EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


The threadbare margins of revolutions: painful participation and failed mutualities

Location A-242
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00


Aet Annist (University of Tartu) email
Daivi Rodima-Taylor (Boston University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Our panel focuses on the margins of revolutions, exploring the cracks of regenerated civil society and participatory democracy and the traps created by mutualities and reciprocities. What, who, how and why gets uprooted and destroyed when the gales of freedom and change storm the society?

Long Abstract

Anthropologists should, and mostly do, respond to the social realities of their time. The brave new world of social activism and protest movements has precipitated a new kind of anthropological approach that challenges the one-dimensional accounts of selfish and competitive human beings generated by advanced capitalism. The new millennium as well as collapse of the socialist system in Eastern Europe have seen an increased attention to people's ability to collaborate in the name of a revolution, reflecting the new hope brought by the end of the Cold War. Once this revolution grew old, the ability to resist the market and survive through diverse support networks and various forms of social capital became the focus of research. Amidst promises that research on resilience and resourcefulness offers, the margins of revolutions have slipped into oblivion. What has often gone unreported are ethnographically rich examples of not benefitting from collaboration or revolution; examples where collaborative networks have become so dispersed they have no substance (e.g. due to migration); where people have fallen through the cracks of civil society and participatory democracy as their capacity for intimate connections has been undermined due to poverty, marginality, hybridity etc. Our panel argues for a more subtle ethnographic approach to reciprocal support and collaborative networks of civic engagements. We welcome ethnographic cases where mutualities and reciprocities are unachievable or have become newly reconstituted traps generating unwelcome debt and obligations, damaging rather than improving the ability to survive and participate and reinforcing unilateral dependencies.

Discussant: Don Kalb (CEU)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Informal authority and contested sovereignties in post-socialist Tanzania

Author: Daivi Rodima-Taylor (Boston University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on new forms of vigilantism and community policing that have accompanied a recent proliferation of diverse forms of lawlessness affecting Kuria borderlands between Kenya and Tanzania, and examines the effects of these on legitimacy, authority, and the state.

Long Abstract

Novel forms of regulating cooperation and violence are on the rise among Kuria of Tanzania. Diverse informal associations for community policing and economic cooperation have emerged in the post-socialist Kuria communities. Recent neoliberal decentralization reforms have cast new attention on the issues of autochthony and tradition in many areas of Africa, resulting in complex politics of belonging and identity (Comaroff and Comaroff 2012, 2006; Geschiere 2009). The paper focuses on new forms of vigilantism and community policing that have accompanied a recent proliferation of diverse forms of lawlessness affecting Kuria borderlands between Kenya and Tanzania. The easing of border restrictions after the demise of the socialist administration in Tanzania has brought about increased trans-border mobility, crime and smuggling. Local practices of community policing draw upon existing cultural repertoires and traditional patterns of social organization - age grades and circumcision sets, clan and lineage councils and secret societies - but also effect significant changes in these. The vigilante units and neighborhood courts display an intriguing tendency towards increased formalization, regularization of activities and routinization of procedures. In the context of a growing loss of state control over mobility and boundedness in Kuria borderlands, alternative institutions and practices of social control are taking shape, with unclear consequences to legitimacy and authority. The discussion explores how the emerging practices of violence and its control among Kuria reshape institutional and territorial boundaries, simultaneously reaffirming the importance of the state but also facilitating experimentation with alternative modes of regulation and sovereignty.

Days of revolution: local political culture and processual paradigm in the Iranian Revolution

Author: Mary Elaine Hegland (Santa Clara University)  email

Short Abstract

Most Aliabadis applied local political culture to understand and provide action models and expectations for the 1979 Revolution. Only later they turned to the Shia Islamic framework. When the clerical leaders forced their interpretations of Islam on Iranians, most Aliabads have become disillusioned.

