The labour market and forms of employment are changing and trade unions are confronted with new challenges, even in Finland. One of the very recent changes is the growing number and a variety of statuses of the migrant workers, who contribute to the Finnish economy. Rolle Alho’s Inclusion or Exclusion? Trade Union Strategies and Labor Migration is a PhD thesis in Social Policy at the University of Turku. It is a case study about the Finnish Construction Trade Union and the Service Union United. There is a history of trade union related research in Finland, but in the past, only a few researchers have opened the field of trade unions’ relations to migrants and immigration. This is the first contribution to the trade union related studies in Finland that analyzes migration related strategies thoroughly, and from different perspectives.
The thesis is a summarizing report based on four original articles published between 2010 and 2013 in Finnish, as well as in English. The original articles present different perspectives on the relationship between the trade unions, unionists, migrant workers and migration policies. The first article opens perspectives on migrant workers in construction and service sectors, the second looks into the diverse strategies of the trade unions in migrant and immigration policies. The third article takes a transnational look on Estonian and Finnish trade union environment, and the fourth challenges and analyzes some of the arguments through other actors’ contra-arguments. Altogether, this book offers a great variety of perspectives to the reality, in which trade unions create and implement their strategies.
The core of the thesis is the analysis of a variety of chosen strategies of the two Finnish “blue collar” trade unions. The analysis is based on interviews with trade union representatives, statistic data and trade unions’ public statements, including observations in Finland, and partly in Estonia. Alho argues that the unions have two related policy strategies: migrant and immigration political. Migrant related strategies target the working conditions of the labour migrants who are already in the country. With immigration political strategies, trade unions try to control the number of possible newcomers. The chosen framework of power resources theory by Walter Korpi (1978) supports the analysis well when looking for motives behind the exclusion, as well as the inclusion strategies. According to Alho, these strategies are not clearly inclusive or exclusive, but it is possible to identify both types of strategies. There are also strategies that have both inclusive and exclusive elements, such as boycotting employers who breach the collective agreements (p. 100).
Part of the case study has a transnational character. Alho looks for explanations for the operating environment of the Finnish unions outside of the nation-state borders as well. He goes overseas to Estonia, which is the country of origin for many migrant workers and for this reason, an interesting hotspot for the Finnish Construction Trade Union. In this analysis, Alho takes help of not only the power resources theory, but also of the variety of capitalism approach based on the work of David Soskice and Peter Hall (2001). Alho analyzes the situation of Estonian workers in the Finnish – Estonian labour market, as well as trade union strategies in the situation of temporary and permanent migration between the two states with different existing systems and very different histories. The varieties of capitalism approach helps in categorizing rather than analysis, but together, the two chosen theoretical approaches help in giving a clear picture of the reasons behind people’s mobility, as well as their attitudes and reasoning on the new labour market. The data on the Estonian migrants and the analysis of their mobility between the two countries is the strongest contribution to the migration related research.
Alho gives some perspectives of migrant workers in the Finnish labour market, as well as the trade unions. There are 18 interviews from which the Estonian workers’ positions are best contextualized and analyzed. The analysis of the position of the third country citizens does not go very deep, but together with the work of Jukka Könönen (2014) open up a new field of research. There is a need for further research and analysis of the problematic position of certain migrant workers, as well as the multidimensional relationship between the migrant workers and the trade unions. From the point of view of ethnicity and migration research, clearer definitions would have been of great help to this thesis. For example, Alho doesn’t give an exact definition of the term ‘labor immigrant’. It is not clear if person who once migrated is always a migrant. It is also unclear if this definition should include all the migrant workers also on other than trade, service and construction sector, and if the conclusions should be expanded to some bigger group of migrant workers. The terminology changes throughout the work. It is left for the reader to assume that migration, immigration and mobility, as well as migrant, immigrant and foreign worker are used as synonyms. The race and ethnicity related terminology is not discussed but used often inconsistently. The word ‘race’ is used with and without quotation marks, without discussing these choices. Ethnicity related terms are used differently. Ethnicity is often used along with nationality (and race) as one of the reasons behind discrimination, but ‘ethnic diversification of labor market’ is also used as a description for ‘increased number of migrants’ (p. 76) and ‘ethnic hierarchy’, when actually referring to nationalities of the workers (p. 93). Do the Russian speakers in Estonia, for example, belong in the hierarchy to ‘Estonians’ or ‘Russians’? If the difference is in ethnicity, what is the position of the Finnish ethnic minorities in the hierarchy?
