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Ruy Llera Blanes

In this article I explore the contemporary relevance of Émile Durkheim’s classic theory of anomie with respect to both the discipline of social anthropology and the study of politics in Africa. I take as a case study present-day, post-war Angola, where an activist mobilisation (the Revolutionary Movement) has engaged in what I call ‘anomic diagnostics’ in opposing the country’s current regime. Through a political reading of Durkheim’s theory, I suggest that, while the French author situates anomie and suicide as cause and consequence respectively within a conservative view of society, Angolan activists instead see anomie as the starting point for a progressive political proposition productive of rupture.

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The atheist anthropologist

Believers and non‐believers in anthropological fieldwork1

Ruy Llera Blanes

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The optimistic utopia

Sacrifice and expectations of political transformation in the Angolan Revolutionary Movement

Ruy Llera Blanes

In this paper, I propose an anthropological discussion of the correlation of utopia and optimism, in relation with ideas of personal and collective sacrifice. To do so, I will invoke my ethnographic research on political activism in Angola, particularly the so‐called Revolutionary Movement – a group of young activists challenging Angola’s authoritarian regime. During recent Luanda fieldwork, I observed how most of the ‘Revús’ engaged in self‐sacrificial behaviour, exposing themselves to police brutality, imprisonment and social discrimination, in their struggle towards a brighter collective future. This optimistic and somewhat Gandhian stance marks a dramatic departure from the sense of fatalism and ‘culture of fear’ that seems otherwise to prevail in Angola. I will question if and in what terms such stances are ‘utopian’ and configure ‘principles of hope’, as Ernst Bloch would put it. In the process, I will perform a critical interrogation of the correlation of utopia, hope and optimism.

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Ruy Llera Blanes

Abstract

In this article, through a set of ethnographic vignettes from fieldwork conducted in Angola since 2015, I discuss the political semantics of crisis and austerity, and simultaneously outline an itinerary of a “traveling austerity” between Portugal and Angola, exposing the interconnectedness and mutual binding of both political and economic contexts. Invoking stories of migrant workers in Luanda and the work of local “financial activists” protesting against financial inequality in Angola, I question the relevance of national-based approaches to austerity politics, explore conceptualizations of austerity beyond its “original,” mainstream Eurocentric setting, and argue towards the necessity of analyzing transnational intersections in the study of austerity.

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Introduction

Authority, Aesthetics, and the Wisdom of Foolishness

Simon Coleman and Ruy Llera Blanes

With characteristic playfulness, the subject of this volume’s portrait, Gananath Obeyesekere, calls his contribution a celebration of ‘foolishness’. But this is indeed a fertile foolishness. It implies not only an admission that the ethnographer lacks omniscience, but also a positive freedom to engage passionately in comparison, to avoid disciplinary overspecialization, to understand that the “non-rational is not necessarily irrational,” and to acknowledge the power of art and literature as potential inspirations for our work. Of course, as Obeyesekere admits, the ludic and the ironic also entail risks, as they can provoke anger in others. Nonetheless, his words have many echoes in this volume, particularly in their invocation of the power of the aesthetic combined with the ironic, exemplified by reference to the fool in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. They also provoke thoughtful reflections from our three commentators on Obeyesekere’s work, Douglas Hollan, Luís Quintais, and Unni Wikan.

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Ruy Llera Blanes and Abel Paxe

In this article we chart the histories and political translations of atheist cultures in Angola. We explore the specific translations of atheist ideologies into practical actions that occurred in the post-independence period in the 1970s–1980s and perform an ethnographic exploration of their legacies in contemporary Angola. We also debate the problem of atheism as an anthropological concept, examining the interfaces between ideology, political agency, and social praxis. We suggest that atheism is inherently a politically biased concept, a product of the local histories and intellectual traditions that shape it.

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Introduction

One Hundred Years of Anthropology of Religion

Ramon Sarró, Simon Coleman, and Ruy Llera Blanes

One could say that in 2012 the scientific study of religion, particularly in its anthropological form, has become one hundred years old. In 1912, Durkheim published The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, perhaps the most influential book in the social study of religion, and certainly in the anthropology of religion, of the entire twentieth century. But this was not the only seminal work published around a century ago. A little earlier than that, in 1909, Arnold van Gennep’s Les rites de passage inaugurated an interest in liminality and ritual that has accompanied our discipline ever since. That same year, Marcel Mauss wrote La prière, an unfinished thesis that started an equally unfinished interest in prayer, one of the central devotional practices in many religions across the globe. In 1910, Lévy-Bruhl published his first explicitly anthropological book, How Natives Think, a problematic ancestor of a debate about rationality and modes of thought that has accompanied anthropology and philosophy ever since. In 1913, Freud tackled the then fashionable topic of totemism in his Totem and Taboo. Around those early years of the century, too, Max Weber was starting to write about charisma, secularization, and rationalization, topics of enduring interest.

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Utopian confluences

Anthropological mappings of generative politics

Ruy Llera Blanes and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen

In this introductory essay, we introduce the possibility of an anthropology of generative politics, focusing in particular on its utopian unfoldings. We depart from the recognition that the current global political landscape is exposing new forms of collective mobilisation that challenge prevailing understandings of ‘the human’, collective agency and chronotopical experiences. Through a critical review of anthropological and other scholarship on, for instance, (post)humanism, as well as a presentation of contemporary socio‐political configurations, we make the case for generative politics being integral to what we term ‘utopian confluences’.