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Introduction

Risks, Ruptures and Uncertainties

Kirsten W. Endres and Maria Six-Hohenbalken

Asia's ongoing economic transformation has created a variety of unexpected ruptures, discontinuities and opportunities in the lives of local citizens across the region. The introduction to this special section of the journal frames the contributions that follow with a brief review of current scholarly discussions regarding the interrelated concepts of crisis, risk and uncertainty. It then provides an overview of the articles in this collection and highlights the ways in which they contribute to an understanding of local responses to, and strategies for coping with, risk and uncertainty as multidimensional, interwoven aspects of their daily lives, guided by social, economic and moral considerations.

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The Workings of Uncertainty

Interrogating Cases on Refugees in Sweden

Karin Norman

In this essay, two cases are constructed in order to highlight the seemingly distinct yet intertwined problems of how realities shape the construction of a case and how the constitution of a field in time and space, as well as experiences of fieldwork, contribute to the formation of a case. The ethnographic material described concerns two different social realities of Kosovo Albanian refugees in Sweden and their confrontation with Swedish bureaucracy and the uncertainties to which this gives rise, both for the refugees and the anthropologist. A main aim is to explore the blurred line between the apt illustration and the extended case in relation to processes of bureaucratization and, in turn, the implications such processes have for the way in which the field is circumscribed and conceptualized.

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Singularity and Uncertainty

Counter-Ethics of Gender and Sexuality in an Indian Dream Analysis

Sarah Pinto

On the cusp of India’s Independence, a young woman in Punjab met with a psychiatrist for a conceptual experiment – the development of a ‘more objective’ and ‘Oriental’ theory of dream analysis. Known to us only as Mrs A., not only did she offer a ‘daydream’ to analyst Dev Satya Nand, she presented an intimate account of mid-twentieth-century upper-class Indian marriage, sexuality and womanhood. In her portrayal of the stakes of kinship, she posed an alternate vision – an ethic of singularity and uncertainty formed out of, but departing from, concepts of security and emplacement. This article explores Mrs A.’s account, using the work of twenty-first-century artist Shahzia Sikander to theorize her vision of possibility, and developing the concept of a counter-ethic – a formulation that presses against the parameters of an overarching ethic, occupying its conceptual and social infrastructure, but nurturing a new vision at the points it cannot be sustained.

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Living an Uncertain Future

Temporality, Uncertainty, and Well-Being among Iraqi Refugees in Egypt

Nadia El-Shaarawi

While displacement has always involved the refiguring of space, scholars of forced migration have recently begun to consider how temporality might be crucial to an understanding of displacement. In this article, I consider the interplay of temporal and spatial uncertainty in the experience of exile for Iraqi refugees in metropolitan Cairo. By examining how Iraqis understand displacement as uncertain and how this uncertainty is a cause of significant distress, I show that an attunement to temporality can help us to understand refugees' experiences of displacement. Iraqi refugees spoke of exile in Cairo as 'living in transit'—a condition in which disjuncture between their expectations about exile and its realities contributed to an altered experience of time in which the future became particularly uncertain and life was experienced as unstable. One solution sought by refugees is resettlement, a process that often renders the future even more uncertain, at least in the short term.

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Introduction

Flight and Exile—Uncertainty in the Context of Conflict-Induced Displacement

Cindy Horst and Katarzyna Grabska

This introduction addresses the ways in which flight and exile create particular types of uncertainty, including both radical and protracted, in people's lives. We argue that the concept of uncertainty, in its meaning of imperfect knowledge and the unpredictability of the future, is central to studies that theorize conflict-induced displacement, transit, and refugeeness. We start with an exploration of the spatial and temporal aspects of uncertainty in situations of displacement, and within that we discuss how uncertainty functions as a governing mechanism. We then analyze the ways that refugees and those internally displaced navigate situations of radical and protracted uncertainty. This article and those that follow in this special issue suggest that in our analysis of conflict-induced displacement, we must understand uncertainty rather than certainty as the norm.

