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The Coronavirus as Nature-Culture

Talking about Agency

Annette Schnabel and Bettina Ülpenich


We analyze how the coronavirus is fabricated at the interface between science and the public in order to be addressable by political strategies. By means of a content analysis of Christian Drosten's podcasts, we follow (1) how SARS-CoV-2 is constructed in order to be understood by non-scientists, (2) how the specialist becomes a public expert, and (3) how this co-fabrication takes place. This provides insight into the “fabrication” of meaning and of how uncertainty is transformed into knowledge during times of major risk through focusing on the perception of the virus itself. Out of a perspective of speech act theory-informed assemblage thinking, the analysis emphasizes the role of the known-unknown and of the temporality of developments in formatting both virus and expert.

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The Discursive Context of Forest in Land Use Documents

An Irish Case Study

Jodie Asselin, Gabriel Asselin, and Flavia Egli


The term forest can signify many different physical realities. However, discourse analysis of Irish National and European Union forestry-related documents indicates ambiguity around this term is often cultivated rather than clarified. We argue here that policy language often embraces the multiple potential affordances within the term forest as a means of discursively bridging contradictions between economic and conservation goals. While this technique increases the readability and acceptability of such documents by diverse user groups and government bodies, it mutes the on-the-ground tensions of what forests mean for locals. Moreover, cultivating ambiguity favors the status quo through circumventing points of contradiction and shifting the work of interpretation and application of such documents to those on-the-ground, therefore perpetuating existing power differentials. As forests are central to resource management and responses to climate change, addressing this tendency is crucial to finding meaningful and place-specific environmental solutions.

Free access

Do No Harm

From Which (Or Whose) Sides Must We Speak?

Narmala Halstead

The issue of harm in certain contexts and settings at some very fraught moments appears overly connected to anthropology: an idea of the discipline is made as the problem in a focus that can overshadow the actions of individuals and or institutional practices. This includes claims for anthropological harm that conflate the actions of particular individuals with the discipline. Alongside the potential harm in blaming anthropology, indiscriminately, a form of public anthropology may be gleaned: a mandate emerges to attend to spaces which presage this furore. The discipline is being ‘re-tasked’ robustly with its own huge remit to avoid damage in the studies of all peoples. This is extended to detrimental spaces that are revealed in academia, structural or evident, for which anthropology must be made to take culpability, particularly so in certain contemporary high-profile incidents.

Open access


Religious Rituals’ Reflection of Current Social Conditions in the Middle East

Ingvild Flaskerud


Peoples’ practising of religious ritual is never isolated from the social and political setting in which it takes place. It is therefore inevitable that ritual practice somehow contends with the current social context. Examining Muslim ritual practices across the Middle East, the authors of the articles in this special issue discuss religious ritual as a tool for accomplishing something in the real world. They provide examples of which social concerns are addressed in ritual practice, who is involved and how the ritual practice is affected. The studies show that current ritual practices are embedded in multi-actor social spaces, and they also reflect on the ritual as a multi-actor space where the power to define ritual form, meaning and importance shifts between different categories of actors.

Open access

Invisible and Visible Shi'a

Ashura, State and Society in Kuwait

Thomas Fibiger


The Twelver Shi'a in Kuwait constitute a minority amongst the country's population. Compared to the situation of Shi'a in the region, they enjoy a good position economically and politically. While this political aspect of their identity frequently has been highlighted in scholarly literature, little has been written about how Shi'a ritual life relates to the political and economic spheres of social life. In this article, I discuss the performance of the annual Shi'a Ashura ritual in relation to the political status of the Shi'as in Kuwait. I show that the Shi'as’ public enactment of the ritual is multifaceted and revolves around the issue of ritual visibility. Ritual performance demonstrates compliance with as well as contestations of state authorities’ identity policy regarding religion and nationality, contestations within the Shi'a community, and contentions in relation to other groups in Kuwait.

