EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W112)

What happens when we stop believing in/believing that?

Location V508
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenor

Anne de Sales (LESC (CNRS)) email
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Short Abstract

Contributors will present ethnographic case studies of situations in which people start loosing faith in the principles that organise their world. The goal of this workshop is to analyse these moments when beliefs that used to be consistent with their context seem irrelevant and generate conflictual emotions.

Long Abstract

Contributors are invited to present concrete situations in which people start loosing faith in the principles that used to organise their world, question their support for institutions, or stop subscribing to normative references and values. The goal of this workshop is to record these moments when beliefs that used to be consistent with their context do not match the new reality any more and generate conflictual emotions. How can we capture the manifestations of this inarticulate uncertainty just before it develops into a crisis or ends in mere indifference?

We would like to investigate situations in which the legitimacy of a political leader, a relative's authority or a shaman's power, starts falter. How does the loss of confidence in the traditional points of reference manifest itself? What can we learn from the ethnography of the emergence of a new kind of sensitivity (growing distrust of medical technology, disaffection with blood sacrifices in the Hindu world, etc.)? How do people start questioning dominant or standard narratives (national or community history, mythologies, ideologies) that seem to have lost their relevance?

The anthropology of belief has mostly tried to make sense of various forms of belief in their respective contexts. However the loss of consistency of beliefs that is the prelude to social change, has remained largely understudied. The presentation of ethnographic situations as diverse as possible will help to find regularities in these moments of uncertainty that generate as much anxiety as they are rich of new possibilities.

Chair: Isabelle Rivoal

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Implosion of beliefs: an inner journey from theology to atheism

Author: Sidonia Grama (Romanian Academy, Cluj)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper explores the dissolution of religious beliefs and the embracing of another persuasion in late life, as symptom of secularisms in Europe. It focuses on in depth life narratives of elder people from UK who have changed beliefs, scrutinizing also the inter-subjectivity of the interviewing.

Long Abstract

Fateful or crucial moments in life histories might trigger the reassessment of a life creed, sometimes leading to the collapse of beliefs and to changes of rituals of life and death. Although the subtly inner process could hardly be captured, in depth interviewing might be revealing for the ethnography of the implosion of beliefs. The paper explores late life reviews on long, gradual process of dissolution of religious beliefs and conversion to a humanist life stance. It focuses on the questioning mood, on doubtfulness and meaningful oblivion involved in such transitional thinking towards a new system of (dis)beliefs and (un)certainties.

How is the implosion of a personal system of reference possible, and what makes a previously religious worldview crumble? How apostasy and late life conversion to a God free persuasion happens? What such personal histories could say on a broader level, on the symptoms of secularisms, (ir)religiousness and ambivalent beliefs in Europe?

In life narratives the belief deconstruction seems intimately related to key moments of the death of significant others and fading of a figure of authority, while new ways of celebrating life and death are reinvented. The analysis focuses on life stories with elder people from UK, contrasting them with other interviews conducted in Romania and Bulgaria. It also problematizes the dialogic aspect of the interviewing and the transcultural second analysis as modes of inter-subjectivity and otherness.

Leaving Catholicism: the causes and consequences of protestant conversion in rural Oaxaca

Author: Toomas Gross (University of Helsinki)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper discusses conversion to Protestantism in the Zapotec villages of Oaxaca. Leaving Catholicism is often triggered by disappointment in the Catholic Church or by confrontation with village authorities. Conversion often has a “rupture effect” on one’s social relationships, which affects the sustainability of new religious affiliations.

Long Abstract

For the past four decades Evangelical Protestantism in Latin America has grown with remarkable speed. Individualism, success in "this" life and many other "new" values that Protestants preach are believed to radically change contemporary Latin America. The process in which the historically hegemonic Catholic Church is losing ground to Protestantism has been considered "modernisation" (Stoll), "Latin America's Reformation" (Garrard-Burnett), and a "religious revolution" (Patterson). What leads individuals to question the dominant normative systems and religious values, to convert en masse "out of" Catholicism, and what are the consequences of changing faith?

This paper discusses conversion to Protestantism in the example of the Zapotec villages of the State of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico, building on the author's intermittent fieldwork in the region since the late 1990s. As will be argued, individual conversions to Protestantism in the predominantly Catholic communities are morally and socially difficult choices, often triggered by feelings of disappointment in the Catholic Church during times of personal crisis, or by confrontation with village authorities. However, subscribing to new normative references and religious values can be "socially costly." Protestant conversion in a predominantly Catholic religious environment has a strong "rupture effect" on converts' relationships with their families as well as with the majority of the village population. This significantly influences the sustainability of converts' new religious affiliations. The "costs" of conversion are generally higher for native villagers than for migrants. This explains, at least partly, why conversion to Protestantism is more common among the latter.

