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Joyful pessimism

Marginality, disengagement, and the doing of nothing

Martin Demant Frederiksen

Studies of marginality have examined how individuals or groups are distanced from a hoped-for life as a result of structural, economic, or political circumstances, and how this may result in unwanted experiences of boredom. Th is article critically reexamines this perspective by juxtaposing it with an empirical description of a group of young Georgian nihilists who live in a sphere of disengaged repetition where turning the future into something that “doesn’t matter anyway” becomes a way of handling boredom in the present in an inactive manner. I use this to examine the temporal aspects at stake among marginal groups who deliberately disengage. In the article, I deploy the term “joyful pessimism” as an analytical device to capture an alternative configuration of marginality and boredom.

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Developing a culture of marginality

Nepal's current classificatory moment

Sara Shneiderman

This article examines the complex relationships between marginalized communities, the state, and nonstate actors such as development agencies and social scientists in crafting the classificatory regimes that undergird affirmative action policies. Focusing on the current dynamics of “ethnic restructuring“ amid the broader political process of postconflict “state restructuring“ in Nepal, I suggest that international actors often unwittingly encourage the hardening of ethnic boundaries through development projects that target “marginalized“ populations defined in cultural terms. However, such interventions can also yield unexpected transformations in agentive ethnic consciousness. This ethnographic exploration of current classificatory processes in non-postcolonial Nepal provides an important counterpoint to material from the Indian context, where histories of colonial classification have debatably influenced contemporary categories-and their critique-to a significant extent.

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Well-faring towards Uncertain Futures

A Comparative Perspective on Youth in Marginalized Positions

Susanne Højlund, Lotte Meinert, Martin Demant Frederiksen and Anne Line Dalsgaard

The article explores how societal contexts create different possibilities for faring well towards the future for young marginalized people. Based on a comparative project including ethnographies from Brazil, Uganda, Georgia and Denmark the authors discuss well-faring as a time-oriented process based on individual as well as societal conditions. The article argues that in order to understand well-faring it is important to analyse how visions and strategies for the future are shaped in relation to local circumstances. Whether it is possible to envision the future as hopeless or hopeful, as concrete or abstract or as dependent on family or state is a ma er of context. Well-faring is thus neither an individual nor a state project but must be analysed in a double perspective as an interplay between the two.

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Mobility in the Margins

Hand-pulled Rickshaws in Kolkata

Gopa Samanta and Sumita Roy

This article examines the marginal mobilities of hand-pulled rickshaws and rickshaw-pullers in Kolkata, India. It traces the politics of rickshaw mobilities, showing how debates about modernity and the informal economy frequently overshadow the experience of the marginalized community of hand-rickshaw pullers. It shows how the hand-pulled rickshaw rarely becomes the focus of research or debate because of its marginal status—technologically (being more primitive than the cycle rickshaw); geographically (operating only in Kolkata city); and in terms of the social status of the operators (the majority being Bihari migrants in Kolkata). Drawing upon both quantitative and qualitative research, this study focuses on the backgrounds of the rickshaw-pullers, their strategies for earning livelihoods, the role of social networks in their life and work, and their perceptions of the profession—including their views of the state government's policy of seeking to abolish hand-pulled rickshaws. The article concludes by addressing the question of subalternity.

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On and Off the Margin

The Anthropology of Contemporary Jewry

Andrew Buckser

In recent decades, the ethnography of Jews and Judaism has followed the larger movement in cultural anthropology toward a focus on the margin—the cultural, geographical, and demographic borderlands where questions of group and individual identity are negotiated. The article explores this literature and the questions it raises about the nature of Jewish community and culture. It discusses three areas where marginality has had a particular resonance in Jewish ethnography. Studies of 'marginal Jews' focus on the periphery of traditional Jewish communities, people whose gender, ethnic, and sexual identities lie outside of local normative models. Studies of 'unexpected Jewries' explore a geographical periphery outside the few centers that dominate international Jewish culture and self-understanding. Studies of 'Jews in motion' examine transitional Jews—tourists, immigrants, refugees, and others who bridge the local contexts within which Jewish identities are constructed. These studies reveal Jewish culture to be much more complex, dynamic, and durable than social scientists and Jews themselves have often imagined it.

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The Other Secular Modern

An Empirical Critique of Asad

Steve Bruce

Talal Asad explains the marginalization of religion in liberal democracies by invoking the modern state's desire to control. This paper argues that, in the Anglophone world, self-conscious secularism played little or no part in the secularization of public life. The expansion of the secular sphere was primarily an unintended consequence of actions by religious impositionists. Far from leading the promotion of the secular, the state had to be pressed by the demands of religious minorities to reduce the powers of established religion. The state provision of secular social services was usually a reaction to the inability of competing religious organizations to continue their provision. As this review of church–state relations in the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand shows, the reduction in the social power of religion owed more to the failure of Christians to agree than to a deliberately secularizing state.

