On the Doorstep of EuropeOn the Doorstep of EuropeWriting ethnography in sites and times of “crisis” is a challenge that more and more anthropologists are dealing with, as this historical moment is punctuated with multiple crisis discourses and hot spots. Of course, this proliferation of crises  is by no means an accident; as others have shown quite convincingly, “crisis” is a cosmology perhaps endemic to neoliberal worlds (Lapavitsas 2014; Lapavitsas and Kouvélakis 2012; Redfield 2005, 2013; Roitman 2014). As I was writing my book , I persistently encountered the challenges of writing a “history of the present” (Foucault 1977) that was—and still is—powerfully in a process of unfolding, without any predictable end or telos. At such moments, it is easy to forget that change is always happening, even in times of apparent calm or stasis.

In my book, I look back to Max Gluckman (2006 [1965])), Victor Turner (Turner 1967, 1974), and the Manchester School to show how crisis—which in Greek means also “judgment”—denotes a point of reckoning. At moments of crisis, many of us seem to agree that our worlds are changing—though we may not know why and how—and we engage collectively (though often in wildly differing ways) in questioning the past, present, and the future; the “common sense” (Geertz 1975; Gramsci 1992) of everyday structures, practices, and life-worlds is thrown into relief, contestation, and debate.

Even critical accounts of crisis, however, frequently neglect the continuities  that permeate moments of rapid change, and the often entrenched practices and socio-political forms that underlie them. Crisis has a kind of maghia, a bewitching quality, not just for wider publics but also for researchers: it can pull us in (see even Cultural Anthropology’s wonderful “Hot Spots” section); it makes certain topics and places dangerous and sexy when they weren’t before (Greece, anyone?), and promotes the urgent need to be on the apparent “frontlines” of whatever is coming next. Journalists, of course, often live on crises.

Read more…