Category Archives: state

Podcast about my book

Sean Guillory of Sean’s Russia Blog spoke with me the other day about my book “The force of custom. Law and the ordering of everyday life in Kyrgyzstan.” You can listen to the podcast online here or download the podcast here.

In our interview, Sean asked me what inspired me to do a study on “custom” (Kyrgyz salt) and how we can understand the concept anthropologically, how it is communicated, what metaphors are associated with it and in what contexts we can observe it in action.

Sean was also interested in hearing my reasons for not anonymizing my main informants, how people in my fieldsite conceive of their history, what the historical trajectories of the local courts of elders (aksakal courts) are, how Soviet life has been unmade after Kyrgyzstan gained independence, how we should understand the role of the state in the countryside and what the roles of elders and their relationship with villagers, politicians and state administrators are.

Finally, we discuss my decision to end the book with a criticism of the concept of postsocialism which, I argue, is not central for understanding everyday life in Kyrgyzstan.

 

The spider

The thought crept into my mind today and refused to let go of my brain. It said “What if we have no f*ing clue?” Going to bed with images of crying fathers holding their children – ‘Are they dead? Oh thank God, only sleeping!’ – , waking up with stories of rotten bodies, locked into a van used for transporting poultry. Heaps of rotten meat. This is not happening in Syria. This is Syria happening in Europe. Those who survived are here. But what if the war that was carried out on their backs will follow them? Did it ever occur to you that Europe is not facing a “refugee crisis” but is already part and parcel of several wars that have forced hundreds of thousands of human beings – like you, like me – to leave everything behind to save bare life? Their crisis is our crisis, but we don’t pay the price yet that they have already paid. But we might, if we don’t act.

I feel I am responsible at least in part for their desperation. Because as a German citizen I have voted for a certain party, have legitimized a certain type of government, because my taxes are used in ways I cannot control any more. Because I live in an area of Germany, which is profiting from the military industry that is located all around me; that exports weapons, drones and military equipment to I don’t know where. The thing is, there are people who do know, who are responsible, who profit, who might even believe that this is needed for ‘security’, ‘stability’ or – probably the most honest reason – because a lot of German citizens earn their money with these kinds of endeavours.

Recent demonstration in Constance, Germany against the military industry located on the shores of Lake Constance in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Photo credit: Felix Girke

Recent demonstration in Constance, Germany against the military industry located on the shores of Lake Constance in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Photo credit: Felix Girke

This morning at a local farmer’s market in my small picturesque town in Germany an elderly woman approached the mostly well-off clientele with a request to donate whatever they could afford for “refugees from Syria.” She offered small bouquets of rosemary in return which she had collected from her garden, I overheard. I felt anger. In fact, I became so angry, I had to turn away. What made me angry was not her compassion and her initiative of wanting to “do something.” Where would we be without people like her? Or so many others in Greece, Italy, Jordan, Serbia – all devoting their lives to ease the suffering of thousands. My current anger is directed towards the nebulous “system”, towards “those in power” whom I consider responsible … but how do you hold “them” accountable? There is no way to trace the origin of a ‘crisis’, which has reached the scale of what we are witnessing right now, everyday. How can you prevent our grandchildren from accusing us that ‘they knew, but they did not do anything’ – Germany has been there before. So what to do? Donate money, children’s clothes and food products? Check. Write letters to politicians? Check. Be thankful for every calm and sunny summer day and hug your own child a little longer? Check. But still. The thought won’t go away: We have no f*ing clue how to make this stop.

Looking outside my window, I see a large spider spinning its web, waiting patiently for prey. I still want to believe we are not trapped. We are the net.

Photo-by-uditha-wickramanayaka-flickr-CC-BY-NC-2.0-330x330

Update on September 3, 2015:

In the last days I have began to communicate with a couple of people who do amazing work in different parts of Greece and Germany right now. All work privately and have financed their support for refugees through crowdfunding. Please consider helping them, and donate whatever you can .

