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Intimate Publics, Public Intimacies

Natural Limits, Creation and the Culture of Mahremiyet in Turkey

Sertaç Sehlikoglu

This article offers an ethnographic account of the culture of mahremiyet [intimacy and privacy] in Turkey, not only as an institution of intimacy regulating everyday sexual relationships between individuals in public, but also as a system enabling the operation of social normalcies through the creation of boundaries and privileges. By probing the concepts of mahremiyet and fıtrat [creation or natural disposition], the article investigates how intimacy operates in religious, mundane and political registers, and delves into the intricate relationship between the intimate and the shared. It suggests that the culture of mahremiyet is deeply rooted in the ways individuals construct their sense of selves in relation to others, and imagine mahrem boundaries as natural, God-given, or fıtrî laws in their entanglement with gender. The use of the language of mahremiyet in contemporary politics not only enables what can seem to be a meta-cultural intelligibility that guarantees popular support, but also distances any critique as strange or foreign.

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Valerio Simoni

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.

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Intimacy, Cooperation and Ambivalence

Social, Economic and Cultural Interaction between Jews and Berbers in Morocco

Joseph Yossi Chetrit

This study deals with the entangled relations that developed between Jews and Berbers in Morocco. From the beginnings of the Arab rule, Jews lived as Dhimmis under the protection of Arab or Berber dynasties in urban centres, or Berber tribes and clans in rural ones. They not only shared the same spaces and material culture with the Berbers but also popular beliefs and practices, such as the veneration of saints, magical thinking, folk medicine and a great repertoire of Berber songs, dances, tales and proverbs. However, their asymmetrical political status as protectors and protected and their divergent Jewish and Muslim faiths led Berbers to ambivalent misconceptions about Jews and their forms of life, despite their intimate coexistence and their complementary economic cooperation. After a long separation, Berbers and Jews are currently attempting to reconstruct their memories of the other, and both parties seem to idealise their shared past.

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Bordering Intimacy

The Fight against Marriages of Convenience in Brussels

Maïté Maskens

Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between January 2012 and June 2013 in eight civil registry offices in Brussels, this article explores how assumptions about intimacy intersect with the moral standards of bureaucrats evaluating the authenticity of conjugal life in order to prevent 'marriages of convenience'. From the 'intimate conviction' of the agents of the state to the co-production of intimate narratives, this article tries to understand the intrusion of states in contemporary intimacies. I look at how the bureaucratic application of a civilizational ideology affects the subjectivities of those engaging in partnerships across two different nationalities (bi-national couples) – and blurs an historic distinction between what is public and what is private.

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Between Us Girls

On Girls' Interpretations of Sexuality

Elena Omelchenko

In this article I deal with interpretations of sexuality that are typical of Russian girls who are learning to become blue-collar or pink-collar professionals such as, for example, public health nurses, social workers, tourism and hospitality industry workers, fashion designers, and those training for employment in services like cooking, hairdressing, and tailoring. The empirical base of this article is a set of in-depth semi-structured interviews with young women and men concerning their individual sexual experiences. I examine scenarios of feminine subjectivity within the context of discussing a first sexual experience. I look, too, at how girls exercise girl-power within the framework of communication and intimacy with a partner.

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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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Introduction

Why Revisit Intimacy?

Sertaç Sehlikoglu and Aslı Zengin

Intimacy is tightly bound up with notions of privacy, sexuality, proximity and secrecy, and with dynamics of sensual and affective attachments and forms of desire. It is therefore integral to the formation of human selves and subjectivities, as well as communities, publics, collectives and socialities. The articles in this Special Section all offer an anthropological inquiry into intimacy, seeking a conceptual formulation that might capture its actual operations, the ways intimacy is done in talk and action. They thus contribute ethnographically to ongoing anthropological debates about intimacy, and explore how multiple domains and forms of intimacies are defined, shaped, constructed and transformed across different social worlds.

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Repetitions of Desire

Queering the One Direction Fangirl

Hannah McCann and Clare Southerton

Like other fangirls, fans of former boyband One Direction (“Directioners”) have often been represented in media discourse as obsessive and hysterical, with fan behaviour interpreted as longing for heterosexual intimacy with band members. Subverting this heteronormative framing, a group of Directioners known as “Larries” have built a sub-fandom around imagining a relationship (“ship”) between two of the band members, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. Representation of the Larry fandom has gone beyond pathologizing fangirls to framing their shipping practice in terms of “fake news.” The conspiracy theory panic around Larries misses the complex ways that subtext and queer reading are mobilized within the fandom to invoke feelings of queer intimacy and belonging. Drawing on a digital ethnography conducted on Twitter with Larries, we argue that these fans engage in queer reading strategies to explicitly imagine and interrupt dominant heterosexual narratives, and thus queer the figure of the fangirl.

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Intimate Events

The Correctness of Affective Transactions in Northeast Brazil

Matan Shapiro

Drawing on ethnographic research in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, this article proposes the concept of the 'intimate event' as a heuristic device in the cross-cultural study of kinship and relatedness. This theoretical construct refers to the retrospective recognition of affective transactions as meaningfully intimate, that recognition being an event which in Maranhão compels ethical reflection. Intimacy can be imagined as an aesthetic of practice that indicates when something simply feels right, and which then frames the correctness of both moral conformity and transgression in affective terms.

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Women and Sexuality in Contemporary Iran

When HIV Meets Government Morality

Kristin Soraya Batmanghelichi

In Iran, as in many countries worldwide, misinformation and ignorance of HIV/AIDS have encouraged a culture of secrecy and anonymity for those living with HIV. For many HIV-positive women, religious, political and economic pressures complicate their social status and access to health care. Moreover, they must contend with societal discrimination and stigmas associated with the condition. Adding nuance to contemporary studies on gender and sexuality in Iran, this report highlights the colourful narratives of a select group of HIV-positive mothers attending weekly wellness workshops in Tehran. Discussing issues of intimacy, modesty, motherhood and stigmatisation, this article explores one of Iran's expanding communities at risk of infection and the ways in which women with HIV negotiate the stigma of their condition in an Islamic Republic.