EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(IW007)

Desire and the ethnography of economic and political change

Location Theatre S1
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Holly High (Sydney University) email
Henrietta L. Moore (University College London) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The aim of the panel is to rethink theoretical and empirical approaches to the analysis of desire. In particular, we invite contributions that bring together explicit theorizations of desire with empirical accounts of political and economic change. By bringing these into dialogue with one another, we aim to provide a critical perspective on both.

Long Abstract

The conference theme points to the anxieties that have met many contemporary economic and political changes. Yet uncertainty, disquiet and anxiety are arguably only secondary to that more basic element of human politics and economy: desire. For instance, crises of debt, spending cuts carried out in their name and the social movements that have challenged these, have pulled on uncertainties and disquiet about the future. But they have also significantly, perhaps primarily, found formation through the fantasies born of desire. Likewise, the expansion of modern markets and states into formerly peripheral places, and the knitting together of diverse regions via intensified resource exploration, have been discussed most often in terms of either incorporation or resistance among peripheral peoples. Yet ethnographic accounts of these peoples have demonstrated that there are local configurations of desire for (among other things) states, markets and imagined riches which are neither simply ideology nor dominant transcripts: local desires for political and economic engagement appear to be cultural in ways that require theoretical critique and empirical investigation. The starting point, we suggest, should be an explicit theorization of such desires in relation to political and economic change. The aim is to bring desire into conversations where it has hitherto played little role and make its implications explicit in those conversations where it has, too often, played merely the role of a poetic word for "want". We understand desire in terms a re-reading of psychoanalysis that insists on sensitivity to the way cultures slip and slide differently around the question of desire, and its impossibility (Moore 2007:183). We also welcome papers that deploy desire based on critical readings of Deleuze, Foucault and others.

Discussant: Yannis Stavrakakis, Henrietta Moore

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Desire in the ethnography of Southeast Asia

Author: Holly High (Sydney University)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

In this paper I use my own changing analysis of the desires that I encountered in the south of Laos to consider some of the potentials and pitfalls of desire as an analytic concept for ethnographers, concluding with some recent thinking on the intersection between anthropology and psychoanalysis.

Long Abstract

The ethnography of Southeast Asia has recently featured debates about the growth of states and the encroachments of "markets". In this debate, thick ethnographic accounts of local desire for (among other things) states and markets have been a reliable source of complications to any simple narrative of hegemony and resistance. However, desire has typically remained an implicit commitment or taking off point rather than a subject of explicit theorization. In this paper I use my own changing analysis of the desires that I encountered in the south of Laos to consider some of the potentials and pitfalls of desire as an analytic concept for ethnographers, concluding with some recent thinking on the intersection between anthropology and psychoanalysis.

Desire and discipline in neoliberal Ghana

Author: Jennifer Hasty (University of Pennsylvania)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

Examining corruption and anticorruption in Ghana over the past two decades, this paper seeks to understand the role of desire in constituting capitalism and the state in Africa and beyond.

Long Abstract

Examining corruption and anticorruption in neoliberal Ghana, this paper seeks to understand the role of desire in constituting capitalism and the state in Africa and beyond. Neoliberal transformations in have unleashed new waves of desire: for commodities and media, for freedom and social justice. While championing the liberating forces of desire in economic and political realms, neoliberal discourses from global institutions tend to banish and demonize desire in the realm of the state. In the name of efficiency, democracy, and anti-corruption, the state is subject to new rigors of discipline and abnegation.

Traditional approaches conceptualize desire as libidinal motivation in the direction of a missing object. Desire is a longing for a certain state of completion or plenitude. This definition holds well with the naturalization of capitalism as the economic manifestation of the human psyche: (neurotic) subjects naturally long for commodities (as substitutes or sublimations) and organically generate the social realm in their pursuit of them. This model of desire sees the state as an external regulatory institution, a neutral referee enforcing the humanitarian rules of the game. Thus, the functional state must be free from desire. Desire acts as a contaminant in the state, manifesting itself in the pathologies of corruption, tyranny, and violence.

Informed by precolonial and colonial history, this paper aims to show how a completely different conceptualization of desire infuses realms of the market and the state in Ghana--one that places social and communal desire at the heart of the state.

Desire in the understanding of 'land grabs' in Zambia

Author: Jessica Chu (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

At the sites of 'land grabs' in Zambia, two emotions are manifested: the desire for economic growth and the fear of food insecurity. Yet, these emotions serve to both propagate and confront 'land grabs'. In what ways are 'land grabs' the products of desires rather than of economic logic?

Long Abstract

In a world of plenty, there remains continued desire for economic growth and food security. Current global uncertainty over food supplies has resulted in some acting on their desires through the acquisition of land. The growing movement of 'land grabs', in which developed countries seek to secure food supplies through investment in foreign land acquisitions, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, others argue that 'land grabs' pose great critical threats to local livelihoods and human rights.

