Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Persistence
Secondary Theme: Inequality
This session explores ambivalence both as an ethnographic object and as an analytical tool in anthropology. While a growing anthropological literature examines uncertainty (esp. Samimian-Darash and Rabinow 2015) and indeterminacy (Jansen 2016) as orientations towards unknown futures, this panel is concerned with the “mixed feelings” and conflicting orientations that often characterize indecisiveness and entail holding on to contradictory ideas and attitudes.
In times of social transformation and crisis, ambivalence may constrict the capacity to anticipate the future. Experiencing conflicting, non-resolvable stances, affects, emotions, values, feelings, beliefs and desires may, indeed, induce anxiety. Papers in this session examine such anxieties, but they also look at the ways in which so often people refrain from resolving, taming, or compartmentalizing such conflicting orientations. Rather, our ethnographies demonstrate the capacity to endure and embrace ambivalence.
The session portrays how ambivalence plays a pivotal role in people’s lives, particular in times of insecurity and with regard to their engagements with the future. The ethnographies cover a range of insights: guest workers” in Austria (Palmberger); the weariness of “coming to terms with the past” in divided Cyprus (Davis); state violence and legal conundrums among Alevi and Kurdish populations (Yonucu); demonstrations of faith among Mojeño Trinitarios in Bolivia (Sturtevant); maintaining social relations in times of austerity in Greece (Streinzer); and workings of the “proxy” state in a Serbian post-industrial town (Jovanovic). These examples give us insights on (temporal) agency and how people (morally) act and respond to contradictions in times of considerable change. Moreover, they show how ambivalence is a lens through which we may fruitfully analyze agency, ethics, morality, hope, temporality, affect, and social inequalities.
In addition, our conversations show how bringing ambivalence under ethnographic scrutiny offers a privileged domain for the study of how people participate in the reproduction of social, political, and economic conditions, particularly of those which often “work against” them, such as precarity and its attendant social inequalities. The focus on ambivalence, we contend, provides an analytical tool that allows nuanced understanding of various strategies of adaptation, resilience and/or resistance in times of rapid social transformation.