EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(P139)
Alter-politics, commons and ethnographies for another world
Location SO-D207
Date and Start Time 17 Aug, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Aimilia Voulvouli (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) email
  • Maribel Casas-Cortes (Wenner Gren Anthropological Foundation) email
  • Alexandros Kioupkiolis (Aristotle University) email

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Short abstract

Our panel aims at exploring ethnographic engagement with communities practicing alternative politics that revolve around shared/common resources aspiring thus to contribute to the emerging field of the anthropology of the commons and the wider ethnographic literature on alternative politics

Long abstract

Recent times have been marked by a global financial crisis and a neoliberal hegemony that have driven large parts of the population into depression, resignation and escape, spreading disaffection with the current state of global democracy. Nevertheless, alongside resignation and escape, we can also witness the rise of alternative practices of self-governance, community building and democratic politics.

Emerging community initiatives that self-organise around common endeavours such as social economy initiatives, civic engagement in municipal politics, digital networks, communities of migrants and solidarity groups that self-organise to face the defects of official migrant policy realise and propose different paradigms of political engagement. Based on principles of self-reconstruction and self-governance, such communities practice alternative politics that revolve around shared/common resources, produced and managed by the community itself. At the same time, they engage in knowledge production around alternative notions of the political.

Our panel aims at exploring ethnographic engagement with such 'alter-political' communities. We seek contributions examining the character and practices of collective action which revolves around shared resources and promotes alternative politics beyond the established mainstream political and market apparatus. Key questions to be tackled include, among others:

How can we articulate already existing anthropological knowledge of collective action with fieldwork on the commons?

Which modus vivendi and forms of subjectivity are unfolding in the context of such collectivities?

How is the collective subject constituted through practices and knowledge production in the framework of such groups?

How do contemporary ethnographies of political processes problematize or stimulate and enrich political theory?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

"We can be the moral compass for the society we want": Fairness, neighbourliness and decolonisation among supporters of people seeking asylum in Australia

Author: Tess Altman (University College London) email
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Short abstract

This paper considers alter-political strategies of supporters of people seeking asylum in the face of punitive deterrence-based policy in Australia. Discursive and ideological approaches as well as gendered and racialised dynamics are explored, plus practices of dis/engagement with the state.

Long abstract

This paper considers the alter-political strategies of supporters of people seeking asylum in the face of increasingly punitive deterrence-based policy in Australia. Disenchanted with the state's militarised Operation Sovereign Borders policy towards those who attempt to reach Australia by boat, supporters of people seeking asylum include volunteers, activists and humanitarian organisations. In a hostile climate where the majority of voters support the deterrence policy, supporters both fill the gaps in service provision and seek to instigate social and political change. Ethnographic examples from 16 months' fieldwork in Melbourne include an NGO campaign in the lead-up to the 2016 federal election that introduced new humanistic language based on rights and fairness; a grassroots group that sought to reconfigure the relationship between people seeking asylum and the wider community through the cultural idiom of neighbourliness; and a decolonisation movement that challenged the authority of white Australians to decide who could be part of the nation. The discursive and ideological differences between these approaches as well as their gendered and racialised dynamics are explored. In the process, it is revealed that some responses are more alter-political than others in seeking to challenge the established order and create another world; while others rather seek to mobilise existing cultural norms and values. Another point of interest is a simultaneous disengagement from and engagement with the state: while supporters self-organise and rely on alternative forms of community and loci for collective action, they continue to make ethical and political demands on the state.

# REZIST. The civic awakening of three generations in Romania

Author: Gabriel Stoiciu ('Francisc Rainer' Institute of Anthropology) email
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Short abstract

Virtual communities often prove profound sophistication of political activism by raising specific issues in comprehensive ways. In Romania, the online movement #REZIST - emerged as a form of resistance towards government's intention to make the institutional fight against corruption irrelevant.

Long abstract

Fifty years after 1968 world-wide protest movements, it has become almost impossible to imagine youngsters able to rise, nowadays, in such an intense fashion. We could say social media has "calmed down the spirits", acting as a valve for social frustration towards establishment's deeds.

However, virtual communities often prove profound sophistication of political activism by bringing up specific issues (like de-forestation or rule of law) in a comprehensive way, rather than tackling general matters, like it used to happen with public opinion till web 2.0.

