Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Course Notes 11/9

TyL's picture

Tuesday 11/9/10 notes


Finish reading The Path To Paradise for Thursday

Read approx. 200 pages per class from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Demon-Haunted World: both are selected from on Google books

Robert Coles’ The Call to Stories is the last. We will read all of it.

Online reading: Katherine Hayles. “How We Read” + “How We Think”: close reading versus “machine/hyper” reading

Juxtaposing, scanning, “pecking”—experimental kind of reading


Papers are finished, comments are up online

Anne went back and read the paper from last month too; tried to link them

4 people wrote on dictionary exercise

only a few worked on documentaries

examinations of fright, crime shows

Arne Naess

Copyright’s relevance in digital age




Path To Paradise

Posters: smacholdt: Path says that U.S. and Middle East don’t work well in comparison; ideologies are too different. All actions of suicide bomber done in preparation for afterlife.

Owl: are bullies or bullied more deserving of attention? Could we all be victims of environment?

FatCatRex: group-think: difficult to evaluate truths when only checks/balances are one’s compatriots. How does one move past subjective “your truth versus my truth” showdown?


Was Berko trying to live with suicide bombers?

vertitatemdilexi: Berko is Israeli-Jewish researcher; must consider her background

Anne: Berko is so explicit about correcting interviewees

Berko is herself Israeli, has fought in Israeli armed services—that’s why she’s so invested in what provokes Palestinian suicide bombers

Anne: listen patiently to explanations, adopt attitude that would allow them to express themselves fully and freely—but did she succeed? We’re deciding now.

RachelR: when she corrects them it’s usually a story in the Quran or a factual event. Fact-checking issues? While she does sometimes contradict them, it’s not the ideas that she’s correcting.

Anne: “fact” can be read differently.

Veritatemdilexi: had a very arrogant tone. Talking about young girl, Nazima: many of them have no father figure/father they can identify with. Generalizations: “many of them.”

Maht: generalizations made me angry.

Way she’s empathizing with people shows she doesn’t understand their customs. If man took another wife after suicide bomber, something that could be accepted in their culture.

RachelR: impact on the children: if man dies, woman cannot take another husband.

Sandra: corrected “army” to “terrorism”

What did she do in the IDF anyway?

Veritatemdilexi: Hamas was democratically elected, so they’re just as legitimate a government as Israeli government

FatCatRex: ethnography: how to position yourself as a writer of ethnography. How do you place yourself in your observations of a particular community? She didn’t do a particularly thoughtful job of considering her personal role in the way she’s reporting

Anne: If she were guided by research methodology—language of terrorism—she would be more self-reflective about use of words like “terrorist”

Certain people that just shouldn’t be writing certain works. If she were writing something that had to do with building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians, she could do it, but in her shoes, this isn’t something that should be published…

Should try to live with one another, eat with one another…she should be able to write. Nothing is objective.

Form is like someone writing a documentary about something they had nothing to do with.

Anne: shouldn’t Israelis be interviewing Palestinians, and vice versa?

It’s a way of familiarizing.

SandraG: she’s making a lot of assumptions, building stories from what she hears.

Anne: not part of methodology of anthropology.

Marina: just directing her point of view: not actually factual. Of course it’s going to be biased, but she’s just reflecting on what she saw.

Anne: says at the end that she was guided by her research methodology to show empathy

Veritatemdilexi: some people just should not write certain books.

RachelR: not a history book. It’s history, facts, and her reflections on it. Saying up front that she’s not a random person writing about this, but a Jewish Israeli writing about it.

FatCatRex: I wouldn’t necessarily have a suggestion for her as to how to do it differently.

Anne: Beware over-generalizing, making up stories to explain behavior

Should have listed the fact that she had had a career in the military. Also, of the people who responded, is it a fairly representative sample? Would people necessarily be willing to be interviewed by her?

Veritatemdilexi: some things are just too different.

Are there things that are so different that they cannot be overcome? Are there some conflicts that are too deep?

