A Deconstruction of Hanne Kjöller’s article, ”Upplopp: Husby som ett Rorschachtest,” Dagens Nyheter, May 24, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.dn.se/ledare/signerat/upplopp-husby-som-ett-rorschachtest.

By Jonathan M. Feldman, Stockholm University, May 24, 2013.

Kjöller Argument 1:

Upploppen blir ett Rorschachtest, en bläckplump där allt från Sverigedemokrater till anarkister tycker sig kunna läsa in just det som bekräftar den egna verklighetsbilden…

Analysis of Argument 1:

The claim is that people from the far right to the far left will interpret the riots as a way to promote their own ideological viewpoint.  However, I will show that this is exactly what the author of this article has done and that her article is disingenuous, i.e. misleading and confusing.  The ideology that the author uses is one in which the larger problems are displaced in the process of selectively trying to dismiss facts gathered by others.  The journalist in question has not really investigated structural causes of the riots and tries to dismiss them by looking at strawman arguments that raise more questions than they answer, i.e. she picks apart the examples, without looking for more accurate counter-examples or supplemental data.  So, it is as if someone used bad data to show the earth were round as opposed to flat.  So, it is as if the author leaves us with the impression that the earth could be or is flat.

Kjöller Argument 2:

Varför startade kravallerna? Organisationen Megafonen beskriver på sin hemsida händelserna på måndagsnatten i termer av att ”200 Husbybor visade missnöje mot att polisen sköt en 69-årig man till döds i en lägenhet i förra veckan”.

Så kan det förstås vara. Men det kan också vara som en ung anonym man från området sa till Aftonbladets webb-tv, att de flesta struntar ”fett” i 69-åringen och att många i stället såg ett tillfälle att fly tristessen.

Analysis of Argument 2:

The apparent claim of the author is that the organization Megafonen is wrong that the shooting of a 69 year old is the trigger for riots in which 200 persons showing their dissatisfaction.  Instead, what is held up as better evidence is an “anonymous man” who says most don’t care.  This critique is disingenuous, illogical or inconclusive based on three factors.

First, we don’t know why the anonymous source of a single individual is supposed to be more critical or informed than an organization (Megafonen) with hundreds of supporters and sympathizers.

Second, if you are going to debunk Megafonen with this source, why not try to identify alternatives to Megafonen or someone else making the claim that supports the anonymous source and follow up with questions. After all, if the vast majority of people believe this, it should not be hard to find supporting evidence. Yet, that supporting evidence might be irrelevant (see below).

Third, it does not take a majority to engage in a riot because a minority of persons can launch a riot.  Therefore, if the minority was upset by the shooting why is the majority even relevant to explain the actions of the minority?  How do such violent minorities get created by other than processes shaped by majorities, elites or other power wielders?

Kjöller Argument 3:

Uppgifter om att polisen använt ord som neger, svartskalle och apor sprids med samma hastighet som moderna vandringssägner av råttan-i-pizzan-typ. Jag tänker absolut inte gå i god för att polisen inte fällt några rasistiska invektiv. Men att anonyma stenkastare påstår det räcker inte för att jag ska hävda det som en sanning.

Analysis of Argument 3:

The author argues that the claim that the police used the word “nigger” has to be balanced by the fact that an “anonymous stone thrower” making this claim is not sufficient for establishing the truth.  This critique is also disingenuous, illogical or inconclusive.

First, a report in The Local  on May 20th (http://www.thelocal.se/48026/20130520/) reads as follows: “A local youth leader, who along with a small group of teens was out on the street on Sunday, told local newspaper editor Rouzbeh Djalaie that he was called a nigger when he asked the police if they needed any help. The teens were called ‘monkeys’.”  So, The Local has a source that is not unknown to them and is not identified as a stone thrower.  Why didn’t Hanne Kjöller discuss this source?  Identifying a weak piece of information in association with the racist claim is a clever way to debunk the claim without explicitly doing so.  She leaves the impression that there was no racist incident, without directly doing this because she has not looked for other sources that might back the claim or any pattern of police behavior associated with the claim.

