Reporting from Jerusalem

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Essay Excerpt

"This place is like a Rubik's cube," said Lyse Doucet, BBC correspondent in Jerusalem. "You keep turning it, and yet it seems there is always a wrong color showing somewhere." 

So history never ends, at least not to the people whose taskit is to report on Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East, very frequently from a Jerusalem base. I was in Jerusalem in early 1997, meeting with resident news media foreign correspondents, as one part of an ongoing wider study of the occupational experiences and practices of the group.' The work of foreign correspondents, one might argue, parallels that of anthropologists, in that both report from one place to another, often across cultural as well as spatial distances-in that sense, this study involves the kind of transnational occupational ethnography in which the anthropologist is studying neither up nor down but sideways.2 At least at times, foreign correspondents, like anthropologists, presumably have to deal in one way or other with questions of "cultural translation" or "representing other- ness. "Yet their relationships to time and space in the reporting situation, their collegial relationships, and their organizational embedding are different from those of anthropological fieldworkers-and their reporting usually reaches much wider audiences. Indeed, many of the images and understandings we all have of people and places elsewhere in the world result from the efforts of foreign correspondents. Consequently an inquiry into their work is also an attempt to cast some light on contemporary global interconnectedness and the possibility of well-informed cosmopolitan citizenship.3 

The timing of my stay in Jerusalem was probably fortunate. Certainly nobody thought that the puzzle of the Rubik's cube had been solved, but for a period, there was a certain relative calm. I arrived in January 1997, just after the Hebron agreement between Israelis and Palestinians resulting in a partial Israeli withdrawal from that West Bank town. About a month after my departure, the Israeli government allowed work to begin on a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and a period quickly followed that included renewed violent protest on the West Bank, a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, a border zone shooting of Israeli school children by a Jordanian soldier, and extensive international political activity. From then on, 1997 continued crisis ridden and often violent. The period when I was in Jerusalem was hardly without news either, with one domestic political scandal (the "Bar-On affair"), one meeting between Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu at the Erez Crossing (on the Israel-Gazaborder), and one collision of two Israeli military helicopters on their way into Lebanon, resulting in the death of 73 soldiers. Yet this was on the whole an interval when correspondents could find some spare time away from "breaking news" to think about feature stories they wanted to do and to engage in lengthy conversations with a visitor. What follows is itself a report from Jerusalem, then, on some aspects of the working lives of news people in an unusually eventful place. (Hannerz, 548-549)

About the Author

Ulf Hannerz was Professor of Social Anthropology 1981-2007 (acting professor 1976-80). He received his Ph.D. at Stockholm University in 1969 and has also taught at several American, European, Asian and Australian universities. He is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, an honorary member and former Chair of the European Association of Social Anthropologists, a member of the Committee on World Anthropologies of the American Anthropological Assocation, a former director of the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences (SCASSS), and a former editor of the journal Ethnos. His research has been especially in urban anthropology, media anthropology and transnational cultural processes,with field studies in West Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. A study of the work of news media foreign correspondents included multi-sited field research in four continents, and he has also directed an interdisciplinary research project on cosmopolitanism. Among his books are Soulside (1969), Exploring the City (1980),Cultural Complexity (1992), Transnational Connections (1996),  Foreign News (2004), and Anthropology’s World (2011); several of them have also appeared in French, Spanish, Italian and Polish. He has also written or edited several books in Swedish. He was the Anthropology editor for the International Enyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (2001). He was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1984-85, gave the Lewis Henry Morgan lectures at the University of Rochester in 2000, a Munro Lecture at the University of Edinburgh in 2002, and the Daphne Berdahl Memorial Lecture at the University of Minnesota in 2011. In 2005 he was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Oslo, and in 2010 he received the Anders Retzius gold medal of the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography.

Ulf Hannerz’ current research focuses on those global scenarios which emerged as a genre since the end of the Cold War. These are treated here both as texts and as components in a transnational collective consciousness. The project deals with their global spread and their reception and influence in local and regional debates – how is “the clash of civilizations" understood in Denmark, the notion of ”soft power” in Japan? Ulf Hannerz also participates in an international comparative project of anthropological studies of small countries. 

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