Aya: Only vaguely successful forgiveness/togetherness movement in South Africa, with apartheid, but this was because they sat down and talked for years. Not fully successful, but part of it was admitting that issues were complex + huge. Don’t think she shouldn’t have written it.

Anne: how do we move past subjective “your truth vs. my truth” showdown?

It’s not that she shouldn’t have written it, but it doesn’t seem like the right way to present it. Informative, and these conversations very valuable, but way it’s presented is part of the issue.

Anne: How might it be done differently?

Sara: could have compiled book of interviews with personal biographies, etc. Part of the problem is that we don’t understand their culture. Could it exist without her narrative?

SandraG: longer foreword, explaining her personal background.

Anne: set up as conversational. Suggesting that it be separated out, do story on her own: I’m an Israeli with children and I feel threatened by suicide bombers, so I’m trying to understand them.

SandraG: book would stay the same, just more explanation—understand more where she’s coming from.

FatCatRex: want facts about her in the beginning, then we want fluffy subjective. Should have something to authenticate her.

TyL: so like a disclaimer?

FatCatRex: allows us to place a judgment on where we see her as a writer.

Anne: incredible thing that she did. Israeli mother with children, living in society riddled with terrorism. Trying to understand the people who are attacking her, her children, her culture.

RachelR: gives a lot of background in her story. Talks about her youngest daughter having safehouse where no suicide bombers are allowed. Narrative about her background info in book gives me enough info about her.

Veritatemdilexi: lack of recommendations to fix the problem.

TyL: can one person really come up with recommendations herself?

Interviewing people who were brought into terrorist groups with no understanding of how/why they’re formed. Talking to individuals as to why they chose to be terrorists.

Cassie: we’ve been taught that books must have point. I don’t think that an argument was supposed to be part of this book, and I don’t mind that. Doesn’t need to make recommendations—not its aim. Personal aim: trying to understand, relate to suicide bombers. Interjections throughout text, almost to point of offensiveness, as a way to tell people that this is how she’s understanding it; may also inspire others to go out and come up with ideas. Might be posing question to readers: how are we going to resolve this?

Anne: So what do we do with this story now? Are we feeling hopeless because struggles for liberation and truth are so circular? Only talk to those who agree with us.

Aya: shouldn’t we just let go of our truth? Why does there have to be a correct answer?


Anne: started with critiquing Berko for her failures as a writer, but let’s look at what we should do with the text once we’ve read it. What is the next step? If she helps us see what life is like for suicide bombers and their dispatchers, what should we do with the comparison of two cultures so fundamentally different that they’re not comparable?

Almost found myself frustrated by text after reading it, because I could understand how difficult an issue it was to resolve because I had more insight.

Anne: Western society, for which human life is the supreme value, finds it difficult to define and understand suicide bombers’ behavior

RachelR: behavior is not all based on religion. They may come to believe it’s based on religion, but there are other background reasons. One woman wanted to escape being raped and brutalized by husband, others wanted to escape husbands—became indoctrinated into religions.

Cassie: can parallel that with any religious fanaticism. Many people in U.S. go through traumatic situations, find Jesus.

Anne: can you get your head around a worldview in which real life is in paradise, and now we’re just passing through. For suicide bombers, dreams of paradise are a concrete reality. That’s the cultural gap we’re talking about. Effect of ethnography is to say, take materialistic Western notion of reality and imagine world differently, where reality exists somewhere else.

Veritatemdilexi: if you’re a devout Christian, you feel the same; just passing through. What you do has serious consequences for eternity. When you say something like this, makes it seem like Islam doesn’t value the human life, but I don’t think that’s true.

Anne: has a lot of evidence in book from Quran saying that Islam values life, doesn’t advocate suicide bombings. To what degree has this book pushed our notions of real, moral, acceptable.

Aya: didn’t find it that difficult to understand why someone would be a suicide bomber. Seemed to my perspective like a bad decision, but a lot of things are bad decisions and very easy to make. By using words like terrorism and suicide bomber, keep it a suicide action. Be aware that if you’re using “suicide bomber,” making stress on suicide and not bomb.

