(University of Oxford)
Paper Short Abstract:
Based on ethnographic work in the Latvian-Russian borderlands, this paper will reflect on "emptiness" as an object of study and a lens for analyzing how people and places become disconnected from and attempt to reconnect with what they understand to be meaningful life.
Paper long abstract:
Western philosophers have long written about emptiness as a malady of alienated and disenchanted moderns. However, in the once vibrant, but now deindustrialized Latvian-Russian borderlands, residents talk about emptiness as something that remains when the promises of modernity have been betrayed. When discussing it, they talk about the number of houses or apartments that stand empty and the number of people who have left. They describe how empty streets, stores, and homes produce discomfort, even nausea. For the locals, emptiness is not a temporary state of falling behind the global march to prosperity, but a transitional state between a world that has ended and a world whose contours are not yet visible.
This paper will reflect on "emptiness" as an object of study and a lens for analyzing how people and places become disconnected from and attempt to reconnect with what they understand to be meaningful life. It will mobilize the concept of emptiness developed on basis of ethnographic research in the Latvian-Russian borderlands as a "portable analytic" that can be useful for understanding contemporary reterritorialization of power that produces emptiness as an enduring form of life.
Faces of emptiness