The data in the study is rich and sheds light on the field from many perspectives. Unfortunately, the description does not always match the data, and all of it is not thoroughly described and justified. For example, in the list of nationalities of the interviewees, there are no central African countries (p. 54) but Alho quotes a central African worker (p. 70). The problem of inexact statistics is pointed out - but analyzing the problem is left for the reader. For example, the most used quantitative data is based on trade union statistics. Trade union categorizes everyone who speaks the Finnish official language as ‘Finns’. Based on their mother language, the Swedish citizens, who were the third biggest group of migrants in the country by the end of 2014 (Official Statistics of Finland), are categorized in this statistics as ‘Finns’ and not as ‘migrants’, which is not mentioned, nor is its importance discussed. Although the data is not always thoroughly presented, it does not affect the value of variety of perspectives that Alho is able to offer.
In Finland, as in any small country, many researchers have several roles, for example as journalists, activists or salaried employees in advocacy groups. In this work, the immigration expert of The Congress of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), central organization of the presented trade unions, is presented through her position as salaried official and as a researcher. When citing her, it is not always clarified in which role she has published her work (e.g. p. 29). When activist researchers and academic salaried officials are granted this double role, it would be fair for the reader to clearly position them. The question of double roles and positioning could be discussed more actively in the academic communities of the smaller countries, especially in Finland.
The organization and strategy analysis offers a great view for the varieties of strategies, which can have either inclusive, exclusive or at the same time both inclusive and exclusive effect on migrant workers. Alho makes an important diversification between the migrant and migration related strategies. Using the power recourse approach and by analyzing the transnational environment, Alho opens a view on the motives behind them. The diversity of strategies is analyzed and challenged from several perspectives. As the thesis has been written in English, it can contribute internationally not only in the academic but also in the trade union discussions. In best case scenario, it can be useful for the trade unions in further developing their immigration policies, as well as their migrant political strategies.
Könönen, J 2014, Tilapäinen elämä, joustava työ: rajat maahanmuuton ja työvoiman prekarisaation mekanismina, Doctoral diss., University of Eastern Finland. Available from: http://epublications.uef.fi/pub/urn_isbn_978-952-61-1661-7/. [Last accessed 18.1.2016].
Korpi, W 1978, The Working Class in Welfare Capitalism, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
Official Statistics of Finland (OSF): Population structure. Helsinki: Statistics Finland. Available from: http://www.stat.fi/til/vaerak/index_en.html. [Last accessed 18.1.2016].
Soskice, D & Hall P 2001, Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Migration and Care Labour touches upon a plurality of issues that revolve around the phenomenon of South-to-North migrant care work. Far from being monothematic, the book consists of a collection of 10 essays, plus an introduction and a conclusion, each looking at the phenomenon of the commodification of care labour from different angles. Most notably, the contributions include discussions on issues of gender, welfare, development and global economic equilibriums. Although most of the authors’ backgrounds are either in law or sociology, the panoramic view of the subject under discussion that the book offers is of a remarkably multidisciplinary flavour.
The work is organized according to three main levels of analysis, which are meant to correspond to a theoretical (part I), an empirical (part II) and a policy (part III) level, respectively. However, such a tripartite structure is not as sharp as one might expect by reading the editors’ introduction, as indeed the majority of the contributions engage with more levels of analysis at the same time. However, this characteristic does not undermine the overall fluidity of the work, which stands as a valuable contribution to research in the area.
At a theoretical level, the theme of the intersection between labour market, migration regime and welfare state is present in almost all contributions. The shift towards a two-earner model and the lack of public care services are shown to be strongly linked with the emergence of global chains of care labour. This global ‘chain’ is unanimously pictured as one in which highly gendered care responsibilities are passed on from women to women, according to the current unequal distribution of wealth in the world. In this context, special attention is devoted to the multiple sources of inequality of care work: the high level of racialization (it is not only race, but ‘forgiveness’ that matters – as explained by Bridget Anderson, Chapter 2), the ambiguous nature of the employer-worker relation (domestic worker as ‘one of the family’ – as given by Rachel Parrenas, Chapter 3), and the heavy under-regulation of the sector. Some of the theoretical discussions also mention about the importance of differentiating among the various types of home-based care work (childcare, domestic work and long-term care for older people); unfortunately, however, such important differentiations are not reflected in the empirical part, where little attention is paid to the specific type of care work being dealt with. Overall, the reader comes out of the theoretical discussion with quite an enriched conception of the main critical themes in the area of transnational migrant care work.
The empirical part collects a number of case studies on different countries of the world. The value of this part consists of the fact that it collects researches that focus on both ends of the global care chain, that is, not only on the receiving countries but also on the sending ones. In this context, the contributions by Anna Romina Guevarra (Chapter 7) and Sarah van Walsum & Maybritt Jill Alpes (Chapter 8) stand out as providing very original insights on the organization of the global chain of care workers at the source in the Philippines and the adaptation of the family care needs of emigrated care workers along transnational lines in Ghana and the Philippines, respectively. Putting together studies on both set of countries, that is, the countries of destination and that of origin of care migrants represents a ‘good practice’ of collective studies in this area, as it allows to gather relevant information on, for example, the specific ways in which the context of origin influences care workers’ migratory plans, expectations and outcomes. Similarly, collecting such studies might also turn out to be an important tool for the creation of national or international rights’ protection schemes for care workers, since information about both contexts may be the solution to tackle migrants’ vulnerability.
