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Accepted Paper:

Notes from Ukraine: reckoning with the absurd during a state of war  
Deborah Jones (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

In wartime, mundane activities become impossible, unrecognizable, or turned upside down by circumstance. This paper offers ethnography from three moments during the war in Ukraine (2014, 2018, 2022) when my interlocutors saw everyday life turn increasingly absurd.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropological work on the absurd, particularly in the former Soviet Bloc, has tended to focus on frustrating but also sometimes humorous habits and conditions of the everyday. Yet 'absurd' is also a word that my Ukrainian interlocutors have used to describe life during wartime. Although war in Ukraine has only recently skyrocketed to global attention, the conflict there has been burning for over eight years. This paper draws on three ethnographic moments over eight years of war in which my interlocutors spoke of how mundane activities became impossible, unrecognizable, or turned upside down by circumstances. In Odesa in 2014, internally displaced people from the initial violence Donbas described the trials of food provisioning, both as shells rained down and once the state was providing for them. In Kyiv-controlled Luhansk in 2018, when the ceasefire was mostly holding, Ukrainian workers for an explosives clearance organization struggled with their employer's lack of a detonation license: 'deminers' flagged anti-tank landmines for removal, but never saw the job completed. In Germany in 2022, Ukrainian refugees spoke of calling friends and relatives in Russia, describing the devastation they had witnessed in Ukraine, only to be told that what they had experienced simply had not happened. And yet they continued to call.

Rather than focusing on the absurd as an absence of meaning, this paper suggests absurdity is experienced as a distortion of precisely what one might find most meaningful.

Panel P063b
States of the absurd II
  Session 1 Tuesday 26 July, 2022, -