EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P052)

On the margins of history: keeping a step aside of crisis

Location T-416
Date and Start Time 31 July, 2014 at 14:00

Convenors

Aymon Kreil (Universität Zürich) email
Samuli Schielke (Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)) email
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Short Abstract

This panel reflects on how, during critical historical events, people can maintain continuity with ordinary reality, seeking to safeguard a sphere of intimacy and normality and trying to keep a distance from unfolding events of revolutions, catastrophes, wars and other crises.

Long Abstract

One of the striking features of a conflict situation is that often only a few blocks away from dramatic events, life appears to continue its normal course. In dramatic historical events, media coverage tends to focus on key places and actors of events, while anthropology can better account for the more discreet procedures of trying to maintain an imperfect continuity with ordinary reality, sometimes overshadowing for individuals what is unfolding on the main stage of History.

The concept of "total event" (F. Pieke) has been developed to describe the Chinese situation during the Tien An Men demonstration of 1989. A total event encompasses the whole of a society, leading to a complete reinterpretation of its tenets, and a perceived widening of possibilities. This panel suggests a contrary perspective on the impact of major crises, like revolutions, catastrophes, and war, by focusing on the ways they are kept at distance by people affected by them in an effort to preserve the stability of daily life or to safeguard a sphere of intimacy to seek refuge in. Sometimes, it is in fact difficult to take an active part in a dramatic event even if one wanted to. This panel reflects on the multiple ways of creating and experiencing distance to events. Rather than assuming a theoretical a priori, we invite the participants to develop ethnographically grounded interpretations of what it means to maintain the ordinariness of life in moments of crisis.

Discussant: Daniele Cantini

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Introduction: crisis and the ordinary

Author: Aymon Kreil (Universität Zürich)  email

Short Abstract

This introductory presentation reflects on the themes of the panel on the comparative level, while also relating to fieldwork in Egypt during the revolutionary period since 2011.

Long Abstract

One of the striking features of a conflict situation is that often only a few blocks away from dramatic events, life appears to continue its normal course. In dramatic historical events, media coverage tends to focus on key places and actors of events, while anthropology can better account for the more discreet procedures of trying to maintain an imperfect continuity with ordinary reality, sometimes overshadowing for individuals what is unfolding on the main stage of History. The concept of "total event" (F. Pieke) has been developed to describe the Chinese situation during the Tien An Men demonstration of 1989. A total event encompasses the whole of a society, leading to a complete reinterpretation of its tenets, and a perceived widening of possibilities. This panel suggests a contrary perspective on the impact of major crises, like revolutions, catastrophes, and war, by focusing on the ways they are kept at distance by people affected by them in an effort to preserve the stability of daily life or to safeguard a sphere of intimacy to seek refuge in. Sometimes, it is in fact difficult to take an active part in a dramatic event even if one wanted to. The introduction to the panel relates to comparative work as well as recent fieldwork in Egypt during the revolutionary period in order to to develop ethnographically grounded interpretations of what it means to maintain the ordinariness of life in moments of crisis.

'Let's just play like we used to play!' Exploring football's (in)ability to create normality in the midst of turmoil in post-Mubarak Cairo

Author: Carl Rommel (Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores football’s (in)ability to create normality parallel to Egypt’s political turmoil. Comparing professional football’s failure to foster stability to the recreational, played game’s ability to stay ordinary, I ask if this can be understood in terms of diverging ‘affective registers'?

Long Abstract

In the wake of three years of political turmoil, Egyptian football has been plunged into a deep crisis. After the stadium disaster in Port Said in 2012 and the subsequent cancellation of the league, passions and interest waned and many Egyptians turned their attention from the previously so popular football talk-shows to political dittos. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among a variety of Cairo's 'football people' during these peculiarly 'non-footbally', post-revolutionary years, this paper takes off from an often repeated trope: Football has to return; because only then will the country get back to normality, stability and economic revival.

The paper shows that while these hopes about the game's stabilising capacity were often shared also among fans, the particular historical juncture made it difficult for them to emotionally engage in their favourite team's fortunes like they once had. Yet, football as a recreational game, played by young boys and not so young male friends, continued to be a popular pastime that indeed created a sense of normality, also during - and sometimes also in close proximity to - the grimmest episodes of violence.

