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.
Wouter Keijzer is a fourth-year anthropology student, and moderator of the ICA Instagram page. He was also part of the Itiwana board last year.
Loes Moree is a fourth-year student of Cultural Anthropology. She is a media member within the ICA committee and was part of the Itiwana board last year.
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
OLE BIRK LAURSEN
Ole Birk Laursen is a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden University. His research focuses on South Asian history, anticolonialism, and anarchism. He is editor of Lay Down Your Arms (2019), We Are Anarchists (2019), Networking the Globe (2017), and Reworking Postcolonialism (2016), and has published extensively on the transnational intersections between anticolonialism, socialism, and anarchism.
dancers usually narrate for themselves a storytelling to accompany and support their dance sequence.
Click To Watch a Video of the Dance!
Even while performing alone, a dancer carries the memory of other dancers in his/her dances, as they are present in the shadow of his/her gestures.
CONTEMPORARY DANCE, FROM MOVEMENT TO GESTURE
Claire Vionnet is an Anthropologist, Dance Scholar and Dancer. She wrote a PhD on the creation of gestures in contemporary dance, exploring notions of body, movement, improvisation and sense(s). She works creatively with dance communities, reflecting on the way art/dance produces knowledge. Marked by her time lived in Africa, she is particularly interested in the role humanities play in society and keen to reflect on better reuniting Anthropology, Art and Society.
Third, a choreographic process is a practice-based research on a theme. According to the dancers I met on fieldwork, gestures are associated with meaning. For example, if the topic of the dance piece is fear, all gestures enacted during the research process are articulated with this overlooking theme. Because they appeared in a specific world of meaning defined by the theme of the performance, gestures express something more than a form. Moreover, dancers usually narrate for themselves a storytelling to accompany and support their dance sequence. This storytelling reinforces the performativity of the gesture, which in turn acquires a legitimate reason to be performed.
Fourth, a gesture entails a direction. It is defined by a position in a space, although it is continuously moving. This position is articulated with the next position that the dancing body is reaching toward. Finally, dancers constantly use their faculty of judgment to select their movements, modifying and improving their dance. They constantly (re)evaluate their performance in the act of improvisation. Judging what is right or not, they tend to give birth to the ‘appropriate’ gestures.
I’ve been chasing gestures since the beginning of my fieldwork in dance studios. How does a gesture emerge? What is in the shadow of gestures that we don’t see as audience members, but is present to give quality and performativity? Sensations, meaning, space, time, ecology; how are these components entangled? Adopting a phenomenological perspective, I explored gestures through the metaphor of ‘shadow’ to avoid a dualism between an ‘outside’ form (the shape of gesture) and an ‘inside’ life (the interiority of dancers). In paintings, shadows create the three-dimensional perspective, giving the canvas depth. Similar are sensations, meaning, storytelling and space: they are the shadows giving depth, intensity and quality to the dance gesture.
This last remark brings me to my final comment on my sense of beauty. I’ve been inspired by the diverse criteria of beauty among dance forms. As an outsider to a movement style, I can’t judge correctly the quality of the performance. As long as I’m not aware of the emic aesthetic conventions, what I consider as a ‘beautiful’ performance is not necessarily what is considered appropriate for a specific dance community. Although I’d like to prevent generalisations, I think that contemporary dance mainly focuses on visual criteria. The aesthetic visual beauty of the form could be considered as most the relevant criteria. In my opinion, this aspect reveals general cultural features of western epistemology and the importance of the vision among the five senses (Ingold 2000, 243).
It took me a few years to understand the emic conventions of traditional African dances. I was always applauding when my co-dancers were not, until I realized that they were prioritizing auditory modalities (instead of the visual form). In sabar (Senegalese dance) and mandingue (various rhythms mainly from Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Senegal), an improvisation succeeds when it is performed in harmony with music. A soloist reaches his performance when (s)he dances precisely with the bit of the music and finishes the dance in an ending pose exactly on the final note of the drums. The communication between dancers and musicians is very sensitive. The listening requires attentiveness and concentration. The interplay between acceleration, deceleration, breaks, velocity and ending poses tend toward a sense of togetherness defined by rhythm. This musical harmony is the main criterion validating a dance performance. When several dancers move together, the precision of the visual form (such as in ballet in which all dancers execute exactly the same shape) is less important than being together in the rhythm. This allows a strong singularity in the expression of the dance.
Through the practice of dancing, newcomers not only learn how to move, but also to judge and evaluate the quality and the performativity of the dance. The community raises a local knowledge to evaluate the beauty of a performance and the accuracy of a gesture. Consequently, a gesture is not individualist but social, as it resonates with the community. In fact, a gesture is always collective: ‘Always more than one’, wrote Erin Manning (2013). Even while performing alone, a dancer carries the memory of other dancers in his/her dances, as they are present in the shadow of his/her gestures.