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Law Abiding Citizens

On Popular Support for the Illegal Killing of Wolves

Olve Krange, Erica von Essen, and Ketil Skogen


Conflicts over wolf management are a stable feature of Norwegian public debate. In some segments of the population, nature management, and especially predator management, have a very low legitimacy. A strong expression of these controversies is the illegal killing of wolves, a practice sufficiently extensive to impact wolf population size. In several studies, the killing of wolves is interpreted as politically motivated resistance/crime of dissent. This study contributes to the research field by examining the support for such illegal actions. We ask if the Norwegian public find such illegal actions to be acceptable or not. Analysis shows that acceptance joins a broader pattern of controversies, expressed by phenomena such as xenophobia, climate change denial, anti-elitism, and low confidence in institutions working to preserve nature.

Open access

Left in the Cold

The Mirage of Marriage and Family Law Reform in Post-Colonial Mali

Bruce Whitehouse


Located in Africa's Sahel region, the Republic of Mali enjoyed various fruits of its transition to political pluralism and liberal economic restructuring from the 1990s to the early 2000s. When the Malian government sought to amend civil laws governing marriage and family life, and eliminate legal discrimination against women, however, it faced considerable political opposition. Islamic civil society groups capitalised on men's heightened anxieties to claim a more assertive role in the national public sphere. Subsequent legal reforms constituted a clear political victory for political Islamism in the country and a corresponding setback for Western-backed women's organisations. Tracing the evolution of Malian marriage and family law from the 1960s to the 2020s, this article argues that conflicting notions of what it means to protect women, coupled with the structural failings of Mali's post-colonial state, have stymied efforts to ensure women's rights within a secular, egalitarian legal framework.

Open access

Mourning at New Year's Day (Nowruz)

Cultural Practice against Ideology

Reinhold L. Loeffler and Erika Friedl


As Persian Muslims, Iranians observe Old Persian rituals in the solar calendar, such as the spring equinox, as well as Islamic rituals in the lunar calendar, such as mourning the martyr's death of Imam Huseyn. In 2006, the dates coincided, causing distress as people tried to combine the demands of a joyful, life-affirming tradition with that of a religious ideology that allowed no compromise. Living in a tribal village at that time, we recorded people's reactions and their solutions to the problem of doing right by both the demands of their tradition and those of a government-enforced ideology of martyrdom that moved the affair from the cultural and practical plane to the political and ideological plane.

Open access

Of Marriage, Divorce and Criminalisation

Reflections on the Triple Talaq Judgement in India

Anindita Chakrabarti, K. C. Mujeebu Rahman, and Suchandra Ghosh


In India, where religion-specific laws govern issues of marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption and inheritance, the family laws of Muslims – the largest religious minority – have been a thorny issue in the post-independence period. In recent years, the major intervention in Muslim personal law reform came in the form of the invalidation of instant divorce or triple talaq by the Supreme Court of India. Subsequently, a law was passed that criminalised it. By delving into a close examination of recent judicial activism and by drawing on our ethnographic work with Muslim women in India, we show that it is only by refocussing the debate from judicial discourse to legal practice that the trope of Muslim women's victimhood and the tired debates about religious freedom versus citizenship rights can be questioned and bypassed.

Open access

‘Pilgrimage of the Poor’

Religious, Social and Political Dimensions of a Moroccan Local Pilgrimage

Kholoud Al-Ajarma


Pilgrimage destinations other than the Ka'aba in Mecca are a contested subject amongst Muslims. For the Moroccan ‘poor’, who are unable to perform the Meccan pilgrimage, a local pilgrimage known as the Hajj al-Miskin or the ‘Pilgrimage of the Poor’ is performed as an alternative spiritual journey. In this article, I discuss this pilgrimage at two sites in Morocco. Approaching Islam as a lived religion, I discuss how Moroccans navigate between religious considerations and the realities of everyday life. I argue that the Pilgrimage of the Poor plays a key role in the lives of the pilgrims at both the individual and community level. The debate about the Pilgrimage of the Poor reveals how different groups of Muslims negotiate their positions with respect to different interpretations of the global discursive tradition of Islam, applying these interpretations within their local context.