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?

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