By Marthe Baalbergen
ICA Institute Of Cultural Anthropology
TABLE OF CONTENT
The ICA (Institute for Cultural Anthropology) is the semi-scientific journal of Itiwana, study association Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at the Leiden University. The ICA appears twice a year.
Text editors Wouter Keijzer and Liselot Voordouw
Media editors Marthe Baalbergen, Xianjun Sun and Loes Moree
Editor in Chief Rémi ten Hoorn
Dave Cudworth, Roxanne Hendrix, Michaele Pelican, Amber Rademaker, Susanna Trnka and Claire Vionnet
Cover Marthe Baalbergen
The editors reserve the right to shorten and edit articles or not to post them. Acquisition of (parts of) articles is only permitted after consultation with the editors.
IN THE PICTURE
A few summers ago, I went to have dinner on the beach with my parents and little sister. It had been incredibly warm that day and even in the late evening, it was not necessary to wear a sweater or jacket. After dinner, it had become completely dark and my sister and I decided to walk up to the tide line of the sea. Even now, years later, that moment still is something I remember quite often. Standing there, with my bare feet in the cold sand and waves tickling my toes, staring into literally nothing. The only thing I saw was a navy-coloured sky fading into a navy-coloured sea, and I remember the movement of the waves being the only audible sound. It is weird how impressed I was by that simple evening, but every time someone mentions the word movement, this comes up in my mind.
I realise now, that movement is everywhere. It is not just the movement of waves breaking on the sand, or people silently walking on a beach, but it is much more than that. 2020 might be the perfect example of what movement entails. This turbulent year was one big whirlwind of events, each one crazier than the other. The steady pace, the routines our lives were made of, were quickly overthrown and our lives started to change.
Suddenly, we were being confronted with a contagious virus, which caused all of us to stay inside; to stay still. Months later, protests erupted all over the world to fight against inequality, and we did the opposite of staying still. Movement is not just about moving, it also about the effect certain things can create, about people coming into action. It is about dance, nature, education, contact with other people... Without movement, everything stops, and development would halt.
COVID-19 keeps affecting our lives on a daily basis, but it is important to keep moving, even if it is just one step at the time, because even the tiniest stone that is being tossed in a river, can create the biggest circles.
Enjoy this first issue of the ICA!
Rémi ten Hoorn
Rémi ten Hoorn is a second years student of Cultural Anthropology and the Secretary of the current Itiwana board. Within the ICA committee she is the Editor in Chief. She loves to read and play the piano and bake cookies with friends once in a while..
FROM DISTANCING TO DRAWING NEAR: THE ETHICS OF MOVEMENT DURING COVID-19
Nations around the world are endeavouring to determine the epidemiologically most effective, whilst economically and socially least detrimental, methods of containing Covid-19. This exercise often involves assessing the costs and benefits of various kinds of lockdowns and social distancing measures. While much of governmental and public emphasis has been on distancing, wrangling over how to best ensure adequate spacing between persons, places and things, lockdowns and physical distancing are also exercises in nearness. Too many of us are now well acquainted with the (sometimes welcomed, sometimes unbearable) feelings of close proximity created by being locked down with others, as well as with the overwhelming desire to be nearer to spatially distanced friends, kin or even strangers. An examination of movement during the pandemic must thus account for both distancing and “drawing near” as inter-personal ethical engagements.
All nations, and, in some cases, particular towns, cities, or regions, will have their own stories of the pandemic. Where I write from in Aotearoa/New Zealand, we are fortunate to have thus far been spared the brutality of soaring infection rates and death statistics recorded across many other parts of the globe. As of writing this in late October 2020, in a nation of 5 million people, we have had under 2,000 cases and 25 Covid-19-related deaths. Along with strict border closures and relative geographic inaccessibility, another reason for New Zealand’s current success story has been the deployment of rigorous lockdown measures. From March 26 till May 13, 2020, a “level 4 and 3” national lockdown closed all schools and many businesses, requiring members of the public to remain at home unless seeking essential food supplies or medical care, exercising, or travelling to and from work as essential services workers. Following up these measures, in August 2020 there was a similar city-wide lockdown in Auckland, the nation’s most populated metropolis.
