Society for Humanistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
During fieldwork in East Germany (GDR) in the 1980s, the decade before a successful revolution, and in Syria in 2000s, the decade before a failed revolution, many people confided in me a desire to leave. Some even solicited my help. None of this made it into my publications. While I always offered my assistance on any issue when asked and when I could, I was ambivalent about being the foreign presence that led my interlocutors to imagine a life elsewhere. Anthropology had taught me about the importance of culture, context, and lifeworld, and about the pain of separation and loss. There are huge costs to leaving one’s own society. And in both the GDR and Syria, people did not tend to be well informed about the societies they wanted to flee to. My initial impulse was to encourage those who wanted to leave to stay, to point to ways in which their societies were changing. This paper takes up two cases where individuals did in fact leave before the revolution, only to be pulled back into the vortex of revolutionary events while in their new homes. It asks about the nature of anthropological commitment to extant communities, about the anticipation of revolution and its impact on success or failure in individual life trajectories of those who left, and on the temporality and significance of the incidental, “outtakes”, in anthropological accounts.