EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Problems of continuity and change

Location Wills G32
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 16:30


Vered Amit (Concordia University) email
Karen Fog Olwig (University of Copenhagen) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel will seek to examine the problems and contradictions of experiences, concepts and ideals of continuity and change.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists have, historically, experienced considerable difficulty in accounting conceptually and processually for both continuity and change. In an earlier period of the disciplines, development anthropologists treated continuity as the reasonable normal and change as extraordinary and problematic. In more recent years, anthropologists seeking to explain transnational and global processes have embraced notions of transience, mobility, immanence and fluidity and accordingly change has been embraced as the new normal. But neither approach successfully reconciles competing scholarly or populist desires for, and experiences of, change and continuity. Thus, even people experiencing dramatic change, whether forced or voluntary, may still work hard to fashion meaningful elements of continuity through ideas of tradition, heritage, community or family history. Continuity may be developed post hoc through people's narratives of their lives or through ongoing efforts at maintaining the continuity of certain key relationships such as family networks. Or people may rely on particular protocols, organisational structures, roles or other mechanisms to mediate even substantial turnover in personal relationships. At the same time, palpable desires for change are regularly stymied by the enforcement of categorical, territorial, jurisdictional or informal boundaries. Accordingly, even as contemporary anthropologists have appropriated change as their new calling card, they have paradoxically also reiterated the continuing validity of ethnic, national or diasporic categories now asserted as stretching across time and space. This panel will therefore invite papers that seek to examine the problems and contradictions of experiences, concepts and ideals of continuity and change.


Embodied identity across the life course: mobilising continuity and change.

Author: Jenny Hockey (Sheffield University)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper addresses questions to do with experiences of continuity and change across the life course. Concerning itself with the examples of growing up into heterosexual adulthood; ageing; and death ritual, it asks about the resources through which many members of western societies seek to create a sense of themselves as distinctive individuals. It suggests that whilst relatedness is arguably less integral to western identities than is common in other parts of the world, evidence suggests that individuality, autonomy and distinctiveness are characteristics of western concepts of self which are achieved, rather than taken-as-read. What the paper argues is that this process can involve the mobilisation of resources which act to create both continuities and discontinuities within and between individuals' experiences. Drawing on ethnographic data gathered among UK informants, it show, for example, that when questions were asked about the experiences of growing up heterosexual, age cohort comparison proved an important device for individuals framing the specificities of their own experience: 'things were different in my day'; 'things are different for us, now'. However, these data were drawn from interviewing within three-generation families and this wider body of material reveals marked continuities across generations. In terms of individual, rather than familial life history, however, accounts of ageing provided by older adults tend to highlight internal continuities and stand testament to individuals' experiences of themselves as somehow in possession of a stable 'core' which resists the passage of time: 'bits of your body wear out, but inside, the essential me is still the same'. When it comes to death ritual, then, this concern with the integrity and continuity of the individual can be seen to have contribute to a marked late twentieth century trend towards the personalisation of disposal and memorialisation practices. Data drawn from a study of the destinations of the increasing numbers of ashes removed from crematoria for private disposal show informants comparing this new trend with the perceived anonymity of the previous age cohort's modernist cremation services and cemetery design. Interpretation of these data, however, indicates continuities being manifested in re-workings of traditional practices and beliefs. Focussing on the temporalities of human embodiment, then, this paper asks how individuals make sense of themselves as western individuals whose social and embodied lives inevitably involve changes of all kinds.

The transformations and continuities of student travel

Author: Vered Amit (Concordia University)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Both scholarly and popular constructions of travel have often featured an oscillation between on the one hand, an emphasis on the transformative potentials of journeying far from home even for short periods of time and on the other, an assertion of the limitations and superficiality especially of many touristic encounters. A similar ambivalence characterizes the framing of contemporary forms of student travel. Within many 'western' countries, a pervasive institutional discourse of internationalization and globalization increasingly represents even very short stays of university or work exchanges as transformative not only of the travelers themselves but ultimately of the nation-state to which they return. At the same time, students themselves are often more likely to view these journeys as temporary interludes, a form of leisure travel intended to offer temporary relief from everyday routines rather than to transform them. Notwithstanding the gaps between institutional and personal expectations/representations of student travel, the interaction between them appears to be effecting some important changes in contemporary circuits of travel. International co-ops, internships or working holidaymaker visas are blurring the boundaries between work, study and play even as they form new transnational classes of guest workers and tourist consumers. In this paper, I will attempt to probe the ambivalent and frequently ironic interplay between continuity and change in the policies, programs and experiences attending student travel.