Aya: mass murderer/serial killer is easier to talk about. Mystique used for suicide, but it fails. Reaction as an audience is just as complicated as the people who buy into it.

RachelR: would use word of shahid to differentiate between suicide and shahid (religiously motivated activism). Trying to clear family name.

Anne: religious activism versus psychologically or familiar motivations.

RachelR: is it true that it’s all for religion? One woman said that it was because she was unhappy.

Anne: if they give a religious explanation it’s because they’ve been brainwashed, but if they give psychological reasons, she pays more credence.

Veritatemdilexi: how does she paint religion overall?

Seems like completely secular Jew.

Anne: we don’t know anything about her religious beliefs. Only religion described in book is Islam.

Veritatemdilexi: in a lot of religions, family and religion are so intertwined that you can’t really make that kind of division.

Cassie: didn’t allow for there to be dynamic explanation of why people were doing these things. Searching for one reason that people were suicide bombers.

Pamela: hard to reconcile specific cases with what I’ve been taught about this. Placed Palestinian state in state of emergency at all times, devoid of political action so this is how they express themselves. Expecting it to back up what I’ve read.

Anne: people are not consistent. If we’re looking for clarity, understanding that would make this complicated situation understandable, ethnography might not be the way to go. “Not only do they generally not have economic problems, do not have emotional disturbance that prevents them from distinguishing reality.” Often, in interviews, quotes where person will say two contradicting things. If you’re going to do ethnography that accurately represents words of someone you’re interviewing, will often end up with those contradictions.

Veritatemdilexi: trying to make us realize that these people don’t realize there’s a distinction between reality and fantasy. Is this their ethnography or her ethnography compared with theirs?

Anne: back to ethnography. Form of ethnography. What does it try to do? My understanding is that classic ethnography thinks of itself as social science based on observation. Tries to give account of particular culture, community. Involves spending time immersed in social group, learning about its ways of life. Participant observation: take part in events you study. Classical ethnography interrogated. Critical ethnography: examines assumptions behind methodology. Can’t just study culture; can engage in political actions with regards to culture. “Qualitative Inquiry”: 5 criteria for evaluating ethnography. Can judge the validity of the work. Does it contribute to understanding of social life of people who have engaged in this action.

  1. Substantive contribution
  2. Aesthetic merit:
  3. Reflexivity
  4. Impact
  5. Expresses a reality


RachelR: religion, family, mother very important.

FatCatRex: variety of reasons for why people may decide to engage in being suicide bombers.

Anne: strong sense of grievance, outrage: why should you have something, and we have nothing? Question directed at every Israeli, Western civilization

Veritatemdilexi: Anna Karenina, but opposite: all unhappy people are the same.

RachelR: magnetizes feeling of being a victim

Anne: who are they the victims of?

Veritatemdilexi: addresses them as victims of dispatchers, etc., not of Israeli/Western states. When a certain group of people’s way of life, ability to support themselves completely eradicated, what other methods do they have? Would have liked this book to address what we can actually do.

Anne: could have worked harder at trying to see analogies between position of Israelis + position of Palestinians. Intention was to open window, shed light on Palestinian suicide bombers and those in other parts of world. Would have liked to see how Israelis are displaced from other places in world, and Palestinians displaced but have no place of safety. Looking for shared sense of grievance might be useful.

Aya: bit about every happy family/unhappy family doesn’t mean they don’t have shared ground.

Anne: never even goes there. Why doesn’t she?
RachelR: might have been helpful as readers, but if she had presented such comparisons to prisoners they would have said there’s no comparisons. When talking about her children’s questions, could have been suicide bombers who see both sides.

Sees interviewees as victims, but doesn’t see Palestinians as victims. That’s the source of all of her bias. She’s Israeli, can’t do anything about her bias, but if you don’t see the Palestinian government as legitimate, can’t see Palestinians as victims.

Cassie: trauma gets replayed in someone’s mind as if it were happening—brain doesn’t differentiate. This is history repeating itself—Israelis have historically been oppressed nation, same trauma again just with different group of people. If we ignore the fact that Israelis have been victims in the past, can’t come to a solution/understanding.

