EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P102)
The power of mobile materialities: human movement, objects and the worlds they create [ANTHROMOB]
Location U6-6
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Norah Benarrosh-Orsoni (EHESS) email
  • James Coates (Sophia University) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Marta Rosales and Dimitris Dalakoglou

Short Abstract

This panel explores the role of circulating objects in producing social and spatial fields. Combining material culture and mobility studies approaches, it investigates the power effects of material circulations on human relationships, from questions of belonging to transnational politics.

Long Abstract

As Julie Chu states "mobility can do little on its own until it is materialized through people, objects, words, and other embodied forms" (Chu 2010: 65). Whether tourism, migration or transportation, human mobilities are entangled with non-human and extra-human mobilities. The exchange and circulation of commodities, gifts and technologies affect both mobile and immobile people, as well as their respective social and material environments. The political, spatial and sociocultural power effects of things are some of the many legacies anthropology leaves us (Appadurai 1988; Malinowski 1922; Mauss 1954; Mintz 1986). Recently, through a material culture and mobility studies lens, these social processes and material circulations have increasingly been emphasized as co-constitutive (Basu and Coleman 2008; Burrell 2008; Miller 2008).

Within this panel we propose to expand on this scholarship by exploring the role of materiality in shaping specific transnational social and spatial fields. Seeing the production of these fields as ostensibly political, we are interested in the power effects of objects in a mobile context. As historic anthropological research has shown, power need not be relegated to institutions and nation-states, but can also be seen in the micropolitics formed out of kinship, belonging and cosmologies produced by the circulation of things and people. Consequently, we welcome papers dealing with, but not limited to: the political-economy of commodities, remittances and souvenirs circulated by migrants and tourists; the effects of symbolically loaded objects that maintain kinship and belonging over long distances; or the consequences of such circulations in transnational political relations.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Re/locating, selecting and leaving things behind during the process of homing not-yet home abroad

Author: Vitalija Stepušaitytė (Heriot-Watt University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on an ethnography about the concept of home among Lithuanian women living in Scotland, this paper discusses the journey of grounding oneself in a new country through negotiations about an actual and imagined role of things from a home country.

Long Abstract

I am focusing on homing and unhoming practices that involve negotiations of what to have or what to leave behind, that are for example experienced during 'coming back home' journeys from Scotland or felt during 'Skype' conversations when a former 'home' is seen. I argue that such actions are emotionally charged journeys, which are complex experiences influenced by desired futures, possibilities at the moment, and acceptances of one's past. Based on my research, I am exploring how material objects or the absent of them are playing part in a process of settling down with the idea of inhabiting a new place, and continuing creating home, just elsewhere.

Migration is not interpreted as a one-way decision; it is very much a mental experience of here and now, that may be captured through things and environment from a remembered life or the lack of that for an imagined life. Home in Lithuania and/or Scotland are locales where merge at first sight separate, but intimately interlinked biographies, that are psychological and social, histories of places and possible futures. I am interested in a process of living within realm at Not-Yet home, when 'the Not-Yet characterizes the tendency in material process, of the origin which is processing itself out, tending towards the manifestation of its content' (Bloch, 1996, p.307)

Material circulations, domesticity and the search for modernity among Roma migrants.

Author: Norah Benarrosh-Orsoni (EHESS)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses a specific aspect of Roma migration between Romania and France, through the lens of material culture. It analyzes how the circulation of domestic commodities create new hierarchies inside the community, which also generates a shared ideology of what it means to be modern.

Long Abstract

This paper analyses a specific aspect of Roma migration between Romania and France, through the lens of material culture. In the last twenty years, many qualitative researchers have shown how material culture is the most favored medium to express social success. But the materiality of migration is a rather unexplored field, despite being a crucial aspect of any migratory journey. Many of the European Roma migrants wish to maintain strong roots and commitments to their homeland, while they build new lives abroad. In this Romanian group settled in the outskirts of Paris, the circulation of consumption goods and money, informations and ideas in both directions, is an important part of this attempt. This is also why most of their savings are invested in improving their village houses or in building new ones in Romania. This paper explores the ways recently owned commodities and their uses in Romanian domestic spaces create new hierarchies inside Roma communities, which generates a shared ideology of what it means to be modern. I do this by taking a close look at the objects carried in the trunks of the community-based microbus, and by analysing the reinterpretations they undergo in the village houses. We'll thus see how the relationships woven around the circulation and conspicuous uses of these goods causes new cleavages and cultural boundaries among Roma families, leading to the development of a culture of migration which unites the successful migrants in the same competitive game, while excluding all the others.

