Accepted paper:

Magic at the Margins


Carolina Holgersson Ivarsson (School of Global Studies)

Paper short abstract:

This contribution seek to examine magical action in relation to radical uncertainty and restricted agency in a (post)disaster context.

Paper long abstract:

This contribution presents ethnographic material examining the radical uncertainty and disquiet that followed the wake of the tsunami in Sri Lanka 2004. The disaster was a critical event that in a matter of minutes shattered lives and everything familiar. Besides survival and covering basic needs social, moral and existential anxieties and dilemmas called for solutions. I propose that affected people with limited means of influencing their dire situation in the protracted reconstruction phase resorted to magical action in order to transform experiences of random disorderliness, hopelessness and vulnerability into some amount of predictability, control and meaning. Failures to balance the distribution of aid feed into a pre-existing atmosphere of distrust, in the state, local authorities, monks and aid organisations; it spawned jealousy and faded hopes. Practices of manipulating luck became an important arena of hope (even if it in some ways also produced uncertainty). People drew from a rich repertoire of local beliefs and rituals to explain and divert misfortune and create prosperity and good luck. The focus in this particular paper will be to explore a proposed uncertainty-restricted agency-magical action 'link'. But I also want to make clear that magical action is a supplement to practical activity, not a substitute for it (Michel Jackson 2005), and a largely mundane and rational pursuit. In this case it is employed to deal with an aggravated sense of anxiety springing from the experience of loss of control and difficulty to grasp a floating social and moral landscape.

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Occult economies in Asia: malevolent magic and supernatural aggressions