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João de Pina-Cabral

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, anthropologists failed to elaborate on theoretical concepts such as the 'human condition'. In face of the fact that they did not abandon their scientific calling or the label 'anthropology', this must surely be taken as surprising. The article argues that this silence is possible due to an ideational performance here called the 'all-or-nothing syndrome'. This depends on a skeptical fallacy: the condition of those who, because they cannot have it all, despair of having what is there to be had. The article also explores the Davidsonian notions of 'indeterminacy' and 'underdetermination' as possible paths out of this quandary. It suggests an approach to ethnographic knowledge based on the principles that underscore the mechanisms of control that engineers call 'fuzzy logic'.

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Living from the Nerves

Deportability, Indeterminacy, and the 'Feel of Law' in Migrant Moscow

Madeleine Reeves

While deportability has elicited interest as a legal predicament facing migrant workers, less attention has been given to the way in which this condition of temporal uncertainty shapes migrants' everyday encounters with state agents. Drawing on ethnography among Kyrgyzstani migrant workers in Moscow, I show that in conditions of documentary uncertainty 'legal residence' depends upon successfully enacting a right to the city and the personalization of the state. Alongside fear and suspicion, this space of legal uncertainty is characterized by a sense of abandon and awareness of the performativity of law. I explore 'living from the nerves' as an ethnographic reality for Kyrgyzstani migrant workers and as an analytic for developing a more variegated account of state power and its affective resonances in contemporary Russia.

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William A. Quinn

Chaucer’s ‘The Man of Law’s Tale’ is mostly about Custance’s wanderings to Rome’s far east, then to the far west, then back again. The narrator’s Ptolemaic universe was thought to have a still centre, but neither this specific tale nor the Tales as a whole seems reducible to a single interpretive order. Too many thematic and tonal threads pull in too many directions, as if this tale’s cosmos presumes some medieval anticipation of the current, highly speculative ‘String Theory’ which admits the possibility of a multiverse in which numerous concurrent realities (of reader-responses) can coexist. The question remains whether so many divergent interpretive threads can be spliced together into one ‘Theory of Everything’.

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Udo Zolleis

This article deals with the political, programmatic, and organizational changes within the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) during the time of the second grand coalition (2005-present). For the CDU, the period of the grand coalition is a time of waiting concerning its organizational and programmatic reform processes. Thus, the election of 2009 will be crucial for the political development of the party—in respect to its political profile, as well as its strategic options within the political market.

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Entanglements

Art-making, Becoming Girl and Collective Biography

Marnina Gonick

This article analyses a set of stories and artworks that were produced in the context of a collective biography workshop. A Deleuzian framework is used to explore the entanglements that are produced through a cross-reading of different kinds of texts, each taking up the question of girlhood subjectivities. The analysis focuses on the contradiction and indeterminacy of meaning-making in the research process. The aim is to investigate how different kind of knowing and a different kind of knowledge(s) are produced in the movements between texts, sensation and affect.

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Commentary

Intimacy through the Ethnographic Lens

Niko Besnier

The multiplicity of meanings that have been attributed to intimacy are both a weakness and a strength: a weakness because of the indeterminacy with which the category is used; a strength because it allows us to explore the relationship between its various meanings, and through this exploration address theoretically important questions. While it is commonly conflated with sexuality, intimacy concerns a considerably broader range of aspects of human life, which only an ethnographically founded approach can help us understand. Because of its indexical qualities, intimacy cannot be understood devoid of the context that gives it meaning.

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Solid Rock

Landscape and Word-Painting in the Arabias of Palgrave (1865), Pelly (1866) and Burton (1855)

Piers Smith

William Gifford Palgrave (1826–1888) and Lewis Pelly (1825–1895) wrote their accounts of their travels in Arabia at almost the same time. Their books can be read as alternative versions of the same reality, particularly where they describe the same peoples and places, as demonstrations of the contingency of knowledge, and as socio-psychic case-histories. Taking both landscape and traveller as ‘sites of indeterminacy,’ this essay focuses on the rhetorical styles and modes of expression each traveller-as-writer uses, finding in them complementary aspects of the travelling-subject’s separation from home and its values and incorporation or reincorporation into the home-culture. The earlier work of Richard Burton (1821–1890) on the region is taken as a model for the historically delimited conditions of production each author works within.

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Diplomat, Landlord, Con-artist, Thief

Housing Brokers and the Mediation of Risk in Migrant Moscow

Madeleine Reeves

This article explores the role of brokers in the market for accommodation in contemporary Moscow. Drawing on fieldwork with Kyrgyz migrant workers and the variety of intermediaries [posredniki] on whom they depend, it introduces two interventions into a growing anthropological re-engagement with brokerage. First, it highlights the importance of spatial and social proximity for understanding brokerage relations. Second, it attends ethnographically to the kinds of skills that are understood to distinguish ‘successful’ from ‘unsuccessful’ intermediaries. Drawing together recent literature on ‘everyday diplomacy’ with emic identifications of the posrednik’s work as a diplomatic craft, it examines brokerage as a skilled practice for encountering and mediating difference in contexts of political and administrative indeterminacy. The posrednik becomes an important figure in the migrant economy to the extent that economic life is suffused with uncertainty. This has implications for comparative anthropological concern with processes of social navigation in contexts of precarity.

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Ritual Infrastructure

Roads to Certainty in Two Brazilian Religions

Inger Sjørslev

This article compares the ways in which two different religions in Brazil generate roads to certainty through objectification, one through gods, the other through banknotes. The Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé provides a road to certainty based on cosmological ideas about gods whose presence in ritual is made indubitable through performance and social consensus. Candomblé has historically gained its spiritual force by being both marginal to mainstream religion and spatially peripheral. In contrast, the Neo- Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is located in easily accessible places within urban life. There is a certain parallel between these different locations and the difference in ritual roads to certainty in the two religions. The article draws out connections between different levels of infrastructure – material, spatial and ritual. The comparison between the two religions points to a social imaginary that in both cases has to do with how to deal with indeterminacies in life through objectification.

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René Devisch

Diversely echoing Gail Weiss (1999) and Paul Stoller and Cheryll Olkes (1987), I hold that maleficent fetishes that sustain lethal sorcery shape and enact, yet pervert, their proper contours of embodied interactions and transactions. These interactions are being absorbed and consumed, if not devoured, by the sensual order of the uncanny and by forces of abjection. From my immersion in the life of the Yaka people in Kinshasa and south-west Congo, I am aiming at some endogenous understanding of how interacting bodies – or more precisely, intercorporeal awareness – can conform to (attune to) and become subordinated to (and implicated by) the frenzy of the transgressive and annihilating ‘forces’ mobilised by maleficent fetishes and lethal sorcerous violence. I contend that the mysterious field of sorcery and maleficent fetishes among the Yaka seems to foster among complicitous pairs some pre-reflective and interpersonal awareness of their body in the fold of (embracing) images, fantasies, experiential gestalts and desire of sorts. This primary entwinement of (inter)corporeal capacities, ‘forces’, cultural expectations and horizons of significance may help us to comprehend innovatively the sensual articulation of a genuine epistemology and a groping for moral economy in the very mood of transgression and perversion. This merging of desire, intercorporeality and sensing out of things paradoxically ties in with the pursuit as well as the obliteration of ethics. Such intermingling shows up in people’s manifold search to tame or, for other purposes, to stir up forms of unsettling, rupture, paradoxes, indeterminacy, categorial and ontological aporias, perversion or even destructive violence.