The third and the last part of the book deals with the policy level, and presents a few instances in which care workers’ rights have been effectively enforced. The idea of including a proactive policy level into the analysis is very welcome, and it contrasts this work with a great majority of studies in the area, which are stuck with a critical/descriptive (read: destructive) approach. In particular, chapter 9 presents two case studies illustrating how local trade unions have successfully fought forms of discrimination of migrant care workers, whereas chapter 10 looks at existing international norms for their protection, and the possible development of international labour governance. However, although the attempt to move from a critical to a proactive approach is to be praised, the two examples of ‘emerging forms of political mobilization’ that this chapters provide, at an overall level, far from convey the ideas about possible and effective forms of regulation of care labour. Indeed, since the phenomenon of care work transcends national borders, a nation-based solution (as given in Chapter 9) looks inevitably inadequate to address the phenomenon, while at the same time no easy recipes for the protection of care migrants’ rights on a transnational basis (as given in Chapter 10) appears to be achievable anytime in the near future.
The book is a fine reading. Despite the fact that it collects essays that deal with quite a high number of different topics, it still possesses the coherence that helps the reader to catch the core of the discussion and to get through the three main parts of the work. Due to its focus on both source and destination countries of care workers as case studies, I would especially recommend it to those who are interested in exploring how different elements in the two contexts shape migrant projects and experiences, as indeed such connection emerges, implicitly or explicitly, at more than one point.
The book Social Cohesion and Social Change in Europe was first published as a special issue in the journal ‘Patterns of Prejudice’ (vol. 47, issue 3, July 2013). The editors, Gerard Boucher, Lecturer of Sociology at University College Dublin and Yunas Samad, Professor of South Asian Studies at University of Bradford, have managed to collect a reasonable array of articles, through which they argue that the pathology of European social cohesion implies ramifications deriving from structural changes and not just from the failure of multiculturalism and immigration (p. i).
The book is divided into an introduction, six chapters and a useful index. Three of the main concepts found in this book in conjunction with social cohesion and analyzed in this review are: a) Islamophobia, b) sense of belonging and c) spatial contextualization. The Introduction comprises a conceptual definition of social cohesion and its relation to social change, concentrating on Europe (pp. 2-8). The editors define social cohesion narrowly, as it derives from the classical sociological theory, that is ‘as a term to explain social consequences of structural changes related to industrialization and modernity’ (p. 1). Subsequently, they make a critical reference to nostalgia, wondering if ever social cohesion and diversity did exist, studying the ‘us and them’ model of thinking and its contribution to the production of modern and late modern European thought (pp. 8-10). Finally, they critically examine the role of the state in the constructional and reconstructional procedure of establishing social cohesion in European societies (pp. 10-15), a fact which constitutes the leading route of thinking throughout the book.
It is noticeable from the very beginning that most authors attempt to bridge the classical sociological theoretical perception of social cohesion with the empirical study of current realities. For instance, Gerard Boucher in Chapter one, ‘European social cohesions’, examines the functionality of policies applied to European countries with regards to social cohesion. Boucher claims as a general conclusion that EU countries adopt civic integration policies aiming to cultural assimilation that involve non-EU/EEA immigrants passing tests on the national language, history and culture (p. 24). The author suggests that a more functional policy framework is required that will include structural social cohesion based on social justice, socioeconomic equality and political participation, as well as sociocultural cohesion defined in terms of the actually existing cultural diversity (p. 38). His model of study is based on the classical perception introduced by Émile Durkheim, which interprets social cohesion as a phenomenon depending on the dipole of the cultural and structural factors (p. 19).
A main subject covered by this book is Islamophobia and its interaction with social cohesion. More detailed, Yunis Alam and Charles Husband, the authors of Chapter two titled ‘Islamophobia, community cohesion and counter-terrorism policies in Britain’, scrutinize two policies adopted by the British government. After the riots occurred in 2001 in Northern England, the central government decided to introduce a community cohesion policy to overcome segregation and life parallelism of Muslims (p. 45). Four years later, on the 7th of July, the incident known as ‘7/7’ London bombings by Islamist terrorists occurred (p. 50). The British government decided to adopt an anti-terrorist policy which in practice came into contradiction with the one previously established for community cohesion (p. 39), since the purpose of the latter one was mainly to measure the susceptibility to radicalization and therefore, every Muslim resident became a speckled suspect in the eyes of most British people (pp. 50–52). The writers mainly use Robert Putnam’s theory on social capital to note its demotion and consequently the failure of the non-structural policies followed. In support of their theoretical approach, the field evidence can be found in Chapter four authored by Yunas Samad and titled ‘Community cohesion without parallel lives in Bradford’.
