Category Archives: Homo Academicus

Participate in the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies Conference!

CARFMS14: Coherence And Incoherence In Migration Management And Integration: Policies, Practices And Perspectives

7th Annual Conference of the

Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS)

Hosted by

Centre de recherche en droit public (CRDP), University of Montreal
in collaboration with the
Research Chair in Immigration, Ethnicity and Citizenship (RCIEC), University of Quebec at Montreal
Montréal, Quebec

May 7-9, 2014

In the past decade, immigration and asylum policies in Canada and elsewhere have undergone a profound shift. Preventive and repressive measures were taken against irregular migrants, including refugees and other forced migrants. While States have sought to achieve greater coherence in their migration management and integration policies and practices both at the national, regional and international levels the resulting consequences, in many instances, have been, rather, greater incoherence. Border controls were strengthened and international cooperation was intensified. On the pretext that asylum channels were abused by migrants, authorities adopted measures which made asylum and complementary forms of international protection harder to obtain. The decision-making process was accelerated, appeals were eliminated and detention became more systematic. Many states started to deny asylum seekers basic social and economic rights as part of a deliberate policy of deterrence. This exclusionary approach to forced migration management comes at a moment when States are pursuing more and more selective and diversified policies aiming at maximizing economic benefits of immigration. For instance, since 2000 the number of temporary migrant workers in Canada has tripled. Low-skill, low-wage migrant workers represent a flexible work force with few rights. A similar trend can be observed in other countries, where temporary workers and forced migrants find themselves legally, economically and socially marginalized. These developments are not only financially counterproductive but also strain States’ domestic and international obligations to provide human rights and refugee protection. Unsurprisingly, States have failed to address the root causes of forced migration. Due to stricter border controls and a harsher asylum system, more people turn to irregular means of migrating. This, in turn, creates an environment that is conducive to migrant smuggling and human trafficking. Heated debate on migration contributes to racism and xenophobic sentiments in many countries, creating a climate in which opportunities for sensible reflection are rare.

The 2014 CARFMS Conference will bring together students, researchers, policymakers, displaced persons and advocates from diverse disciplinary and regional backgrounds with a view to better analyse and understanding how contemporary migration and asylum policies, processes and structures have produced greater coherence and/or incoherence in the management of forced migration and integration. We invite participants from a wide range of perspectives to explore practical, social, legal, policy-oriented and theoretical questions of importance to the coherence of forced migration management. We also invite studies of short and long-term options for to integration and resettlement of forced migrants taking into account challenges and achievements.

The conference will feature keynote and plenary speeches from leaders in the field and refugees, and we welcome proposals for individual posters, papers, organized panels and roundtables structured around the following broad subthemes:

1. Coherence and Incoherence in the Management of Migration: Local, National, Regional, Comparative and International Issues and Concerns
This theme analyses discourse, norms, procedures and practices regarding border security, asylum and immigration and integration policy as well as their effectiveness, consequences and compatibility with domestic and international human rights and refugee protection standards. How can we ensure more coherent migration policies at the national, regional and international levels? What are the root causes of forced migration? What are the short and long-term implications of changes in the asylum and immigration system in Canada and abroad? What are the appropriate strategies to address irregular migration? What are the best practices in the reception of asylum seekers and the integration of migrants? How do international, regional, national and local actors, institutions and agencies, employers and members of civil society promote the legal, economic and social inclusion of migrants? How are the specific needs of women, children, elderly, disabled persons and other vulnerable persons met?

2. Coherence and Incoherence in the Integration of Migrants: Local, National, Regional, Comparative and International Issues and Concerns

This theme explores States’ utilitarian approach towards migration which challenges the balance between the objective of economic development, on the one hand, and integration and the fundamental rights of migrants, on the other. It also deals with the recent changes in the reception systems and in the treatment of forced migrants. What are the strengths and the weaknesses of reception, settlement, and integration policies? How should these policies be adapted to meet the needs of increasing numbers of temporary workers and of forced migrants, and foster their legal, economic and social inclusion? What is the role played by local, national and regional authorities, employers and members of civil society dealing with issues such as health, education, social welfare, employment and law enforcement? How does gender, sex, age, race, nationality or statelessness and other factors, taken individually or collectively, affect the coherence and/or incoherence in migration management and integration?

3. Towards Greater Migration Management and Integration Coherence Without Incoherence : New Approaches, Research Methods and Theories 

This theme solicits research on innovative approaches, grounded theories and methods in migration management and integration, developed within traditional disciplines or along interdisciplinary lines. New theoretical, conceptual, methodological issues from diverse critical and institutional perspectives lead to a better understanding of recent developments and challenges in the field of migration, and, ultimately, to more coherent policies and practices affecting the migrants in local, national, regional, and international contexts. What are the practical issues and challenges of researching migration management and integration and their coherent and/or incoherent consequences? How do we do research on these issues? How does our research influence theoretical foundations of citizenship and diversity, as well as policies of management, adaptation, and integration of refugees and other forced migrants? What are the implications of positioning ourselves as academics, policy makers, displaced persons, advocates, or activists when we are looking into issues of displacement, management and integration?


The deadline to submit abstracts has passed.

For more information, please contact:
Michele Millard
Coordinator, Centre for Refugee Studies
CARFMS Secretariat
8th Floor, Kaneff Tower
4700 Keele Street Toronto, ON M3J 1P3 Tel : 416-736-2100 ext. 30391
Fax : 416-736-5688
Email :

Knowledge Translation of “Mental Health” issues in Butare, Rwanda

Wesley Oakes, one of the editors of this KM blog, was in Rwanda in mid January to conduct a qualitative research workshop that is intended to help prepare third year social work students at the National University of Rwanda in Butare to conduct a research project on Mental Health issues in their community (ies). This workshop was complementary to the instruction in research methods that the students have already been undergoing as part of their degree program. The main on the ground research component of this project will be conducted by the students early this year.

A key part of this workshop was to engage in the brainstorming and translation of what Mental Health constitutes in many communities in Rwanda, and to discern how community workers can best be equipped to provide mental health services where needed.

Engaging in this process also entailed immediate recognition and honoring of the situated nature of Mental Health, as well as the importance of having the adequate “language” skills and context information when conducting any research. This was a knowledge translation and re-translation exercise indeed! Below are some pictures from the workshop.



Savage Minds Interview: Sarah Kendzior

Sarah Kendzior is a writer for Al Jazeera English. She has a PhD in cultural anthropology from Washington University and researches the political effects of digital media in the former USSR. You can find her work at, and on Twitter: @sarahkendzior

Ryan Anderson:  First of all, thanks for doing this interview.  Let’s start off with the basics:  Why anthropology?  How and why did you end up in this field?

Sarah Kendzior: I got interested in anthropology while working as a research assistant for an anthropologist, Nazif Shahrani, while getting my MA in Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. Before I was an anthropologist, I was a journalist, but I was frustrated with the superficiality of foreign coverage. Journalists often cover foreign conflicts without knowing foreign languages, talking to local people, or examining the history and culture of the place they visit. I wanted to do things differently.

In 2004, I used to joke that anthropology was journalism with more work and less money. Of course, now there is no money in journalism either, but my point still stands. Ethnography is journalism that takes too long. I mean that not pejoratively but as an affirmation of the discipline’s values –– long-term observation; scrutiny of methodological practice; respect for history; commitment to understanding local beliefs and traditions.

I got spoiled working for Dr. Shahrani. He is an outspoken intellectual who spares no criticism of systems that he finds corrupt – including academia. He saw anthropology not as an abstraction removed from public life, but as a source of insight from which the public could benefit. In 2004, at the height of the “war on terror” and political propaganda against Muslims, this seemed a worthy goal. Dr. Shahrani is also very funny and honest and therefore left me with an erroneous impression of what anthropology, as a disciplinary institution, is like.  I applied to PhD programs in the fall of 2005. In my application essay, I wrote: “I am not only interested in writing about the world, but for it as well.” This is still true. In retrospect, it is surprising I got in so many places.

