CASCA/IUAES2017 Conference in Ottawa
This panel investigates how diverse social actors deploy and engage with state-sanctioned narratives. Once state narratives of history become publicly available, who puts them to work and for what purposes or projects? What alliances, conflicts, or movements coalesce around these forms of knowledge?
Using diverse theoretical approaches, anthropologists have studied the relationship between state apparatuses and non-state actors, and the processes by which "the state" becomes objectified, legitimated, or undermined. Central to these processes is the production and usage of official state narratives. Such narratives might find expression in history books, public rituals, historical sites, civic education programs, and sometimes in everyday talk. Depending on the historical and ethnographic context, state narratives can be flexible, rigid, or can even be backed by legal sanctions if they are publicly contested. This panel focuses on the place of state narratives of history, culture, or politics in everyday social life. How do these narratives get produced and by whom? And once they become publicly available, who puts them to work and for what purposes? How do diverse social actors engage with state narratives, whether they are imposed, shared, contested, or some combination thereof? What alliances, conflicts, or movements coalesce around these forms of knowledge?
Possible topics include but are not limited to:
-the place of narrative in state formation projects and forging political legitimacy
-the contradictory uses or implications of official narratives of history
-competing official narratives, how they are deployed, and for what agendas
-the stories that social actors tell about themselves by invoking official histories
-knowledge production about the past, ownership of that knowledge, and how it circulates
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Imagining the Venezuelan state from an off-centered perspective: political narratives and the place of emotions in the local political imaginary
Following recent theoretical reflections about the role of emotions in the study of the state and political power, I describe and interpret local narratives that were woven around the state and its development discourses.
Following recent theoretical reflections about the role of emotions in the study of the state and political power, this paper will explore how the ways in which peasants of Cuira River in Venezuela perceived and imagined the Venezuelan state were marked by emotions such as anxiety, impotence, and frustration. Focussing on the development project of the Tuy IV System that consists of the construction of a dam by the Venezuelan State in Cuira River, involving the displacement of 16 communities, I describe and interpret local narratives that were woven around the state and its development discourses. In this context of encounters between state agents and peasants, sentiments of anger and gratitude seemed to dominate the peasants' relations to the Venezuelan state… But what did the state mean to them? How they were imagining and living it? Was the state seen as a place or as an individual? I point out that the local narratives about the state were organized around emotions of anger, anxiety and fear, and the analysis of these narratives reveals some of the multiplicity of local conceptions about the state as a mythical-abstract power vis à vis powers of individuals configured in the political arena. I conclude that an ethnography of the state, stemming from the political narratives that are locally produced and circulated, offers a way to understand the role of emotion in generating bonds between the state and rural communities, and at the same time it accounts for the dialogical and dialectical relationship between practices of the state and socio-cultural dynamics of rural communities.
Fraught state narratives and American Muslim experiences after 9/11
This paper describes the US government's contradictory positions on Islam and Muslims, and the ways in which Muslim New Yorkers have responded to state-sanctioned Islamophobia.
Following the September 11, 2001 ("9/11") attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, President George W. Bush clarified that "The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends." This desire to distance Islam and ordinary Muslims from terrorists was reaffirmed by President Obama, when he controversially refused to use the term "Radical Islam" in relation to violent Muslim extremists. Yet these platforms stand in stark contrast to the government's War on Terror policies (and associated discourse), which target Muslims in ways that have been compared to 1950s McCarthyism.
This paper argues that the state's post-9/11 positions are fundamentally Islamophobic and guide public perceptions of Muslims. Building on the work of Deepa Kumar and Stephen Sheehi, it describes Islamophobia as a bipartisan framework that is sustained rhetorically and institutionalized through a variety of legal modes, such as legislation, surveillance and incarceration. Finally, it shows how such policies affect American Muslims, specifically Muslim New Yorkers, and how they contend with security narratives that have lead to their vilification.
Contested memories in a contested state: remembering the Srebrenica genocide in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina
Twenty years after the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the memory of the Srebrenica genocide is still contested and it constitutes a symbolic field where conflictual narrations of statehood have been created and displayed.
Despite being declared a UN safe haven, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica fell into the hands of the Army of the Republic of Srpska (ARS) on the 11th of July 1995. Under the leadership of Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić, the ARS captured, systematically killed, and buried in mass graves 8000 primarily Bosniak men and boys in the days that followed. Twenty years after the end of the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a federalized state defined by its two territorial and nationally aligned entities - the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska (RS). In this sectarian and ethnicity-based political framework, the memory of the Srebrenica genocide is still contested. The commemorations of the genocide held at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial constitute performative events in which different memories of the conflict are displayed and conflictual narrations of statehood have been built. While some literature has fairly underlined the symbolic role that victims play in the formation of contemporary BiH statehood, RS institutions have been denying the events of the genocide through extremist political discourse since the end of the war. Based on a research project on the practices of memorialization of the Srebrenica genocide, this paper aims to investigate the relations between the different narrations of the massacre and their socio-political implications in contemporary BiH.