Yunas Samad presents the findings of his community based research conducted in the British city Bradford which hosts Muslim communities (p. 73). His research reveals that the aforementioned community cohesion policies were unable to cure discrimination, hence the maintenance of inequality expressed by the Muslim residents themselves (pp. 85, 87). Also deploying social capital analyses as an explanatory tool, Samad suggests that the ‘broken Britain’ that David Cameron talks about, cannot be overcome just by seeking assimilation but, instead, by addressing socio-economic issues of deprivation and marginalization (p. 91), issues with a distinct structural character.
Chapter five, ‘Ethnicity and social cohesion in the post-Soviet Baltic states’, co-authored by Nils Muiznieks, Juris Rozenvalds and Ieva Birka, comprises a significant critical study of the particular situation of three post-Soviet states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) with regards to their response to international pressure for integration and attainment of social cohesion (p. 92). The main purpose of the chapter is to measure, compare and reflect through quantitative data on the Russian-speakers’ sense of belonging and the levels of inequality. The statistics presented, deriving from the social and economic history of the three Baltic States, mirror ethnolinguistic cleavages and the fact that they played the basic role on developing policies of social cohesion, neglecting to address ethnic and economical inequality (p. 111). For instance, in 1998 under the auspices of EU’s PHARE programme, Estonia established an initiative for teaching the titular language to Russian-speakers (p. 99). The programme aimed to prepare the youth on sharing the same opportunities when seeking jobs. However, equal opportunities in job seeking never happened in practice. In the 2000’s, socio-economic inequality between persons belonging to different ethnolinguistic groups increased in Estonia, with the Russian-speakers having greater job insecurity and belonging to the ranks of blue collar rather than white collar workers (p. 101).
Cédric Audebert, in the final chapter ‘The social geography of ethnic minorities in metropolitan Paris: a challenge to the French model of social cohesion?’ specifically draws attention to the significance of spatial context that encloses all the socio-political parameters of ethnic minorities. In order to overcome certain social challenges of immigrants and ethnic minorities in the poorest urban neighbourhoods of Paris, new policies of social cohesion have been implemented based on residential criteria, rather than on ethnicity (p. 126). This tactic has taken France further beyond the classical model of assimilation, leading to the adoption of territorialized policies with positive effects on basic domains, such as employability (pp.115, 126-127). More specifically, social activism of young jobseekers from working-class suburbs, mainly descendants of Maghrebian, sub-Saharan African, French Caribbean, Turkish, Southern Asian and South Eastern Asian immigrants, is encouraged through business-sponsored training and coaching programs as well as employment forums (pp. 121, 127).
Generally, all authors manage to address core issues concerning the structural underpinnings of the pathology of social cohesion. Although they mainly address the dysfunctional points of state interference as the source of the problem, they do not undermine the affiliated socio-cultural aspects. Furthermore, it is quite interesting how they develop a concrete synergy between the classical sociological theory and the empirical study of contemporary realities. Additionally, after the recent national and international policies regarding the large movements of refugees and immigrants towards Europe and the terrorist attacks of ISIS, it is of paramount importance to mention the significance of this book, even though its articles were completed in 2013. Parametrically, it may also assist in the reading of the general rise of nationalist political movements in core European urban environments. Finally, this book constitutes a useful tool for advanced students and researchers in the field of social sciences including everyone who attempts to explore social cohesion as a spectral phenomenon.
‘Culture’ is indeed a buzzword, selected in 2014 by the Merriam-Webster reference book as word of the year (p.1). It is powerful, and extremely complex to manage. Therefore it is also contested, and just as some scholars of religion have chosen to abandon the concept of ‘religion’, some anthropologists in recent decades have chosen not to accept the scholarly value of using the concept of ‘culture’ anymore, since it has the flavour of the past as a container with elements linked naturally together with glue. In the past, culture was equated unproblematically with people, language, race, religion and nation. Culture has been used as an excuse for suppressing groups and individuals, and as a linguistic tool for explaining (away) anything. It is a floating signifier ‘meaning either too much or too little’ (p.2), a chameleon term best suited for a smörgåsbord offering, a range of possibilities to match one’s taste (ibid.).
