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Accepted Paper:

Fellow-thinking – or not? Universals and difference in Esperanto  

Author:

Manuela Burghelea (St Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I discuss the grammar of conducting research on Esperanto as an ethnographer and Esperanto speaker. Putting Esperanto into context as a historical movement and as a contemporary community enables understanding how striving for universality has mingled with expressions of individuality.

Paper long abstract:

Created in 1887 by the Jewish doctor Zamenhof as a way to overcome linguistic barriers and to counter nationalisms, Esperanto broke the utopian genre of universal languages into becoming the most widely spoken of them all. The idea of world citizenship through Esperanto has been developed along with Zamenhof’s philosophy ‘homaranismo’ (‘humanitism’), initially conceived as a solution to the Jewish question but soon extending its reach to humankind. Defending humanistic principles, the ‘homarano’ as ideal-type is a world citizen, who transcends borders, be they religious, ethnic, or political (Fians 2012; 2019). ‘Samideano’ (‘fellow-thinker’) emerged as a form of address to emphasize this commonality among Esperanto speakers – although it is more popular with the elderly than with Millennials. Is the focus shifting from community to individual actors? Gazing into Esperantujo (‘Esperanto-land’), we find it often referred to as a ‘virtual homeland’, ‘located wherever people are speaking Esperanto’ (Okrent 2005). Embraced by some anthropologists, ‘At home in the world’ may readily be as well the lemma of the Esperanto project. Writing from the perspective of an esperantologist at home – at home in the language –, I take a critical-reflexive approach to the tension between the temptation of a holistic endeavour to map a global Esperanto movement, and the acknowledgment of individualities and local particularities. Will Esperanto still be a subject of universal appeal if practices move from finding common ground to engaging diversity? What anthropology may take from the Esperanto case can help expand understandings of citizenship, belonging, and imagining.

Panel Speak03b
Cosmopolitan interiority, cosmopolitan responsibility II