ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P26)

Nationalism, democracy and morality: a historical and anthropological approach to the role of moral sentiments in contemporary politics

Location Quincentenary Building, Wolfson Hall B
Date and Start Time 22 June, 2014 at 09:00

Convenor

Elisabeth Kirtsoglou (Durham University) email
Mail All Convenors

Summary

This panel wishes to discuss the role of sympathy as recognition in the establishment of political selves. Its aim is to ethnographically capture and historically contextualise the ways in which 'sympathy' informs ideas about democracy, social interaction, inclusion and exclusion.

Long Abstract

This panel wishes to re-examine the historical foundations of political identity vis-à-vis core cultural ideals as these have been analysed by anthropologists who specialise in Europe. Its aim is to investigate how 'sympathy' as recognition informs ideas about democracy, social interaction, inclusion and exclusion. Careful ethnographic exploration reveals mirroring to be a mechanism and a marker for distinguishing between the 'Self' and the 'Other' in political terms in such a way that the non-national 'Other' can be cast outside the realm of sympathy and by consequence outside the realm of democracy and equal rights. The contributors are invited to think of the effect of nationalism on history, time and morality and to re-visit the ways in which history is perceived as linear, time is imagined as empty and homogenous, and ultimately morality succumbs to the limits of national identity resulting in the engendering of bounded spheres of moral sensibility. What it means to be 'a fellow-human' becomes not an uncontested matter in the process of being conflated with what it means to be a 'fellow-national'. At the same time however, it can be ethnographically substantiated that it is precisely 'sympathy' as recognition which comes in defence of the 'humanity of the Other', a perception of humanity that eventually transcends nationalist positionalities. The relationship between nationalism, democracy and morality is ethnographically documented as mutually constitutive, but its terms need to be carefully thought both in historical and in anthropological terms. This panel invites contributions from anthropologists, historians and political philosophers.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Humanity beyond politics: bare life and the primacy of the ethical

Author: Lisette Josephides (Queen's University Belfast)  email

Summary

I argue, first, that cosmopolitanism rather than nationalism is the true pair to morality, and second, that the realm of humanity is beyond politics. Ethnography deflects ideas of the primacy of the political, showing an underlying ethical stance stronger than any systems of sovereign machinery.

Long Abstract

This paper develops a two-pronged argument. First, I ask to what degree nationalism and morality are mutually constitutive, by introducing another term: cosmopolitanism. I argue that sympathy as recognition of a fellow human being may run counter to ideas about nationalism and the practices of capitalist democracies based on policies of inclusion and exclusion determined by citizenship status. By contrast, cosmopolitanism is concerned with the subjective experience of boundary crossing or blurring.

Second, I argue that the realm of humanity is beyond politics. Drawing on the work of Agamben, I ask how 'bare life' devoid of the accoutrements of political status can be sufficient to maintain a moral concept of humanity. For Carl Schmitt, the political defined what is to be a human being in the modern world. Loyalty to one's group was beyond ethics, and politics hinged on a distinction between 'friend' and 'enemy' that was tested by readiness to die or kill rather than any moral quality. The claim to speak in the name of universal humanity or ethical universalism constituted a betrayal, by refusing to accept limitations to our actions determined by the identity of the community to which we belonged. Yet ethnography deflects ideas of the primacy of the political. It shows an underlying humanity retrieved not because of loyalty to one's community or even oneself, but following a moment of kindness that recognises the other's humanity. The empathy in this ethical moment unleashes responsibility in summons much stronger than any systems of sovereign machinery.

Other otherings: exclusions and inclusions in political processes

Authors: Andrew Strathern (University of Pittsburgh)  email

Summary

This paper considers three contexts of othering in which similarities or differences between people are amplified to a point of justifying their exclusion or inclusion in political processes.

Long Abstract

There are several different kinds of othering, but the basic process

involves a reduction of perceptions of similarity to the point where

violent action against persons appears justified. Further, there are

different kinds of violence, from psychological intimidation to physical

killing. Othering is a persistent factor in political activity from the

micro to the macros-levels. In this paper we look at three very different

contexts which all contain marked elements of othering , hand in hand with

the construction of similarity. One context has to do with clan politics

and witchcraft in Papua New Guinea. Another has to do with small group

dynamics in which a combination of closed factions within a larger

sub-group can function to .other. anyone left out from the faction,

regardless of the rubric. Finally we look to the current run-up to the

impending referendum in Scotland in which numerous cross-cutting autogenic

otherings are created by the emergence of distinct interests, one set of

such otherings having to do with who has or should have the right to vote

in the referendum itself.

How to be a minority: ethical conduct and government of difference in Europe

Author: Dace Dzenovska (University of Oxford)  email

Summary

I argue that within the European political landscape the subject positions of ‘majority’ and ‘national minority’ are linked by relations of likeness rather than difference, as both are predicated on adherence to a particular vision of virtuous life as a life of cultural belonging.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I analyze relations of difference and likeness that animate the Latvian state's national minority politics. I argue that within the European political landscape the subject positions of 'majority' and 'national minority' are linked by relations of likeness rather than difference, because both are predicated on adherence to a particular vision of virtuous life as a life of cultural belonging.