Research on limited movement
During the first, nationwide lockdown, I collaborated on a research project led by Nicholas Long of the LSE which surveyed 3,644 New Zealanders about their experiences of limited movement and physical interaction (Long et al. 2020a). Most people who responded to our survey were well-informed and enthusiastically promoted both the stay home and social distancing measures (Long et al. 2020b). Nonetheless, their “compliance” was not straightforward – many recounted occasions when they found themselves knowingly contravening regulations (Trnka et al. n.d.). Sometimes this was due to individual and collective judgments as to the local utility of national protection measures – some who lived in isolated rural areas, for example, noted that due to the lack of a single Covid-19 case in their neighbourhoods, they returned to regular, albeit modified, social interactions during the lockdown, e.g. holding barbecues with neighbours whilst also enforcing the two metres social distancing rule (Long et al. 2020a).
In other cases, even if the regulations were deemed efficacious, ethical demands for care were felt to supersede them (Long et al. 2020b). There were times when the physical need to be present to help another was clear cut. For example, while the initial lockdown regulations enabled people who lived alone and needed support to join another household “bubble” (as it was referred to in New Zealand), this possibility was not extended to couples or groups who resided together on the basis that they could support each other. The regulation overlooked situations such as elderly couples who resided independently but were in fact not self-sufficient, relying on relatives from other households for assistance with daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning or driving. Belated recognition of this on the part of policymakers led to changes in regulations nearly two weeks into the initial lockdown (MoH 2020). There remained, nonetheless , conundrums amongst those who were technically self-sufficient but suffered without external support; a single parent living with young children felt isolated and hungered for adult company (Long et al. 2020a), whilst an elderly woman who lived with and took care of her husband who suffered from Alzheimer’s noted that while she didn’t require physical assistance, caring for her husband on her own left her physically and emotionally exhausted.
Driveway drinks and phonetrees
In other situations, it wasn’t so much help with physical tasks that was required. Still there was a compelling need to be physically near to someone outside of the household bubble. Following a death in the family, a 38-year-old man related, “A good friend came over, and we stood in the driveway to have a drink.” A woman, age 47, described meeting up with a friend at level 4 lockdown: “We sat in our own cars in the supermarket car park with our windows down and talked.” Another woman, age 33, described steps she took to support her friends’ mental wellbeing: “while they are not ‘in my bubble’ I've visited 2 friends and said hello from a distance. I feel like this does very little harm and has helped these people immensely with their mental state” (Long et al. 2020a). The need to enact care by simply coming together trumped the requirement, and even the desire, to maintain distance between members of different household bubbles (see also Long 2020; Trnka et al. n.d.).
Given the widespread accessibility of social media, Zoom, Skype, texts, and phone calls, one might think that social connectivity between bubbles would not be hard to achieve. Indeed, a few days prior to the nationwide lockdown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged New Zealanders to set up measures to maximize connectivity: “Go home tonight and check in on your neighbours. Start a phone tree with your street. Plan how you’ll keep in touch with one another” (Ardern 2020). Nonetheless, there were plenty of occasions, ranging from attempting to illegally attend funerals to collectively going on a walk, when people felt compelled to physically come together.
movement during the pandemic must thus account for both distancing and “drawing near”
The collective vibe
Sharing the same physical environment enables the establishment of collective affect in ways that cannot always be constituted online. As many of us have recently been forced to realize, we can glean quite a bit about what others are thinking and feeling over audio and video via Zoom or Skype. However, we cannot often access the same intuitive feelings we derive from being in the same room with someone, much less with a group of people. As Durkheim (1966 ) pointed out, collective affect isn’t a matter of 1 + 1 + 1 + 1; you can’t just add up the emotions from each little-box-of-a-person on Zoom and get a sense of the collective “vibe.” What’s missing is the often tacit, deeply embodied ways we communicate and collectively create affect, be it “collective effervescence” or something much less profound (Trnka 2020a). There are, of course, instances were this is not achievable online (e.g. interactive game sites), but for those of us relying on Zoom or social media for communicating with spatially distant others, the possibility of recognising, much less attempting to shift, the tenor of collective affect can feel extremely challenging, as was denoted by a 38-year-old woman who recounted in her survey, “My sister required mental health support that couldn't be helped any further over the phone. In the end, my sister left her home & came to our bubble for 4 days...” (Long et al. 2020a).