The aim of this anthology is thus not to celebrate culture as such, nor multiculturalism, cultural diversities or culture encounters. Rather, it is to ‘disempower discourses of culture’ (p. 2), and involves ‘examining instances of culture being used as an excuse or as an ideology in intercultural encounters’ (p. 6). Such an endeavour is both in line with mainstream critical culture studies and relevant as a fresh contribution, containing both theoretical reflections and diverse empirical cases suitable for scholars and students within different fields, and also for politicians facing challenges related to multiculturalism.
The book is divided into three sections: Cultural Essentialism in the Judiciary, Cultural Essentialism, and Artistic Expression and Discourses of Culture and Their Societal Implications. These sections are subdivided into eight articles, an introduction and an afterword, totalling 205 pages (including a short index). The contributors work in eight different countries in fields related primarily to education, linguistics, the arts and law, representing a contextual diversity of angles to the topic. We hear about culture being used in a Japanese context to discriminate against foreigners (Rivers), of culture used as an excuse for crimes against women (Hallevy), of Australian circus performers being subject to prejudice (Danaher), of othering in Australian triennials (Baguley), of oppressive capitalism in Anglophone poetry (Cuadrado-Fernandez), of nationalist ideologization of culture in Quebec (Razafimandimbimanana), of strategic promotion of monoethnicity in a museum in Melaka (Lim), and of training programs for military personnel designed to enhance interculturality (Zotzmann).
Essentialism is a key notion throughout the book, and is especially elaborated by the more theoretically informed articles, being used as an umbrella term or a prism with which to see sub-elements such as ethnocentrism, nationalism, racism, othering, discrimination, oppression, xenophobia and rhetorical manoeuvres that turn political conflicts into culture. As such, culture serves as an explanation (thinking) and an excuse (acting) for different agents and discursive domains. Essentializing the others (‘it is their culture’) and us (‘it is our culture’) becomes a means of power play, sometimes deployed as strategic mirroring and identity performance as when townspeople’s ethnocentric stereotypes are affirmed and later disrupted (p. 75).
Most of the authors have a normative stance, using analyses and discussions to encourage revealing, changing and managing more correctly the concept and power field of culture. Examples throughout the book are obvious and cry out for critical reactions. Some perspectives, however, are more complex. For instance, in discussing the migration-related criminalization of women in the name of culture, Hallevy distinguishes between different kinds of agents (first, second and third generation refugees and immigrants). To what extent is the mistake-of-law/ignorance-of-law (‘we are from a different culture, how should we know?’) relevant? How should one react to aboriginal communities who have been living in certain places long before laws and human rights were defined and celebrated by invaders, even if such laws are much more protective, egalitarian, democratic and ‘humane’ than the ‘original cultures’?
In the afterword, Adrian Holliday embraces most of the elements in the individual articles, but puts the overall reflections in a more general context. As he sees it, and as he reads the other authors, culture is to be seen as a construct created to manage ideologies, discourses and power relations, and as such the concept can be ‘revealed’ in a postmodern, constructivist and non-essentialist way. In his words, ‘We have to move away from what has been referred to as a solid notion of culture’ (p. 198). However, as he also concludes, discursive utterances are in themselves performative, and like human acts they are therefore cultural in themselves. ‘Culture is still there as a powerful force in everyday life’, and ‘it is still real in the way in which it is used as an excuse, and very often real in the minds of those who use it’ (p. 199). While acknowledging the fact that culture exists (at least as an ideological label) ‘by both hegemony and subaltern, the Centre and the Periphery, the established and the un-established’ (p. 201), he also encourages scholars to humble ourselves since ‘we are also wired in this way and will inevitably fall into these traps ourselves’ (p. 200).
I read his position (and the positions of other contributors) as being postmodernist, revealing the ideological framing of a concept that is also used by people at large, thereby supporting the idea of abandoning the concept as an etic, scholarly and analytical term. Such a stance, however, is not unproblematic. The fact that scholarly understandings are not clear (or, are even used to enhance unequal power relations) does not mean that the struggle to achieve better ways of understanding and using the concept is futile. Rather than withdrawing into isolationist particularism or continuously hiding between inverted commas, scholars do need models to explain similarities and differences of values, practices and discourses throughout time and space. Although Damian J. Rivers points to important aspects of undressing Japanese culturalism, he surely must acknowledge that there is, after all, a significant difference of behaviour, sound and semiotics at football stadiums in Japan and England.
There is a large span in the spectrum between the essentialist ‘all is culture’ and the deconstructionist ‘nothing is culture’. However, even though it may be difficult to identify in practice, there is a golden middle path between cultural essentialism and absolute particularism. Culture is not as an unchanging essence but a normative framework creating and being created by human beings in momentarily existing clusters of reality, and therefore it is also to be seen as a discursive and ideological construction. Since the focus of the book is the latter, the former is of course not necessarily important, but the underlying theoretical framework is – and this framework is not universally applicable. The same could be said about the conspicuous lack of references to religion. Religion is not the focus of the book, and the scholars contributing to it are not specialists in this field. As a scholar of religion, however, one cannot but notice the lack of reference to a concept that is very often used in relation to culture. Rather than being criticized for failing to cover an important gap which was not intended to be filled, the publisher could be encouraged to supplement this fine book with another, relating theoretical reflections with empirical examples of the abundant cases involving ‘excuses in the name of religion’.
