Archive for February, 2012

Wouldn’t this be so?

Posted: February 29, 2012 by mahmerkhan in Uncategorized

I was thinking if Khat is out of context and it’s misinterpreted…wouldn’t it then be true that a person out of their homeland is essentially out of context? The same way how the larger host nation plays a role on khat also plays a role on the person. A Somali man in Somalia is just that (actually he is a native), but a Somali man in London or Toronto is a person out of the ordinary…right? I am not trying to objectify the diasporic person or people but I am trying to relate what we are learning about objects, can in some ways, be applied and related to people no? Khat is viewed in a way that is out of context in the Western World. Wouldn’t this be the same kind of “out-of-context”ness be true for the many diasporas? I want to bring back to ‘setting’ someway somehow. See you in class…in context!

Cawa Issa: Khat, preserving cultural identity?

Posted: February 29, 2012 by awa2i in Uncategorized

Carrier’s article examines the consumption and role of khat (mirra) in Kenya. The ways in which he examined east Africa’s relationship with the object culturally and economically, help shed light on how the object’s significance varies across different audiences.  He discusses the popularity and cultural importance of khat in a particular Kenyan community (town of Isilo) and how many different versions of the substance are consumed and used for experiment. Despite the fact that the stimulant is closely associated with Yemen, it has also has been in transit through other cultures as a vital social institution.

Moreover, in addition to its cultural familiarity in East African and Middle Eastern countries, khat has preserved its role in many of these Diasporas. Carrier briefly explains the fondness and lucrative trading of the substance in East African Diaspora communities, such as the Ethiopian and Somlian Diasporas. However the efficiency of the networks and mobility of the product, bring about questions of legality which way heavily on its consumption.

In many of the diasporas in which khat is consumed, the united states, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, khat is legal only in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Thus Klein, the author of khat the creation of tradition in the Somali Diaspora, constructs a well-rounded argument by brining about the negative and positive outlooks of khat in Somali diasporic communities. At the onset of his article he analysis through informants from the Somali diasporic communities, two particular views on the consumption of khat. One view being that khat has essentially maintained cultural identity in the Somali Diaspora, the other being that it cripples constructive activity and makes its consumers susceptible to a variety of health issues. These two apposing views were interesting, in that one view questions the perception of khat, as maintaining cultural tradition. For an example, Klein makes the case that khat was not always apart of these cultures and was not consumed prior to the early 1970’s. In light of these facts, its appropriate to consider, what makes an object cultural, does it have to be accepted by all Somalis at large? Is consensus on the consumption of khat important? The division on the status of khat and the fact that has as times been rendered problematic for the progress of Somali communities, evokes questions on whether or not the object is worthy of being connected to Somali diasporic communities.

Khat and the Diaspora

Posted: February 29, 2012 by mitsar in Feb. 29

This week we read several readings on the use of khat, a mild stimulant drug originating from Africa and the Middle East. Each reading focused on a different region and their consumption practices with khat. Weeden observed khat use in Yemeni culture, while Carrier and Klein explored the worlds of Kenyan and Somali users. It is clear from the readings that the consumption practices of khat are different in every region but one thing that seems to be consistent across the board is that khat use is not considered a dangerous or harmful practice as it has been portrayed in parts of Europe and North America. While the lines of legality are blurred in each case, khat use has been deemed destructive, but as Klein and Carrier point out, it is the social context that might make them harmful, not the drug itself.

In Carrier’s article Bundles of Choice, he explores the world of miraa (another name for khat) cultivated in the Nyambene Hills in Kenya. Found abundantly in these hills, miraa’s intensity varies and is dependent on where, how and when it was cultivated. As Carrier points out, this gives users a wide variety of choices, and since commercialization, different types of miraa (cultivated in Nyambene and elsewhere) are enjoyed in different regions, claiming the loyalty of users to certain strains. The value of miraa therefore changes in every place; its origin, age, strain and location from the tree, and even the way it is packaged are all factors that determine a miraa’s worth, not just internationally, but locally as well.