Even after becoming an EU member, Romania still faces deep socioeconomic disfunctions. The first half of 2017 saw Bucharest and several other cities rising against the newly elected left-wing government: an after-hours 'occupy' movement started on mid-January at -15C. The online # Coruptia ucide (Corruption kills) movement became #REZIST - resistance towards government intention to make the institutional fight against corruption irrelevant by passing an amnesty law for politicians or businessmen convicted for less than 5 years. The street protests gathered generations X,Y & Z (parents bringing their kids) under a common cause. Through participant observation and photo-video techniques, I was able to collect relevant data of this major social event.

'To Participate in Commons': The case of sarantaporo.gr in northern Greece as Alternative Politics

Author: Aimilia Voulvouli (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on 6 months of participant observation, the presentation approaches the case of sarantaporo.gr, a wireless community network in rural Greece as a process of community building based on solidarity, sharing, participating, offering and learning creating thus a space of alternative politics.

Long abstract

The paper discusses the case of sarantaporo.gr, a community that in 2010 created and deployed wireless community networks in 11 villages aiming at bridging the digital divide between the urban areas and the rural mountainous region of Elassona in central Greece, where telecommunication companies are not interested in infrastructure investment. The networks' infrastructure is offered as a 'commons' openly accessible by all who live in the area and are either node holders or live close to access points. Drawing on six months of participant observation, the presentation approaches the case of sarantaporo.gr as a process of community building based on principles of solidarity, sharing, participating, offering and learning. In the framework of this process, to 'participate in commons' which in Greek has a distinct dual meaning - that is, participation in claiming and creating natural and cultural resources accessible by all members of a community and involvement in all sorts of politics (symmetohi sta koina) is being re-appropriated, redefined and reproduced creating thus a space for alternative politics.

Altering politics in our times How the crisscross between political theory and anthropology can help us to rethink and refigure politics for the purposes of equal freedom

Author: Alexandros Kioupkiolis (Aristotle University) email
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Short abstract

This presentation will explore how contemporary political theory opens itself up to anthropology and how a creative interaction between the two fields can nourish the radical democratic imaginary of our times.

Long abstract

Amplifying tendencies that have been operative since the early 20th century, contemporary political theory has rethought the concept of the political along lines which dis-locate it from the state and situate it between the two extremes of war and (eternal) peace. These shifts enable us to reimagine political action and organization in more egalitarian, open, decentralized and autonomous patterns.

Anthropology has contributed to these creative displacements and can help today to carry them forward.

Contemporary ethnography has charted the autonomous reality of other politics beyond or outside the state driven by internal motivation. Anthropology constitutionally attends to alterity, cultural diversity, and everyday worlds rather than the macro-level or the 'social system' as a whole. Hence, today it brings to the fore how social movement politics break with the statist logic of the political through their non-instrumental, prefigurative nature, by figuring new relationships and subjectivities, by converging in diffuse and decentralized networks, by self-organizing in public spaces and assemblies that are accessible to ordinary people and oppose hierarchical representation, fixed ideologies and professional politicians (Scott 1990; Haiven & Khasnabish 2014; Hage 2012; Graeber 2009; Maeckelbergh 2009; Shukaitis & Graeber 2007; Papapavlou 2015).

This presentation will explore how contemporary political theory opens itself up to anthropology and how a creative interaction between the two fields can nourish the radical democratic imaginary of our times.

Commons languages (and the ecologies of care for the city)

Author: Adolfo Estalella (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) email
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Short abstract

Three different genres used to invoke urban commons: dramatic, normative, and pedagogical. They evince the exploratory efforts to compose the languages that urban commons require to be brought into existence: Commons languages that bear witness to the emergence of an ecology of care for the city.

Long abstract

Urban commons have become the emblem of all sorts of political struggles during the harsh period of economic crisis in Spain, especially in cities like Madrid and Barcelona although not exclusively. During a long fieldwork carried out in Madrid (2010-2015) I came across different sites and contexts where urban commons were invoked. Commons always appeared as concepts difficult to define and empirical object hard to delimitate. In this paper I identify three different domains relevant in shaping the debate and emergence of commons in Madrid: (i) avant-garde public institutions of the cultural sector (an art centre called Medialab-Prado), (ii) grassroots and urban activists (Red de Iniciativas Ciudadanas), (iii) and architectural guerrillas (Zuloark). In all these contexts, people thrived to speak about urban commons, exploring the conceptual vocabularies, representation genres and visual aesthetics required not only to speak but also to bring commons into existence. I will describe the different genres that were used in each of these sites: dramatic, normative, and pedagogical. Each of them was materialized in specific instances: seminar-like events organized by cultural producers; a legal code proposed by a loose activist initiative; and a number of manuals of instructions designed by architectural guerrillas. With these descriptions, first I seek to call the attention upon the kind of aesthetics and languages that urban commons require to be brought into existence, and second, despite their differences, I'll show that these commons languages bear witness to the emergence of an ecology of care for the city.

