ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

Postgraduate forum
Location Wills 5.68
Date and Time 7th April, 2009 at 09:15


Emily Pierini (University of Wales Trinity Saint David)
Alexis Karkotis (Bristol University)
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel welcomes contributions from postgraduate research students. Contributions are not restricted to the conference theme.

Long Abstract

The aim of this panel is to provide a forum for postgraduate research students. Submission may address the theme of the conference, but this is not a requirement. We hope that it will provide a lively, open and exciting opportunity for student to present new field research, and other ideas.

Submissions should be made in the usual way, as proposals to the panel.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Unpacking the senses? Ethnophysiologies and experience at a Museum of Man in Germany

Author: Susanne Schmitt


My doctoral research engages with the so-called "anthropology of the senses" that challenges anthropologists into reflecting own models and narratives of the sensory as utterly cultural products and calls for a stronger focus on the multisensory quality of our being in the world.

At my ethnographic field site, a German Science Museum that features a children's museum dedicated to the "five senses" as well as a vast and multivocal permanent gallery on the "human being", I am interested in exploring what the concept of the "senses", which is widely used at the museum, means to different individuals and communities of practice and how it is being narrated, appropriated or challenged by museum staff.

In this paper, I am drawing on the concept of "skilled vision" (Grasseni) in order to introduce the ways in which two museum interpreters perceive of the permanent gallery: it will be argued that the exhibition is actively being appropriated in radically different ways by interpreters depending on the perspective their original community of practice within the museum's larger professional community conveys.

On being arrested when distracted in Luanda: where phenomenology takes over ethnography

Author: Madalina Florescu (CEBRAP)


`People are arrested when they are distracted`, and `people are distracted when they enter the house or go to work` are the ethnographic data on which I would like to build a discussion that interrogates the limits of ethnography under circumstances of political violence. During my fieldwork in Luanda between 2006 and 2007 the circumstances in which I carried out my research dramatically changed from a context of `peace` to a context of `war`. Anthropologists have argued that one of the effects of violence upon knowledge is `abstraction` from the concrete reality of surroundings. The subject becomes encapsulated in representations that are imaginary and lose their grasp on things. The implications for ethnography are important since the defining characteristic of the discipline is participant observation. The ethnographer herself is in fact expected not fall `victim` to it precisely because of her dual positionality as both and insider and an outsider and because of her privileged knowledge of a meta-level of representation that transcends the level of the politics of identification that mediate violence. What does it mean then to become an `insider` of political violence, and how does one step out of it so as to oscillate between the two `sides`? These are the questions that I would like to engage with in this paper by recounting a particular episode of my fieldwork, that of how the impact of the legislative elections in Kinshasa onto face-to-face encounters at the Catholic Mission of Luanda.

More than objects: Judaica jewellery in Germany

Author: Dani Kranz (Bergische University Wuppertal)


Relations between Jews and non-Jews in Germany remain unsettled. Interactions between the two groups are fraught, ill-communication and misunderstandings are common. At the core of these misunderstandings lies the Holocaust, which is narrated specifically within the respective ingroup, exchanges of narratives hardly take place. The silences that this creates morph into verbalised attitudes concerning current affairs, in particular current Jewish life in Germany and that State of Israel. For Jews and non-Jews the Star of David symbolises Israel, which adorns its flag; the Holocaust is symbolised with a yellow Star of David; a Star of David can be found on and in every synagogue. The Star of David is unambiguously interpreted as signifying Jewishness by Jews and non-Jews. It links past and present; the sacred, profane and secular; it is a seemingly eternal symbol of a cosmology. In its personalised form, Star of David jewellery is commonly worn by Jews in Germany, it is a highly visible sign of their Jewishness and garners reactions by Jews and non-Jews alike.

By focussing on Star of David jewellery this paper seeks to interrogate the mutually constitutive creation of meaning of the Star of David. The paper interrogates the relationship between the Star of David being used to convey being Jewish by its wearer and the Star of David as constructing its wearer as a Jew.

