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.
Methods, Interpretations, Imagination
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.
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
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.
Paratexts and Personal Motivation in Travel Writing about Afghanistan
This article considers the stated motivations for travel in the case of three examples of travel writing about Afghanistan. Jason Elliot’s An Unexpected Light documents his travel in 1984 during the war between the Afghan Mujaheddin and the Soviets; Jonny Bealby’s For a Pagan Song, first published in 1998, takes place during the civil war between Mujaheddin and the Taleban; Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between was written about travel between 2000 and 2002, during which time Operation Enduring Freedom was launched against the Taleban. The article deploys Genette’s concept of paratexts in order to show how the acknowledgments, blurbs, and other paratextual material, when read against the grain, undermine the relationship between the writer and their stated motivations and, thus, destabilize the self-representation of each writer in the course of the narrative. The outcome of these readings is a critique of the three texts, arguing that each one works to justify their travel through a combination of self-narration and paratextual material but that none of them address the implications of their travel for the Afghan people or that the purpose of the travel is to write the text.
Afghan Transregional Traders across the Former Soviet Union
Building on fieldwork with Afghan traders in the former Soviet Union, this article uses the idea of diplomacy to explore the skills and capacities that are central to the traders’ self-understandings and working lives. Of central concern is the way in which the traders often identify themselves as being ‘diplomats’. The expressions of the traders’ diplomatic skills take various forms of everyday practice, as well as material form in choices of clothing and in the design of their offices. In exploring these different markers of being diplomatic in the context of the activities of a long-distance trade network, it is suggested that anthropology needs to attend not only to the possibilities of using diplomacy as an analytical device, but also as an emic category that invests the lives of particular communities with meaning and significance.
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.
Commerce, Mobility and Masculinity among Afghan Traders in Eurasia
This article explores intersections between masculinity, mobility, generation and commerce through the everyday lives of Afghan men who make up trading networks that are active across Eurasia. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork among Afghan traders in Ukraine’s port city of Odessa and in the international trading city of Yiwu in China. Building on recent work in anthropology concerning the ‘emergent’ nature of Middle Eastern masculinities, the article brings attention to the flexible and adaptable nature of the notions of masculinity held and performed by mobile Afghan traders. It emphasises the need for such conceptions of masculinity to be treated historically and draws attention to the forms of caregiving that are especially important to the traders’ intimate lives and self-understandings. The article also highlights the significance of complex notions of trust both to the traders’ articulation of conceptions of manliness and to their everyday modes of securing a livelihood.
Restrictive conditions of temporary protection have required refugees to be resourceful and tactful in managing their own ‘resettlement’ in Australia. Ethnographic research among Hazara refugees from Central Afghanistan living on temporary protection visas, reveals the mobile phone to be fundamental to restoring their lives after detention. Hazara have made use of their mobile phones to establish a point of contact, get their bearings, and reposition themselves at the locus of their own new social networks. This article explores the affect of mobile phone use in a situation of temporary protection, in terms of a rubric of resilience.
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.