Nelson Mandela’s ProSocial Moral Disobedience

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

In honour of Nelson Mandela’s life, I thought it would be useful to take a critical look at the sociology of Mandela’s leadership. As the world mourns the death and humanity of Mandela, let’s also reflect on the social bases of Mandela’s courage and strength. This is as an opportunity to better understand how Mandela’s social experiences inspired his search for social justice.

In their excellent study, Davide Morsellia and Stefano Passini draw on social psychology and sociology in order to compare the social and political influences on three world leaders of civil rights movements in three different societies: Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King Jr in America. The researchers argue that these three world leaders engaged in “prosocial moral disobedience” – that is, they actively went against authority despite the personal persecution that followed. They did so not simply due to personal qualities, but as a direct result of their socialisation. Mandela will always be remembered as an extraordinary individual, as will Gandhi and MLK. This post will show that this is not the way these leaders understood their lives and activism. My post will explore how Mandela’s moral development and personal attitudes were affected by social context. Continue reading Nelson Mandela’s ProSocial Moral Disobedience

Mali Refugees

The Republic of Mali, located in Western Africa, is experiencing a humanitarian crisis as thousands of people flee extremist violence. A military coup forced President Amadou Toumani Toure out of office in March. Interim President Dioncounda Traore was sworn into leadership in April but his appointment was met with violent political resistance. Two armed groups have formed an uneasy alliance to take control of the Northern region of Mali. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamist insurgent group Ansar Dine hold tenuous control over locals, using torture and other forms of severe punishment, such as amputating hands of suspected thieves and reportedly stoning a couple who had a child out of wedlock. The New York Times reports that the groups are having trouble providing basic services for locals, including electricity and food.

In recent weeks, over 90,000 people have been forced to the Mauritania-Mali border in search of asylum and medical aid. They are living in overcrowded refugee camps. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that 53,000 Malians have fled to Niger and 96,000 to Mauritania.

Photos via Top News Today, Africa in Transition.

‘Until I Found My Voice as a Feminist’

I’ve lived my entire adult life in Nigeria. My primary struggle has been to speak. There are elaborate social structures that brutally silence women and children; at home, at school, at work, in your community, in the media. I struggle to speak my truth, to retain my values, to speak my mind, my reality. I was constantly told my views were minority, exceptional and problematic. I was taught not to question authority, which usually meant male authority. I struggle to articulate my thoughts and feelings through all the layers of social and religious inhibitions and restrictions I was taught as a girl child. I rebelled until I found my voice as a feminist and a space to speak.

Now I try to ensure that my voice is heard by my Afro-feminist sisters. I’m not trying to speak to white feminisms just yet. My primary audience is my African sisters, to share ideas with, define strategies and make decisions with. I believe we Afro-feminist sisters must speak to white feminism as a group, as a community, not as individuals. White feminism drowned out our voices with their privileged access to the media. I’ve heard their stories, I want to hear from my African sisters and not just the ones with Ph.D’s. Before the internet I mostly heard what white feminism and their black students had to say about me and about us. Now I can hear what my African sisters say about me and about us and compare our experiences, our priorities and our needs and articulate those when speaking to white feminisms. Maybe then when we speak in a loud voice together they will actually listen to us.

Lesley Agams.

Agams is a Nigerian lawyer who blogs about feminist issues from Africa (here). This is a great interview with Ms. Magazine. Agams talks about her struggle to reach out to other women around Africa who are also interested in a uniquely African feminism, one that is not dictated by white, privileged Western feminists. She finds that Twitter has helped her make this connection.

Humanitarian Crisis in Kenya

Six months after donors poured money and aid into the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, aid groups are warning the situation remains dire. Dadaab is the world’s biggest refugee settlement, with almost half a million Somalis living in their neighbouring country. Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste is the first journalist to visit the camp since the security crisis began last October.

Via Al Jazeera English YouTube.

Nelson Mandela recovering well after “diagnostic procedure”.

Nelson Mandela is reported to be in “good spirits” after undergoing a procedure to address abdominal pains he had been suffering from for years.

The statement from President Jacob Zuma’s office said: “The doctors are satisfied with his [Mr Mandela’s] condition, which they say is consistent with his age.
"He was in good health before admission in hospital but doctors felt the complaint needed a thorough investigation.”

Source: BBC.

Nelson Mandela recovering well after “diagnostic procedure”.

