EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Obsession with change

Location T-314
Date and Start Time 31 July, 2014 at 14:00


Francisco Martínez (Estonian Academy of Arts) email
Alessandro Testa (University of Vienna) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

In our session we aim to explore the multiple and complex connections between Modernity and change. Is there a late-modern obsession with change or is the very idea of change at the core of the Enlightenment project? Change has been idealised to the point of becoming the ultimate utopia.

Long Abstract

Traditional anthropological accounts have focused on resistances to change, as well as on momentum. However, the late-modern world is all about embracing change. Individuals as well as societies are expected to change ad infinitum, compelled to be in motion and overcome histories, trajectories and horizons. Therefore, we set out to map and problematise ideas of change, articulations and assemblages of resistance and momentum, as well as to pay studied attention to the possible social adaptations to such demanding processes, including unfinished and elusive transformations. Changing is never a neutral process. It is always for someone and some purpose, it connects in complex social transactions those who design changes and those who oppose them. We therefore query the articulations between change, societies and utopia and put forward that change might also work as dystopia.

Among the questions to be discussed we suggest:

- Is change the new late-modern utopia or merely Enlightenment's core?

- Change is an ambiguous category; it has also been the source of disaster throughout History. How do we deal today with the dystopic possibilities of change?

- Which social strategies and games are developed to produce and counter change(s)?

- Can we divide the world into those who design change(s) and those who oppose or suffer change(s)?

- Can current European society and politics be approached from the point of view of the radicalization of change?

- How does anthropology deal with change as an academic discipline and field of practice?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Is evroremont kitairemont? Dungan building and furniture taste vis-à-vis post-Soviet Kazakhstan's changes in taste

Author: Soledad Jiménez Tovar (MPI for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

Changes in house-building and furniture are a good example of Kazakhstani Dungan attitudes towards their inclusion into the category of ‘living fossils’ of culture as it was in Qing China

Long Abstract

Sinitic-speaking Muslims, better known in the former Soviet Central Asian countries as Dungans, have been seen by authors working on them as an 'example' of cultural conservation. The culture that Dungans are supposed to preserve is the one existing in Qing China, reason why they have been even branded as a kind of cultural 'living fossils'. However, despite of this perception, Dungan people have been also adding themselves to the changes in taste in relation to house-building and furniture. In the former Soviet republics, such new taste trend is known as evroremont. Evroremont usually means using materials standards and design patterns as in Europe. In Central Asia, nevertheless, such 'evro' standards are also influenced by People's Republic of China's architectural mimicry. In this paper, I analyse the ways that this complex panorama is experienced in the everyday life by Dungan people in south Kazakhstan.

Crisis, change and chronicity: anthropological challenges in understanding insecurity and life trajectories in the context of the Ethiopian developmental state

Author: Harald Aspen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)  email

Short Abstract

The relationship between the ethnographic present and anthropological analysis of change poses a methodological and theoretical paradox which is addressed with reference to key concepts (crisis, development, change, chronicity), based on 25 years of ethnographic research in Ethiopia.

Long Abstract

Rural people of Ethiopia - "the iconic poor country" (Gill 2010:3) associated with recurrent droughts, war and famine - may be seen as subjected to what Vigh (2008) has labeled a "chronic crisis". Indeed a contradiction in terms, but one which opens up for reflection on how we, as anthropologists, appreciate and understand crisis, change and chronicity. Internationally, the image of Ethiopia has moved from a country in deep crisis to a boosting economy, with annual growth rates of around 10% in recent years. Aided by multitemporal research, the paper explores how change, exemplified by moments of particular importance, has influenced both local perceptions of change - phrased as development or civilization - and anthropological scrutiny. Based on 25 years of ethnographic research in the north Ethiopian highlands, I address two major questions: does the immediacy of our ethnographic method - "the ethnographic present" - help or hinder us in grasping change over time? Do we see "more" change, or "less", through our ethnographic lenses, and do we overestimate change that in the longer run has little relevance for the future of people we study, while we underestimate change that proves to have long term and fundamental effects? And how do we discern people's attitudes to change (development) from the propagandistic rhetoric of the power holders - in the present Ethiopian context of the "developmental state"?