Long Abstract

(Could also fit in IP08 and PO54.) Based on some 2 years of participant observation field research in the village of "Aliabad," located in southwestern Iran near Shiraz, during 1978-1979 and then 4 other visits from 2003-8, the author argues that, contrary to popular opinion, it was not modified Shia Islam which provided the motivation for most Aliabad villagers to shift support to the side of the Revolution during the 1978-1979 political conflict. Rather, Aliabadis applied their own local political culture and their political processual paradigm of competition and conflict among kin-based political factions, developed during the long landlord--sharecropper period before land reform in 1962, to understand, make decisions about, guide their actions, and provide their expectations regarding the Iranian Revolution. Based on oral history about conflicts in the past, eight stages in the local political processual paradigm or model are presented to demonstrate how one headman was pulled down and another put up in his place. These stages could also be discerned in the process of involvement of villagers in the revolutionary movement.The entitled clerics who were able to take over control of the country, have attempted to impose their own interpretations of the religion on a largely unwilling population.

The east-west divide remade: public protest, nationalism and imagined futures in Ukraine

Author: Julia Holdsworth (University of Hull)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the experiences of Russophone and Russophile populations in east and south Ukraine and considers the different ways that the ongoing divisions are imagined and the consequences for those who consider themselves as the ‘losers’ in the 2014 Ukrainian protests.

Long Abstract

This paper, based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Donetsk, an industrial city in Eastern Ukraine, discusses processes of nation building and state formation in Ukraine in light of recent protests and political changes. Ukraine is divided geographically into a broadly Russophile east and a Ukrainophile west. This split encompasses linguistic, political, ethnic and ideological elements which have continued to be deeply divisive. Since Ukraine gained independence from the USSR in 1991 many commentators have noted that the extent to which Ukraine is able to mould a common nation out of the people within its borders is crucial to its survival as a separate state. This is particularly problematic as Ukrainian nationalist policies have tended to centre on demonstrating their separateness from Russia (Hryn'iov, 1995) as Russia is, and has historically been, imagined as the most significant 'other' in the creation and maintenance of a Ukrainian nation.

In this paper I draw on the 2014 events in Ukraine to elaborate two interlocking elements: the consequences for Russians and Russophiles living in an increasingly Ukrainianising state, and the consequences for Ukrainian nationalism of such a large and influential Russian presence. Through this I explore the tensions, coalescences and fragmentations that are once again being revealed and consider, in particular, the consequences for those who might be considered the 'losers' in this process: especially Russophile populations in eastern and southern Ukraine.

The mall, the city, and the people: subtle boundaries of participation in local governance in Germany

Author: Jonathan Roth (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Mainz)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the significance of civic participation in local governance and the power relations it produces. The case study on building plans for a shopping mall in Mainz, Germany reveals divergent notions of the 'right to the city' and strategic boundaries of democracy in local affairs.

Long Abstract

Civic participation has emerged as a key symbol to compensate (actual or perceived) deficiencies of democratic principles and has even become a policy for many political parties. This, however, implies to share the grounds of governance which leads to controversial constellations. To address the symbolic value and actual significance of civic participation the paper will discuss a case study from an ongoing research project:

Plans by an investment company to redesign a shopping area in Mainz, Germany, soon raised concerns among citizens over negative effects on local industry. Acknowledging these concerns, a citizens' forum was established, where city authorities, company executives and citizens formulated guidelines for the project. The final contract, however, followed these guidelines only to certain amount, which led to an uproar among citizens. While authorities claimed their entitlements to regulate the project, the citizens' initiative demanded the consensus of the forum to be respected

The case study reveals 'subtle boundaries' of participation. The 'right to the city' is here claimed by different actors and carried out in different public spaces. By outlining and analyzing the opponent positions, the paper will discuss power relations between the actors and their respective understandings of being the rightful representative of 'the people'.

Thus, the paper highlights a crucial aspect of deliberative democracy: by producing new political actors and diverging notions of representation, civic participation proves to be a contested sphere in governance. Without mutual understandings of engagement, unsuccessful participation models may even reinstitute the unilateral relations they tried to compensate.

