Why I Like Anthropologists Better than International Studies Types: AAA vs. ISA vs. ASA

     Mark Dawson commented on his Facebook page about attending the International Studies Association meetings in New Orleans this year, and promises to write something for this blog later this week.  This brought back memories to me.  I attended the ISA meetings about ten years ago in the hope that they would be interested in my research about the nature of NGOs and refugee assistance in Africa.  I was interested in what were the best ways to deliver refugee aid in a fashion which was efficient, effective, and culturally appropriate.  Sociology, which is where my Ph.D. is from, was nominally my platform; however, sociology has never done particularly with international in general, and Africa in particular.  As a result I was open to other approaches at the time, which is why I went to the ISA meetings first in Washington, D.C. (1999), and later in New Orleans (2002).

      Wobbly about being a sociologist, I though that International Relations or maybe even anthropology, might suit me better.  The ISA meetings disabused me of my pretensions that that might be the field for me, as described here.  At the ISA, I found very few sessions interested in my brand of culturally appropriate NGO refugee assistance work.  Instead, there was emphasis on things like monetary policy, trade balances, military alliances, diplomacy, nuclear deterrence, and the uses of rational choice theory.  Few of them addressed issues of culture in a fashion reflecting my experiences in Tanzania.  Instead, culture seemed to be included simply as one of several quantified independent variables in a regression equation, or as a condition frustrating attempts at social engineering.  In other words, the conference addressed issues of International Relations, which I guess is fair enough given the nature of the International Studies Association.  Most sessions seemed to use some form of higher mathematics, and few dealt with NGOs, or culture as an interesting phenomenon for its own sake.  Many of the talks were about how to achieve foreign policy goals. 

      The highlight of my two ISA conferences was an invite to a side-meeting about the Nigerian elections of 1999 in Washington DC.  I had met a visitor from the Congressional Hunger Center in 1996 while working as a field worker with refugees in Tanzania.  I ran into him at the conference, and he asked me to come to a meeting about the coming elections in Nigeria which was being held at Congressional Hunger Center; there was concern in the US government that a humanitarian operation would be needed later that year to alleviate any suffering resulting from potential election violence.  I like the idea of such contingency planning, and agreed to come.  He asked me to come as a “representative” of NGOs, of whom there were to be few there.

       The meeting was chaired by a former ambassador of some sort, who asked us to introduce ourselves.  There were twenty or so of us in the room and, as it turned out only two of us from NGOs, myself formerly of Lutheran World Federation where I was pretty low on the totem pole, and a Vice President of some sort from World Vision.  The rest were from US government agencies of various kinds, including the Defense Department, USAID, National Security Agency, Congress, Department of State, and so forth.  The other NGO guy and I were the only ones there not in suit and tie.  We were also the only ones not dropping names of White House contacts, or mumbling about how we had such-and-such a security clearance from the US government buyt didn’t know what was happening in Nigeria.  I didn’t drop such information because I hadn’t known before that day known such things existed.  The main complaint from all the government guys was that despite their high level security clearances, they did not know what was happening in Nigeria.

       The only useful purpose I served was when one of the suits with a high security clearance asked me how I would find out what was going on in Nigeria.  I told him that I would ask a missionary, Peace Corps Volunteer, NGO worker, or someone living in the area.  There was then a long discussion about how US aid should be tied to requirements that NGOs, etc., be required to provide information to the spooks in the field.  I told them that many NGO-types would communicate such information to no one other than their bosses within the NGO.  And that anyway, most of us liked to avoid being thought of as branches of the US government.  (I didn’t use the word “spies” but thought it).

      Anyway, I never heard again from the Congressional Hunger Committee, or other such agency.  I guess that I was just not their type of guy.  I also stopped going to the ISA mainly because I realized that there wasn’t a focus on the way I saw the world, so why bother?  That doesn’t mean that I always see eye to eye with sociological or anthropological meetings, or journals.  But at least there are plenty of sessions exploring questions using a similar world view.  I guess that is why I am a sociologist who writes on an anthropology blog.

The Case of the Stung Ducks: A Study of Law from Sukumaland in Tanzania

This is a story about the nature of law, what is like to feel like an outsider in court. It is about laws of liability which are rational, reasonable, and legtimate by local standards.  However, as I think that the following example shows, such assumptions about liability and law are always embedded in the unspoken culture that is the epistemology which gives cultural life meaning.