Obsession with (sexual) change in Uganda: sexuality as an instrument of power

Author: Julia Vorhölter (University of Göttingen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyzes recent measures adopted by the Museveni government to discipline and regulate the sexuality of Ugandan citizens. Based on ethnographic research, I show how these measures shape local practices and discourses and how they relate to broader socio-cultural changes and power struggles.

Long Abstract

In recent years, the Ugandan government has proposed a number of laws, which attempt to control and sanction ‘dangerous’ or ‘abnormal’ forms of sexual behavior and which define and target specific ‘sexual subjects’. The much-debated “anti-homosexuality bill” is only one of a number of such attempts. Further examples include legal measures, which are related to AIDS (the sexuality of ‘ill’ persons), defilement (the sexuality of youth), prostitution (the sexuality of women) and pornography (the sexuality of ‘perverts’).

In this paper, I argue that the recent proliferation of discourses and laws on sexuality in Uganda must be seen in relation to broader socio-cultural changes and power struggles. Drawing on Foucault and based on ethnographic fieldwork in (Northern) Uganda, I show how a) sexuality is instrumentalized in various (social, political, cultural and economic) power struggles, b) discourses on sexuality infiltrate various spheres of social life, and c) the sexual conduct of the population is taken as a target for intervention by local authorities, state officials and international actors.

In contemporary Uganda, the interconnection between sexuality and power, individual and population, and related political strategies to produce and counter change becomes especially evident in the above-mentioned societal discourses on homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, youth sexuality, women’s sexuality and pornography. All these discourses link various local and national crises to the changed and ‘uncontrolled’ sexual behavior of the Ugandan population and thus imply that a tighter control of these ‘threatening’ forms of sexuality is necessary to re-establish social order and stability.

Continuity and change in the articulation of belonging in post-war Liberia

Author: Maarten Bedert (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

Based on the study of funerary rites, this paper advocates for the analysis of post-war social processes in a Liberian border zone that favours continuity in the tropes used to articulate belonging. This to temper the focus on change and crisis that dominates analyses of modernity and conflict.

Long Abstract

This paper deals with the question of change in two ways. As part of a larger ethnographic project on the social articulation of belonging in post-war Liberia I ask, first, what mechanism are used to express and perform modes of belonging at various scales. Second, I link these findings to the larger epistemological question of how anthropologists produce knowledge on conflict and post-conflict societies with special focus on the apparent obsession with change.

The border region connecting Liberia with Guinea and Ivory Coast has been characterised by conflict, crisis and uncertainty since the early 1990s. Based on the case studies of funerary rites, I will describe the use of idioms of relatedness and belonging grounded in matrilateral tropes that define social hierarchies between landlords and strangers that are also articulated in the recollecting of oral histories and in everyday life. These idioms, I will argue are an indication of continuity of long-term modes of identification and belonging. Nevertheless, by adopting a performative approach to these data, I will show that these idioms are not to be taken for granted but rather the result of a constant (re-)negotiation.

I argue that these data serve the need to temper the apparent domination of analytical frameworks evolving around notions like change, innovation, loss, breakdown, and creativity. Notions that are often used to describe conflict and post-conflict social dynamics and processes and that can be seen as a particular exponent of the modernity debate.

Change the world or change myself? Reflections from an international school in China

Author: Michal Assa-Inbar (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will introduce the call for change as an ideal value in the global arena. The talk will examine the role of the call-for-change discourse, its characteristics and the modes of its implementation in order to create a unified and collective identity in an educational global site.

Long Abstract

Globalization Theory broadly deals with the question of whether a defined identity of global citizenship has evolved, or is the particular and local or national identity still the central one. In this lecture I will employ the anthropological perspective in order to shed light on the practical dimensions of this general and theoretic question.

This paper will elaborate on the creation process of a 'Citizen of the World'. More specifically, I will explore how the call-for-change as part of a larger, engaging discourse on 'Global Issues' in an international school, is represented formally by the school and perceived in practice by the students. Based on Ulrich Beck's conceptualization of World Risk Society (1992) and The cosmopolitan look (2006), this paper wishes to unfold the way the call-for-change works to implement a cosmopolitan awareness and hence create a common perspective while at the same time challenging Beck's view.