Compliant Rwandans? State history as cultural resource in post-genocide Rwanda
This paper asks what Rwandans do with the narrative of history imposed by the government besides adhering to it out of fear and coercion. It discusses four ways Rwandans might use imposed history as a cultural resource turned toward personal and collective visions, projects, and future aspirations.
In the years following the 1994 genocide, scholars have criticized the Rwandan government's official account of national history and its restrictions on competing historical narratives. But what might Rwandans be doing with that state narrative besides conforming to it out of fear and coercion? I argue that to understand what sustains official, imposed narratives we must grasp not only their coercive aspects, but also how social actors put them to work for different reasons. I offer four possible forms of agency in which Rwandans might be engaged when they reproduce official history to show how - while forcibly imposed - government narratives are nonetheless cultural resources that people can turn to personal and collective visions, projects, and aspirations. This paper aims to develop a more robust understanding of how people respond to imposed narratives of nationhood and history, since it is important to attend not only to how people resist, but also how they conform to them.
From being "erased from history" to victims of state policy: public apology to British child migrants
This paper focuses on how both the exclusion of British child migration from the standard narrative of British postwar history, as well as its recent inclusion through a state issued public apology, affect and frame the stories that former child migrants tell about themselves and their past.
This paper examines how former British child migrants' experiences of the past are formed and recounted in relation to official or institutional historical narratives - and their lack of. The case analyzed concerns a state administered scheme which aimed at migrating and permanently relocating selected British children (aged 5-13) to colonial Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) during 1946-62. Postwar child migration can, by and large, be considered a silenced chapter in British history; the phenomenon did not enter public discourse until the early 1990s. This period, in the broader frame of memory work, may be characterized by "the politics of regret" (Olick 2007), which has aimed at recognizing those previously silenced and at including their voices and memories to new versions of national histories. Consequently, a public apology to British child migrants was made in 2010; their neglect was replaced by their political categorization as recipients of apology and as victims of state policy. This paper suggests that both prior political oblivion - the omitting of British child migration from the standard narrative of British postwar history - as well as the recent recognition of the child migrants through state issued public apology, frame the stories that the former migrants tell about themselves. These exclusions and inclusions further condition the ways in which the child migrants' story may be recognized and included in the national political narrative.
Political representation at the Hong Kong coroner's court
Expectations for judicial independence in Hong Kong have imbued the Coroner’s Court with a peculiar form of political relevance as the state narrative grows at odds with observations. Analysis of public/coroner interactions show it represents a very active boundary between state and everyday life.
This paper examines the role of a coroner's court as an expressive setting for socio-political agency, in which the creation of inquest records for individual deaths is elaborated by the coroner to create a new resource for use in personal appeals for atonement and representation. We see that the Hong Kong Coroner's Court has in recent years begun to surpass the terms of its ordinance as it expands engagement with families and local communities, providing an alternative space within which to publicize wrongs in society and atone for associated deaths. As it does so, it becomes a proxy for state-individual interaction, and a kind of para-infrastructure, where the resource of a coroner's hearing can amplify praise or criticism against any outside body, including government and other judiciary members. Anthropologists of law have examined such para-infrastructures resulting as states cede services to outside entities as a "new normal" of overlapping roles and resources. Could this mean, in a society widely described as a neo-liberal economic haven, that a substantial part of Hong Kong's civic society exists in a para-infrastructure created by the Hong Kong Coroner's Court? We argue that this expanded role for the coroner is particularly visible under, and possibly due to, the conditions present in Hong Kong.
Walls--past, present, and future
This paper will shed comparative light on Donald Trump's proposal to build a tall, beautiful, and immigrant-repelling wall on the long border between Mexico and the U.S. and it will explore the appeal of such a wall among his supporters
Donald Trump's proposal to build a high, beautiful, and immigrant-repelling wall on the border between Mexico and the US invites many questions, but the one I address here is how such a wall---in its physical, three-dimensional form---is likely to fare, given similar efforts elsewhere in the world, at various moments in the past or even the contemporary moment.
Walls are part of the built environment and are usually associated with housing. But they have also often been used by governments to keep people out (such as the Great Wall of China) and sometimes even to keep people in (such as the Berlin Wall).
That several remnants of past walls have now become tourist attractions or pilgrimage sites (from Hadrian's Wall in Scotland/England to the KotelWailing Wall in Jerusalem) says something about the continuing appeal of such walls, at least to a sector of the US population, even in an era of heavy air travel and Internet usage. But what is that appeal, is it just (or mostly) symbolic, and is it based on lack of knowledge of how these walls worked (or didn't work as planned) in the past?
This paper examines cases that preceded Trump's proposal and his supporters' interest in it. All concern walls built to define insiders and outsiders, defend empires from their perceived enemies, and block the movement of people from locations seen as less prosperous or reliable to those seen as more prosperous and reliable.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.