Social Imaginary and Ethnic Identity: My Parents as an Example

The flow of people, ideas, cultures etc. are not stable or neat. These flows are constantly moving, in a disorganized and disconnected order.

The flow of people, ideas, cultures etc. are not stable or neat. These flows are constantly moving in a disorganized and disconnected fashion.

My mother was 18 years old when she boarded a plane and left her family and friends in Argentina in order to move to Toronto in hopes of finding prosperity. In Argentina, my mother would have been considered poor, by our standards, and she knew that Canada could offer her the opportunities, experiences, and value that she could not find in Argentina. She had every intention to move back to Argentina after accomplishing what she sought out to do, however, as evident in the LiPuma and Koelble reading regarding globalized cities, her new habitus drew her in and kept her here. She married my father, had two children, and started progressing in her career. Now, almost twenty-six years later, she is still toying with the decision to either move back or stay here. My father was 20 years old when he moved to Toronto. He was born in Iran, and was fully content and happy with the idea of staying there for the rest of his life. However, the thought of her children being in close proximity to the Iranian war was unbearable to my grandmother, who subsequently “shipped” her four children out of the country. My father moved to Toronto, while his other siblings chose to inhabit France. My parents moved here for different reason and under different circumstances, yet both have remained here for over twenty-six years, and with the semi-serious intent of moving back to their respective homelands. Did the social imaginary that they both created influence there prolonged stay in Canada?

Being a globalized city, Toronto had many different cultures flowing throughout the city. My mother immediately moved in with a distant family member, also Argentinean. My father moved in with his childhood friend, also Iranian. When my parents first moved to Toronto, they constructed this social imaginary, whereby they felt most connected to their homelands and their culture by associating themselves around individuals and groups who shared their same ethnic identity. However, over the years, my mother has assimilated into the Canada, acquiring elements of Canadian culture, especially in her efforts to raise my sister and me, while my father has resisted this assimilation. Alternatively, my father has maintained a household based strictly on Persian values and norms. In society, he speaks Farsi 90% of the time, only socializes with other Persian people, eats only Persian foods, and only watches Persian movies and television programs. He has tried his best to maintain his own ethnic identity, far away from the influences of Canadian traditions and norms. Therefore, while my mother has come to consider herself a Canadian, she has somewhat lost her original ethnic identity. My father, on the other hand, is first and foremost a Persian man, who does not consider himself Canadian other than his choice to live here. 

I found this week’s reading “Cultures of Circulation and the Urban Imaginary: Miami as Example and Exemplar” to be quite valuable. It helped to foster a critical understanding of ethnoscapes, but also provided a critical comparison for the movement of my parents. I found this reading to be relevant to my family’s experiences and therefore gave me a more comprehensive viewpoint of why my parents may have decided to stay in Toronto (longer than initially planned).  

Melting Pots, Miami, and ‘Merica

Having been raised in the northernmost reaches of the United States, I was always taught that America is a “melting pot” of cultural diversity. America is beautiful because there are so many different types of people and cultures all coming together in unity and acceptance to form this one nation. As a young child, I naturally had no idea that many countries supported people of different ethnic backgrounds, so my generation grew up being taught (and believing) that America was unique as a result of its acceptance of ethnic diversity, and this is something to be celebrated.

As our educational careers progressed, this idealized vision of the “melting pot” and its beauty was slowly but steadily beaten down and destroyed. We realized (some more than others) that America can really suck sometimes. When people move to the United States they are detested for not knowing how to speak English, they are accused of stealing jobs from “hard working” Americans, they are oftentimes and generally seen as second-class citizens. Needless to say, this is the opposite of celebrating diversity. America expects—almost demands—that immigrants come into the states prepared to assimilate and adopt the “American way.” Everyone should love baseball, hotdogs, and the English language. When diversity is actually brought into America, people don’t usually like it. After all, ‘MERICA! *audible sigh*

For example: Coca Cola ran a Superbowl ad in 2014 showing “America the Beautiful” being sung in different languages to celebrate America as a melting pot. These are some of the responses:

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^^Not even the national anthem…

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Not so accepting…

Getting to the point, I find it interesting that within this nation that pressures assimilation, Miami exists as a center for cultural diversity without demanding assimilation. Miami seems like an idealized form of America, in that specific regard. Different cultures and ethnicities are constantly flowing in and out of the city, living in the city, and interacting with the city. If these different entities were to assimilate to Americanism, then I think the inherit fluidity of Miami would be destroyed. It is interesting that America as a whole tries to appear diverse and accepting, when in reality it is not. Meanwhile, Miami attempts to appear unified by promoting the idea of a social whole, which really is very far from the truth.