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Governing through Uncertainty

Experiences of Being a Refugee in Turkey as a Country for Temporary Asylum

Kristen Sarah Biehl

This article addresses the question of how to theorize the relation between uncertainty and governmentality with regard to displacement and its consequences. It explores the experiences of asylum seekers in Turkey and the bureaucratic processes of refugee status determination, local dispersal, and third country resettlement, illustrating two main points throughout. First, 'protracted uncertainty', characterized by indefinite waiting, limited knowledge, and unpredictable legal status, is a central element of the experience of being an asylum seeker in Turkey. Second, this uncertainty serves to demobilize, contain, and criminalize asylum seekers through the production of protracted uncertainty, which in turn is normalized as a necessity of bureaucracy and/or security. The article invites readers to question the governmentalities of asylum and border regimes that not only discipline refugees' everyday movements but also determine the uncertainty of 'refugeeness'.

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“And When I Become a Man”

Translocal Coping with Precariousness and Uncertainty among Returnee Men in South Sudan

Katarzyna Grabska and Martha Fanjoy

In this article, we argue that return in the aftermath of conflict-induced displacement is often undertaken in contexts of uncertainty. After years spent in war and displacement, people return to an unknown and uncertain present and future, shaped by ideal images of home and brutal memories of conflict. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among South Sudanese refugees in Kenya and Canada and returnees in South Sudan, we analyze the 'return home' strategies, motivations, and experiences of returnee men. We suggest that uncertainty often transforms the present and the future of returning populations and the societies to which they return. Our research shows that in their attempts to minimize their wartime and displacement uncertainties, returnee men transform, negotiate, and reconstruct national, ethnic, and gender identities in a variety of ways, depending on their age and experiences in exile.

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Jeroen P. van der Sluijs

Uncertainty complexity and dissent make climate change hard to tackle with normal scientific procedures. In a post-normal perspective the normal science task of "getting the facts right" is still regarded as necessary but no longer as fully feasible nor as sufficient to interface science and policy. It needs to be complemented with a task of exploring the relevance of deep uncertainty and ignorance that limit our ability to establish objective, reliable, and valid facts. This article explores the implications of this notion for the climate science policy interface. According to its political configuration the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) adopted a "speaking consensus to power" approach that sees uncertainty and dissent as a problematic lack of unequivocalness (multiple contradictory truths that need to be mediated into a consensus). This approach can be distinguished from two other interface strategies: the "speaking truth to power approach," seeing uncertainties as a temporary lack of perfection in the knowledge (truth with error bars) and the "working deliberatively within imperfections" approach, accepting uncertainty and scientific dissent as facts of life (irreducible ignorance) of which the policy relevance needs be explored explicitly. The article recommends more openness for dissent and explicit reflection on ignorance in IPCC process and reporting.

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Marco Giuliani and Erik Jones

The year 2009 was a period of uncertainty, during which the Italian

political world appeared to be floundering and in need of a compass.

As evidenced by the chronological overview, many events continued

to beleaguer the political and social life in Italy. Some, such as the

result of the European elections and the escalation of the economic

crisis and its repercussions, were foreseen or, in any case, predictable.

Others, including the numerous scandals and irregularities that

tarnished the political year, continuously feeding the mass media with

distractions and nurturing the public debate with less then edifying

themes, were less expected.

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Mobile Disasters

Catastrophes in the Age of Manufactured Uncertainty

Steve Matthewman

Sociologists of disasters and those agencies dedicated to disaster risk reduction and emergency relief tend to fix disasters, to confine them in time and space. This article argues for the necessity of a mobilities turn within mainstream disaster studies, demonstrating what the new mobilities paradigm (NMP) can contribute to disaster scholarship. Disasters should be seen as mobile agents with spatially and temporally dispersed effects. They are mobile because people, nonhuman life-forms, information, and commodities move. The ecosystems and earth systems that sustain us are also always in flux. Instead of focusing on isolated disaster cases, this article calls for a “big picture” ecological sensibility that recognizes the complexity and interconnectivity of our world, and addresses the new forms of mobility, temporality, spatiality, and potency inherent to today’s disasters. This task is urgent: while previous eras may have announced the apocalypse, ours may well be the last one to do so.