The community of Westerners in Varanasi: lifestyle of change, community of continuity

Author: Mari Korpela (University of Tampere)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

There is a community of Westerners in Varanasi, India. These Westerners return to Varanasi year after year but none of them stay there permanently -in between they go to their home countries to earn money. Change is an essential part of their transnational lifestyle, yet, while in Varanasi, these people form a community where they maintain fixed practices and standard ways of thinking and behaviour. The practices of the community in Varanasi clearly represent continuity although the community itself is fluid and temporary. In my paper, I discuss the manifestations and contradictions of change and continuity in the life of this community. I argue that these people cling to permanent practices and continuity -even stagnation- while in Varanasi precisely because their lifestyle is so fluid and mobile.

Keeping things in place: some perspectives on movement and stasis

Author: Marit Melhuus (University of Oslo)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

In a world characterised by a heightened sense of mobility and change, the making of meaningful relations takes on new significance. This paper examines on the one hand, some of the efforts people make to forge connections that enable a sense of certainty, stability or belonging. In that direction the focus is on phenomena that take on the semblance of being fixed, certain or true; phenomena which tend to essentialise origins and notions of belonging and identity. On the other hand, the paper examines anthropologists' efforts to come to grips with these processes. The attention then is on the conceptualization of the relationship between continuity and change. This relationship can be perceived as one between fixity and flow, movmement and stasis. This relation is mutually constituted, the challenge being to understand how. This paper works from the assumption that mobility presumes some structure of immobility.

Creeping changes and careful observation: the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and its competing public interests

Author: Jonathan Skinner (University of Roehampton)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper looks at the public workings of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory on the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat in the Eastern Caribbean. For nearly ten years now, the scientists at the Observatory have been observing, recording and publicizing the tectonic developments on the island. One of the MVO's main policies has been to disseminate information about the volcano to British and Montserrat governments, the lay public on the island, school children living beneath the volcano and, most recently, 'volcano tourists'

The MVO has thus had to cope with competing interests ranging from a local population seeking stasis in a slow-changing and creeping disaster situation, and development officials wanting fixed projections and forecasts as to the nature of the active volcano (aptly named Mount Chance), to tourists wanting an intimate tour of a risky, exciting, dangerous, fast-paced and sublime natural disaster of pyroclastic mudflows, sudden eruptions, mass evacuations and the possibility of imminent smoldering death.

The MVO serves its public very well. It recently successfully moved into a state-of-the-art Observatory overlooking the volcano (previously, the Observatory was behind a hill next to the volcano) with panoramic viewing stations for scientists and the visiting public. By examining the history of the MVO, its pronouncements and their reception, the tours taken of the Observatory by tourists, and scientific briefings and public talks given on Montserrat and in the UK, I show how continuity is achieved in the context of crisis and change. This continuity, however, is a 'continuity' contrived by way of creep, a continuity of organizational homeostasis, and a continuity sought from the scientists by a public living with - or visiting - uncertainty.

Internet and the change of what? Complexities and flexibilities among teleworkers in a Danish village

Author: Jens Kjaerulff (Aalborg University)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Internet and 'information technologies' more widely (IT for short) have come to inspire a wealth of imagining and research in terms change. Recent approaches have down-scaled from the revolutionary mindset of the 1990's, raised issues of context, and questioned notions of virtuality and related epithetic neologisms (e.g. in terms of e- and cyber-). But basic ontological premises and epistemological issues entailed in approaching matters of change still only receive superficial attention. The aim of this paper is to afford these dimensions of studying change in contexts of IT engagement more explicit and sustained analytical and empirical attention.

