EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

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

(W002)

Ethnographies of hope

Location V213
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Susana Durão (UNICAMP (São Paulo, Brazil)) email
Maria Claudia Coelho (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro) email
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Short Abstract

This workshop discusses, under an ethnographical approach, hope and the social actions it engenders. It welcomes research results on hope's relations to time, morality and politics; hope's cultural organization in relation to power/authority; and the work done by hope in daily intimate relations.

Long Abstract

Hope seems to be simultaneously a feeling and an action (since it produces some 'things' or 'results'). The elusive sense of the notion derives from the fact that hope seems to express more of a moral emotion than a cognitive proposition. In his work Imaginative Horizons, Vincent Crapanzano portrays hope as a feeling moved by desire and a sense of mediated future. Its political relevance would come from the kind of relationship it establishes with the future. That would allow us to include reflections on hope among the broader issue of the relations between emotions, time and politics (as it is the case with resentment, the emotional link it establishes with the past and the (im) possibilities for change it therefore allows for).

In this Workshop we call for papers on three issues that may help us produce what we call here "ethnographies of hope":

* Memory and time: Which are hope's operational modes in its relation with temporality and historicity? How may hope persist or be interrupted in the life-course of people and collectives? How does hope connect with the repair of memories of violence and abuse?

* Status, power and authority: Who are the ones entitled to claim for hope in the name of collectivities? Is there such thing as "hope policies"? How is hope culturally organized and semiotically displayed?

*Intimacy and relation: How to explore anthropologically the intimacy of feelings related with hope in daily-life relational constellations? How to describe the work done by dreams of hope?

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Social grammars of hope: from theory to practices

Authors: Maria Claudia Coelho (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro)  email
Susana Durão (UNICAMP (São Paulo, Brazil))  email
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Short Abstract

This paper analyzes the role hope plays in strategies for social intervention designed by a NGO (Cultural Group AfroReggae) in order to deal with urban violence in Rio de Janeiro. It intends to contribute to a broader understanding of the relations between emotions, temporality and political action.

Long Abstract

Hope is, by definition, an emotional state. But it seems to be simultaneously a feeling and an action, since it produces some 'ideas', 'things' or 'results', and is moved by desire and a sense of mediated future. Therefore, hope is eminently dependent on contexts, persons and relations. Hope can be defined as the opposite of utopia - the perfect ideal of society or political system that occurs in an ever elusive future. Bearing this crucial difference in mind, we will revise some influent literature on the anthropology and ethnography of hope, against the background of some major trends in the anthropology of emotions. Secondly, we will show how in some 'cultural movements' in Rio de Janeiro people are moved by a sense of hope, combining social imaginaries where it would be possible to cope with the instability produced by urban violence without moral damages. Likewise, we will try to clarify the grammars and micro-politics of hope designed by people engaged in those movements when considering the demanding livelihood in Rio's favelas. The requisite for local and personal 'development' would be the ability to imagine the after-violence cityscape while living in the present. The daily work of hope enables each one of the participants to pass through violence while transforming it in a cultural experience and in mediated objects.

Pain temporality: hope, grievance and resilience within contexts of violence

Author: Adriana Vianna (UFRJ (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro))  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores notes stemming from a research centered on experiences and accounts from relatives of police violence victims in Rio de Janeiro. Various ways of reporting the pain build up in the public scenario and in the home dimension that cut through these relationships.

Long Abstract

This paper explores notes stemming from a research centered on experiences and accounts from relatives of police violence victims in Rio de Janeiro. Various ways of reporting the pain build up in the public scenario and in the home dimension that cut through these relationships. In the public domain, the "longing" for justice is materialized as part of the struggle against injustice and inequalities that shape the wider scenario where those cases take place. Here, the main picture to be formed involves people who manage to continue being hopeful in spite of all adverse conditions. In private, however, weariness, hopelessness and grievance gain ground, becoming part of a grammar that intertwines bodies and temporalities. Diseases, physical pains in special dates, dreams, visions and premonitions cloud the borders between past and present, as well as between the bodies of deceased and living people, revealing something about the complex transition from personal mourning to collective struggle that hallmarks such experiences.

