Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
And now, a word from your hosts...
This was submitted as a comment on our post of the UN Press release that debunked the claim that the UN Department of Political Affairs had concluded the removal of President Zelaya was legal. By now, of course, everyone and his brother has access to the official English language text. I received the Spanish version of the press release from a Zelaya administration connection, forwarding an email from a UN staff member. I like the Spanish better: I have no idea why the English version doesn't use "tendentious" when the Spanish does.
Anyway, "obviously you are not citing a real source here" strikes me as one of the more interesting comments we have received since I began this blog on June 29, thinking it would be a short-term commitment, instead of turning into something close to a full-time preoccupation.
Mr. Nagle has a point about this particular post, but I have to say-- come on, really? We routinely link to original Spanish language newspapers and translate them; to legal codes; to scholarly analyses; but this one post, which probably preceded the posting of the English version on the UN website by a few minutes, becomes the basis to judge whether what we are doing is well-enough sourced?
But our correspondent's concerns are somewhat broader, and raise interesting philosophical issues. Why should anyone trust what I am writing here? The option we are provided is that the blog will be more convincing if the writers are clearly identified. What we are talking about here is authority: what gives any piece of writing its authority? As it happens, I have some professional opinions on that. I even wrote a book about writing in my own discipline and how we come to consider interpretations as credible.
But you can't just post anonymous information on your blog and expect people to trust it.
Information is not anonymous, and I know that what our reader means is, we cannot anonymously post information. It is the information we are offering here that we want you to trust or not; and you can look for the evidence in the sources. Either the arguments we are making are well supported by evidence (which includes external links); or they are not, and my position in the world should not make a difference.
My (really quite thin) anonymity bothers a lot of people; most of them, unlike this correspondent, outright coup apologists who attack the person they presume I am. And the truth is, while they are not my colleagues, there is a group of people who have commented on this blog to whom I wrote to explain who I am. In that book I mentioned, I argued that the scholars in my field have a responsibility to readers because we routinely write as if the interpretations we are making are simply facts, when they are always evidence put together from some engaged perspective. So I have been very careful to make it clear what my engaged position is-- opposed to the unconstitutional coup that has distorted life in Honduras, and concerned about, as the description of the blog says, the lack of information and knowledge that exists about Honduras that made it possible for the media to so deeply misconstrue events. And we have situated our knowledge within our experience, working in Honduras, in contact with particular parts of Honduran society. But that is clearly not enough.
So how do I give an account of myself? First, of course, by acknowledging multiplicity: two of us write here, and we are collaborators in life and work; RNS, as I have noted, has a long-term engagement on Wikipedia, trying to keep it honest despite the debilitating conventions intended to eliminate all point of view, a mission that, in my scholarly opinion, is impossible. RNS is a historical anthropologist whose research on Honduran colonial society has won him the appreciation of Honduran scholars and students. He also is a 20-year veteran of the computer industry. RNS has a special interest in economic issues, and his long habit of reading the Honduran newspapers online every day has stood us in good stead in finding the money trail, and more besides. While it does not come to the forefront all that much here, his historical research, in addition to breaking new ground about race and gender, involves a special concern with the history of religion. He interrupted his PhD studies to spend 20 years in the computer industry, among other things, working on some of the original technologies for delivering news on specific topics to your desktop.
But this blog is a project I started on June 29, so it is also, in a very real sense, mine. RNS and I have long ago worked out how to negotiate my tendency to overwhelm others with whom I am collaborating. I set the ground rules for us here, which have included keeping our focus on what is happening in Honduras, on filling in gaps that result from the lack of Spanish language fluency among many in the US, and giving priority whenever possible to Honduran scholars.
The blog was born out of the frustration in the first 24 hours at seeing media circulating images that were easy shortcuts, but not true. How did I know they were not true? As I have said throughout many posts (and yes, I know, I cannot ask new readers to go back and review everything) I am a researcher with more than thirty years experience working in Honduras. I was there for the entire month of June, up to the Friday before the coup, engaged with colleagues in Honduran universities and government agencies in exciting participatory work unlike anything ever attempted by any previous government. RNS and I were supposed to return in July to continue collaborative work, and in August for a symposium that is one of the cultural events cancelled in the wake of the coup. I left over a dozen students in the country, the last of whom came back to the US in late July.
And of course, as that last sentence suggests, I am a university faculty member. I am a tenured full professor holding an endowed chair, with a string of books to my credit and pages and pages of journal articles and book chapters. My dissertation research was carried out in Honduras, as has been the work of six of my PhD students to date (with two more aiming to complete their dissertations this year, both having to change aspects of their work due to the coup). While our reader assumes I am not tech-savvy, in fact, I have a long history of engagement with what are now called "new media", including collaborating on a major hypertext work published online back in 2000. Before 1994, I was collaborating on teaching students in my field to adopt digital media, and in 2001, was part of a team recognized for creating a teaching program in this area.
So, why the anonymity? Simple. On June 29, when I started the blog, I was already receiving emails from colleagues in Honduras, reporting on frightening levels of government repression. I realized then that one resource I had was this network of connections. Yet, to publish material they provided me could quite easily put them at risk, even if I protected their identities, because what I do in Honduras creates easily visible tracks. I gave up the greater authority I would have had by using my real identity in order to muddle the trails leading to my friends and colleagues. I relied on the fact that the information I was producing was completely absent elsewhere, and developed the practice of linking to mainstream media and steering clear of unsourced blogs (which makes the current complaint an irony, but again, one post? of a document easily available from the UN?). And I realized that by being less identifiable myself, I had a chance-- small as it was-- of putting the spotlight on the Honduran scholars whose work I was translating: Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle; Leticia Salamon; Edmundo Orellana; and many others.
As it happens, as the coup has proceeded, most of those I have been working to protect from responsibility for my actions have suffered retaliation anyway for their principled positions against the coup. Some have been physically attacked, and some have had their reputations besmirched and their livelihoods imperiled.
I look forward to the day when I think that being entirely open about who I am will not risk endangering anyone sending me information. But that day has not yet come. Until then, I will rely on what, as a scholar, I think should be more important in judging what I say than who I am: are there verifiable sources for what I report here; and do the arguments I make form logical and coherent wholes? Are my critical perspectives clear enough that readers know what biases to expect? (As a feminist scholar, I do not believe in the idea of complete objectivity, but rather, that everyone's knowledge is situated and taken from a perspective he or she needs to recognize and reveal.)
On my own criteria, for this post, our reader is right. The UN press release should have been linked to the source. There was no published source yet. I knew when I posted it that I was running ahead of the news. But: it was reliable. I knew that. And for me, the risk of having someone question my reliability was the least important thing, not because I am writing only for myself-- although this blog has helped us work through a major trauma in our lives-- or for colleagues-- although a surprisingly large number of people who could be so described have written at some point to say "are you the people behind Honduras Coup 2009?".
The UN press release was critical news that people in Honduras and those working with them needed. Most of the people who needed this urgently either know who I am, or know from experience that they can rely on what we publish.
Blogs like this, Honduran readers assure us, are helping. Ultimately, we are writing for them, as a small contribution we can make as scholars devoted to improving knowledge of Honduras. And I will hope that thoughtful new readers, like this one, will let the quality of the content convince them of the merit of the publication of news, analysis, and opinion that they find here.