EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Moral journeys: manifestations of certainty and uncertainty across Europe

Location Wills 3.23
Date and Start Time 21 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Adam Drazin (University College London) email
Sabina Stan (Dublin City University) email
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Short Abstract

A quest for moral certainty is pre-figured in many conceptions about sociality. Ethnographies of change reveal the ways in which certainty is confronted among East Europeans living across Europe.

Long Abstract

Anthropology has a long tradition of close-quarter scrutiny of the ways in which certainty and uncertainty are constructed and dealt with in social life. Studies of magic, luck and the social reproduction of meaning have always formed routes to explore how it is possible to grasp and manipulate degrees of certainty within a moral foundation. Dealing with certainty and uncertainty is an embedded and politicised affair, not necessarily an inevitable Durkheimian quest for certainty. As anthropology has moved from the exotic to the everyday, representations of desired future states (Rowlands 1994, p149) are recognised in multiple arenas of social life. In the home, on the gendered body, in economic practices and the socio-political grand narratives of Europe, certainty and uncertainty are conceived, manifested and negotiated. The European arena currently offers the particular possibility to investigate the issue in multiple forms, combining Europe as uncertain project with notions of living after. The words used to describe sociality in the region have implied uncertainty, without challenging the pre-figuration of certainty as the aim of social action. This workshop contends that areas of social life from the region as diverse as farming practice, the home, labour and sexuality, hitherto considered separately, conjointly present possibilities to ethnographically scrutinise certainty. The multi-sitedness of Eastern European life, from Bucharest to Dublin, proposes one main dimension of this experience, and the decision to migrate West is a major strategy to address the problematics of certainty in diverse social domains. Farm owners move West as farm labourers, home owners become domestic helpers, and gender identities are negotiated in movement, in each case challenging constructions of the pre-existence of social certainty as the aim.

Chair: Adam Drazin
Discussant: Filippo Zerilli (University of Cagliari) zerilli@unica.it


Neither commodities nor gifts: informal dealings and uncertainty in the Romanian health care services

Author: Sabina Stan (Dublin City University)  email
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Long Abstract

In the Romanian health care system, juggling with uncertainty is used by both the patients and health care personnel to ascertain social standing. Uncertainty is at the heart of the dealings between them as informal payments for treatment are deliberately kept in between the statuses of gifts and commodities.

Tunnelling and transformation: representing certainty and uncertainty in Post-socialist change

Author: James Quin (National University of Ireland)  email
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Long Abstract

Based on fieldwork in Slovakia in recent years, this paper applies queer theoretical perspectives to an examination of representations of certainty and uncertainty as part of postsocialist change. The paper examines the development of metaphors drawn from railway trains and tunnels, and their 'actualisation' during a railway strike in Slovakia in 2003, as one representation, but also looks at representations of almost magical transformation, in which, for instance, the dissident overnight becomes president. This paper goes on to examine the way in which such representations can be extended into contemporary reflections concerning an expanding Europe. Thus these representations can be seen as reflecting concerns with issues like hard and soft borders, flexibility, new ideas about the body, and about the uses of identity in contemporary Europe.

Census and sensibilities in Sarajevo: but what are you really?

Author: Fran Markowitz (Ben Gurion University)  email
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Long Abstract

Critically interrogating its "facts", this ethnography of Bosnia's first postwar census examines how state-simplified population categories and the more complex, experientially based understandings of ethnically marked and marking actors are dialectically locked in an ongoing struggle. The 2002 census results make a strong demographic case in favor of the 1995 decisions taken in Dayton to split Bosnia into two not-quite equal territorial entities (the Federation, 51% and the Serbian Republic, 49%) and three incommensurable constituent nations. It also confirms social scientists' findings that ethnic segregation now characterizes regions that were once multi-ethnic and multi-confessional. But its major features, in particular the reduction of ethnicity choices to three named categories from 21, and its refusal to recognize multiple belongings or hybrid identities demand analysis as new interpretations of uncertain belongings that have been shaped into certain statistical results. Following Aihwa Ong's (1996:738) designation of cultural citizenship as "a dual process of self-making and being made by the state," fieldwork data from Sarajevo in 2002 and 2004 show that alongside the new state-mandated trinational scheme, citizens are also enacting a hybrid Bosnia and challenging the certainty of that scheme. In focusing on the question, "But what are you really?" the paper claims that in its attempt to simplify and keep at peace what had been a mixed (-up), uncertain population, the census and its sensibilities appear more as a contested arena of new knowledge production than a transparent demographic measure of the "authentic" ethnic groups that are declared as the constituent nations of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A day at the park? The migrant domestic workers in Turkey on their days off

Author: Ayse Akalin (Istanbul Technical University)  email
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Long Abstract

Since the second half of the 1990's, Turkey has started receiving irregular migration of women from various former socialist countries. Women from Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Georgia and Bulgaria as well as Central Asian states have been migrating to Turkey to work in the domestic labor sector. Migrant domestics in Turkey work mostly as live-in caregivers for children and the elderly. Their contract usually allows them to take a day off every week which is not only when they get together with their friends and relatives but also when they can act like themselves again as opposed to performing the persona of the (docile, submissive or maternal, among others) domestic worker at work. This difference between the way they are on work days and on their days off is crucial since domestic work is one of the few professions in which it is the personality of the workers that becomes the very commodity that is bought and exchanged. This paper is going to talk about the meaning of taking a full day off in a profession that is formed by the identity of migrancy and the availability of live-in labor. Is "the day off" a rupture in the life at home where these workers live and work or is it in fact an aspect that prolongs the constituting elements of the market? How do employers and migrants themselves perceive and position "the day off" in their lives? What role does it play in the structuring of the migrant domestic workers market overall?

Negotiating uncertainty: home-making among Irish-Romanians in Dublin

Author: Adam Drazin (University College London)  email
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Long Abstract

Anthropological approaches to certainty lie at the intersection of internalised personal intentionality and the authority of official representations of the social future. This paper investigates the ways people in a particularly pertinent situation of uncertainty deploy material objects and spoken words to manifest intentions and directionality about their domestic futures. In recent years, a large number of people have moved from different parts of Romania to Ireland. Although their backgrounds differ immensely, in many cases, their declared reason has been to establish a physical home for making a family, either in Romania or in Ireland. The pluralistic project of home-making however (as thing or place and as people or family) is strongly interlinked when in Ireland with official documentation, with local notions of who is Irish and who is not, and with worlds of work. Material consumption (saving money, buying goods, or sending goods to Romania) becomes an unexpectedly highly politicised and visible arena, and too overt verbal statements about oneself can also become problematic. It is suggested that this group, moving from an experience of what was a post-socialist society to a country sometimes heralded as the economic future of Europe, can be taken as particularly pertinent example of European social conditions today, and of how certainty and uncertainty is negotiated.