Suicide, shame and Sinhalese kinship: the institutionalisation of self-harm and self-inflicted death in Sri Lanka

Author: Tom Widger (Durham University)


Ethnographic research amongst Sinhalese Buddhists in Madampe Division, northwest Sri Lanka, suggests patterns of suicidal behaviour reflect the kinship structure. Acts of suicidal behaviour (suicide threats, self-harm, and self-inflicted death) arise in response to the breaking of core kinship rights, duties, and obligations, or as a challenge to inflexibility or contradictions within the system. The morality of "shame" (lajja) is closely associated with both the causes and functions of suicidal behaviour, as are relationships within the household and its nuclear unit (ge). A central concern of the paper will be how suicidal behaviour functions to expunge the self of shame while causing shame for others. The relationship of suicide to blame and shame is two-fold, existing as both an "aim" and a "response." As an aim, suicidal behaviour causes shame for those whose actions are deemed to have brought an injury that led to suicide. As a response, suicidal behaviour provides an escape from shame and a means by which shame can be challenged. This places acts of suicidal behaviour at the heart of social relationships. Suicidal behaviour is intended either to quell a problem, in which case it is best described as a "pacifying act," or as part of an escalating "arms race," in the sense that it stands as a "stronger" retaliation relative to an earlier injury. In some cases this manifests in "mutually assured destruction," as one individual uses a more lethal act of self-harm or suicide attempt to over-shadow the same in another.

'The day I carried Chairman Mao on the summit of Mt. Everest': remembering the Chinese mountaineering experience in Himalaya

Author: Maria Luisa Nodari (University of Cambridge)


On the 25th of May 1960, three members of the Chinese mountaineering expedition, Wang Fuzhou, Gonpo (a Tibetan climber) and Qu Yinhua conquered Mt. Everest (Tib. Chomolangma), placing onto the summit a bust of Chairman Mao.

This paper will tell how remembering the past and present Chinese mountaineering experience on Mt. Everest is enacting China's appropriation and control over Tibet and Tibetan society.

Mountaineering expeditions in China began in the 1950s as a reaction to the British Imperial legacies of the 19th and early 20th century, and as a symbol of modernity and technological prowess of the newly established Communist State. Tibetan mountains have been the first targets of the Chinese Mountaineering Association: Mt. Everest was climbed in 1960, following the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, and in 1990 after Tian'an men Square protests. After Lhasa riots in March 2008, a team of the Chinese Mountaineering Association summited Mt. Everest on the 8th of May, carrying the Olympic Torch.

By discussing the biographies and tales of the climbers involved in the expeditions, the paper will analyse remembering as a revealing expression of China's construction of a political space. Mt. Everest become an ambiguous place where the boundaries among British legacies, Chinese celebration of the politics of amities between minorities (Ch. minzu tuanjie), territorial appropriation and climbing practice are shifting, and where Tibetan climbers are at the same time active actors of the central state and Tibetans

OF Princesses and Conquistadors: Ngabe Myths woven in Panama's National and Historical Narratives

Author: Alexis Karkotis (Bristol University)


Twelve years after their struggle for their own semi-autonomous reservation ended, the Ngäbe people are still negotiating their identity as an indigenous group with respect to the wider Panamanian society. In order to elucidate this process of negotiation two Ngäbe myths will be analyzed.

The first myth which is very popular in mainstream Panama, recounts a love story between a Ngäbe princess (the daughter of the chief Urraca, in the historical narrative) and a Spanish conquistador. The Ngäbe in what appears to be an act of subaltern resistance modify this (already) corrupted Ngäbe myth, whose original version no one knows, in an effort to retain and define their distinctiveness as an indigenous group within multicultural Panama. The second myth which is circulated almost exclusively amongst the Ngäbe, is set in an unspecific past and recounts the story of legendary Ngäbe chief Mironomo-Kronomo. In the version collected and recently printed by the local Catholic Church the main character is presented as manifesting Christ like qualities, clearly deviating from oral versions of the same myth that I collected during my fieldwork.

The ambivalent relationship between the Ngäbe and the rest of the Panamanian society is further exemplified by other popular mytho-historical narratives and in material culture where the Ngäbe chief Urracas' portrait decorates the one cent coin of the dollar currency, which is officially called the Balboa, named after the founder of Panama City and who was ironically the enemy of Urraca.

