Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: A cross-disciplinary interest has seen nostalgia characterised as a “global epidemic” (Boym 2007), denigrated as “history without guilt” (Kammen 1997) or a modern symptom of memory distortion (Lowenthal 1985). Scholars have diagnosed an “overdose of nostalgia” that seeps into diverse fields of life from nationalism, heritage and tourism to religious movements (Angé and Berliner 2014). However, there is mounting recognition that nostalgia has the capacity to offer more than simply denuded retrospectives. It can, in fact, facilitate critical framings on the present as well as proliferating ways to engage the future. Nostalgia, many argue, has an inherent relationship to temporal rupture and discontinuity (Bissell 2005). In this panel participants will consider what kind of potential this affinity for rupture might offer when nostalgia is turned towards the present and future. How might nostalgia, in its “heteroglossia” (Boyer 2006), offer ways to think through temporal and spatial terrain?
Nostalgia has not simply been diagnosed by anthropologists, but has seeped into the discipline’s own approach. Often coupled with diagnoses of ‘losing culture’, nostalgia has been a characteristic of anthropology’s outlook and founding as a discipline — an outlook that Berliner argues is still in operation, identifiable in anthropological accounts of people creating continuity against the ruptures implicit in globalisation, neoliberalism and other features of the contemporary never-ending crisis. Papers in this panel therefore explore the critical potential of nostalgia and nostalgia’s relationship to rupture in ways that bridge the boundary between nostalgia within and outside anthropology, inviting us to consider what role this sentiment has played in our own discipline.
Our panelists will explore the critical potential of nostalgia in ethnographic settings as diverse as a Somali music venue, the Hong Kong grassroots, and the ruins of Chernobyl, to name just a few. These disparate sites are tied together through themes of nationalist imaginaries (and resistance to such narratives), and the material and textual objects upon which nostalgic narratives are fixed. Together the papers on this panel invite attendants to consider the potent capacities of nostalgic expressions — which contain the potential for resistance, imagination, creativity, and subversion — and the analytic value to be found in chasing up and taking seriously expressions of nostalgia that have often suffered academic dismissal.