Anthropologists have noted the power of co-presence, arguing that we should recast understandings of “care” to include acts such as sitting together, holding another’s hand, or simply being felt to occupy the same time and space (Stevenson 2014; Taylor 2008). When co-presence is banned, as, during parts of the pandemic, the results can be dire. Focusing on enforced isolation between members of different households in the UK during Covid-19, Nicholas Long (2020) describes how some people experienced a profound destabilization of inter-subjective ties, resulting in feelings of dislocation, rage, loneliness, and, at the extreme, suicidality. In such circumstances, co-presence in and of itself is not only beneficial but ethically vital.
During the lockdown, the desire or compulsion to be with others was often predicated upon pre-existing relations of care (Long 2020; Trnka et al. n.d.). There were, however, exceptions, for example when people sought out the presence of strangers. An elderly New Zealand woman who lived alone recounted visiting the grocery store in order to be amongst other people (Long et al. 2020a). In a different but related vein, in his research on gay male sex in Dublin, Ireland, Thomas Strong (n.d.) has noted how sex between strangers did not abate during lockdown, but flourished, affording much desired moments of connection.
Centrality of movement
The movement towards another is inherent in our social being. Elsewhere I have drawn from the work of the Czech philosopher Jan Patoka to examine the centrality of movement in our lives, not only in terms of our corporeal movements through space, but also our inter-relationality with others (Trnka 2020b). One of the strengths of Patočka’s work is his attentiveness to the intertwining of corporeal, affective, and subjective movement. Another is his delineation of the three different kinds of movements which he saw as underpinning our being-in-the-world (“the sinking of roots,” self-projection, and self-transcendence). The first one denotes movement towards others, such as parents, children, lovers or siblings, with whom we have or create the “primordial ties” that sustain us through life (Patočka 1998 ). Drawing from Patočka’s conceptualization of “primordial ties” as actively fostered through embodied motion towards one another, we can conceptualize connection, care, and response to the needs of others as acts of movement. Doing so allows us to highlight how co-presence is not a pre-given state – i.e. being in the right place, at the right time – as these are not sufficient prerequisites for being attuned to one another. Instead co-presence can be agentively sought out or created through acts of moving towards one another. In other words, it is not enough to physically be together, but in being together to actively seek out the other.
Lockdown threw the significance of various kinds of movement towards one another into stark relief. In lucky cases or at lucky moments, people found themselves locked in with the ones they needed or those that needed them most. The accounts of New Zealanders who found themselves in such situations celebrate moments of discovery and (re-)connection between partners, friends, or parents and children. Embracing a “slower” or “simpler” form of life; there were dozens of declarations along similar lines as one woman’s assertion that, “I have enjoyed the slower pace and focus on my home and the people within it”(Long et al. 2020a). For others, the pandemic threw into ethical turmoil the vital work of “drawing near” spatially distanced kin, friends, members of significant social networks, or simply “others,” as part of the existential need to be-amongst-others.
Whilst Covid-19 continues, we will no doubt find other ways of conceptualizing, and regulating, “social distancing.” Anthropologically, our examinations of these dynamics would profit from consideration of the ethics of not only distancing and all that it requires, but also our human need to “draw near”, and the challenges and opportunities that anchoring ourselves in a single “bubble” place along the way.
Susanna Trnka is an Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of Auckland whose work examines embodiment through a variety of lenses, including movement; health; pain; and political violence. Her most recent works include: Competing Responsibilities: The Politics and Ethics of Contemporary Life (Duke University Press, 2017); One Blue Child: Asthma, Responsibility, and the Politics of Global Health (Stanford University Press, 2017); and Traversing: Embodied Lifeworlds in the Czech Republic (Cornell University Press, 2020).
“We sat in our own cars in the supermarket car park with our windows down and talked.”
you can’t just add up the emotions from each little-box-of-a-person on Zoom and get a sense of the collective “vibe.”