The encounter discussed below took place in Tanzania in 1986 when I was working for the Lutheran World Federation’s refugee development programs.  As part of the program, I was sent to buy oxen for an ox training program we had started in Kigoma Region.  On this particular trip, I went with a large covered truck, and was accompanied by three Tanzanians, including an ox trainer truck driver, and an assistant driver.  Three of us (myself, the truck driver, and the assistant driver), were outsiders, and did not speak the local Kisukuma language, only the national language of Tanzania, Kiswahili.  But our ox trainer was a “local” from the region where the oxen were to be purchased, and spoke Kisukuma.  The market was in the town of Sengerema where the monthly cattle market was held in an empty field by the Sukuma people of the region who were well-known for having high quality oxen.  At this cattle market, anyone who had legal title to a cow could bring the cow with its papers, and negotiate to sell it to any buyer.  You would examine the cattle you wanted, and then haggle with the owner over the price.  It was capitalism at its best!

But this article is not about open air markets, capitalism, or even about how to distinguish between an ox and a bull, although I learned about each..  Rather it is about legal epistemology, or more specifically the traditional laws about rights, responsibility, liability, and responsibility found in an open field in Tanzania.  This encounter created confusion within me vis a vis the moral obligations I had to another man.  Indeed, I still have doubts about whether I ever fulfilled the moral rights I had under Sukuman traditional law.  More importantly though, this story illustrates how people who are in unfamiliar legal situations shrink from confrontation.  I know I did.

On the particular trip during which my legal dispute arose, I purchased 12 oxen.  By the second day of the trip, we had purchased enough oxen that we needed to rent a tree under which we could graze them while completing our purchases.  After paying a nominal sum to the owner of the tree to do this, we returned to purchase the rest of the oxen.  At midmorning, however, I was approached by the truck driver, and told that there was something of a crisis back at the tree.  Our oxen had excited a beehive in the tree above them, and the bees had in turn created some havoc among the tree owner’s flock of ducks.  The driver agreed with my initial assessment that the claim itself was probably based on the farmer’s interest in squeezing money out of a rich foreigner.  The driver also agreed that the bees probably had swarmed spontaneously, without reference to our oxen, and that the victimization of the ducks was not really our fault.  Nevertheless, he also pointed out that if it was in fact our oxen that had excited be bees, we would in fact be liable for any damage incurred by the owner of the ducks.  On a more practical level, the driver pointed out that under Sukuma traditional law, we would not be able to reclaim our oxen from underneath the tree until the claim was settled: It was not something that could be simply walked away from   This led to an immediate parley near the tree, because all present agreed that I was potentially liable for the ducks.

The parley quickly turned into a paralegal affair conducted near our still-content oxen (they hadn’t been stung!).  The “trial” was conducted in the Kisukuma language by a judge who I was told was a local elder of some authority.  We were represented, I was told by an advocate who immediately turned to the ox trainer in our group, as he was thoe only one who spoke Kisukuma.  It was his responsibility to translate the proceedings into Kiswahilii, the national language of Tanzania, for the benefit of the truck driver and myself.

The first order of business went surprisingly quickly, and the elder determined that yes, I was liable for any damages that my oxen might have casued by exciting the bees, who in turn stung the ducks.  In effect, my oxen were guilty, and therefore as their owner, I was liable.  I don’t know what legal doctrine this involves, but it was apparent to everyone else present that this conclusion was indeed reasonable.  I am not sure how the “guilt” of my oxen were determined, but it was impressed on me that I had lost the case in very quick order.  All that remained was to assess the amount of damages, which it was agreed should follow the local market’s price.  I offered to pay the market price for a dead duck.  And indeed this would have been easy if one of the ducks had died, and the (damaged) meat sold in the market, but this turned out to be problematic, given that all of the ducks had survived.  But, it was pointed out that the duck meat may well have been damaged by the bee stings; so a value needed to be set on the ducks’ pain and suffering.  This led to further discussions, and an impasse.  How to value the pain and suffering of ducks?

An impasse reached, our Kisukuma-speaking defender decided to try another legal tactic.  He pointed out that the farmer had failed to obtain a government permit for a beehive in the first place.  There is a formal requirement for a license for many things in Tanzania, but in fact such laws are rarely enforced.  But all agreed that this fact was irrelevant, since indeed, there was such a law, and therefore the bees were in fact illegal under traditional and national law.  Therefore our cattle were not liable for exciting what were in fact illegal bees.  Even though this technicality was going to get me off, I pointed out that the law was generally unenforced.  But then, I was the only one present who had never heard of this licensing requirements, and because it helped my case, I agreed to take the licensing requirement very seriously.