Presenting the Past: Village Historicity in Rural China

Author: Daniel Roberts


In China, successive political upheavals within living memory have impacted directly on the attitudes and identities of rural citizens. Drawing on extensive interview material from fieldwork in a small farming community in the prosperous coastal province of Zhejiang, this paper addresses how farmers today construct and discuss their own narratives of history, and the value of situating the politics of memory in the context of lived experience.

For each of the three generations concerned - the grandparents, parents and their adult children in the village - distinct events divide their experience of history into clearly-defined local categories of "before" and "after". Respectively, these were: (1) the implementation of land reforms following the Communist victory; (2) the adoption of a socialist market economy; and (3) the increasing opportunities and consumerism of the last decade. These formative experiences in the lives of each generation reveal the local impact of distant policies enacted by the Chinese state, as individuals selectively assemble their imperfect personal histories.

With reference to other studies of social memory and transition in the post-Mao era, I will explore the consequences for local identity of universal state education for children and reduced intergenerational transmission in a village without any written records. Taking a longer view of China's rapid development through the twentieth century, I will argue that a consideration of generational differences is crucial to any anthropological understanding of how people and societies are able to forget, remember and forge their identities.

'I think somewhere in my head there's always this thing going on that this isn't real': exploring the role of living history in learning about the past

Author: Ceri Jones (University of Leicester)


Living history aims to create a 'sense of the past' or 'bring the past to life' for visitors to museums and heritage sites. Many claims are made about the benefits of costumed interpretation, for example, that it makes the past tangible and is more emotionally engaging than other forms of interpretation. Increasingly, living history techniques and costumed interpreters are being used in education sessions to facilitate a range of reported outcomes for young people, including increased understanding of the past, a sense of empathy, and an appreciation that people in the past were different from us, encouraging greater toleration of difference. Whilst living history attempts to create an 'authentic' re-creation of the past, how far is the audience aware that it is not really the past that is being created but only a version of the past? Using evidence from case studies carried out at the Museum of London, Galleries of Justice in Nottingham and the Tower of London, I will explore some of the issues emerging from my fieldwork, which looks at the experiences of young people and young adults engaging with costumed interpreters at these three sites. When young people say that living history makes the past seem 'real' what do they mean by real? How effective is living history at giving young people a sense of the 'real' past?

Showing Archaeology a Wittgensteinian shaped hole: embracing and applying Wittgenstein's anthropological turn

Author: Adrian Davis (University of Wales Trinity Saint David)


My research has begun with what one might term as a 'foucauldian' emphasis on a 'history of the present' that attempts to reconcile our current attitudinal disposition to Wittgenstein's thought in the archaeological archive. This has necessitated an attempt to contextualise our 'disposition' historically and critically, and includes a surview of several post-processual papers written in the early to mid 1990s in archaeological theory. For my part, this culminated in a thoughtful article and effort at a 'rapprochement' entitled 'Archaeology and Wittgenstein' written by the processual archaeologist John Bintliff (2000) and responses to this, from writers such as Julian Thomas (2000). It is pertinent that while both writers acknowledge the potential of Wittgenstein, it is left to Bintliff (2000) to outline Wittgenstein's philosophical ideas and to bemoan his relative neglect in the discipline. However little has advanced since this discussion. Why should this be? In part the answer 'going forward' must rest on an exegetical shortfall in Bintliff's position that consists in his over emphasising of one particular reading of Wittgenstein's notion of 'language games' (Monk 1990). This leaves Bintliff's proffered solution to all our difficulties in archaeology vulnerable to charges of relativism. A position long critiqued and anticipated some years earlier in Social Anthropology by for example Ernest Gellner. In aiming to contextualise these criticisms and my drawing on Social Anthropology as an analogue to examine the efficacy of Wittgenstein's later thinking, there exits the potential to explore the potential synergies and inter-disciplinary interchanges between the two academic traditions.

