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Finding a place in the world

Political subjectivities and the imagination of Iceland after the economic crash

Kristín Loftsdóttir

The economic crash in Iceland created a sense of social and political collapse that extended far beyond the economic realm. Calls for a “New Iceland” were invoked, where the Icelandic political arena would be “cleaned” and reimagined in drastic ways. In this article, I explore how ideas circulating in the wider European region about how Icelanders dealt exceptionally well with the crisis not only failed to reflect the lived effects of the collapse but also echoed long-standing nationalist ideals of Icelanders’ imagined reality of themselves. I show how nation branding in Iceland after 2010 added to the conception that Iceland dealt with the crisis in an exceptional way, and I critically ask why Iceland received such a positive depiction in the international media.

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Beata Stawarska

When remembering the past, the past appears as my own. After all, I cannot properly speaking recollect any other past than the one that I have lived, even though I can remember events from the historical past and from personal histories recounted to me by others. Authentic recollection occurs necessarily in the first person, i.e. I remember myself in given situations, circumstances and places. Recollection is therefore a cogito experience par excellence, despite the fact that I may have become estranged from my past engagements, emotional attachments or culinary preferences. The difference between myself in the past and myself in the present does not put the underlying identity of one life into question. Memory affirms my personal identity, despite the temporal difference and in that difference, it appears therefore as a privileged context for inquiry into subjective life and possibly even as the ground for upholding the contested notion of “the subject.”1 No wonder then that the way philosophers theorize memory is indicative of their conception of subjectivity as a whole. In what follows, I turn to Sartre and to Husserl with the aim of unveiling how their accounts of recollection resolve the question of identity and difference within the temporality of a subjective life. Tracing Sartre’s arguments against Husserl’s, as well as Husserl’s and Sartre’s own presentations of recollection, I inquire into the reasons that incited them to bring either the aspect of sameness or otherness at the heart of subjective life into view.

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Christianity and the City

Simmel, Space, and Urban Subjectivities

Anna Strhan

This article examines the growing scholarly interest in urban religion, situating the topic in relation to the contemporary analytical significance of cities as sites where processes of social change, such as globalization, transnationalism, and the influence of new media technologies, materialize in interrelated ways. I argue that Georg Simmel's writing on cities offers resources to draw out further the significance of “the urban” in this emerging field. I bring together Simmel's urban analysis with his approach to religion, focusing on Christianities and individuals' relations with sacred figures, and suggest this perspective opens up how forms of religious practice respond to experiences of cultural fragmentation in complex urban environments. Drawing on his analysis of individuals' engagement with the coherence of God, I explore conservative evangelicals' systems of religious intersubjectivity to show how attention to the social effects of relations with sacred figures can deepen understanding of the formation of urban religious subjectivities.

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Pleasure and Dementia

On Becoming an Appreciating Subject

Annelieke Driessen

What can pleasure in the nursing home teach us about dementia and subjectivity? In this article I seek to challenge the assumption that the ‘fourth age’ involves the loss of subjectivity. In presenting dementia as a single pathway towards loss and decline, alternative pathways that provide more hopeful imaginaries become obscured. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in residential dementia care, I show how care professionals craft conditions that invite residents to take pleasure in, for example, dancing and bathing, and thus to become what I call ‘appreciating subjects’. Although residents do not craft these conditions themselves, they are active in accepting the invitations offered and enacting their appreciations. I argue that pleasure is a relational achievement, one that is contagious for those who let themselves be affected.

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Penny McCall Howard

This article examines the "power and the pain of class relations" (Ortner 2006) through the experience of Scottish men working in the global shipping, offshore oil, and fishing industries: industries in which the nationality of workers has changed significantly since the 1980s. It combines recent anthropological literature on subjectivity and cosmopolitanism with a Marxist understanding of class as generated through differing relationships to production. The article describes how British seafarers have experienced the cosmopolitanization of their workplaces, as workers from Portugal, Eastern Europe, and the Philippines have been recruited by employers in order to reduce wages, working conditions, and trade union organization. Drawing on Therborn (1980), it concludes that the experiences gained through this process have led to the development of multiple and often contradictory subjectivities, which people draw on as they choose how to act in moments of crisis, and as they imagine possible futures.