RA: And how was your experience in graduate school?  What’s your overall assessment of grad student life in anthropology?

SK: I can’t separate my grad school experience from other things going on in my life at the time. During graduate school I wrote six peer-reviewed journal articles, one policy paper, one dissertation – and had two children. My daughter was born at the end of my first year, in 2007, and my son was born as I finished my dissertation in 2011.

I was not a typical graduate student, and I didn’t have a typical graduate student life, so I’m probably not the best person to assess it. But on a personal level, it was fine. Because I’ve written critically about academia, people tend to assume I had a bad time in graduate school. This is not the case. I entered academia from the working world — graduate school felt like a luxury. My department supports its students well, and I had free tuition, a decent stipend, research money, and travel money for conferences. I worked on my own time on projects of my own choosing. I love to research and write and I enjoyed writing the dissertation.

Graduate school was easy. It was the non-existent future that I was working toward that was the problem. Every grad school path is unique, but almost all lead to the same dead end: a contingency market in which you must have both personal wealth and a willingness to accept your own exploitation to stay in the game.

I would never tell anyone not to go to graduate school. It is a personal decision, and there are many reasons to go. But I would tell them not to go to graduate school believing that your performance in graduate school has anything to do with your ability to find a full-time academic job. Academia is closer to a Ponzi scheme than a meritocracy.

RA: Looking back, is there anything you would change about your experiences in graduate school?  Anything that you think should be done differently about how we train and teach graduate students?

SK: Graduate students live in constant fear. Some of this fear is justified, like the fear of not finding a job. But the fear of unemployment leads to a host of other fears, and you end up with a climate of conformity, timidity, and sycophantic emulation. Intellectual inquiry is suppressed as “unmarketable”, interdisciplinary research is marked as disloyal, public engagement is decried as “unserious”, and critical views are written anonymously lest a search committee find them. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by the Academic Jobs Wiki.

The cult mentality of academia not only curtails intellectual freedom, but hurts graduate students in a personal way. They internalize systemic failure as individual failure, in part because they have sacrificed their own beliefs and ideas to placate market values. The irony is that an academic market this corrupt and over-saturated has no values. Do not sacrifice your integrity to a lottery — even if you are among the few who can afford to buy tickets until you win.

Anthropology PhDs tend to wind up as contingent workers because they believe they have no other options. This is not true – anthropologists have many skills and could do many things – but there are two main reasons they think so. First, they are conditioned to see working outside of academia as failure. Second, their graduate training is not oriented not toward intellectual exploration, but to shoring up a dying discipline.

Gillian Tett famously said that anthropology has committed intellectual suicide. Graduate students are taught to worship at its grave. The aversion to interdisciplinary work, to public engagement, to new subjects, to innovation in general, is wrapped up in the desire to affirm anthropology’s special relevance. Ironically, this is exactly what makes anthropology irrelevant to the larger world. No one outside the discipline cares about your jargon, your endless parenthetical citations, your paywalled portfolio, your quiet compliance. They care whether you have ideas and can communicate them. Anthropologists have so much to offer, but they hide it away.

I got a lot of bad advice in graduate school, but the most depressing was from a professor who said: “Don’t use up all your ideas before you’re on the tenure track.” I was assumed to have a finite number of ideas, and my job as a scholar was to withhold them, revealing them only when it benefited me professionally. The life of the mind was a life of pandering inhibition.

I ignored this along with other advice – don’t get pregnant, don’t get pregnant (again), don’t study the internet, don’t study an authoritarian regime – and I am glad I did. Graduate students need to be their own mentors. They should worry less about pleasing people who disrespect them and more about doing good work.

Because in the end, that is what you are left with – your work. The more you own that, the better off you will be. In the immortal words of Whitney Houston: “No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.” And in the equally immortal words of Whitney Houston: “Kiss my ass.” Both sentiments are helpful for navigating graduate school.

Academic training does not need to change so much as academic careerism. There is little sense in embracing careerism when hardly anyone has a career. But graduate school can still have value. Take advantage of your time in school to do something meaningful, and then share it with the world.

RA: How have things been for you since you graduated?  What has it been like to move beyond graduate school and academia?

SK: I’m not sure becoming the poster girl for the collapse of higher education means moving beyond academia, but overall things have gone well — albeit not in a way I had expected. I did an interview on this topic for From PhD to Life, and people can read about it there.

RA: Earlier you mentioned an adviser who sees anthropology as something that should not be removed from public life–as something that can benefit the public.  Do you share a similar vision of the discipline?  What’s your take on the role of anthropology in public life?

SK: Anthropology benefits the public. Unfortunately, it is blocked from the public, and anthropologists who engage with the public – people like David Graeber – tend to be shunned by other anthropologists, to the point where they lose their jobs. This makes younger anthropologists afraid of public engagement, even though they have valuable insights to share.

Anthropologists complain about politics and the media, but they rarely engage with either. Then they wonder why their voices are not being heard. The most obvious way anthropologists can increase their influence is by writing online. I don’t mean writing in places like Anthropology News — where you have to pay an exorbitant membership fee to leave a comment – but on real blogs, on Twitter, on mainstream media sites, and in open access journals. Publishing reprints of paywalled articles is also a good idea, and is usually legal after a period of time. I did an interview about the benefits of reprinting journal articles online with, which you can read here.

Anthropologists tend to forget that tenets basic to our discipline – for example, that race is a social construct and not a biological determinant of behavior – come as revelations to a lot of people. Issues of racial and religious discrimination are among the many areas where anthropologists can have a powerful voice.

I recently wrote an article for Al Jazeera, “The Wrong Kind of Caucasian”, that had a complicated premise but a simple conclusion: do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnic background or country of origin. It was read by half a million people and shared on Facebook 57,000 times. I got letters from people saying I had changed their preconceptions and that they were going to keep an open mind about race, ethnicity and immigration. It felt good to make a difference at a politically heated time.

Academics justify the paywall system by saying the public is not interested in academic research. I argue that the public has had no opportunity to decide for themselves, since access to research has always been blocked. But I have faith in the ability of non-academics to understand and appreciate academic work. Given our current political and economic situation, anthropology may be of particular interest. More than any other discipline, it tackles issues of power and corruption, paying attention not only to the powerful, but to the struggling and marginalized.

Except, of course, when it comes to the struggling and marginalized anthropologists. Rarely have I seen a group more oblivious to their own hypocrisy than the “enlightened” anthropologists ignoring the adjunct crisis. You would think such incredible structural inequality would be interesting, at least, to the anthropological mind. I know it is interesting to me.

RA: You’re writing for a lot of non-academic venues these days–Al Jazeera and so on.  How is this different from writing for academic venues and audiences?

SK: Hundreds of thousands of people read it. That is the main difference. I still write on many of the topics I studied while getting my PhD — digital media, politics, Central Asia. Stylistically, there is little difference between my Al Jazeera articles and my academic articles. The idea that academic writing needs to be abstruse is a myth. I had a pretty easy time publishing in academia — no reviewer criticized my writing style or suggested I use more jargon.

Because so many people read my work, I get a lot more feedback. Sometimes it is overwhelming. Al Jazeera is a great place to write because it has a huge international audience – I get email and tweets from people around the world, and like hearing their perspectives

That said, I enjoyed academic writing too. I don’t find it hard to move between different audiences, in part because I don’t make a distinction. Many of the people who like my Al Jazeera articles are academics; many of the people who like my academic articles are not.

RA: Above, you highlighted the fact that many anthropologists complain about their voices not being heard, yet ironically they often don’t engage much with politics or the media.  To me, this persistent disengagement paves the way for attacks on social science by the likes of Tom Coburn and Florida Governor Rick Scott.  We’ve essentially dug our own grave when it comes to public engagement–it’s easy to discount a highly insular, often silent discipline that few people have ever heard anything about.  So, in order to wrap up this interview I am going to ask you two simple questions that I hear all the time from non-anthropologists:  1) Anthropology?  What the hell is anthropology?; and 2) What are you going to do with that?

