Learning Politics From Sivaram: The Life and Death of a by Mark Whitaker

By Mark Whitaker

"Very attention-grabbing and unique. the troubles he increases were crucial to American anthropology for twenty years." Thomas Eriksen, Professor of Social Anthropology, college of Oslo "This booklet has been long-awaited through many students, and others keen on the clash in Sri Lanka. it may possibly turn into a brand new exemplar of the way anthropology can be done." Margaret Trawick, Professor of Social Anthropology, Massey college, New Zealand this is often the tale of the lifestyles and effect of the political activist, journalist and freedom-fighter Sivaram Dharmeratnam. Sivaram devoted his lifestyles to supporting the Tamil humans in Sri Lanka. He began as an lively player within the conflict opposed to the Sri Lankan govt -- within the eyes of a few, a "terrorist". but he ultimately stepped clear of the ruthless violence it concerned. in its place, he grew to become a excessive profile journalist within the Sri Lankan press, and used his place to fearlessly critique the govt -- regardless of repeated threats on his lifestyles, and the homicide of alternative reporters. ultimately, in 2005, Sivaram himself used to be assassinated. Written over a interval of twenty-five years, this vibrant existence background additionally engages with a lot broader matters. It deals an intimate portrait of why an informed guy adopts a place of assisting violence. whereas his place softens, Sivaram continues to be severe of the liberal political rules that govern Western coverage. The booklet additionally addresses the issues of writing a existence background, and explores the ways that anthropologists can turn into entwined with their topics -- exhibiting how anthropology itself turns into a residing and transformative technique.

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Inside was a clutter of books and papers: philosophy and literature in Tamil and English, Whitaker 01 chap01 24 3/11/06 15:17:32 Learning Politics From Sivaram 25 cheap magazines from Jaffna, the remains of an article Sivaram was trying to write on Althusser. I settled in a chair by the one table with an oil lamp, pushed aside a copy of the maTTakaLappu maanmiyam, the eastern province’s historical chronicle (McGilvray 1982: 59; Nadarajah 1962), and started leafing through Sivaram’s photocopy of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1979), which was heavily annotated in Sivaram’s somewhat spidery hand.

I could tell Mr M was back from the field, for I could hear his somewhat reedy voice through the gate that linked our compounds. Fairly soon, it would be necessary for me to ask Sivaram to leave. And yet I knew he wanted to talk more, and somehow it did not seem that we had reached the core of what he wanted to say. His attacks on my attempts at anthropological neutrality were, between us, old hat. He had been haranguing me about my ‘objectivity,’ my claim that only by remaining neutral to all sides could I render a sensible account of what was going on in Sri Lanka, for as long as I had known him.

Indeed, you could still see them plainly twining about in the Batticaloa of the 1980s, when I arrived to do my fieldwork. There were, of course, the physical reminders in the old colonial schools: the Methodist girls’ and boys’ schools, St Vincent’s and Central College, with their tidy hint of old British Whitaker 01 chap01 33 3/11/06 15:17:33 34 Learning Politics from Sivaram nonconformist rectitude; or the castellated massiveness of the Catholic St Michael’s, built in 1914, a boys’ school created and still run by American missionary Jesuits.

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