Accepted Paper:

Mobile perspectives/perspectives on mobility: anthropological entanglements with competing contexts  

Author:

Elitza Ranova (Rice University)

Paper short abstract:

Through the example of Bulgarian artists and culture producers, this paper examines the potential of “mobility” as a concept to provoke a reflexive examination of anthropological alignment with competing local, national and international perspectives. It assesses how “mobility” implicates anthropologists in the critique or reproduction of power relations.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the potential of "mobility" as a concept to provoke a reflexive examination of anthropologists' relation to native explanatory frameworks. I approach this question through the study of a segment of Bulgarian artists and culture producers, who claim to cultivate "European" tastes and ways of life. They interpret their work as a vehicle for the travel of styles and ideas originating abroad. Because an imagined "Europe" is frequently understood to be a source of authority and innovation, this strategic use of "mobility" allows the culture producers to seek prestige and high social status. In response, members of the Bulgarian public may choose to support or dispute the assertion of "mobility" and the associated power claim. At the international level, we will find that "mobility" as an explanatory framework produces an effect of disempowerment. Since movement implies transversing distance and suggests a time-lag, it places the Bulgarian culture producers temporally behind "European" centers of cultural innovation. The term fails to account for the complexities of a local creative process, which produces original work through citation of foreign models in the context of specifically post-socialist sentiments. To sum up, "mobility" reveals the existence of competing perspectives on three levels: individual agents, nation and international setting. This paper theorizes "mobility" as a concept that allows anthropologists to examine competing perspectives without adopting them and to ask, what is the significance of anthropological alignment with each? How does "mobility" implicate anthropologists in the critique or reproduction of power relations at multiple levels?

Panel IW01
Mobility: frictions and flows