Everyday language policies: embodiment of language-related experiences of Finnish women in Sweden - two generations talk about life at the fringe of society

Authors: Lotta Weckstrom (University of California, Berkeley)  email
Hanna Snellman (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines life stories of Finnish immigrant women in Sweden, and their children’s generation’s narrations about paths and places at the fringes of Swedish society.

Long Abstract

In this paper we will examine life stories of Finnish women who migrated to Sweden during the peak years of migration, 1960s-1970s, and their children's generation's narrations about their mothers' lives and paths in Sweden.

After WW II a dramatic movement of people took place when industrialized countries of northern Europe needed workers, and the countries of southern and eastern Europe were willing to export their surplus population. Sweden was one of the receiving countries, in 1965 almost 50,000 persons migrated to Sweden to work, and almost half of them came from Finland.

In 1972 Sweden stopped further recruitment of foreign workers, and from 1975 onwards immigration became subject to stricter controls. Sweden started to follow an integration policy based on cultural pluralism. New comers were granted the same rights, duties and opportunities as those who had been born in Sweden.

How did the measures of cultural pluralism effect their life? How did they experience their place in society? How does the second generation talk about and share their mothers paths, careers and place in the Swedish society? Our data is based on ethnographic fieldwork in Sweden.

Our main capital are people: re-emigration discourse and exploitation in Latvia

Author: Klavs Sedlenieks (Riga Stradins University)  email

Short Abstract

On the basis of my material from Latvia I argue that the seemingly cooperative care for re-emigration and re-population of the countryside in fact is an attempt of the successful power-holders to draw the escaping underdogs back into subordination and exploitation

Long Abstract

Thousands upon thousands of Latvians have used their freedom of movement leaving the whole country, but in particular countryside, half-empty. Villagers who have not gone to Ireland go to Riga. One response to this is a publicly vocal view about the process as a tragedy that requires immediate effort to bring back the migrants to where they supposedly belong - to Latvia and in many cases - to their native villages. To achieve that goal, governments work on policies and civil society dreams visions of revived countryside. But whose tragedy is it and why? In this presentation I will argue that the seemingly cooperative and caring ethos of bringing back people to Latvia and repopulating countryside is the discourse of the former winners who are nearly defeated by a successful application of the weapons of the weak. Those who chose emigration did so because they could not (or would not) be successful in the local power-struggle. However, cooperation with the underdogs is an essential element of winning. Without underdogs there is no success. Therefore calls for re-emigration programs are so actively supported but mainly by those who have not migrated themselves; calls for re-population of the countryside are not designed by those who have left the villages. The resulting policies try to lure migrants back into their subordinate positions which would thus re-build the dominating positions of the power-holders. This presentation draws on analysis of public discussions, ethnographic observations, interviews and official policies.

Trapped by choice: rural Estonians on the move

Author: Aet Annist (University of Tartu)  email

Short Abstract

Fragmentation,accompanied by the demand for social resourcefulness to get by,has led rural Estonians to migrate. Search for sociality in such contexts has clear methodological and theoretical reasons,yet provides a questionable focus through which to understand the outcomes of post-soviet changes.

Long Abstract

I will analyse the processes of change in mutualities and reciprocities based on my fieldwork in 2002-2004 and 2012 in rural Estonia and since 2012 amongst transnational Estonians. The post-soviet massive change in socio-economic arrangements led to fragmentation and loss of reciprocity amongst villagers who used to be strongly connected through various positive (e.g. work collectives) and negative networks (e.g. acquaintance networks for obtaining deficit goods). This dispersion and the resulting diminished capacity for subsistence has been intensified by the loss of relevance of such individuals in the new context of local livelihoods that depend on the funding for participatory civic engagement which tends to favour the active, resourceful groups chosen to represent the story of authentic success of the nation.

Those processes have led, amongst others, to migratory responses, and have resulted in mass exodus from the countryside. I aim to connect these facts with newly emerging data from my current fieldwork amongst Estonians in the UK to explore whether migration has provided an escape from dispossession, and suggest that the nationalistic focus in migratory research provides a further myopic lens to concentrate on the social resources of well-placed elites and blur the view of those disconnected and trapped by such apparently free choice of migration.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.