Practicing alter politics in university: An ethnographic case from Greece

Author: Maria Doukakarou (University of the Aegean) email
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Short abstract

The paper rests on ethnographic material from island Greece. It brings to attention collective practices adopted by university students and analyses alternative conceptualisations of the political.

Long abstract

In late 2000s, just a few years prior to the emergence of a financial and (as it has come to be understood) a political crisis in Greece, university students in a provincial town engage into daily practices that aim to resist party relations as the mainstream form of political engagement in the Greek university context. Drawing from discourses of the Left and a rich cultural background that rests on the notion of "autonomy", those men and women, speak of self definition and self organisation and propose understandings of the political which defy all forms of hierarchy and place collective decision making and collective action at their core.

The paper follows the students in their daily life in space and in time (ethnographic material in ways extends to the present) and attempts to present both the procedures through which they constitute themselves as non-hierarchical and symmetrical political collectives and highlight the challenges and the restrictions they face in their encounter with the university institutional context and other broader political formations. `In doing so, it aims to problematize on anthropological understanding of the political and contribute to the growing literature on alternative politics.

The political in the commons. Confrontations with alternative (micro)politics of everyday life

Author: Panagiota Bampatzimopoulou (Aristotle University) email
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Short abstract

This paper focus on the politics of the commons through gender lens. Moreover, I will present four initiatives in Thessaloniki that defend health, education, labor and sports. My main aim is to stimulate further discussion concerning the tools I chose in order to conduct my qualitative research.

Long abstract

This paper aspires not only to delve into the politics of the commons but also to make the category of gender a central one in this emerging politics. To begin, I shall outline the politics of the commons as an alternative way of viewing and constructing our social reality. Through emphasizing the self-organization of the populations and the creation of communities, both the political and the politics are being re-examined, in order to be reconstituted in new contexts. Broadly defined, the commons refer to all those necessary for our social reproduction resources. But the commons only come to the fore when struggling communities are trying to preserve and enlarge them. So, the next chapter deals with the description of four communities in Thessaloniki-Greece that defend health, labor, education and sports. The commons could also be conceived of as an administrative system, a space within which subjects and groups are related, struggles emerge and a new ethical frame to defend and reproduce this system is being articulated. In this context, I shall emphasize the need to put an extra category in our analysis this of gender, that way I shall concentrate on the subject of the commoning. Finally, I shall go on to consider the chosen tools in my qualitative research in commons' communities. What are the main obstacles for a research like this? How difficult is to conduct an in-depth research in the field of the commons when you are a political theorist and not a social anthropologist?

Writing as (cosmo)politics: care-ful ethnographies of plastic

Author: Tridibesh Dey (University of Exeter) email
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Short abstract

Through care-ful meditation on complex plastic assemblages and their thing-politics, as lived with, this paper is a speculation into implications for ethnographic writing and for collectively potentialized being in a plastic-populated world.

Long abstract

This paper will speculate cosmopolitical possibilities through a care-ful studying of alter-politics with plastics. As such, we will talk about a grassroot political movement by Bishnoi men in Rajasthan against plastic-use, cattle-death upon plastic ingestion, toy-making with discarded plastics and about associations with plastics from everyday lives of (subaltern) people, including my own mother's, that exceed stipulated/governed consumption-disposal models. Simultaneously, we attempt to address how ethnographic writing about plastics re-writes ethnographic praxis itself.

Ubiquitous and pervasive, plastic may be safely said to mediate every form of life-processes across the planet today. We are co-populated by plastics (not least, embodied plastics), which have become instrumental to the very enactment of our many selves, actual and virtual. Researching plastics, lived with as such, is to research oneself and one's interlocutors as situated within an intra-active web of political processes and (critical) subject-object relations. As ethnographic researcher from India whose home, family and research participants live, choking on rising plastic debris colonizing the commons, there is substantial stake enfolded into the creative and destructive (collective) potentialities of plastics as ontologically pliable molecular bodies. From such a vantage point, at least, perhaps the only way to write about plastics, then, is to assume one's responsibilities, interests, affects, concerns - care(s), harness embodied privileges and enact one's politics into the world. Writing as care-ing about plastic, then, is 'material-vital doing', reflexive political action describing 'hidden labour' and 'inventions' from below, to open up space for alternative subjectivities, furthering new partial connections for collective potentialization.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.