Klein delves into the world of Somali khat consumption primarily in the UK. As Carrier points out, much of the international exportation of khat is run by Somalis in the diaspora, even though the tradition of khat chewing did not come to them until the 1970s. Chewed by Somali immigrants in the UK, khat has been associated with problems of unemployment, social exclusion and health deterioration. Migration patterns show that women and children are first to immigrate and once established the men find it hard to reassert their traditional family roles when they join their families. This has led to a trend in khat-chewing amongst unemployed Somali men in social settings. What Klein shows us is that khat use in Somali culture is widely taken out of the context of its original uses. Largely believed by farmers as a performance enhancer, khat use in the UK is misconstrued because of the large unemployment rate amongst Somali immigrants. Klein is careful to point out that while consumption practices might be more extreme in Somali culture, the research on other khat-using cultures in the UK is not sufficient to make any solid conclusions. However the little information that exists suggests that khat use in other cultures is not as frequent or socially unacceptable.

While reading these articles as well as the various articles on khat importing in North America, I finally began to understand the different shifts in value as an object moves through social settings. As Carrier points out, different standards and factors come into play, some being emphasized over others at various times. While I thought Carrier concentrated a little too much on defining value, it is clear from his article that the value of miraa can change over a short distance and one object becomes a multitude of objects all at once. By calling it by different names, picking it from specific places and cultivating it a certain way makes each type unique in its own way. Once it moves out of its place of origin, it takes on a whole form, laden with social, political and cultural connotations not found elsewhere, as we have seen in the UK. Klein prudently showed us that while we cannot make any definitive conclusions, the cultural context in which khat is used in the UK has a more powerful effect in the Somali community than that of perhaps other cultures; not because Somalis are drug-addicts, or even because it is part of their traditional history, but because their social situations have led them down a misinterpreted path.

2/29 Reading Review

Posted: February 29, 2012 by gablneus in Uncategorized

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the various articles that we read all dealt with the same object: Khat or Qat. However, their analysis of the object varied significantly. The article that was most relevant to our topic of study, the diasporic lives of objects, was that of Klein. His ethnography of Khat use in the Somali Diaspora was useful in that it demonstrated how to tie together the history of an object with the history of a diaspora in order to understand the unique position that that object holds in contemporary society.

What was interesting about the Weeden and Klein articles was that Weeden was discussing the way in which Khat chewing enabled public spaces that are important parts of democratic societies, whereas Klein discussed the way in which the use of Khat is being controlled by governments in certain parts of the world. The first author emphasized the  in which Khat bring people together and in a sense, liberates them, whereas Klein focused more on the repressive processes that are enable by Khat use–how different perceptions of the drug distance groups of people and deepen the divisions between identities.

I appreciated that Klein described the way in which the plant actuallt affects the body, “beginning with vigorous stimulation of the central nervous system, resulting in animated behavior and lively discussion.” From this, I can better understand the way in which Khat becomes important in political discussions in Yemen.

What really stood out to me as being the most important way to study Khat use is the degree to which its use is integrated into the dominant culture. For example, Klien discusses how in Yemen, Khat chewing is attached to the rhythm of life, whereas in the UK, this is not the case. Contrary to Klein’s previous argument that the age of a tradition is not necessarily related to its strength as an aspect of national identity, I think that the degree to which Khat (and its users) are accepted in society has to do with the construction of social patterns around the use of the drug (something that requires a long history and widespread usage of a drug in society). The key concept that emerges here is the question of whether an object is being used functionally or dysfunctionally. This question of dysfunctionality is one that we should continue to address in our study of the Diasporic lives of objects.

The descriptions of the effects of Khat in popular media sources are reminiscent of the variety of perceptions of the effects of the drug, Marijuana in North America. While some would claim that marijuana use is a part of an everyday lifestyle, others would claim that it makes people irrational and uninhibited, this perception producing a certain level of fear surrounding the drug and its effects on society as a whole. Both Khat and marijuana are associated with a particular social group, although Khat is much more related to a particular nationality (Yemeni, Somali, Kenyan, and Ethiopian).

