2015 rai postgraduate conference: anthropology and the politics of engagement manchester, 4-5 june


Engaging with Dolls and with Play in Rural Southwest Angola



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Engaging with Dolls and with Play in Rural Southwest Angola

Ines Ponte

University of Manchester
Summary:

Grounded in an eight-month fieldwork at an agro-pastoralist highland village in Southwest Angola, I unsettle ideas of defining doll-related activities without an active engagement with social uses of dolls. I locate children’s doll-related activities in the wider dynamics of play and labour of a setting driven by a domestic mode of production.


Abstract:

Ritual has been up to now a central lens through which ethnographers have engaged with the social and material lives of different kinds of handcrafted dolls in rural Southwest Angola. However, this focus on ritual has defined a particular politics of (detached) engagement with children and their doll-related activities. Grounded in an eight-month fieldwork at an agro-pastoralist highland village (in 2012), I explore active engagements with social uses of and discourses about dolls in this rural context, through analysing how age appears as a key factor regarding play. I argue that, in settings driven by a domestic mode of production, it is important to locate children’s doll-related activities in the wider dynamics of play and labour.

 
Friday 5th June
Session Four – A

9.30-11.00 am

Embodied Knowledge

Convener: Hester Clarke
Unexpected emergence of naturally occurring data in the context of Open Gardens in Scotland

Sho Shimoyamada

University of Edinburgh
Summary:

This research casts doubt about the existence of ‘naturally occurring data’, a widely used mantra in ethnographic studies.


Abstract:

The term ‘naturally occurring data’ and other interchangeable terms have been a mantra in ethnographic studies. Notwithstanding the common usage of such terms, there has been no consensus on what ‘naturally occurring data’ really means. In addition, whilst ‘naturally occurring data’ implies no intervention of researchers, the interviewer’s engagement in the interviewee’s meaning construction has been presupposed and celebrated in ethnographic studies to some extent. Having been inspired by the absence of any consensual definition of, and the ethnographer’s paradoxical attitudes towards, ‘naturally occurring data’, this research raises doubt about whether such data actually exists. As a cultural scene through which this scepticism is examined, Open Gardens in Scotland were investigated. The research conducted participant observations in 31 different gardens and 47 semi-structured interviews with those who opened their gardens to the public, those who assisted them with opening, volunteer organisers and workers of an organisation that runs Open Gardens. Contrary to my scepticism, there was one case that I could not interpret as anything but naturally occurring data. Specifically, the data were generated by one of the respondents who was initially not included in the research sample. In keeping with the narrative of this case, the concept of unexpectedness is suggested as an indicator of naturally occurring data. The implication for further research is that ethnographers need to flexibly modify research procedures in accordance with the unexpected emergence of naturally occurring data, instead of arranging methods that are expected to be suitable for the collection of naturally occurring data.



Titled People and Subtitled People

Cholé Faux

Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales
Summary:

This paper and visual ethnography explore the stakes of conducting fieldwork in the context of political asylum as a not-quite-native anthropologist.


Abstract:

For the native dweller “the landscape tells—or rather is—a story. It enfolds the lives and times of predecessors who, over the generations, have moved around it and played their part in its formation” (Ingold 1993: 152) Ingold says that this dwelling perspective should guide anthropological research, “bringing to bear the knowledge born of immediate experience, by privileging the understandings that people derive from their lived, everyday involvement in the world' (Ibid)The anthropologist can therefore acquire knowledge through participating-- engaging in the “labored viscerality of being in whatever's happening” (Stewart 2011: 451). But what if the political landscape forecloses the possibility of one's being entirely at home by imposing limits on those who dwell within it? Taking engagement—political, intellectual, emotional, visual—as a starting point, I examine the stakes of knowledge production, storytelling, and participation[-observation] in the context of political asylum. How shared is the social experience that forms the basis of such research? Drawing from my experience as an anthropologist, filmmaker, and activist of Sierra Leonean origin, conducting research among Sierra Leonean asylum seekers in Normandy, I pay special attention to the oscillation between marginality and inclusion central to both the construction of citizenship and the experience of fieldwork. In so doing I not only interrogate the role of empathy in social justice, but also in the production of ethnography where « resonance of understanding ... between the ethnographer and the people under study, which may perhaps be deeply felt by the former, but not necessarily the latter” (Paerregaard 2002: 31).



Performing Relationship, Building Community: Chinese dance and cultural infusion in Post-conflict Belfast

Wanting Wu

Queen’s University Belfast
Summary:

This work explores how the Chinese community in Belfast uses dance practice to assert identity and demand cultural inclusion in the post-conflict city, and how these practices also serve cultural inclusion more widely by providing shared space among hostile Catholic and Protestant ethnic groups.