Note: I have no idea what type of acceptance is (or is not) taught in the southern United States, so my argument is based exclusively on my own northern U.S. experiences.

What Makes Chinese Food “Chinese”?

Similar to the comparison of Miami and its appeal to tourism, I began to question in what ways holidays or national parks use similar ideas, such as the five types dimensions of global cultures, to appeal to a broad audience.

For example, my mind first runs on Disneyland, which to me, is a comparable to that of a city — disregarding the actual inhabitants of people coming and “living” there, but again you have the option to visit and stay in a hotel, you visit as a  tourist, locals are kept out, you can travel between “parks” similar to transportation offered within a city, you may attracted by new rides which can parallel as new technology, the money made is quite a complex system between all the vendors within the park such as Subway or Starbucks, and the crowd is a sea of people from all over the world with different ideologies, beliefs, languages, and cultures.

The park becomes a simulacrum, in which Boudrillard would describe to be as blurring the lines between reality and fiction, in that it becomes an entity in itself. It has no reference to anything in reality, but is realized as a center of a virtual reality of the theme park

The mickey mouse ears are an emblem of to the attraction site, but those two circles and the two dots are not a referent to anything but come to symbolise a character created by Disney: it is an agreed upon sign which comes to represent Disneyland. It is a fictional symbol of nothing from reality — in so far that an actual mouse in nature cannot be compared to having circular dots as ears . Nor so, in Miami and the Caribbean and having a palm tree represent this paradise oasis, it may refer to the natural landscape in colour, shape as a reference to the nature found at that location, and then applied to logos of vacation/ travelling companies. Although this does reference something in real life, it is also a sign in which Saussure would argue as a signifier of an idea — something which society agrees upon to express or understand the essence of something. That goes to say with the word Miami or the word Disneyland — all the connotations that are associated with these places come from symbols and stories we hear, associated with these places. I have never been to either place, yet I have an understanding and preconceptions of what to expect if I go, based on an  amounts of description or images found online or heresy about the landscape, the activities, and people that can be found there. The proliferation of the mouse ears and the palm trees come to mind as I continually see them in advertisements or descriptions or even simple keychains and tourist merchandise, which continually promotes certain aspects of the city: they both attract a tourist, and have them come away with that symbol, to represent the city or location. The city in of itself, and the park, then comes to not only be marketed or coded by this sign, but these places themselves produce the sign to promote themselves. The use of mediascape, with a focus on the visual, as a logo for example, can be disseminated across cultures more so past barriers of language, and carry with it related images or icons so it can be understood across different communities.

This symbol projects aspects that may generalize the landscape and create and overall meaning or setting to which juxtaposing or different ideologies are bulldozed over to provide an agreed upon importance of the location to the wider public. This would mean other aspects would be lost, or unknown to the wider public … In terms of Trinidad for example, most may understand it to be a tropic paradise with the emblem of a palm tree or for example the hibiscus flowers used for Caribbean Airlines (one of the two airlines that now travel to Trinidad from the us and Canada). This idea of paradise and focus on the landscape does not indicate the busy city life of Trinidad , and though some may be aware of the poverty, the fast paced city life that includes so many multicultural festivals and locations are not indicated. They no longer just have “Trini” food which consists of rice, bhagi, and other recopies using the plants and fruits form the land, but there are pop up Chinese food stores, mediterranean restaurants, American franchises like KFC and their version of it called Royal Castle. Then again though—  I question the authenticity of this food which made me wonder – “what makes Chinese food authentic Chinese food?” Similar to that of the emblems of the cities and locations, certain aspects must be derived from the original and come to be incorporated in the “new versions”: important ingredients from the Chinese food must be present to make it “Chinese”, or using specific indicators in these logos of the mouse ears or the palm tree to give the essence of the places. These indicators however, may continually change based on what society agrees upon as important to give the essence of these things, but also what they find important or idiotic to the representation from the original idea.

