Toward the ethnography of the rhizomatic
Paper short abstract:
In this presentation I reflect on what methods and representational strategies might allow anthropologists to do justice to the radically plural and decentered quality of recent militant activism in Europe with its metaphors of a webs, multitudes and rhizomes.
Paper long abstract:
From 2000 to 2006, I conducted fieldwork with radical activists, primarily self-declared anarchists, in Zagreb, Croatia. Most of these activists strongly identified with, and some participated in, the wave of protests at international summits that the media dubbed the "antiglobalization movement." Activists, on the other hand, while trying to maintain some sense of common struggle, attempted in various ways to articulate the plural and decentered nature of that in which they participated. This tension is captured in many self-designations: "movement of movements," "network of networks," "one no and a thousand yeses," "a world where many worlds fit," and the "multitude." Metaphors of networks, webs, and rhizomes were particularly prevalent. The senses of identity implied by these new metaphors of social collectivity are fundamentally at odds with the arborescent metaphors of the nationalist imagination—unified, primordial, and organic—that were at the heart of claims to state sovereignty invoked during the wars of the former Yugoslavia and against which these activists vehemently contrasted their own political subjectivities. I reflect here on the interplay between these self-designations and my own ethnographic efforts to attend to the fluid, shifting and rhizomatic qualities of this activism. How, I ask, are ethnographers to do justice, both in our methods and our writing styles, to social and political practices that are so at odds with the traditional anthropological preoccupations with stability, structure and systematicity? Does engagement with practices opposed to organic unity help us to confront the lingering place of the culture concept in our ethnography?
From structure to conjucture: social networks and rhizomatic connnections