Held at the Conference “Central Asian Studies Inside Out. Challenging Grand Narratives”, organized by l’EHESS and ZMO (Berlin). March 28, 2019. Paris.
In this keynote speech, I engaged with the conference topic of “challenging” and even “disturbing” “Grand Narratives” through an investigation of the tradition of orality and the usage of oral history in Central Asia. These are two interlinked endeavours, as oral tradition has been investigated “as history” (Vansina) and oral history understood as “the voice from the past” (Thompson). Anthropologists (of Central Asia) investigate tradition as “a site of necessary engagement that aggregates people, … informs policy, public debates, law, and representation, and is – despite its often enough strategic inception – affectively powerful” (Beyer and Finke forth. in Central Asian Survey). Examples from Central Asia show how “oral tradition”, especially when mediated by state and media apparatus, can take on “grand narrative” qualities. Moreover, in contrast to how oral history has been treated in the past, namely as history “from below”, of “the everyday” and by “the little guys” (Graeber), thus as “little narrative”, as I call it, it is worth exploring in what ways this method of ethnographic and historical inquiry has the capacity to yield “grand” results.
In addition to a course on statelessness at our BA-level, I am also teaching a course on conflict resolution for our MA-students this summer term. Both courses fall under the subdiscipline of legal anthropology, which is my specialization. I am looking forward to exploring legal anthropological and legal sociological approaches to this important topic. We’ll start out by laying the theoretical ground, differentiating between conflicts and disputes, between adjudication and settlement, and between the various institutions that can be addressed for actors intending to file complaints and grievances.
In the seminar, we will also have a guest lecturer, who is the current acting Ombudsman (*woman, that is) of the University of Konstanz. Together with her, we will explore the different possibilities the university provides in terms of mediation and solving disputes and conflicts.
The first part of the seminar is focused on classical publications on conflict and dispute resolution that drew on ethnographic data gathered in a colonial context (Gluckman, Gulliver). After a critique of this type of literature (Spittler), we will read and discuss a case study on a village in Bavaria (Todd) to turn the ethnographic gaze onto ourselves.
We will then familiarize ourselves with the important concept of “harmony ideology” (Nader) within the context of “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR).
Through a series of more recent publications, we will approach conflict and dispute resolution in the contemporary era, starting with sharia councils in the UK (Billaud), neotraditional courts of elders in Kyrgyzstan (Beyer), and the particular set-up of international bodies such as “special courts” aimed at conflict resolution in Sierra Leone (Anders).
Communal sense. The making of ethno-religious selves and others in Myanmar
I am going to present my ongoing work on Myanmar at the Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Konstanz on December 6, 2018 at 5pm (Bischofsvilla, Otto-Adam Str. 5).
In my presentation I will give an overview of my book manuscript which is based on ethnographic data I collected over several long stretches of fieldwork between 2013 and 2018. The focus of my book lies on critically reinvestigating the category of ‘community’ in light of new material from Southeast Asian Myanmar. My study is geographically situated in Yangon, a fast expanding metropolis and the home of various ethno-religious minorities whose ancestors built the city when they were shipped across the Bay of Bengal by the British colonial forces in the 19th century. My informants, who are Hindus and Muslims, are often referred to as “Indians” in the literature or simply “Blacks” by the local Burmese population, but in their self-understanding, they are the true founders of Yangon. My interest lies in understanding how, in a local context of imperialism and ethno-religious nationalism, these people organize themselves as ‘members’ of groups that perform and are recognized by others as ‘communities’.
My theoretical aim in this book, and my contribution to wider anthropological and sociological debates, is to develop an alternative angle towards the category of ‘community’ that focuses on how and when exactly a collective ‘We’ emerges. In the social sciences the process of we-making has so far been analysed only as a by-product of the process by which ‘Theys’ are created (Appadurai 2006: 50). The concept of communal sense, which I am putting forward in my book, focuses instead on the successful establishing of community as an effect of we-intentionality (Walther 1923) which become ethnographically observable in moments of communitas, in the articulation of common sense and in the material anchoring of common goods.
This summer term, I am continuing my exploration of the concept of ‘community’ with an MA-course that is aimed at reading whole monographs instead of articles. We are reading Zygmunt Bauman’s “Community. Seeking safety in an insecure world” (2001), Miranda Joseph’s “Against the romance of community” (2002) and Michael Herzfeld’s “Siege of the spirits. Community and polity in Bangkok” (2016).
What makes community? Solidarity, emotional attachment, common interests and practices? Dependence, debt, death? What is it that community asks from its participants, and what does it promise them? The academic discussion of what community really is has long been controversial. In the last few years, however, publications have critically questioned the concept and its often positive connotation without losing sight of its uninterrupted relevance both within and outside academia.
The aim of the seminar is to examine the concept of community in its entire range: from our own everyday understanding to descriptions of a “paradise lost” to its philosophical “unthinkability.”
Aus der aktuellen Pressemitteilung der Universität Konstanz:
“Lange wurden Berührungspunkte zwischen Ethnologie und Soziologie vorwiegend in Fragen nach Entwicklung, Modernisierung, Globalisierung und Migration gesehen. In jüngerer Zeit kam es vermehrt auch zu methodischen Diskussionen, die durch ein gemeinsames Interesse am Forschungsstil der Ethnographie gekennzeichnet sind. Doch oft bleibt es bei einem kurzen Verweis auf Konstellationen der Wissenschaftsgeschichte, in denen die Unterscheidung zwischen den beiden Fächern keine zentrale Rolle spielte, so etwa in der „Chicago School“ oder bei Bezügen auf Gründerväter der Sozialtheorie wie Marcel Mauss oder Émile Durkheim und neuere Grenzgänger wie Pierre Bourdieu oder Bruno Latour, die mitunter von Vertretern beider Disziplinen für sich beansprucht werden. Insgesamt bleibt die systematische Zusammenführung von Allgemeiner Ethnologie und Allgemeiner Soziologie in der deutschen Wissenschaftslandschaft allerdings weiterhin ein Desiderat”
Zusammen mit Prof. Dr. Thomas Kirsch habe ich im vergangenen Jahr an dem neuen Masterprogramm “Ethnologie und Soziologie” gearbeitet – im kommenden Wintersemester 2016/2017 kann es endlich losgehen.
Der Master richtet sich an alle Studierende der Ethnologie, Soziologie oder benachbarter Fächer, die kleine Seminare mögen, selbst forschen wollen und in einer der schönsten Gegenden Deutschlands – im Dreiländereck angrenzend zu Österreich und der Schweiz (Bodensee! Zürichnah!) studieren wollen.
Ethnologie und Soziologie – Un amour fou.
In dem zweijährigen Studium ist eine Lehrforschung, die sich über zwei Semester erstreckt, fest eingeplant. Diese kann sowohl in Deutschland als auch im Ausland stattfinden. Die Ethnologie Konstanz hat mittlerweile Expertise in Afrika (Südafrika, Zambia) und Asien (Kirgistan, Myanmar) vorzuweisen und betreut deutsch- wie englischsprachige Abschlussarbeiten.