Orientalism Within: Stereotypical Categorizations and Perceptions of Eastern Turkey by the Citizens of Istanbul

Author: Nikitas Palantzas (University of Bristol)


This paper examines the stereotypical categorizations by which Turkish citizens in Istanbul refer to their fellow-citizens in Eastern Turkey, primarily in the context of discussions about Turkish identity , Europe and the Western World. Using ethnographic examples from my recent fieldwork in Istanbul I will attempt to discuss this phenomenon, taking under serious consideration local views that reflect a euro-sceptic stance regarding Turkey's integration to the European Union. These views reveal sets of meanings indicative of pre-existing discourses about the West and the rest, some of which are widely accepted in Turkey and occasionally give rise to an idiosyncratic form of internal orientalism. In the case of Turkey this apparent phenomenon, calls for further analysis, as it moves beyond the stereotypical conceptualisation of an external Other in terms of a simple West/East binary opposition. As it will be shown, in Turkey, these viewpoints are embedded in dominant discourses regarding definitions of proper nationhood, which are maintained and utilized in contemporary politics. Bringing together recent anthropological theory and analytical tools from political philosophy and psychoanalysis, I will examine this kind of internal 'otherness' in the context of local debates concerning Turkey's position towards the European Union.

'What is there to expect from a Mawlana like him!': The 'approved ways' of entry into a 'good space' and a Bangladeshi qawmi madrasa

Author: Nurul Bhuiyan (National University)


Historically, the qawmi madrasa system (Islamic school of the Deobandi tradition) in Bangladesh, like all Deobandi madrasas in the South Asia, provides religious education for the marginal masses. Since its inception in 1867, the ideological mission of this madrasa has been to train people in a conservative form of Islam that is free from all forms of syncretism. In so doing it has faced a lot of opposition from more popular forms of Islam. Viewed in opposition to these popular Islamic beliefs and practices, the qwami system can be understood as an identity building project based strictly on the Quran and Sunnah (Prophet's way).

Pupils and teachers within the madrasa consider the institution as one of those 'good spaces' where people come to acquire the correct form of knowledge and understanding about Islam. A large part of this knowledge is about manners or, in this case, the approved ways of being Muslim. Part of this knowledge is imparted by the Mawlana (Learned Islamic scholar/leader), who is expected to behave in certain exemplary ways by engaging in 'proper' Islamic practice. But what happens if the Mawlana does not live up to these expectations? By considering the behavior and actions of one such Mawlana, this paper is an attempt to understand the day to day learning context of a qwami madrasa that stresses both the proper fulfillment of the 'approved ways' as opposed to the 'not approved ways', and the recognition of the 'good space' as opposed to the 'not good space'.

'Today I'm winning, but I'm still losing': gambling in the present among London's Chinese gamblers

Author: Claire Loussouarn (Goldsmiths, University of London)


In this paper, I question what gambling is about by drawing attention onto the ambiguity of the activity. I show that gambling has a logic in its own right which is conflicting with moral expectations of what should be appropriate economic behaviour. A rational man should aim to win money by using efficient means to obtain such gain, he should plan in the present to provide for the future. Gamblers' actions are not future-oriented and on the contrary are carried out as if only the present mattered. I argue, nevertheless, that living in the present is not less economic than planning for the future and that it needs to be given more attention if one wants to understand gambling.

Based on my fieldwork among Chinese gamblers in London's casinos, I look into this argument by exploring what winning actually means for them. My research takes place within the context of a casino industry in the UK. In such a context, gamblers will always lose more money than they will win in the long run since the odds are in favour of the house. Despite this inevitable truth, my ethnographic data shows that it isn't quite true to say, in the case of my informants, that gamblers do not win since they experience winning on a constant and frequent basis while they are gambling. Gamblers are looking to win here and now, how temporary it might be, instead of waiting and hoping for a future that might never happen.

Coast dwellers and sea - tangle of identities in the wake of collapse of the Soviet Union: a case study of Kuzomen' village, Russia

Author: Maria Nakhshina (University of Aberdeen)


Kuzomen' is a village on the White Sea coast in the north-west of Russia, near the Arctic Circle. It was established as a fishing place in the 18th century. People living there constitute a local group of Russians who have been traditionally called Pomory, from Russian po moriu which means by the sea. For two centuries, sea fishing has served as a main source of subsistence as well as identity for local people. A true Pomor is the one who has fished at sea; who has lived by and travelled along the sea; who does not suffer from sea sickness.

Things changed dramatically with the collapse of soviet system: local economy deteriorated, sea fishing declined considerably and people say there are no true Pomory left in the village. Pomor identity has entered a crisis and is in danger of disappearing.

