In this article I explore how a ‘belonging’ perspective can contribute to anthropological reflections on subjectivity and agency. On the basis of two ethnographic cases from Vietnam, I show how people tend to find their bearings in existentially difficult situations by placing themselves within concrete communities of others. Distinguishing between intersubjective, territorial, and political forms of belonging, I discuss anthropological approaches to belonging practices, highlighting the shared analytical assumptions that have underpinned anthropological use of the concept. By placing mutuality and responsiveness at the center of attention, I show that a belonging perspective can help us to think more carefully about the complex ways in which freedom and constraint intertwine in human lives.
Comprehending Subjectivity in Vietnam and Beyond
Tine M. Gammeltoft
Beyond the Ordinary Obviousness of Tween Girls' Everyday Practices
Tween is a commonly used consumer-media label for girls aged anywhere between 9 and 14 years. The girls' desire to belong in friendship and peer groups has been considered by feminist and cultural studies scholars through their consumption activities and their negotiations of young, feminine girlness. Yet there is limited scholarship that explores the significance of their everyday practices in their own local, social worlds. Drawing on the findings from my year-long ethnographic study in a Melbourne Primary School, I consider the meaning behind the ordinary obviousness of the girls' everyday practices. I reflect on the often complex meanings of the girls' practices as they pursue their desire to belong. As I discovered, there is significant knowledge to be gained from exploring the girls' everyday considerations and negotiations of belonging. This article draws on two key examples of my ethnographic study to highlight the significance in understanding the girls' everyday practices.
Hayek, Pluralism, Democracy
Reading Friedrich Hayek’s late work as a neoliberal myth of the state of nature, this article finds neoliberalism’s hostilities to democracy to be animated in part by a romantic demand for belonging. Hayek’s theory of spontaneous order expresses this desire for belonging as it pretends the market is capable of harmonizing differences so long as the state is prevented from interfering. Approaching Hayek’s work in this way helps to explain why his conceptions of both pluralism and democracy are so thin. It also suggests that neoliberalism’s assaults upon democracy are intimately linked to its relentless extractivism. Yet the romantic elements in Hayek’s work might have led him toward a more radical democratic project and ecological politics had he affirmed plurality for what it enables. I conclude with the suggestion that democratic theory can benefit from learning to listen to what Hayek heard but failed to affirm: nature’s active voice.
Identity, Law, and Gender in the Anthropology of Contemporary Buddhism
“To be Burmese is to be Buddhist” is a slogan commonly identified with the dawn of nationalism in the country known today as Myanmar, where violence between Buddhist, Muslim, and ethnic communities has increasingly jeopardized liberalizing reforms. How do contemporary forms of Theravada Buddhist discourse shape ideas of belonging in a multi-religious and ethnically diverse Myanmar following the dissolution of military rule in 2011? How do digital technologies and globalizing communication networks in this nation influence rapidly changing social identities, anxieties, and imaginaries that Brigit Meyer identifies as ‘aesthetic formations’? In this article, I trace diverse genealogies of belonging to show how contemporary constructions of meaning facilitate religious imaginaries that may exacerbate difference by drawing on past ideologies of conflict or may seek to envision a new and diverse Myanmar.
The Politics of Carnival in the Dutch Province of Limburg
Leonie Cornips and Vincent De Rooij
In this article, we will present two case studies of language and cultural practices that are part of or strongly related to carnival, in the Dutch peripheral province of Limburg, and more precisely in the southern Limburgian city of Heerlen, which in turn is considered peripheral vis-à-vis the provincial capital Maastricht. We will consider carnival as a political force field in which opposing language and cultural practices are involved in the production of belonging as an official, public-oriented 'formal structure' of membership, and belonging as a personal, intimate feeling of being 'at home' in a place (place-belongingness) (Antonsich 2010; Yuval-Davis 2006). In the case studies presented here, we take seriously the idea that ideology, linguistic form and the situated use of language are dialectically related (Silverstein 1985). In doing so, we wish to transcend disciplinary boundaries between anthropology and (socio)linguistics in Europe.
Assisted Reproduction, Law, and Practices in Norway
This article explores the interface between law, technology, and practices. More specifically, it addresses how biotechnologies—in particular, reproductive technologies—move people in different ways. Taking as its point of departure certain restrictions in the Norwegian biotechnology law, it explores changes in procreative practices and their implications for understandings of notions of belonging. This is tied to a gradual shift in meaning of the concepts of paternity and maternity, which in turn has ramifications for kinship and hence fundamental ideas of relatedness. Two premises underpin the arguments: first, that law is a cultural artifact productive of meaning, and, second, that as a social phenomenon, biotechnologies bring to the fore fundamental moral dilemmas.
A Study from Northern Ontario, Canada
Jane H. Roberts
While Putnam's communitarian conceptualization of social capital has significantly influenced our understanding of community cohesion, the concept of social capital is highly contested. Questions have been raised about the ways in which agency and power operate in a community's sense of connectedness. Within this critique, little attention has been paid to the conceptualization of cultural identity when framed in dominant constructions of social capital. This paper contends that Bourdieu's critical perspective on social capital is better placed to examine the complex relationships between multiple, conflicting and overlapping positions of cultural identity with a sense of belonging. In addition, a Bourdieurian analysis acknowledges that the dynamic relationships of habitus, capital and field produce multiple identities associated with conflicting notions of connectedness which are contextually contingent. The paper argues that ethnography is best placed to offer a different perspective to de-contextualized data, and supports any examination of identity and belonging as best viewed within the context in which such concepts develop and are situated.
In this article, I examine how second generation South Asian Canadian girls negotiate their racialized position in peer culture, through various strategies of accommodation, denial and resistance. I use feminist post-structuralist theories of discourse and positioning with feminist and narrative methods to analyze my interviews with ten subjects about their racialized adolescence. I argue that girls use certain strategies of accommodation—'passing', wannabe-ism, and strategic Otherness—to fit in without abandoning their ethnicized identities. Strategies of denial surface through girls' internalizing of dominant discourses of racism; this leads them to rationalize racism or invoke assimilationist narratives that hold minorities responsible for their own experiences of exclusion. Girls also use strategies of resistance in which they identify hegemonic discourses of belonging, speak openly about racism or criticize aspects of white culture in the context of South Asian community and family norms.
Building on current anthropological literature on intimacy, this article focuses on the way intimate relations mediate different narratives and experiences of belonging. It explores conflicting interpretations of intimacy as they emerge in Cuban tourism and migration and enable or obstruct different allegiances. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among Cubans and tourists in Cuba, and among Cuban migrants in the city of Barcelona (Spain), the article examines the role of intimate relationships in reasserting or transforming lines of commonality and separation between and among Cubans and non-Cubans. Globalized ideals of 'true' intimacy, and their 'fake' or instrumental counterparts, appear as the two main frames of legibility that people deployed to evaluate relationships with friends, lovers and family. We see the competing demands and possibilities to which these interpretative frames responded, and their implications.
Citizenship and Democracy in Mozambique
This article examines changing ideas of who constitutes a 'deserving' and 'full' citizen in Mozambique, from independence in 1975 to the present. I argue that the leadership of the ruling Frelimo Party attempted to occupy a position above society where it could determine the practices and behaviors that made one a loyal citizen and, conversely, those that made one an 'alien' or enemy. The adoption of liberal democracy in 1990 undermined the party's right to define what a 'true' or 'good' Mozambican is, but not the underlying structural grammar. Thus, the meaning of citizenship is increasingly a floating signifier. To be designated an 'outsider' is to be an enemy, but it is no longer clear who has the power to define who is a 'true' Mozambican and who is not.