'Hope forges man's destiny': hope as an insurance for the future in inner Mongolia

Author: Paula Haas  email
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Short Abstract

Barga Mongols describe their past in terms of loss, their present as hopeless, and their future as dark. At the same time, hope is held to be a moral act with the power to shape the future. This paper explores the morality and agency of hope, and the relation between hope, despair, fear and trust.

Long Abstract

Life among the Barga Mongols in Hulunbuir in Inner Mongolia (PRC) is permeated by a distinct sense of loss and hopelessness. Until the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, their past has been interspersed with violent and traumatic events which constitute an important part of the collective memory. Even though in material terms life has improved significantly over the last three decades, many Barga describe the present as a period of moral decay, social disintegration, corruption and crime. Most people have difficulties believing that the future will be better and rather anticipate ethnic extinction and natural disasters. Yet, there is hope, which in the local understanding is imbued with an explicit agentive power to shape the future. Barga Mongols believe that nothing bad will happen to 'good people', i.e. those who act, speak and think in morally appropriate ways. Interestingly, trust and hope, which are both expressed by the same term, are considered to be morally good actions, even when they seem unwarranted. The act of hoping thus partakes in shaping an individual future free from calamities and pain. This paper will explore the relationship between hopelessness as a way to describe the situation of the Barga as a group, and hope as an individual 'insurance' for the future. I will furthermore elaborate on the relation between trust and hope, as well as on the work this kind of hope accomplishes in a natural and social environment to which people often relate in terms of anxiety and fear.

Enforced futurism/prescribed hopes: affective politics and pedagogies of the future

Author: Felix Ringel (Durham University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper analyses three youth projects, in which older inhabitants of Germany’s fastest shrinking city try to stop their children’s outmigration by imposing a sense of hope upon them. Since the organisers’ hope in the project’s efficacy is usually disappointed, what does the failure of their affective strategies elicit about “hope” more generally?

Long Abstract

My field-site Hoyerswerda, Germany's fastest shrinking city, is in the eyes of many a city with "no future". Since German reunification, this former socialist model city has lost more than half of its population. Especially the young and well-educated continue to leave the city in search for jobs in more prosperous Western Germany. In turn, their leaving is rendered problematic by members of older generations, who are most existentially affected by subsequent social, economic and demographic changes. This paper explores some of the ways in which these older Hoyerswerdians try to stop their children's outmigration. It focuses on three youth projects in particular: "Youth has Visions", "The Future Laboratory" and a literary project. All of them try to impose a sense of hope upon the young participants. In my analysis I, first, extrapolate their embeddedness in local politics, which requires a thorough description of their broader ethnographic context. Second, I analyse these practices' deployments of affective pedagogies, which often uncannily resemble strategies of marketing and advertisement professionals. Third, I scrutinize their actual efficacy. Since the organisers' hope (i.e. that, once bestowed with the right knowledge about and affective relations to their local future chances, young Hoyerswerdians will decide to stay) is usually disappointed, what does the failure of such affective strategies elicit about hope and its role in human life, practice and experience more generally? These three aspects also respond to concerns about how to methodologically approach the social production and dissemination of affect, hope and senses of the future.

Uncertainty, hope and the willingness to take chances in the context of migration decision-making

Author: María Hernández Carretero (NKVTS)  email
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Short Abstract

An ethnographically-based analysis of the relevance of hope and uncertainty for understanding attitudes to emigrate and return in the case of Senegalese migration to Spain. The hope of succeeding connected to particular places affects perceptions of uncertainty and the willingness to take chances.