Anyway, this whole process took place over a aperiod of about 6 hours, and at the end it was finally concluded that I was not responsible for the ducks’ pain and suffering.  I was permitted to load my oxen on the truck, and we drove back to Kigoma without paying.

Moral of the story:  Avoid courts, any courts at all costs.  And if you can’t avoid court, be sure to have a clever lawyer, well-versed in the language, laws, and nuance of the local place, and listen very carefully.  And finally, be very very patient.

Adapted from Tony Waters (1999), Crime and Immigrant Youth, pp. 209-210.  Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

How to Get Deported for Christmas


     File this one under…I don’t know what.  My story begins with the desire to get cheap airplane tickets to visit our family in Germany this winter.  Simple: Leave at an uncomfortable hour, fly Christmas Eve, save $200 per ticket, and still arrive at Grandma’s in time for Christmas breakfast.  Anyway, we arrived at the Sacramento airport, produced tickets, passports, and so forth, and off we were to Chicago.  In Chicago, out came the boarding pass, our passports were scanned again, and last flight was off to Frankfurt am Main.  We arrived at Frankfurt, and off we go to German immigration, and…no passport.  My wife and I looked at each other.  I thought she had my passport, and she thought I had it.  Back to Lufthansa, and a hurried request to search my seat area.  We couldn’t go back on the plane, but they called the cleaning crew, which said the passport wasn’t there.  But that was o.k., Lufthansa assured me, and I could just take it up with German immigration.  The man at Lufthansa assured me that  this happens all the time—even daily.

German immigration called Lufthansa again, and the airline  lackadaisically responded that they could not find my passport.  The immigration officer asked for my national identity card, and I offered them my California driver’s license, credit cards, and every other government issued picture i.d. I had. The immigration officer complained that the Americans never did have proper identity documents like every other country in Europe.  I shrugged—what else could I do? Now German immigration started to get real concerned, and asked me to go to the airport’s police station  There they found the supervisor who came out and explained that there were only three options left which were for me to:

a) Volunteer to deport via Lufthansa, or

b)  Have a police case and then be forcibly deported, or

c)  I could call the US Embassy, and in the highly unlikely event that the Embassy were there and cared, they could issue me travel papers and I could pass through customs.  As an addendum, the German immigration officer noted that the US Embassy was the most unhelpful in Germany, and unlikely to be of any help to me at all, so I should be ready to get back on the next plane out.

Trying to be helpful, the police officer who was enforcing the “deportation” order pointed out that I was lucky that this was not happening in some “African country.”  Having had a lot of experience with African Immigration officers (none of whom ever deported me), I started to think about why I thought that was not true.  But then I just shut up, and decided to save all that for a later blog.

Anyway, to get to the point.  I was at the point in deportation proceedings when you realize you are in real trouble with the law, get cotton mouth, and visions of that Tom Hanks movie “The Terminal” in which a man-with-no-country spends months in the airport of New York start to appear in you head.  Feebly, I asked for option c), since somewhere I had heard that the US Embassy had managed to persuade German Immigration to let the CIA pass through Frankfurt on their way to being “renditioned” to third countries unknown.  Any consular official who persuade German Immigration to let a terrorist through, could surely spring a careless hapless tourist out of the Frankfurt airport’s immigration office on Christmas Day!  So German immigration called the Frankfurt Consulate  of the United States who, as the German officers predicted were not present.  Indeed, there was only a German language recording indicating that they were closed for Christmas Day (that Friday) and the following weekend, and would re-open only on the following Monday.  Finally I did get the “emergency duty officer” at the US Embassy in Berlin on the police station’s phone.  I asked him what he could do, and he too had a decision tree, which went something like this:

a)  First he asked me for my birthdate.  He also did not want to see my driver’s license, or any other i.d.  He told me that I had not entered Germany because I was not past immigration (duh!), and that is up to Germany anyway, because they are a sovereign country and they do not have to admit and can deport me if they want,

b)  He added that for the Americans to do anything, I would have to go to the Frankfurt Embassy, and since Christmas was (obviously) a holiday I would have to wait three days until the following Monday. And since Germany was a sovereign country, which I hadn’t even entered, this was therefore not his problem, they could deport me for not having any documents, even though the US Embassy was the only entity in Germany who could provide those documents, and

c)  Germany was a sovereign country and basically my carelessness was not the US Embassy’s emergency, and anyway, he really didn’t know who I was, or for that matter much care.

