On Surprise and City Making. Imperial Remains, Erratic Europeanization and the Wonders of Urban Life in West Ukrainian Lviv

Nov202021

Loca­tion: Bal­ti­more, MD

Addi­tion­al event info: Paper by Dr. Jens Adam

American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting 2021: Truth and Responsibility

Anthro­po­log­i­cal research on con­tem­po­rary Europe has to deal with pow­er­ful epis­te­molo­gies: the ‘colo­nial divide’ between ‘Europe’ and the colo­nial ‘oth­ers’, the monop­o­liz­ing effects of the process­es of EU-inte­gra­tion on visions about the continent’s shape, bor­ders and future or the close link between ‘moder­ni­ty’ and ‘Europe’ are just three such epis­temic tra­di­tions that play out in polit­i­cal debates, fields of prac­tice and dai­ly life. Tak­ing the rel­e­vance of these epis­te­molo­gies for the cur­rent work­ings of pow­er into account, a crit­i­cal research on ‘Europe’ and ‘Euro­peaniza­tion’ seems indis­pens­able. But how can we do so with­out repro­duc­ing such epis­temic tra­di­tions and their hier­ar­chi­cal effects?

Based on ethno­graph­ic mate­r­i­al in Lviv (West­ern Ukraine) – a city locat­ed at a cross­ing point of dif­fer­ent ‘impe­r­i­al for­ma­tions’ (Stoler/​McGranahan/​Perdue 2007), right behind the EU’s cur­rent exter­nal bor­der – I will demon­strate, how these epis­te­molo­gies can be decen­tred by the ‘won­ders of urban life’. Sur­round­ed by the man­i­fold traces and remains of divers empires, nation states and polit­i­cal sys­tems, Lvi­vians have become dai­ly experts in relat­ing the stuff left behind. They still recall the unful­filled promis­es of bygone projects of urban moder­ni­ty. They take part in re-arrang­ing these remains into man­i­fold forms of con­tem­po­rary city­ness. And nav­i­gat­ing the city, they expe­ri­ence the errat­ic effects of con­tem­po­rary process­es of Euro­peaniza­tion, gen­er­at­ing new infra­struc­tures, con­nec­tions and capa­bil­i­ties as much as rup­tures, voids and ruins. The spaces in between these par­tial re-arrange­ments and errat­ic effects invoke sur­prise as a con­sis­tent con­di­tion of city mak­ing – sur­pris­es about the dys­func­tion­al­i­ty of infra­struc­tures, about the close­ness of con­nec­tion and dis­con­nec­tion, about the co-pres­ence of revi­tal­i­sa­tion and dis­so­lu­tion, about the qual­i­ty of bygone projects of urban moder­ni­ty or about the fact that the ram­shackle mate­r­i­al struc­ture does not just collapse.

In my paper, I will take such sur­pris­es as ethno­graph­ic start­ing points to trace the simul­ta­ne­ous enact­ment and decen­tring of dom­i­nant Euro­pean epis­te­molo­gies in dai­ly prac­tices of city mak­ing. I will exam­ine how these won­ders of urban life can inform counter-nar­ra­tives about ‘Europe’ as a muta­ble and frag­ile, inter­nal­ly diverse and glob­al­ly entan­gled formation.

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