There would be so much more to say about the production of gestures, the association with time, space, meaning, ecology and collective. Here I just shared a few reflections from my investigation on choreographic processes to show how dance can contribute to anthropological knowledge about creativity, intuition in art practices and improvisation. I consider dance as an entrance door to think about broader phenomena referring to subjectivity, togetherness, ecology and life. I am actually convinced of the potential of the collaboration between art and anthropology to better understand the meaning of life (Clarke and Vionnet 2017).
I have always been fascinated by the diversity of dance forms around the world: partnering dances, stage performances, folk dances, street dance and so on. This variety reveals movement creativity around the planet. Dance is about movement not only in the aesthetic/choreographic dimension, but also in the sense of globalization. Indeed, dance forms circulate from place to place until it blooms in unexpected areas. I learned salsa in Scotland, Senegalese dance in Montreal and West African traditional dances in Switzerland.
Since my early childhood in Cameroon, dance has always been close to me. My first experience of moving started perched on my mother’s back as she danced with other women in a remote West African village. Back in Switzerland, I pursued hip hop as a teenager and modern jazz as a young adult. During my studies in social sciences, I started thinking of the potential of exploring anthropology through dance. What can we gain from dance practices to understand life? How can dance contribute to anthropological knowledge? What advantage do we get in exploring the meaning of life through movement? What could we gain for ethnographic encounters when we share a dance with a fieldworks’ interlocutor?
I run a fieldwork in contemporary dance to investigate the emergence of gestures, asking myself how movements are created for the purpose of a dance performance. How do gestures emerge in a creative process? What are the conditions for creativity, artistic intuition, performativity and improvisation? Drawing on my fieldwork alongside Swiss choreographers, these following lines give an account of my investigation about movement/gesture related to dance improvisation and choreography (Vionnet 2018).
Imagine a stage. Imagine a woman standing in the middle. She is swaying, eyes closed. Her arms are circling by her sides, joining in the center of her body.
Despite her blindness, the woman moves beautifully. She has a lovely presence on stage. I remember her performance in a contemporary dance theater in Lausanne five years ago. I felt touched by her authenticity. However, a dance teacher would have noted a fragmented movement, lacking fluidity and circularity. Watching her, I realized to what extent our dance gestures are acquired. How does a blind dancer learn what is a ‘beautiful’ dance movement, without seeing it? There are no innate movements. They can only be taught and learned. Movements are shaped and polished to become appropriate dance gestures.
Philosophers (Agamben 1991, 1992; Billeter 2002) and dance scholars (Godard 1998; Glon and Launay 2012) make a distinction between a movement and a gesture. Several conceptual frameworks were developed to distinguish these two notions. In my research on creative processes, I have talked about movement that defines constant activity of a dancing body. Warming up, improvising, rehearsing and walking, dancers constantly generate movements. Even when sitting, they hardly ever stay immobile. There is always a little form of movement, circulating through the body. Hands are held, body parts touched and massaged, sometimes their own bodies, other times for dance partners.
In a choreographic process, dance sequences emerge from improvisations. Choreographers usually give verbal instructions and constraints for dancers to invent new movements. These rules of game provide material for choreographers to build up the choreography. Watching and recording improvisations, they choose and select interesting movements according to the concept of the choreography. These ‘rough’ movements are then worked out, trained and polished to become motifs for choreographic sequences. I started to talk about gestures as a way to refer to these improvised movements that were chosen and that are undergoing a process of aestheticization.
I associate gestures with the notion of ‘sense’. In French (as in English), the notion of sense refers to at least five dimensions: sensations (the five senses), intuition (intuitive belief of something happening), signification (meaning of an action or a word), faculty of judgment (ability to think rationally), and direction in/toward a place (Rey 2001, 340-343). I noted the presence of these five features in a dance gesture. Indeed, a gesture is first generated through a sensorial perception of a body in relation to space. A contemporary dancer starts her / his training breathing, eyes closed, feeling the connection with the floor, the air, sounds, toward her / himself and others present in the dance studio. This attitude of listening is the basis of improvisation.
Secondly, intuition lies at the core of improvisation. Intuition starts with an attentive listening to what is already there and what else could emerge. It is an availability to the potential enactment of something else. Intuition is a result of this capacity of hearing the little signals that will create meaningful gestures.
Imagine a stage. Imagine a woman standing in the middle. She is swaying, eyes closed. Her arms are circling by her sides, joining in the center of her body.
