EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

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

(IW006)

Anxiety at the top (EN)

Location Salle du conseil (in B)
Date and Start Time 12 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Tijo Salverda (University of Cologne) email
Kerstin B Andersson email
Erella Grassiani (University of Amsterdam) email
Lucia Orviska (University of Fribourg, Switzerland) email
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Short Abstract

Feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are not often associated with elites and people with power. Yet, these feelings might influence their behaviour and practices much more than would be assumed at first sight. Hence, this panel addresses these aspects in order to enhance the understanding of power.

Long Abstract

Uncertainty, anxious feelings and bearing the consequences of chaos are themes predominantly associated with vulnerable and marginalised groups. Elites and people with power are often associated with confidence and conviction. These groups, however, are per definition small, making them vulnerable to the moods of other (much more numerous) social groups. Consequently, insecurity and perceptions of loss, potentially masked by an air of confidence, appears to influence their behaviour and practices much more than would be assumed at first sight.

Anthropology has largely neglected elites and their roles, focusing instead on the poor and marginal. To counterbalance this tendency, this panel seeks to address the role of elites (financial, political, intellectual, etc.) and power holders' (police officers, military personnel, etc.) feelings of, among others, insecurity and uncertainty, in order to enhance the understanding of power. They, after all, are part and parcel of social interactions and power relations, and we cannot fully grasp power and issues of marginalisation if we do not include a profound understanding of these groups. The panel focuses on how elite perceptions (and fears) of marginalisation, poverty and other social groups' potential to use force shape elites and power holders' operations and actions. But it will also include a focus on the internal workings of perceptions and (status) anxieties, as the potential for conflict and rivalry within the confined boundaries of elite and powerful groups should not be underestimated - (in)directly shaping their stand towards the 'outside' world.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Never good enough

Author: Laura Alamillo-Martínez (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)  email
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Short Abstract

Middle-upper class students feel anxious about being good enough and they express their nervousness in varying ways: from corporal symptoms (eating disorders, nerves, etc.) to social reactions (i.e. avoidance of students who may lower their grade). In this presentation it will be examined how these reactions are connected to their fear of failure.

Long Abstract

It has been said that the schooling system has been designed according to middle and upper class culture (Althusser, Bowles and Gintis, Bourdieu and Passeron). Therefore, some authors consider that it is easier for members of these families to transit throughout school (Stanton-Salazar), even though little research has been done.

However, there are studies (Power, Edwards et. al) that point in a different direction: those students who are destined to success because of the schools they attend may not appreciate how successful they are, and they may even consider themselves as failures.

Based on an ethnographic research involving teachers, families and students, related to a middle-upper class high school, I will explain what do students feel anxious about, how they express it and what strategies they develop in order to improve their position in the social arena. Their strategies take place in a context where pupils feel like they are competing with their classmates and even with people they have never met in order to get the best grades so that they can access the right studies at the best university.

Elites' practice? Ethnography of self-defense classes for women in Cairo (Egypt): sex, class belonging and vulnerability

Author: Perrine Lachenal (Philipps Universitat Marburg)  email
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Short Abstract

In class of self-defense, Egyptian girls strengthen their upper middle-class belonging by exchanging about their urban practices and social representations. The experience of vulnerability is at the top of their shared identity.

Long Abstract

Classes of self-defense for women are multiplying in Cairo. This practice appears as a solution to fight against "sexual harassment" which is identified as a social disease in Egyptian cities. All women are invited to join classes in order to "fight back", to "take action" and to "empower" themselves in front of men. At first sight, this training seems to offer an opportunity to perform sex belonging and to challenge gender hierarchy. What it actually does, but not only.

Ethnography of different classes of self-defense for women in Cairo, based on actors' narratives, clearly highlights mechanisms of social marginalization and distinction at work in contemporary Egyptian urban society. In class, participants express feelings of vulnerability and anxiety linked to their daily practice of a mixed urban space - both sexually and socially. Those girls define their city together: shaping territories which are threatening, as public transportations and streets, and those which are not, as coffee-shops and malls - their leisure spaces disclose a certain familiarity with Western urban repertoires. They reveal their fear-driven daily trajectories and strategies, contributing to draw urban lines of inclusion and exclusion. Their words also outline the figure of the "enemy": a guy from poor social background, who does not share with them the same social codes.

