I must have started reading this book back in November because I felt Michael Herzfeld’s comments on cultural intimacy resonated very well with public discourses around the time of the 1 November elections in Turkey. I had a super-busy end-of-term so things went a bit slow with this book. I am now nearing the end and here are my favourite quotes from the earlier chapters.
This is from a passage on the mountain villagers of Crete and their attitudes towards corrupt civil servants:
“From the villagers’ standpoint […] marks of sinfulness are an important part of what makes the state itself more human and the nation worth defending. […] People do not fight for abstract perfection but for the intimacies that lie behind it; these unruly shepherds recognize the humanity of the politicians who seek their votes, the bureaucrats who expect to be bribed, the police who can be neutralized and turned into likeable dupes by an act of sheer cheek thinly disguised as hospitality (36).”
I thought that this could provide some perspective on AKP electorate’s unfazed support of their party in the face of corruption scandals in the government.
On the other hand, Herzfeld’s later comments on the nation-state may help us think about Turkish and Kurdish nationalism in Turkey:
“The state cannot tolerate the existence of cultural entities claiming to have ethnic identity separate from that of the dominant majority. […] One of the enabling conditions for this hardening of positions is, paradoxically, the persistence in nation-statist discourse of the very features of localism that the state most abhors: devotion to family as the primary locus of solidarity, patrilineal ideologies capable of achieving massive violence, solidarity of the blood. In a characteristic exercise in metaphorical expansionism, the state expropriates the language of kinship, treating familistic interests as inimical to the common family of the nation; but in a country where family values are still very strongly held (and indeed are recognized as such by the state), this strategy can easily backfire when some of the family members, especially those whose membership is in dispute, behave like strangers. It creates the means of dissent against itself (112-113).”
“Tambiah (1989) alerts us to the ways in which nation-states, by building on their metaphors of formation, may provoke relatively disenfranchised groups, notably ‘minorities,’ into coalescing into directly analogous entities (114).”
I wish anthropological research penetrated more into discussions of everyday politics. I resent the fact that some journalists in Turkish feel entitled to make sweeping generalizations on electorate behaviour based on shaky observations, spiced up with sensationalist forecasts. On that note, I also thought that Herzfeld’s comments on anthropological methodology on pages 40-41 were sweet. This also:
“The iconic portrait of ‘anthropologist as hero’ (Sontag 1970), for example, is often replicated in celebration of ethnographic suffering, embarrassment, and even stupidity, converting the side effects of claiming intimacy with the strange into essential features of the professional persona” (48).
Professional self-reflexivity is healthy 😉