Things in motion and their translocal emplacement: Embodied mobilities between China and Spain

Author: Irene Masdeu Torruella (Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses transnational mobility between Qingtian (PR China) and Spain throughout the examination of the bidirectional circulation of different type of things (rituals objects, gifts and commodities) and the places or buildings where they are locally emplaced (temples, houses, and cafes).

Long Abstract

This paper draws from an extensive ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Qingtian County (Zhejiang), the region from where most of Chinese migrants in Spain come from. In the last three decades a strong migration culture has been developed in this area, where people who have not migrated and have not intention to do so are also involved in the social lives of their relatives and friends living in European countries, mostly Italy and Spain.

Transnational ties and practices in Qingtian are expressed and embodied in concrete material support, particularly in objects or commodities and in the places or buildings where they were emplaced. These objects and buildings - as properties of material culture - have an agency and a capacity to act beyond their representation value and, thus, play a key role in the Qingtianese mobility and migration culture. By focusing our gaze on the objects, their circulation, and the places where they are emplaced, interact and express their social value, this paper underscores the relationships between various social actors involved in the mobility between Qingtian and Spain: migrants, returnees and non-migrants.

Two methodological and theoretical perspectives are significantly involved in the present research. First the perspectives that approach the social meaning and agency of objects and commodities by focusing on their materiality and circulation (Appadurai 1986; Gell 1998), and secondly the methodological approach to transnational links through a space lens (Bivand Erdal 2011; Gielis 2009; Massey 1994). Both perspectives are based on the relational character of material culture and the social interaction between objects, people and places.

Money, not blood: remittances as a substance of relatedness in transnational households in Nepal

Author: Ina Zharkevich (Oxford University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on research in transnational households in rural Nepal, this paper explores how kinship is reconstituted in the situation of transnational mobility and seeks to reconceptualise remittances as a ‘substance of relatedness’ central for maintaining and reconstituting kinship ties across time and space.

Long Abstract

Drawing on research in transnational households in rural Nepal, this paper explores how kinship is reconstituted in the situation of transnational mobility and what role material flows play in sustaining/disrupting kinship ties. Nepal is the third biggest receiver of remittances in the world (as a share of GDP) and, arguably, it also has one of the highest rates of absentee nationals in the world: in 2010, every fifth Nepali was absent from a household. However, despite moving across borders and not seeing their families for years on end, Nepali migrants - who often move to take up precarious jobs in the Gulf states - remain embedded in the kinship networks and rural localities which they physically leave behind but with which they maintain relationships through a whole set of new kinship practices. By examining material flows resulting from migration - remittances, goods, and gifts sent by migrants - and their redistribution within households, this paper seeks to reconceptualise remittances as a 'substance of relatedness' central for maintaining and reconstituting ties in transnational households in Nepal. What can the direction in which remittances flow - towards elders or children, parents or spouses - tell us about the type of kinship relations which are prioritized over others? What can the conflicts arising from redistribution of remittances tell us about the tensions in the kinship system? By following remittances, this paper illuminates the ways in which money and the practice of remitting become a substance and a practice through which kinship is 'produced' across time and space.

Connecting circulations: migrants, migration money and translocal household economies in Nicaragua

Author: Nanneke Winters (University of Antwerp)  email

Short Abstract

This paper further unravels and develops the social and contextual dimensions of migration money by anchoring this money in translocal household economies. Based on Nicaraguan financial diaries, it connects the cross-border circulation of migrants with the circulation of migration money ‘at home’.

