies he uses throughout the text.

How is the criticism of the text performed?  If through overt argumentation, who is the “opposition”?
Criticism is mostly offered through the experiences of interlocutors struggling to access economic and cultural capital in the postsocialist era; also includes the voices of those who have benefitted from it and have been able to ascend in the postsocialist context. 

How does the text situate itself?  In other words, how is reflexivity addressed, or not?
The text isn’t noticeably reflexive, though it does reference some of the author’s writing, in a separate article, on his positionality and how it affected his research; for example, being perceived as a local Indian Zanzibari man and how it affected his points of access to different communities and across gendered norms

 

Circulation?

Who is the text written for?  How are arguments and evidence in the text shaped to address particular audiences?
The theoretical argument seems to be directly to presumably academic audiences; anthropologists, Africanists, Indian Ocean studies scholars. The more ethnographic and personal chapters could also appeal to elite Zanzibaris interested in debates over identity politics and the island’s relation to the mainland.

What all audiences can you imagine for the text, given its empirical and conceptual scope?
Educated Zanzibaris, those in the diaspora across the Indian Ocean; those interested in the Swahili coast. Possibly tourists given Zanzibar’s fame as a tourist destination.

What new knowledge does this text put into circulation?  What does this text have to say that otherwise is not obvious?
Illustrates how ustaarabu has changed, has been debated, and taken new forms in the contemporary moment; historizes present articulations of Zanzibar-ness into broader economic and political contexts.

How generalizable is the main argument?  How does this text lay the groundwork for further research?
The text provides an interesting basis for those interested in Zanzibari identity politics as well as ustaarabu as a concept of social discourse among communities across the Swahili coast. While I personally wouldn’t use the same theoretical foundation, it does update earlier projects on Zanzibar that are mostly focused on the European colonial and Omani imperial contexts.

What kind of “action” is suggested by the main argument of the text?
To reconsider concepts of ustaarabu and Zanzibari identity politics as the island continues to change with continued tourism. 


Other modes of expression? 

Describe how the material and arguments of this text could be presented in a form other than that of a conventional scholarly book -- as a graphic novel, museum exhibit, activist stunt, or educational module for kids, for example?
It could be presented as a set of stories or a historically-based novel about contemporary Zanzibar, tourism, and the perspective of locals navigating those spaces, like what opportunities, nostalgias, and conservatisms does this new era provoke in these varied characters.

 

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Created date

October 13, 2019

Critical Commentary

This sketch was done for UCI Anthro 215A, Ethnographic Methods, Fall 2019.