When in Paris …

As a promise to my host, the Maison Suger, located in the pittoresque St Germain district in a little side street just around my new favorite coffee place, I will submit a short statement about how I spent my time in Paris. So here it is:

Doing being writing — one month in Paris.

entrance to the Maison Suger – a haven for working in peace while living in the middle of Paris

 

my writing space at Maison Suger.

In this one month in Paris, I managed to get more writing done for my book than in the entire last year! After a full semester of teaching and finishing off a series of articles, reviews and reports, my goal had been to begin my stay in the French capital with nothing else than having to give a series of lectures in the seminars of the people who kindly supported my application to the Fernand Braudel Fellowship at the Fondation Maison de Sciences de l’Homme (FMSH) and, once done, to write.

All in all, I gave three lectures, the first on March 6 in the frame of the general anthropological “Séminaire de l’équipe Anthropologie comparative des sociétés et cultures musulmanes” (LAS) based at the Institute (IISMM) under the direction of the following anthropologists:

This tells you already a bit about the set-up of French academic institutions. It is a bit like the Russian system, to be honest, where you have an Akademia Nauk (an Academy of Science) and the Universities. Teaching takes place at the universities, research gets done in the academy – which in itself consists of myriads of ‘networks’, ‘laboratories’, ‘seminars’, ‘colloqus’, ‘séances’, ‘interventions’, ‘conferences’, and so on. No wonder BrunoLatour came up with ANT.

doors of knowledge at the FMSH / EHSS building (right)

I gave up trying to understand all the acronyms and who belonged where and only memorized the address and who had been inviting me to give a talk! Yazid Ben Hounet, whom I have known from our time together in the project group “Legal Pluralism” at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology took me for lunch to a small Afghan restaurant before my lecture, so I was already happy when I began presenting (can I just say: “Thank you, Paris!” for the amazing variety of foods I have eaten in those few weeks?). The title of my talk was “Being Muslim in contemporary Myanmar. On ‘community’ and the problem with communal violence” and I have written about it already here. The audience consisted mostly of anthropologists with an interest in Islam, but there were two experts on Myanmar who had joined that day as research on this Southeast Asian country is still very rare. I was particularly happy for their feedback, but also positively challenged by the questions of the non-regional experts.

What I found striking and what I have noticed in all my presentations (which all happened to be on Muslims), was how often people in the audience would use my ethnographic material or the arguments I was making in order to think about contemporary French society: veiling, divorce, polygamy, secularism in general … or, to be more precise, laïcité. I attended a roundtable on secularism in Asia which, in my view, was actually about secularism in France by means of reseach in Asia … so the topics of my talks, on Muslims in Myanmar and in Central Asia, raised interesting questions and comments in the audience.

The second talk was on legal pluralism in Central Asia, taking the example of the local funeral economy in northwestern Kyrgyzstan. I have summarized my argument here. This invitation came from Baudouin Dupret, a legal anthropologist and the only other person I know who tries to approach legal anthropology with ethnomethodological tools (as I have been trying to do). The talk took place in the seminar “Transformations de la normativité islamique” and we went out for lunch afterwards in one of the many restaurants in the area around Boulevard Raspail. What I came to cherish were long lunch breaks with colleagues — always accompanied by a glass of wine!

reading in cafés. People actually do it here!

The final talk I gave took place at the FMSH building and it was my favorite one. I had the opportunity to speak in front of an audience who had all been to and carried out fieldwork in Central Asia. It is very rare for me these days to speak to other regional experts as I am based at a sociology department and in a German context where research on Central Asia is only done only sporadically. It wa thus s a pleasure talking about the main arguments of my book “The force of custom. Law and the ordering of everyday life in Kyrgyzstan” — and to see that people actually understood what I was trying to say, and seemed to have enjoyed the presentation, too. Thank you to the organizers of this talk, Stéphane Dudoignon, Carole Ferret and Isabelle Ohayon for inviting me. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my co-presenter that afternoon was Olivier Ferrando, an old friend whom I had not met for several years!

After my lecturing obligations had been met, I was left to my own devices; which meant that I could dive into the books and articles I had brought along. I started writing my historical chapter for my new book on ethno-religious minorities in Myanmar and hope to use the remaining days in Paris to push it as far as possible. The Maison Suger has provided ideal working conditions to make this possible!

an inspirational goddess of writing

Since I am in the lucky position to start a 10-month sabbatical afterwards, my goal is to carry the “French writing spirit” with me back to Konstanz, install myself there and keep up the tradition of meeting colleagues for lunch regularly!

Merci, Paris!

 

 

 

 

 

The force of custom. Law and the ordering of everyday life in Kyrgyzstan

In this third lecture that I will be giving while residing in Paris as a DEA-fellow, I will  present the key findings of my recent book  “The force of custom. Law and the ordering of everyday life in Kyrgyzstan” (2016, Pittsburgh University Press).