In classes of self-defense, Egyptian girls strengthen their upper middle-class and cosmopolitan belonging by revealing their urban practices and social representations. The experience of vulnerability and anxiety is at the first place of their shared identity.

The modern woman's guide to success: uncertainty and class in cosmopolitan Maputo

Author: Ana Sofia Tillo (University of Oxford )  email
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Short Abstract

This paper discusses the anxiety surrounding class identity for elite women in Maputo. Through the ethnography of a local bridal magazine, the paper explores how personal relationships became inseparable from the performance of class, anchored in the fantasy of inclusion in a global cosmopolitan hierarchy.

Long Abstract

The glossy cover of "Brides and Events: The modern woman's guide to success" stares at shoppers from the shelves of magazine stands in Maputo, Mozambique. Throughout the magazine's pages women of the elite and emerging urban middle class smile in white dresses and lace veils, all under the slogan "living their dreams".

More than offering a lens onto how distinction is performed amongst Maputo elites, this paper seeks to explore why their performance of class is inseparable from anxiety and the fantasy of cosmopolitanism, hence dealing with questions of uncertainty, status, self-representation and identity in the post-colony.

In a city where membership of an elite social class cannot be divorced from the influence of the FRELIMO ruling party, wedding celebrations have become a key locus for the negotiation of status. Women who cannot marry into the elite have found that marrying like the elite is the best next option for access to urban networks of prestige. Simultaneously members of the elite, often referred to locally and in the literature (Sumich) as the 'FRELIMO Family', experience the rise of the middle class with anxiety and deep concern that outsiders might permeate the confined boundaries of their close knit social group. On every page 'Brides& Events' magazine hints at the contours of the concept of success and the key sources of insecurity for elite women in Mozambique, coloring over their aspirations and anxieties with a soft shade of bridal white.

Ideal bodies and anxious selves: aesthetic surgery and social distinction in Beirut

Author: Caitlin Robinson (Culture Stories)  email
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Short Abstract

Exploring anxiety among elites as it relates to the articulation of class status and networks of prestige in Beirut, this paper considers the practice and democratization of aesthetic surgical forms of bodily intervention and interrogates local appropriations of beauty as a form of social capital.

Long Abstract

In contemporary Beirut, Lebanon it is increasingly apparent that elites no longer have a monopoly on the access to, and affordability of, aesthetic surgical forms of bodily intervention. In recent years, the proliferation of private beauty clinics and hospitals alongside the availability of bank loans for plastic surgery procedures has created an atmosphere of intense competition between surgeons in order to attract clients. The democratization of these beauty services has lead to the local normalization of aesthetic procedures and made possible the literal cutting of the body and marketing of the self as a commodity for visual consumption.

This paper addresses the challenges that beauty as a form of social capital presents for elites in achieving and maintaining status in a post-civil war environment historically informed by networks of prestige and sociability. In considering the aspirations for social mobility and security espoused by members of the lower, middle, and nouveau riche classes, the manner in which ideal bodily forms are appropriated and understood by these groups presents a noteworthy challenge to the presumed elite direction and ownership of idealized beauty and glamour. Narratives of social distinction according to competing notions of taste between relevant groups are explored alongside personal anxieties about how the body should be appropriately managed and presented.

I argue that uncertainties stemming from past conflict(s), present economic and social disparities, and fears of future marginalization are intimately connected to local imaginings of beauty and success derived from the competitive consumption of aesthetic surgical forms of bodily intervention.

"Power of self" against the uncertainty of the civil servants: followers of a Japanese religious movement in Ivory Coast (Sukyo Mahikari)

Author: Frédérique Louveau (Ceaf (EHESS-IRD))  email
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Short Abstract

This paper shows that the Ivorian followers of a japanese religious movement (Sukyo Mahikari) based in Ivory Coast have a high social status and obtain a « power of self » thanks to the spiritual rituals in order to reduce their incertainty caused by their fear of witchcraft.

