EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P054)
Ethnographies of the contemporary left
Location U6-21
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Ingo Schröder (University of Marburg) email
  • Agnes Gagyi (New Europe College) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Monique Nuijten
Discussant Mariya Ivancheva

Short Abstract

The panel discusses approaches to contemporary leftist activism, movements, and governments around the globe in terms of classical methodological, conceptual, and theoretical tools from anthropology.

Long Abstract

Recent years have seen rising anti-austerity activism around the globe and electoral successes of socialist governments across Latin America and elsewhere. Scholarly and public debates speak of a possible new wave of global anti-neoliberal left-wing mobilization. The panel proposes to discuss the issue of the contemporary left from an anthropological perspective - based on in-depth fieldwork and informed by analytical paradigms from the anthropological tradition. Such discussion contributes to wider debates about today's left by focusing on local historicities and issues of emic and etic notions of politics, beliefs and emotions as inherent forces in social organization, and identity politics.

The panel aims to facilitate a dialogue between research traditions on various aspects of the contemporary left (anarchism, social movements, socialist governments) and invites contributions on the following issues:

• the role of classical anthropological tools both in terms of empirical methodology and theoretical approaches to politics that transcend basic political-scientific and movement vocabularies to discuss power, agency, institutionalization, symbolism, etc.

• a critical engagement with the multiple global and vernacular, emic and etic meanings of "leftist.

• the comparison of cases of leftist politics in various global positions and locations in order to understand how transnational processes and symbolic flows relate to local social contexts.

• a critical evidence-based reflection on the role of the researcher as participant, activist, sympathizer, and commentator on the contemporary left, considering the critical stance of the anthropological tradition toward ideologies of global modernity and the present trend toward an activist approach to anthropological work

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

"Solidarity with Greece?": ethnography and revolutionary tourism on Europe's margins

Author: Heath Cabot (University of Pittsburgh)  email

Short Abstract

This paper critically examines Greece's emergence as a site of interest to an international left, the ethics of foreign political and ethnographic engagement in this country on the margins, and the possibilities and limits of solidarity.

Long Abstract

Greece has become a prime destination for new forms of tourism, now frequented by an emerging international intelligentsia, who have come to frame Greece as an epicentre in transnational class and anti-racist struggles. Researchers, activists, volunteers, and other foreign elites now frequent Athens' social centers and community kitchens, and Aegean islands have become prime destinations for voluntourism trips. This new interest in Greece is, in part, tied to the election of the "radical left" party Syriza in 2015 (and the dissentions wrought through Syriza's own adoption of austerity measures), as well as Greece's crucial role in receiving refugees crossing into Europe. There is also significant international excitement in what is known as the "solidarity movement" in Greece, the grassroots-level modes of resource pooling and redistribution, through which Greek residents have responded to austerity and also welcomed refugees. This foreign participation in Greece is not to be dismissed, and indeed, has provided crucial labor, resources, and support. Yet it begs serious questions regarding the ethics and responsibilities of researchers and activists. As a non-Greek anthropologist, with a long-standing ethnographic engagement in Greece, I will explore the fraught histories and tensions of foreign political participation in this country on the margins. Drawing on my research on asylum politics and solidarity networks in Greece, I will inquire into both emic and etic meanings of both the "left" and the "political," and the possibilities and limits of solidarity itself.

Political energy at the grassroots: contestation and the development of alternatives by activist groups in Spain

Author: Monique Nuijten (Wageningen University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines political activism and the development of new interpretative frames around justice, citizenship and state responsibility. Based on ethnographic research in Southern Spain, the paper analyses the PAH (platform of mortgage victims) and the vision of several of its activists.

Long Abstract

In a time of turmoil and crisis for a large part of the world population, and increasing moral concerns, a variety of initiatives have emerged at the grassroots, based on values which differ from those of neo-liberal capitalism. An increasing number of people perceive traditional politics and state law as alien and corrupt, only serving a global elite. In this climate, political activism thrives. Some activists focus on locally based, green initiatives, while others strive for a radical change of the capitalist world order through collective actions that easily bring them into conflict with state law.

This paper examines how political activism developed in Spain after the economic crisis of 2008 and severe austerity measures. I look at different activist initiatives, with a special focus on the PAH (platform of mortgage victims). Political activistis oppose the formal political system and question its legitimacy. They contest hegemonic political practices through the construction of new interpretative frames around justice, citizenship and state responsibility. In this way, they actively engage in the shaping of new subject positions. This paper zooms in on the discourses and practices of the PAH and several of its activists in order to shed light on these new interpretative frames and subject positions.

Decentralization of the radical left in Nepal

Author: Matjaz Pinter (Maynooth University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper looks at the formation of political consciousness in Nepal and the development of Maoist political structures and systems of governance. In the era of a radical decentralization of the Nepali Left, we try to understand the disconnection between rural and urban politics.