Empire and Choice

From the Encyclopædia Britannica

North Korea’s Kim Jong Il… Dictators creating social change? Maybe.

For my first blog post I thought that I would explore some of my thoughts about our Empire readings and in-class discussion. Specifically I would like to explore the notion of sovereign nation-states now being subject to a stronger force than just themselves or other nation-states: “Our basic hypothesis is that sovereignty has taken a new form, composed of a series of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule. This new global form of sovereignty is what we call Empire” (Hardt and Negri pp. xii). Hardt and Negri (pp. xii) go on to argue that “…declining sovereignty of nation-states and their increasing inability to regulate economic and cultural exchanges is in fact one of the primary symptoms of the coming of Empire.”

While I agree that this is indeed happening I would assert that such a process is not inevitable. Instead sovereign states subject to the global economy can limit and control their interactions with it and thus change their course of development. A monopoly on the methods of force still exists within most powerful nation states. As a result nation-states still have the ability to control their boarders and the goods that pass through them. While much of the global economy is now highly abstract all of it still connects, in some way or another, to physical goods. Limitation or control of the flow of these goods can and will change the development of Empire. Specifically I am referring to the notion of autarky as a means of combatting Empire: “a policy of establishing a self-sufficient and independent national economy” (Merriam-Webster). Such limitation may be bad for large multi-national corporations… but who cares? People are more important that companies. It is important to note at this point that I have not read all of Empire… it appears that the entire second half of the books is dedicated to discussing how to combat or manage the development of Empire and I imagine that Hardt and Negri offer much more comprehensive and likely more effective strategies for resisting Empire than my arguement.

None the less there are some examples of this throughout recent history that are worth considering. The first of which is the United States embargo of 1807 in which the country, in efforts towards severing colonial ties with Britain, enacted a self-enforced international trade embargo (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). The roots of The War of Independence were economic after all and it resulted in the birth of a modern super power. A second and more modern example can be found in the state of North Korea which, throughout modern history, has striven for an independent economy (Yu). The results of such efforts have been mixed and the country is not truly independent currently but the country is still alive and kicking much to the dismay of the Western world. Both of these example, albeit extremely crudely, show that the resistance to the global economy on a national scale is possible without utter disaster ensuing. I would assert that we, as citizens of the world, do have a choice in the matter and that we can choose differently!

That is it for this week,


P.S. If you had a knee-jerk negative reaction to me using North Korea as a somewhat positive example it may be worth considering, in the light of Empire, why you are experiencing such a reaction.

Works Cited

“Autarky.” Merriam-Webster N.D.. Accessed 2 October 2015 <;.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. ‘Preface and Part I,’ in Empire, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Embargo Act: United States 1807.” Encyclopædia Britannica 27 April 2015. Accessed 2 October 2015 <;.

Yu, Woo-Ik. “North Korea: Government and Society.” Encyclopædia Britannica 25 March 2015. Accessed 2 October 2015 <;.

Nation building and Discrimination: The Never-Ending Web of Modernity, Empire, Nation, and Personal Identity.

There was a Counterrevolutionary Power introduced in the 17 century, which I would argue, permeates in politics today through nationalism, racism, and in defining a self-identity. This power sought to control constituent forces within Europe, and also began to realize the possibility and necessity of subordinating other populations to European domination.  From this, I believe that Eurocentrism was born, to which there is a tension to fight for others and help self gains through deliberate domination over other nations.

There was also a shift from a divine body of king to  spiritual identity of nation as a transcendent essence of the nation. The stability of a national identity was organized by a cultural, integration founded on biological continuity of blood relations, spatial community of territory and linguistic commonality. This, in my opinion, includes a wide array of categories: it has the potential to abolish many different identities, by creating a unified identity under a specific term for nation.

Luxemburg, for example, argued that nation meant dictatorship, and was incompatible with any democratic organization, as the idea of one national sovereign, who needs not report to anyone, works autonomously. This was later denaturalized, to further examine how the solidified power of sovereign operated, and question what a nation is comprised of by “making the multitude into a people”.

