Panel to be presented at the Meetings of the American Anthropological Association in Montreal, Quebec, November 16-20, 2011
This panel investigates the surprising popularity of programs and strategies centered on the individual in the formerly socialist states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Studies in realms as diverse as healthcare, the media, martial arts, and business all point to a new faith in ethics of self-help that advocate close attention to the self as a key method of both living a meaningful life amid societal transformations and creating a new, more stable platform for personal success and national progress.
Such developments might be seen as yet another expansion of neoliberal rationalities into new territories. But especially in light of this year’s cue to consider “traces, tidemarks, and legacies,” we ask whether there might be anything distinct about postsocialist calls to embrace individualism that separate them from self-help strategies that have been documented elsewhere in the world. What are the social meanings of self-help programs in countries that once proclaimed collectivist ideals? Do the social orientations of the past persist in any meaningful sense in the individualized strategies of the present? And how are efforts to cope with the aftermath of postsocialist transformations, from ruthless business cultures to rises in the visibility of gendered violence to diminished social safety nets, reflected in changes at the level of the person?
These papers do not take the proclaimed individualism of self-help at face value, but instead examine seemingly individuated strategies in terms of their social implications. What new forms of social life are being created through individuated modes of change? What kinds of sociality are being imagined, and what are the means envisioned to getting there? How do class and gender shape who engages in self-help and who takes other trajectories towards success and prosperity? And what happens to self-help strategies when they are harnessed by institutions and other powerful social actors and invoked for purposes beyond self-transformation?
We seek papers that situate individuated modes of change in the former Soviet Union within cultural, political, and historical contexts. We are also considering expanding our geographical focus to include contemporary China and the practices of self-cultivation that have been documented there. As such, this panel will contribute to anthropological studies of socialism and postsocialism and to theoretical discussions of (post)socialist forms of governmentality and personhood. Furthermore, it will consider the implications that (post)socialist cases might have for ethnographic inquiry into self-help and its various manifestations elsewhere around the globe.
Please send 250-word abstracts to email@example.com by Friday, March 18.
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