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Not Soft Power, but Speaking Softly

‘Everyday Diplomacy’ in Field Relations during the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Jeremy Morris

Based on long-term fieldwork in Russia, but focusing mainly on the aftermath of the 2014 Malaysian airliner downing in Ukraine, this article examines the individual ethnographer and informants alike as unwilling ‘diplomatic’ representatives in the field. Firstly, I discuss the authoritarian political context in Russia and how it affects the notion of ‘soft power’ and ‘public’ discourse. Then I relate the familiar ‘political testing’ experience of researchers by informants, and ‘neutrality’ in field relations (Ergun and Erdemir 2010). Next, I draw on the anthropology of indirect communication to characterize ‘everyday diplomacy’ after the event as a particular kind of civility. I go on to examine attendant affective states of ‘tension, disturbance, or jarring’ (Navaro-Yashin 2012) that both threaten civility and enable it. Finally, I argue that classic ethnographic rapport-building deserves further examination in the light of the porosity of politics, the social environment and the field.

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Corrective Capacities

From Unruly Politics to Democratic Capacitación

Susan Ellison

Foreign aid programmes have long targeted Bolivia for ‘capacity building’ at the level of institutional democratic channels and the state legal system. By contrast, this article examines a shift in donor priorities from reforming public institutions to workshops targeting interpersonal and social communication through capacitación or skill-set building aimed at changing individual behaviour and values. I argue that the conversatorio – or model dialogue – is the quintessential space of capacitación towards those ends. Yet, as I show, conversatorios also become a space of contestation as participants challenge not only the framing of political issues, but also the very techniques of negotiation, deliberation and political subject formation proposed in these ‘capacity building’ spaces. Conversatorios unmask competing political stakes and expectations of state–citizen relations as sceptical participants revalorize demonized capacities.

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Space of Hope for Lebanon’s Missing

Promoting Transitional Justice through a Digital Memorial

Erik Van Ommering and Reem el Soussi

This article explores how a digital memorial for forcibly disappeared persons contributes to transitional justice in Lebanon. It presents the joint establishment of an interactive digital memorial by a collective of nongovernmental organizations, relatives of missing persons, and youth volunteers. The case study is situated in debates on transitional justice, calls for democratization of collective memories and archives, and discussions on new information and communication technologies. The article demonstrates how the development and launch of Fushat Amal (Space for Hope) is shaped and confined by postwar sociopolitical realities that are all but favorable to memorialization or justice-seeking initiatives. It highlights how digitalized memories can open up spaces that remain closed in the offline world, enabling survivors to share their stories, build collectives, demand recognition, and advocate for justice. At the same time, the authors discuss the limitations of digital memorials in relation to questions of access, ownership, and sustainability.

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Deliberative Democracy

Bringing the System Back In

Michael J. Jensen

The current crisis of democracy today is a crisis in the steering capacities of political systems as conventional representative institutions are seen as increasingly unresponsive. This has engendered a crisis of legitimacy as governing processes that affect daily life are seen as increasingly out of reach for citizens who find themselves with little or no influence over government administration, and increasingly globalized flows of markets and communication that belie the control of sovereign borders. The return to deliberative democracy as a response to the crisis has turned toward systems thinking within deliberation. Although this literature has primarily retained its normative language, approaching the crisis of democracy in terms of its empirical steering capacities is necessary to connect deliberation with its democratic aspirations. In addition to the language of steering capacities, these elements include an empirically-grounded account of the operation of power and authority as well the role of rhetoric as central rather than operating in the shadow of deliberation.

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Stephen Elstub and Jean-Paul Gagnon

Editors' introduction to the interview: Stephen Elstub articulates that deliberative democracy, as a theory, can be seen as having gone through various distinct generations. The first generation was a period where the normative values and the justifications for deliberative democracy were set out. This prompted criticism from difference democrats who saw the exclusion of other forms of communication by the reification of reason in deliberation as a serious shortcoming of the theory. This in part prompted the growth of the second generation of deliberative democracy, which began to focus more on the theory's operability. These theorizations, from the mostly 1990s and early 2000s, have led to the third generation of the theory—one embodied by the empirical turn. Elstub uses this genealogy as a foundation from which to argue that the current focus of deliberative democracy is on implementing deliberative systems rather than only deliberative institutions and this could potentially represent a fourth generation of deliberative democracy.

