ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

(P25)
Perilous proximities: Challenges of closeness
Location Room 4
Date and Start Time 15 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • James Williams (Zayed University) email
  • Charlotte Bruckermann (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Maxim Bolt (University of Birmingham)

Short Abstract

This panel explores how intimate, mutual, and symbiotic relations can turn perilous. It considers the ways people deal with the forces of incorporation, the predatory nature of intimacy, and the enclosures of closeness that people face by living in proximity with others.

Long Abstract

This panel explores how people manage their relational entanglements with others. We propose an engagement with spaces and situations of human togetherness where people struggle to maintain their lives as part of and apart from each other. How do people succeed and fail in distancing, detaching, and separating themselves from those around them? How can we think about closeness - spatially, ethically, or emotionally - as hazardous, exhausting, risk-laden, or lethal? We aim to compare how people avert or negotiate the forces of incorporation, the predatory nature of intimacy, and the enclosures of closeness that sustain but also may engulf and endanger life, thus how intimate, mutual, and symbiotic relations can turn perilous.

We solicit co-panellists whose work explores the tensions and labours entailed in how people negotiate their closest relationships. We welcome ethnographically-grounded papers that embrace the challenges people face by living with, through, and as part of others. In the mundaneness of the everyday, or in circumstances of precariousness or dependency, how and when can symbiotic and intimate relations threaten life? How do perilous proximities heighten and dissipate within the life course? How can people extricate themselves from dense and dangerous entanglements? What are the ethical, emotional, or economic consequences of cutting off, shutting out, and repelling others? How do people manage the possibilities and slippages between affection and animosity that emerge from human closeness?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Cut and run: Fratricide as economic logic

Author: James Williams (Zayed University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper describes how relations of dependency and close kinship between the members of a young migrant network in Cape Town turned burdensome and dangerous. It reflects on the conditions through which the ruthless abandonment of kinsmen became an ethically thinkable course of action.

Long Abstract

Life in urban South Africa presents myriad challenges for African migrants who work there. Generating livelihood depends overwhelmingly on moving and acting in concert with others - on relational infrastructures (Simone 2004); on effective, timely collaborations that take place across a fluid and hostile landscape. Such challenges are particularly acute for young male migrants detached from family units and diaspora communities, those persons of suspicion excluded from relational domains imagined to best provide dislocated, vulnerable actors with care and prospects.

This paper describes how relations of dependency and kinship among the members of one network of young migrants turned burdensome and dangerous. Threatening to abandon a brother in need - to cut individuals out of the network and run away - hung among their relations as a strategy for entrepreneurial success and survival. The ethnography follows such a threat to an ultimate conclusion.

The paper aims to reflect on the conditions in the everyday in which the ruthless abandonment of one's closest kinsmen becomes an economically and ethically thinkable course of action.

Managing uncomfortable intimacies with sex and domestic work

Author: Ana Gutierrez (London School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on ways Latin American women migrants in London experience a variety of personal dislocations when working in the care work economy, deriving from everyday challenges faced as illegal migrants and intimate labourers, their downward status mobility, and uncertainties they feel towards the future.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the ways in which Latin American women migrants in London experience a variety of personal dislocations when working in the care work economy in London. These temporal and personal estrangements derive from the everyday challenges they face as illegal migrants and intimate labourers, their downward status mobility, and the uncertainties they feel towards the future. This paper focuses on the everyday experiences of women who were required to deal with an uncomfortable intimacy with strangers. I will argue that women, employers, and clients dealt with this - sometimes - hazardous intimacy through the exchange of gifts. Gifts function as a way to cope with the precarious dependency that subsists within care work; to deal with the uncomfortable intimacies of labour. Gift exchanges, as I will show, do not always dissipate the tensions, but exacerbate the already problematic labour relations.

The knock on the door? Hazardous relationships in donor-assisted conception

Author: Jennifer Speirs (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Contemporary and historic anxieties about removing anonymity in donor-assisted conception reveal the perception that actual or even virtual proximity between donor and donor offspring is dangerous and that the risks cannot be managed successfully by those who are personally involved.

Long Abstract

Gamete donors in most countries have been anonymised until recently. In the UK the practice of donor-assisted conception did not become subject to regulation for nearly fifty years during which the status of the donor-conceived child was considered to be illegitimate. In this situation, the secrecy promoted by doctors was a 'practical virtue' whose purpose was the protection of everyone involved. Keeping donors and recipients apart was thought to be necessary to protect the infertile man from the stigma of infertility, and prevent fantasies of an adulterous nature. In addition, keeping information from the offspring would avoid the possibility of the child abandoning its social father, it being thought inevitable that she or he would be drawn to the genetic father. Anonymity was thought to ensure against any legal, material or emotional claim by the donor upon the offspring, and vice versa.

Drawing upon ethnographic research I describe the views of men who donated semen, mostly when they were medical students, towards the possibility of having contact with their donor offspring. Issues include what the transformation of the genetic connection into a social one entails, ambivalence about what moral obligation is involved in this kind of relationship and the lack of a script or guidelines upon which to rely in this precarious social situation. I also note the increase in origins searching by donor offspring, the worry by some donors that the offspring may try to exploit them financially and the usefulness of theories of liminality in analysing the issues.