Time-out: meditation-meaning-transformation, an anthropological approach to the experience of emptiness

Author: Elisa Rieger (University Graz)  email
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Short Abstract

Ethnographic fieldwork in Graz, Austria illustrates how meditation, as an old and re-institutionalized cultural achievement, affects people. It focuses on the articulated memories as significant seen experiences of emptiness, in the process of mediating between old and new categories of meaning.

Long Abstract

In relation to Bourdieu, every social acting is performed over time. Due to specific norms social actors interchange words, knowledge, goods and services in the mutual consent of this time-experience. Consciously opted for i.e. a buddhist retreat or unconsciously affected by an existential crisis a time-out breaks with this illusio, as Bourdieu called the social play of interests. Today this initialising moment finds its expression often in meditation as a method to cope with experiences of disquiet, hopelessness, frustration or anxiety.

This article asks how individual meaning reforms or transforms in meditation as a continiously and conscious process of disruption and mediating between the articulated experience of the (rational) visible and the inarticulated experience of emptiness. It wants to illustrate the paradox human understanding of being full and empty at the same time. Three examples shall allow deeper insight into the loss of personal confidence in unreflected principles, in comparison with the "loss of confidence" through getting consciously involved with the space, where categories should be lost at all. Referring to the concrete examples, three different kinds of meditation are practised in different phases of intensity: initialising moment was on one hand the experience of stress in every day life, on the other a profund healing experience and finally the vocation to become a buddhist monk. In each case a different motivation preceds the deliberately chosen process. The article finds its end in further prospects on social circumstances/consequences of taking a time-out in global, neoliberal and increasing urbanised societies.

The end of "possession"?

Author: William Sax (South Asia Institute, Heidlberg)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines what happens when people begin to reject the practices associated with “possession” in Garhwal in the Western Himalayas. Who rejects such practices, and why? I argue that this is not only a matter of “belief”, but also of social positioning, status claims, and bodily hexis.

Long Abstract

Practices related to "possession" (by gods and goddesses, local spirits, and ghosts) are very common in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand in the Western Himalayas of North India. However, certain persons are unwilling or unable to engage in them. These include city-dwellers who are no longer familiar with such practices; local persons who are familiar with them, but consider themselves to be too "modern" and "educated" to engage in them; and those who reject them for religious reasons. In this paper, I provide examples from all three categories, focusing on one instance where I was present to witness the moment of rejection. I argue that the notion of "belief" does not take us far in understanding why people reject such practices, nor does it help us much to understand the consequences of this rejection. We must also realize that this rejection has to do with social positioning and status claims in relation to "development," and how such claims are in turn connected to what Bourdieu called bodily "hexis."

Knowing something and believing it

Author: Roberto Limentani (EHESS)  email
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Short Abstract

The contribution I am submitting concerns the relationship between belief and doubt within the theory of Magic developed by Frazer in chapter III of The Golden Bough. If the author surpasses his doubts here, is only because he makes no further distinction between knowing something and believing it.

Long Abstract

The contribution I am submitting concerns the relationship between belief and doubt within anthropological theory. My case study is the theory of Magic developed by Frazer in chapter III of The Golden Bough. Within it is condensed the theoretical core of his work. I approach his theory as an apparatus oriented towards capturing the magician's identity. The capture is chimeric in nature, and the apparatus as a whole acts as the base of the author's belief. Frazer believes himself to be apprehending the magician's point of view, from a system of inference itself constituting his theory in its coherence. In addition, within the text, as much as in correspondence, we find clues coherent with this understanding of his theory. Theory appears here as the author's double, and we witness him doubting the well-foundedness of the artefact. Finally, in a passage towards the end of The Golden Bough, Frazer manages to resolve his hesitations in a specific manner: he affirms that exteriority is nothing more than a "phantasmagoria of thoughts". He then surpasses his doubts, but only because he makes no further distinction between knowing something and believing it. In order to manage his way out, he does not broach the basis of the theory, a concept of belief, bur rather withdraws to the relationship to knowledge, a position characteristic of the turn of the XXth century: this solipsism as a device describes the author's relationship with a theory that he was a master of, but finds himself prey to.

Shattered credence

Author: Laetitia Atlani-Duault (IRD)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper aims to explore how, in the aftermath of extreme situations, cultural systems for making sense of painful events are seriously undermined, but can also be reconstructed by the victims and their entourages. We present a case study rooted in memories of organized sexual violence against Vietnamese 'boat people'.