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After dispossession

Ethnographic approaches to neoliberalization

Oscar Salemink and Mattias Borg Rasmussen

Since the 1980s globalization has taken on increasingly neoliberalizing forms in the form of commoditization of objects, resources, or even human bodies, their reduction to financial values, and their enclosure or other forms of dispossession. “After dispossession” provides ethnographic accounts of the diverse ways to deal with dispossessions by attempts at repossessing values in connection to what has been lost in neoliberal assemblages of people and resources and thus how material loss might be compensated for in terms of subjective experiences of restoring value beyond the financial. The analytical challenge we pursue is one of bridging between a political economy concerned with the uneven distribution of wealth and resources, and the profound changes in identity politics and subject formation that are connected to these. We therefore argue that any dispossession may trigger acts of repossession of values beyond the financial realm, and consequently that suffering, too, entails forms of agency predicated on altered subjectivities. This move beyond the suffering subject reconnects the study of subjectivities with the analysis of alienation, disempowerment, and impoverishment through dispossession and attempts at recapturing value in altered circumstances.

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Back to the Future

Subjectivity and Anamorphosis in Richard I

Vance Adair

Internalising the gaze of the Other, in this case that of Lady Anne, Richard’s acquisition of a looking glass is accompanied by an idealisation of body image that is redolent of the ‘jubilation’ experienced by the subject of Lacan’s mirror stage. Briefly, in the mirror stage the ego is formed in terms of identification with one’s specular image, the infant who has not yet mastered the upright posture upon seeing himself in the mirror will ‘jubilantly assume’ the upright position (Lacan 1977, 2). The apparently ‘orthopaedic’ effect of captation by the mirror image would appear particularly apposite for a character that is frequently disposed to descanting upon on his own deformity. This transition from an uncoordinated body image, the corps morcele, to the Gestalt of bodily wholeness, however, is irreducible to a myth of origins. As Jane Gallop has argued, the mirror stage involves a temporal dialectic at once anticipatory and retroactive which is of paradigmatic significance for Lacan’s understanding of the relationship between subjectivity and the signifying chain

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Aestheticised Rituals and (Non-)Engagement with Norms in Contemporary Turkey

A Contribution to Discussions on Piety and Ethics

Erol Saglam

Drawing on an ethnographic research in some rural communities of Trabzon, Turkey, this article provides insights about the diversity of Islamic pieties and their relations to religious norms. An exploration of everyday Islamic practices in the area demonstrates how piety can take peculiar forms within which norms are both publicly and socially upheld and yet also hollowed out. Among Muslim men of ‘the Valley’ in Trabzon, piety emerges as an aggregate of reiterative practices exterior to the pious self. Highlighting the aestheticised and ritualised state of these engagements with Islam in the Turkish context allows discussion of the relationships among practices of piety, pious subjectivities, and ethics.

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Frida Hastrup

This article analyzes local concerns with nature and natural changes in response to the tsunami of 2004 based on anthropological fieldwork in the South Indian fishing village of Tharangambadi. It explores the fishermen's effort to restore confidence in their environment after the disaster, and argues that this entails a subtle strategy of relating to climate and weather that aims at gradually transferring the rupture of the tsunami to a more manageable pattern of seasonal variation. In analytical terms, the article investigates how the fishermen work to reassert their subjectivity in the aftermath of the overwhelming disaster through operating with different perspectives on their environment. In conclusion, the article suggests that these shifting perspectives more generally reflect notions of different intensities of change and creative local modes of adaptation ensuing from a disruption like the tsunami.

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Introduction

Reading twenty-first-century capitalism through the lens of E. P. Thompson

Kathleen M. Millar

E. P. Thompson's social history of capitalism has enduring relevance for anthropological analyses of economic crisis, precarious labor, and class struggle today. This introduction provides a synthesis of the ethnographic cases in this theme section by reflecting on several impulses in Thompson's work that both resonate with and challenge current ethnography of political and economic change. Thompson's focus on moments of transition, his conception of human subjectivity as a process of “making,” and his view of class struggle as arising from tensions between old and new orders bring history and political economy into the study of emergent social formations. Inspired by Thompson's critique of rigid theoretical models, this introduction suggests ways not only to adopt but also to modify the historian's insights for ethnographic work on contemporary capitalism.