Abstract:

In post-conflict Belfast, cultural expressions are often perceived through the dichotomous lens of the ‘Catholic’ versus ‘Protestant’ opposition. Since the Belfast Agreement of 1998, ‘culture’ has become a site of peace-building efforts. The participation of ‘other’ ethnic groups, in cultural activity, such as the Chinese community, which has been established in Belfast since the 1950s, has facilitated movement across the previously rigid boundaries between Protestants and Catholics. Based on participant observation, and drawing on theoretical perspectives of ‘Communities of Practice’ and ‘Cultural Inclusion’, this paper follows Chinese dancers, through rehearsals and performance for the Spring Festival celebrations for the Chinese New Year, which take place in an Indian dance studio, and in which dancers of a number of ethnic origins learn to perform Chinese dance. The paper will go on to examine the ways that the Chinese New Year celebrations in Belfast have become more than an ethnic Chinese event, including not only Chinese dance, but also dances from other ethnic groups such as Indians and Greeks. Moreover, Chinese dancers respond to a demand from local Protestant and Catholic communities and schools for Chinese dance performances during the Spring Festival Period.



Session Four – B

9.30-11.00 am

Mismanagement, suspended ambiguities and hope

Convener: Ximin Zhou
Are Gurdwara(s) in Manchester and in other British cities being mismanaged, or are they experiencing cultural changes?

Daljit Singh

University of Manchester
Abstract:

My ethnography is about how Manchester and other UK Gurdwaras, or Sikh Temples promote and manage their religious and cultural activities. Sikhs originated from the Punjab (North India) and adhere to the teaching of Sikhism.  A world religion which is 500 years old and originated, developed from the conflict between Hindus and Moslems in the 15th century). Sikhs adhere to one God and unity of mankind, promoting tolerance, emancipation and equality. Sikh ethos is communicated via the gurdwara through prayer and voluntary service without recompense, which is called Sewa. According to some British Sikhs the gurdwara is being mismanaged and bringing the faith and teachings into disrepute. In today’s paper I will attempt to shed light on Gurdwara membership leadership disputes and management which critics argue is in hands of a minority, which override the legitimate rights and views of the majority. Critics argue that the minority use nepotism, intimidating tactics, misinformation and harassment to sustain control. The right of the female to play an active political role in gurdwara is undermined by the majority of the males. Sectarian politics is fast becoming the norm and small but growing minority of Sikhs are abandoning their Sikh teachings for other religions and avenues.  I examine these accusations by observing the religious, cultural, social and political activities and events in the Gurdwara. My investigation starts at the Moss Side gurdwara Manchester, which is one of the first Sikh Gurdwaras in the UK.I will attempt to provide participants at this conference with an enhanced understanding of gurdwara management. The question I pose: Are Gurdwara(s) in Manchester and in other British cities being mismanaged, or are they experiencing cultural changes?



Critical approach to the governmental politics of including refugees to society

Aleksandra Reczuch

University of Warsaw
Summary:

The aim of this paper is to show how national state politic and the EU regulations influence the process of entering the new society. My research examines the difficulties which occur to the migrants and shows how the space and location of refugee camps in Poland influence the social inclusion idea.


Abstract:

My research is based on long-term voluntary work with the refugees. I have spent 4 years in Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej as an environmental translator, where I have had the opportunity to observe the life of refugees in various camps in Poland. The great majority of them is situated in small villages, quite far away from the bigger cities. The space round the refugee camps mainly in all cases is very similar. They were projected as a temporary place to stay, with interior very similar to places like hospitals. How does the space influence the willingness to cooperate and integrate among the migrants? And why the space is designed with strong accent on non-personal, temporary interior? I would like to point out how the regulations of Bureau for Foreigners determine the difficulties for social inclusion, even among those migrants who are very keen on building new life in Poland. I would like also compare the case of two refugee camps in Biała Podlaska, where on a small territory are situated two camps – detention one and open one, which is devoted to newly comers. This comparison would accent the paradox of open space but exclusive regulations and activities devoted to newly comers and quite good social conditions for people closed in detention camp. Social work in various refugee camps and talks with refugees and social workers during my fieldwork showed me how governmental point of view vary from the refugees needs.



Out of Order: metaphors of control and social resistance in Exarchia, Athens

Anna Giulia Della Puppa

University of Venice
Summary:

Analysing rhetorics used by pro-memorandum Greek government during crisis and self-declared “objective criteria” to classify safety cities, I recount the political and moral construction of Exarchia neighborhood in Athens, materializing the urban antithesis of auto-organized/disciplinary space.

