This research group aims at analyzing, from a highly transdisciplinary perspective, the ambiguous notion of identities (and its sometimes puzzling uses). “Identity” is a complex and an extremely ambivalent term that comprises different levels of meaning and offers itself to many biased and ideologically conditioned readings. Therefore, the term “identity” should not be determined a priori. In general, within our project, the working definition of identity – as sameness in terms of sense of belonging to a group – designates multidimensional and fluid social subjectivities which include ascriptions by selves and others. However, in our context-based approach, identity can be viewed from multiple standpoints and is not limited to the linguistic, political, religious or socio-economic circumstances of the subject. Our research is focused, first and foremost, on social and cultural surroundings; consequently, the notion of identity will be treated, in the first place, sociologically, but it does not exclude other approaches, like for example the psychological exploration of the self (as developed, among others, by Erik H. Erikson).
As a matter of fact, “identity” is not an entity or a state of being; it should rather be understood, in Stuart Hall’s definition, as an on-going process of identification. From this perspective, identity denotes multiple and constantly shifting acts of “self-determination” of an individual within and of a given group, a combination of national, ethnical, religious, class, social and cultural “identities” that defy and resist any precise and categorical definition. To better understand the notion of identity, we employ, among others, Homi Bhaba’s concept of hybrid identities and Thomas Hylland Eriksen’s concept of pure, hyphenated and creole identities. We also take into consideration the concept of Otherness, as it has been postulated in Literary Studies (itself building upon critical reflection in cultural anthropology, philosophy, cultural history and other disciplines), particularly in regard with premodern text and discourses, which somehow resist the methodological approaches developed for post-colonial societies.
It might seem that the notion of identities had been sufficiently discussed in the past by scholars such as Ernst Gellner, Benedict Anderson, Frederik Barth, Robert Brubaker, and John L. and Jean Comaroff. Quite the contrary – national identities are currently being abused and misused by certain populistic wings and policy makers. On the theoretical side, there has also been a renewed interest in the discourses on primordialism and its impact on formation of the modern (mainly national and ethnic) identities; moreover, there has been much attention given to the spatial aspect of identity and its implication for cultural and political geography (see, e.g., the works of A. Paasi).
Identity is often seen as related to a particular historical discourse; not as a given reality, but rather a product of social, historical and cultural narrations, a constant process of interpretation and re-interpretation, a certain representation and an image of our understanding of ourselves within “our” group and the external world, and it is very often interwoven with similarly ambiguous and polarized relations of power, on one hand, and resistance, on the other. Moreover, by imagining and interpreting the group’s past, individuals locate themselves within the history and define their self-identity narrative. Within this theoretical framework of collective, cultural and communicative memory, the works of, among others, Maurice Halbwachs and Jan and Aleida Assmann will be applied.
Acknowledging that identity is always bound to a particular historical discourse, we would also like to emphasize that the notion of “identity” itself seems to be a product of modernity, in the sense that it is tied to large, complex market-state societies. It cannot be separated from modern thought or from colonial and post-colonial history, and thus does not have the same relevance in all social contexts even
today. From this point of view, we would also like to explore the creation of “identity” as a theoretical and functional notion, outlining its genealogy, drawing up its imagery and its essential symbolical meanings and pointing to its limits as an analytical concept.”
In general terms, our Sinophone project aims at analyzing strategies used to construct senses of belonging, affinity and attachment, on one hand, or difference and even hatred, on the other. This work package in particular will focus on exploring concrete cultural and textual practices related to the construction of identities in interaction with the cultures of China and its adjunct regions. It will broadly examine the so-called narratives of identity in literature, mass media, social discourse and official documents. It will adopt both synchronic and diachronic perspectives, focusing not only on the identities of the various social entities within and beyond the contemporary PRC, but also on the representation and textual construction of the Middle Kingdom and its cultural legacy in Early Modern period.
Coordinator: Iveta Nakládalová
Language documentation and culture heritage: There are more than 6,000 languages spoken worldwide and they differ fundamentally from each other in every level of description (sound, grammar, lexicon, meaning, etc.). This global linguistic diversity is dazzling and at the same time disappearing in front of our eyes. We are witnessing perhaps the greatest dismissal of cultural heritage in human history. Modernity appears to be adversary to the diversity of human cultural heritage. Because language is the vessel in which human culture is contained and transmitted, loss of languages equals to the loss of cultural heritage in the broadest sense. Linguistics as a discipline has to stand up to this challenge in two ways. The first is to capture the linguistic diversity. The second is to work against the trends diminishing human cultural diversity.