The paper presents material from 16 months of anthropological fieldwork among people who variously work from their homes in a Danish country-side village by aid of an internet connection, a practice commonly known as 'telework'. It suggests that the kinds of complexities and concomitant incongruences and uncertainties experienced among people here, which foster practices of telework, are features of social practice more widely. The paper argues that such lived complexities in their own right remain a challenge to thinking about cultural reproduction and change that must be confronted in order to move empirical research and analytical thought about IT and change forward.

The paper suggests that flexibilities as practiced among teleworkers may be seen as variants of 'flexibilities' practiced more widely in the course of living complex lives. While the notion of flexibility is a recent fashion (e.g. expounded by the sociologist Richard Sennett), earlier anthropologies focused on (e.g.) conflict and change find ressonance with the suggested wider analytical application of the concept. The paper argues that what has changed for teleworkers in the first instance is the means available for practicing flexibility in this expanded sense. In the course of such practices, culture may change incrementally, as an integral feature to unfolding cultural process. ITs are novel and symbolically potent means, but neither cultural complexity nor change, nor practices of flexibility per se, are exceptional or new. In the context of telework this perspective may explain why this practice of work should be so readily embraced (and also rejected again) in the shape of INFORMAL practices - an empirical fact which has largely escaped analysts of telework, and 'flexible work' more widely.

Paradoxes of continuity and change: Cuba's children of the revolution

Author: Mette Louise Berg (University College London)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

After turning to socialism in 1961, an important policy aim of Cuba's revolutionary government became to create - in Ernesto Che Guevara's words - a 'New Man' who would be 'untainted' by the 'original sin of capitalism'. The generation who were born and grew up under the revolutionary government consequently benefited from investments in education, healthcare and culture. These children of the revolution attended selective schools and many went on to further studies in European socialist countries. Theirs was a world of socialist cosmopolitanism, which nonetheless simultaneously was infused with commitment to a national, territorially-based political project: an independent socialist Cuba.

After the breakdown of European socialism in 1989 and the subsequent severe economic and political crisis in Cuba, many of these New Men and New Women, now intellectuals, writers and artists, decided to leave the island nation in favour of residence in Spain, the former colonial power. Some have been branded as 'traitors' by the government and even by their own families. In response, many have embraced cosmopolitan and postmodern discourses of identity. They are a generation caught in paradoxes of continuity and change: largely loyal to the original aims of social equality of the revolution, they nonetheless find it impossible and stifling to live in Cuba in the current political and cultural environment; forsaking nationalism and having been excluded from the territory-based national project on the island, in diaspora they are often foremost identified as Cubans and expected to perform as such. This generation of Cubans are thus caught in multi-layered paradoxes of continuity, change and disjuncture (between here and there; then and now; belonging and not-belonging). This predicament is particularly poignant given the current romance of Cuba in Spain in which imperialist nostalgia mixes with capitalist expediency to produce representations of Cuba as the lost and beloved colony fixed in time, newly available again through sexual and economic conquest by Spanish tourists and companies.

This paper explores how some of the children of the revolution who are now living in Madrid and Barcelona negotiate this predicament. While theirs is to some degree an instance of actually existing cosmopolitanism, it is fraught with the difficulty of avoiding the national slot. The paper explores in particular the gendered aspects of cosmopolitanism, and the tension between cosmopolitan discourses and day-to-day diasporic living in which the national keeps popping up.

Continuity and change in a Caribbean migrants' network

Author: Karen Fog Olwig (University of Copenhagen)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

In migration research, continuity and change are often conceptualized in terms of degrees of adaptation, or assimilation, to the society of a migration destination. The rationale is that migrants, who move into ethnic communities of their own kind, attend this community's churches and marry people within the community, are seen to maintain their traditional native culture, and hence resist change, whereas those, who do not live in ethnic communities, who attend their own churches and intermarry with people in the host society, are seen to undergo the greatest change. Drawing on research within and outside the Caribbean, I shall here argue that this understanding of migration processes is based on the misconception that people, naturally, belong in communities of co-ethnics. Research has shown that an important aspect of Caribbean social relations is the building of expanding and inclusive networks of ties to different categories of people, which opens up for a variety of social, economic and cultural opportunities. If migrants develop relations with an array of people in a receiving society this can therefore be seen to constitute a continuation of, rather than a change in, Caribbean social practice. Such wide-ranging networks of relations tend not to be examined in migration research, because it usually focuses on immigrant, diasporic or transnational communities of Caribbean origin. This points to the need to examine notions of continuity and change in relation to the nature of social processes among particular migrants and the sociocultural contexts of life that they delineate. It further calls for a reconsideration of the meaning of diasporas and transnational communities.