SK: You are right that academics’ lack of public engagement opens the door to political attacks. I wrote an article about this for Al Jazeera called Academic funding and the public interest.

I’m not going to answer “What is anthropology?” No one cares about our ontological debates. But here is how I would explain cultural anthropology to a layperson:

All of the social sciences – history, political science, economics, etc – study how people behave, form groups, and build a society. Each social science has its own way of figuring this out. Anthropologists believe the best way to find out what someone is thinking is to ask them. We respect that people in another community understand their own way of life better than outsiders do. We observe a community for a long period of time so that we don’t come away with hasty generalizations. We are careful when we write about others to put their words and their views before our own.

When you study anthropology, you learn about people and places that you might not otherwise. Anthropologists write about everyone – powerful and powerless, rich and poor, all races and nationalities. They explore how political decisions affect ordinary people, and how ordinary people influence politics. They look at how public perception is shaped, how social trends emerge, and how movements are formed. They ask what people expect from life, and what happens when they don’t get it.

Anthropology has a reputation for being exotic. But the point of anthropology is that exoticism fades when you get to know someone. Bigotry and prejudice fade too, which is why anthropologists used to be influential in reshaping ideas about race and ethnicity.

Anthropologists are interested in why people believe lies. For example, a large percent of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya. For an anthropologist, it would not be enough to note that this is factually incorrect. They want to know why so many people believe it is true.

Anthropologists understand that the world often doesn’t run on facts, but on dreams and delusions, hopes and fears, imagination and ambition. They don’t dismiss anything as unimportant.


Now onto your second question — what are you going to do with that? First of all, higher education and the economy are both such disasters that you cannot assume any major or degree will guarantee you a good, secure life. STEM, liberal arts, law – no profession is safe. Industries are disappearing or being restructured out of existence. Practical training you get in college will likely be useless ten years from now. There are no safe bets.

So what is the point of an education? The point is to think critically, become an informed citizen, gain some specialized knowledge, gain broader insight into the world, and communicate well. Some people will say they don’t need to go to college to do this. I actually agree with that. But since college is a prerequisite for most jobs, you might as well get a solid education.

The best education is a broad education with an emphasis on primary sources, debate, and writing skills. I recommend that people study anthropology, but they should also study history, literature, religion, art, science, economics, sociology, political science, and other subjects. The constant assertion of disciplinary superiority is self-defeating. If the social sciences want to win the battle against people who want to defund us, we need to band together. We also would benefit intellectually if we read work outside our discipline and showed tolerance for alternate approaches.

I study Central Asia, a region of the world that is so understudied that there is a very small body of anthropological literature. As a result, most anthropologists draw not only from anthropological studies, but from the work of sociologists, historians, geographers and others. We also tend to read and cite non-academic work, since data on Central Asia is so limited. We have a supportive research community and no one’s knowledge is dismissed out of hand because of their background.

I also study the internet, and so I read broadly in communication, sociology, humanities and other fields. Yet when I write an article for an anthropology journal, I am expected to cite only other anthropologists. When I co-wrote a mixed-methods article with a quantitative communications scholar, and we got it published in the top communications journal, I was told by some anthropologists to leave it off my CV, because it showed I was interested in something other than anthropology. This is ridiculous. There is no need for this insecurity masked as insularity.

Anthropology is struggling as a discipline because anthropologists bank on a lofty reputation that they don’t really have while simultaneously shielding their work from the public. The public is not going to believe you have something worthy to say when you refuse to let them in on the conversation. Don’t be so afraid, anthropologists. You of all people should know the world is not what it seems.


Another Flat-Earth Argument About Immigration’s Economic Drain

Photo: Erin Zipper

The stodgy conservatives over at the Heritage Foundation released a long-expected report today that blasts immigration reform as an economic drain. The report, which is expected to be influential among conservative legislators, comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee begins work on its massive reform bill this week. A similar Heritage report is credited with helping to derail a previous reform effort, in 2006.

The paper is authored by Robert Rector, who came to fame as a key conservative thinker during the 1996 dismantling of family welfare, and his colleague Jason Richwine. The two claim that the “net increased fiscal costs generated by amnesty”—by which they mean the 13-year path to citizenship in the Senate bill—will cost $6.3 trillion in benefits and services for legalized immigrants over the next 50 years.

Put simply, the Heritage Foundation’s report is misleading. It focuses only on what the government spends in services and programs, minus what immigrants pay in taxes, while ignoring the vast economic contributions of immigrant communities. Nearly every independent analysis shows that immigration and immigration reform bring net economic growth. Rather than acknowledge this reality, the Heritage report reinforces a familiar trope about people of color as “takers,” a cultural rather than economic argument that conservatives have consistently invoked when trying to cut safety net programs.

A Flawed Analysis

There are lots of problems with the report. But quickly, here’s their claim. Because most newly legalized immigrants are low-income, legalization will cost the government $6.3 trillion more in benefits and services than newly legalized immigrants will pay in taxes over the next five decades. The bulk of that spending, they say, is on public education, the safety net, social security and health care. They’re most concerned with paying for school for kids and social security for aging immigrants.

Without digging into whether those calculations are right on their face, the report misses most of the story about immigrants’ relationship to the economy. As with anyone, immigrant communities’ economic impact is more than just how much any given family receives in benefits minus how much we pay in taxes. That’s why the Congressional Budget Office plans to use a so-called dynamic scoring method when it analyzes the immigration bill.

As the Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews writes:

They also assume [immigration reform has] no other economic impact of any kind. That’s so implausible that even the CBO, which is famously conservative with regards to incorporating economic effects of policies, took direct economic effects of adding people to the workforce into account when evaluating the 2006-7 reform bill. They found that legalization, even paired with increased border security spending, would mildly cut the deficit over 10 years, by about $12 billion.

The CBO plans a similar analysis this year.

Even some on the right side of the GOP challenge the Heritage methodology. Sen. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said in a statement, “The Congressional Budget Office has found that fixing our broken immigration system could help our economy grow. A proper accounting of immigration reform should take into account these dynamic effects.”

Missing The Point

The Heritage report accurately notes that CBO analyses look only 10 years into the future, which means it won’t account for additional benefits that that these immigrants will be eligible for if they become citizens. Immigrants on the 10-year provisional path to citizenship will be denied access to all government programs, including Obamacare healthcare exchanges. But existing research on immigration suggests that legalization provides a boon to the economy in the long term by increasing immigrants’ economic prospects in the future.

Take this research from the Immigration Policy Center on the 1986 immigration reform legislation. Rector and Richwine claim that immigrants are a drain because in aggregate those who are given legal status will remain poor and uneducated. But the IPC analysis finds precisely the opposite to be true. In the years after the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act:

the educational attainment of IRCA immigrants increased substantially, their poverty rates fell dramatically, and their home ownership rates improved tremendously. Moreover, their real wages rose, many of them moved into managerial positions, and the vast majority did not depend upon public assistance.

And immigrants tend to stimulate the economy by starting businesses. Here’s what the Brookings Institutehas to say:

immigrants are 30 percent more likely to form new businesses than U.S.-born citizens…Such investments in new businesses and in research may provide spillover benefits to U.S.-born workers by enhancing job creation and by increasing innovation among their U.S.-born peers.

The same is true for of immigrants who don’t have lots of education, especially at the local level where immigration has for years been “revitalizing small-town America once plagued with a shrinking tax base and dim prospects for economic growth,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Here’s another problem with the report. The research lists public education as the most costly part of government spending on immigrant families—$13,000 of the annual $24,000 the authors say taxpayers spend on a family. That’s an absurd thing to be upset about. Education for all Americans is expensive, but it’s an investment in our collective future. Moreover, the majority of the kids in question were born here in the United States. They’re not immigrants at all, according to our Constitution.

If you want to read a filing cabinet full of studies on the positive economic impact of immigration reform, check out this Immigration Policy Center fact sheet.