Long Abstract

The adherence of Ivorian followers to a japanese "New Religious Movement" (Sukyo Mahikari) based in the big cities in Ivory Coast, expressed the individual incertainty and disquiet of people belonging to middle class, especially civil servants. Even if they are fare away from the symbol of « left-behind », yet they feel themself in insecurity. Indeed, despite their high social status, they are involved in major economic problems because of the crisis of the State and of the national economic system. The people think that the civil servants are rich and they are waiting for something from them. Unable to redistribute wealth, they develope fears of witchcraft attacks. Indeed, the social relations have changed in face of the rapid social change, the crisis of the State, globalization, etc. This paper aims to show why civil servants become followers of this japanese religious movement and how they intend to find solutions to turn the corner. This religious movement offer spiritual practices based on teachings from Shinto and on the purification of the body by the Light of Su God (okiyome) which allows them to find a protection against witchcraft. We will see that civil servants choose it precisely because it is more elitist than the many evangelical churches and because they express a desire to escape with an ethics of elegance. They obtain a « power of self » thanks to the purification that allows them to fight against incertainty and disquiet for a better life.

"Our brains would be nothing, without yours": managing anxiety and expectations in a dementia research community

Author: Sally Atkinson (Unversity of Exeter)  email
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Short Abstract

I explore leading neuroscientists' research into dementia disorders, where the pressures of science meet complex anxieties about capacity, consent, funding and success. I use ethnographic data to demonstrate researchers' creative use of images to manage perceived issues of risk and uncertainty.

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic research within a UK dementia research community, this paper explores leading researchers as a self-conscious, urban elite within the disease awareness movement. I focus on scientists' rhetorical use of images to constitute knowledge and practice which creatively manages uncertainties in the relationship between scientists, patients and publics in dementia research.

In the fierce competition for social, political and economic support for disease research, dementias are increasingly characterised as the leading public health issue of our time; placing researchers at the forefront of public debate on how to live with, understand and treat this insidious range of diseases linked primarily with the ubiquitous fact of aging.

The scientific community are keenly aware that success depends on attracting researchers, funders and participants, whilst managing the delicate boundaries surrounding governance and participant protection and inclusion; capacity to consent, the uncertain benefits and expectations of participation, and the efficacy of existing treatments. These uncertainties are manifest in the narratives on the scientific process and public engagement: Should research be commercially or publicly driven? Should researchers talk about 'fighting' dementia, or 'living well' with its impact? Should trial recruitment and participation be encouraged as an act of altruism or pragmatic necessity?

The elaborate and strategic use of image and imagery in public-science discourse is, I argue, a tool for managing anxieties, and promoting future research support. These creative practices mobilise a reflexive and adaptive process which in turn drives the research process forward. I argue that these creative interactions beyond the laboratory demonstrate how scientists' pragmatic engagements with society influence the future of clinical research (Martin 1998). This reveals a dynamic, evolving research community, whose continual questioning is central to the evolution of scientific and social understanding of dementia research and treatment.

Cold War governance through archival lenses

Author: Ioana Macrea-Toma (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin)  email
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Short Abstract

Technologies of repression share an inimical space within the Cold War with technologies of liberation. How do they reinforce each other's construction of psychosis by building epistemic archival protocols?

Long Abstract

Technologies of repression share an inimical space within the Cold War with technologies of liberation. How do they reinforce each other's construction of psychosis by building epistemic archival protocols?

By taking as case studies two archival sites belonging to two adversarial Cold War observational tribunes (Radio Free Europe and the Romanian Secret Police) sharing the same space for observation I intend to unravel the contradictions of rational evidentiary practices within the Cold War conjectural epistemes. Instead of endorsing narratives about truth and propaganda, emancipation versus control, I am looking at the taxonomical archival processes who produce certainty through recursive bureaucratic-political systems of managing ignorance. What I propose therefore is a systemic-ethnographic approach to Cold War archives, which should go against and along the archival grain, by interpreting their shared conceptual assumptions as well as by following their procedural groping. The Foucauldian analysis of the inherent rationality of indexed topics (as encrypted in the card indexes) will be counterweighed by the minute exploration of the in-built anxiety of little utopian policies.

Radical academics in the time of radical uncertainty: educating the educators at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela

Author: Mariya Ivancheva (University College Dublin)  email
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Short Abstract

Discussing the case of university reform in Venezuela, this paper shows the dilemma faced by radical intellectuals who become a power elite. They have to both act as legitimate agents of social change, and negate their own legitimacy, gained in a former system of classification and distinction.

