EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P024)
History as lived reality and the future of anthropology
Location U6-3
Date and Start Time 21 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Christina Toren (St. Andrews University) email
  • Richard Irvine (University of Cambridge) email

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Short Abstract

Puts aside our taken-for-granted analytical distinctions and looks to ethnographic attempts to render analytical the categories used by the people with whom we work to describe and understand their environing world. The idea is to show how history inheres in the present, in what we are, do, and say.

Long Abstract

The objective of this panel is to put aside our taken-for-granted analytical distinctions (for example, biology-culture, individual-society, structure-process, language-speech, ontology-epistemology and so on) and look to ethnographic attempts to render analytical the categories used by the people with whom we work to describe and understand themselves and their environing world. The anthropologist/ethnographer may hope to demonstrate how these same categories come to have a purchase on the world, and in so doing likewise demonstrate their lived reality. This panel explores the idea that anthropology can be at the very heart of the human sciences, provided we re-think the analytical and political implications of the ideas of history and historicity that inform our analyses. Along with an awareness of historicity as an epistemological problem goes the realisation that one's own cherished theory is almost bound to be replaced by another (not necessarily better informed and thus more adequate, but certainly for the time being more fashionable). It follows that many (though by no means all) contemporary anthropologists are highly conscious of the historical nature of all our categories - that is, our own theoretical categories as well as those of our informants - even while we hold to the necessity of, and strive for, valid explanations of how the extraordinary multiplicity of human being has its source in what we all have in common.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Assembling time: collaboration, life histories, and multiple emplotment in research and narratives

Author: Nathan Light (Uppsala University)  email

Short Abstract

Life histories are processual at multiple levels, and call upon us to explore the overlapping of knowledge and experience as they unfold and interconnect

Long Abstract

Life histories unfold across interviews and written texts, representing lived events and memories, but also reflecting the goals and projects of the teller for the future. To explain these multiple processes within the telling of lives adds another layer to already complex stories. This paper will present several Kyrgyz narratives of lived events and examine carefully what it means to thread explanation and interpretation into a life history. If as the panel proposal suggests, theories are temporary, contingent, and doomed to supersession, does this also apply to other emergent explanations, such as those given by interlocutors or those that we create in collaboration with them? Or is there something more particular about such explanations that makes them less vulnerable to being replaced? Are they closer to experience and thereby woven into it? Can we thus imagine theories that do not have to be given up, but remain closely tied to the concerns within which they emerged?

Kyrgyz historical knowledge also emerges from a variety of discovery processes including dreaming and divination. Thus, the process of coming to know something can also be narrated as experience. This fact points to the broad spectrum of human experiences such as memories, concepts and theories that similarly unfold in time and can be narrated. Learning and discovery are also experiences, and we have inadequate language for discussing the ways that experience and knowledge come together in such processes. Life histories themselves, with their capacity to both constitute reality and represent it, seem thus to challenge the distinction of ontology and epistemology.

Testimonies as futures past and the historicity of Christian testimony in Brazilian society

Author: Carlos Eduardo Valente Dullo (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS))  email

Short Abstract

Aiming to overcome the distinction between an informative and a performative narrative and to take testimony as an analytical and native category, this paper address testimony as a practice with its own temporality and historicity in Brazilian society.

Long Abstract

During my fieldwork in a Catholic Social Centre that works in partnership with public policies I observed the importance given to testimonies of those who succeeded in the process of social inclusion to those youngsters who are striving to achieve that position. In ethnographic accounts testimonies are usually seen as sources of information that renders the lives of those who narrate it meaningful for the observer. However, this approach neglects the testimony effects on their intended audiences's life.

Aiming to overcome the distinction between an informative and a performative narrative and to take testimony as an analytical and native category, this paper address testimony as a practice with its own temporality and suggests that it depends on the shared relationally between the narrator's past and the audience's future. This approach benefits from a close attention to individual histories as much as it does on the historicity of the testimony in Brazilian society. In this latter aspect, this paper aims to understand how a Christian practice was developed by Paulo Freire's Pedagogy into a secular empowerment strategy for the working classes and youngsters who narrate their own accomplishments.

Our history: The It Girls, (not) being ghetto and friendship in a London School

Author: Sarah Winkler-Reid (Newcastle University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the friendship group history of the It Girls, whose splintering as a group and eventual reunification centred on being or not being ghetto. This history is examined as important in its own right as well as a manifestations of broader histories that give meaning to growing up in London.

Long Abstract

In Year 11, after five years as a group, pupils (aged 15 - 16 years old), often looked back on their shared history together. These stories focused on the year group, as well as histories of different friendship groups and specific friendships. This paper focuses on one of these friendship group histories; the It Girls, the highest status girl group in the year. As the girls told it, their splintering as a group centred on the question of whether ghetto was an acceptable way to be or not. Ghetto was described by pupils as one of the most visible ways to 'act black' but made clear there were other ways to 'act black' and being black was not a prerequisite for acting 'ghetto'. The It Girls' splintering, and eventual reunification, highlights their struggles over acceptable action, what should be shared with friends and what it means to be a good girl and in their recounting enabled them to articulate 'who they are now' in contrast to 'who they were then'. As I will explore in this paper, these friendship group histories are important in their own right, as well as a manifestations of broader histories that give meaning to growing up as a particular kind of person in contemporary London and Britain.

