Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Identity and Equity
Secondary Theme: Social movements
This panel examines the complex ways resistance, resilience and adaptation are implicated in social practices of cultural intimacy. For Herzfeld, cultural intimacy is “the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with their assurance of common sociality” (1997:3). While Herzfeld focuses on cultural intimacy in relation to the nation-state, we build off research applying his insights to the domain of public culture (cf. Shryock 2004). We focus on culture- and heritage-work, bringing together research on community organization, language revitalization projects, heritage campaigns, and education programs. These processes of mass mediation subject those working within these domains to a dizzying array of new publics and offer illustrative sites through which to explore cultural intimacy at scales larger and smaller than the nation-state. How have transnational religious communities, indigenous, racial, and ethnic groups, and yes, national publics, conceptualized, represented, and essentialized themselves for new and changing outside others, whose opinions are “imagined and imagined to matter” (Shryock 2004:11)? How is cultural intimacy manifest at various scales within the everyday practice of culture work? What is ethnography’s place in a world where “culture” is increasingly public yet progressively “off limits?” Such questions are especially pertinent as demands for social and political change become increasingly public, and thus objects of culture work. As public work proliferates across new domains of social life, what emergent zones of cultural intimacy are created and what are their politics? Neither wholly public nor private, we draw attention to the interstitial zones where the work of culture-making unfolds and is transformed.
Stuckey explores how Greece and Turkey have built their identities in opposition to one another, despite a shared Ottoman history that is embarrassing to both. Stuckey argues this shared history calls into question this inherent opposition and reveals their status as “intimate others.” Friedman examines how Yiddishists use a discourse of “seriousness” to counter dominant American Jewish ideologies of Yiddish as inherently intimate. Yiddishist critiques of “the American Jewish mainstream,” he argues, center on questions of cultural intimacy. Shenton investigates how intimacy in the domain of “public culture” was deployed to build support at 2018’s Women’s March in Louisville and the March for Our Lives in San Diego. Shenton demonstrates how threats to intimacy are intersectionally experienced and corporeally contested. Berk focuses on community-led education programs about Tasmanian Aboriginality. Berk argues cultural intimacy is a valuable lens through which to approach the delicate interplay between essentialism and home truths about loss, phenotypic appearance, and feelings of cultural inferiority in public representations of culture. Shirinian describes how nicknames in contemporary Armenia characterize intimacy within social networks and interpellate persons into belonging to the nation-family. Shirinian shows how nicknames for corrupt government officials and members of the oligarchy mark them as belonging to the nation-state but lacking legitimacy within frameworks of cultural intimacy. By bringing together these diverse examples, this panel contributes to anthropological engagement with the intimate workings of culture.