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Building the future

Construction, temporality, and politics in Astana

Mateusz Laszczkowski

This article focuses ethnographically on the built environment of the socalled “Left Bank” area in Astana, Kazakhstan. Previously merely a provincial administrative center, the city became the country’s capital in 1997; soon a new quarter of monumental, futuristic, and stylistically extravagant administrative, residential, and commercial buildings emerged. I argue that the construction effort produces complicity by mobilizing and channeling citizens’ agency. Against the background of recent history, it offers a sense of restored progress-directed collectivity within which individual citizens can seek to engage, pursuing more meaningful and materially satisfying lives. A selective vision of the city is propagandized widely, producing a hyperreal space that captures imaginations, set in opposition to more “ordinary” social space. The contrast between that vision and the lived realities of Astana causes disillusionment, but emic criticism of the political economy fails to transcend the logic of modernization narratives that the ideology of Astana’s construction rests upon.

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Railway Territorialities

Topology and Infrastructural Politics in Alpine Italy

Mateusz Laszczkowski

This article examines transportation infrastructures’ capacity to produce and transform social space through a focus on the contested history of railway development in Valsusa, Italy. I draw on participant observation and interviews with local residents and activists during ethnographic fieldwork in 2014–2015. I first describe how railways helped form modern sociality in Valsusa in the twentieth century. Subsequently, I explore contrasting topological effects of a projected high-speed rail through the valley. For planners envisioning a trans-European space of exchange, the railway is a powerful way to “shrink” space; for local residents, this implies reducing Valsusa to a traffic “corridor.” Yet their protest generates new social relations and knowledges, giving rise to a notion of “territory” as unbound and connected to a transnational space of resistance to capitalist expansion.

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Introduction

Affective States—Entanglements, Suspensions, Suspicions

Mateusz Laszczkowski and Madeleine Reeves

The aim of this special issue is to bring a critical discussion of affect into debate with the anthropology of the state as a way of working toward a more coherent, ethnographically grounded exploration of affect in political life. We consider how the state becomes a 'social subject' in daily life, attending both to the subjective experience of state power and to the affective intensities through which the state is reproduced in the everyday. We argue that the state should be understood not as a 'fiction' to be deconstructed, but as constituted and sustained relationally through the claims, avoidances, and appeals that are made toward it and the emotional registers that these invoke. This article situates these arguments theoretically and introduces the subsequent ethnographic essays.