EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P037)

The provocateur?

Location M-224
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 11:00

Convenors

Jana Tsoneva (CEU) email
Deborah Jones (University of Michigan -- Ann Arbor) email
Georgi Medarov (University of Sofia) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Who are provocateurs, what are provocations, and what do they provoke? This panel investigates the provocateur as both narrative figure and actual instigator, and attends to the idea of provocation in 'revolutionary' movements, political, artistic, scientific, or otherwise.

Long Abstract

During the early December protests in Ukraine, a band of masked men drove a bulldozer down a demonstrator-filled street, throwing flares and Molotov cocktails at the riot police, who, two nights before, had beaten bloody dozens of activists. Confusion reigned: whose side were these anonymous troublemakers on? Were they a fringe unit of the pro-European movement, or thugs hired by the ruling party? Both protest organizers and the ruling party quickly disassociated themselves from the masked men, labeling them 'provocateurs,' illegitimate actors whose sole mission was to incite trouble.

The idea of the 'provocateur' has a long history in discourse regarding political action; its applications in the current waves in anti-governmental protests in Eastern Europe are rampant. However, the provocateur, whether as archetype or as actuality, pops up in other environments, stirring up controversy in popular culture, academia, late night comedy sketches, even religious movements. This panel investigates the idea of the provocateur as a narrative figure, in both historical and contemporary contexts. Who counts as a provocateur, and what role do they play in the identity constitution of the movement they allegedly disrupt? What counts as a provocation, and what is the role of media in its narrativization? How is provocation a rhetorical instrument deployed in struggles in political (or other) fields? Does provocation necessarily involve some level of deception or misrecognition? Finally, is provocation...necessary? Keeping with the conference theme, we pay particular attention to the idea of provocation in 'revolutionary' movements, political, artistic, scientific, or otherwise.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Framing the provocateur

Author: Deborah Jones (University of Michigan -- Ann Arbor)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the social significance of the figure of provokator, 'provocateur,' in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, with a focus on the winter revolutionary period.

Long Abstract

Since it began in November 2013, the conflict in Ukraine has been punctuated with accusations of provocatsija, 'provocation,' from one side or the other. English language publications have picked up the Ukrainian (and Russian) discourses of provocation with little regard for their historical rootedness or local meanings. This paper examines the social significance of the figure of provokator, 'provocateur,' in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, with a focus on the winter revolutionary period. It takes a linguistic anthropological approach, attending to the semiotic markers many Ukrainian demonstrators have drawn on to determine who is or isn't a provocateur, as well as the semiotic processes that continue to inform imaginings of this feared figure. Central to this paper is an analysis of covert, overt, and what I call 'ironic' provocateurs, and assumptions about the sincerity or authenticity of each. Additionally, this paper suggest that 'provocateurs' in contemporary Ukrainian discourse are not merely 'unratified' protest participants in the Goffmanian sense. Rather, following anthropological writings on 'instigators,' I argue that those labeled provocateurs are perceived frame-breakers, actors that can cue not only footing shifts and frame slippages, but ultimately push vulnerable interactional frames in violent directions that may delegitimize them.

Speaking seriously by laughing: anecdotes as a mean of "resistance" in the Greek community of Czechoslovakia

Author: Georgia Sarikoudi (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)  email

Short Abstract

Humor has been a case of study since the antiquity and that is because it helps us to realize what interests society and to understand better culturally formed ways of thinking. Humor however is also regarded as a powerful political “gun” where it can jeopardize someone’s authority.

Long Abstract

Humor plays a basic role in our social life and in the development of our personality. It is connected with creativity and imagination and by producing laugh it can contribute, to emotional discharge, relaxe defenses and makes us more extroverted and receptive. Humor however is not connected only with happy events and contexts; is also regarded as a powerful political "tool" that can reveal where tensions in a society lie.

The Greek community that was organized in Czechoslovakia after the end of the Greek civil was in the end of 40's was under the guidance of the Greek Communist Party in cooperation with the Czechoslovakian Communist Party. Any open disobedience in the orders of both Parties had severe consequences. For this reason Greeks that were against the communist rules had invented anecdotes and jokes that were circulating among close friends in order to provoke the political leaders and their actions. Of course, no one can argue that jokes and anecdotes are able to dethrone a leader or to bring down a regime; they are not so powerful forces. Jokes may not be small revolutions, but they are small realms of freedom in a totalitarian regime.