But facts aren’t the point of the Heritage study. The point is to provide an escape hatch for Republicans who oppose the broadly popular legislation. Yesterday, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told the NY Times he hoped to hold the bill up in committee long enough for it to die. “The longer this legislation is available for public review, the worse it’s going to be perceived,” he said Monday. “The longer it lays out there, the worse it’s going to smell.” As Senators propose amendments this week, don’t be surprised to see lawmakers, including those who oppose reform outright, citing the Heritage Foundation in an effort to stench up the room.

From colorlines

Thesis Hatement

Getting a literature Ph.D. will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor.


Illustration by Luke Pearson

Who wouldn’t want a job where you only have to work five hours a week, you get summers off, your whole job is reading and talking about books, and you can never be fired? Such is the enviable life of the tenured college literature professor, and all you have to do to get it is earn a Ph.D. So perhaps you, literature lover, are considering pursuing this path.


Well, what if I told you that by “five hours” I mean “80 hours,” and by “summers off” I mean “two months of unpaid research sequestration and curriculum planning”? What if you’ll never have time to read books, and when you talk about them, you’ll mostly be using made-up words like “deterritorialization” and “Othering”—because, as Ron Rosenbaum pointed out recently, the “dusty seminar rooms” of academia have the chief aim of theorizing every great book to death? And I can’t even tell you what kind of ass you have to kiss these days to get tenure—largely because, like most professors, I’m not on the tenure track, so I don’t know.

Don’t do it. Just don’t. I deeply regret going to graduate school, but not, Ron Rosenbaum, because my doctorate ruined books and made me obnoxious. (Granted, maybe it did: My dissertationinvolved subjecting the work of Franz Kafka to first-order logic.) No, I now realize graduate school was a terrible idea because the full-time, tenure-track literature professorship is extinct. After four years of trying, I’ve finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you.

You might think your circumstances will be different. So did I. There’s a little fable from Kafka, appropriately called “A Little Fable,” that speaks to why this was very stupid:

“Alas,” said the mouse, “the world gets smaller every day. At first it was so wide that I ran along and was happy to see walls appearing to my right and left, but these high walls converged so quickly that I’m already in the last room, and there in the corner is the trap into which I must run.”

“But you’ve only got to run the other way,” said the cat, and ate it.

The mouse wasn’t going in the wrong direction so much as it was walking cat food the entire time. A graduate career is just like this, only worse, because “A Little Fable” lasts three sentences and is made up, while graduate school lasts at least six years and will ruin your life in a very real way. But, as in the fable, this ruin is predestined, and completely unrelated to how “right” you do things.

Other well-meaning academics have already attempted to warn you, the best-known screed in this subgenre being William Pannapacker’s “Graduate School in the Humanities? Just Don’t Go.”* But this convinced no one. It certainly didn’t convince me! Why? Because Pannapacker is a tenured professor. He pulled it off, so why can’t you? After all, someonehas to get these jobs.

Well, someone also has to not die from small-cell lung cancer to give the disease its 6 percent survival rate, but would you smoke four packs a day with the specific intention of being in that 6 percent? No, because that’s stupid. Well, tenure-track positions in my field have about 150 applicants each. Multiply that 0.6 percent chance of getting any given job by the 10 or so appropriate positions in the entire world, and you have about that same 6 percent chance of “success.” If you wouldn’t bet your life on such ludicrous odds, then why would you bet your livelihood?

Don’t misunderstand me. There is unquantifiable intellectual reward from the exploration of scholarly problems and the expansion of every discipline—yes, even the literary ones, and even if that means doing bat-shit analysis like using the rule of “false elimination” to determine that Josef K. is simultaneously guilty and not guilty in The Trial. But there is one sort of reward you will never get: monetary compensation from a stable, non-penurious position at a decent university.

So you won’t get a tenure-track job. Why should that stop you? You can cradle your new knowledge close, and just go do something else. Great—are you ready to withstand the open scorn of everyone you know? During graduate school, you will be broken down and reconfigured in the image of the academy. By the time you finish—if you even do—your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why. (Bright side: You will no longer have any friends outside academia.)

When this happens to you—after you have mailed, at your own expense, the required 60-page dossiers to satellite campuses of Midwestern or Southern universities of which you have never heard; after you endure a deafening silence from most of these institutions but then receive hope in the form of a paltry few conference interviews; after you fork out $1,000 to spend your Christmas amid thousands of your competitors at the Modern Language Association convention; after said convention, where you endure tribunal-style interviews in hotel suites where you are often made to perch in your ill-fitting suit on the edge of a bed; after, perhaps, being invited to a callback interview at a remote Midwestern or Southern campus where your entire person will be judged on the basis of two meals and one presentation; after, at the end of all this, they give the job to an inside candidate they were planning to hire all along—when this happens, and it will, it will feel as if the entirety of your human self has been rejected because you are no good at whatever branch of literature-ruining you have chosen.

This is probably not true. On the contrary, you are probably spectacular, due to the manic professionalization of the literary disciplines meant to create Ph.D.s who can compete. Everyone has a book contract, peer-reviewed publications, and stellar teaching evaluations. This was not the case when today’s associate professors were hired in the boom of the late 1990s. But don’t resent them for insisting that it has “always been hard out there”—just let them buy you lunch. You may also be tempted to resent the generation of full professors teetering ever precariously toward retirement, and thus cleaving ever more resolutely to their positions. Leave them alone—they won’t be replaced when they leave anyway; their “tenure lines,” as they are called, will die with them.

No, you will not get a job—not because, like Kafka’s mouse, you went in the “wrong” direction, but because today’s academic job market is a “market” in the sense that one stall selling fiddlehead ferns in the middle of a strip mall is a “farmer’s market.” In the place of actual jobs are adjunct positions: benefit-free, office-free academic servitude in which you will earn $18,000 a year for the rest of your life.

But how did this happen? Colleges and universities have more students than ever—and charge higher tuition than ever—so whither the humanities professorship amid all the resort-like luxury dormitories and gleaming student centers? Is the humanities professorship extinct because at this very second, thousands of parents of wide-eyed college freshmen are discouraging them from taking literature, philosophy, foreign languages or history (the disciplines that comprised a college education in its entirety for thousands of years, but whatever), even though quite unlike humanities Ph.D.s, humanities B.A. degrees are actually among the most hirable? Or is it, as Rosenbaum andothers have suggested, that the overproduction of obtuse torrents of jargon has caused my profession to hasten its own irrelevance?

Who cares? None of this will be sorted out in the five to 10 years it takes you to get a Ph.D. So don’t. Sure, you may be drawn to the advanced study of literature like my late grandmother to her three daily packs of Kools—but in the 1950s, smokers didn’t know any better. In 2005 when I began my own Ph.D., I should have known better, but I didn’t. Now that you know better, will you listen? Or will you think that somehow you can beat odds that would be ludicrous in any other context?

Look, smarty-pants, let me put this in overcomplicated language you can understand: Ludwig Wittgenstein concluded his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by proclaiming that anyone who “understood” the work would know to discard everything in it after reading it, to “throw away the ladder” after reaching the top, as it were. But with academia, you don’t need to put yourself through five to 10 years of the hardest work you will ever do, followed by four years (and counting) of rejection and dejection, simply to conclude that the experience was ill-advised. When it comes to graduate school, you should just chuck the ladder before you try to climb it. You’ve only got to run the other way.

Slate  April 5, 2013


Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist who recently recived her PhD from Washington University in St Louis.

2013411102316570734_20On April 8, 2013, the New York Times reported that 76 percent of American university faculty are adjunct professors – an all-time high. Unlike tenured faculty, whose annual salaries can top $160,000, adjunct professors make an average of $2,700 per course and receive no health care or other benefits.

Most adjuncts teach at multiple universities while still not making enough to stay above the poverty line. Some are on welfare or homeless. Others depend on charity drives held by their peers. Adjuncts are generally not allowed to have offices or participate in faculty meetings. When they ask for a living wage or benefits, they can be fired. Their contingent status allows them no recourse.

No one forces a scholar to work as an adjunct. So why do some of America’s brightest PhDs – many of whom are authors of books and articles on labour, power, or injustice – accept such terrible conditions?