On the basis of an ethnographic analysis of the making of national minorities in Latvia after socialism, I show that the subject position of 'national minority' is most visible in relation to the ways in which conduct articulates the self, the polity and the state. In the Latvian context, for example, it matters whether someone joins a minority cultural association or a political protest against the state's language politics. The former type of conduct is constitutive of a national minority subject that is not the same as the majority subject, but is sympathetic to the majority subject and thus in a relation of likeness to it. The latter type of conduct is constitutive of a subject that is neither the majority subject nor a subject sympathetic to the majority subject and therefore in a relation of difference to it. In that sense, I trace the ways in which seemingly humanist dispositions, such as sympathy, are structured by historically particular political projects, as well as by political rationalities constitutive of the European landscapes of 'Self' and 'Other.'

Welfare reform and fairness as moral reasoning in North Manchester, England

Author: Katherine Smith (University of Manchester)  email

Summary

This paper explores the ways in which the local idiom of fairness, as in what is perceived to be ‘fair’, is used to express shared anxieties and the empirical realities of recent welfare reform and increased poverty in North Manchester, England.

Long Abstract

This paper addresses recent welfare reform and policy changes under the coalition government and new levels of poverty and anxieties about the future amongst the 'white, English, working-classes' in Harpurhey, North Manchester, England. Considering 'welfare' is premised on the idea that some need and depend on the help of others, this paper questions the distortion in social discourse and political representations of white, English, working-class benefits claimants, when people and society mirror back a confining, demeaning or contemptible picture of them, and it explores the local transmission and transformation of moral reasoning and knowledge of the lived experiences of these discourses and representations which are being constituted and reinforced through policy, as 'unfair'. It examines the local concept of 'fairness', as in what is perceived to be fair, as an idiom which serves competing moralities. Fairness is prioritized according to knowledge of biographical histories, experiences of benefits cuts, the perception of governmental and bureaucratic contempt for the poor and vulnerable, and the absence of sympathetic consideration of those who need welfare - consideration that characterizes local expressions of fairness. Fairness becomes a mechanism by which to shift between moral standpoints, express the viability of the person in situations not of their choosing, express new forms of relationality in the face of benefits cuts, and prioritize localized values. This paper raises questions about the capacity of individuals to engage in shaping political agendas and to carve out new ways of being political that are located outside of policy and reform discourses.

'We are not like them; the nationalists': the cultural construction of 'sympathy' in counter-nationalist discourses and peace activism in Cyprus

Author: Evropi Chatzipanagiotidou (Queen's University Belfast)  email

Summary

The paper ethnographically traces ‘sympathy’ as a mode of morality underpinning inter-communal relationships and interactions in Cyprus; and it argues that as associated with ‘alternative nationalisms’, ‘sympathy’ in this case creates new opportunities for inclusion but also expansive spaces of exclusion.

Long Abstract

Cyprus has been divided into two parts since 1974 as a result of inter-ethnic conflict between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Despite the dominance of respective nationalisms on both sides, there are Greek and Turkish Cypriots who seek to overcome the stereotyping of each other as the ultimate 'enemy' and to challenge nationalist processes of 'othering'; significantly in this case, -and as the title of the paper suggests-, this process often involves emphasising difference from members of one's 'own' community and highlighting sameness with the opposite -mirrored- community. Based on ethnographic data collected since 2008 among peace supporters, activists and members of the Cypriot Left in Cyprus and the diaspora, this paper traces the social, cultural and historical production and construction of 'sympathy' as a moral basis for the (re)development of Cypriotism, an alternative nationalism to the established ethnic ones in Cyprus. The paper argues that 'sympathy' in this case has to be analysed as produced at the intersections of individual memories, experiences and interactions; institutionalised discourses and practices; and broader political, social and historical processes. Such contextualisation of 'sympathy for 'the other'' allows us to trace what is simultaneously universal and particular in the ways that specific modes of morality underpin nationalism and counter-nationalism in Cyprus; how democracy and rights are constituted and negotiated in pursuing and imagining a future, re-unified island; and how new spaces of inclusion and exclusion are created in the process.

Being both self and other in post-dictatorship Argentina

Author: Noa Vaisman (Durham University)  email

Summary

How do individuals contend with conflicting legacies that bring together perpetrators and victims of human rights violations? In this paper I explore the different ways in which the “living disappeared” of Argentina make sense of a relational reality that blurs the boundaries between self and other.

