Pioneers in their own land: striving for the good life in a community of Muslim Meskhetian returnees
(Sapienza University of Rome)
Paper short abstract:
This paper analyses aspirations for the good life within a community of Muslim Meskhetians, which reflect a reaction to the communitarian and managerial rationale of their deportation in 1944, expressed in an ethos of individual initiative, entrepreneurship and distrust of government(s).
Paper long abstract:
The notion of "diasporic return" brings to mind a range of ideas, from identity to memory, which anthropology has strived to interpret as collectively determined. However, fieldwork within a community of returnees - such as the Muslim Meskhetians with which this paper is concerned - can also supply material for a "cosmopolitan anthropology" of individual consciousness, creativity and accomplishment (Rapport 2012). This is not to say that a rural, close-knit community such as this epitomizes what Charles Taylor calls "liberalism of neutrality"- when a society decides that it must be neutral when it comes to defining the "good life". Rather, my purpose here is to convey, and admittedly pay homage to, a certain sense of "rugged individualism" and defiance towards authority, especially that expressed by the claims of modern centralized bureaucracies. My fieldwork interlocutors experienced first-hand the Soviet policies of demographic engineering when, in 1944, they were deported en masse. Their aspirations for the good life reflect, therefore, a reaction to the communitarian and managerial rationale of their deportation, expressed in an ethos of individual initiative, entrepreneurship and distrust of government(s). These coexist, and certainly conflict at times, with the aspirations of a community seeped in narratives of older moral horizons, chiefly that of a conservative, patriarchal household. The ultimate aim is to offer an ethnographic account, strategically unsettled, of what aspiring for the good life means for a group of individuals, pioneers among their people's movement of return, with whom I shared an exciting and challenging time of my life.
Virtuous (im)mobilities: the good life and its discrepancies