In her new book Artifacts and Allegiances, Harvard Professor of Sociology Peggy Levitt remarks that the ‘floating tribe’ of people living outside traditional nation-state categories will soon outnumber the population of the United States and make up the ‘fifth-largest “nation” on earth’ (p 133). With this fact as a point of departure, she asks how museums in different parts of the world currently address issues of cultural mobility and migrant identity in relation to ideas of a nation state. Her analysis is based on interviews with curators and museum staff (185 in total, over a period of five years), embedded in historical overviews of each museum and their political settings.
At the core of the book are three chapters describing and analysing museums in Scandinavia, the United States, and Asia (Qatar and Singapore). The first of these – The Bog and the Beast – deals with museums in Denmark and Sweden. The museums featured in most detail are the National Museum and the Museum of Copenhagen in Denmark, and the Swedish History Museum, the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm, and the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, Sweden. Displays and debates about the nation and the world in and around these museums are discussed and analysed in relation to their specific historical and political situations. In Denmark, the setting is defined by an inward-looking concept of the nation, while in Sweden it is the legacy of Olof Palme’s international solidarity politics that still informs the framework for national museum institutions. Despite obvious and often emphasized differences in the national politics between Denmark and Sweden, Levitt finds that their national museum institutions share a tendency to avoid issues of migration and mobile identities, or at least keep them in the periphery to the heavy central story of a stable uniform nation.
The second chapter, called The Legislator and the Priest, focuses on the United States, namely the east coast cities of Boston and New York (and to some extent Washington, D.C.). This chapter focuses on cities rather than nations, and on art rather than cultural history or ethnography. The museums mostly in focus here are Brooklyn Museum and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, while smaller institutions such as the Queens Museum and El Museo feature more briefly. Compared with the other two chapters, this has much less critical analysis of the museums’ relations to the nation and the world, and seems to be more about offering inspirational examples of museum work in different settings. The third chapter –Arabia and the East – focuses on Singapore and Qatar, former British colonies that are both in creative nation-building processes. In Singapore, where the nation is commonly referred to as a rojak salad (in which pieces of fruit and vegetables representing the different traditional essential races are united and seasoned by a sauce of foreign influence), the focus is on the Asian Civilizations Museum, the Singapore Art Museum, the Peranakan Museum, and the National Museum of Singapore. In Qatar, where the can-do spirit runs high and world-class museums are commissioned and built at an extraordinary speed, the question is not so much about what the nation is or has been, as what it can be. Here the main museums featured are the Museum of Islamic Art, Mathaf (the Arab Museum of Modern Art) and the National Museum.
Levitt’s analysis revolves around the concept of ‘cosmopolitan nationalism’, which implies an intimate connection between how a nation is conceived and how it defines its place in the world. She recycles James Clifford’s use of Mary Louise Pratt’s ‘contact zones’ in talking about museums as places for ‘ongoing historical, political and moral relationship – a power-charged set of exchanges, of push and pull’ (p. 8). And she returns here and there to the ANT (Actor Network Theory) concept of ‘assemblage’, defined as ‘contingent clusters of people, technology, objects and knowledge, which circulate through the social fields that the museums inhabit, coming together in different constellations depending on where they land’ (p. 8).
But the strength of this book lies not in its use of theoretical concepts. Its main original contribution is certainly the focus on curators and other museum staff, which is fresh and quite clever. Where most studies of museums analyse displays and official documents, Levitt uses the voices of curators and museum staff to give meaning and contingency to the choices made and strategies played out in the museums. Hence, the curators’ voices become analytical bridges linking the content of the museums with their official documents and political surroundings. It adds thickness and a very attractive sense of reality to the text.