At the same time, urban citizens who had left Kuzomen' in the 1950s-70s during mass exodus of Russians from village to city now started to come back to their homeland because after the collapse of soviet regime they cannot not afford travelling to summer resorts at sea in the south any more. Coming to Kuzomen' for summer, they bring in a vivid dynamics to the place and to a certain extent keep it alive. Within a short period of time, the role of the sea has transformed from being a main provider of subsistence to becoming a source of leisure, which in turn may revive local economy.

Exploring a site with ethical commodities: fairtrade and organic in Palermo

Author: Giovanni Orlando (University of Turin)


This paper explores ethical consumption (or 'critical', as it is known locally) in the city of Palermo, Italy. It engages with fairtrade and organic shopping as a means through which explore local perceptions of this particular site. The paper thus elaborates on some of the common characteristics in shoppers' views of these ethical commodities, and on why they are sometimes bought by the same citizens in town. Although both fairtrade and organic agriculture can be seen as dealing with somewhat distant domains (the developing countries and sites where food is grown away from the cities), the paper shows how some of Palermo's citizens exhibited a belief that consuming 'critically' made their polity - largely conceived of as 'the city', which they thought of in strong negative terms - a better place. Their shopping was seen as a tool to advance positive social change, consumer power being one of the last powers left today to people To adopt a Maussian approach, one can say that circulating certain goods made them feel they widened the circle of their desired society. This engagement with the local milieu can be interpreted as a particular instance, with broadly 'political' overtones, of a process by which consumers subsume shopping from the realm of far-away ethics within that of close-by morality. Such morality was framed by a perception of the city at the imaginary scale of community. This case study is based on original data from a fifteen-month ESRC-funded study of new moral economies in Sicily.

“Five Minutes with Madonna”. Distribution of Mafioso personhood through the digital recordings of the Tarantella dance

Author: Stavroula Pipyrou (University of St Andrews)


The presentation focuses on the ethnographic conceptualisation of material culture and especially the digital recordings of the Tarantella Mafiosa as a site for the distribution of Mafioso personhood in Reggio Calabria, South Italy. During the various religious celebrations the local Mafiosi patronise the dance events that are integral to the ritual. They thus demand their own dances, namely the Tarantella Mafiosa. Spectators who wish to capture the event on camera are allowed on the premise that they are Mafiosi affiliates or people that can ‘be trusted’.

In line with the argument that creator and work are inextricably related, special emphasis is placed on these digital recordings of the tarantella and their conceptualisation as indexes of multiple relations. The digital recordings thus incorporate meanings related to tradition, space, rank, hierarchy and power, appropriation of power and territorial ownership.

Travelling images: subversive imitations and imitated subversions

Author: Aylin Kuryel (University of Amsterdam)


This paper aims to explore the potentialities and dilemmas of imitation as a political and artistic tactic, by shedding light on the concept of "détournement." This term, coined by the French political/art group Situationist International (SI) in the 1960s, can be translated as rerouting, distortion, misuse or misappropriation, and can be defined as a form of subversion that uses/imitates preexisting visual and textual material to transmit new, often revolutionary meanings. "Détournement," as a methodology based on imitation and re-configuration for political purposes, has been a core tactic within artist/activist/critical imagery from Dadaism, Surrealism, and SI, to YesMen, Adbusters and Rebel Clown Army. I analyze the processes by which transformation and subversion are achieved through reproduction and imitation, and the ways that the signification of an image changes while traveling from one discursive area to the other by looking at several images from SI to contemporary alternative-globalizationist culture-jamming groups.

Yet, the realm of subversion through imitation includes contestations and paradoxes. The new, critical imagery created by jamming existing cultural elements is not fully closed to being re-appropriated and domesticated by the discourses they criticize. I will also discuss the political implications of this circle of appropriation for subversion and appropriation for domestication or commodification ("détournement" vs. "recuperation"). In this light, I will look at the use of several popular images, such as the Ipod or GAP by activist groups, as well as the use of activist imagery like the image of Zapatista or the punk movement by advertisement companies.

