In this article, I explore the concept of the questioning individual through life history research with two female artists from (post)war contexts. Afghan theater producer Monirah Hashemi’s story illustrates how self-expression in contexts of violence is not only politically but also socially repressed, and illustrates the role that marginalized outsiders can play in questioning. Diala Brisly, a visual artist from Syria, talks of public expression after the suspension of censorship and shows the power of creative self-expression to support resistance to repression. This article explores their contributions of both societal critique and alternative visions of (post)war societies from their positions in exile. I argue that creative processes and cultural expressions can play crucial roles as sources of resistance and ways of creating alternative societal visions.
Contributing Societal Critique and Alternative Visions in Dark Times
Ethics of Dis/Engagement in Migration Research
Ioanna Manoussaki-Adamopoulou, Natalie Sedacca, Rachel Benchekroun, Andrew Knight, and Andrea Cortés Saavedra
This article offers a collective “gaze from within” the process of migration research, on the effects the pandemic has had on our interlocutors, our research fields, and our positionalities as researchers. Drawing from our experiences of researching a field in increasing crisis, and following the methodological reflections of the article written by our colleagues in this issue, we discuss a number of dilemmas and repositionings stemming from—and extending beyond—the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Focusing on issues of positionality, ethics of (dis)engaging from the research field, and the underlying extractivist nature of Global North academia, we propose our own vision of more egalitarian and engaged research ethics and qualitative methodologies in the post-pandemic world.
Commemorating Karbala's Youngest Martyr in Iran
Atefeh Seyed Mousavi
This article explores recent ritual developments in the Iranian religious culture honouring Ali-Asqar (d. 680 CE), the infant son of Imam Husayn. In 2003, a new ritual, the Husayni Infancy Conference, was introduced. The ritual is the only public Muharram assembly dedicated to women and their infants. Based on observation and interviews, I identify ritual transformations, terms of institutionalisation, and the staging of rituals and their structure, and I also examine the objectives behind the Conference from the perspectives of the organisers and participants. I argue that the organisers seek to promote new interpretations of the significance of the Battle of Karbala. This objective is shared by some participants whereas many continue to seek out traditional reasons to commemorate the Battle, such as receiving God's blessings. Attending large ritual gatherings also offers opportunities for socialising and empowerment.
Rose Wellman and Max Klimburg
Marjo Buitelaar, Manja Stephan-Emmrich and Viola Thimm (eds), Muslim Women's Pilgrimage to Mecca and Beyond: Reconfiguring Gender, Religion, and Mobility (London: Routledge, 2021), 213 pp.
Erika Friedl, Religion and Daily Life in the Mountains of Iran: Theology, Saints, People (London: I.B. Tauris, 2021), xix + 178 pp.
Post-carbon Utopias in Svalbard, Norway
Cecilie Vindal Ødegaard
While industrial closures in past decades were legitimized through an emphasis on economic motives, current closures are often framed within an emphasis on ‘green transition’, that is, through prefigurative discourses about post-carbon futures. This article discusses how the prefigurative transition framework reshapes the industrialization narrative, seeking to bridge the anthropology of energy and theories of performance. By paying attention to how ‘proclaimed transition’ is envisioned, narrated, and performed, the article explores the ways in which transition in Svalbard is spectacularly dramatized by the dismantling of the Svea coal mines, accompanied by the ‘returning to nature’ of the area. The article analyzes this ‘returning’ as a social drama of our anthropogenic times, demonstrating how landscape and nature are made key entities in performances of post-carbon utopia(s).
Shaman Alexander in context
Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer
After a spiritual epiphany, the Sakha shaman Alexander Gabyshev became prominent in 2018–2020 by calling Vladimir Putin an authoritarian demon. Critiquing Russia’s corrupt society through the internet and a protest march, Alexander rose to civic society leadership with multiethnic sympathizers. This article explains why Alexander became popular, and how he became a threat to Russia’s authorities, especially influential Russian Orthodox elites. Alexander’s repression is placed in comparative contexts: Robin Hood, Amerindian religious movements, Russia’s politicized abuse of psychiatric hospitalization. It examines the relationship among indigeneity, dissidence, and the state in times of trouble, highlighting the ethical need for anthropologists, through long-term and in-depth fieldwork, to expose human rights violations interpreted as changeable. The author views Alexander’s potential martyrdom as an indicator of Russia’s political and social fragility.
A Space of Belonging in an Environment of Violence and Repression
Mirjam de Bruijn
How can we explain the increasing popularity of slam poetry among youth in societies colored by long histories of conflict and political repression? This article explores this question for the rise of slam poetry in Chad, since 2014, a conflict-ridden country with an authoritarian regime and deep poverty, characteristics of a society in duress. In Francophone Africa we can speak of a slam poetry movement, where slam as a form of expression and the organization of (inter)national festivals has become a space of belonging for young people in Africa who must cope with societies in duress. The article is the result of my long engagement with the slam scene in francophone Africa.
Focaal's recent Forum discussion, prompted by Jan Newberry and Rachel Rosen's (2020) “Women and children together and apart: Finding the time for social reproduction theory,” takes a fresh view on finance capitalism by foregrounding its unlikeliest of actors: children. Children usually feature in scholarship as objects of care and investment in future goals that are not their own, rather than as the active building blocks of society. Indeed, their very positioning as children implies their non-agency. The authors in this Forum offer alternative understandings of children's agency, and of the price of its retraction, as a lens into the workings of contemporary capitalism.
How Vigilance (Un)makes the State in Western Europe
Informal policing has recently been on the rise in Europe: in several countries, “concerned citizens” have mobilized for the protection of their neighborhoods. This article examines the production and mobilization of vigilance in the negotiations around practices of informal policing in Italy and Germany and analyzes the relational way in which discourses and practices of vigilantism make and unmake the state. Grounded in research on practices of informal policing in Italy and Germany, the article argues that practices of vigilance manifested in informal policing are simultaneously and ambivalently state-(un)making practices. What is obtained in the process is an ambivalent regime of vigilance.
Suzanne Hudson, Roslyn Franklin, Peter Hudson, and Sarah James
Transitioning to university can be challenging for many first-year students. This study focusses on a Health and Physical Education (HPE) subject delivered at an Australian regional university and designed to support first-year preservice teachers training to teach in primary schools. The aim of this mixed-methods research was to investigate if a purposely structured first-year HPE subject could support primary preservice teachers’ confidence to (1) be part of a community of learners; (2) promote success and retention at university; and (3) develop the skills for teaching HPE, specifically, Fundamental Movement Skills. Survey results indicated 90 per cent or more of the preservice teachers’ self-reported confidence across the three areas being investigated. Interview responses highlighted the importance of well-structured coursework and real-world learning experiences in developing confidence for teaching HPE.