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First as Tragedy, Then as Teleology

The Politics/People Dichotomy in the Ethnography of Post-Yugoslav Nationalization

Stef Jansen

ABSTRACT

Ethnographers working in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been at the forefront of the struggle against the identitarianism that dominates scholarship and policymaking regarding the country. Tirelessly foregrounding patterns of life that exceed, contradict, complicate or are oblivious to questions thus framed, we have—unsurprisingly—paid a price for this contribution: explorations of the appeal of nationalism are left mostly to others. This article identifies an emic and etic politics/people paradigm that facilitates our timidity to register the ways in which “ordinary people” may enact nationalist subjectivity. Seeking to retain the paradigm’s strengths, I call for a recalibration of how we understand it to function and explore conceptual tools to make this work. Starting from two cases of “foot soldier narratives,” I suggest that hegemony theory can help us trace not only how people are subjected to nationalization but also how they may seek subjectification through it.