BEING SPECIAL IN THE ONLINE WORLD
lISELOT VOORDOUW AND MARTHE BAALBERGEN
People say we are the generation of the online world. But that it would be our only world today, nobody could have expected. This year has been filled with online lectures, online gatherings and online connections. People tend to say this year is special; but is this really the right word to use: special? It has a positive sound to it, a sound which does not fit the current situation.
Working from home, wearing a mask and keeping your distance have become normalities in our everyday life. These changes, however, have a different effect on everyone: not going to school is a blessing for some, while for another it is their worst nightmare. Some lost their jobs, while others finally got the recognition they deserved during this pandemic. For us, as first-year students, this pandemic has made our year ‘special’, but normal would have been just fine.
Like every other student, we have been attending online University. However, for us, that also meant meeting our lecturers and fellow students for the first time through a computer screen. We all had our expectations of what it would be like to go to university. However, sitting in our own house, as opposed to a lecture room, has changed our experience. Normally we would have been in the lecture room, normally we would have been going to parties and meeting a lot of new people. These activities have been brought to just one isolated place and a computer screen. All the expectations have now become reality, in a world where the 'new normal' is to experience things virtually and isolated.
For us, the most important and impactful change has been meeting our fellow students. We have illustrated the images of them in our minds through the projection of the literal images on our screen. And if the real-life meeting moment arrives, we expect what that person will be like. When we think about celebrities, there is a tendency to create an expectation based on how they present themselves to the world. This could take place on social media platforms, movies or newspapers. But celebrities obviously don’t only exist only on these platforms. When the watchers encounter them in real life, they may be shocked by the sight. To see your projection of a person that you created in your mind, in reality, could be very different. For example their height, or eye-colour. But it could also be their personality. When we meet people, we will try to read them to get to know them. But reading them through a screen will blur the line between expectation and reality.
Thus, when will we meet these images in real life? I wish you could tell me, but the truth is that nobody knows. We are now a half a year into our study; this is the period in which we, at the start of the year, had thought everything would be normal again. Instead, nothing much has changed, on the contrary, the measurements have even become more strict. We will have to stay in the online world for a little longer. We can only speculate about 2021: will a ‘get to know the second years’ be organised? Could we already have lessons at the end of the year due to the vaccine? Sometimes it can be difficult to get a clear perspective on what the future holds, so we try to live in the here and now.
We may be the generation of the online world, but we can not live entirely in it. Personally, we have come to value social interaction outside of the online world a lot more. We still don’t know what it would have been like to go to university without the pandemic, and we may never know. But one thing is clear: being part of the ‘special’ year is not what we expected nor wanted.
Marthe Baalbergen is a first year Cultural Anthropology student at Leiden University. She is a media member within the ICA committee and has painted the cover for this magazine.
Liselot Voordouw is a first year anthropology student who loves travelling and telling stories. As she also has an interest in photography, she is also part of this years photo committee
Roxanne Hendrix is a second-year Anthropology student. She is part of the Itiwana board and is also leading the travelcom to organize an upcoming study trip.
When you stir a glass of water, the water moves. Logic. But even after you have stopped the movement, the water is still in movement. The same goes for your body. As we all know by now, our bodies are made up of 70 % water. How we treat our body, and how we move it, will have an effect on the water that is inside us. In return, it will determine how we feel and interact with the world around us. Every one of us is made up of water, and what if I tell you that the way in which we are connected to each other, is through this very liquid. What if I tell you that the way we feel, is influenced by the way we treat the water around and within us?
The studies from the Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto on the forming of water crystals show us how our intentions, thoughts, and words can transform the very structure of these crystals. During the experiments he ran to prove his theory, he treated various glasses of water differently. For example, to one glass of water, he would say “I love you”, to another “Thank you”. He would also treat water in a more negative manner by using words like “Evil” or “I hate you”. What he found was that the water that was exposed to more positive intentions result in more aesthetically pleasing crystals. On the other hand, the crystals that were treated with negative intentions resulted in disconnected and disfigured crystal formations. These findings were revolutionary and showed us “how water is an energy capable of more than we ever imagined”. It made people realize that water can understand the energy of human intentions; water is a living consciousness. But if the water is affected by our words, intentions, and energies, would it not be the same for ourselves and the people around us? As I already mentioned, our bodies are made up of at least 70% water. With the evidence of Emoto’s research, it points to the direction that our hydraulic bodies are also affected by the way we treat water within us and around us. I am not saying that, if we say nice things to the water in our body, we will all of a sudden feel better. But staying in the thought pattern of Emoto, if we would give positive intentions, maybe even bless the water before we drink it, its crystals will be reshaped to a more beautiful formation, and with that, reshape the water crystals within our body as well. In this way, the water within ourselves, within others, and around us, is connected. And to make use of its supposedly energetic powers, we have to treat it with positive intentions.