EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

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

(IW001)

Grappling with uncertainties: ethnographies of the imagination

Location Theatre S3
Date and Start Time 13 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Vlad Naumescu (Central European University) email
Ramon Sarró (University of Oxford) email
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Short Abstract

From dreams to inspiration or prophecy, people use their imagination to anticipate the unexpected, attend to their anxieties and plan the future. This panel invites ethnographies of the imagination that consider its psychological underpinnings while attending to its social and material formations.

Long Abstract

Recent years have witnessed a rediscovery of the imagination in social sciences with an emphasis on social imagination as a capacity of societies to conceive of themselves, a shared horizon of meanings and moral norms. This attempt to account for imagined communities and shared meanings in terms of social/moral/political imagination stretched the concept far from its cognitive and material underpinnings. In parallel, developmental psychologists started to reclaim imagination as a fundamental process in human ontogeny, a concrete cognitive capacity involved in almost everything from basic perception to inferential mechanisms and the conception of alternative possibilities. The two approaches seem hardly reconcilable, basically reinforcing the collectivist vs. mentalist perspectives on imagination. And yet to understand imagination one has to acknowledge the interplay of cognitive and cultural processes in its formation and its embeddedness in specific socio-cultural contexts. This pressing challenge demands a new working framework sufficiently broad in scope and method to transcend this conceptual and empirical divide. How can one move from specialized cognitive processes to human individuation and lived social reality? What are the social and material forms through which imaginative capacities are trained and effected, thus making imagination ethnographically available? Can imagination account for individual agency and creativity within broader socio-historical and developmental processes? We invite participants to reflect on these issues in their ethnographies, examining the work of the imagination in the ways people explore different temporalities, consider various scenarios, handle uncertainties and contemplate the impossible.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Dreaming, surrealism and financial crisis

Author: Charles Stewart (University College London)  email
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Short Abstract

At times of crisis the path to the future may be closed and it becomes the task of the imagination to think beyond the present. In the teeth of the Great Depression, mountain villagers on the Greek island of Naxos began to dream that they would discover a buried icon of St. Anne which would signal a new prosperity. These dreams thought against constricting realities in a mode of surrealism, which allowed the present to be seen in a new way and lived through with dignity.

Long Abstract

The village of Kóronos in mountain Naxos thrived on the industry of emery mining in the early twentieth century. At the apex of productivity in the 1920s the Greek government installed an expensive aerial transport system to convey the stone from the mountains to port. No sooner was this complete than a global economic crisis greatly reduced Greek emery exportation. Throughout 1930, as the reality of the Great Depression became more incontestable, a group of 13-year-old children began to dream that an icon of St. Anne would be unearthed. They wrote their dreams in school exercise books and read them to the assembled village on a daily basis. As the date of the prophesied discovery approached, opinions in the village divided. Emery miners had to decide whether to keep working their mines for immediate, but small economic gain, or dig for the icon in hopes of a windfall of profit and grace. According to the dreams, which meshed with a general 'myth-dream' circulating in the village, the discovery of the icon would be the sign that emery would again be shipped in large quantities and become more profitable than ever. Buried treasures throughout the island would also be unearthed and the discovery site would become an international centre attracting pilgrims who would bring money into the district. In this paper I analyse these dreams as sensitive responses to the existential realities of the present, which imagine a better future and refer to past experiences to script this future

'...and did it my way': religious idiosyncrasy and imagination in the multiple ritual landscapes of Cuba

Author: Anastasios Panagiotopoulos (CRIA-Universidade Nova de Lisboa)  email
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Short Abstract

In Cuba one might often hear the expression: 'I am religious, but in my own way'. This reveals that for many Cubans religiosity is mediated by a high degree of imagination; one, though, that is welcomed and does not necessarily go against to something more 'authentic' and efficacious.

Long Abstract

Historically, Cuba has been a place where different religious traditions have not only come to coexist, but also organically blend together and become meaningful to many Cubans. Furthermore, and although an ex-Spanish colony, Cuba has never developed a highly institutionalized religion that would completely dominate peoples' religious behaviour; this has been accentuated with the 1959 Revolution. Ethnographically, one might often hear the expression: 'I am religious, but in my own way'. This paper wishes to give some ethnographic depth to such an expression and elaborate on its implications to an understanding of imagination not as a by-product of how 'things' are represented or constructed out of nothing. Rather, by offering ethnographic descriptions of the Cuban case, I wish to argue that religious imagination can be inherent to and, thus, product of the very 'things' and entities that are perceived to inhabit the world. More specifically, I describe a context where many of life's aspects are hidden and brought into surface by a kind of divination, that is, communication with other-than-human entities. The latter are, thus, often part and parcel of what can be perceived, intuited or imagined, that otherwise would be impossible. Many of my Cuban friends, in their own various ways, insisted that imagination was needed for such communication to flourish. Conversely, imagination would increase as the communication did. Rather, then, than pitching imagination against reality, the ethnographic context I present portrays or imagines, if you like, a picture where the one is constituent of the other.