I have only one major point of criticism to this book, and that is the choice of museums in the USA chapter. I am puzzled by Levitt’s choice of Brooklyn Museum and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts as the main study objects for this chapter, and by the steering away from issues of the nation and moving towards questions about the cities. Just to be clear, I am not calling for an exhaustive or all-embracing perspective. I am all for the multi-sited ethnography that Levitt advocates; it offers an interesting and important outside perspective on each of the cases involved in the analysis. But an important part of the craft of doing multi-sited ethnography is choosing objects that are suitable for (preferably unexpected) comparative analysis. And because these museums are neither officially connected with the idea of the United States as a nation, nor with questions of migrant identities, the United States chapter fails to provide for interesting comparisons with the Scandinavian and Asian cases. I find it difficult to see why, for instance, the National Museum of the American Indian or the National Museum of American History on the Mall in Washington, D.C., with its displays of the history of slavery and its (in my European eyes) shockingly patriotic war exhibition, have been ignored in favour of the Brooklyn Museum and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, in a book about how museums put the nation and the world on display. Levitt’s refreshing critical eye on the historical and political contingency of the museums in Scandinavia and Asia appears to be gone in the USA chapter, and it puzzles me. I am writing this review the day after Donald Trump celebrated a great success in the New Hampshire primary election, and the world is now holding its breath to see what will happen with the USA and immigration in the near future. These are clearly important issues in the USA. So, how can the common image of the US nation as a ‘salad bowl’ be completely omitted from the analysis, when the rojak salad is repeatedly referred to as an image of the Singaporean nation? Is multi-sited ethnography perhaps best done away from home?
My reading is also a little disturbed by errors in the spelling and translation from Scandinavian languages, and together with odd features such as the cover photograph (featuring visitors at the Musée Rodin in Paris, which is never even mentioned in the text). They signal a lack of attention to detail, which could easily have been avoided by a firmer editorial hand.
But these are all minor things. The overall impression is that Artifacts and Allegiances is a book that reads well, has an original approach and has many important things to say about the struggles and potentials of museums in the world today. It situates these museums historically and politically in a clear, at times brilliant, way (although I cannot help feeling robbed of an analysis of issues of nation and migration in the USA chapter). The argument is much in tune with current tendencies in critical museum and heritage studies, and its arrival is timely. With ongoing wars and refugee crises across the world over the last couple of years, issues of mobility, migrant experiences and national identity remain as urgent as ever in cultural politics, practical museum work and heritage studies.
This book left me with a feeling of being enriched – with new perspectives on things I thought I already knew, and with knowledge of contexts I knew nothing about. I will bring with me curator Klas Grinell’s razor-sharp description of Sweden as a nation that has accepted itself to be not much of an inventor of anything, but has set itself the task of being the best adopter: ‘When we realize that multiculturalism is what is happening, and that we are leaving behind the old kind of nation-states, then we go one step farther than everyone else. We’re not the first nation to put national pride first, but we might be the first to be truly global’ (p. 48). A visit to the Queens museum is now at the top of my to-do list for my next visit to New York City, and if I ever get to Doha, I will make sure not to miss Mathaf – the museum many Qataris feel sorry for. Artifacts and Allegiances will surely appeal to many readers: museum professionals, students of migration studies and heritage studies, and museum visitors across the world.
Some years ago, my friend was diagnosed with a form of haemophilia that is comparatively common among Ashkenazi Jews. This relatively mild version of the inherited bleeding condition is due to the mutation of a small number of genes (Gomez and Bolton Maggs, 2008). Skimming through the advice leaflets, the language of race in relation to Jews was, unsurprisingly, not to be found some seventy years after the end of the Holocaust. However, bioscience and popular media enduringly use race as an organising concept with other groups, assuming it is of explanatory value; for example, when the ‘Black disease’ of sickle cell anaemia is under the analytical microscope, as Sandra Soo-Jin Lee points out in her chapter in ‘Theories of Race and Ethnicity’ (p. 35). The contrast between the handling of Factor XI deficiency haemophilia and sickle cell anaemia prompts the questions: if racialization can end, why does it persist for some groups? And what happens when we recategorize race using the terminology of ethnicity and religion?
In the preface to Theories of Race and Ethnicity, the editors admit that their experience of organising this edited collection about contemporary theories of race and ethnicity has been ‘sometimes tortuous’. Happily, this collection is instead stimulating. The editors, Professor John Solomos and Dr. Karim Murji, are both prominent sociologists and public academics in the UK with specializations (among other topics) in racialization and migration. They have brought together essays, as well as provided their own detailed commentary on the collection, to show that intellectual thought about racialization processes, both historical and contemporary, is confronting those who champion the notion that we live in a post-racial era.
The starting point of the current collection is the seminal volume ‘Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations’ edited by John Rex and David Mason, in 1986. Thirty years on, Murji and Solomos explain that we find ourselves academically, if not popularly, beyond the terminology and policy prescriptions implied by the term ‘race relations’. Race relation studies initially arose through the preoccupations of the US and the European ‘white male academics who studied non-white populations, primarily through the lens of their own theoretical and methodological concerns’ (p. 16). Since this time, sociology has turned to study racism and racialization as processes and systems of power, rather than immutable groups of human bodies who appear to possess a self-evident ‘race’. While consolidated as a field of study, examinations of racism and racialization have diversified through the input of Black scholars, including Black feminist perspectives, as well as migrant and non-Western scholars. The field has also absorbed new approaches arising within and beyond sociology.