So now I am down to a choice between “voluntary” or “involuntary” deportation.  Helpfully, the German Immigration offered to strong arm Lufthansa into getting me on the next plane back to the United States.  Another officer pointed out that I could show up in America, and get a new passport lickety-split, and then get back to Germany (I guess they have never applied for a US passport—there is nothing lickety split about that!)

Suddenly I knew that I was not going to make it to grandma’s for Christmas breakfast, or lunch, and probably not even New Year’s.  I offered to live inside the security zone at the Frankfurt Airport until Monday (more visions of the “The Terminal”) but the Germans thought that that was a bad idea too—if I was going to live in an airport, it was going to be an American one.

My wife, who had loyally (and “voluntarily”) waited with me behind the locked door at the police station started to imagine how we would spend the “Christmas Holiday” in different planes and continents.  Half way through this conversation, our friendly police officer appeared behind the bullet proof glass.  He gave a big thumbs up sign: My passport had been found by Lufthansa!  The only problem was that it was taken to the Lufthansa lost and found which was outside the security perimeter where I couldn’t go because—I didn’t have a passport.  But not to worry, a patrolling police officer would pick it up and bring it to us.  In the meantime, we could go get a cup of coffee.

The passport did turn up about an hour later.  The patrolling police officer who brought it came in with a big “Ho Ho Ho” and we had another great conversation about the nature of immigration law, and why it was dangerous for Germans to go to Africa.  But again that is for another blog.

For every story there is a moral, I suppose, and the most obvious one for this blog is:

a)  Always keep track of your passport.  Don’t lose it on a plane. 

And here are some more morals:

b)  The US Embassy in Germany doesn’t work on Christmas or weekends, and unless you are a kidnapped terrorist from Italy, don’t expect much help from them on any day.

c)  German immigration officer can be really nice, but they also follow the rules.

d)  If you are in trouble on a border somewhere, try Africa. Like I said, those stories are for another blog.

Learning Foreign Languages

       I was reminded of the importance of foreign language learning twice in the last week or so.  This morning I read a commentary in the New York Times about how poorly Americans do at foreign languages.  Several of the authors remind us that Americans have long done poorly at foreign language learning, and that demands for foreign language learning are declining in the United States, despite attempts by the Chinese government (and others) to get Americans into language classes.

      I am also on a Facebook group emphasizing the importance of German language learning in the United States.  Last week, someone from the “Standup for German Language” Facebook Group sent me a message reminding me to re-emphasize the importance of that language.  Consider this post part of this re-emphasis!

      The problem with language learning in the United States is that pragmatic Americans believe that science and math are the fields that have the greatest demand for jobs in the immediate future, and therefore schools are justified in beefing up math and science requirements, and canceling foreign language programs.  This may be true in the short-run.  But foreign language learning is not divorced completely from the development of cognitive abilities in other fields as well.

     The best piece of evidence of this is that the countries which do best in various kinds of cross-national testing in math and science skills, like Finland, and South Korea, also have stiff requirements for foreign language learning.  Both require English in primary school, and push their children in to third and fourth languages as well, even as they cram on science and math.  While correlation does not always imply causation, it contributes to my belief that language learning as a cognitive process contributes to our abilities in other fields as well. 

      If nothing else, language learning also contributes to our sense of humility, too, which is always a good thing!

The Connection between Crime and Immigration: A Complicated but not Conflicted Issue

My first book was based on my Ph.D. dissertation, and called Crime and Immigrant Youth (Sage 1999). I of course really like it when people read it, even though it is becoming dated.  In this context, I read the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) new “Backgrounder” called Immigration and Crime: Assessing a Conflicted Issue by Steven Camarota and Jessica Vaughan in November 2009 with interest.  This paper has since received wide exposure in the popular press.  In it the authors claimed to do a comprehensive review of the literature on immigration and crime, and pronounce that there would be startling new conclusions about the relationship, i.e. that immigrants were likely to be more criminal than the native born.  But then I read deeper.  Despite claiming to be a review of academic and policy literature, they did not refer to that which disagreed with their assumption that crime and immigration are tightly tied together. And indeed, their conclusions were predictable for an advocacy organization that explicitly indicates that it favors a “low-immigrant vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted.” So even though their report actually develops new data, it did so with one goal in mind: Demonstrating that immigrants are more criminal than the rest of us.  It is with this conclusion that I take exception.

In fact much data much more data about the negative correlation between immigrants themselves and crime than the report lets on (the citations below are just a small indication), which consistently indicate that immigrants themselves, except for crimes caused by immigration itself (e.g. violating immigration laws), tend to have lower rates of crime than the native born. The academic literature is also clear on another point: Immigrants are more likely to seek employment mowing our lawns, staffing our restaurants, cleaning our houses, and staff our factories than they are to commit crime. In fact, such populations by themselves tend to have lower arrest rates than native-born US citizens.  But this is indeed an over-simplification of the relationship, too.