In this monograph, which covers a decade of anthropological fieldwork and scholarly engagement with Central Asia, I take up a particular counterintuitive perspective by looking at how my informants in rural Kyrgyzstan order their everyday lives and rationalize their recent history. I reveal how rather than conforming to a predictable ‘post-socialist’ pattern, my informants instead show a great capacity to hierarchize and create order on their own terms.

My approach investigates the ways in which actors tactically and persuasively invoke different kinds of law to constantly create a hierarchical model of socio-legal order in which the umbrella concept of custom (salt) comes to dominate their everyday life.

Invoking salt enables actors even as they claim to be constrained by it, it opens up possibilities to conceptualize, classify, and contextualize large- and mid-scale developments in an intimate idiom. It also is a way to communicate to others that one is an expert in and of one’s own culture.

I thus offer a unique critique of the concept of ‘postsocialism’, a new take on the concept of legal pluralism, and a serious plea to bring ethnomethodological approaches into correspondence with ethnographic data.

Location: Monday March 12, 13-16h. EHESS on 54 Boulevard Raspai.

Shari’a, tradition and the state in Kyrgyzstan. Competing repertoires of order: the case of mortuary rituals

This will be my second lecture while I am in Paris, this time as part of the “Séminaire Transformations de la Normativité Islamique” organized by Professors Baudouin Dupret, Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron, Jean Philippe-Bras, and Marième N’Diaye

Jeudi 8 mars de 10h à 13h, en salle de réunion de l’IISMM (96 boulevard Raspail, 1er étage)

Abstract:

In Central Asian Kyrgyzstan, shari’a and tradition are best understood as two interrelated répertoires of order. Historically, they have developed alongside each other and the population has learned to reclassify social practices or local institutions that might be regarded as unlawful or illegal by Islamic clergy on the one hand or the state on the other by reinterpreting them ‘according to custom’. I refer to this process as ‘customization’.

In this lecture, I will use the example of elaborate gift-exchange practices during mortuary rituals in order to show how imams, state officials and the local population try to grapple with the disputed social practice of giving large carpets during funerals and mortuary rituals that is considered against shari’a and also contradicting new state regulations. Nevertheless, gift exchange continues and has even intensified in the last decade.

This lecture investigates emic local understandings of shari’a and tradition and positions these in the context of a changing social and economic environment where formerly Russian and Soviet state practices aimed at curbing ‘irrational’ local behaviour and where nowadays remittances from Central Asian labour migrants fuel the local ritual economy.

Being Muslim in contemporary Myanmar. On community and the problem with ‘communal violence’ – Talk in Paris.

During my upcoming stay in Paris, I will be giving several lectures, the first one taking place at the Institut d’études de l’Islam et des sociétés du monde musulman. Come join me!

March 6, 17h-19h – Salle des étudiants. 1er étage, 96 bd Raspail 75006 Paris.

Organized  by:  Séminaire de l’équipe « Anthropologie comparative des sociétés  et cultures musulmanes » (LAS)

In my talk, I take the example of Muslim communities in Yangon, the former capital of Southeast Asian Myanmar, in order to investigate the various groups’ strategic useage of their religious property (mosques and graveyards) as a form of material, symbolic and political capital. I argue that it is through their religious property that Muslims in Yangon make claims to their right of existence as communities in the public sphere. They thereby manage to fend off both the Buddhist majority, the state and private investors. In a time of increasing ethnonationalism, which results in the destruction of mosques and the writing of discriminatory laws against religious Others, property becomes part and parcel of these communities’ survival strategies. While the creation of ‘communities’ along ethno-religious lines had been part and parcel of colonial and post-colonial state-making, some communities who understand themselves in this way or have come to present themselves in this way, are now being pushed to the very margins of their own society and their own country. Some of them have been denied not only citizenship, but with it the right to exist and their name to even be mentioned. However, religious minorities were among the first inhabitants of Yangon in the 19th century. Burma, as the country was called formerly, had been part of the British Empire during the colonial period of 1824-1948 and was under colonial legislation of British India. Muslims were brought to the country from India in 1840. They worked in the colonial administration, as soldiers or as unskilled workers on the shipping docks. Around 1880, Burma became the third largest destination for Indian workers worldwide. This lecture questions the contemporary portrayal of communities in the country in terms of  ‘communal violence’ only. It traces the historical development of the ‘community’ concept from British colonial times to the contemporary era. Using ethnographic fieldwork data gathered between 2013 and 2018 as well as textual data, legal documents and other sources, I explore why the current invocation of  ‘the Muslim community’ has made living together in Myanmar more difficult.

Bibliography:

Amrith, Sunil. 2013. Crossing the bay of Bengal: The furies of nature and the fortunes of migrants. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 2009. Community. Seeking safety in an insecure world. Polity.

Cheesman, Nick (ed.) 2017. Interpreting communal violence in Myanmar. Special Issue of Journal of Contemporary Asia.