That’s why Israel was created in the first place—it’s a given.

Cassie: for the purposes of our discussion, we weren’t addressing that she’s a victim here too.

Anne: why doesn’t the text take the next step, saying that here’s a group of people who are victims, we are victims—why doesn’t she bring those situations into parallel?

Cassie: maybe she can’t? Maybe she doesn’t want to analyze her culture like this?

Veritatemdilexi: easy to demonize something that’s so different from herself.

Aya: does she have to write that book? I think we could still go through and have this conversation. I don’t think there’s a right book to write, correct answer.

Veritatemdilexi: who’s a bigger victim here? There’s something crucial that’s missing.

Aya: If we’re looking for the bigger victim, again it’s a showdown.


Anne: problem of reflexivity. Is there adequate self-awareness and self-exposure for the reader to make judgments about the point of view? That’s what we’ve been debating. But what about the aesthetic success?

Veritatemdilexi: I like that she opens with quotes.

Anne: what’s the form of the book?
RachelR: interviews with her personal views and reflections intertwined.

Anne: what’s the aesthetic of the book? What’s an aesthetic?

RachelR: form and style, if that’s pleasing.

Cassie: everything but the content?

Aya: style and structure from a very form-based perspective. More enjoyable experience to read books with aesthetic quality. Aesthetic merit of the book means it’s well-written, but that could also mean chapters being well-structured, no egregious grammar and spelling areas. Way it’s written is how readers can enjoy it.

Anne: let’s describe aesthetics of this text.

RachelR: having trouble with this because I find it very subjective. I really liked this book, but a lot of people had issues with the way she formed the book.

Aya: by using their POVs and her own, made it more readable. Not conversational but anecdotal. Relays comments more as stories.

Anne: does it have strong, compelling narrative? Does it have beginning, middle and end? Is it shaped the way a narrative is generally shaped? Is it diffuse, directed? Trying to get you to give words to the form. Obviously based on hundreds of hours of interviews, obviously a selection. What’s the principle of selectivity?

RachelR: progression from interviews of male to female participants; in that is included their lives. As it moves from the males to females, more about their lives in prison, etc. Not really a timeline—puts different interviews in different chapters, based on heading of chapters.

Anne: look at shape of whole, gender shifts, gendered experience of female actors.


Impact? Did it affect you emotionally, intellectually; did it move you?

Tyler: it’s a different perspective of the suicide bombers compared to perspective given in 9/11 Report. Moved emotionally, interested. In other book, emotion was more of anger, but in this book more understanding of why bombers did what they did.

Anne: hearing more of an intellectual response.

Julia: less emotional response, more of understanding.

SandraG: I got really mad at one girl who was doing this to get back at her father. You’re going to go kill people/myself to get back at your father?

Anne: if you sit with someone and learn that their motivations are not idealistic or religious but an attempt to get back at a father…

Veritatemdilexi: but that’s not true of all of them.

SandraG: just that one, but she made me mad.

Aya: makes you wonder who she was arranged to marry. I have friends with arranged marriages and some are happy with them, but others not.

A lot of people joined the military movement not to be a suicide bomber, but to be part of the movement.

SandraG: you’re going to blow up a building just cuz you’re pissed at your dad?

Marina: angry at the generalizations. I’m going to be biased. I know the culture because I’m from there, so I have a better idea. Felt like it wasn’t a very accurate representation; her questions directing interviewees to what she wanted to get at. If it was suicide bombing versus bombing, it would be very different. Suicide bombings have a different characterization. Major reason was because this was where their anger and violence comes out.

Anne: sidesteps that by focusing on familial, psychological, troubled, internal states of actors, and not on political situations.

Marina: Doesn’t really present why Palestinians behave the way they do.

I’m a person who has strong religious ties to Israel, so the reason I had so much anger was because it was a setback for Israelis looking for a peaceful conclusion. Felt like reading it, couldn’t see a way out. Completely neglects political background.

Anne: big question is the last one: does it express a reality?



Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
4 + 2 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.