One question provoked by this week’s readings that I would like to explore in more depth is how an object comes to be considered a detriment to society. How does an object’s use become perceived as dysfunctional, and to what extent does this perception have to do with the way in which minorities and immigrants are often seen as deviants in their host countries? Also, I would like to better understand the way in which the legality or illegality of an object creates for the object and entirely new social life. How does the illicit nature of an object create new social spheres and traditions in societies?

Khat/Miraa Geraldine

Posted: February 28, 2012 by lilzak in Uncategorized

The article, “Khat and the Creation of Tradition in the Somali Diaspora” by Axel Klein discusses how the truth about the history and use of the drug came to have such a dominant place in the Somali community and the conflicts its acceptance have created. Klein may argue that “ khat may be part of the culture, but its not part of history” however, I think it is irrelevant because of the vast economic, social and psychological effects of the drug on the individuals taking it today. It is a part of their history today and that makes it a part of the culture. Klein makes a good argument when he says that the problems khat users have with unemployment and poverty as a reason for khat’ increased use as opposed the the chemical effects of the drug may be true to a point because being in a new place and not being able to find work is hard for anyone, however, being high chewing khat all day would not change things either. It seems this argument is a cop-out for the men involved being that they are causing further stress on their already strained family relationships especially in refugee situations. It is a bad sign when a community is enarmored with a shrub because it means among other things that the earth is their lord instead of they are the lords of the earth. This is reflected in the loss of control over their lives. How does a community allow a shrub to determine who they are?

The article “Bundles of Choice” by Neil Carrier discusses how Miraa is produced, distributed and sold in Africa and the international market. It has a long process which encourages specializing and connoisseurship on the plant’ varieties and areas where it is produced and preferred. It also points out how the Miraa is valued so as to develop entrepreneurship. The drug seems to have some benefits in terms of providing and uplifting physical and psychological effects but because it is consumed in such a large amount, it causes more problems that it benefits and seems to cause further instability amongst a group that is already unstable due to cultural and economical shifts. The chewing of Miraa seems to occupy a large part of the communities involved and they spend a lot of time refining how to make and present the produce better.

The article is very well written and easy to follow. The author makes the reader realize that this shrub has a huge control over the lives of these communities both economically psychologically, and socially.

Klein’s focuses on the social implications of Khat specifically on the Somali community which has experienced a tearing of its identity. Khat users claiming that chewing is a part of their culture seems to be trying to restore that identity through this product.

Carrier’s article makes a very informative and clear discussion of the enormity of the acceptance of the shrub on many African societies led by the Somalis. I thought this was very well articulated how thoroughly controlled this substance is and this further shows that they can do better than creating excuses regarding Khat use and its effects on their communities. I think both articles marry the production of the drug and it’s social effects very well.

From Qat to Khat: A Biography

Posted: February 28, 2012 by Leftelep in Uncategorized

Understanding the use of khat, or qat, as a diasporic object is greatly complicated by its challenges as either being illegal or of a perceived health concern. However, a greater theme emerges this week that sets the tone for understanding objects, not only as important to individuals, but as communal. It is only within the framing of khat/qat as a communal practice that its use as diaspora object be assessed. By now it is clearly acknowledged that diasporic objects emerge as movement makes their use more visible while consciously being asserted as markers of identity, and less routinized within new contexts. The biography of qat begins with its socially acceptable use within Yemen society – to the point of facilitating the ‘public realm/sphere’ and its democratic functions within this society (Wedeen, 2008). However, as it takes the form of khat, and is resituated within the Somali diaspora it takes on certain negative properties that link it to images of war and recklessness. This is taken up by immigrant receptions countries through the later depiction of khat as a negative stimulant, and while the UK, Canada, and US differ in their treatment of the perceived drug, the focus of qat chewing as a broadly public societal event is replaced by a debate around historical identity vs. unacceptable behaviour in a new land all the same.