Freitag, Sandria. 1989. Collective action and community. Public arenas and the emergence of communalism in North India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tönnies, Ferdinand. 2005 [1887]. Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundbegriffe der reinen Soziologie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

Yegar, Moshe The Muslims of Burma: A Study of a Minority Group, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1972

Anthropological backup: Mateusz Laszczkowski in Konstanz

Happy to announce that during the following months of my absense from my position, Mateusz Laszczkowski, political anthropologist and an old friend of mine, will substitute for my professorship at the University of Konstanz.

During the coming summer term, Mateusz Laszczkowski, who is based at the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Warsaw, is going to teach courses in political anthropology. He works on the anthropology of the state, activism, infrastructure and affect. His areas of research are Kazakhstan and Northern Italy. You can see his latest documentary “The Site. Building Resistance” here.

Mateusz will offer a seminar on “The introduction to the anthropology of activism” (BA-level) and two seminars in our new Master programme “Anthropology and Sociology” on the topics of “Politics in Infrastructure: Power, Economy, Society (PIPES)” and “From Zapatismo to Occupy: Anthropologies of Contemporary Radical Activism.”

Welcome, Mateusz!

Masterstudiengang “Ethnologie und Soziologie” in Konstanz. Jetzt zum Sommer bewerben (bis 15.1.2018)!

Unser Masterstudiengang “Ethnologie und Soziologie” ist nun ein Jahr alt – und hat sich bewährt. Wir haben uns innerhalb eines Jahres verdoppelt und in diesem Jahr auch personelle Verstärkung in Dr. Maria Lidola bekommen, die eine Lecturer-Stelle mit 12 Semesterwochenstunden inne hat und einen Großteil der Methodenausbildung übernimmt.

Sie ist ausgewiesene Expertin für Gender, Migration und labor/work und arbeitet in Lateinamerika (Brasilien) und mit MigrantInnen aus Lateinamerika in Deutschland.

Der Masterstudiengang ist der einzige in Deutschland, bei dem qualitative Soziologie und Ethnologie gemeinsam studiert werden können. Unsere Themenschwerpunkte aus der Ethnologie liegen in der Politik- und Rechtsethnologie, der Religionsethnologie und der Migrationsethnologie. Aus der qualitativen Soziologie wird Expertise aus den Bereichen der Kultursoziologie, hier vor allem der Interaktionsforschung und der Ethnomethodologie, beigesteuert. Studierende können sich im Laufe ihres Studiums spezialisieren, profitieren aber von Seminaren aus beiden Fachrichtungen.

Der Studiengang ist stark methodenorientiert und leitet Studierende an, eigene Forschung durchzuführen. Diese wird vorbereitet, begleitet und nachbereitet.

Im Anschluss an ein erfolgreiches Masterstudium steht einem Beginn in der Praxis oder aber einer anschließenden Promotion nichts im Wege!

Alle weiteren Informationen sind auf der Homepage der Ethnologie in Konstanz zu finden.

Direkt zur  Bewerbung geht es hier.

Workshop: Practices of Traditionalization in Central Asia

“Tradition” has frequently been invoked in the context of Central Asian nation-building projects and there has been a tendency to investigate it “from above” by focusing on elites, political actors in powerful positions, and intellectuals who are often encouraged or urged to perform and write in the name of the nation. This body of literature has yielded important insights into the rational motivations behind invoking “tradition”. In this workshop, we aim to transcend this body of scholarly literature by offering exciting new anthropological research that complicates the assumption that state power can and will monopolize tradition. Practices of traditionalization can thus be both inclusive and exclusive, integrative as well as divisive. While elites might be imposing their views and interests and try to force others to accept them as the (new) rules of the game, demotic actors always have the capacity to re-interpret and challenge top-down models. Investigating tradition from the perspective of practice allows one to study how tradition comes into being in the first place, how it gets legitimized but also how it is challenged, refuted or claimed.

 

In a workshop on November 16-18 2017, a group of Central Asia scholars came together to discuss a special issue we are intending to submit to Central Asian Survey (CAS) on practices of traditionalization. Tradition does matter in Central Asia: it aggregates people, motivates individual and collective action, informs policy, public debates, law, and representation, and is – despite its often enough strategic inception – affectively powerful. Hence, working from the understanding that there are no structural differences between the inventions of demotic actors and those of elites, we focus instead on the practical ways in which tradition is put to use, by whom and for what ends. 

Continuing to highlight the importance of tradition in ongoing nation-building processes, the attention of our special issue will lie on the ‘everydayification’ (paraphrasing Weber’s Veralltäglichung) of tradition, in arenas ranging from political demonstrations (Beyer and Kojobekova), industrial workers’ gatherings (Trevisani), UNESCO meetings (Coskun), local councils (Gonzales), institutions of religious education (Müller), minority communities (Ptackova), the household (Cleuziou), and even the internet (Kudaibergenova). Stay tuned!