Second, now Kjöller thinks that an anonymous source is a bad thing to use, because why else would she use the word “anonymous stone thrower.”  If the invalidation of the source is simply attributed to being a “stone thrower,” why then use the adjective (or prefix) “anonymous” in the same sentence?  However, above Kjöller uses an anonymous source to debunk or raise questions about Megafonen. This inconsistency suggests that when it suits the author’s purposes to use an anonymous source she will do so.  And when it does not suit her purposes she will not do so.

Third, the author has found an ingenuous way to debunk claims of racism without supporting racist claims.   Of course Kjöller wrote that she does not think it is acceptable to call someone a racist epithet.  But, by not doing further research she can devalue claims of research by identifying a source she does not like and thereby devalues the source and by association the argument.  This kind of collage of arguments is a standard propaganda technique, i.e. “sins of omission.”

Kjöller Argument 4:

Johanna Langhorst är en av de journalister som vet hur allt gått till. På Expressens kultursida förklarar hon kravallerna med dödsskjutningen: ”Först när bilarna brann i Husby svarade polisen, med höjda batonger. Slagen haglade över Husbyborna, urskillningslöst. Fältassistenter, journalister och ungdomsvärdar, alla som råkade hamna i vägen fick stryk.”

Slag som haglar. Urskillningslöst. Verkligen? Är det inte konstigt i så fall att de enda skador som mig veterligen rapporterats handlar om poliser. På vilket sjukhus ligger alla de Husbybor som fallit offer för polisens urskillningslösa våld?

Analysis of Argument 4:

Kjöller criticizes Johanna Langhorst as “one of the journalists who knows how everything has happened.”  Langhorst criticizes how field assistants, journalists and youth workers were beaten by police.  Then, Kjöller says suggests that not all the violence is caused by police officers or that it is “strange” that this is what is reported.  The implication is that there was violence not committed by police officers that the left ignores.  Here again Kjöller is disingenuous, using yet another propaganda trick.  Let us deconstruct this.

First, Kjöller does not express any disgust with how journalists or others were attacked, appearing to legitimate it through a sin of omission, e.g. what any normal person would express is disgust but this is not something that disgusts her.

Second, what appears to disgust Kjöller is something else that might have happened (here we have to guess, perhaps violence by rioters or  something unidentified), yet we don’t even know what the something else is.  As things stand, we know that the police killed someone and none of the rioters have killed anyone.  This fact is left out of Kjöller’s analysis of how violence is depicted in the media.

Third, assuming that there is something left out that Kjöller thinks need to be balanced, how does this devalue the fact that beating journalists and others is a bad thing?  What Kjöller does is use the propaganda trick of talking about A (violence by police) does not mean B (violence by others).  When someone says A, they have not said B and B is important.  Yet, anything you say in A need not exclude B except when B is relevant to A.

Let’s consider a counter argument. In a “sin of omission” B is relevant to A.  You should have mentioned B if you mention A in such instances. But, in Kjöller’s case the police violence in itself should be regarded as sufficient for her attention (which she also does not follow up with by looking at any other data).  Here, B does not relate to A in any material way, but is simply based on a speculative association.

Kjöller Argument 5:

Under rubriken ”Högern gör sig dum om Husby” på Aftonbladets ledarsida serverar socialdemokraten Anders Lindberg sin superstringenta analys…Vidare förklarar Lindberg frustrationen med att ”vårdcentralen, Posten, barnmorskan och ungdomsgården dragits in”. Men som så ofta är Lindberg dåligt påläst. I Husby finns fortfarande en vårdcentral, däremot inte Posten (precis som den knappt finns någon annanstans heller), barnmorskan finns en tunnelbanestation eller 15 minuters promenad bort. På ungdomsgårdsfronten erbjuder Husby tre alternativ…

Analysis of Argument 5:

Kjöller argues that Anders Lindberg from the newspaper Aftonbladet is wrong about how social services have been cut back in Husby.   She identifies what she perceives to be factual inaccuracies about social service cuts.   Her argument raises several problems.