Colonial racism occurred for a homogenous national identity, through hegemonic group, race ad class. Identity and spiritual essence of the people, a nation, a territory is embedded with cultural meanings, shared history and linguistic community, a consolidation of class victory and stable market for economic expansion, to invest and civilize.  A national identity becomes a reinforced legitimization of right a power, a shift from conflict and crisis to a unitary experience of nation- subject and imagined community.

This stemmed the idea of the Orient, formulated the idea of a primitiveness and the other as a contagion – disease ridden, moral corruption, degenerative, having a lack of civilization.

A dialectic construction demonstrated that identities are always fluid – and by denaturalizing racial and cultural differences, it creates a more umbrella term for different peoples under one nation.

Fundamentalists formed a multicultural, multinational sense of difference and mobility as opposed to the post modern purity, identity and stasis.

The idea of purification relates to The Black Atlantic by Paul Gilroy. For example ,”Black English” is an intermixture of distinct cultural forms, and is not just a biological hierarchy but race  is comprised of complex cultural differences.

The Atlantic and the symbolism of a boat, represents the idea of a fluid identity, shaped by experiences.  The boat joins fixed places and connects the different places which represent “different aspects of ones identity”. Nationality, to me, is about shared experiences. What is the essence of being “Canadian?”

For example in Crisis, by Bruno Latour, creates the metaphor of a newspaper as displaying communication between different fields of knowledge, and reconfigures people’s perceptions.

He relates the idea of these fields being densely connected, and hard to separate, to that of modernity – When does it end and start? It is highly webbed in never-ending networks, much like the idealistic idea of Empire, which I further would relate to the idea of a nation – and further to that of a personal identity. We are much like a nation, filled with different connections and webs of experiences that make up who we are. We can’t simply define ourselves, under one word or term – much like that of a nation.

Prospective Policing?

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While reading the first part of Empire I was simultaneously trying to figure out how to create some sort of cogent presentation between it and Contours of High Modernity. As I was getting deeper and deeper into the text it occurred to me that Empire cannot exist without modernity because modernity is evolving into Empire. Empire is a more advanced form of modernity that encapsulates every nation into a global ruling order. Ideally in modernity, each country more or less polices itself. However, in Empire this concept evolves into a global structure ruled by morals—with an international police force available for when the system breaks down. Essentially the police force is a “Plan B.” Although the police is built into the idea of Empire, they are only there to enforce when someone or something goes against the ideals Empire, which is why I argue the police force is only a contingency plan.

A question that was not addressed in much detail in Empire is how this police force would work. This point interests me because the idea of a global police force today seems logistically impossible. The entire world is a lot to police. Since it all needs policing, then the risk of being “spread too thin” presents itself. If situations requiring police attention arise simultaneously all over the globe, then there needs to be enough man-power within the international police force that they will always be powerful enough to win any type of confrontation. Would every country have to donate a certain amount of military which is directly proportional to that country’s population? What if the 3 most populous countries decide to revolt against the system and withdraw their contribution from the international police? Would they be in a position to overthrow the international police force and take over? That would effectively destroy Empire in its idealized form.

However, since Empire never goes into specific detail about how this police force is to be put together, perhaps no men are needed at all. Maybe morals will be the international police force. If someone breaks the law then society will excommunicate them as a result of clashing moral values. Perhaps if someone goes against global moral code the sheer disgust from society will drive the offender crazy. Since Empire is not something that is fully realized in its idealized form yet, we can argue that anything is possible. Although we do see instances of Empire alive and well in our current world, I do not believe that Empire has fully descended upon us in all of its globalizing, unifying powers.

Empire and 1984

hehe... get it!

hehe… get it!

Wow, where do I begin? When I first read the preface of Empire, in a purely conceptual viewpoint, I thought that this notion of “a new Empire with open, expanding frontiers, where power would be effectively distributed in networks” (Negri & Hardt, 2000, xiv) would be a great idea. How optimistic does that sound, right? I say this because I understand that this “effective distribution of power” has never been wholly realized in our “real” world, for a selective few powers are typically more powerful than others, but I digress. Furthermore, I thought how ideal this Empire would be as not “a historical regime originating in conquest, but rather as an order that effectively suspends history and thereby fixes the existing state of affairs for eternity” (Negri & Hardt, 2000, xiv). Wow. The problems of the world will be fixed without the need to conquer? Is this even possible? I don’t even believe it! Well, I soon discovered that this “apparent” Utopia was no more than a rather disconcerting Dystopia; a contradicting world much like my favourite novel 1984. Interestingly, I discern the following pages of Empire to be an evident contradiction of ideas, however, worded to sound like a carefully thought-out propaganda campaign, designed to further manipulate followers and other members of society.