Wedeen (2008) depiction of qat sets the tone for understanding its communal functions pre-drug debate. Wedeen’s (2008) own purpose is less-so to focus on the biography of this object and is more concerned with challenging Eurocentric depictions of democracy, that favor elections as a primary measure of its reach. However, it becomes apparent in this article that qat chewing facilitates the necessary space where ideas can be expressed, current affairs be shared orally, and most importantly, where the hierarchy of society is distorted to allow for the presence of what Wedeen (2008) refers to as ‘multiple publics’ to enter political debates and set the tone for what emerges as public topics. Therefore, as Wedeen (2008) states, qat chewing itself is the public realm and a form of democracy. It is the very ‘openness’ that is accepted around the practice of qat chewing that allows for this to take place. The issue of qat chewing being mostly a male practice, and a means of excluding women from discussion must be considered, however, as it certainly was by Wedeen (2008) as well.

Yet, this reading is more concerned with the practice around the object, and makes little account of the role that the object itself plays in stimulating both a desire to speak beyond space and time, and the complimentary feeling of induced euphoria that likely assists in the dissolving of other, and less agreeable, ideas. Therefore, as we move into deeper descriptions of the object itself in the last set of readings (Bali, 1997; Hart, 1997; Blount, 1996), we can better understand the role that this stimulant plays in allowing for this form of democracy to take place, and the ways in which it enhances oral traditions.

Enter Khat…

As we move into a discussion of khat, as introduced by Klein (2007), we begin to see the validity of khat as tradition in the hands of the Somali Diaspora fall apart, and as this happens its association with violence and poor health begin to emerge. A key point that Klein makes is that “khat may be part of the culture, but is not part of the history” (p.53) of Somalia. However, that the Somali Diaspora in the UK had accepted khat as being part of the history back home is of importance here. As we are beginning to become aware in this course, it is important to understand what the object represents to diasporic communities themselves, more than it is what importance it plays to those observing its relevance from the outside. While Klein (2007) does state that khat is taken up a symbol of identity for the Somali diaspora in the UK, his arguments could be better situated if they came from the community itself, instead placing focus around it. As a diasporic object, and as qat moves to khat it takes on new meanings as a familiar tradition amongst the backdrop of a new place, a point acknowledged by Bali (1997), and the narratives of illegality exist beyond the sphere of the diasporic experiences while certainly attributing to the divide of what constitutes acceptable practice.

Question 1: What are the characteristics of an object if it is hedonistic and what higher properties do we bestow to them when they can be classified as communal?

Question 2: What is and is not a drug outside of conventional terms? Is health really the issue, and what role does history play in normalizing and demonizing some practices over others?

Khat in Transit

Posted: February 28, 2012 by lzaldana in Uncategorized

In Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen (2008), Wedeen urges the reader to reflect on dominant understandings of democratic classifications. She specifies the limitations that a procedural definition of democracy, based on formidable electoral institutions, can place on the democratic behaviour of a regime. Using the example of public khat-chews in Yemen, she provides an example of how  khat has a particular ability to create degrees of political identifications. This is due to the fact that khat has historically tended to structure a social atmosphere that is conducive to “free and Fair” critical public participation. Thus the institution of the khat-chews within the Yemeni context is substantively more democratic than the United States. Because daily life of chewers and non-chewers alike is built on the dialogue and conventions khat provokes, and because the collective conversation extends to a spectrum of political power holders, it creates networks of publics powerful enough to create a sense of national belonging.

The problem I found with this article is that although she overtly attempts to be critical of Eurocentric assumptions that underlie regime classifications (such as Habermas’ bourgeoisie sources of the public sphere), she describes Yemen’s unfolding civil life as playing historical “catch-up” in fashion similar to modernization theorists. Secondly Wedeen makes an effort to point out how comprehensive the chewing spaces are for voicing divergent views, yet she concedes women are not part of these provocative and enlightened debates. If a person’s position in a chew gathering is indicative of their relative social status, then a women’s complete absence would have to severely limit her argument on how inclusive and representative these discursive circles truly are. More importantly, the woman’s absence from these circles is significant in itself, and could use further elaborations to explain the social life the object takes on.