Long Abstract

The funding, remittances and investments that constitute migration money involve asymmetrical relations of gender, class and other identity markers that characterize specific localities. A growing recognition of such social and contextual dimensions of migration money has improved our understanding of the diverse shapes this money may take. However, there is a need to further unravel and develop these social and contextual dimensions by considering migration money not as separate cash flows, but as part and parcel of translocal household economies. This paper aims to further anchor and understand migration money by integrating two types of translocal household circulation. First, the cross-border circulation of migrants, which both require and provide household money. And second, the circulation (and transformation) of migration money 'at home', as part of wider constellations of household financial practices. Based on ethnographic research in Nicaragua, these two circulations and their interconnections were explored by so-called financial diaries. These yearlong diaries quantitatively and qualitatively tracked households' (cross-border) practices of income generating, spending, lending and saving. They recorded both the monetary details of financial practices as well as the social and locally appropriate considerations behind them. This long-term and detailed empirical approach enabled an in-depth view of migration money in a context of income scarcity and volatility, and of the ways migration money shapes the experiences of migrants. In turn, financial diaries showed how these migrants reconfigure household financial practices based on and beyond migration money, thereby further anchoring this money in the field of stratified translocal household economies.

Buying as gift, buying as violence: transnational Chinese material practices in Japan as a moral debate

Author: James Coates (Sophia University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on textual analysis, netnography and participant observation among Chinese migrants in Japan, this paper explores how a recent boom in transnational informal economies between China and Japan are framed as both a form of parasitic violence and a form of gift.

Long Abstract

Sino-Japanese relations are increasingly typified by everyday circulations of people, things and practices. These various mobilities, from overseas study to overseas trade, have created a context where, on an everyday level, Japan and China increasingly resemble a transnational social field. This paper explores the practice of 'explosive buying' (bakugai/baomai) as an example of how mobile materialities generate this transnational field. 'Explosive buying' is a recently coined term in Chinese and Japanese that describes the popular practice of buying large quantities of commodities while Chinese people travel overseas. From Japanese washlet toilet seats to cosmetics and luxury brands, flows of goods from Japan to China have become a common way for tourists and migrants to turn a small profit while overseas. Moral panics over the practice of 'explosive buying' have erupted in news and online media in both China and Japan, reflecting the everyday frictions generated by Chinese peoples' increasing mobility and economic heft in Northeast Asia. Based on textual analysis, netnography and participant observation among migrants who facilitate this practice, this paper shows how 'explosive buying' and the circulating goods that substantiate this practice are framed as both a form of parasitic violence and a form of gift. Such a context raises questions of whether 'commodities' can be socially disembedded in a mobile context where economic debates are ostensibly moral ones; and, what kind of moralities are produced by the transnational circulation of objects.

Pilgrimage souvenirs as religious remittances: the circulation of power between Europe and Africa

Author: Catrien Notermans (Radboud University Nijmegen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the pilgrimage souvenirs that African migrants circulate between Europe and Africa to maintain and create their transnational social fields. It argues that the souvenirs become tools of empowerment in women’s relationships with their social network back home.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the power of tiny, cheap, mass-produced and easy to transport pilgrimage souvenirs that African migrant women circulate between Europe and Africa to maintain and create their transnational social fields. The mobility of African women living in the French capital does not stop with migration; frequent travelling on the pilgrimage routes to various European Marian sites has become part of women's life style and vital in framing their new lives. During their intense programme of religious travel, women buy huge quantities of religious souvenirs, develop specific skills to imbue them with Mary's power and subsequently remit them to their social network back home. Through women's capacity to turn the souvenirs from commodities into religious remittances the objects gain the power to intervene across borders. Besides the power to heal and protect they also have the agency to kill or destroy; in both ways they convey the message that their senders are successful migrants, generous remitters and powerful kinswomen. By zooming in on the qualities of some site-specific souvenirs and the multiple effects these symbolically loaded objects have, the paper highlights a less known though highly gendered way of remitting and argues that the religious souvenirs become tools of empowerment in women's relationships with their social network back home.

The paper is based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork between 2009 and 2015. African migrant women were followed in their daily routines in Paris and on their routes to the favourite Marian sites of Lourdes (France) and San Damiano (Italy).

