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.