A matter of practice: change and continuity in the lives of Iraqi women in Copenhagen

Author: Marianne Holm Pedersen (Danish Folklore Archives at the Royal Danish Library)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Anthropological literature on migration frequently discusses change and continuity in migrants' notions of identity and belonging. On the one hand, studies show how migrants maintain relationships and identities connected with a place of origin, and on the other hand research has explored how migrants' identities are constructed or re-constructed within a new immigrant setting. However, studies tend to focus on collective identities and abstract notions of belonging created in relation to e.g. homelands, diasporas, or religious communities. It thus seems relevant to look more closely at how notions of identity and belonging are constructed and challenged in the more concrete experiences of everyday life within a particular context.

This paper discusses how Iraqi women's inclusion in and exclusion from Danish society take place in and through practise. For urban Shi'a Muslim Iraqi women in Copenhagen, their migration to Denmark has resulted in simultaneous experiences of change and continuity. Many find that their positions in society have changed, and they cannot access the middle class status they previously had. Likewise, they live within a different cultural context and they experience how practices, identities and notions of belonging continually change. At the same time, the women generally try to create or maintain a sense of continuity. They engage in the construction of an Iraqi Shi'a community in which to celebrate particular rituals and traditions, they try to pass certain traditions on to their children, and they maintain ties with relatives in their country of origin. Against this background, the paper explores how Iraqi women's notions of belonging to different places interrelate with change and continuity in practice. Processes of inclusion and exclusion take place in the negotiation of practice within the different social arenas of the women's everyday lives.

‘Stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it’: modernity, self-simultaneity and the ‘end of all things'

Author: Huon Wardle (St. Andrews University)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Modernity as the throwing back of people on their own contingency—their self-simultaneity—has classically created an alter—those who are pre-modern. Change affects the pre-moderns as they move inexorably to becoming modern at which point they enter modernity’s present-orientation. Awareness of the massive movement of people in space has radically interrupted the political-geographic basis for this way of thinking about time and change (for Euro-American academics at least). The pre-modern/modern teleology has broken down and with it the model of social transformation underlying it (according to Latour we have all become non-moderns). This paper takes an ethnographic approach to this problem through an analysis of certain cultural features of life in Kingston, Jamaica (a site of modernity) where urbanites use the image of apocalypse, an ‘end of all things’, to collapse space-time and thereby reintegrate self and entropic social relationships. I use this ethnography to explore expectations concerning self and society that lie at the heart of our current concern with social change.

'Tradition in disguise': struggles over continuity and change in urban Tanzania

Author: Hansjörg Dilger (Freie Universität Berlin)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Neo-Pentecostalism in sub-Saharan Africa often takes an ambiguous stance towards the past. Thus in urban Tanzania, as elsewhere in Africa, followers of Neo-Pentecostal churches emphasize that through salvation they made a "break" with their individual and collective histories; correspondingly, they denounce traditional and ritual practices associated with ethnicity and rural kinship networks as "backward" and "superstitious." At the same time, however, Neo-Pentecostal churches in urban Tanzania are - often implicitly only - embracing the past by making it an integral part of their spiritual and moral worlds. This becomes most obvious in the field of healing where supernatural forces that are rooted in possession cults of the Swahili coast have become acknowledged elements of the field of evil powers against which church members are struggling in their everyday lives.

In this paper, I will draw on my fieldwork in the Full Gospel Bible Fellowship Church in Dar es Salaam and show that the church's stance towards the past and the presence is embedded in the wider histories of (Neo-)Pentecostalism and healing in Eastern Africa, as well as in struggles over continuity and change in urban Tanzania. I will argue that perceptions and practices prevailing in the FGBFC cannot be understood by reference to simplistic oppositions like tradition/modernity, religion/science or rural/urban - but are embedded in historical and moral ruptures and continuities which lead to a seemingly paradoxical negotiation of "the past" and "the presence" through Neo-Pentecostal churches in Dar es Salaam.