There are two aspects of Empire that I found to be completely contradicting, and which relates drastically to the novel 1984. In the simplest of definitions, 1984 is a novel based on a totalitarian society that preaches a complete Utopian world where all citizens will be happy and peaceful. The only problem is the world they write of is an utter Dystopia, and citizens are brainwashed to see it the way that the government wants and needs them to see it in order to prevent rebellion. The discourse in Empire, especially the contradictions found in the preface explanation of the concept “Empire”, reminds me of the contradictory discourse that encompasses the majority of the novel 1984.

First and foremost, I found it interesting that Empire “not only regulates human interactions but also seeks directly to rule over human nature” (Negri & Hardt, 2000, xv). This is similar to 1984 as the government attempts to not only control everything in their society, such as human interaction (no one can love each other, or have feelings for another member who is not Big Brother), but also seeks to rewrite history, control their thoughts and human urges, and their overall behaviour (which is monitored at all times to ensure that no one is committing any “illegal activities”. They are not even allowed to have their own thoughts outside of what they are told to think. If this is any correlation to the plans of Empire, then we are surely heading towards a horrible fate.

Another prominent contradiction was found when Empire continued to promote a peaceful existence. The authors wrote “although the practice of Empire is continually bathed in blood, the concept of Empire is always dedicated to peace” (Negri & Hardt, 2000, xv). My first thought compared this to 1984 and the key slogan of their society “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength” (Orwell, pg. 6). I thought, how can something that is always “bathed in blood” be dedicated as well to peace? How can they expect to bring peace if they need to eliminate anyone who tries to stand up to them? This is contradiction that is best displayed by the preceding quotation from 1984. By eliminating the “problem”, Empire will have peace. But for how long? How many “problems” can be eliminated before the world becomes a completely chaotic existence?

If anyone has any spare time, please read 1984! It is brilliant and relevant to Empire- to some degree and form. I chose to read Empire from a conceptual standpoint, yet found many parallels related to current global affairs. However, I found it much more engaging to read in a comparison to the novel 1984, which illustrates an extreme and heightened version of the Empire we have read thus far.

13 Sins and Empire

While reading “Empire” by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. , I understood it to represent an ideological construct to which all sociological, cultural, economic interactions are all contained, within a boundless network, growing without limitations of time and of space. It is bounded in terms of an all encompassing aspect, involving all interactions, but boundless in that it is not restricted to any borders or time period. The Empire is decentralized and naturalizes organization within society, so you don’t question these everyday interactions that lead to its construction.

Through this objective normality, I related the discussion of the one conductor of the entire world’s networks, to the horror movie “13 Sins”. Not to emphasize the American economy in its culturally driven desire to get rich as fast as possible, nor to refer to the grotesque and horrific actions the main character submits to (in order to receive money, and later to protect himself and his family), but rather, I would like to focus on how the actions a few people, leads to a series of other actions and creates a larger in society.

Societal relations, referring to the social, economic and cultural dynamics within never-ending networks, connect everyone on this Earth, to create a rippling effect in individual activity. The importance of everyone’s role in participating and contributing to the all empowering Empire, highlights the power of the individual and the idea of every individual’s interconnection to one another.  The movie demonstrates that every action leads to a consequence elsewhere, and in this book, all sociological, economical, and political action made, are held together with its consequences, in a hierarchical system that continues to expand excessively.


In the movie, there was a focus on how a select few people, who own millions of dollars, manipulate random members of society into playing a “game” for money. As this is a horror movie, you can bet the tasks involved in this game are quite graphic, every task that the participant completes leads to an even greater task, and towards more money for the winning jackpot, at the end of the game. The main character is driven mad, while completing these tasks, loses his humanity, and starts to do inhumane activities on his own. He mistreats people out of paranoia and newly gained confidence and realised power over other individuals and the public law. We, as the audience, also find out that many people are playing this game simultaneously, all around the world. One person tries to track the game, but it is a never-ending network of people working for other people, hiding their tracks; hence, the real people running the game can never be found.