Care without contact: Material interruptions and infection control in Sierra Leone's Ebola outbreak

Author: Hannah Brown (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper draws upon fieldwork in Sierra Leone to examine the use of infection control materials to interrupt and control human interconnectedness

Long Abstract

This paper explores attempts to use objects to interrupt and separate out dangerous forms of contact within relations of care, drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork carried out in peripheral health facilities in Sierra Leone as part of an intervention to improve infection control during the Ebola outbreak. The paper examines health workers' attempts to use infection control materials to manage perilous proximities. It explores how the ambivalent materiality of these objects - which can both protect people and spread disease - constantly threatens to undermine attempts at the bifurcation of relations of care and relations of contact, as health workers seek to protect their patients and also care for themselves. It explores the new forms of affective engagement and institutional orderings that are emerging from these attempts to interrupt and control human interconnectedness in a time of crisis.

"How can you be so polite? Aren't we close?" The productive and destructive potential of heated disputes in rural China

Author: Charlotte Bruckermann (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

Friends and kin in rural China frequently and fervently engage in intense emotional disputes with those they consider "close". Through these exchanges people enact care and concern, but also stake productive and destructive claims over one another's lives by emphasizing mutual entanglement.

Long Abstract

Friends and kin in rural China frequently and fervently engage in intense emotional disputes with those they consider "close". These exchanges carry both productive and destructive potential for interpersonal relationships. Through these heated interactions people express care and concern for each other, but also stake claims over one another's lives through emphasizing mutual entanglement. Two examples illustrate this process: First, a mother who provided her daughter with unmitigated advice and unsolicited opinions about her life choices, leading to initial estrangement and later rapprochement. Second, a group of friends who shunned etiquette and engaged in increasingly explicit "impolite" encounters to reveal "honest" perspectives. By performing "closeness" through these boisterous, heated, and intense exchanges, friends and family make appeals to relationships based on unmediated directness. However, the concluding analysis shows that they simultaneously stake mutual claims over each other, revealing both constraint and obligation within an unfolding canon of entangled ethics.

From habitus to homicide: Brazilian jiu-jitsu on Guam

Author: Douglas Farrer (University of Guam)  email

Short Abstract

The carnal ethnography of Brazilian jiu-jitsu on Guam raises questions pertaining to habitus and homicide in the embodiment, practice, and perilous performance of a martial art designed to smother, snap, strangle or suffocate the opponent

Long Abstract

Recent carnal ethnography of Brazilian jiu-jitsu on Guam generates questions pertaining to habitus, hexis, and homicide in the embodied performance of perilous close-quarter combat training. What happens when self-defence bears a perilous proximity to murder? When a martial art designed to close-in, press, overwhelm, pin, lock, suffocate or strangle the opponent is applied on the street? In professional bouts of mixed martial arts (MMA) the referee may stop the fight when an opponent concedes defeat by 'tapping out.' In BJJ rolling (sparring), partners must occasionally tap out or they will not endure the training for any length of time. In actual street confrontations, however, tapping out may yet be fatal. This preliminary report examines five homicides on Guam where perilous proximities and suffocating closeness result in the permanent clutch of death.

Of manners and hedgehogs: Building closeness by maintaining distance

Author: Iza Kavedzija (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how the Japanese inhabitants of an urban neighbourhood negotiate proximity and distance in their social relationships. It argues that formality serves as an enabling device for creating new relationships and preserving sociality while avoiding the burdens of excessive closeness.

Long Abstract

This paper explores how the Japanese inhabitants of a densely populated urban neighbourhood negotiate proximity and distance in their social relationships. In the context of a rapidly aging population, local governments, volunteer organizations and local inhabitants emphasize the importance of strengthening community ties as a way of creating networks of support. At the same time, these various actors emphasize the burdens of excessive closeness. Based on ethnography of a community centre in the city of Osaka, the paper explores how topics and styles of conversation, modes of interaction between salon-goers, and the construction of well-being, are constituted with respect to a pervasive concern for manners and for the emotions of others. Focusing on the importance of "form" and its relevance for morality, I argue that formality serves as an enabling device for creating new relationships among older Japanese, preserving sociality while protecting oneself and others from the burdens of emotion and excessive proximity.

Alternative Domesticities: shared living with non-kin across the life course in England

Author: Rachael Scicluna (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores perilous proximities, i.e. various collaborative ways where people have to re-learn how to deal with, and negotiate, intense intimacies through alternative domesticities, that of sharing with non-kin, in small housing co-ops and co-housing schemes in England.

Long Abstract

This paper will look at 'perilous proximities' through alternative domesticities, that of shared living with non-kin in contemporary England, where I explore the different 'collaborative ways' where people often have to re-learn how to deal with, and negotiate intense intimacies when living in such close proximity. The context is based on an ESRC funded project titled, Under the Same Roof, which is exploring different everyday relational practices of British shared living, such as, housing co-operatives, cohousing schemes, shared households and private lodgings. Here, I focus on small housing co-operatives and co-housing schemes.

Alternative domesticities (Pilkey, Scicluna and Gorman-Murray 2015), incorporates the fluidity and multidimensionality of identity across the life course, while the domestic encapsulates the multiple experiences founded in emotions, kinship, friendship, home-making, care (amongst others), and different flows of power within and beyond the household. For housing co-operatives and co-housing schemes, symbiotic relationships, which are maintained through division of labour, being it emotional, financial or physical, are at the core of shared living and the future of the household

The initial stages of planning can be time and energy consuming with meetings held twice a week over a period of approximately six years. The intensity of these meetings leads to relationship-fatigue, especially as they are often faced with taking difficult financial decisions. Such closeness brings about serious challenges. At times, relationships with partners, family members or friends get neglected, even broken. The close spatial proximity of sharing home space may contribute to transforming intimate and symbiotic relationships into brittle ones.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.