Cell phones for the spirits: the circulation of votive paper offerings between Vietnam and Germany

Author: Gertrud Hüwelmeier (Humboldt University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the sacred life of material goods in late socialist Vietnam and highlights the entanglements between religion, media and materiality across borders.

Long Abstract

Religion has been thriving in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam since đổi mới, the onset of market reforms in the late 1980s. Votive paper offerings, part of spiritual and economic well-being, play a crucial role in performing religious practices in the socialist country as well as among diasporic Vietnamese. In urban Hanoi, material objects made from paper are traded in marketplaces and later burned in the streets, in temples and pagodas, in private yards and other places, on special occasions in order to be transmitted to the ancestors. In the past few years, the range of votive paper offerings produced, traded, and sent to the deceased has expanded to include new forms and references to new media. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Hanoi and Berlin, and drawing on recent debates in the role of media in religion and in particular on technologies of mediation, I focus on the use of votive paper offerings in the socio-cultural context of the Vietnamese spirit world. I explore how new media and media technologies are embedded in multilayered processes of mediation in Vietnam and its diasporas. Taking religious practices of burning votive paper offerings as an ethnographic example, this paper aims to contribute to ongoing debates on popular religion and the sacred life of material goods in late socialist Vietnam, on transnational ties, and on entanglements between religion, media and materiality.

Moving with character: old objects and social mobility in contemporary UK

Author: Ana Carolina Balthazar (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the particularity of old objects with “character” in allowing for and encouraging social identity change while maintaining a sense of continuity with the past in the context of class mobility in Margate, UK.

Long Abstract

This paper addresses the potential of old objects with "character", a native idiom, to enable British informants who benefited from decades of upward mobility in the UK to adjust their working-class memories to contemporary conditions where working-class identities were suppressed from public debate. Old clothes and bric-a-brac enable my informants to move from a working-class register of belonging to a national one, which will then be expressed in politics. This is possible due to the very materiality of such objects, which combine the remnants of multiple temporal registers. In connecting to such objects, my informants may produce narratives and forge connections and a sense of belonging to either a working class village or a British industrial era. In such a context, memories that were once associated with a working-class identity will now help to forge a British identity. It is the fact that objects convene in their materiality multiple identities that allow for my informants to change while maintaining a sense of coherence. The particularity of objects with character, in relation to other objects, is their ability to allow for and encourage change in social identity while maintaining continuity with the past. The paper presents objects as not only relevant to build fences and bridges (Douglas and Isherwood 1979), but also to point towards new paths (cf. Keane 2006), inform social transformation and enable the construction of new political identities.

Producing the canalscape: engaging with mobile materialities in UK's inland waterways tourism

Authors: Maarja Kaaristo (Manchester Metropolitan University)  email
Steven Rhoden (Manchester Metropolitan University)  email

Short Abstract

Mobile practices are conjured materially through everyday encounters with diverse material objects. These objects help to produce the canalscape as well as become the means through which power is exercised in various interpersonal relationships in canal tourism situations.

Long Abstract

While auto- and aeromobilities have been quite extensively studied in the new mobilities paradigm framework, water-going vessels have received much less attention in anthropology. Mobile practices on water are conjured materially through sensory everyday encounters with various physical objects. Bringing the discussions on materialities and mobilities together with those on everyday life in tourism we aim to identify the key material objects producing the spatial, social and sensory canalscape. A mundane material object such as windlass, key or teacup has potential to modify the canalscape, as the objects become the means through which power is exercised in various interpersonal situations. The holiday boaters have to negotiate with different actors such as other boaters, 'liveaboards', anglers, cyclists and walkers on the towpaths as well as institutions such as Canal and River Trust or Inland Waterways Association and thus become part of (and important player in) the wider canalscape politics. We will discuss the ways the subjects realise themselves in the mundane materialities and create co-dependencies between the artefact and individual. This enables us to illuminate the processes via which human-technological systems and assemblages (such as boat-human) are (per)formed and practiced in water tourism context. The paper is based on ongoing ethnographical fieldwork (mainly participant observation and semi-structured interviews), focusing on the holiday boaters on the canals in north-west of England.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.