The movie showcases how a select few can manipulate people (or the masses) on how to act and behave; in turn, directly affecting the makeup of society. The actual people in control are not physically doing all of the tasks that they use others as puppet to do all the work for them, and then allow these people to continue making their own terrible decisions. This hands off approach, is similar to that of the Empire, to which the system is created by the people working within it, through a more “hands off approach”. This is what the game eventually turns into, as the people who were once subjected to the game, now continue to makeup society based on personal action and decisions.

By being deeply woven into the system, the game-makers will forever be unknown, creating a totalizing effect of power, controlled by the few that stand at the top of this hierarchy. Different from the Empire, there are a few individuals, arguably even one individual, who starts this game and manipulates people in society to act a certain way; however, the person (possibly people) running the game, then hire more people to work for them and the people in power continue to be distanced from the actual game itself, to become a mere observer of the breakdown of society. Similar to what the game eventually turns into, the Empire dominates an apparently fluid situation, and claim to have order of what is already constituted: a series of networks which work to function and withstand society.

I would agree with the idea of the Empire, in that as individuals we are then responsible of what becomes of this framework, but I disagree to the affect of how much power each individual actually holds. If there is any outlying power in the network, there is arguably this sort of hierarchy to which someone is pulling the strings at the very top, leading to a trickled down effect.

In comparison to the mechanistic aspects of the horror movie, the Empire works towards creating peace rather than chaos; however, I would argue to what extent are those who decide what is right or ethical, valid in their assumptions?

We are to be moral participants in society, which is idealistic idea. We are to hold faith within humanity, but with the pessimistic perspective of this horror movie, I wonder how the few people who may disturb this power, create a moralistic disruption? To what effect do the deviators affect the global bodies in society, and the networks of the all encompassing Empire as a whole?

The Human Development Index and the Totalization of Capitalist Progress

File:2013 UN Human Development Report Quartiles.svg

(Not so fast Emma!)

The Human Development Index is used by the United Nations and many scholars in economics, global studies, political science, and other disciplines to measure the development of people and countries across the globe. Amartya Sen won a Nobel Prize for his work in creating it, and it is seen as a wonderful tool for social scientists working in the field of development. The index measures three categories; life expectancy, literacy rates, and income, in order to determine if a country or place is very highly developed, highly developed, medium developed, or lowly developed. These three categories are proxies for the general heath of people and the strength of the health care system, the education levels of a country, and the economic standing of people in a country. Fluctuations in this index are used to justify NGO and governmental programs around the world if programs can be tied to the improvement of literacy or health or income.

What is problematic about this index is the way it structures ‘development’ around institutions and measures that are highly valued in the west, but not necessarily by people universally. In the picto-graph above from the HDI’s Wikipedia page, it is clear how western nations are favored by its value system. As a result, countries with poor Human Development Index ratings receive a lot of attention from a variety of groups trying to improve their indexical rating, without ever considering if what they are doing has any value to the people whose community they are changing. While increases in life expectancy are something that everyone might be on board with, the other two are very focused on Western styles of learning and working. The improvement of a community’s literacy rate may actually take away from the resources that would be available to educate people in something more important, like maintaining and archiving oral histories and local traditions, but instead English as a second language teachers will be brought in so that the HDI will go up. Income as well is a very tenuous way to measure quality of life, as giving the poorest people in the country terrible jobs that pay okay will bump up scores, but may keep families apart and lead to health problems.

Overall, the Human Development Index has been used many times by academics and activists as a form of self-satisfaction. It is a way to put labels on how much a community was helped or not by a group of outsiders and officials, and regulates the ways that countries are allowed to grow, always trying to live up to a western standard that has been established as superior and might not even be what many countries would like to achieve. Like Empire, the Human Development Index is a way to conceive of the whole world under a singular framework that draws “medium” and “low” countries to become more like the “very high” west, and a way for westerners to justify thinking very highly of themselves.