Comparing the deep crisis of professional football as a mediatized spectacle to the mundane, everyday game that went on undisturbed under the media radar, the paper suggest that this discrepancy could be understood in terms of diverging 'affective registers' (Stoler, 2004): a mediated, national one that was effectively outcompeted by the political turmoil, and an embodied, localised one, to which the affective states of the unfolding revolution were anyway incommensurable.

Greeks' aspirations to normalcy in the midst of the 'crisis'

Author: Eleni Papagaroufali (Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

Greeks, though afflicted by the austerity measures imposed by the EU and other supra-national bodies, seek refuge in a plethora of transnational projects that promise daily normalcy through the acquisition of new skills in ICTs, in entrepreneurship, and in consensus building.

Long Abstract

The financial crisis in Greece has caused extensive conflict events in the Athenian streets, and a lot of dissatisfaction, infuriation and uncertainty among Greek citizens. The media focus on protesters' fights with the policemen has not only turned these events into the metonymy of Greece 'in crisis', but also has occluded a simultaneous and more important dimension of dissatisfied citizen's ordinary lives: thousands of hundreds of Greek men and women of all ages (including pupils from kindergarten to high school) participate enthusiastically in a plethora of educational and other projects promoted by the European Union, in collaboration with affiliated organizations (UN, World Bank, OECD), and the Greek government. Given that such projects have unexpectedly become part and parcel of what is considered 'normalcy' in contemporary Greece, I will present one of the many thousands of hundreds face-to-face "twinnings" between Greek and foreign towns, and one electronic twinning between Greek and European schools. Through these "civilizing" projects, the "international community" aims at both producing and managing "global infrastructures" and a "common opinion" favorable to discourses of entrepreneurial autonomy and flexibility accompanied by individual responsibility and accountability. I will show how Greeks, although afflicted by the austerity measures imposed by the above mentioned supra-national bodies, seek refuge in the latter's promises of intimacy and normalcy supposedly ensured through the acquisition of new skills in ICTs by all, the apprenticeship in consensus building and the cultivation of the entrepreneurial-managerial ethos.

The moral economy of subsistence: an ethnography of every-day life in the post-soviet Russian countryside

Author: Glenn Mainguy (Université Bordeaux Segalen)  email

Short Abstract

From an ethnographic study of every-day life in post-soviet rural Russia, I argue that the moral sentiments structure the household production and explain, following the concept of moral economy of subsistence, how individuals experience and negotiate the economic changes that happened in Russia.

Long Abstract

Toward a study of the everyday practices of livelihood of people living in the rural Russia, we try to understand how individuals experience and negotiate the economic (Wegren, Nefedova, O'brien) changes happened in Russia. I started an ethnographic study of every-day life (Humphrey, Caldwell, Weber, Schwartz) in 2012 in the regions of Kolomna. During my fieldwork, I have analyzed the production, the consumption and the exchange of products from the household production. The aim of my purpose is to show that the household production is not only structure by economical (is the sense of political economy) logics (Kostov & Lingard, Davidova) but also by a set of moral sentiments. I argue that those moral sentiments are based in an ethic of good, of necessary and of fair and are based on an opposition between "us", people living in the countryside "the established" and "them" people living in the city "the outsiders" (Hoggart, Elias). Thus, from the study of moral sentiments I define a type of moral economy of subsistence (Thompson, Scott, Tchayanov). I analyze this concept with three modalities: the practices of livelihood; the embeddedness of economic structures and social structures: cultural values and moral concerns (Polanyi, Granovetter); the opposition and the resistance to domination toward the notion of svoy and nashemu. The definition of this type of moral economy of subsistence will help us understand a paradox of the rural Russia society: why whereas the overall living conditions increase, individuals have the feeling of living worse and worse.

Ici on fait semblance: on routinizing the 'normal state of exception' in Goma, DR Congo

Author: Silke Oldenburg (University of Basel)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reflects on the use of language and humor as means of routinizing the 'normal state of exception' in Goma, Eastern Congo. By tracing different modes of 'faire semblant' (to pretend), I demonstrate how war and armed conflict are getting integrated into everyday life.