The Khomani Bushmen: new land, new life, old image

Author: Julie Grant (University of Edinburgh)


Although the Bushmen of Southern Africa were regarded as 'brutal savages' in the 19th century, they were later 'upgraded' to 'harmless people'. These labels contributed to the Bushmen's later 'primitive people' image, which still persists today, especially in tourist brochures. As such tourists expect to see Bushmen in this guise. Accordingly, between the 1980s and 1990s, the Khomani Bushmen of South Africa undertook employment requiring them to perform for tourists, further promoting their image as a 'primitive people'.

In 1999, however, following a land claim, the Khomani Bushmen were awarded land in the Northern Cape along with monetary compensation. It was thought that this would allow them to create new employment opportunities, freeing them from the need to perform for tourists, resulting in a move away from the Bushman image of the past. However in reality, many of the Khomani Bushmen and associated personnel continue to promote the past image of the Bushmen to attract tourists and project funding. Although this strategy may be working at present, it may in the long term, stifle creativity and new development initiatives.

This paper will seek to understand why labels such as the above were bestowed on the Bushmen and by whom. It will address whether or not the successful land claim could have allowed the Khomani Bushmen to leave their past image behind, and if indeed they had anything to benefit from such an action. Lastly it will consider whether retaining the past image serves any beneficial purpose today and what future repercussions might result.

PDF Download PDF of paper

The 'white man' in the Mursi narratives

Author: Tamas Regi (Keimyung University)


The aim of this paper is to show how the South-Ethiopian Mursi people think about their visitors, about their guests especially about tourists. Through a complex anthropological approach I try to demonstrate how the Mursi use their 'authentic' hospitality practices with the tourist and other outsiders.

The support to study this system is narratives embodied in texts, oral history, material culture, and local economy. The particular frame for the background study is constituted by the recent emergence of Western tourism in South-Ethiopia and its reformulation of the 'local' through various projections anchored in the tourist imaginary. The paper will investigate the different manifestations of these new contact types, but mainly concentrate on material culture and its related practices.

The fieldwork which gives data for this study employed ethnographic methods (e.g. participating observation, open interviews and visual anthropology) as well as investigative methods to approach the wider political, demographic and economic context. The historical data was collected through the Mursi's oral history, the ethnographic data through fieldwork in South-Ethiopia.

Coffee houses and tourism in Cyprus: a traditionalised experience

Authors: Nicos Philippou (University of Nicosia)
Evi Eftychiou (University of Nicosia )


Conventional romantic representations of the kafeneion by traveler photographers of the colonial period in Cyprus, but also photographs widely used within the tourist industry as well as the output of a local 'romantic photographic school' have contributed to the transformation of the 'indigenous' kafeneion into a traditionalized coffee shop. The aesthetics of the kafeneion, in its contemporary 'indigenous' version will be examined. It will be argued that the material culture of the kafeneion is revealing of a general vernacular aesthetic but also of variation and therefore a variety of active communal identities. The significant role the kafeneion has been playing in the process of the flow of political communication will be discussed and it will be argued that this function of the kafeneion has been ignored, by both, romantic photographers in the past and tourists' enchanters nowadays. Further it will explore the consumption of a modernist vernacular culture by the working classes within its confines. The romanticization of aesthetics, as expressed in traditionalized coffee shops, serving mainly tourists will also be examined. The kafeneion contemporary functions as a political, cultural and social space have been strategically ignored and replaced by signifiers of tradition, rurality and peasantry. It will be argued that in the framework of cultural tourism, there was a change in the semiotic value of the kafeneion. Traditionalized coffee shops are no longer symbols of cosmopolitanism and modernity but symbols of an essentialized and enchanting Mediterranean culture.

Being a different kind of boy: Modes of masculinity in a north London comprehensive school

Author: Sarah Winkler-Reid (Newcastle University)


The group's territory, hidden away at the back of the school, provided a material and symbolic safe space where they could achieve this. Within this space the boys drew on a range of resources to denigrate fellow pupils who embodied dominant forms of masculinity premised on aggression, competition, sporting prowess and power and to validate their own alternative identities.

While rejecting these dominant modes the boys continued to invest deeply in developing a heterosexual masculine identity. 'Sex talk' particularly boundary pushing sexual humour was a key peer group practice that enabled the boys to affirm and emphasise other aspects of masculinity. Further the boys continued to reinforce and police proscriptive notions of appropriate masculinity, particularly through homophobic notions that position being gay as mutually exclusive to a successful masculine identity.