Long Abstract

This paper presents findings from my fieldwork at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV). Established in 2003 by President Chavez and radical intellectuals from the former student movements, UBV became the vanguard institution of the Bolivarian university reform. It provided placements to hundreds of thousands underprivileged students. It promised horizontal structure of governance, and applied knowledge dedicated to the needs of society.

After celebrating the global crisis in 2008 as a blow to capitalism, in 2009 UBV declared an internal crisis of ideology and practice. Faculty and staff mostly explained UBV's crisis through the process of reproduction that transferred old capitalist structures to the revolutionary university.

The paper explores the case of the week's long "awareness rising" (sensibilización) process during the on-the-job training of the alternative academic elite at UBV. I detail ethnographically a number of challenges and anxieties UBV faculty members face which might explain the university's internal crisis beside the "metastases of capitalism". In a radical fight against the corrupted past, UBV intellectuals are expected to strictly negate all previous conventions of teaching and research including those of their own academic formation. They need to manage their own difficult trajectory from an anti-authoritarian opposition to agents of decision-making power in a centralized nation state. They are supposed to both do away with abstract theory and pragmatic science, and make new vanguard theoretical and scientific contributions on behalf of an emancipatory 'national' science.

The intellectual elite, uncertainty, anxiety and changing power positions

Author: Kerstin B Andersson  email
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Short Abstract

Examining the intellectual elite in Kolkata, this paper deals with uncertainty, anxiety and fear of loosing status and positions provoked by external factors, changing contexts in terms of globalisation, new technologies and transforming social structures.

Long Abstract

During the last decades, new forms of media as satellite channels, private TV, Internet and social media as Facebook and Twitter have gained an increasing importance among elite groups in Kolkata. The new communication forms cut across traditional and national communities and transcend geographical boundaries, initiating interaction on a global and transnational level. The changes in form and content of communication affect the intellectual category. The framework for intellectual performances, the social composition of the intellectual category and the ideological contours of intellectual life are reshaped. The taken for granted life-world, the habitus, is disrupted, giving way to uncertainity, anxiety and new areas for contesting of meaning are opened up. Perceptions of power and status positions, within the intellectual field as well as in the wider social universe, are transformed. New hierarchies, divisions and configurations appear.

The topic will be explored through the specific ethnographic context of the 2011 elections in West Bengal, when the CPI, dominated by radical intellectuals, was overthrown by the neo- liberal Trinamul congress. Media and social media played a significant role in both parties' election campaign.

Not so easy to be wealthy? Rich elites and the fears they have to deal with

Author: Lucia Orviska (University of Fribourg, Switzerland)  email
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Short Abstract

Wealth is often associated with power and self-confidence, however, it can often be a secret burden. Especially in times of crisis, wealthy people are more often than usual exposed to different doubts and can have the feeling of being marginalized. The paper seeks to answer the following questions: What do they fear? Who do they trust? How does this shape their social interactions?

Long Abstract

Wealth in general is associated in society with power, self-confidence, and status advantages. Rich people are considered to be the „strong ones". Social scientists and the general public usually give the attention to marginalized, poor or „weak“ groups, in accordance to the classical top-down approach. However, recent developments during the economic and financial crisis have once again pointed out the fact that financial and wealthy elites are also a marginal part of the population, which can be vulnerable to social changes.

Based on the findings resulting from regular close interactions with wealthy elites in a professional framework of private banking as well as in a personal one, this paper will investigate their different fears and how these shape their social interactions. Furthermore, during times of crisis, these fears are even more exaggerated and enhanced by apocalyptical scenarios they can read, hear or imagine in their minds. How do they deal with this? How does it influence their social relations, general social structures and the hierarchical order of our society?

Anxiety is something that the wealthy are not proud of but is an inherent part of their human characters. From the most expected fears like losing power, control, money, status or being hunted during the crisis, we get to the more profound and personal ones of being isolated, cheated, not being recognized as competent at work, losing a sense of life purpose, being anxious for their children, having bad friendships, or not being loved for who they are. Perhaps it is not so easy to be wealthy after all. Is it?

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.