“Path dependence and sunk costs must be powerful forces,” speculates political scientist Steve Saidemen in a post titled “The Adjunct Mystery“. In other words, job candidates have invested so much time and money into their professional training that they cannot fathom abandoning their goal – even if this means living, as Saidemen says, like “second-class citizens”. (He later downgraded this to “third-class citizens”.)

With roughly 40 percent of academic positions eliminated since the 2008 crash, most adjuncts will not find a tenure-track job. Their path dependence and sunk costs will likely lead to greater path dependence and sunk costs – and the costs of the academic job market are prohibitive. Many job candidates must shell out thousands of dollars for a chance to interview at their discipline’s annual meeting, usually held in one of the most expensive cities in the world. In some fields, candidates must pay to even see the job listings.

Given the need for personal wealth as a means to entry, one would assume that adjuncts would be even more outraged about their plight. After all, their paltry salaries and lack of departmental funding make their job hunt a far greater sacrifice than for those with means. But this is not the case. While efforts at labour organisation are emerging, the adjunct rate continues to soar – from 68 percent in 2008, the year of the economic crash, to 76 percent just five years later.

Jobs report sees reduction in
US unemployment

Contingency has become permanent, a rite of passage to nowhere.

A two-fold crisis

The adjunct plight is indicative of a two-fold crisis in education and in the American economy. On one hand, we have the degradation of education in general and higher education in particular. It is no surprise that when 76 percent of professors are viewed as so disposable and indistinguishable that they are listed in course catalogues as “Professor Staff”, administrators view computers which grade essaysas a viable replacement. Those who promote inhumane treatment tend to not favour the human.

On the other hand, we have a pervasive self-degradation among low-earning academics – a sweeping sense of shame that strikes adjunct workers before adjunct workers can strike. In a tirade for Slate subtitled “Getting a literature PhD will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor”, Rebecca Schuman writes:

“By the time you finish – if you even do – your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you.”

Self-degradation sustains the adjunct economy, and we see echoes of it in journalism, policy and other fields in which unpaid or underpaid labour is increasingly the norm. It is easy to make people work for less than they are worth when they are conditioned to feel worthless.

Thomas A Benton wrote in 2004, before tackling the title question, “Is Graduate School a Cult?”:

“Although I am currently a tenure-track professor of English, I realise that nothing but luck distinguishes me from thousands of other highly-qualified PhD’s in the humanities who will never have full-time academic jobs and, as a result, are symbolically dead to the academy.”

Benton’s answer is yes, and he offers a list of behaviour controls used by cults – “no critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate”, “access to non-cult sources of information minimised or discouraged” – that mirror the practices of graduate school. The author lived as he wrote: it was later revealed that “Thomas A Benton” was a pseudonym used by academic William Pannapacker when he wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education – a publication said to employ more pseudonyms than any other American newspaper. The life of the mind is born of fear.

Some may wonder why adjuncts do not get a well-paying non-academic job while they search for a tenure-track position. The answer lies in the cult-like practices Pannapacker describes. To work outside of academia, even temporarily, signals you are not “serious” or “dedicated” to scholarship. It does not matter if you are simply too poor to stay: in academia, perseverance is redefined as the ability to suffer silently or to survive on family wealth. As a result, scholars adjunct in order to retain an institutional affiliation, while the institution offers them no respect in return.

Dispensable automatons

Is academia a cult? That is debatable, but it is certainly a caste system. Outspoken academics like Pannapacker are rare: most tenured faculty have stayed silent about the adjunct crisis. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it,” wrote Upton Sinclair, the American author famous for his essays on labour exploitation. Somewhere in America, a tenured professor may be teaching his work, as a nearby adjunct holds office hours out of her car.

“It is easy to make people work for less than they are worth when they are conditioned to feel worthless.”


On Twitter, I wondered why so many professors who study injustice ignore the plight of their peers. “They don’t consider us their peers,” the adjuncts wrote back. Academia likes to think of itself as a meritocracy – which it is not – and those who have tenured jobs like to think they deserved them. They probably do – but with hundreds of applications per available position, an awful lot of deserving candidates have defaulted to the adjunct track.

The plight of the adjunct shows how personal success is not an excuse to excuse systemic failure. Success is meaningless when the system that sustained it – the higher education system – is no longer sustainable. When it falls, everyone falls. Success is not a pathway out of social responsibility.

Last week, a corporation proudly announced that it had created a digital textbook that monitors whether students had done the reading. This followed the announcement of the software that grades essays, which followed months of hype over MOOCs – massive online open courses – replacing classroom interaction. Professors who can gauge student engagement through class discussion are unneeded. Professors who can offer thoughtful feedback on student writing are unneeded. Professors who interact with students, who care about students, are unneeded.

We should not be surprised that it has come to this when 76 percent of faculty are treated as dispensable automatons. The contempt for adjuncts reflects a general contempt for learning. The promotion of information has replaced the pursuit of knowledge. But it is not enough to have information – we need insight and understanding, and above all, we need people who can communicate it to others.

People who have the ability to do this are not dispensable. They should not see themselves this way, and they should not be treated this way. Fight for what you are worth, adjuncts. Success is solidarity.

Sarah Kendzior is a writer and analyst who studies digital media and politics. She has a PhD in anthropology from Washington University.


Academics don’t let themselves be free

If academics really want freedom, they should try talking to the public more, writes scholar.

2013415101423413734_8 Dr Alice Bell is an academic and writer interested in science and technology when they become part of public policy, the media and popular culture. She is a research fellow at the University of Sussex, a co-editor for New Left Project and science blogger for the Guardian.


Ideas of academic freedom have a long and noble history. They are also, all too often, a load of old rubbish. The worst kind of rubbish too, because it obscures more systematic problems at play.

Academics do not let themselves be free. The fields we organise ourselves into are called “disciplines” for a reason. Like anyone else, academics live in a network of constraints and compromises. Unusually, however, academics are often self-policed. Academics routinely play to external vested interests and impose ones of their own: they are just selective about which ones they choose to get angry about. Peer review, pay walls, stakeholders, snobbishness, ethics and economics. It all constrains research – for good and bad – and it is all business as usual. Many academics could also do a lot more to liberate their knowledge from the confines of ivory towers, rather than keep it for themselves.

I do not want to trivialise the many academics who have been threatened into keeping quiet. Galileo is an overused cliché (cough) but that does not mean we should forget him, or think it is an issue that has been safely consigned to history. We need to stay cognizant to soft pressures put upon researchers to pursue particular lines of enquiry too; it is not always violent.

I also want to stress that I see a point in talking about a special flavour of freedom for academics. They do not deserve more freedom than anyone else but, like journalists, they are often at their most useful when they ask difficult questions so, like journalists, we need to find systems which productively allow them to do this (for example, the idea of tenure).

Academic research

But that does not mean academic research should – or can, or does – exist without any constraints. Ethics, limited resources, socially constructed ideas of what is “interesting”, they all help networks of peer reviewers make decisions about what research to fund and what gets published.

Peer review, if you are not familiar with it, comes in several different forms, but simply means the reviewing of projects by people from roughly the same field. It means that specialists from one silo of expertise judge other specialists from the same subject. In many ways is a good thing. I mean, would you like to try to judge the quality of high-energy physics research? (Or if you are a high-energy physicist, would you like to judge some classical history? Norse linguistics? Sociology of childhood? Polar bear genetics?)

But it can make research sometimes pathologically insular. It is all terribly self-selecting. Those who do not conform are expunged, laughed away or simply leave in frustrated boredom. As sociologist Thomas Gieryn argues in his book on the Cultural Boundaries of Science, our very idea of what is or is not science is largely a “winner’s map”, built to suit the victors.

A 2011 study on “forbidden knowledge” – areas which researchers felt were no-go subjects of enquiry – found more than a third of the academics they researched reported they or one of their colleagues had chosen not to pursue/ publish research because they knew it contravened accepted dogmas of their discipline in some way. That was normal. But if it came from outside – the media, activists or politicians – that would contravene free enquiry.

