What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It is what it is... isn't it?

I've recently heard from someone a sarcastic aphorism related to studying. Here it comes.
"I used to be able to tell the difference between a tree, a house and a mountain, but after I'd started studying hard I had to realise I was no longer able to do so. So I continued studying hard, and after a while I was again able to distinguish a tree from a house or a mountain."
Ain't that cute? But after I thought about it I realised it was of course wrong, in a way. Studying Afghanistan offers about a thousand good arguments on the basis of which this anecdote might be brushed aside in defence of the need to critically reflect on whatever is held to be common knowledge.
For instance, Afghanistan has camel spiders that are not spiders really...! Ok, you don't really need to remind me that there are somewhat more relevant examples I could provide here. One just needs to think creatively, with sarcasm, about anything that is held to be conventional wisdom about politics.
So instead of manufacturing a few such jokes for the fun of it, below here's a link to a big and not directly political one, for those of us, like me, who live in an urban habitat... If you study hard enough, a village will no longer be a village... even while instead we could have those "first Cs" behind the CDCs (Community Development Councils) territorially fixing something that up till now tended to be a much more elusive concept in Afghanistan.
Just so you remember that not everything Wikimapia or Google Earth allows you to see will be something you know when you see it: an excellent study on what diverse variety of villages kind of settlements people live in, in Kunduz province, in the north of Afghanistan, pdf, by Katja Mielke and Conrad Schetter.
An excerpt to start you reading (pp. 75-76.):
"In the irrigation canal catchments around Kunduz province, it is hard to identify clear-cut 'villages', both in physical terms and in the perception of the people. In respect to the physical shape of the settlements, the canal system is the structuring element for large parts of the province. Often enough, a loosely connected alignment of qalas is situated along a canal. Usually the distance between the qalas is half to one kilometre, while compact settlements are missing. On the other hand, settlements consisting of a few houses which give way to other settlements can also be found, while clear-cut boundaries and the centres of these settlements can hardly be identified (ter Steege 2006). These physical shapes of the settlements coincide with a confusing variety of terms used for larger settlements, such as qarya, qishlāq and manteqa, which are employed interchangeably to designate places where people live. The context is key here, although local identities are adapted to the situation. This means that these terms are used to identify a social space rather than a territorial unit. Thus, a statement about spatial belonging very much depends on the setting, the respondent and the person asking the questions."

No comments: