EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


In search of concealed truth: revealing, unraveling and debunking

Location S-235
Date and Start Time 31 July, 2014 at 14:00


Alexander Panchenko (Institute of Russian Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences) email
Anastasiya Astapova (University of Tartu) email
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Short Abstract

This panel focuses on beliefs and narratives about truths concealed from common people by dominant powers. Such beliefs span various realms, touching on supernatural reality, healthcare, science, politics, economics etc.They are often labeled as conspiracy theories, rumors or legends.

Long Abstract

This panel focuses on beliefs and narratives about truths concealed from common people by dominant powers. Such beliefs span various realms, touching on supernatural reality, healthcare, science, politics, economics etc. They are often labeled as conspiracy theories, rumors or legends.

This panel encourages inquiries into forms and functions of such beliefs, rhetorics of truth and strategies of uncovering truth, in a variety of settings. It will explore the emergence of communities and networks dedicated to alternative beliefs, their use of media, and calls to action that they issue.

Typologies of beliefs about hidden truth can be useful as analytic constructions, but upon closer examination, this category seems to expand in all directions. The panel will open up a wider conversation about the larger discursive regimes that accommodate and enable discussions of truth and its revelation.

The methodological focus of the panel lies in the challenges of academic practice, especially anthropology and folkloristics, disciplines that have historically developed to study beliefs that are not the researchers' own. A democratic equality of knowledge systems is more easily proclaimed than practiced. The uneasy position of a researcher is that of a mediator between the knowledge practices of academia and those of the communities they research. In this context, how can we theorize what distinguishes "alternative" narratives of hidden truth from the institutionalized discourse of academia, with its commitment to rigor and urgent social critique?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


On secrets of the state and politics of paranoia

Author: Karin Ahlberg (University of Chicago )  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how state actors in Egypt make use of the widely spread idea that there are important secrets of the state, belonging to spheres of national ‘cultural intimacy’ that it is a duty for the citizens to safeguard. This creates a politics of paranoia and affective fields of anxieties.

Long Abstract

In the 2013's interim constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, article 13 states: "Safeguarding the secrets of the state is the duty of every citizen". The paragraph reiterates the message of a public awareness campaign that was run on public and private television one year earlier under the slogan "Every word has a price - One word can save a nation". These messages were not new to Egyptian ears. On the contrary, everyone knows that there are secrets of the state; everybody knows that these need to stay within the realms of national 'cultural intimacy'. To 'know' is however something different than to 'believe' or consider as 'true' among my Cairene interlocutors in the tourist market Khan El-Khalili. Yet, not to follow what is 'known' might have repercussions for the individual person or the nation.

Set in what I coin Egypt's 'opaque ecology of information', the ethnographic scenes of this paper - collected during 20 months of fieldwork in Cairo - detail how information about the state and 'public matters' is recurrently treated as 'valuable', yet potentially dangerous in the 'wrong hands'. Thus, given the indeterminate sensitivity of the 'information', my interlocutors remained insecure as to what 'public stuff' was actually confidential. Often, this resulted in anxiety in their interaction with and imaginations of foreigners and created a general politics of paranoia.

What actual political and affective effects do assumed obligations to protect unknown secrets, and the set of anxieties and paranoia that follow such obligations, have?

In search of lost masterpieces: the Belarusian case

Author: Anastasiya Astapova (University of Tartu)  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on the link between the search for the lost nationally important masterpieces and building ethnic identity on the example of ongoing political formation of Belarus. It analyzes narratives about stolen artifacts which (if found) could cause consolidation and even revolution.

Long Abstract

Departing from the example of the lost book on 1863 uprising by Vladimir Korotkevich (presumably stolen by KGB and still kept in closed archives), I will proceed to similar cases, e. g. search for another Belarusian relic - Cross of Saint Euphrosyne lost in the XX century; and further relate it to different existing narratives blaming Soviet authorities for today's Belarusian cultural and political decline. Such narratives exist in oral variants, Internet discussions, and scholarly papers. The appeal to find and expose the masterpieces through informing academic and artistic societies about them having been stolen demonstrates how strong the hopes laid on these artifacts are. The narratives contradict official discourse and strive for ethnic consolidation essential to overcome political crisis. This paper analyses action undertaken by searchers of stolen masterpieces, stories rising around them, and hopes laid on how Belarus might change in case they are found.

The research is based on the interviews recorded from Belarusians living in Belarus and other countries.

Contesting national history and folklore: alternative rhetoric of the Estonian maausulised movement

Author: Ergo-Hart Västrik (University of Tartu)  email

Short Abstract

In this talk some ideological statements of maausulised (the adherents of Estonian native faith) contesting mainstream views on Estonian history and folklore, will be addressed. These ideas were mediated by the Estonian press over the last two decades and have received positive media coverage.

Long Abstract

An analysis of media texts about the adherents of the Estonian native faith (maausulised) in the Estonian press over the last two decades indicates that a functioning alternative religious movement has developed. In this talk some ideological statements of maausulised, contesting mainstream views on Estonian history and folklore, will be addressed.

The wider ideological framework of the maausulised movement was formulated during the Soviet occupation, in the 1960s and 1970s, when essays criticizing the mainstream western orientation of Estonian national culture were disseminated among students and the literati. Since its institutionalization two decades ago, members of the movement have been active in public discussions on such issues as religious freedom and religious education, safeguarding historical sacred sites, and evaluating Estonia's national and cultural heritage using opportunities offered by the Internet and mass media. Despite the fact that the movement represents a quite specific nationalist discourse in public statements, it has generally received positive media coverage and the ideas of the maausulised have enjoyed unprecedented popularity in recent national surveys.

In public statements maausulised spokespersons constantly highlight the continuity and local specificity of this religion, its essential relationship with vernacular languages, and its roots in indigenous ethnic traditions and customs. Invoking linguistic affinity and common origin, maausulised relate their religious principles to the analogous traditions of kindred peoples - ethnic groups whose languages belong to the Finno-Ugric and Uralic language families - and have not sought connections with similar Baltic, Slavic and Germanic modern Pagan movements in neighbouring countries.

Conspiracy and critique: unmasking climate science

Author: Alfred Moore (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I propose to explore the boundary between conspiracy theories and critical theories through an analysis of the concepts and practices of unmasking, which I will use to address the case of the climate-gate controversy.

Long Abstract

As Bruno Latour has noted, conspiracy theories share a family resemblance with critical theories. Yet the boundary between (disreputable) conspiracy theories and (respectable) social critique is both hard to draw and highly sensitive. In this paper I propose to explore this boundary through concepts and practices of unmasking in a scientific controversy. I will begin with a conceptual analysis of forms of unmasking. I will draw on Mannheim and other mid-century political theorists, and I will distinguish between unmasking the identity of hidden actors, unmasking the intentions and motives of known actors, and unmasking the origins and functions of social practices. I will then turn to the so-called "climate-gate" controversy. In November 2009 a cache of emails and documents written by scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit were leaked or hacked from the university server and distributed online through climate sceptic websites. In the second part of the paper I will explore what those emails were thought to reveal, and by whom. Using the typology developed in the first part I will analyse accusations of conspiracy and uses of the label "conspiracy theory" within the "climate-gate" controversy, drawing on the emails, documents and public statements of the scientists, their critics, and the critics of their critics. I will conclude with reflections on the role of conspiracism and conspiracy theory in the science of climate change, and more broadly on the relationship between conspiracy theory and critical theory.

No surrender to jihad romeos: demographic aggression narratives in Northern Ireland and India

Author: Alex O'Connell (Maynooth University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will compare ‘demographic aggression’ narratives in Northern Ireland and India. This is the belief that minorities are using higher population growth as a means to gain dominance and control, resulting in increased communal tension.

Long Abstract

Both Northern Ireland and India have a history of sectarian discord and partition, with many lasting legacies to this day. One of them is the persistence of extremely antagonistic perceptions of the 'Other', and their influence in society.

In Northern Ireland, Loyalist concerns about Catholic population growth were laced with Vatican conspiracies, Southern invasion plans and liberal degeneracy. Resurgent right-wing Hindus saw their minority Muslim population as an inevitable threat, based on 'rampant infiltration' from Bangladesh, outdated ideas of over-fertile Muslims, and association with the War on Terror. Despite different circumstances, both sites yielded a similar narrative: a majoritarian population had rested on its laurels and allowed degenerate minorities to utilise their fecundity and wrest more democratic control for themselves. Both sites require the protection of a virile conservative force to counteract the threat and return their country to its former glory.

Among questions I will explore are the connections between quantitative data (demographics) and qualitative (narratives, conspiracy theories), and how they must function together to be effective. I want to investigate how these two field-sites compare, both in the temporal progression of the perceived phenomenon and the means by which the threat is realised. Lastly I want to examine why these narratives are so much more prevalent in these sites, and the link between narrative and event in perpetuating communal violence.

"Podpolniky" (the underground ones) in the Vyatka Region: ritual murder charges, rumors and propaganda

Author: Natalia Komelina (Institute of Russian Literature)  email

Short Abstract

The present report deals with a case of capital prosecution against a religious community of Wanderer Old-Believers in the Kirov region, Russia, in the 1920s-30s. Stories about the "podpolniki" ("the underground ones"), that included a motif of human sacrifice, were collected during expeditions of 2010-13.

Long Abstract

The present report deals with a case of capital prosecution against a religious community of Wanderer Old-Believers in Kirov region in 1920-30s and the ritual murder narrative that originated from the reports in local anti-religious literature and periodicals, announcing the murder of a Soviet pioneer by sectaries. Stories about the "podpolniki" ("the underground ones" - a popular name for Wanderer Old-Believers), that included a motif of human sacrifice, were collected during expeditions of 2010-13.

The report will focus on the following aspects of the accusations against the sectaries or their religious practices as presented in the following narratives:

1. The legend of ritual murder of a young Soviet pioneer girl Marusya Pestrikova.

2. The alleged ritual practice of strangling the dying "podpolniki" with a red cushion (the so called "red death" or "the stranglers' belief").

The informant's narratives also reflect real practices of the Wanderer Old Believers (deathbed baptism and secret burials) along with the alleged ones (strangling the dying podpolniki by the co-religionists, secret pathways between the houses of the podpolniki).

3. The preaching of suicide by the community leader Khristophor Zyryanov and the issue of Old Believer mass suicides in 18th and 19th centuries.

The panic rumors and social fears aroused by the podpolniki trial influenced the propaganda and are still reflected in the informants' narratives.

Khristophor Zyryanov was executed on charge of religiously motivated mass murders.

Revealing the concealed: mainstreaming the teachings of Source Breathwork community

Author: Katre Koppel (University of Tartu)  email

Short Abstract

The paper concentrates on the unconcealment of basic ideas which are common to a New Age community called Source Breathwork community.

Long Abstract

This paper concentrates on beliefs of a specific New Age community - the Source Breathwork community in Estonia. The basic ideas of Source community are formed by different religious and esoteric traditions, and modern sciences like psychology and biology. On the one hand, Source Breathwork is a breathing technique and method that aims to heal a person as a whole, and, thus, focuses mainly on spiritual self-development. On the other hand, the emphasis of the teachings is on birth. According to Source Breathwork teachings, birth is seen as one of the most fundamental experiences, the 'source experience' that creates the basic patterns in person's consequent life. Since birth can be a traumatic experience for both mother and new-born high attention to pregnancy and childbirth practices is paid in the community. Moreover, it is believed that giving birth accordingly to the teachings helps to change the world, improve the well-being of subsequent generations, and offers women an opportunity to experience birth in an 'alternative', 'ecstatic' and 'gentle way'. However, this knowledge and way of giving birth is often marginalised by orthodox medicine and state policy, i.e. the access to the knowledge is limited and hence, concealed. The paper attempts to give answers to the questions: Which strategies are used by the community members to make the teachings more visible and wide-spread? What kind of rhetoric and authorities are used to explain the principles of the teachings to outsiders? The paper is based on fieldwork data collected since 2011 in Estonia.

The Soviet people's enemies in the work of epic performers, 1930s-1950s

Author: Irina Kozlova  email

Short Abstract

The paper is focused on the hidden enemies of the Soviet power in the work of epic performers,1930s-1950s. The main topics of work of epic performers in the 1930s glorify a happy Soviet life, however the enemies of the Soviet power are quite often mentioned in such texts.

Long Abstract

The paper is focused on the hidden enemies of the Soviet power in the work of epic performers in the 1930-1950s. The noviny of the 1930s were dedicated to the events of the recent past or directly to the representation of the present days. If in the first type of noviny open struggle of old and new regimes is showed, the second type of works is more complicated. The main topics of noviny of the 1930s about the present reality are connected with the glorification of a happy Soviet life. However the enemies of the Soviet power are often mentioned in such texts. The enemies in the noviny about the Civil War had a social characteristics. The enemies in the noviny about the reality of the 1930s always didn't have names and specific social characteristics. They are represented only by common definitions such as "enemies of the people", "saboteurs" and are often compared with the snakes and creeping reptiles. Their main difference from the former enemies is that they are "internal", "hidden" enemies, who don't differ from other Soviet people outwardly, and the Soviet patriots need special vigilance to recognize them. The theme of hidden enemies disappeared from noviny in the years of the Great Patriotic War, but it returned to them in a new form after its finish. At the turn of the 1940-1950s the theme of the struggle for peace occupied the special place in the works of epic performers and such characters as "warmongers" appeared in the noviny.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.