Academia is a highly hierarchical business, built around subservience to those above us. There is a great bit in Homo Academicus, Bourdieu’s study of the complex exchanges of symbolic capitals at play in universities, where he refers to the way younger scholars are all too happy to help build the social status of those above them, because they, through reflected glory, may capture some such elevated status for themselves, at least in comparison to non-scholars. The highly competitive nature of the post-doc market created by a surfeit of PhDs and dropping research budgets only exacerbates the problem, as does the prevailing view that those who leave are not up to the job (as opposed to simply finding it all a bit silly/ corrupt/ dull).

Talk to the public

The various networks of influence put upon researchers should be discussed more, if only because many academics do not realise their energies being captured, these processes are often so gradual. It is perhaps scary how easily academics’ views over what is “interesting” can be influenced. To quote Yes Minister, an old BBC sitcom on the civil service: “The surprising thing about academics is not that they have their price, but how low that price is.” This is not true of most academics, but enough to be keep an eye on.

Environmental activists are right to at least be worried about “frackademy” (research funded by the shale gas industry), even though we must also expect any such critique to be well founded. It has become routine for academics to work to whatever theme the funding calls mention. If you do not, you do not get funding, and you end up working elsewhere. Such directed calls can be a good thing, poking researchers into considering socially important issues. The question is who gets to control this poking; friends of politicians or public at large? We are also increasingly asked to work with external groups.

Again, this is often good, helping us draw in expertise from outside the academy and learn more about how best to put it to use. But there is a large question mark over which external groups get to work with publicly funded academics. When we are told it will be easier to access public funds if you can match them with private, we are in danger of only answering the research questions that the rich can pay for, and building an academy devoted simply to replicating the status quo, not challenging it.

Fellow academics, if you really want to stand up for your special forms of freedoms you need to recognise the role you already play in the systems that curtail them and reflect deeply upon which of these constraints you do and do not approve of, and why. Stand up for yourself, against your boss as well as policymakers or the media. And trying talking to the public, you might even find they are an ally in your liberation.

Dr Alice Bell is an academic and writer interested in science and technology when they become part of public policy, the media and popular culture. She is a research fellow at the University of Sussex, a co-editor for New Left Project and science blogger for the Guardian.

Follow her on Twitter: @alicebell


Academic funding and the public interest: The death of political science

Defunding disciplines like political science means “losing research of value”, writes Kendzior.

Sarah Kendzior
 Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist who recently received her PhD from Washington University in St Louis.

The Coburn amendment prohibits the National Science Foundation from funding political science research that does not explicitly promote “national security or the economic interests of the United States” [AP]
In October 2012, I criticised the academic paywall system, which requires that ordinary people pay exorbitant prices to access scholarly work. I predicted that this system would lead to a loss of funding for academic research:

In the United States, granting agencies like the National Science Foundation have come under attack by politicians who believe they fund projects irrelevant to public life. But by denying the public access to their work, academics do not allow taxpayers to see where their money is spent. By refusing to engage a broader audience about their research, academics ensure that few will defend them when funding for that research is cut.

My prediction came true. On March 20, 2013, the US Senate passed the Coburn amendment, an initiative which prohibits the National Science Foundation from funding political science research that does not explicitly promote “national security or the economic interests of the United States”.

As a result, the NSF – which currently funds 61 percent of American political science research – will retract nearly all its support. “It’s going to be hard for big political science to continue,” says John McIver, who ran NSF’s Political Science Program in the mid-1990s. Topics the NSF funded in the past included political participation, voting patterns and public culture. What political scientists would have been wise to examine is the culture of academia itself.

The loss of NSF funding is a loss for American political science and for Americans. But it is understandable that most Americans do not recognise the significance of this loss. Academia rewards social scientists who prohibit the spread of knowledge more than those who share it. From paywalls to jargon to a tacit moratorium on social media, academics build careers through public disengagement. They should not be surprised when the public then fails to see the relevance of their work.

Attack on political science funding

Despite its pleas for fiscal prudence, Congress’ attack on political science funding has little to do with money. The NSF Political Science Program costs $11m out of an annual NSF budget of $7.8bn, or less than 0.2 percent. Cutting it will hardly free up funds for the “next-generation robotic limbs” or “life-saving hurricane detection systems” that Senator Tom Coburn, the Republican who spearheaded the cuts, envisions replacing desultory political science rot.

What lies behind the attack on political science? Some have suggested that politicians are reluctant to become the objects of objective research. “Studies of Americans’ attitudes toward the Senate filibuster hold little promise to save an American’s life,” protests Coburn, a senator who regularly uses the filibuster.

Others have noted the anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party and Congress’ refusal to recognise work that does not produce immediate, positive change. (You know, like Congress does.) Supporters of the Coburn amendment argue that academic research is elitist and impractical. “After four years of desperately searching in vain for how my degree could make the world a better place, the lack of real-world impact convinced me to leave a PhD programme in political science,” writes Atlantic writer Greg Ferenstein, in a plea to defund his discipline.

“The paywall sends a signal to the public that their interest in scholarship is unwelcome, even though their money may have helped pay for it.”

Arguments over impact and relevance ignore academia’s complicity in its own demise. The biggest problem for academics is not that their work lacks value. It is that the public’s ability to determine the value of academic work is limited by academia itself.

In the aftermath of the Coburn amendment, political scientists took to the internet to translate NSF project descriptions from academese. “Do we really know what turns an impoverished young man into a criminal, a gang member, or a terrorist? Might we want to understand ways to head that off?” asks political scientist Seth Masket, deciphering an abstract which contained the words “neopsyhological” and “manualised”. Masket noted that political scientists have done a poor job explaining their discipline to public officials, the media, or society in general.

He is right. But academics struggling to stay employed are reluctant to relinquish the unwieldy jargon that is the source of so much mockery and misery. Shunning disciplinary norms could cost them in publishing or finding a job. Furthermore, writing in a style decipherable to the public opens one up to public scrutiny. “Bad writing,” argues political scientist Stephen Walt, is “a form of academic camouflage designed to shield the author from criticism.”

But bad writing also shields the author from interest and support – a serious problem when the denial of funding rests on assertions of irrelevance. That is assuming, of course, that the author’s works are accessible at all.

With the majority of academic literature hidden behind a paywall, there is no way for the public to determine whether claims of irrelevance are valid. Instead, they rely on slanted media coverage – “Feds pay $227,000 to study magazine photographs,” crowed the Washington Times – and politicians’ charges of elitism, which paywalls help validate. The paywall sends a signal to the public that their interest in scholarship is unwelcome, even though their money may have helped pay for it.

Exploiting stereotypes of academics

The week the Coburn amendment passed, I spoke at a workshop on Central Asian security issues in Washington, DC. The presenters were researchers; the audience largely policy officials. One of the goals of the workshop was to determine what risks Central Asia faces after NATO withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014.

This is a question of national security – a pragmatic question, the sort of which Senator Coburn approves. But what we found during the discussion is how heavily our knowledge of Central Asian relies on the in-depth, long-term studies of objective scholars. Academic analysis of Central Asia has shed light on Islamic practice, ethnic conflict and state repression – issues of complexity important to shaping policy, but best studied by trained social scientists without a political agenda. The work of academic researchers was often funded through government programmes – and now that the government has cut funding, knowledge of the region will decrease.

There is no doubt that defunding disciplines like political science means we will lose research of value. There is also no doubt the government will seize any opportunity it can to axe programmes it deems of little significance. What is in doubt is the willingness of academics to forestall budgetary cuts by allowing the public to see the value of their work.

When scholars and society are considered separate, it is politicians like Tom Coburn who benefit. Politicians are able to exploit stereotypes of academics because academia blocks access to its best line of defence: its research.

There is no excuse, in the digital age, for continuing to suppress ideas and insight behind jargon and paywalls. We cannot debate what is in the public interest if the public has no way to discover what interests them.

Sarah Kendzior is a writer and analyst who studies digital media and politics. She has a PhD in anthropology from Washington University.