First, it begs larger questions.  Kjöller might be correct about the limits to Lindberg’s analysis in terms of details.  However, her article claims that the left is misconstruing Husby to serve ideological ends. Therefore, the larger question has to be not whether specific social services have been cut to Husby but rather three other scenarios.  Scenario A:  Have total services to Husby been cut, independent of the anecdotal cases described by Aftonbladet? We learn nothing about this. Scenario B: Did Husby lack a totality of services even if they have increased or decreased in recent years, i.e. has Husby a services deficit?  We learn nothing about this either.  Scenario C: Are there other things that Husby lacks that other neighborhoods have?  This larger question really is not addressed by what Kjöller cuts out of the Aftonbladet piece.  Anyone walking through Husby will see that such neighborhoods lack the diversity of resources found in other neighborhoods because in the Million Housing Program shopping, residences and work were largely separated into separate zones.  The ambitions of linking these three functions were admirable, but the zonal segregation is idiotic as any urban theorist with knowledge of Jane Jacobs’ book, The Life and Death of Great American Cities, will tell you.  The ideal neighborhood combines living and shopping and sometimes working areas and has great functional diversity.  Of course, Husby has cultural diversity, but the larger left critique (among urban scholars as opposed to journalists) is whether such neighborhoods have a diversity of resources, not the number of post offices (which are lacking throughout Stockholm because of some idiotic policy and narrow conception of what a  Post Office should be).  Husby contains high unemployment, a population with weak access to qualified jobs, and an architectural milieu which is homogenous, boring and ugly, i.e. alienating.   Certain left geographers in Sweden have made it part of their career development to conceal this fact, but it is self evident to many a disinterested observer.  So, when we could have an interesting critique of the left, we get a banal one about counting post offices etc.  In any case, Kjöller is able to avoid all this by coming up with what she thinks is a more accurate accounting than Aftonbladet about social service examples.  This very much reminds me of the television debates about the riots. The Social Democrats say that the Alliance has cut support systems and are to blame. The Alliance says they have improved things over and above the Social Democrats.  Here, the political parties telling the truth about each other is used to displace a larger truth, i.e. neither major political bloc did anything profoundly useful.

Kjöller does say that Norrland should have had riots rather than Husby if social service cuts were to blame.  This is an interesting kind of disinformation.  First, Norrland is not a ghetto area defined by: multiethnic enclaves; lack of a kind of social infrastructure and support system; institutional racism from the outside defined by police harassment, racist epithets, and other factors; and spatial density.  Spatial density can make it easier to form certain kinds of networks whether they be social movements opposing cutbacks, rioters or gangs.  It is hard to have a riot in a spatially dispersed area.

Second, Kjöller engages in a reductionist strawman argument.  Of course, any social scientist understands that a riot does not have a single cause, but has multiple causes (some long term and others short term).  In fact, riots may result from a combination of causes, e.g. racism + unemployment + weak parental structures and social codes + alienation + social service cuts + lack of supporting cultural amenities, etc.  So, arguing that one of these factors in itself does not explain a riot is disingenuous because we need to address the multitude of factors, particularly as they express themselves in unique or differentiated geographic spaces.  So, it could be that the single factor is part of a larger explanation involving multi-factor models of causation.

Kjöller Argument 6:

Våldet sägs på Megafonens hemsida vara ”det enda sättet att uttrycka frustration när andra demokratiska vägar är stängda”. Vadå stängda? Det är väl inte svårare att engagera sig politiskt i Husby än i Bromma? Talesmannen Rami al-Khamisi är själv ett exempel på motsatsen. På nätet hittar jag en två år gammal intervju med den då 23-årige al-Khamisi. Där framgår att han varit aktiv inom ett projekt finansierat av Europarådet där han tillsammans med ungdomar från 25 europeiska länder arbetat med frågor kring delaktighet. Han har också deltagit i ett samarbete med Stockholms stad, Svenska Bostäder och Hyresgästföreningen. I artikeln berättas om ett annalkande möte med självaste kungahuset.