AN INTERVIEW WITH OLE BIRK LAURSEN
WOUTER KEIJZER AND LOES MOREE
Loes and I, Wouter, approached scholar of postcolonialism and anarchism Ole Birk Laursen to write something for this magazine. He didn't have the time to write a piece, but was open for an interview, which we happily accepted. We asked him questions, focussing mainly on the movement of anarchism, which has a rich and intriguing history. But this ideology and philosophy isn't too well known in the field of anthropology. Students mostly know about it from popular media (often in a negative light). Therefore, this interview is written with the goal of providing a clear image of what anarchism is, what anarchists strive towards, and what an anarchist society would look like. In a short summary: anarchism is a socialist ideology and practice, that strives for the emancipation of everyone. Freedom and bottom-up collaboration are key concepts.
WHAT DOES MOVEMENT MEAN FOR YOU?
When I think 'movement', I think of people, rather than some government somewhere. People taking matters into their own hands. Grassroot politics and action who are willing to change existing inequalities. Movements can be violent, and revolutionary or slow and incremental. A movement has to adapt to the specific situation, while at the same time learning from, and building upon, past emancipatory movements and experiences.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE SUBJECT OF ANARCHISM AS A SUBJECT FOR YOUR RESEARCH?
I'm currently writing a book on the Indian independence movement in Europe, with a focus on the anarchist M. P. T. Acharya. But I started getting involved with anarchist movements and the anarchist history in terms of academic research, during the Occupy movement about nine years ago. I took part in some student protests in London and I became attracted to the idea of anarchism as a horizontal way of shaping politics. And since then I wanted to explore anticolonialism in relation to anarchism; with questions of freedom, self-government, and what that meant to anti-colonial revolutionaries. One reason for this being that anti-colonial movements often revolved around a nationalist leader who wanted to replace the colonial ruler with a native ruler. 'We can have our own government.' But for the anarchists, that would not change anything, really, because it would mean replacing one ruler with another. It wouldn't change anything in terms of freedom and self-government. It wouldn't change anything for the oppressed, the workers, et cetera. And then I started looking at this one figure, Acharya, who in many ways was the only Indian who joined the anarchist movement and thought about freedom in that context. And so that is how I got into this research, and those are some questions I'm trying to look at.
Anarchism became more of a subject for academic research too, in the past years. There were aspects of anarchist thought and general tendencies of it in the anti-globalisation movement in 1999, the battle of Seattle, and also in the Arab spring uprising. And so it has become more and more a subject of study, as more academics have become radicalised, as you will, by those anarchist ways of striving for self-government and rejecting oppression. Not necessarily as 'anarchism' or the academics identifying as anarchists, but by ideas and ideals more closely related to anarchism. Because you don't have to be a hardcore anarchist to live an anarchist life.
SO, WHAT IS ANARCHISM?
Anarchism is in its essence the absence of rulers. It's the notion that no one can govern over anyone else. That people have self-government and freedom. And the anarchist idea of freedom is that no government or authority can justly or legitimately tell you how you should live your life. But of course, that doesn't mean you can do whatever you want to. It means that my freedom extends to where someone else's freedoms begin. It means bounding yourself to rules based on other peoples’ equal freedoms. It's a very socialist concept that it's for the common good that all people are free. Anarchism is a socialist ideology after all.
There are rules everywhere. Even when you're taking a walk in Leiden, you have to obey lots of rules, most of which make sense from a health and safety perspective, and are rational. But a lot of rules in daily life do not make sense, or are arbitrary. And anarchists question the authority of those rules. It's about deciding yourself whether or not the specific rules are valid or apply to you, and so the anarchist perspective is putting governance into your own hands by not accepting rules because they are rules; but by questioning them, and answering for yourself whether the rules make sense.
From that perspective, of questioning authority and rules, you'll get a bigger picture of massive inequalities and injustices. Look at global situations like economic inequalities, or police brutality. The assumption that the existing system works, is something the anarchist would question; they would say: 'let's try something else, and give power back to the people'. The system cannot reform itself. If we want to end police brutality, we have to change the system in and of itself. Anarchists would want to change the core of the issue.
It's not just about identifying and fighting injustices all over the world, but also about direct action. With things like the coronavirus, there have been many instances of where anarchists have been at the forefront of providing 'mutual aid', which is an anarchist term, where people help each other, rather than waiting for help from the government or whatever authority. You help each other from across society, people you don't know personally, without expecting anything in return. It's not about reciprocity. You help because it's essential to the idea that we're a collaborative species, not a competitive one. We don't have to fight to survive. We have to work together.