Abstract:

The ongoing economic crisis is not just a financial juncture that could be solved by a sum of economic measures, in everyday reality it takes the shape of the city. Through its usage people experience crisis as a tangible fact. Athens, the capital, the “jungle”, well represents this social change, but the city, as a cloth we wear, does not fray everywhere the same. Urban space is, indeed, a total space where the different conceptions of what living means take place and clash. In Athens there is a peculiar microcosm nestled in its very center: Exarchia neighborhood. Known as “the anarchist neighborhood”, it is a much more complex and historical terrain for urban practices and social diversity that are continually negotiated. A very urban exception, a tear in urban fabric at its core. The aim of my ten months ethnographic fieldwork was to understand how crisis affects this peculiar piece of urban space. Exarchia, in fact, spatially materializes the conflict of antithetical perception of urban space: one effervescent and auto-organized from the bottom, the other commercial and “normalized”. To comprehend this dynamic I focused on both rhetorics and metaphors used during the last period of pro-memorandum government in Greece, namely the debt as economic but even moral concept and the medical discourse on the “ill city”, and “objective criteria” to talk about what “safe city” means according to the hegemonic discourse, to show how either of them impacts on the moral (and so political) construction of space.



Of Bodies and Documents: A case-study of humanitarian engagement and its ensuing mimicry

Ana Chiritoiu

Central European University
Summary:

It is often asked what anthropology contributes to the “public good”. The present paper builds on an ethnographic case-study in order to unsettle this normative trajectory and show that, as engagement frames social processes in its own terms, anthropological inquiry is necessary to unpack this framing.


Abstract:

The relation between anthropology and engagement is often formulated in terms of what the former can contribute to the latter and, generally, to the “public good”. The present paper seeks to unsettle this normative trajectory by tackling what kind of anthropological knowledge engagement provides us with. My tentative answer builds on two sets of fieldwork research that I did in one locality which had been subject to a humanitarian intervention seeking to resolve a postsocialist conflict with ethnic overtones. The first time I visited the place it was in my capacity of NGO-based researcher appointed to evaluate the results of the said intervention; the second time, I visited it as a research student, looking to understand not only why the intervention failed, but rather what it did while failing – essentially, how the intervention resulted in its own mimicry on behalf of its subjects. I argue that it was only due to my initial engaged capacity that later I could understand, rather than take for granted, how the subjects of the intervention reflect (on) the administrative language in which their experiences have been translated by civic entrepreneurs. In this paper, I depart from this case-study to discuss how, inasmuch as engagement frames social processes in its own terms, anthropological knowledge is called in to unpack the practical outcomes and the pitfalls generated by such framing.



Session Five – A

11.30 am – 1.00 pm

Moral Economies

Convener: Rachel Smith
Volunteering Mothers: the Moral Economy of a Soup Kitchen in Northern Greece

Phaedra Douzina Bakalaki

University of Manchester
Summary:

In this paper, women’s voluntary labour put in the operation of a Soup Kitchen in Xanthi, Northern Greece is argued to form an activity mediated by religiosity and blurring the boundaries between the public and domestic spheres. 


Abstract:

Schematic distinctions between paid and unpaid labour associate the former with the public domain and notions of objectivity, while they view the latter as being diffuse and forming a matter of the private/domestic sphere. European austerity’s implications, evident in the increasing unavailability of paid work and the institutionalisation of voluntarism, could be seen as unfortunate occasions for reconsidering the aforementioned bipolarities. This paper examines unpaid labour through ethnographic data gathered from the soup kitchen of Xanthi, Northern Greece. Operating under the authority of the Greek Orthodox church, offering 150 meals to the poor daily, and run by unemployed and pensioner volunteering women, the soup kitchen of Xanthi facilitates an exploration of unpaid and voluntary labour with reference to gender, class and religiosity. Specifically, the paper argues that the soup kitchen can be understood both as a collective (and public) household and as an opportunity for (re)entering a (private) labour market. Similarly, the labour put in the soup kitchen can be seen both as another example of (gendered) exploitation, and an opportunity for the performance of solidarity and the acquisition of (philanthropic) power. Finally, while voluntarism forms an epitome of unpaid labour, religiosity often becomes a vehicle through which voluntary work is organised and perceived to have a meaningful exchange. In light of Xanthi’s soup kitchen, unpaid labour emerges as austerity’s symptom and remedy at once, it speaks of both public and domestic matters, and it becomes facilitated through expressions of religiosity.



Making the State Wait: Risks and Strategies of Small Entrepreneurs in the Tourism Market in Taj Ganj, Agra

Riddhi Bhandari

American University
Summary:

I examine the interactions engendered between state personnel and tour guides through the practice of issuing guiding licenses. I argue that tour guides challenge the state's regulatory authority by employing the existing bureaucratic framework to delay the implementation of unfavorable regulations.