Capturing language diversity is to document and analyse grammar, lexicon and language use. In the broadest sense, it includes variation (macro and micro level). The goals are (i) to determine how any language may fit in the design space of human language, (ii) to capture its current state, and (iii) to reconstruct relations to other languages. Human language aggregates knowledge domains which are lost when the language is no longer spoken. We can think of oral tradition, humour, wisdom captured in proverbs and phraseology, plant names, psychological and religious understanding, various classification systems, etc. Language can be considered a ‘horcrux’ of a human society. It encapsulates its unique view of the world which invariably dies when its container is broken.
Modern multilingual societies: Modernity is detrimental to diversity. Various social aspects associated with modernity are responsible for language and cultural loss. The greatest among them is inequality, politics and economy. Increased migration and mobility as well as technological advancement have transformed many societies into multilingual communities, yet their multilingual character is usually an intermediate stage, rarely spanning more than three generations. Areas of research within this focus include how linguistic resources are used in conducting social action, building identities, relationships, negotiating membership in discourse communities, as well as language policies. Ultimately, the goal is to discover solutions and stable states where human linguistic and cultural diversity can be sustained.
Cross-disciplinary collaboration: Grammar/culture and multilingual society foci can be combined if we zoom in on a particular society/type of societies. Research areas of this kind include language contact and language change, where social, historical and political circumstances give rise to the new language varieties and grammatical structures.
Coordinator: Joanna Ut-Seong Sio
The Asian migration is studied as a global phenomenon since early 20th century. Its history and regional significance can be traced back to the ancient times, but it is especially with resent era of increased globalization that the Asian migration and mobilities became important research topics.
The working package focusses on changing nature of Asian migration and mobilities that, besides the traditional migration and diaspora studies, focuses on movement of the people, the communication technologies and various networks related to the phenomenon.
In the host countries, the co-existence of the diaspora with the major society is usually problematic. Despite a growing number of Asian residents, especially the young generations within the diaspora, has been adapting themselves to the social environment of host countries, the substantial number of the diasporas’ members has still the tendency to isolate themselves economically, socially and culturally from the main societies in the host countries. This isolation is supported by prejudices existing on both sides that, if supported by hostile political agitation or activism, are capable of producing anti-migrants’ sentiments leading to various forms of xenophobia and racism threating successful implementation of migration and integrational polices for migrants. These problems are usually exacerbated by “mobile populations” such as migrant workers, political refugees or people engaged in various kind of economic migration.
To understand the problem, the package´s goal is to provide an innovative, internationally based, and theoretically informed, methodologically rigorous, and empirically rich analyses related to the Asian migration, diasporas and mobilities.
To achieve its goals, the package will thematically focus on several integrative dimensions: 1) Historical dimension: that aimed to understand the reasons, the historical trajectory, mechanisms, impact, similarities and differences of Asian migration and diaspora life in various countries and regions all around the world; to identify common and site-specific phenomena and historical trends connected to the migration, integration and transnationalism of Asian people; 2) Economic dimension: that aims to analyze economic aspects of the Vietnamese diaspora´s life and its role in the contexts of the Czech and Taiwan economic systems. 3) Socio-cultural dimension that aims to analyze migration policies of various states and their application to the Asian diasporas; to analyze social and cultural specifics (common and regional) of the Vietnamese diasporas´ life and its integration potential in different fields of living; to analyze and compare social-cultural aspects of the migration policies to various countries. Also various subgroups and subcultures present within the diaspora will be studied within the dimension; 4) Crime and security dimension that aims to understand the structures, relationships and modi operandi of illegal components of Asian diasporas in the various countries; to identify common and site-specific phenomena and trends connected to the illegal components of those diasporas; 5) the ANT methodology that allows us to focus on the study of networks that include human and unhuman beings (vehicles, trains, roads, boats, or Internet) through the action of which humans move or communicate through time and space.