Long Abstract

Our aim in this paper is to explore how, in the aftermath of extreme situations, cultural systems for making sense of painful events are seriously undermined, but can also be reconstructed by the victims and their entourages, in stages, to restore sense to the world and allow life to continue. We present a case study rooted in memories of organized sexual violence against Vietnamese "boat people." Among other findings, the study highlights how - after fleeing their country of origin, spending long periods in refugee camps and eventually settling in a host country - the "confidence" of these refugees in a culturally determined system of representation of the world was powerfully shaken before being reconstituted collectively over years of exile. This analysis is based on interviews carried out in France with boat people during three periods: at the end of the 1980s, during the first half of the 1990s, and in 2011.

Between two believe attitudes: adhesions to multi-level marketing

Author: Nathalie Luca (CNRS)  email
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Short Abstract

What happens when people begin to lose confidence in their societal economic system? They can decide to enter in an alternative one. The moment of their choice allows us to see what really happens in the transfer from one system of beliefs to another one.

Long Abstract

What happens when people begin to lose confidence in their societal economic system? They can decide to enter in an alternative one. The moment of their choice, when they start feeling some attraction for an alternative economic proposition, allows us to see what really happens in the transfer from one system of beliefs to another one. People do not just lose faith. At the same time, they have already started to believe in something else. The beliefs have changed. They enter in tension with the previous ones and cause conflicts at different levels concerning their self-identity, their family and eventually the society they live in. In my communication, I will try to describe how a multi-level marketing (MLM) can be integrated at the same time as it questions the dominant capitalism system. In changing their references, the distributors can be perceived by others as traitors while they consider themselves as pioneers. I will show the conditions of possibility of this conversion.

Belief, secrecy and the challenge to the elders: the changing views of older men about having donated semen anonymously when young students

Author: Jennifer Speirs (University of Edinburgh)  email
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Short Abstract

Semen donors in the UK were anonymised before 2005 to ensure that their identity was hidden. Secrecy was thought essential by infertility clinicians in order to protect those involved from stigma and risky relationships. I show how the belief in the need for secrecy has been challenged, causing uncertainty in existing relations of trust and authority.

Long Abstract

Donor insemination (DI) was a controversial practice in the UK from the beginning, with many commentators including some medical practitioners insisting that it was wrong to deceive children created by DI about the truth of their parentage. Nevertheless the practice increased due to the prevailing social pressures on married couples to have children, and the stigma of male infertility.

The clinicians who provided DI to infertile couples as a 'treatment' for infertility recruited young men, often medical students, as semen donors and made sure that the donors and the couples never met and were never identifiable to each other. Recipients were advised to pretend that any child born after DI was that of the husband, and to tell no one about it. Donors were told to forget that they had ever donated and were not informed as to whether any children had resulted from their donations. In effect they became non-persons.

This paper will show how the belief that secrecy is necessary, which was normalised as a fundamental characteristic of DI services, has been undermined by previous donors who covertly challenged the authority of the clinicians by revealing their donor status to family, friends and colleagues. Some now describe their lack of respect for those clinicians who were their professional seniors. Furthermore, some are seeking to connect with their unknown donor offspring as a result of the influence of their lifecourse and of their current understanding of genetics on their previously held beliefs about the meaning of biological fatherhood.

When the ethnographer starts experiencing inadequacy of/on fieldwork

Author: Isabelle Rivoal (CNRS)  email
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Short Abstract

Based on a long-term field research in Lebanon, this paper will explore the insidious process of experiencing a growing sense of inadequacy while doing fieldwork, up to the moment when the ethnographer starts considering her uneasiness in terms of inadequacy.This experience is the background for a more theoretical appraisal of the “traditional Malinoskian paradigm” recently discussed by Faubion and Marcus (2011). A discussion I would like to engage.

Long Abstract

My presentation will explore the insidious process of experiencing a growing sense of inadequacy while doing fieldwork, up to the moment when the ethnographer starts considering her uneasiness in terms of inadequacy. This acknowledgement bears strong theoretical implications. My reflection stems from my long-lengh fieldwork in the Lebanese region of the Shuf mountains. I am aiming to describe a traditional feudal leadership - the one of the Junblat family - and its expanding on the communal - Druze - and regional - Shuf - level in the context of the post-war Lebanese society.

I will records the various disconnections between the experienced field work and the expectation for some coherence out of data as a pre-condition for the classic anthropological narrative which have progressively enhanced my uneasiness: (1) I will address the question of scale and scaling in doing research in Lebanon where the local, communal, regional and international levels are all specific level if not historical entities and a complex web of intertwined networks and actors playing shifting parts; (2) I will address the problem of the rapid obsolescence of data while inquiring a place where politics is the fabric of everyday life.

This experience of the inadequacy of the way I was dealing on one particular is the background for a more theoretical appraisal of the "traditional Malinoskian paradigm" recently discussed by Faubion and Marcus (2011). A discussion which I would like to engage.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.