1. Help for refugees in Molyvos    (you can also contact molyvosrefugees[at]gmail.com)

2. Natasha Tsangarides

3. Blogger für Flüchtlinge

4. Flüchtlinge Willkommen

5. Jillian York (she collects money and transfers it to Budapest so that technical supplies such as cell phone chargers can be bought for refugees currently stuck at the train station; also: check her own page for another list)

6. Eric and Philippa Kempson (they have set up amazon wishlists with important food products, medical supplies, clothes,…)

*****

On Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar – Interview for Radio France International, 27 May 2015

Radio Interview for Radio France International. ‘Buddhist Nationalism in Myanmar.’ May 27, 2015. available here (2 parts):

“Work in progress. Performing the state in Central Asia”

I will give a lecture at the Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca on May 12th, 2.30 pm.

The topic is based on a co-edited volume I did with Madeleine Reeves and Johan Rasanayagam called “Ethnographies of the state in Central Asia. Performing politics.” (2014. Indiana University Press).

EthnographiesState

The seminar is organized by Antonio De Lauri.

Here’s the link to the programme: seminario stato 2015

 

 

“Russian and Polar Bears Unite! A Follow-Up.”

What is 19cm high, 20cm wide, weighs only 680grams but carries a President? Right – it’s the Russian Bear!

And what is flying high into the sky? Right – the Bear, too. There is nothing he can’t do – the Bear, I mean. While everyone has been concentrating on Putin, it is the bear that should interest us; that magical, charismatic hero of Russian folk tales, easily fooled by political rhetoric. It is him who is carrying the President on his back across the country (literally, if you look at the statue carefully), and who is now taking him up into the sky in the recent pictogram of Khabarovsk Airport, in Southeast Russia, close to the China border.

 

What is next? The moon? Oh no, been there, done that, too.

He seems increasingly, desperate, though. The Bear, not Putin. Some memes pictured him crashed, lying in a state-sponsored, vodka-induced coma.

 

BearVodka

 

But someone recently had a useful suggestion: Sarah Palin, ex-Governor of Alaska, who, allegedly, said “you can see Russia from my house.” She has had a longstanding, complicated relationship with bears herself, summarized by The Guardian in 2008 into the question “Sarah Palin vs The Polar Bear – who will survive? It’s 2015 now and both Sarah Palin and polar bears have become more endangered, but she is still “seriously interested” in running for President next year. She recently called up her fellow-countrymen to rise up against an overarching American state, shouting: “‘The Man,’ can only ride ya when your back is bent. So strengthen it. Then ‘The Man’ can’t ride ya.”

I think the Russian Bear should take this exhortation seriously, throw that naked President off his back, form an alliance with the Polar Bear and chase both Putin and Palin all around Little Diomede Island.

 

The Diomede Islands, Big and Little, in the Bering Strait.

 

Note: originally published on 03 February, 2015 here: http://allegralaboratory.net/russian-and-polar-bears-unite-a-follow-up. The Bear in Space-pictures are taken from Mikhailov, B. 1973. “How the Bear flew into Space”. Leningrad: Khudozhnik RSFSR. (Б. Михайлов “Как медведь в космос летал” Изд. “Художник РСФСР”. Ленинград 1973).

Statelessness – Summer Term 2015

Here is one of two seminars on “the state” I will be teaching in the coming Summer Term 2015 at the University of Konstanz.

All MA-students registered in Konstanz are welcome:

 

Statelessness: On the permanent state of exception

What does it mean to live without citizenship in the time of nation states? 10 million people globally find themselves in exactly this situation. As the UNHCR proclaims the end of statelessness in the context of its refugee work (the ‘iBelong-Campaign’) by 2020, more people are born into statelessness or lose their citizenship each day.

In this seminar we will work on ethnographic case studies focusing on the causes and consequences of statelessness. Legal sociological and legal anthropological texts as well as texts from legal philosophy will help us to reflect better on our own civic existence, as well as to critically question the concept of statehood as a ‘normality’ (e.g. with texts from Agamben, Arendt, Badiou). Literature on transnationalism and exceptional cases, in addition to current approaches that understand statelessness as a humane alternative to nation states, will broaden the scope of the seminar. An external speaker will report on stateless women in Central Asia, the so-called border brides.

Seminar requirements: regular participation; reading of texts; presentation of a case study.