Ethnographies croisées de dispositifs d'enchantement

Author: Arnaud Halloy (University of Nice Sophia Antipolis)  email
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Short Abstract

Dans ce papier, nous cherchons à décrire le plus petit commun dénominateur à différentes expériences d'enchantement, ainsi qu’aux dispositifs par lesquels elles peuvent avoir lieu.

Long Abstract

Que peuvent bien avoir en commun la statue d'un Bouddha, les divinités d'un culte de possession, les dauphins « télépathes » rencontrés en mer, la Vierge des « voyants » de Medjugorge, les robots humanoïdes tout droit sortis des laboratoires japonais ? Toutes ces créatures (et bien d'autres encore) sont à même de procurer chez ceux qui interagissent avec elles une expérience d'enchantement. Dans ce papier, nous cherchons à décrire le plus petit commun dénominateur à ces différentes expériences, ainsi qu'aux dispositifs par lesquels elles peuvent avoir lieu.

L'expérience d'enchantement telle que nous l'entendons se caractériserait par trois propriétés : une suspension de l'expérience ordinaire du monde et des expériences corporelles inhabituelles, d'où un sentiment d'étrangeté, et l'ouverture vers un champ évocatoire riche et paradoxal. Un dispositif d'enchantement tel que nous l'entendons consiste en un espace aménagé de saillances perceptuelles au sein duquel s'élaborent un imaginaire et des dispositions propres à l'expérience d'enchantement.

Possession, mediation and imagination in an Angolan prophetic movement

Author: Ruy Blanes (CSIC)  email
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Short Abstract

In this paper I propose to debate the relationships between prophetic imagination and historical acknowledgement or production of certainty, taking as example the case of an Angolan Christian movement known as the Tokoist Church.

Long Abstract

In this paper I propose to debate the relationships between prophetic imagination and historical acknowledgement or production of certainty. Taking as example the case of an Angolan Christian movement known as the Tokoist Church, I describe the prophetic work performed within the church as an expression of religious imagination produced through acts of bodily possession and mediation (known as 'inhabitation'), and affecting notions of individuality, charisma and power. I will argue that Tokoist ideologies of history are produced through these acts of spiritual mediation and prophetic imagination, which in turn simultaneously provoke unstable notions of spiritual authority and orthodoxy. This social placement of imagination thus reveals an idea of bodily agency that removes it from the merely mental sphere.

Professionalizing the muse: the cultural production of poetic imagination in creative writing workshops

Author: Eitan Wilf (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)  email
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Short Abstract

Uncertainty has been part and parcel of notions of poetic imagination and inspiration in the West. This paper explores the ways in which rational means of overcoming the uncertainty of poetic imagination are inculcated in creative writing workshops in Israel.

Long Abstract

Uncertainty has been part and parcel of notions of poetic imagination and inspiration in the West. Indeed, poetic imagination and inspiration have acquired much of their value precisely from their presumed scarcity, precariousness, and mercurial nature. This paper explores the ways in which rational means of overcoming the uncertainty of poetic imagination are inculcated in creative writing workshops in Israel. In other words, it theorizes the rationalization of poetic imagination and inspiration in a concrete ethnographic setting. Focusing on the rational methods of generating poetic imagination inculcated in the workshops and situating these methods within the broader cultural framework of professionalization and rationalization, the paper theorizes imagination both in its concrete material underpinnings and broader cultural dimensions and thus proposes a way in which these micro/macro research orientations to the study of imagination can be reconciled.

God's graffiti: prophetic writings and politico-religious imagination in postcolonial Gabon

Author: Julien Bonhomme (Ecole normale supérieure)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper deals with odd graffiti covering the walls of Libreville. Their writer is a self-proclaimed prophet who claims to perform the Creation through his writings. His extravagant personal mythology resorts to a political and religious imagination which finds many echoes in postcolonial Gabon.

Long Abstract

This paper deals with odd graffiti covering the public walls of Libreville in Gabon. Their writer, André Ondo Mba, is an eccentric character, a self-proclaimed prophet who claims to perform the divine creation through his public writings. His graffiti reveal, in an excessive manner, an ideology of writing the origin of which lies in the colonial situation and its two main pillars, mission and administration: they are Holy Scriptures and official documents at the same time. Furthermore, the locations of his graffiti map out an urban geography of power and visibility in Libreville. Indeed, Ondo Mbas' graffiti are protest writings: they challenge the authorities with a startling verbal violence, sometimes in the very front of the Presidential Palace. Ondo Mba's obsessions are political and geopolitical by nature: they deal with Gabonese politics, but also the UN Security Council or the Pope's death. The paper shows how Ondo Mba's personal mythology, though extravagant, resorts to a political and religious imagination which finds in fact many echoes in postcolonial Gabon. His public writings not only grant us access to his peculiar frame of mind; they also represent a magnifying (but also distorting) lens to understand the collective imagination.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.