The assumption that the existing system works, is something the anarchist would question; they would say:
'let's try something else, and give power back to the people'
WOULD AN ANARCHIST SOCIETY BE POSSIBLE IN THE NETHERLANDS? AND IF NOT, WHAT WOULD SOCIETY FROM IF IT INCORPORATED MORE ASPECTS OF ANARCHISM?
Anarchism is more of a practice of questioning everyday rules and seeing whether the authority is legitimised. So, I don't think anarchists would want the Netherlands to turn into a big anarchist society because it is too big of a scale. I think anarchists would rather establish small-scale communities of utopian societies, that in turn are federated into bigger organisations. So in the Netherlands, you would have hundreds of small anarchist communities.
And it is difficult because we are conditioned by a governmental and capitalist society where we constantly do things that are premised on someone else's oppression. But I think there are ways we can try to work outside of those structures. Again, anarchism has to be an everyday practice of constantly questioning authority and mutual aid.
My vision of an ideal anarchist society is where everyone has a say in their own life; they are free to do what they want to do, as long as those actions don't oppress anyone else. That might sound utopian and idealistic, but I don't see what's wrong with wanting a very social, good life, where everyone has the freedom to express themselves in whatever way they want to.
When people, who are not anarchists, ask me: 'how would this be possible?', I'd say we have to imagine that we can live a life like that. The present system clearly doesn't work. You have politicians telling you what to do, great inequalities all over the world -- you can't have a society where there are homeless people and millionaires or billionaires. That in and of itself is an unequal structure. Society today doesn't work for a lot of people. But there are also a lot of people who are not contested by their presence and thus privileged. Someone like me, who's a Northern European white male, heterosexual, able-bodied, and so on, is fine here. Society works to my advantage. But there's a lot of people here who suffer under various kinds of oppression, and these people are not free in the same way that I am. And I would like a society where everyone is free from that kind of oppression. In order to imagine what an anarchist society would look like, we have to acknowledge that the present system doesn't really work.
But again, there are a lot of things that make sense, in the way that the current system functions today. But of those things that make sense, most anarchists will likely want the same things. When you're stopping for a red traffic light, there's something telling you what to do; but an anarchist would probably agree that it would make sense, because of safety reasons, and traffic functioning as well as possible. So they would want the same thing in that other, utopian system. It's not about tearing down everything, but about tearing down the structures that oppress your freedom.
Relating it to the coronavirus: at the start, health authorities came out with regulations about wearing masks, and things like that. Quite some people rejected it, saying wearing masks restricts your freedom. But the anarchist tends to believe that's a false premise: it doesn't restrict your freedom, because not wearing a mask would endanger someone else's freedom. So those rules made by authorities are questioned, but accepted. Especially the authority of experts is taken into account, giving advice, because they are experts in their field after all. And questioning the legitimacy of rules first, before either accepting or rejecting them, creates a more fair and equal society.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE POPULAR IMAGE OF ANARCHIST MOVEMENTS?
I think the circumstances we live under makes it difficult for people to imagine another system, another way out. We need to work to put food on the table, and don't have time or energy to sit down and think critically about societal questions all the time. And we're easily persuaded by someone telling us 'oh, if we just do this, change this thing within the system, it'll be just fine'. So I completely understand that people don't lean toward a more anarchist perspective. But concerning what people think about anarchism: I think there are historical factors that play a role too. Anarchism has had a bad name ever since it became a sort of a political movement in the mid-nineteenth century. It's for a long time been associated with violence and terrorism, really. And that's been a minor, minor part of anarchist history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, where anarchists threw bombs, and assassinated kings and politicians. But that, of course, of course scared a lot of people away from anarchism, and from looking into what anarchism actually is. And that has lingered on for many, many years. I think that any ideology that questions the main structures of power, whether those questions come from the left or the right, will be subject to oppression and giving people a different impression of what the concerning ideology actually is.
And so, being shaped by the capitalist structures we live under, and with the dominant historical view of anarchism, it is difficult to think about overcoming those oppressive, capitalist structures. And to think about freedom in the sense of not being ruled, but abiding by rules based on your own judgements and on the equal freedoms of other people. I do hope my research contributes to at least de-mystifying a lot of ideas about what anarchism is, and hope to inspire people to take part in some of these movements. That's my big ambition.