Segmentation as historicity

Author: Susana Viegas (Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the living experience among the Fataluku (Timor-Leste) of both secrecy and being part of clan-segments. Through this lens I discuss how a segmented world (a classical category in anthropological debate) looks like when we render its meaning through an analysis of historicity

Long Abstract

Among the Fataluku (Timor-Leste), keeping continuous and open communication with their patrilineal ancestors, through successive processes of revelation and concealment, is central to their ways of being in the world. This paper is centred on a case study of a particular event that took place next to a tomb destined to beg the ancestors for good fortune in a business venture involving the acquisition of a mini-bus (mikrolet). This ceremonial demand implies the intermediation of a specific segment of the interested man´s kin network and the exclusion of others. I show how these segmented webs of kin constitute ways of people understanding themselves and their environing world.

The anthropological literature on this region has shown the role of secrecy in its relation with hierarchy and kinship dynamics, as well as with religion. In this paper I propose to discuss what it means to live the environmental world one inhabits as a segmented one. I underline how tactics and strategies are used by my interlocutors to gain access to the goodwill of their ancestors. Also, I stress how these serve the purpose of connecting their contemporary condition with their past experience in the long period when Timor-Leste was occupied by the Indonesian regime (1976-1999). I will consider what segmentation (a classical theme in anthropological debate) looks like when we render its meaning through the lens of the Fataluku condition of being in the world.

Historicities as modes of becoming in Ambonwari, Papua New Guinea

Author: Borut Telban (Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts)  email

Short Abstract

Historicities among the Ambonwari of Papua New Guinea connect past, present and future and are experienced as lived realities. Being focused on somebody or something, however, they are driven by the future. Embedded in beings and things and doings and sayings, they are modes of becoming.

Long Abstract

Historicities among the Karawari-speaking Ambonwari of Papua New Guinea are highly selective, emphasising connection between past, present and future. Without this connection, which is experienced as lived reality, historicities would not exist. They need temporal thickness, which is best exemplified in group, person and gender specific ways of doing things. In my paper I look at a practice of a woman giving food to her brothers and fathers, and a man to his wife. The practice has its origin in a debt, called kunaypa 'a splinter of sago leaf's stem' that sticks out, which came about as a consequence of ancient wrongdoings. As a 'concept' kunaypa refers to a story and a practice, to thinking, feeling and doing, and is as a rule filled with social and moral connotation. Although experienced as cosmological identification and authentication in the present, I argue, historicities need to be oriented towards somebody or something and are driven by the future. Therefore, historicities, embedded in beings and things and doings and sayings, are modes of becoming. When a radically different future is desired, however, certain beings, things, doings and sayings need to be abandoned, supressed or modified, as if a desired 'novelty' has already been part of people's own mode of becoming.

Negotiating the present: negotiating the past

Author: Johana Musalkova (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the dynamics of collective identity formation on the case study of commemoration politics in Opava, a borderland town of Upper Silesia.

Long Abstract

The relatively recent response of the city council of Opava, the historical capital of Czech Silesia (the Czech Republic), to cede to populist opinion within the region has led to the refusal to grant dedication of a commemorative plaque to the indigenous German speaking populations which was expelled between 1945-1951 based on the collective guilt sentence. Spearheaded by the Silesian German Association, the response of Opava's authorities and populous to the plaque was one of annoyance and disregard, relegating the prominently German character of pre-Second War Silesian language and culture once again to a silent memory. Drawing on a vast body of literature considering difficult heritage, cultural trauma and collective amnesia, through this case study I examine the dynamics of identity formation and commemoration politics in Opava. The situation in the city demonstrates both how cultural trauma affects a group of people which had previously achieved some degree of cohesion and the role of group agency in overcoming the collectively traumatic experience. I argue that the prevailing strategy emerging from this agency is a denial - which I theorize in terms of collective amnesia. The understanding of collective amnesia as a strategic response to collective trauma through this case study can aid both our understanding of the local context as well as how human groups adapt to the disintegration of their collective identities.

Borderland as agora: re-centring histories of alterity on the Polish-Belarussian frontier

Author: Aimee Joyce (St Andrews University)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I wish to discuss how the concept of the borderland, as place and a mode of existence, shaped the relationship between people, histories of conflict and the landscape in a small town in the East of Poland.

Long Abstract

One of the contradictions of Poland's eastern border is that it has been simultaneously mythologised and disparaged. Those living on the eastern borders are burdened with a nationally resonant identity, as people at the edge of Polish belonging, and a history of inequality, displacement and dispossession. This conflict is managed through the idea of the frontier, a particularly potent local archetype and reality. During my fieldwork in a small town on the Polish Belarusian border, people spoke often of 'pogranciza' the borderland: a sense of belonging that embraces the double bind of valuing and minimising difference. In this paper I discuss how the concept of the borderland shaped the relationship between people and the landscape. The borderland is a place and a mode of existence.

