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.
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.”
MA-Seminar Winter term 2015 / 2015 at the University of Konstanz
The seminar introduces theoretical concepts that have sparked debates in anthropology and sociology in recent years. We will examine these new approaches in the seminar by drawing on the milestones of theoretical development already achieved. Furthermore, in the interests of grounded theory we will examine and discuss concrete case studies in each seminar class, and what advantages and disadvantages these current concepts have in comparison to the more established approaches. Can we understand central themes such as society, state, social organisations, history, temporality, gender, identity or ethnicity better than before with these new theories? In addition to an in-depth examination of each approach, the seminar will thus at the same time keep a sharp eye on ‘progress’ and innovation in the social and cultural sciences.
All students enrolled in the Masters Programme “Anthropology and Sociology” or related disciplines at the University of Konstanz are eligible to attend.