Palestinian Refugees in Jordan and the Revocation of Citizenship

Palestinian Refugees in Jordan and the Revocation of Citizenship: An Interview with Anis F. Kassim

Jan 28 2013
by Hazem Jamjoum

[Palestinian Refugees, 1948. Public Domain. From Wikimedia Commons.]
[Anis F. Kassim is an international law expert and practicing lawyer in Jordan. He was a member of the Palestinian legal defense team before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the 2004 landmark case on Israel’s separation wall, and that led to the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The following interview was originally published by BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights in their quarterly magazine al-Majdal.]

Hazem Jamjoum: What legal status was afforded Palestinians who came under Jordanian control after the 1948 Nakba?

Anis Kassim: On 19 May 1948, the Jordanian army entered the area of central Palestine that the Zionist forces were unable to occupy, and began the process of legally incorporating central Palestine into the Jordanian Kingdom. As part of this process, on 20 December 1949, the Jordanian Council of Ministries amended the 1928 Citizenship Law such that all Palestinians who took refuge in Jordan, or who remained in the western areas controlled by Jordan at the time of the law’s entry into force, became full Jordanian citizens for all legal purposes. The law did not discriminate between Palestinian refugees displaced from the areas that Israel occupied in 1948 and those of the area that the Jordanian authorities renamed the “West Bank” in 1950.

On one hand, this citizenship was forced upon the Palestinians who did not really have much of a say in the matter. On the other, this was a welcome move because it saved those Palestinians the hardship of living without citizenship.

HJ: How was the process for the revocation of citizenship complex?

AK: First of all, I should note that the law itself has not been officially amended, so what I am about to describe is still what is officially in effect today. First of all, the Jordanian Constitution, adopted in 1952, states that citizenship is a matter to be regulated by a law, and the Jordanian Citizenship Law was indeed adopted in 1954, replacing that of 1928 and its amendment. According to this law, it is possible to revoke the citizenship of a Jordanian citizen who is in the civil service of a foreign authority or government. The citizen must be notified by the Jordanian government to leave that service and, if the citizen does not comply, the Council of Ministries is the body with the authority that is able to decide to revoke his citizenship. Even if the Council does decide to revoke the citizenship, this decision must then be ratified by the King, and even then, the citizen whose citizenship was revoked has the right to challenge the Council of Ministries’ decision in the Jordanian High Court, and it is this court’s decision that is binding and final. These procedures are being completely ignored when the citizenship of a Jordanian of Palestinian origin is revoked.

HJ: Did the status of Palestinians in Jordan change after the 1967 War with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank?

AK: No. their status remained as Jordanian citizens.

HJ: When did the differentiation between Palestinian citizens of Jordan begin?

AK: Today we can speak of five kinds of Palestinian citizens of Jordan. The first differentiation came in the early 1980s, when the Jordanian government was concerned that Israeli policies and practices aimed to squeeze out the Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied West Bank; to empty out the Palestinian territories to replace them with Jewish settlers. The Jordanian government then created the first real differentiation between its Palestinian citizens by issuing differentiated cards.

Those who lived habitually in the West Bank were issued green cards, while those who habitually lived in Jordan but had material and/or family connections in the West Bank were issued yellow cards. The sole purpose of these cards at the time was so that the Jordanian authorities at the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge—the only crossing point between Jordan and the occupied West Bank—could monitor the movement of these card holders, enabling the Jordanian authorities to know how many Palestinian West Bankers had crossed into Jordan, and to ensure that they returned, essentially a kind of statistical device. Indeed, this was a wise policy in terms of countering the Zionist plans to continue the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
The major turning point came with the Jordanian disengagement (fak al-irtibat) from the West Bank on 31 July 1988.

HJ: What was the disengagement?

AK: Since 1948, when central Palestine came under Jordanian control, the Jordanian government has claimed the West Bank as part of the kingdom. By 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had come to be recognized on an Arab and, to some extent, international level as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, but the Israelis and Americans were still refusing to recognize the PLO, let alone to officially communicate with it. Jordan’s King Hussein shrewdly took the decision to disengage from the West Bank as a message to the United States and Israel that if they were going to negotiate with anyone over the fate of Palestinians in the West Bank, it should be with the PLO. In the famous speech he delivered on 31 July 1988 [1] in which he declared the disengagement—and we have to remember that this was during the most intense period of the first Intifada— King Hussein stated that the purpose of the disengagement was to support the Palestinians’ struggle for self determination by relinquishing his claim to that territory.

HJ: How was the disengagement a “turning point” for Palestinians’ status as Jordanian citizens?

AK: When the disengagement was declared, the color of the cards (yellow and green), that had been used as a statistical device, became the criteria for determining the citizenship status of a citizen. The government issued instructions to the effect that those who habitually lived in the West Bank, that is green card holders, on 31 July 1988 were “Palestinian citizens,” while those who were living in Jordan or abroad were Jordanian. Put another way, over one-and-a-half million Palestinians went to bed on 31 July 1988 as Jordanian citizens, and woke up on 1 August 1988 as stateless persons.

HJ: You previously mentioned that we can speak of five kinds of Palestinian citizens of Jordan. What are the different kinds of status among Palestinians citizen of Jordan currently?

AK: The first category we can call hyphenated Palestinian-Jordanians. These are Palestinians who were in Jordan on the date of the disengagement with no material connection to the West Bank or Gaza Strip, or who were Jordanian citizenship holders abroad. These are regarded as Jordanians for all legal purposes.

The Palestinians in the second category are the green card holders whose citizenship was revoked by the government orders that I described earlier.

The Palestinians in the third category are the yellow card holders, who kept their citizenship after the disengagement, but many of whom have more recently faced the revocation of their Jordanian citizenship rights.

The fourth category is that of blue card holders. These are 1967 Palestinians refugees from the occupied Gaza Strip who are in Jordan and who were never given citizenship rights. They are in a very miserable position because, since they are not Jordanian, they cannot enjoy any of the benefits of citizenship in this country: they cannot access public schools or health services, they cannot get driving licenses, they cannot open bank accounts, or purchase land. They are mostly concentrated in the refugee camps in the Jerash area, specifically the one called “Gaza Refugee Camp,” which is generally known as the worst of the refugee camps in Jordan in terms of living conditions. To build a tiny house in the camp, they need to get several permits from several government departments. While they receive some modest support from UNRWA, any support that comes from the rest of the society has to be approved by Jordanian security authorities.

The fifth, and newest, of the categories is that of Jerusalem residents. These have always been a special case: the Israelis consider them permanent residents of Israel without any citizenship rights, while for Jordan they are citizens whose status was not affected by the disengagement. The problem now is that the Israelis, as part of their ongoing ethnic cleansing project, are revoking the residency rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem who cannot prove that their “center of life” is in that city, to use the terms of the Israeli High Court. The Jordanian government has yet to officially take a position on the Jordanian citizenship rights of these Jerusalemite Palestinian citizens of Jordan whose residency in Jerusalem has been revoked by Israel. This is now another emerging problem.

HJ: You mentioned that yellow card holders have been facing the revocation of their Jordanian citizenship in recent years. Can you expand on this?

AK: The main institution that handles this issue is the Follow-up and Inspection Department (al-mutaba’a wa al-taftish) of the Jordanian Ministry of Interior. To understand what’s happening you need to understand that the way Jordanian citizenship works since 1992 is that every citizen must have a “national number” (raqam watani). Anyone who does not have this number is not a citizen.

In recent years, the Follow-up and Inspection Department has been expanding on the scope of its authority in interpreting the 1988 government regulations dealing with the revocation of Palestinians’ Jordanian citizenship. We need to keep in mind also that these regulations were never made public, and that in fact no policy, let alone law, dealing with the revocation of Palestinians’ citizenship in Jordan has ever officially been made public. Originally, as I described, 31 July 1988 was treated as a cut-off date, if you were a green card holder in the West Bank, your citizenship was revoked, and otherwise you remained a citizen. The Department has since expanded to the revocation of citizenship from others under other pretexts.