Abstract:

In this paper, I focus on one particular instance of state intervention: the practice of issuing licenses to tour guides, and the interactions that this engenders between state personnel and local tour guides. Here, I ask: how do entrepreneurs respond to state policies that seek to regulate and monitor their work? Interactions between the state and its subjects have been characterized as centered on the idea of "waiting" for the state as well as the incomprehensibility or illegibility of the state, especially as ensconced in bureaucratic processes (Auyero 2012; Das and Poole ed. 2004; Hull 2012). Similarly, bureaucratic paperwork is infamous for being irrational, slow and cumbersome, famously portrayed as the "iron cage of bureaucracy" (Weber 1930). Scholars have argued that the state displays its sovereign power over its subjects through these characteristic features. I present an ethnography of the state to argue that people subject to the state's regulatory authority are able to challenge the state's regulatory authority by strategically employing these very features of delay and waiting. Furthermore, I argue that bureaucratic paperwork is not simply deemed as an incomprehensible or illegible red tape, but rather, people see it as a useful tool to document and highlight the actions of personnel who harass them. This paper is based on ethnographic research conducted in October 2012-August 2013 for my doctoral research in the tourism market around the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. I focus on tour guides, local tourism officials and security personnel.



Positionality in a Moral Economy: Engagement, Shame and Solidarity on an Autonomous Farm

Carmen Leidereiter

University of Amsterdam
Summary:

A core question in engaged anthropology concerns its ability to make meaningful contributions. This case study of an autonomous farm elaborates the participatory, action-based field method as an ethically sound way of doing ethnography that can be insightful to both, informants and researcher(s).


Abstract:

Casa do Burro is a group of farming families in the South-western Algarve, Portugal, whose stated objective is autonomy as self-sufficiency. Wishing to interrogate this objective, I inhabited this community as a resident volunteer-researcher for several months, doing participatory, action-based fieldwork. I interrogate the group’s will to autonomy for its translation into practices and discuss the contingent nature of resulting provisioning regimes. Particularly, I focus on the gap between what is attempted and what is achieved, as the enmeshment of monetary and non-monetary provisioning regimes and the resultant cleavages, asking why these conflicts do not cause friction. Conceptualizing solidarity as the entanglement of care, interest, dependency and reciprocity extrapolates the moral certainty that residents have attained as producing self-legitimizing practices. These work to lace together apparently contradictory practices in the everyday, while maintaining the appearance of autonomously functioning self- sufficiency. Despite these contradictions and the factual absence of autonomy, everyday practice and discourses of solidarity enable continuous, yet conflict-laden work towards a hoped-for future, even in the face of less-than-ideal practices. It was through my positionality as an actively engaged resident and researcher that I was able to discover these self-legitimizing practices and participate in conceptualizing ways by which the resultant conflicts might be mediated. This paper thus shows that there can be space for ethically sound ethnographic insight in spaces of social activism, not, as Maecklenbergh (2009) warns us, by deconstructing to the point of meaninglessness, but by taking seriously the life projects of informants and recasting problems within them to make different practices possible.



Moral Reasoning and the Grey Zone: Exchanging Favours in the Land of Mafia

Francesco Montagnani

University of Manchester
Summary:

I intend to investigate how a polarized vision of society, following from the construction of morally charged dichotomies, inform the moral reasoning people undertake when they have to determine if non-monetary exchange is acceptable. Doing this I aim to depict an in-between grey zone of subjects that are neither good nor evil, but navigate the categories in dynamic ways.

Abstract:

In the article I propose an ethnographic enquiry of networks of solidarity and non-monetary exchange in the city of Palermo, south of Italy, with a particular focus on the process of moral reasoning these activities generate in individuals (Sykes 2008). Three different strategic forces (de Certeau 1984) shape this social, political, economic and cultural environment: the mafia, the state, and the combination of NGOs known collectively as the anti-mafia movement. The terroristic activity the mafia conducted between 1982 and 1992 fostered a strong widespread condemnation of the criminal phenomenon. The media production on the matter contributed to create the stigma of the mafioso and of his peculiar mind-set: beside criminal activities (extortion, corruption, drug trafficking), media labelled specific concepts like honour, friendship, and familism as constituting the way in which a mafioso acts in and upon society. On the other hand, NGOs created a well-defined counterpart, the anti-mafia, with the specific aim to promote the moral awakening of civil society and fight the mafia on the cultural and social level. Anti-mafia provides individuals with a concept of legality that is not simply obedience to the law, but a total rejection of certain cultural codes, in an attempt to fence off the mafioso mind-set and reduce its contagious potential. Mafia and anti-mafia create a dichotomy good/evil used by media, the state, and scholars to describe the Sicilian society. Hence, my question is: what kind of influence does this dichotomous representation exercise on the moral judgement of people when it comes to economic practices like the exchange of favours?



Session Five – B

11.30 am – 1.00 pm

Negotiating with the State: Political agency and engagement

Convener: Lana Askari

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