Long Abstract

Hope and uncertainty go hand in hand in explaining how migration decisions are made in the context of livelihood alternatives. The concept of hope, together with hopefulness and hopelessness, allows us to better conceptualize how uncertainty is perceived by individuals who confront decisions about imagined future livelihoods in relation to migration possibilities. On the basis of ethnographic material on a study of migrant trajectories between Senegal and Spain, I compare individuals' attitudes to the initial decision to migrate to Europe on the one hand, and the possibility of settling back in Senegal on the other hand. At the time of leaving Senegal in the first place, the idea of making a future as a migrant in Europe is filled with hopefulness, whereas the prospects of making a living at home are seen as little more than hopeless. Individuals and families are confident investing in migration, and the migrant appears little concerned by uncertainties. By contrast, when considering returning to Senegal - a seemingly ubiquitous desire among Senegalese abroad - migrants highlight the need to ensure making the right income-generating investments, lest failure may undermine the entire migration project. I argue that the greater degree of attention paid to uncertainty in relation to return has much to do with the differentials in hope attributed to specific places: since migrating to Europe is seen as a sure avenue to success, taking chances is worthwhile. Success in Senegal is more elusive, and this makes migrants more cautious about ensuring a solid plan of return.

Framing hopes in Cambodia: a discussion of the artist Vann Nath and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

Author: Alexandra Kent (Gothenburg University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper discusses the life of the Cambodian artist Vann Nath, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge S-21 prison, against the background of the ongoing Khmer Rouge Tribunal. It uses this as a springboard to ask how politico-cultural processes frame what may be hoped for in a post-conflict setting.

Long Abstract

This paper is written in honour of the Cambodian artist Vann Nath, who died on 5th September 2011. Vann Nath was among the seven survivors of the notorious S-21 Khmer Rouge prison in Phnom Penh, where an estimated 14,000 people were tortured prior to execution. His autobiographical narrative and an interview I conducted with him shortly before his death form the basis of the ethnography presented here. I shall describe how, although his paintings depict such horror and hopelessness, Vann Nath appeals to deeply rooted Khmer notions of righteousness that offer hope of restoring harmony in a profoundly disordered world. I shall set this against the background of the ongoing Khmer Rouge tribunal, at which the Director of S-21 has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. While the tribunal was ostensibly designed to offer hope of "justice" to Cambodians and lay history to rest, it continues to be fraught with internal and political conflicts. I suggest here that Vann Nath's story and its context present us with important questions about how politico-cultural processes frame what may be hoped for in this post-conflict setting.

Training the frail body: an exercise of hope: an anthropological study of elderly going through physical rehabilitation in Denmark

Author: Louise Scheel Thomasen (University of Copenhagen)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines hope in times of uncertainty in the lives of Danish elderly going through physical rehabilitation. It offers an anthropological understanding of the temporality of hope in individual crises, and discusses how hope emerges in an institutional setting in a welfare state.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on an ethnography of hope and uncertainty in the lives of Danish elderly going through physical rehabilitation. In Denmark people over the age of 65 years are assigned to rehabilitation free of charge after illness or operation. Working their way through the ups and downs of rehabilitation, crises occur continuously in the process of training the frail and unpredictable body. Feelings of insecurity, and of not being oneself, turn into a hope for a return to normality, thus restoring a well known sense of self. I argue that hope in crisis induces a certain temporal quality to life. The past is both behind and ahead of you as it spills into images of the future. When the imagined horizon is not reached, hope is replaced by hopelessness, yet, with time, also with new hope.

I discuss how hope emerges in the rehabilitation centers. Through physical rehabilitation and training, and an effort to engage elderly citizens in various kinds of activity, the welfare state both creates and organizes hope. Individual goals for training are negotiated between physio- and occupational therapists and elderly, shaping hope along the lines of a moral imperative of an active, healthy and independent senior citizen. Training the frail body emerges as an exercise of a culturally informed hope, and a way of managing uncertainty. Keeping track of progress, testing and measuring installs training with an aura of certainty and objectivity, and holds out a promise of reaching your goals.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.