For instance, many Palestinian citizens of Jordan were able to acquire Israeli-issued West Bank residency permits through such procedures as family reunification since 1967. Of course, part of Israel’s ethnic cleansing policies manifested as revocation of West Bank residency permits over the years under various pretexts. For example, at one point West Bank residency permit holders who were away from the West Bank for more than three years had their residency revoked by the Israelis. The Follow-up and Inspection Department of the Jordanian Interior Ministry has revoked national numbers (i.e. citizenship) from many Palestinians who had their West Bank residency permits revoked by the Israelis under the pretext that these people should have kept these residency permits, and that the Palestinian should go and get the Israelis to reissue them their West Bank residency permits.

Another example is that of PLO or Palestinian Authority (PA) employees. Even though a Jordanian citizen can work for any other government, many Palestinian citizens of Jordan who have taken jobs in PA institutions have been stripped of their national numbers. A more recent example is that of the Jordanian parliamentary elections [November 2010]. Many of the Palestinians who went to register as voters were sent to the Follow-up and Inspection Department, where they had their national numbers revoked.

Ultimately, however, it is difficult to discern a particular logic to the post-1988 revocations. In some cases, one person or group within the family has their citizenship revoked, while others in the same family remain citizens. With regards to employment in the PLO or PA, there are PA parliamentarians and ministers with Jordanian national numbers, while some Palestinian citizens of Jordan, for example, have had their citizenship revoked for working for a PA-owned company or civil institution. We can only say that so far it seems very arbitrary. I should also add that this wave of citizenship revocation means that yellow card holders live with the perpetual fear of any interaction with the government bureaucracy, since this could result in being sent to the Follow-up and Inspection Department and having their citizenship revoked.

HJ: Is there a way to know how many Palestinians have had their Jordanian citizenship revoked since 1988?

AK: No, these numbers are kept secret by the Jordanian Ministry of Interior and are not made public. There are various estimates, but these numbers vary. The most well-known of these is that of the Human Rights Watch report that stated that over 2700 Palestinians citizens of Jordan had their citizenship revoked between 2004 and 2008, but this number is based on a journalistic article in a Jordanian newspaper, and so, in addition to not giving information on the years before or after the period, are not to be taken as authoritative.

HJ: What is the effect of the revocation of citizenship on the people involved?

AK: They become like the blue-card holders from the Gaza Strip that I talked about before without the ability to access any government services, open bank accounts, etc. It should be mentioned though that there is a potentially very dangerous situation for Jordan; if this trend continues it will become a “ghetto state.” When you forfeit a Jordanian’s citizenship and keep him in Jordan because you don’t have the power to send him to Palestine—because the Israelis of course refuse—you will end up with over a million stateless Palestinians within your borders, and who have nowhere to go.

HJ: Earlier you described the Jordanian law of citizenship and the various levels of government and judiciary through which the revocation of citizenship must pass to become final. Can Palestinians who have had their Jordanian citizenship revoked make use of what you described as an advanced citizenship law to challenge the Follow-up and Inspection Department’s actions?

AK: As I described above, there is no question that the revocations of citizenship that the Jordanian authorities have carried out since 1988 contradict the written law and indeed the constitution. Under the law, the revocation of citizenship must follow the procedures I spoke about earlier, and are not the subject to such things as the color of your card or regulations. As it stands, however, a junior officer of the Follow-up and Inspection Department can decide the fate of a citizen’s citizenship rights. It is now a more simple matter to revoke a yellow card-carrying citizen from his citizenship than it is to revoke their driving license! With the revocation of a driving license, the citizen has the right to challenge the revocation in a court. The Inspection and Follow-up Department is indeed the only government department that is not subject to judicial review.

The government justifies this by stating that the revocation of citizenship by this Department is an “act of state.” There is one judge, Justice Farouq Kilani, who was president of the Jordanian High Court of Justice who did challenge the government’s position, and stated that citizenship is a matter regulated by law and not regulations, and that therefore the actions of the Department are null and void. As a result of his ruling—this was in 1998—the Minister of Justice demanded his resignation, and Kilani resigned. He subsequently gave two public lectures on the topic, and wrote a book called Independence of the Judiciary, an excellent treatise in which he describes in detail both his landmark ruling and his encounter with the Justice Minister. His ruling was very correct, constitutionally sound and legally unchallenged. The Jordanian judiciary has a long tradition of reviewing administrative decisions, including decisions involving citizenship. As it stands now, the situation in Jordan is very suffocating on this issue of citizenship revocation because there is no right to appeal since the government treats these decisions as “acts of state,” and it is practically impossible to take these issues to an international court.

It is also important to mention that there is no refugee law in Jordan. As such, once the citizenship is revoked, the Palestinian refugee is left with no political, civil, or economic rights.

HJ: Besides the position that citizenship revocation is an “act of state,” how does the Jordanian government justify stripping its Palestinian citizens of their citizenship rights and rendering them stateless?

AK: There have been several justifications or excuses given. Jordanian officials maintain, for example, that the revocations are designed to force Palestinians to stay in Palestine, to stop the Zionist leadership from implementing its ethnic cleansing project. This argument is usually framed within the paradigm of the “alternative homeland” project, the Israeli right-wing’s position that Palestinians have a homeland, and this homeland is Jordan. We do not debate the importance of these goals, and of full-fledged rejection of the “alternative homeland” project on all fronts. Mixing this in with the issue of Palestinian citizenship rights in Jordan is like mixing apples and pears. The “alternative homeland” is a national issue, and thus should not be treated solely at the Jordanian level, but through Jordanian-Palestinian-Arab coordination as an Arab summit item. Such a political issue should not and cannot be mixed with a human rights issue such as the rights of Palestinian citizens of Jordan. Moreover, the people who are fighting the “alternative homeland” project are the Palestinians themselves who have fought it with their own bodies in these decades of spilled Palestinian blood. Actually, if Jordanian officials are sincere about their political position, they should take more credible action against the Israelis to force them to leave the Palestinians in peace and to allow the refugees to return, as is their internationally recognized right.

Furthermore, as a sovereign state, the Jordanian government could have taken steps during the negotiation of the Wadi Araba Israeli-Jordanian peace settlement to insist on such things as allowing Jordanian citizens to maintain their West Bank residency permits, and to restore those that had been stripped. As it stands now, the Jordanian government does not have the power to push for such a residency permit to be issued to an individual, and so by stripping them of their Jordanian citizenship, these individuals are left stranded with nowhere to go. But also as it stands, the Jordanian government can stop security coordination with Israel, and can stop the marketing of Israeli products in Jordan. Lately, the Jordanian Ministry of Industry has allowed the entry of 2500 types of Israeli products into the Jordanian market.

Another justification that Jordanian officials forward is that they are not revoking citizenship, rather they are “correcting the situation” of certain individuals who were wrongly classified, that all they are doing is simply dropping the national number. “Correcting the situation” is the new catch-phrase you see. They say this to avoid contradiction of the Follow-up and Inspection Department’s actions with the law and constitution, but the fact remains that simply dropping the national number is in effect the total revocation of citizenship.

HJ: Do you see any way that this situation can be reversed?

AK: The January 2010 report of Human Rights Watch [2] about the citizenship revocation raised some awareness both locally, on an Arab level as well as internationally, but this was short-lived and has not alleviated the situation. This issue requires an international campaign of human rights organizations because there is no venue left to air your grievances. Ultimately, the situation would best be alleviated by addressing the root-cause of the situation of these Palestinians, which is the implementation of Palestinians’ right to return to the lands from which they were displaced. Until then however, more attention needs to be given to this thus far largely-ignored issue, and the Jordanian laws and constitution need to be respected and implemented by restoring the citizenship of those whose rights were revoked, and ensuring that the law is followed in any future case of citizenship revocation.


[1] See the text of the speech at:

[2] Human Rights Watch, “Stateless Again: Palestinian-Origin Jordanians Deprived of their Nationality,” Human, January 2010:

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