Long Abstract

Ici on fait semblant - On routinizing the 'normal state of exception' in Goma, DR Congo

Goma is a context where critical events have turned into 'critical continuities' (Vigh), where crises and ordinary life seem to be interchangeable. This is the background for young people's comments who often state that they either don't know "real peace" or that the situation is "just normal".

Drawing on empirical data from 14 months of ethnographical research with youth in Goma, I will sketch different spheres of intimacy in a "normal state of exception" as I frame the situation in Eastern Congo. By juxtaposing the everyday and the extraordinary, the subjective level and the social condition I bring elements together which are often kept apart.

In my presentation I want to focus on an important form of taming 'crisis' and maintaining an illusion of normalcy - the ability to pretend, to ignore and to feign which are articulated in the vernacular of faire semblant. These are practices of routinization that help to integrate 'crisis' into the doxic experience by means of a reflexive use of language: Downplaying, euphemizing and pretending to live like in a movie allude to a repertoire of verbal skills that establishes and maintains intimacy without resulting in rupture but which might be read as a way to get a grip on continuity.

Memories of everyday life during a long-lasting conflict: from a case of Belfast, Northern Ireland

Author: Tomoko Sakai (Tohoku Gakuin University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses overturns of the norm regarding ordinary and extraordinary experiences, or the usual and unusual, that arise in memories of daily life under a long-term political conflict, through examining testimonies of people in Belfast working class estates.

Long Abstract

Studies of memories of war and conflict have mainly concerned with the kind of experience that changed one's life course instantly and permanently. This is connected to the tendency that violent conflicts are imagined to be located at the opposite pole to the mundane world of daily life. A long-lasting conflict or political disturbance, however, blurs the clear boundary between ordinary and extraordinary experiences, or the usual and unusual. Routine activities for maintaining private and social life cannot be suspended in human life, and a society in decades of political conflict is no exception.

This paper looks at the case of the 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. People in working-class estates in Belfast continued their daily activities within violence and high community tensions. As gunfights and bomb explosions took place on street corners in the neighbourhood, people went for work, shopping, did housework or childcare, had social life with friends, neighbours and relatives. Many people went through childhood and adolescence, developed intimate relationships, and experienced marriage and parenting, all in the midst of the conflict.

This paper analyses testimonies of such daily life to explore the way of the incursion of violence into private daily life, and the mundane into the sphere of social division and violence. The Long-term experience of daily life alongside violence has constituted a certain type of collective mentality, and also historical consciousness, which is related to people's experience of and reactions to post-conflict political and social transitions.

Revisiting sumoud: thoughts on endurance and the ordinary in occupied Palestine

Author: Lotte Buch Segal (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

In light of current work on endurance and crisis in anthropology this paper revisits the notion of ṣumūd (steadfastness, perseverance) that has been running through scholarship on Palestinians since the 1980es. The paper questions whether ṣumūd contain the potentiality of an otherwise.

Long Abstract

The Arabic word '‛ādi' means nothing unusual or spectacular, plain ordinary. Among Palestinians, '‛ādi' is a frequent response in everyday conversations to questions like, ' kīfik,' (how are you?), 'šu aḵbārik' (f) (what's your news?)' and 'kīf aḥsāsik (how do you feel?). ‛ādi was also the word I encountered during my fieldwork by way of response to my question concerning if and how life had changed after a husband had gone into prison and when he was released. Based on fieldwork among wives of long-term detainees it appeared however that the way in which lives were stitched together was not the same as before their husbands' detention nor did life ever return to normal upon release. How then could the women answer '‛ādi' to a life that has become uncanny in its seams? Understanding how life in the wake of violence, confinement and absence belong to an ordinary rather than an extraordinary register the paper revisits the notion of ṣumūd (steadfastness, perseverance) that has been running through scholarship on Palestinians in the occupied territory and in refugee camps across the Levant since the 1980es. Sumūd is an expression meant to capture an ethos of standing tall, of persevering no matter what is inflicted upon you and your people. Offering an ethnographic take on what it means to stand tall during a crisis with no end and a nationalist rhetoric that has become emptied of meaning the paper questions whether all forms of endurance contain the potentiality of a socalled otherwise.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.