Accepted paper:

Cracks in modernist certainties: the activity of seismic landscapes


Marlene Schäfers (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

Earthquakes literally “activate” landscapes. They are therefore ideal events for exploring the interaction between humans and their nun-human surroundings. Based on fieldwork in Van (Turkey), this paper shows how people’s transformed relation to the urban landscape both mirrors and provides potential for reworking anthropological theory.

Paper long abstract:

If one is on the lookout for "active" landscapes, then seismic landscapes are probably good places to start with. In 2011 the city of Van (Turkey) was hit by two major earthquakes: events that have transformed the way in which Van's residents relate to the urban landscape surrounding them. Amidst hundreds of collapsed houses and cracks that mark the walls of almost every single building, the way people approach buildings has taken on a downright suspicious quality - an attitude, which in fact mirrors theoretical approaches that highlight the active nature of non-human objects. I will approach the activity of seismic landscapes through the world of rumours and conspiracy theories that have been thriving ever since the earthquakes happened. This ethnographic material indicates that the seismic activity of the earth has alienated inhabitants from the urban landscape they previously experienced as largely passive. In a context where urbanization is perceived as development in a modernist sense, the urban space was seen as a passive foil open to human transformation. Yet with the earthquake, this modernist certainty has started to crack. What the ethnographic material shows, however, is that the new suspicion is only directed at certain objects, while others continue to preserve their image as stable and unmoving. It is precisely this selective process of seeing activity in some and passivity in other objects, which indicates the need to theoretically differentiate between degrees of activity and to investigate the mechanisms by which objects are being attributed different natures by our informants.

panel WMW10
Listening landscapes, speaking memories