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Antonio Lázaro-Reboll

This article traces the formation of comics art scholarship in Spain from 1965 to 1975. This decade witnessed the beginning of the study of comics as a serious object of cultural analysis. Reading formations surrounding the medium – in particular, historical and critical reading protocols – and a set of key critical debates were concurrent with the establishment and the development of mass communication studies as an incipient field of research in Spain in the mid-1960s. The aim of this article is to provide a close examination of the first generation of critics participating in and writing about the scene in relation to hitherto overlooked local and transnational contexts that shaped the constitution of the Spanish field of comics.

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'Is There Any Boudin on the Moon?'

Depicting Cajun Ethnicity in Bec Doux et ses amis

Fabrice Leroy

The Bec Doux et ses amis comics series, written by Cajun authors in Cajun French, is little known outside of its native French-speaking Louisiana. Although it can be inscribed within the wider Cajun ethnic revival that began in the late 1960s, it constitutes a unique example of graphic self-representation in this field of cultural productions. This article examines how the series' use of regional French, in the context of increasing acculturation by a dominant English-speaking America, is not only a statement of cultural resistance, but also a creative negotiation of communication with a dialectal readership, within the comics format. The article also focuses on the iconic effectiveness of the series, and more specifically on its nuanced and authentic depiction of the Cajun minority's ethnic habitus, in order to understand the complexities of such cultural self-caricature.

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Benjamin O.L. Bowles and Federica Guglielmo

This special issue of Anthropology in Action collects essays arising from the 4th Post-graduate Conference of the Royal Anthropological Institute, held at Brunel University (London) on 3–4 September 2014. The event aimed to explore a variety of perspectives concerning the production and the ownership of anthropological knowledge, including issues of authority and ethical responsibility. We also welcomed reflections on the opening of new interstitial fieldsites in between the structured components of anthropological research. Our interest focused on the dilemmas arising from the definition of the field itself, in the guise of the epistemological delimitation of its boundaries and how these affect the relational world within it. We focused on the co-dependence between these factors and on the influence of increasing interconnectedness through advanced and progressively widespread communication technologies (cf. Kelty 2009).

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Judea Pearl

This open letter from Muslims to Jews is a welcome first step towards the goals we aspire to achieve through interfaith dialogues – peace, understanding and mutual respect. The Centre of Studies for Muslim–Jewish Relations should be commended for opening this channel of communication, especially in view of the fierce resistance that is often voiced against the very idea of dialogue – instigated partly for fear of lending voice to the ‘other side’, and partly for fear of seeing the logic and human face of the other side. Those of us who have followed the path of dialogue fear none of the above, for we have experienced the invigorating dignity of disagreement and the liberating power of doubt.

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Michał Buchowski

Western representations of the Other are criticized by anthropologists, but similar hegemonic classifications are present in the relationships between anthropologists who are living in the West and working on the (post-socialist) East, and those working and living in the (post-communist) East. In a hierarchical order of scholars and knowledge, post-socialist anthropologists are often perceived as relics of the communist past: folklorists, theoretically backward empiricists, and nationalists. These images replicate Cold War stereotypes, ignore long-lasting paradigm shifts as well as actual practices triggered by the transnationalization of scholarship. Post-socialist academics either approve of such hegemony or contest this pecking order of wisdom, and their reactions range from isolationism to uncritical attempts at “nesting intellectual backwardness“ in the local context (an effect that trickles down and reinforces hierarchies). Deterred communication harms anthropological studies on post-socialism, the prominence of which can hardly be compared to that of post-colonial studies.