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Sexular practice

Notes on an ethnography of secularism

Oskar Verkaaik and Rachel Spronk

In Europe today, the most heated identity politics revolve around matters of sexuality and religion. In the context of “integration” debates that occur in different forms in various countries, sexuality has gained a new form of normativity, and new sexual sensitivities have replaced former ones. So far, scholarly discussions deal with these sensitivities in a deconstructivist and critical manner, denaturalizing discourses on culture, identity, and religion. However, these debates do not consider the experiences of people implicated in these debates, and their often emotional and political engagement in matters where sexuality and religion intersect. Joan Scott’s coinage of the term “sexularism” denotes a particular form of embodiment that is part of secularism in Europe today. Rather than studying the discourse of secularism, this article focuses on the practice of secularization; how do people fashion their daily lives concerning sexuality, religion and its intimate intersection?

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Authenticity, hybridity, and difference

Debating national identity in twentieth-century Mexico

Wil G. Pansters

This article studies the transformation of the debate about national culture in twentieth-century Mexico by looking at the complex relationship between discourses of authenticity and mestizaje. The article firstly demonstrates how in the first half of the twentieth century, Mexican national identity was constructed out of a state-led program of mestizaje, thereby supposedly giving rise to a new and authentic identity, the mestizo (nation). Secondly, it is argued that the authentication project around mestizaje is riddled with paradoxes that require explanation. Thirdly, the article studies the political dimension of the authenticity discourse and demonstrates how the homogenizing and unifying forces that spring from the process of authentication played an important role in buttressing an authoritarian regime. Fourthly, the article looks at two recent developments: indigenous cultural politics and transnationalism. Here it is shown how discourses of difference, pluralism, and transnationalism are challenging the central tenets of Mexican post-revolutionary national culture and the boundaries of the national Self.

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A Time without Soldiers

Writing about Kashmir Today

Suvir Kaul

In this article I ask what it means to turn to scholarly analysis to understand better the historical lineages of an urgent contemporary political situation. I first wrote on Kashmir in a journalistic fashion because I was appalled by the militarization and routine suspension of civil rights that I saw when I went there in 2003. Since then I have been thinking of analytical frames in which to provide a longer history for the political mess I observed and continue to observe, which leads me to read in the “field“ in order to understand issues as they developed before 1989—when militancy in Kashmir broke out. What limits on my understanding are put in place by my early writing, which was motivated by sorrow and anger, rather than by the criteria that we expect motivates historical analysis? What kinds of insight are enabled by that same beginning?

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Amélie Auzoux

English abstract (full article is in French):

This study unpacks Valery Larbaud’s (1881–1957) presentation of the concept of the ethnic, linguistic, or foreign ‘Other’ in the period between the two World Wars. A French travel writer, critic and translator, Valery Larbaud moved away from the abstract classical European construct of Man to explore the concrete diversity of people, populations, and languages. In an age when scientific theory divided different ethnic groups into as many unequal species, Larbaud advocated for the unity of a single human race. It is thus through his adherence to the tenets, promulgated by Christian universalism, of the fraternal unity of all creatures that he was inoculated against racist tendencies.

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A. Hadi Alshawi and Andrew Gardner

This article examines the resurgence of tribalism as a sociological component of contemporary Qatari society. Utilising an ethnographic, mixed-methods design, the article begins with a survey of the substantial scholarship concerning tribes in Arabia. That scholarship provides ideas and understandings that only partially explain the vitality of contemporary tribalism. The article then demonstrates tribalism's ongoing social importance by analysing data from a quantitative survey of 800 Qatari citizens. The article concludes with the ethnographically situated contention that tribalism functions as a mechanism for asserting social power in the contemporary Qatari state, and is therefore an emblematic component of Qatari citizenship.

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The 1905-1907 Revolution in the Kingdom of Poland

Articulation of Political Subjectivities among Workers

Wictor Marzec

The article examines the political mobilisation and construction of modern political identities among workers during the 1905-1907 Revolution in the Kingdom of Poland. Political process, creation and alternation of the political subjectivities of workers are explained in terms of hegemonic articulations as presented by the political discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau. While social claims merged with resistance against the national oppression of the Tsarist regime and the struggle for social and political recognition, political subjectivities took various contingent and competitive forms; thus the same demands could be integrated into different political narratives and collective identities. Combining discourse theory and process tracing makes alternations of the political field in time intelligible.

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Gold Teeth, Indian Dresses, Chinese Lycra and ‘Russian’ Hair

Embodied Diplomacy and the Assemblages of Dress in Tajikistan

Diana Ibañez-Tirado

This article examines the assemblages of dress in Tajikistan as a showground of everyday diplomacy, and seeks to stimulate recognition of the alternative sites of diplomacy that play an active role in mediating political relations between diverse nation-states, and the brand images of nations. I suggest that the term ‘embodied diplomacy’ is useful to convey the processes through which Tajikistan’s people negotiate the government-led dress codes and navigate social pressures about public gendered images. The incorporation of so-called foreign items into people’s apparel triggers situations in which the assemblages of particular bodies and items of dress most clearly emerge as diplomatic sites. Such everyday situations reveal Tajikistan’s residents as diplomats insofar as they reflect on their roles as the country’s representatives at the same time as they deploy their skills of communication, persuasion and mediation to negotiate between compulsory dress codes, incoming fashion trends, family expectations and personal aesthetics.

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The Algerian Café-Hotel

Hub of the Nationalist Underground, Paris 1926–1962

Neil MacMaster

Algerian migrant workers in Paris inhabited café-lodging houses that became centers of clandestine political organization and terrorist networks before and during the War of Independence (1954–1962). The managers, with organizational skills and a certain authority over their clients, also provided the leadership for the local nationalist cells. In a situation in which the cell members also constituted the hotel clientele, in which the social life of the café was at one with that of the political meeting, it was difficult for the police to penetrate and gather intelligence on the organization. There followed a war of attrition between police and nationalists for the control of the café-hotels, in which the latter developed sophisticated commercial arrangements as a façade for collecting revenue. The Algerian nationalists, like other anti-state organizations, from the French Resistance to the Mafia, developed clandestine structures within the social networks of the café and “legitimate” commercial operations.

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Demos and Nation

Misplacing the Dilemmas of the European Union--In Memory of Stanley Hoffmann

Charles S. Maier

“Demos and Nation,” written in homage to the memory of Stanley Hoffmann, critically considers the “no-demos” theory that argues the European Union is necessarily limited in its scope and loyalty because supposedly any authentic democratic political union must rest on a “people” or “demos,” which the EU lacks. There is no European demos, so the proponents argue; only nationstates possess this communal glue. I argue that, first, European history shows the no-demos theory ascribes far too great a unity and cohesion to the process of traditional nation-state formation as well as to current national polities; second, that polities at any level create their demoi through common civic activity, such as voting, political party formation, and meaningful parliamentary policy making; they are not pre-existing. Additionally, current difficulties of the EU should be attributed more to xenophobic populism at the national level than to failings in Brussels. Ultimately the no-demos theory plays into the hands of political leaders and movements that wish to advance their populist and authoritarian agendas at home by stigmatizing the EU.

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Towards a Comparative History of Concepts

Civilisation and beschaving

Pim den Boer

Building upon an introductory discussion on linguistic exchange - the problem of missing words - and the emergence of transnational concepts, this article consists of a comparative study of the history of the concept of civilisation in some major European languages and the concept of beschaving in Dutch, the closest translation to civilisation in that language. According to the author, the particular and independent conceptual evolution of beschaving should be in part explained by the early development of a modern socio-economic structure in Holland.