Analysis or Argument 6:

Kjöller says that Megafonen is wrong to argue that riots reflect the closure of other democratic outlets.  She says that it is not more difficult to engage one’s self in Husby than in Bromma.  She points to Rami al-Khamisi as an example of an engaged individual. She points to him being engaged in a project with youth from 25 European countries participating in the question of participation. He has worked with the City of Stockholm, a real estate firm, the renters’ association and has been at the royal palace.

Here we have the example of the anomalous case standing for the whole and the “if you don’t love our country leave it” logic.  Let’s turn first to the anomalous case. I can only welcome that Rami al-Khamisi is politically engaged.  But, is he typical?  Does he have skills that others lack for engagement?  What do we learn about his “cultural capital” (or intellectual and psychological if not cultural capacities to engage in such projects) that might be differentiated from others in Husby?  We learn nothing from Kjöller’s analysis about this because she never asked him, “how might you differ from others in Husby and what can we conclude from this?”  No, he is just used as a prop to suggest that all can be like him if they want to.  We know that knowledge is differentiated, while the right to participate is open to all.  Yet, if only a very small minority has the knowledge of how to participate, then the larger question is how to broaden this knowledge.  This is something that is really not part of mainstream discourse.

What do I mean by “if you don’t love our country leave it” logic?  If someone does not like their country, sometimes people say, “then find another.”  The structure of these arguments is that it assumes that the country you would move to (or moved from) is better than the present one. The problem here is that we forget that  there can be a kind of convergent mediocrity or dystopian aspect to certain countries.

Being a resident in Bromma, I can tell you that it is exceedingly difficult to get things done.  One has to engage in persistent and extended pressure on authorities to get them to be responsive.  They often claim that they don’t have jurisdiction because it is SL or someone else to blame.  Ironically, when residents around Alvik in Bromma organized against the use of green spaces for housing projects several years ago, one of the newspapers condemned this protest movement as anti-democratic, i.e. the media doesn’t really like participation as much as they claim.

Leaving that aside, participation can be a weak measure of democracy as the book, Participation: The New Tyranny?, edited by Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari explains.  In contrast, if we use Carole Pateman’s book, Participation and Democratic Theory, as a measure of participation, then we have to consider democratic decision making in workplaces not participation in NGO projects as a hallmark of strong democracy or participation.  She discusses “worker self-management” and cooperatives.  Yet, that is not what politicians and journalists mean. Rather, they mean participating in local structures which the political scientist Bo Rothstein has argued (in Just Institutions Matter) have been alienated from resources, i.e. they have responsibility but lack power (resources).  A better way to put it is that such local authorities are  partially a cul-de-sac for participation.  Persons in Bromma have other ways to secure resources (via their wages, professional networks, jobs, etc.) that many people in Husby don’t have access to so participation in local government in Bromma is less relevant.  People in Husby might depend on the state more and have more demands on it than in Husby because of differentiated class resources.  If you are unemployed, you can’t have meaningful worker self-management.

Still another metric of participation can be found in the book The Case for Participatory Democracy, edited by C. George Benello and Dimitrios Roussopoulos.  This book discusses “community development corporations” and “liberatory technology.”  In contrast to the analysis found in the books by Pateman, Benello and Roussopoulos, the typical Swedish politician’s idea of development consists in spending money by Swedish construction firms or others such that most of the jobs, learning space, and income flows of such projects do not really involve the affected community, i.e. it is typical top-down planning.  Participatory planning might be that elected citizen review boards help monitor and control the police, to avoid police abuse and provide better services.  Instead, local government authorities are not always democratic or even elected.

Consider that in the historical development of neighboring Kista Science Park (now Kista Science City), planners did not socialize jobs, but socialized housing. They had to largely depend on market forces to create the jobs and employers and hence decoupled decisions about work from residence. As a result, very few people who work in Kista Science Park actually live in neighboring areas.  The organization of work is left to the market, social capital networks, job ladders, and the reproductive system of secondary schools, etc.  This system has not favored Husby residents to get into such job paths.  In contrast, there are cooperative models in Cleveland in the U.S. and Mondragon in Spain which create cooperative, durable work and integration systems for the residents.  The so-called “Cleveland Model” is partially based on the Mondragon system.  In Cleveland, even former convicts from the prison system find meaningful jobs.   Compare the standard model used in Sweden for development, i.e. training into low-waged jobs, using construction firms in the construction industrial complex, moving government agencies into a community, etc.

