portrait Redfield

James Adam Redfield

Fellow 07-08

Anthropology of Religion, Talmud, Jewish ethics; Comparative scholasticism, Philology, Zen Buddhism, Buddhism in the U.S.

Stanford University, Religious Studies

ICI Project (2007-08)

See "ICI project" below.


James Adam Redfield
b. July 14, 1984, in Hanover, NH, USA                                           


2011-Present: PhD Student, Religious Studies, Stanford University

2008-2010 : M.A., Anthropology, U.C. Berkeley

2002- 2006 : B.A., Comparative Literature, Dartmouth College

1989-2002:   University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

ICI Project (2006-2008)

This multiply mediated project of ethnographic fieldwork and analysis lasted two years, between my graduation from Dartmouth and the beginning of my doctoral study at Berkeley.  In September 2006, while a DAAD Scholar at the F.U. Berlin, I began volunteering as an English and French teacher in an elementary school of Berlin's (in)famous neighborhood Neukölln, where I developed relationships with students from German and Muslim backgrounds, as well as teachers, parents and administrators.

While building up a stock of ethnographic material through these encounters in the forms of fieldnotes and photographs, cross-read against other material such as academic literature, local 'texture' such as graffiti and political leaflets, and media texts such as tabloids and TV shows, I met a few teen boys of Lebanese, Palestinian and Serbian descent who began recording their rap songs with me on a regular basis.  They and their families became my primary subjects.

Meeting with the subjects several times a week, I recorded and produced their rap CD, organized their concert/record release party/discussion with my friends and colleagues at the ICI Berlin, and produced an ethnographic film, stock of photographs and field-notes around the complex intercultural dynamics of our encounter.  This material took concrete form in a newspaper article and numerous speaking engagements in various Berlin 'scenes' and media outlets.

Halfway through the project I returned to the Middle East for three months; my experience in Turkey, Israel and the Occupied Territories furnished further material, especially photographs, which upon my return came to play a central role in globalizing the dynamics of my re-encounter with the subjects within the local context of their proudly self-proclaimed Berlin 'ghetto'.

At the theoretical level, my project addressed the following tensions: localization of the global / globalization of the local; Muslim migrant teens / German majority society / Jewish-American ethnographer; performances of 'Muslim' masculinity / femininity / sexuality; the Opfer (literally 'victim or sacrifice', symbolic object) and his Täter (literally aggressor or 'do-er', symbolic subject).

In dealing with the above tensions, I began to understand three definitions of tension itself which are also in tension with each other:

(1) Tension as irresolvable binary conflict between exclusive, discrete, essentialized cultural identities (e.g. 'Muslim' / 'Jew'), framed within contesting mythic (and thus pre-political), universalist (and thus hegemonically normative) discourses of violence and victimization (e.g. some discourses around the Shoah in German public education);

(2) Tension as a potentially mediated and dialectical relation between ethnographic subjects' ambivalent, often self-contradictory performances of the identities that are created by (1), re-framing identities through performance as political subjectivities in their local context.

My project attempted to structure this performative relation with the subjects by using rap music as a vehicle for this encounter, thus using (2) to show the subjects and our audience how the irreconcilable terms in which (1) is generally framed are inadequate to describe how the actually get translated into the complex local lifeworld of Berlin-Neukölln.

(3) More than anything else, tension in my project thus came to mean a method more than a concept, a means more than end-- a creative process of visually, aurally and textually provoking, performing, mediating and critiquing the divisive and inaccurate myths of (1) in order to re-mediate them in the conceptual image of a 'global ghetto'.

Neukölln's 'global ghetto' is a locality that, according to most media outlets, points to (1).  Through (2), my project attempted to show how it is rather a hybrid, self-affirmative space of emergent political subjectivity among these youth, which should be understood and evaluated not in superficial terms of what their music 'says' (pointing to the identities assumed in (1) ) but rather by how it means, that is, how it stages and relates the identities of (1) through reference to a global context.

Specifically, the rappers' powerfully conflicting mass-mediated, familial and German interpretations of how they should relate to Israel and the U.S.-- as well as to me, performing the 'American Jew'-- emerged as the single most important factor in articulating their subject positions as political actors who resist integration into the normative German context.  It became clear that their resistance to 'integration' was not solely or even primarily a resistance to Germans or Germany per se, but rather a resistance to the sense that their own histories and traditions were being suppressed by normative discourses of 'tolerance', 'democracy' and even 'the Shoah', a repressive symbolic violence to which, in their raps, they responded in kind.  To show how their 'ghetto' self-image was thus globalized became to show their struggle to become young men despite German discourses where the bodies, violence and beliefs that mark their history are ignored, even tabooed, in favor of established readings.

In short, tension became my way of doing 'digital ethnography'.

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