Long Abstract

The decade-long Maoist People's War in Nepal that ended with the Comprehensive Peace Treaty in 2006 is globally known as the last Maoist revolution. Since then, Nepal has become a Republic, with a new constitution promulgated in September 2015. The new political elite, of which the former Maoists are now a part of, seemed to forget the goals and demands of the revolution, promulgating a constitution (September 2015) that has sparked new division in the country.

To analyse and understand the politics of the contemporary Left in Nepal, we must look at the dynamics of the People's War and its main achievement: the formation of political consciousness in the Nepalese countryside. In this paper I explain the development of the People's war in a village located in Mid-Western Nepal, where the Maoist insurgency started. Through an ethnographic narrative that unfolds the story of a village from the start of the People's War until today, I try to show how the Maoists developed their own political structures, from People's governments to the Bishesh Jilla (special district). The peace process and the integration of the Maoists into parliamentary politics led to political disarray at the countryside. The aim of the paper is to show how the turn of the Maoist movement to national politics affected the local political environment. Through interviews with former activists, guerrilla fighters and local Maoist cadres, we try to understand what caused the decentralization of the Nepali Left, and how the disconnection between urban and rural politics affects the contemporary Left politics in Nepal.

New wine in old skins? Colombian and Philippine armed revolutionary movements in the 21st century

Authors: Ulrike Davis-Sulikowski (University of Vienna)  email
Stefan Khittel (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

Peace negotiations after decades of internal war in Colombia and the Philippines entail a political opportunity for armed revolutionary movements. How do the “old” revolutionaries fit into of today’s progressive movements? What remains of the ideas of the 20th century?

Long Abstract

When Arturo recently argued that today's social movements owe many of their visions and aspirations to the older left movements of the 1960s and 1970s a question arises: What happens when the two worlds collide? Recently the ongoing peace negotiations in Colombia and the Philippines have opened a new opportunity for the armed revolutionary movements of these countries to participate and perhaps even transform traditional politics. Both countries have had a complex history of civil strife so that today there are groups that already in the 1990s have made their peace with the political establishment and others that are currently negotiating a peace deal while others still aim at a revolutionary victory.Doing fieldwork on both the new social movements and the armed social movements during peace negotiations we intend to give an insight of how members of (former) revolutionary groups influence, oppose, participate in today's social movements - Which forces drive them to do what they do, what are their dreams, their nostalgias, their utopias and/or dystopias.

Collaborator-anthropologists? Some critical reflections on fieldwork in radical movements

Author: Tord Austdal (University of Bergen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will critically discuss the practice of anthropology and ethnographic fieldwork in leftist and radical social milieus at the juncture of informant security and anonymity.

Long Abstract

This paper will critically discuss the practice of anthropology and ethnographic fieldwork in leftist and radical social milieus at the juncture of informant security and anonymity.

Using case material from fieldwork in a post-left radical milieu in the southern United States, I will in this paper discuss issues related to the production of ethnographic data, informant security, and the accounts we as anthropologists share with the public; and consequently with potentially repressive authorities. To any fieldworker navigating volatile political situations or decide to work with oppositional movements, the concern for informant security and anonymity is a palpable and practical concern. The safety and integrity of our interlocutors is an unconditional, professional, and ethical obligation demanding that fieldworkers secure and maintain the civil wellbeing of their interlocutors individually and collectively. Not just in the now of research and publication, but the obligation extends to safeguarding against potential future repercussions. To what extent is this (actually) possible? In what ways does such ethical concerns for informant anonymity structure our accounts? To what standards of science do we conform when safeguarding anonymity produce epistemological problems in our depictions of lives, people and events? Is the collaborator-anthropologist always a collaborator in the double sense?

Forget innocence: anthropology of educated left movements

Author: Agnes Gagyi (New Europe College)  email

Short Abstract

The paper analyzes the alterglobalist and post-2008 left movement waves in Hungary and Romania, with a focus on how academic-activist interactions, mediated by an unequal relationship to Western European versions of the movement, set the conditions of local activist thought and strategy.

Long Abstract

When anthropology takes a supportive stance towards left movements, its analytical power is often overshadowed by an identification with the emic notions of the movement itself. Such a blanket of symbolic coherence can obstruct not only the anthropological understanding of the movement, but also the self-reflection of the anthropological gesture vis-a-vis the movement. In the case of movements with an educated constituency, the interaction between movement ideology and sympathetic academic research can be especially intimate. The last two waves of what was considered a global left movement were of that character: alterglobalization and post-2008 Occupy-type movements were both deeply inspired by academic interpretations of globality, and also contributed to the canonization of left academic trends. In such cases, the responsibility of research towards movements needs to go beyond symbolic identification, and do what anthropology can do: investigate how global structural processes, institutional and intellectual interactions, including that with academic research, relate to the lived experience and efforts of the people within the movement. Such an analysis can throw a light exactly on those points of movement constitution which become hidden by the rules of the symbolic field of emic self-understanding. Relying on those principles, the paper analyzes cases of those two left movement waves in Hungary and Romania, with a focus on how academic-activist interactions, doubly mediated by an unequal relationship to the framing power of Western European versions of the movement, set the conditions of local activist thought and strategy.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.