Author:Deborah Jones (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the social significance of the figure of provokator, 'provocateur,' in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, with a focus on the winter revolutionary period.
Paper long abstract:
Since it began in November 2013, the conflict in Ukraine has been punctuated with accusations of provocatsija, 'provocation,' from one side or the other. English language publications have picked up the Ukrainian (and Russian) discourses of provocation with little regard for their historical rootedness or local meanings. This paper examines the social significance of the figure of provokator, 'provocateur,' in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, with a focus on the winter revolutionary period. It takes a linguistic anthropological approach, attending to the semiotic markers many Ukrainian demonstrators have drawn on to determine who is or isn't a provocateur, as well as the semiotic processes that continue to inform imaginings of this feared figure. Central to this paper is an analysis of covert, overt, and what I call 'ironic' provocateurs, and assumptions about the sincerity or authenticity of each. Additionally, this paper suggest that 'provocateurs' in contemporary Ukrainian discourse are not merely 'unratified' protest participants in the Goffmanian sense. Rather, following anthropological writings on 'instigators,' I argue that those labeled provocateurs are perceived frame-breakers, actors that can cue not only footing shifts and frame slippages, but ultimately push vulnerable interactional frames in violent directions that may delegitimize them.