However, the real product of this debate has been the creation of intangible, impermanent spaces, characterised by uncertainty and disquiet. Few facts and little fieldwork-based evidence has been employed. Within the sites of 'land grabs', complex webs of competing and contested desires exist, that surpass their economic logic. A spectrum of actors, including local and national governments, NGOs, and local populations all exhibit desires for economic development and food security, through a number of different means, but to several different ends.

Have acts of desire propagated 'land grabs'? Whose desires predominate and whose are lost or unheard and what does it mean that these contests occur? Can these desires be reconciled into a 'win-win' solution or must they be mutually exclusive? How does the acknowledgement of the interaction of desires contribute to moving the 'land grabs' debate forward? An analysis of the web of desires could contribute to our overall understanding of the role of desire in the creation of and hindrance to economic development.

Envy, desire, and economic engagement among the Bugkalot Iilongot of Northern Luzon, Philippines

Author: Shu-Yuan Yang (Academia Sinica)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This article aims to understand the role played by indigenous idioms of envy and desire in the Bugkalot's engagement with capitalism, and how envy and desire drive the formulation of a certain kind of personhood and agency

Long Abstract

The development of capitalism in the Bugkalot area is closely linked with the entry of Igorot, Ifugao and Ilocano settlers. Settlers claim that they have played a centrally important role in developing and "uplifting" the Bugkalot, and that before their arrival the Bugkalot were uncivilized and didn't know how to plant (irrigated) rice and cash crops. However, the Bugkalot do not see the settlers as the agent of civilization, and deny that they are at the receiving end of the settlers' tutelage. Rather, they perceive the obtainment of new knowledge and technology as an emotional process initiated by themselves. Envy (apet, apeġ) and desire (ġamak) are identified by the Bugkalot as the driving force behind their pursuit of capitalist economy, and they are closely linked with local discourses of economic success and failure. While the continuing significance of emotional idioms is conducive to the reproduction of traditional concept of personhood, in the Bugkalot's responses to capitalism a new notion of self also emerges. This article aims to explore how different notions of personhood are intertwined with the local ideas of kinship and economic rationality/irrationality to form a culturally specific form of modernity.

The cost of other desires: the political economy of visibility and LGBT activism in Istanbul

Author: Eirini Avramopoulou (ICI Berlin)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

In this paper, I propose to explore the relation between the demand for legal recognition and the desire for visibility as negotiated and claimed by different LGBT activists in Istanbul while facing the effects of prohibitions, exclusions and displacement.

Long Abstract

She held a microphone in one of her hands while using the other to slowly unbutton and unzip her trousers. Placing her hand between her thighs, she started moving her body bit by bit while breathing slowly in a gradual rhythm that promised climax. Her masculine auto-erotic movements and the low lighting in the room made confusion more visible in the eyes of the audience. Some reacted in shock, others felt moved while gradually and repetitively the movement culminated in sexual peak and in the performance's end.

Ana Hoffner's transgendered (FTM) performance took place in Istanbul during the 16th Pride Week of 2008 while accusations of harming the morality of Turkish society and family structure aimed at the closure of the LGBT organization Lambda and when Pride Week was being marked by police's sovereign presence and by the recent death of several transsexual people.

In this paper, I will analyse the reactions to this performance and ask: under which kinds of bodies, sexualities and genders can one enter the sphere of public visibility and demand recognition by the law? What is the cost of making visible certain other desires? I am interested in exploring desire within the 'political economy' of visibility that I define both in terms of the effects of neoliberal processes of commodification affecting identity claims and gender performances and also as a psychic process affected by the cultural and legal regulations working to discipline bodies and legitimise civic and social policing of genders, sexualities, pleasures and satisfactions.

Desire and the front row: Icelandic identity in the light of the economic collapse

Author: Kristín Loftsdóttir (University of Iceland)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on how desire is a key component in understanding the events leading to the economic collapse in Iceland. This relates especially to Icelandic historical anxieties of being misrecognized by other Europeans and the desire to be seen as modern.

Long Abstract

One of the leaders of the Icelandic nationalistic movement stated in the beginning of the 20th century that Iceland will eventually be recognized as belonging in the 'front row of nations.' Iceland was then a Danish dependency attempting to gain independence, in addition to having a history of being presented in Europe as semi-savage. His comment expresses a deep desire for Iceland to be recognized by other European nations. In my paper, I position this desire of recognition as one of the key components in understanding the economic collapse in Iceland in 2008 and the extensive public support that the economic adventure had until the fall. The Icelandic economic collapse was unprecedented in history; multiplying the State's foreign debt, in addition to enormous losses of individuals and foreign creditors. Wider crisis of market capitalism at the time constituted an important factor, but the intensive destructiveness of the crash was primarily the result of internal factors.

In this paper, I focus on how this desire of recognition can be seen as having being revitalized within the economic boom period, discourses from that time reflecting the significance placed on 'finally' showing other nations the importance of Icelanders internationally. My discussion thus emphasizes the importance of linking economic dynamics to notions of national identity and desire, and how the economics are embedded in cultural and historical discourses of belonging. Furthermore, Icelandic identity and desire is placed within a global and historical imagination of civilizations and modernity.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.