This heterogeneity of theoretical approach is exemplified in the essays here. In my opinion, the stand-alone quality of most of the chapters is a great strength that answers the problem of to whom the collection will appeal. The register of writing in this book makes plain that it is intended for readers who are already deeply engaged with theories of racialization and preferably comfortable with a wide sweep of social theory. To that extent, some of the most powerful essays in this collection might be a formidable read for people or students unfamiliar with earlier debates. However, the lack of obvious links between most chapters – other than the perennial problem of the fictive epistemological status of race - works in the book’s favour. Scholars deeply engaged in work about race and ethnicity will find novel material here, as well as thought-provoking divergences with their own work. The chapters address radically different areas of historical and contemporary racialization, for example: Shirley Anne Tate’s exploration of performativity and mixed-race embodied experience; Sandra Soo-Jin’s concerns (see above) about the inscription of race into contemporary genomic science; the articulate anger of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva directed at the idea of a post-racial USA under Obama; David Theo Goldberg’s arguments for racialization to be analysed through models of relationality that go beyond national specificity; the ‘constitutive connection of the contemporary to the colonial’ (p. 260).
In particular, St Louis’ chapter is masterful. He seriously considers ‘post-racial’ as an intellectual, ethical and historical project, deftly disentangling this idealised ‘practico-theoretical ensemble’ from the invidious political project of describing contemporary societies as ‘post-racial’. St Louis tracks and explores the great dilemma of racial eliminativism (that the theoretical incoherence of race cannot prevent its deadly social reality) from the emergence of evolutionary thinking to present day developments in genetic population science, and contemporary social thought. St Louis demonstrates that, understood properly, the findings of post-racial genetic science destroy the coherence of a race as a scientific object despite attempts to preserve it as an organisational concept:
[i]n Popper’s terms, then, race is no longer a scientific object: as it can be neither proven nor disproven, it is at best a cipher within health and the biosciences and at worst a paranormal entity that inspires faithful belief but can neither be empirically verified nor coherently known.(p. 126)
In my opinion, there are some gaps in the collection to be filled in future theoretical publications, if the aim here is to give an overview of today’s key theoretical debates not only about race, but also about ethnicity. Most obviously, the ‘ethnicity’ of the title is a ghostly presence in terms of being theorised as an academic object, as a popular category of everyday understanding, as a set of governmental processes that today operate both as corrective policy and identity-fixing process. For me, it is precisely ethnicity’s relationship (historically, politically and currently) to racialization itself that is so curious. To continue with my query at the start of this review, no Jewish ‘tick box’ is habitually present when equal opportunities of race and ethnicity are monitored by community organisations in the UK. The only opportunity to register as Jewish comes under ‘religion’, which presents a queer dilemma for a large number of Jewish Britons who are untroubled by religious observance. It would appear that the political danger of racializing Jews keeps them firmly outside of the ethnic box. Conversely, Black British people are offered various boxes in the ethnicity section to tick during censuses (despite the stubborn persistence of racialized language and experience in everyday British life). Clearly, ethnicity is bureaucratically viewed as a safe post-racial destination in this case: why this is so, is a pressing question.
Consideration of overlaps and links between ‘race’, ethnicity and religion, as they operate as structural categories of experience and discrimination today in the West, also points to the conspicuous rise of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism in the West since the publication of Rex and Mason’s book. Nasar Meer (2016) has addressed this cogently in detail in his own review of this collection. I would add that the operation of race, ethnicity and religion in the effective demonization of different categories of contemporary migrants in Europe and the USA, such as asylum seekers, is also a central area for theorisation.
This book is about theory, and quite rightly the empirical examples marshalled by the writers here convey theories rather than unsettle them through foregrounding field studies. For example, Hughey’s chapter dismayingly shows how similar are the understandings of categories of race employed by white supremacists and anti-racist activists in his particular study. However, perhaps ethnicity would be more easily brought into an academic conversation in the book with race, if examples drew upon people who believe that they don’t think about race and ethnicity: studies that look at banal, everyday, non-political life in order to find out how race, nationality, ethnicity and religion operate as mundane categories of cognition, action, symbolism and embodiment (for example, see Brubaker, Feischmidt, Fox and Grancea’s work (2006) in Romania). The rich diversity of approach across the chapters of Theories of Race and Ethnicitysuggests that the field is ready to include and travel down these theoretical pathways.
Brubakers, R, Feischmidt, M, Fox, J & Grancea, L 2006, Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.
Gomez, K and Bolton Maggs, P 2008, ‘Factor XI Deficiency’, Haemophilia, vol. 14, no.6, pp. 1183-1189.