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Marja Spierenburg, Conrad Steenkamp and Harry Wels

The Great Limpopo is one of the largest Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) in the world, encompassing vast areas in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. The TFCA concept is embraced by practically all (international) conservation agencies. The rationale for the support is that the boundaries of ecosystems generally do not overlap with those of the nation-state. Their protection requires transnational cooperation. By arguing that local communities living in or close to TFCAs will participate and benefit economically, TFCA proponents claim social legitimacy for the project. However, analysis shows that communities first have to live up to rigid standards and requirements set by the international conservation authorities, before they are considered ‘fit’ to participate. Communities attempt to resist this type of marginalization by forming alliances with (inter)national development and human rights NGOs, with mixed results.

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Marjorie Harness Goodwin

Making use of videotaped interactions of lunchtime conversations among multi-ethnic preadolescent peers (based on three years of fieldwork in LA) this ethnographically based study investigates the embodied language practices through which girls construct friendship alliances as well as relationships of power and exclusion. Girls display “best friend” relations not only through roles they select in dramatic play, such as twins married to twins in “house,” but also through embraces and celebratory handclaps that affirm alliances. Older (sixth grade) girls assert their power with respect to younger fourth grade girls through intrusive activities such as grabbing food from lunchboxes, insults, and instigating gossip; younger girls boldly resist such actions through fully embodied stances. Relations of exclusion are visible not only in seating arrangements of a marginalized “tagalong” girl with respect to the friendship clique, but also highlighted in the ways she is differentially treated when an implicit social norm is violated.

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Silvia-Maria Chireac and Anna Devis Arbona

[Full article is in English]

English: Estimated at 12 million, the Roma population constitutes one of the largest and most disadvantaged ethnic minority groups in Europe and the most socially marginalized and stigmatized group in the European Union (Council of Europe, 2009, 2010). In recent years, following the two waves of EU expansion in 2004 and 2007, the problem of Roma integration into educational systems generated great attention among EU member states. The European Commission’s policy of promoting multilingualism and cultural diversity to foster European citizenship has led to promising results. However, the current economic crisis and lack of effective political integration within EU member states have promoted policies of protectionism. This article provides an analysis of the current situation of Roma children from Eastern Europe, highlighting the opportunities for improving instruction and protecting human rights for this highly vulnerable school-age population. We propose specific measures based on a bilingual and cross-culturally inclusive educational model.

Spanish: Estimada en doce millones, la población romaní es uno de los grupos étnicos minoritarios más numeroso, desfavorecido, marginalizado y socialmente estigmatizado de la Unión Europea (Consejo de Europa, 2009, 2010). Después de las dos olas de ampliación de la UE en 2004 y 2007, el problema de la integración de los romaníes en los sistemas de educación generó gran atención entre los estados miembros. La política de la CE para promover el multilingüismo y la diversidad cultural a fin de fortalecer la ciudadanía europea ha llevado a resultados prometedores. Sin embargo, ante la crisis económica actual y la falta de una política efectiva de integración en la UE, predominan políticas de proteccionismo. Este artículo analiza la situación actual de los niños romaní en Europa del Este, subrayando las oportunidades para mejorar la instrucción y protección de los derechos humanos de esta sumamente vulnerable población en edad escolar. Proponemos medidas específi cas basadas en un modelo escolar bilingüe y transculturalmente inclusivo.

French Estimée en 12 millions, la population rom constitue un des plus grands groupes ethniques défavorisés minoritaires en Europe et le groupe le plus marginalisé socialement et stigmatisé de l’Union Européenne (Council of Europe, 2009, 2010). Au cours des années récentes, suite à deux vagues d’expansion de l’EU en 2004 et 2007, le problème de l’intégration des Roms dans les systèmes éducatifs a provoqué une att ention soutenue dans les États membres de l’UE. La politique de la Commission Européenne en matière de promotion du multilinguisme et de la diversité culturelle destinée á favoriser la citoyenneté européenne a abouti à des résultats promett eurs. Cependant, la crise économique actuelle et l’absence d’une intégration politique réelle entre les États membres de l’UE ont favorisé des politiques protectionnistes. Cet article présente une analyse de la situation actuelle des enfants roms d’Europe de l’Est et met en lumière les opportunités d’améliorer l’instruction et de protéger les droits humains pour cett e population scolaire très vulnérable. Nous proposons des mesures spécifi ques fondées sur un modèle éducatif bilingue et ouvert à l’interculturel.

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Family on the Edge

Neblagopoluchnaia Family and the State in Yakutsk and Magadan, Russian Federation

Lena Sidorova and Elena Khlinovskaya Rockhill

This paper addresses the notion and category of neblagopoluchnaia family in Yakutsk, Russian Federation, analyzing the ways in which this category is constructed and reproduced. Although this term is not defined in any jural and legal documents, it is widely applied in practice. The authors follow the process of marginalization of families through their increasing symbolic and geographic remoteness. These families constitute the category of neblagopoluchnaia family and include former village dwellers and urban families, irrespective of their ethnicity and gender, although the vast majority are mothers. As soon as such families become visible and fail to meet criteria for “good” parenting, they are demonized using the category of neblagopoluchnaia family as a tool, and their children are taken away. Personal and family difficulties due to symbolic and structural violence are not taken into consideration. Scapegoating parents facilitates social exclusion, expelling parents from moral community, and increasing, but justifying, the production of children without parental care.