This article looks at three disparate travel texts—Robert Byron's classic 1937 travelogue The Road to Oxiana, Khaled Hosseini's massively popular 2003 novel The Kite Runner, and Michael Winterbottom's emotionally wrenching 2002 fauxdocumentary In This World—which deal, either directly or indirectly, with Afghanistan. It argues that the geographical coordinates of Afghanistan have recently been confused with the “War on Terror,” and that one of the most notable results of this has been the ideological assimilation of a Central Asian nation to the post–9/11-inspired imaginative geography of a “Greater Middle East.” The article seeks to account for this latter-day history of geographical misprision, but also for the triangulated relationship between travel, empire, and colonial modernity that underlies it—a relationship in which the US-dominated “colonial present” (Gregory 2004) maps onto the British imperial past.
Journeys in Afghanistan from Byron to Hosseini
Methods, Interpretations, Imagination
Anthropological research in war-torn countries like Afghanistan is dangerous and therefore often impossible. There are various constraints, both general and specific, that often hinder an anthropologist from going out into the field. This is not a new problem for social anthropology, but it is increasingly preoccupying the discipline. Thus, a 'distance approach' needs to be developed for studying the ethnography of the Afghan war. This article proposes one methodological possibility for approaching the Afghan war from other perspectives. This method involves extensive reading in and analysis of various written works and the critical examination of web sites and other media, in combination with fieldwork in Europe and Central Asia. In order to demonstrate this approach, the discourse on women's rights will be discussed.
Un nouveau regard sur un terrain revisité
Pierre Centlivres and Micheline Centlivres-Demont
Returning to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2005, the authors revisit the places in the north of the country where they undertook research in the 1970s and observe the ruptures and the continuities in the society after 30 years of crisis and conflict. They comment also on their own changes of perspective brought about by the elapsed time and their return. Finally, they tackle the question of the return and reintegration of the refugees, as well as the concept of the village and the advent of new national and international actors on the Afghan scene.
Reconstruction, Transnational Governance and Gender Politics in the New Islamic Republic
This article seeks to characterise the nature of the post-Taliban 'reconstruction' project in Afghanistan through an analysis of observations and interviews collected in the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA) in 2007. Based on a case study of a 'gender empowerment' training programme administered by the MoWA and funded by an international aid agency, I underline some intricacies in the relationships that are built in development encounters. I argue that the current efforts to include gender issues in politics are part of a broader cultural project aimed at setting up the conditions of possibility for the creation of a modern Afghan state. I show how reconstruction does not simply consist in the formation of a bureaucratic apparatus based on Western models of liberal democracies but primarily involves cultural and symbolic production.
Atta ur Rehman Sheikh
Afghan society represents a wide spectrum of tribal and ethnic groups with generally strong patriarchal norms. Given this patriarchal structure, coupled with the predominant tribal value system, the honour of a tribe is closely attributed to its women, and the protection of women by secluding them is thus a continued practice and norm. The division of public and private spheres is strictly adhered to as a means to maintain and preserve the honour of the family or tribe. The forced migration of Afghans has resulted in drastic changes in Afghan women’s lives and produced tensions in the tribal and social structure. Due to the absence of customary social support networks, material difficulties and cases of shattered families have become worse, and women’s mobility and freedom have been even further curtailed. At the same time, the refugee situation, extending over two decades, has brought about several changes in terms of attitudes towards health, hygiene, literacy, education, skill training and customs, due to the developmental work of various relief agencies.
Foreign policy issues did not play a decisive role in the German general election campaign of 2009. While Chancellor Angela Merkel conducted a decidedly presidential campaign, her main rival, SPD Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, found it difficult to break out of his role as Merkel's partner in the Grand Coalition the two had led for four years. This was especially true with respect to issues on foreign policy, where both candidates had cooperated rather smoothly. Neither the issue of Afghanistan (despite the hotly debated Kunduz airstrike), nor the unresolved issues of the future of the European Union's Lisbon Treaty could antagonize the main political protagonists in Germany. The overwhelming foreign policy consensus among the mainstream political forces remained intact. Nevertheless, the changing international landscape and increased German responsibilities abroad will turn foreign policy into a relevant campaign issue, probably as early as 2013, when, presumably, the next Bundestag elections will be held.
Derrida’s hostipitalité formulation provides a framework through which we might begin to explore the relationship between Iranian citizen-hosts and Afghan refugee-guests in the city of Shiraz and the surrounding province. Notions of Iranian hospitality thread through multiple and diverse constructions of Iranian selfhood. Religion, poetry and history speak to what it means to be Iranian, marking out categories of Self and Other and, in doing so, exposing the limits of hospitality in the very spaces that the nation is most acutely felt.
Publications, Films and Conferences
Shahla Haeri, Sophie Accolas and Babak Rezvani
Nadjmabadi, Shahnaz R. (ed.) (2009), Conceptualizing Iranian Anthropology: Past and Present Perspectives (Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books). viii + 278 pp. ISBN 978-1-84545-626-9.
Kamal, Mariam Nabil (2009), Le Bruit des pas, Afghanistan, vidéo couleur, 24 minutes, Ateliers Varan, avec le soutien des Service culturel de l’Ambassade de France, du Centre culturel français, du Goethe Institut et la Direction des Relations Internationales d’Arte France, en partenariat avec Afghan films, la Faculté des Beaux Arts, Kabul University, Radio Television Afghanistan, the Foundation for Culture and Civil Society.
‘Central Eurasia: Islam, Culture and Conflict’, May 2010, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
An Overview of the Contemporary Ethnography of Afghanistan
This special issue represents the first collection of ethnographic articles specifically about post-2001 Afghanistan, opening a new chapter in the history of the country’s ethnography. Long and multifaceted, that history deserves a thorough compilation and bibliography beyond what can be undertaken in this brief editorial. The promising current of anthropological research in Afghanistan in the 1960s and 1970s was diverted by over 30 years of political turmoil, invasion, resistance and civil war, during which many anthropologists either continued or began their work in the refugee communities of Pakistan and Iran or in Afghan diasporic populations around the world.
Meaningful illness and military victimhood
Zoë H. Wool
Finley, Erin. 2011. Fields of combat: Understanding PTSD among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 240 pages.
Kilshaw, Susie. 2009. Impotent warriors: Gulf War syndrome, vulnerability and masculinity. Oxford: Berghahn Books. 282 pages.