This paper draws attention to the ways in which modes of masculinity are developed in relation to and in contrast to each other within school. It highlights the centrality of sociality in processes of socialisation as pupils develop their identities through their positioning of themselves and their peers in relations of sameness and difference.

Resisting resistance: women and nationalist discourse in Mongolia

Author: Franck Bille (UC Berkeley)


Throughout modern history Mongols have navigated a narrow political path: wedged between Russia and China, much of their limited political power has consisted in playing one giant against the other. During the Socialist period (1921-1990), Mongols have seen their culture subjected to harsh political and cultural policies, but on the whole, Mongols argue, it was a positive experience: without Russia, Mongolia would not have been able to retain its independence and would have become part of China.

Today Mongolian identity discourse remains articulated on a notion of resistance. Nationalists are eager to insulate Mongolia (and Mongolian female bodies) from Chinese territorial and biological encroachment, and in the media as well as in discussions, anti-Chinese sentiments are explicit, often violent. However this xenophobic violence also has a centripetal effect on Mongolian society. Because identity discourses are suffused with this idea of resistance against an external enemy, contemporary Mongolianness tends to congeal into a homogenized identity that leaves little space for personal reinterpretations. Internal dissent is socially policed and stifled: the nationalist group Dayar Mongol has for example issued the warning that they would shave off the hair of women having sexual relations with Chinese men.

I argue in this paper that freedom to be ethnic can be far from liberatory for those whose voice is not heard. Many Mongolian women, with a lesser role in defining what Mongolianness is or should be, look beyond the border for professional and emotional opportunities that constitute, in effect, a resistance against resistance.

Imitate to belong? Chilean migrants watching the English

Author: Sandra Lopez-Rocha (Bristol University)


Over the past few decades, Chilean migrants in the UK have become a minority within the Hispanic population of the country. Adapting to living in England, particularly for extended periods of time, meant observing and often adopting some of the nonverbal behaviours of the English. Although Chileans in England have generally managed to maintain their ethnic identity, they have also consciously and unconsciously adopted some of the nonverbal behaviours observed among their hosts, which in turn has aided in the process of intercultural adaptation. In a study on identity and cross-cultural adaptation, Chileans reported observing differences among the English in terms of oculesics (eye contact and movement), haptics (touching behaviour), proxemics (the social use of space; e.g., the distance between people in a conversation), kinesics (gestures, facial expressions), and chronemics (meaning and use of time).

The study reveals that the differences in nonverbal behaviour generally made Chileans more conscious of their own actions, often felt puzzled about what to do, and made them uncomfortable about not 'fitting in.' As a result, learning and imitation became a constant exercise among the migrants where one's identity was continuously contested while adapting to living in a new cultural environment.

Religion, mediation and hospitality in the clinical setting

Author: Wilson Will (Rice University)


The 21st century university teaching hospital in the U.S. is an often bewildering labyrinth of wards, theaters, and halls, demarcated by bold signs, computerized card readers guarding vault-like doors, and strict sartorial requirements. Much of this modern architecture reflects the development of germ theory, yet in the violent inner-city neighborhoods in which many of these medical centers are now located, administrators also justify barriers as vital safeguards against unwelcome individuals. Such seemingly unambiguous differentiations of inside/outside, sterile/infectious, resident/visitor, and giver/receiver present a rigid, even hostile view of the hospital as a place once promoted as a beacon of therapeutic hospitality. Through two years of fieldwork with a small cohort of chaplain trainees, my peers and I moved routinely among multiple types of individuals and situations across these demarcated spaces, connecting with patients and their families, surgeons, nurses, janitors, administrators, and others. Such mobility suggests not strict dichotomies but instead potentially porous social, physical, and epistemological boundaries. Chaplains appear to occupy a highly unique space as both employee (insider) and religious specialist (outsider, by biomedicine's standards), welcoming committee, liaison, escort, and bridge between the sacred and the secular. In this paper, I argue that chaplains, and by extension religion, traverse these divides on a regular basis as social and cultural mediators of various forms of hospitality. I contend that this role reflects important dimensions about power, access, and reciprocity in the medicalization-hospitality dialectic in the U.S. and can likewise add important taxonomic insights to religion-hospitality discussions in social anthropology.