Khat and the Creation of Tradition in the Somali Diaspora (2007), by Klein expands more on the issue of gender within the context of migration. First of all, Klein explains how khat has come to be part of an imagined historical past in Somalia, even though it has only recently become universally acknowledged by the diaspora. This is due to the diaspora’s efforts to re-identify with the homeland after their experiences of civil war, exile and the ban on the substance itself. Secondly, he argues that due to these negative variables, khat cannot nurture the positive social relations outlined in the Yemeni example since the performative activity is altered in the context of arrival. He uses two important examples to describe these different contexts which are taken for granted; the more radical UK mosques that discourage the dissemination of pre-Islamic origin information of khat, as well as the gender-role reversal found within the licit workforce in which men can no longer be the sole household providers. Hence, tradition is reified under inaccurate pretenses.  Furthermore , communities are divided in themselves about the importance of khat, an object that is not native to their homeland but an important aspect of their trade history within Africa. Finally, the increased demand for khat that has in turn solidified illicit international trade, thus “justifying” the negative reputation it has gained  throughout the years.

In Chewing Khat: Reflections on the Somali Male Food and Social Life, Bali discusses the physical and pharmacological qualities of Khat as well as its economic-trade history. The article highlights Somali khat-use from various authors at different time periods. Read together, one gets the sense that the object’s status has varied over time; it can be s a relatively neutrally plant stimulant, or viewed positively for inducing social relationships, introspection, and suppressing hunger. On the other hand, it has been regarded negatively by the same descriptive qualities.  Therefore it is important to note the differences in comparisons.  Burton in 1966 describes public Khat chewing as an activity for “literati” inducing light-heartedness and creativity. Kalix, however, in 1986 focuses on its tendency to induce deep sleep . This subjectivity is uniquely historical as it tells a story of the status of the people known to be associated with the drug (e.g. labourers)- opinions which frequently fluctuate and are influenced by its crossings with cultural/national borders.  Finally, the article discusses the importance legislation has on the cultural acceptance of the drug, and on whether it is considered a drug at all or simply a cultural substance.

In Bundles of Choice (2006), Carrier explains that Kenyan Khat belongs in a wide range of social circles due to the way the plant is manufactured into different classifications, the way groups come to identify with these categories, and due to what value they give to khat. The article deepens our understanding of the flexible identity of an object by making connections with the ways in which cultural conventions and the biodiversity of the substance itself are reinvented through entrepreneurship and international market exchange. These methods of reinvention are also tools of strategy in order to offer variety despite the constraints of its prohibition in certain parts of the world and the dominance by certain groups over its trade and production.

These articles do a good job in making visible the various players involved in consolidating the legitimacy of the social life of an object. Khat serves as a great example of this phenomenon because it is a seemingly neutral and natural object yet we can see under what circumstances objects can be vilified by legislation and how an illegality of an object can be detrimental to the social relations that develop within the diaspora due to its ambiguous meanings. Its legal environment can push the object to thrive in the public or retreat into the private. According to one member of the Attorney General’s office, “the social use of the drug is not an excuse” however I think that it is precisely the social setting that these governing bodies consider the most. International geopolitical interest is a major player. For example, in Yemen, the national consumption of Khat has until now been a relatively permissible convention. On the other extreme however, khat assumes resistance status in the Nyambene Hills in the face of pressures to produce other less profitable colonial exports, while in the West, media obfuscates khat and associates it with war-torn Somalia.  Additionally, what was interesting about these articles is that it reminds the reader of how objects in and of themselves are dynamic and have an aging process which can influence, if not become a part of human behaviour.  Not only is the substance known for inducing conversation and bringing people together, but it also invokes other objects and customs, which over time change.

while going over the reading,  I could not help but think of the recent phenomenon of redbull consumption in the culture of young Canadian. although this might be a silly example, I was wondering in what way do some of the author’s points on khat apply to the alkaloids found in energy drinks and the various marketed ‘sub-divisions” that Carrier describes?

in what other ways other than gender and religion, can opinion on cultural identity diverge in this debate?