Long Abstract

In the aftermath of mass human rights violations transitional justice processes help construct a world where clearly bounded groups are produced. In most contexts, victims are separated from perpetrators and the latter are cast as the Other of the newly emerging post-conflict nation. And while for juridical and political purposes these distinctions may be useful, in practice the boundaries between groups—victims and perpetrators—are blurred. That is, victims can also be perpetrators and perpetrators victims. This muddled reality can give rise to innumerable variations, raising, in turn, questions about the moral world constructed through post-conflict transitional justice processes. Focusing my attention on the blurred boundaries between Self and Other in this paper I examine the case of the "living disappeared" of Argentina.

During the last military dictatorship (1976-1983) close to 500 infants were abducted by the regime. Once separated from their biological families, their identities were altered and they were illegally adopted/appropriated by members of the Armed Forced or their accomplices. Today these individuals—the "living disappeared"—are being identified using DNA identity tests. Once identified they must contend on the one hand, with the history and the legacy of their disappeared parents and, on the other hand, with the legacy of their historically, politically and socially constructed kin relations. These relations tie them, in many cases, to the perpetrators of the crime directly. Examining the different paths to identification and restitution of these individuals I consider the meaning of Other and Self when they co-exist in the same bounded subject.

Nationalism, sectarianism and the 'impossibility' of democracy: state formation, political subjectivities and violence in contemporary Syria

Author: Maria Kastrinou (Brunel University London)  email

Summary

Through a historical re-examination of 'sectarianism', this paper compares 'sect' and 'nation' as strategies of state formation, and ethnographically captures the ways in which these become tropes of sympathy, recognition and violence in the current war in Syria.

Long Abstract

In December 2013, the latest estimated cost of the conflict in Syria: more than 120,000 deaths, 2 million refugees and more than 5 million internally displaced; these figures index the ongoing humanitarian disaster, the slow dismantling of the state's infrastructure, and, what is more dangerous, the slow, painful dismembering of social fabric. Fears and realities of sectarian clashes are engulfing Syria, threatening a future Lebanisation, Balkanisation or a second Somalia. With sectarian clashes having a profound impact on both Syria's society and sovereignty, this paper takes claims of 'sectarianism' seriously, combining historical and political economy approaches with anthropology of the state in order to ethnographically situate the seeming 'impossibility' of democracy in Europe's historical and geographic neighbour, Syria.

Specifically, by looking at how nationalist and sectarian identities are formed, transformed and mobilised in Syria and Lebanon, this paper seeks to demonstrate how representations, practices and geographies of the nation and the sect may challenge, reinforce or bypass state sovereignty and form political subjectivities and social boundaries. Through a historical re-examination of 'sectarianism', this paper compares how 'sect' and 'nation' have been employed as strategies of state formation in Greater Syria from the late Ottoman Empire to today, and ethnographically captures the ways in which these become tropes of sympathy, recognition but also violence in the current war in Syria.

Nationalism on the rocks: morality, sympathy and the other in the context of the Greek economic crisis

Author: Elisabeth Kirtsoglou (Durham University)  email

Summary

The present paper re-examines the effects of nationalism on perceptions of time, history and morality supporting the idea that nationalism needs to be problematised as an institution of modernity, in close connection to questions of power and legitimacy.

Long Abstract

This paper wishes to explore how the economic cum humanitarian crisis that hit the Greek people operated as a context and as a field for the rise of extremism in Greece. In the context of recent political developments I wish to re-examine the effects of nationalism on the perception of history, time and morality and to contextualise local nationalism in wider historical and political processes. Xenophobic and extreme right wing discourses find great support in the familiar idea of the 'enemy within', which has been an instrumental concept in Cold War politics. Within the context of hegemonic nationalist discourses the non-national 'Other' can be cast outside the realm of sympathy and by consequence outside the realm of democracy and equal rights. At the same time however, it can be ethnographically substantiated that it is precisely 'sympathy' as recognition that comes in defence of the 'humanity of the Other', a perception of humanity that could eventually transcend nationalist positionalities.

Crisis, neo-fascism, and the academic politics of aversion

Author: Giacomo Loperfido (Universitat de Barcelona)  email

Summary

The paper suggests that a structural economic crisis triggers a transforming relationship between knowledge and morality within the academic sphere.

Long Abstract

Departing from my own direct experience in the debates about a topic like Italian neo-fascism, the paper explores the emersion of new trends in the moralization of academic debates. Neo-fascism, I will argue, seems to have become a negative symbolic reference capable of re-defining the moral field of academic arena. In the general crisis of rational understanding of the world, what is good and what is not seems to be increasingly defined in relation to a spatial principle of proximity/distance to what is conceived of as antithetic to the national self. Here, neo-fascism (the antithesis) comes to embody an “other” who is internal to the geographical boundaries of the nation, but external to the moral ones. In the ongoing process of moralization of knowledge and meaning, rational and scientific research on “moral others” tends to be discouraged. In this paper, I analyze my own involvement as a researcher in situations in which “moral truths” are mobilized in order to deter academic interest in topics that are considered to be “dangerous”, and “repugnant”. The paper suggests that a structural economic crisis triggers a transforming relationship between knowledge and morality within the academic sphere.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.