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Ritual Dynamics and Virtual Practice

Beyond Representation and Meaning

Bruce Kapferer

Symbolic meaning and representational and reflexive perspectives remain dominant orientations in the analysis of ritual. While these must be crucial, this essay argues that a focus on the perceptual dynamics of rite, especially as these are located in ritual aesthetics, may expand an understanding of the force of rite. The discussion develops critically upon Victor Turner’s seminal work, suggesting ways in which ritual analyses may be redirected. The related concepts of dynamics and virtuality (distinguished from the cyber-technological kind) are developed, indicating that these may be critical for understanding how rites change or transform the situations to which they are directed. Ritual as a dynamic in virtuality that has no essential or necessary relation to the ordinary realities that surround it may, because of this fact, be greatly empowered as a force that can pragmatically intervene in ordinary realities.

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Eric Langenbacher, Bill Niven and Ruth Wittlinger

As the inestimable Harold Wilson once put it, “a week is a long

time in politics.” Certainly, the evolution of collective memory and

scholarship devoted to it is much slower than the pace of day-to-day

politics. Yet, there are periods of rapid change—of paradigm shifts

even—where the landscape shifts rapidly over a relatively short

period of time. This special issue, we think, captures one of these

periods of rapid change. Compared to the last special thematic issue

of German Politics and Society from 20051 and even compared to

many books published in the last few years, the state of collective

memory in Germany appears very different today. Most prominently,

Holocaust-centered memory is foregrounded to a much

lesser extent than previously.

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Catherine Butler, Karen Anne Parkhill, Fiona Shirani, Karen Henwood and Nick Pidgeon

It is widely recognized that a major challenge in low carbon transitioning is the reduction of energy consumption. This implies a significant level of transformation in our ways of living, meaning the challenge is one that runs deep into the fabric of our personal lives. In this article we combine biographical research approaches with concepts from Bourdieu's practice theory to develop understanding of processes of change that embed particular patterns of energy consumption. Through an analysis of “case biographies” we show the value of biographical methods for understanding the dynamics of energy demand.

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Rune Hjalmar Espeland

Across Africa, conflicts over land rights are increasingly centered on notions of autochthony. This article analyzes a violent event that took place in 2003 in connection with ethnically biased land redistribution in Western Uganda. Through the concepts of autochthony and communal violence, it analyzes the wider political context, tracing the processes from ethnic conflict to communal violence between autochthonous Banyoro and immigrant Bafuruki ethnic groups. Foregrounding the role of rumors in communal violence, it argues that rumors are not simply a response to conflict. Rather, they are constitutive of the situation, particularly in the formation of common moral imagination and in shaping the direction of social processes between the conflicting parties.

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Charles Lees

The article draws upon the formal coalition literature to demonstrate that party system change over the last thirty years means that the Volksparteien enjoy more coalition options and greater ideological leverage within coalitions that form than was the case in the past. The Free Democrats have lost their kingmaker status and the distribution of party weights over recent elections allows no other small party to act in this manner. By contrast, the numerical and ideological resources possessed by the two Volksparteien means that they remain the only parties within the German party system that can act as formateur in the coalition game and are less vulnerable to threats of a decisive defection by small parties to alternative coalitions than they were in the past.

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Stephen G. Sherwood and Myriam Paredes

Based on reflective practice over 15 years in Ecuador, the authors examine the perpetuation of knowingly harmful public policy in highly toxic pesticides. They study how actors cooperate, collude, and collide in advancing certain technological agenda, even when against public interests. Ultimately, entrenchment of perspective opened up space for arrival of new social actors and competing activity and transition. In light of struggles for sustainability, the authors find neglected policy opportunities in the heterogeneity of peoples' daily practices and countermovements, leading to a call for further attention to the inherently incoherent, complex, and irresolvable human face of sociotechnical change.

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Wenyi Zhang and F.K.L. Chit Hlaing

This article outlines three historical transitions in Kachin chieftaincy in Burma and China. Picking up where the three main theoretical models in the literature leave off (the models of Leach, Nugent and Friedman), we put forward an analysis of Kachin sociopolitical organization using new China-based material. We compare this with Burma-based material in the literature, and re-analyse the interactions between the internal dynamics of Kachin chieftaincy and the politico-economic systems in Southwestern China and Northern Burma. We argue that Kachin chieftaincy in Burma and in China shared the same logic, although this logic was manifested differently in the two countries. We offer new material for understanding the lowland polities and upland chieftaincy in Southwestern China and mainland Southeast Asia.

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Konstantin B. Klokov and Sergey A. Khrushchev

This article surveys the population dynamics of twenty-six indigenous small-numbered peoples of the Russian North, using the data from eight General Censuses of Russia (1897-2002), and the Polar Census of 1926/27. The article demonstrates that each of these peoples responded to central state policies in diverse ways, and that often different populations of the same group showed differing trends in different regions. During the Soviet period there was strong assimilative pressure on the indigenous small-numbered peoples. The opposite tendency is evident in the post-Soviet period—a process referred to in this article as "ethnic re-identification."Because there was little inter-regional migration of the indigenous peoples, we conclude that the population dynamics of each nationality in each region is the result of the interplay among fertility, mortality, assimilation, and ethnic re-identification.

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Françoise Bartiaux and Luis Reátegui Salmón

Based on empirical data on “green” practices according to household size, this article questions the role, if any, given to close personal relationships by social practice theories in sustaining or not daily life practices. Data are mainly drawn from an Internet survey conducted in Belgium in 2006 by WWF-Belgium on daily practices, related to food, energy consumption, mobility, and tourism. Results show that smaller households carry out more numerous “green” practices than larger ones. The concluding discussion underlines the relevance of including social interactions—namely within the household—into the conceptual framework derived from the social theories of practices, to take into account the rearticulating role of social interactions and domestic power claims when carrying out a practice or a set of practices, and when changing it.