Indeed, immigrants have such low rates of crime that one major researcher has proposed that a way to calm cities down would be to introduce new immigrants.  And while admitting more immigrants might work to bring crime in the short-run, I don’t think that this is the whole story either. The reason for this paradox is that immigrant populations are self-selected for behavior, and age, all conditions which mitigate against the impulsive behavior which most commonly lands people in American lock-ups.  In particular, criminal behavior and arrest is strongly related with age   and gender.  Males from about 15-22 years old have the highest frequency of theft, assault, drug use, etc., as anyone who has ever survived an American high school knows.  The average age for arriving immigrants, be they legal or illegal is in the late twenties.  So in many respects, it is not all that surprising that crime rates among them are lower than the general population.

What is more, immigrants are a self-selected lot, in the sense that those who leave home tend to be self-starters, energetic risk takers, better educated and more compliant than their less-energetic cousins who stay home. This is why scholars like Rumbaut (2009), Sampson (2008), Matthew T. Lee et al (2001), and my own book (Waters 1999) typically demonstrate that immigrants themselves are more law-abiding than native populations. This is one reason why immigrants are often a good deal for receiving countries like the United States.  Another country pays the costs of raising and educating them, they show up in the receiving country, and immediately get to work.

But this belies another problem with immigrant populations, which is that they do sometimes have a “second generation” crime problem.  This issue is unfortunately avoided in the Camarota and Vaughan’s report.  The fact though is that immigrant communities in which birth rates are high, and which are impoverished and centered inner cities, often develop gangs of their own.  This happens when the males born in the US (or who arrived as small children) hit the 15-22 year old age group. When this happens a strain emerges between some immigrant boys who do poorly in schools, and immigrant parents who are unable to control them in the context of the United States’ inner cities.  In this context, parents and youth alike are often isolated from America’s mainstream society.  This occurs because the parents are isolated in the impoverished immigrant community, while the youth are isolated as a result of marginalization at school, their own behavior, and ultimately the response of the justice system.  Notably this is not a behavior brought from home countries, but developed in the context of American cities.  Their cousins who remained behind in the rural areas of the third world do not have the same problem.  The really odd thing though is that in these same American-born families, the brothers or sisters or the errant boys are often doing particularly well—many become the paradigmatic immigrant valedictorian whose accomplishments are justifiably celebrated by organizations like CIS.

The problem of course is that immigrant success stories and crime stories are often inseparable, and as a result, are not particularly responsive to pat formulas relying on legal restrictions, and blanket deportation policies that CIS advocates. But, irrespective of what CIS writes about data being “conflicted,” there is indeed some clarity in how crime emerges in immigrant communities: It arises from the conditions of American cities.  And dealing with the conditions of American cities as they affect impoverished immigrant communities is the best way to deal with the waves of crime that do predictably occur, leading to more victims and arrests.  Acknowledging the complexity of such issues is what providing a good welcome to immigrants should involve.


Tony Waters (1999) Crime and Immigrant Youth. Thousand Oaks: Sage

Matthew T. Lee, Ramiro Martinez, and Richard Rosenfeld (2001) Does Immigration Increase Homicide?  Negative Evidence from Three Border Cities.  Sociological Quarterly

Graham C. Ousey, and Charis E. Kubrin (2009) “Exploring the Connection between Immigration and Violent Crime Rates in U. S. Cities, 1980-2000.” Social Problems, August 2009.  56(3):447-473.

Ruben Rumbaut (2009) “Undocumented Immigration and Rates of Crime and Imprisonment: Popular Myths and Empirical Studies,” at http://www.policefoundation.org/pdf/strikingabalance/Appendix%20D.pdf

Robert J. Sampson (2008) Rethinking Crime and Immigration, Contexts

Volume 7.

Is a single currency for all the world a good idea?

A buddy of mine and I were talking about our favorite conspiracy theories.  Of course, the “one world government” deal is the biggest and bestest of them all.

But it led to an economics questions neither of us are skilled enough to answer:  Would a single currency worldwide be good or bad?  Just imagine a worldwide EURO.  How would that work.  OR, does the vary disparity of currency values due to all the different financial systems  act like a shock absorber for the extremes in the global econmy as we have seen in the last 24 months?

PLEASE comment if you are a economics dweeb.  Great posts (for or against) will be featured on the blog proper….