Coordinator: Filip Kraus
No matter the political system, level of economic development, or cultural background, every country in the world can be studied through the prism of state-society relations. Even authoritarian or totalitarian countries – or perhaps especially them – must devise ways how to keep the public order, run the economy, and provide certain governance within their borders. In democracies, the relationship is more open and societies regularly challenge state power and hold it accountable. International relations too are conducted in this multifaceted and overlapping way involving not only governments, but also representatives of society and individuals without official capacities, yet still playing significant roles.
In the 21st century, the state-society relations undergo some transformative changes. As a human civilization, we have made groundbreaking scientific achievements; unprecedented amounts of people have access to many years of quality life without poverty, physical security threats or fear of basic diseases. At the same time, new challenges are emerging, some are newer versions of the (very) old ones – think of the spread of viruses, terrorism, or migration. Others seem to change rules of the game entirely.
Modern communicative methods, for instance, allow people everywhere to access, create, and spread information at an unprecedented level. While beneficial in general, this can sometimes create challenges of its own. At times, the gap between the reality and perceptions seems to widen, with societies falling for misinformation, rumours, fake news or hoaxes. Governments often struggle how to tackle this – authoritarian leaning ones try to limit freedom of expression (with the help of new IT techniques), while more open systems invest in societal resilience. All, however, engage in some sort of securitization of information, which can potentially transform any level of society into high politics and security matter. Moreover, this is happening in the context of truly impressive levels of globalization and interconnectedness, which makes most local issues instantly into transnational and even global matters, asking for coordinated responses among otherwise very different states.
Facing new challenges can be – and increasingly is – seen as a test of abilities of various systems of governance. As the rest of the world, headed by Asia, is increasing its say in world affairs, the Western models of governance based on liberal democracy must prove themselves that they are stable and can perform efficiently.
The goal of the research cluster is to look at modus operandi in various Asian countries of their state-society interactions when facing modern challenges. The aim of such endeavour is, first, to generate understanding of possible models of coping with the problems and take lessons when devising own responses in the Czech Republic and Europe. Second, the research would increase our understanding of local contexts in Asia and it might discover new opportunities for our own ideas or businesses to fill the gap. We recognize the multifaceted and overlapping nature of the issue and we are open to apply various methods and approaches. It is important to focus on the biggest players in the region, such as China, India, Japan, Indonesia, and Russia, as well as study the situations in the smaller states such as Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore – or even the sub-state and local level.
Coordinator: Richard Turcsányi
Security is a feeling and borders are constructed but both also carry a very material and sometimes violent reality. Several different understandings and experiences of security have shaped China’s borderlands under Xi Jinping who has himself promoted his own concept of New Security. This research cluster addresses the various perspectives and structural positions behind these differences. As the recent situation in Xinjiang has unquestionably shown, one groups security can constitute types of violence perpetuating another group’s insecurity. The heightened presence of police and military and the extreme surveillance on the streets of Xinjiang is praised as calming and stabilizing by Han-Chinese but many minority people feel extremely intimidated and threatened by this securitisation. Similarly, what the government portrays as anti-terror policies aimed at preventing violence, to hundreds of thousands of people produces extreme form of violence and terror.
The research cluster takes a more general approach to China’s borderlands asking who’s security we are talking about, who is providing it for whose benefit – and who ends up profiting from or suffering under the practices claimed to enhance security? We also ask what kind of security is provided or demanded: security from or for – protecting or enabling? Xi’s early versions of a New Security understanding echoed China’s approach to Human Rights and the public good in stressing economic development and the protection from poverty while downplaying the importance of individual rights and freedoms. Yet, interestingly Xi’s actual conduct has been heavily saturated by measures of so-called hard security stepping up police and military presence in the South China Sea as well as in Hongkong, Xinjiang and other places. Arguably this focus on hard security has been detrimental for economic developments especially in the geographical, political and economic margins of the country which in turn damages the livelihood security of local people.