Collettivo FX: Italian street artist between provocation, instigation and cultural heritage protection

Author: Alice Lugli (Perugia University)  email

Short Abstract

Collettivo FX is a street artist that aims to pollute the concrete through painting, stickers and posters billposting. His artistic raids, realized personally by FX or in a collective way, represent a cultural provocation and they are set and regulated on the Article 9 of Italian Constitution.

Long Abstract

Born in 2010, "FX" is a collective that aims to pollute the reinforced concrete through painting, stickers and posters billposting. The artistic raids are realized personally by the Collective or in a collective way, that consist in involving many people that act using artistic products made by FX (products that can be requested to the Collective). FX raids are set and regulated on the Article 9 of Italian Constitution: "The Republic promotes culture development and scientific and technological research. It protects the landscape and the artistic and the historical heritage of the Nation". The raids have to follow some rules: not to corrupt artistic or archeological places, buildings or sites; to be realized in public place (not in, or on, private ownership) or place of passage; to be proved and validate through a photo that shows the realized action. The subject made by FX are connected with the local history and with the National and International ones. FX wants to instigate reflection and attention over the current events and denounce disadvantaged situations through the awareness of socio-cultural positive examples. FX incites the citizen (who look and watch his works) to promote themselves culturally and to encourage positive busy. FX provocations cross the world thanks to some brushes, paints (black and white) and a bicycle, three elements that characterize the Collective and that led him to be one of the most provocative street artist in Italy and in the world.

The riots that never happened: the hidden perceptions of the August 2011 riots in London

Author: Povilas Junas  email

Short Abstract

Severe outbreaks of urban violence shaken several English cities in 2011. An extensive and lethal police violence triggered the biggest riots in England since 1981. An ethnographic study provides the detailed picture of distressing cultural and social settings of the August 2011 riots in London.

Long Abstract

In this paper I analyze the riots which took place in London and several other English cities between August 6th and 10th 2011. The riots started two days after Mark Duggan was shot dead by the Metropolitan Police in Tottenham and the mass media and politicians were quick to condemn the public violence and dismiss any sociological explanation. The liminal ritual of status reversal and the temporal transgression of the taboo, which protects private property moulded in narratives and acts of fighting police, looting and arson. The opposing experience, which was gained throughout four days of riots shaped unalike reflections and interpretations of the event among the individuals and the social groups that consist of different strata in the structure of the politico-legal-economic hierarchy. However, the dominant position of the mass media and mainstream politicians, as the representatives of upper and middle classes enabled them to eliminate the alternative picture created among the citizens of lower classes. This paper looks into rioters' and their supporters' perceptions of the riots and provocative actions of police and mass media.

The paper is based on the ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in London. Next to the personal accounts of witnesses and participates of the riots, I gathered a significant amount of information throughout visits in different areas of London. Material from the fieldwork in a combination of anthropological and psychoanalytical theories created a basis, on which the paper was built.

Is provocation necessary?

Authors: Jana Tsoneva (CEU)  email
Georgi Medarov (University of Sofia)  email

Short Abstract

The figure of the Provocateur gained wide prominence during the last year of anti-governmental protests in Bulgaria. However, the very popularity of the notion renders it unfit for any positive definition. Instead of essentializing it we interpret it as a rhetorical instrument used for identity creation.

Long Abstract

In this paper we are to elaborate on the function of the Provocateur, understood in such a way, in self-representations in the anti-government protest movement that erupted in the summer of 2013. The protesters built an identity of a "middle class revolt" against the "shadow elite" - , purportedly subverting our "transition" to a so-called "normal European state". What they claimed is that politicians are pawns in the powerful hands of a secretive force, allegedly pulling the strings from a hidden backstage. Thus here practices of "unmasking" the Provocation were a fruitful resource to "prove" a larger conspiracy against Europe, Bulgaria, civil society and even the "normal" course of history. Even the mass media got involved in the spontaneous "search and destroy" missions by airing user-made videos about suspected provocateurs. In other words, the rhetorical use of the Provocateur was functional to the protest. It sustains an identity of a "middle class citizens with open faces for a normal European development" which finds its constitutive Other in the form of the Provocateurs - masked thugs "sent" by obscure forces of the shadow elite. At the same time, however, the provocateurs are a structurally necessary force because with an enemy so extremely removed, the provocateurs fulfill the role of providing evidence of the enemy's existence.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.