These ideas will be examined in light of data collected in ethnographic study on daily life at an international school in China. Working as a 'Globalization laboratory', this school operates as a site where abstract values of global change receive concrete meaning and a specific interpretation in a defined place. The paper will be based on a workshop for high school students, conducted by a representative of a Canadian organization, aiming to 'change the world', and working particularly in the area of child labor. In addition, written responses of the students to the workshop will be analyzed as well.

The tempos of change: limits of syncretism in a multi-religious Macedonian community

Author: Marcin Lubaś (Jagiellonian University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper addresses the problem of various tempos marking the processes of cultural transformations. The argument is illustrated with the analysis of factors constraining syncretism in a multi-religious community in western part of the Republic of Macedonia.

Long Abstract

In recent decades anthropologists have focused their research on spectacular large scale and abrupt cultural changes resulting from processes of globalization and various techno-scientific innovations that mark conditions of late modernity. At the same time basic model of world which has informed many research practices in anthropology has treated reality as a process of ongoing, incessant changes and transforms. This way of thinking neglects important feature of the transformations processes, namely the fact that changes reveal different tempos. Drawing on the conceptions of social historians such as Fernand Braudel or Reinhart Koselleck we may attempt to construct more comprehensive analytics of change that take under scrutiny various tempos of social and cultural transformations. This analytics may allow us to formulate crucial questions addressing factors accounting for cultural transformation slowdowns and accelerations. Those questions may be raised in connection to the cultural transformations shaping various syncretic religious practices and believes. Using data from my own fieldwork in multi-religious communities living in western part of the Republic of Macedonia, I would like to examine plausible factors that constrain a degree of syncretism at the level communal religious rituals and individual repertoire of religious practices. My analysis challenges the view of modernity as one synergic process of rapid change, and puts emphasis on the existence of parallel - faster and slower - processes of change that shape late modern social life.

Old-school photobooths as retro-resistance to late-modern excesses

Author: Francisco Martínez (Estonian Academy of Arts)  email

Short Abstract

This paper takes issue with the manner in which digital technologies have impinged upon society and its values. It does so through analysis and ethnographic accounts of usage of old-fashioned photobooths.

Long Abstract

The subject of discussion will be the photobooth phenomena in Berlin, and through the study of its expansion I will provide some grounds for reflection upon broader issues; for instance, how the digital culture has produce an escalate of personalisation and immediacy, as well as how people look forward for dosing the use of these devices.

I put forward that when the digital becomes a disciplining regime, when virtuality and immediacy turn out to be unpleasant and abducting, when acceleration and contingency turn to be excessive, individuals develop retro-resistances and seek terrains of freedom elsewhere, manifested as a move back, culturally embedded.

As demonstrated in my ethnography, the analogue photobooths provide an opportunity for body encounters, sensuous dispositions, unpredictable exchanges and the possibility to fail. Thus they have turned into sites of resistance to the excessive virtuality and immediacy of daily life.

Obsession with immutability. traditions, cultural heritages and other things that are not supposed to change

Author: Alessandro Testa (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

This paper is about how the theoretical notion and the social practice of “tradition” can constitute an opposition (or a different declination) of the “obsession with chance” evoked in the panel’s title and presentation.

Long Abstract

The anthropology of Europe and other kin disciplines - ethnology, folklore, historical anthropology, oral history, etc. - have always had to deal with the problem of "tradition" considered as both an academic notion and a social belief and practice. In the last twenty years or so, though, this long-lasting methodological problem has been radically rethought, also thanks to new evidence, suggestions, and theorization coming from anthropological studies on memory, narratives about the past, nostalgia, monuments and lieux de mémoire, and cultural heritages.

In this presentation, I will provocatively address the main issue presented in the title and evoked in the panel's introductory abstract as follows: (I quote) "Is there a late-modern obsession with change or is the very idea of change at the core of the Enlightenment project?". In fact, the very notion of tradition as it is commonly conceived and used seems to collide with the temporal and imaginative discourses relying on modern (and/or late-modern) categories of change, development, progress, evolution, and others.

I will build and present my arguments on the basis of the ethnographic evidence collected during my fieldwork in Italy and Czech Republic but also - and not secondarily - on the basis of historical and anthropological literature that has addressed the topic of tradition and traditions in Europe in a critical manner (from the well-known book edited by Hobsbawm and Ranger [1983] to my forthcoming article named "La tradizione. Riflessioni critiche su una nozione controversa" [2014]).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.