The Egyptian Revolution as a Spectacle for the West

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Julia Elyachar and Jessica Winegar have published a special edition of Cultural Anthropology on the Egyptian Revolution. Highlights include reflections on how the Revolution has impacted ethnography and anthropological writing and an exploration of the notion of martyrdom in the context of counter-revolution. My favourite piece is Mona Abaza’s critique of Western ‘academic tourists‘.

Abaza reports that she and her colleagues have been inundated with requests for research expertise, but without serious consideration of the ‘international division of labour’. That is, the resources, time, commitments and personal costs of lending knowledge and data to researchers from Britain and the USA who work in the safety of well-funded universities. Egyptians are hired as research assistants or translators, but their labour and subjective perspectives serve a Western reading of revolution. As a result, Abaza sees that Western academics have a tendency to discuss the Arab Spring through a lens of Orientalism.

The Egyptian Revolution as a Spectacle for the West.
The Egyptian Revolution as a Spectacle for the West. Photo: Kodak Agfa via Wikimedia, CC 2.0. Adapted by Other Sociologist

Continue reading The Egyptian Revolution as a Spectacle for the West

LGBTQIA People Seek Refuge in Kenya

Until a new anti-homosexuality bill caused a wave of homophobia in Uganda, John and Paul could hold hands in the streets of the capital Kampala and kiss in night club.

Then the nightmare started — people began insulting and then assaulting them, and then they had to run away to Kenya. The couple have been in Nairobi since May of last year.

Like other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, they came to this urban jungle seeking anonymity, explained the official running a programme that looks after these refugees.

His organisation, which last year alone looked after 67 LGBT cases in Kenya, did not want to be named for fear of endangering its refugees.

Some have fled a strict application of Islamic law in Somalia, others are running from general sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and yet others have fled a climate of growing hostility elsewhere in east Africa.

Some hope to be able to find refuge in Western countries sympathetic to their plight, such as the United States.

Persecuted at home, African homosexuals seek refuge in Kenya

Sociology of Race and Reproductive Health

Barron Lerner reports how, over time, scientists have protested the fact that three statues were built to commemorate gynecologist Marion Sims (in South Carolina, Alabama and New York City), but none have been built to acknowledge the sacrifice of his three main “test subjects” Lucy, Anarcha and Betsy.

“The story of J. Marion Sims is a reminder of how history gets rewritten over time. The hope, of course, is that each new account gets closer to the truth”.

Similarly, the history of the clinical trials for the oral contraceptive pill were tested on poor women in a small town in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. The women were deceived about their participation in the trial. They not told about the possible side effects of the untested drug. They did not give their informed consent. Many women died and had ongoing health complications as a result of the trials.

Today, many women in advanced nations benefit from the experiments conducted on poor, enslaved and disempowered Black and Brown women, but few people know about the women whose health was compromised as a result. Additionally, for all the past sacrifices, poor women are less likely to benefit from scientific trials. While Sims’ experiments have been attributed to the eradication of vesicovaginal fistulas in advanced countries, this is still a major problem for 3.5 million women in developing nations, particularly in countries around Africa. The argument that unethical practices of the past might be excused for their present-day benefits is wilfully ignorant of the reality of who didn’t benefit back then and who hasn’t benefited today: enslaved and other poor Black women, and other impoverished women of colour.

Telling Other Stories of Climate Change in Africa and Around the World

Danger of a single storyA couple of weeks a go, in her CNN opinion column, Mary Robinson wrote her praise for women’s leadership in sustainable environmental progress. The piece was titled: Why women are world’s best climate change defence. Robinson is the former President of Ireland and she is now the head of the Mary Robinson Foundation (a ‘climate justice’ organisation). Robinson puts forward a call to action on the ‘gendered dimensions’ of climate change – but she doesn’t really say what this means. While the title of her paper talks about ‘women’, her commentary focuses on rural women in developing nations, especially in Africa.

Today I unpack the ideas that Robinson presents with respect to gendered environmental practices in African countries and developing nations. I contrast these with practices in advanced nations. I refer to Chimamanda Adichie’s writing about the dangers of telling ‘a single story’ about developing nations, specifically about ‘Africa’.

Different parts of the world face unique environmental challenges due to their national landscape and population distribution. Painting a singular picture about the gendered dimensions of climate change in developing nations narrows the scope of environmental progress.

Continue reading Telling Other Stories of Climate Change in Africa and Around the World