In sum, meaningful participation does not mean showing up and participating in local government structures for several reasons.  First, in order to have democracy you require skills in democracy and a certain degree of knowledge.  Groups like Megafonen have tried to fill this democracy deficit, but they face lots of obstacles.  There is no Highlander School in Husby or similar areas, the school that activists like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks used in the U.S. to get skills to engage in reform and participatory efforts.  The pedagogy of democratic empowerment is exceedingly weak, even at the level of the university system, i.e. how to systematically accumulate power in ways other than voting, elections, etc. that mainstream political science glorifies.  Even discussions about social movements as empowerment vehicles misses the larger point that many are co-opted by patronage systems or are simply badly designed

Second, the ability to influence democracy depends upon and is positively correlated with having greater economic, political and media capital.  None of the top-down development initiatives for Husby or other suburban multi-ethnic areas really promotes this in a systemic fashion.  There are no radio stations which residents control to mobilize themselves and get their message across. There are no banks that residents control that marshal their consumption power.  The educational system does not teach students how to fight the system or even reform it. The consensus is that everything is the way it should be because there are local bureaucracies to influence.  The media never addresses these questions in any meaningful way. In fact, it blocks such arguments or sees that they are never given the light of day.

Kjöller Argument 7:

Slutligen bara. Påståendet att medierna struntat i Husby innan det började brinna. I mediearkivet Presstext ger en sökning mellan den 1 maj 2010 och den 1 maj 2013 sammanlagt 1.176 träffar. Bagarmossen, som har lika många invånare, renderade 367.

Analysis of Argument 7:

Kjöller says that the claim that the media ignored Husby before it started to burn is wrong because between May 1, 2010 and May 1, 2013 there were 1,176 hits in a media database of news articles. The locality Bargarmossen, which has a similar number of inhabitants, has only 367 hits in a media archive search.

It is hard to take this argument seriously, but I will try. Kjöller fails to understand the difference between quantitative and qualitative media coverage.  The fact is that any comprehensive urban analysis of Husby or similar areas would be hard to come by, except perhaps in somewhat obscure texts by ethnic studies researchers.  Even here, the main emphasis is often on how inhabitants are victims, not how they could possibly become liberated from such victimization status.

The discourse on comprehensive and democratic economic development is exceptionally weak in Sweden and barely exists.  It’s not like the Swedish media goes on field studies of systemic urban development and social inclusion projects at the international level to see how areas could avoid riots taking place. At best, they travel to Canada and talk about their social inclusion success, although the Canadian model is not always the best example given the immigration of elite Asian immigrants and the failure to problematize the type of jobs immigrants might receive.  At worst, they think they are enlightened by making reference to British and French police tactics to fight rioters, e.g. the use of fire hoses.  So, the quantity of news articles is a useless strawman argument—totally  irrelevant.  You can ignore an area by reporting on it in a superficial manner. The measures Kjöller uses for evaluating whether an area has been properly studied or reported on (the number of hits) is exceptionally weak.

Yes, she is right that Husby has not been ignored by the media.  What she fails to consider, by debunking this strawman argument, is that superficiality of media coverage hardly helps and probably has lulled the elites into thinking that they have been responsive when they have not.  The riots clearly indicate a failure and by blaming individual rioters, you don’t get very far.  The rioters are responsible for something but they are also a byproduct of a failed system.  What is worse is that there is evidence that alternative models for such areas were discussed and these alternatives were ignored and never got a place on the political or mainstream media agenda, e.g. http://www.risesi.org/index.2646.html.  This is the relevant metric of media coverage, i.e. a measure of a lack of substantive coverage despite masses of newspaper articles.

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