I want to pay particular attention to how struggles over historical knowledge are materialised in specific spaces and in the response to the empty places throughout this region. People's movements in graveyards, churches and abandoned - once Jewish - property offer an analysis of the past embedded in the land. The local concept of the borderland, undoes taken for granted analytical categories of natural and manmade landscape, and the differentiations of place and mode of belonging. Instead by embracing the ideal of the agora, the gathering place, and the 'throwntogetherness' of landscape (Massey, 2005) it's a concept that offers a way to understand the environing world. An understanding which acknowledges both the determining role histories of conflict have, and the necessity of minimising this role, in borderlands.

Humans and Others in Amazonia

Author: Cecilia McCallum (UFBA - Universidade Federal da Bahia)  email

Short Abstract

Explores how the Cashinahua notion 'huni' (human) is rendered analytical in relational practice in response to historical contingency, thereby reconsidering so-called ‘ontological’ analyses of Amerindian conceptualization of humanity and difference

Long Abstract

Cashinahua people of Brazilian and Peruvian Amazonia strive to 'live well' as Huni Kuin, 'real humans'. To do this, they both transact with and draw apart from non-indians, the Nawa (often seen as less than human) and with yuxin (spirits) who embody non-humanness. In practical deployment 'huni' and 'nawa' or 'huni' and 'yuxin' are irreducible to conceptual binarisms. The former, which evokes the image of an anthropomorphic body, also applies to species such as wild pigs or maize and to invisible beings or 'yuxin'. 'Nawa' refers to strangers and enemies and sometimes to invisible beings that are human in form and appearance. Perspectivism and animism, key components of the 'ontological approach' in Amerindian studies, provide elegant solutions to such apparent ethnographic paradoxes by emphasizing the formal configurations of relations between the conceptual assemblages involved. Identifying the relational constitution of concepts contained in practical and discursive expressions involving humanity and difference, they arrive at the underlying organizational logic to reveal these assemblages as properly philosophical. In doing so, ontological analysis tends to abstract the philosophy in Amerindian living from its lived historicity. The present paper seeks to reintegrate such histories into the analysis, from a Huni Kuin perspective. For them, to be human is to have a particular kind of body that emerges over time out of a complex of fields of relatedness.

Historical ecologies in north-eastern Siberia: area spirits and the pop machine

Author: Eleanor Peers (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper elucidates the historical nature of contemporary interrelationships between a Siberian community and their environment, by exploring the ways pop music performances harness the aesthetic conventions of contemporary Russia to express relationships that have their roots in pre-Soviet shamanism.

Long Abstract

Russia's Sakha population - the dominant ethnic group in the Siberian Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) - have developed their own popular music industry over recent decades. New and varied genres of Sakha popular music have emerged in tandem with an ongoing cultural revival: after decades of life in the atheist, materialist Soviet state, Sakha people are able to re-evaluate pre-Soviet shamanic conventions and practices. Paradoxically, this revitalisation sits with further transformation, as the Sakha population moves from the rural Sakha heartlands into the Republic's capital, Yakutsk. Pre-Soviet Sakha shamanic practice was founded on relationships with the deities, demons and spirits that inhabited the natural environment. How, then, can this tradition be pursued in Yakutsk, where lives are set among laptops, offices and shopping malls, rather than horses, forests and cow-byres?

This paper elucidates the historical nature of contemporary interrelationships between Sakha people and their environment, by exploring the ways pop performances harness the aesthetic conventions of contemporary Russia to express relationships that have their roots in pre-Soviet life. As I show, pop music has become a natural site for ordinary Sakha people - not shamanic activists, or the nationalist intelligentsia - to celebrate their sense of the power of nature associated with human community. Sakha pop performance illustrates the productive capacity of history, in that it holds together contradictory forms of relationship, value, person and action, predicated on contrasting ontological assumptions. Not only are pop singers skilled at wooing audiences through slick stage performances and YouTube clips, they can also mediate the area spirits.

Temporal vertigo: histories and futures on Greece's central plain

Author: Daniel Knight (University of St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses how people in austerity Greece understand their complex experiences of histories and futures and promotes the accommodation of messy narratives of time that may leave the researcher feeling sea-sick.

Long Abstract

The consequences of prolonged fiscal austerity have left people in Trikala, central Greece, with feelings of intense temporal vertigo - confusion and anxiety about where and when they belong in overarching timelines of pasts and futures. Some people report feeling "thrown back in time" to past eras of poverty and suffering, while others discuss their experiences of the current crisis situation as re-living multiple moments of the past assembled in the present (like the time of late Ottoman Empire landlords, occupying Axis forces, or the 1940s Great Famine). Embodying moments of the past, locals discuss their fears of returning to years of hunger and colonization whilst drawing courage that even the worst crises can be overcome. This paper analyses how locals understand their complex experiences of histories and futures and promotes the accommodation of messy narratives of time that may leave the researcher feeling sea-sick.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.