This has also included enhanced patrolling and control at the country’s international borders often making life difficult for local people with little access to formal channels and capital. Enhanced control strangles the informal institutions that many marginalised population groups so heavily depend on for their social security. While the party prides itself of having lifted millions out of poverty, these millions may be drawn from a very particular and structurally chosen part of the population while other parts of the population are left out of or positively damaged by the same measures. One of the hypotheses this cluster seeks to address is whether security in Xi’s China – be it focussed on guaranteeing material provisions or on protection from physical harm – has a tendency to exclude and discriminate against marginalised groups rendering them even more vulnerable and subjecting them to strong pressures.
Not only the national Chinese borders have been recently been strengthened, the cluster further posits and seeks to problematise. Also between provinces, cities, townships and in Xinjiang and Tibet even between neighbourhoods, borders have been constructed or steadied by means of check-points, facial scans, metal detectors and identity controls. At the same time, the borders of privacy, household- or personal space are being regularly crossed and violated in schemes of surveillance and crime prevention. Like during the Cultural Revolution, social borders are being forcefully redefined. Once more we ask and discuss whose borders are respected, constructed or dismanteled, who demands their rigorous enforcement, who benefits and who looses out in the current both discursive and material definition and practice of borders. In connection with these two main topics we also probe for whether the current developments posit a break with or rather a logical expansion of those of the periods preceding them. Can the Xi era be characterised by a shift in Chinese policy and self-understanding? And how significant or directional any of these phenomena in a more general sense and how much of a shift.
Drawing on research form different types of borders around China this research cluster seeks to identify common trends and conceptualisations regarding security and borders.
Coordinator: Rune Steenberg
Minor Research Subgroup for: Alexander Bolshoy, Dan Faltýnek, Alfred Gerstl, Kamila Hladíková, Svetlana Jacquesson, Tereza Motalová, Sayana Namsaraeva, Natalia Ryzhova, Richard Turscányi, Stephanie Ziehaus
The research group was established to study a material-culture development in the context of modernization process within Sinophone borderlands. Modernization refers to the transformation of pre-modern/traditional societies into globally connected ones, where cultural values and relations become less place-specific and turn itself into modern, consumption-oriented forms. Technological progress brings innovative materials, inducing replacement of the traditional artifacts with a new type of goods, re-defining their original meanings and position in a particular society. Mentioned modernization deepens the present global connections and may cause further economical dependency.
The core of the research will take place in specified regions of the central Asia (Altai, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan), South-East Asia (Bangladesh, Philippines) and Oceania (Papua New Guinea, Micronesia). Field research will be carried out with focus on changes of material-culture and its’ development under an inevitable modernization occurring in aforementioned countries. Especially, variance of traditional architecture (Altai, Papua New Guinea), applied art and handcrafts (Altai, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Uzbekistan), physical body, embodiment, including body adornments (Altai, Philippines, Papua New Guinea) will be explored in detail. In order to describe artifacts and other objects of interest, various analytical and visualization methods will be applied, and similar approach will follow with determining the origin of used materials and their age. Data, characterizing the geographical properties for all relevant items (buildings, land marks), including dimensions and relative standpoints of the objects, will be collected though the 3D scan technique.
Describing the architecture, particular construction schemes and used materials will be part of the research. Specification of buildings’ function, inside ordering and positioning within public space, is considered crucial due to the fact, that these frequently refer to cultural values of their builders. Studying the applied arts and handcrafts will be targeted to objects of everyday-use and jewelry. Determination of the origin of used materials, carried out through chemical and physical analysis of the objects interested, aim to give an insight into social, cultural and economical relations. Part of the research targeted to body, embodiment and body adornments, result from the fact, that all of those are specific phenomenon for every particular culture. The way people modify their bodies, implicates that body itself becomes cultural artifact, revealing their cultural background. Study will be focused mainly on body modifications, which tattoos and body mutilations represent.
During last ten years, we see an increasing interest in material-culture studying in the field of social studies. Studying of material-culture trough detailed description of certain objects and their provenance allows us to achieve knowledge about colonialism, cultural appropriation, globalization and modernization of societies. Those are indeed the main goals for the research group.
Coordinator: Martin Soukup
The current state of ecology is frightening, but capitalism, being detached from an ecological agenda, continues to use its inherent tendency to grow and involve new opportunities. As a result, new countries and localities, including former socialist ones, are being drawn into the capitalist mode of production. However, there is a contradiction in the understanding of how the post-socialist market transition affects the environment.
Some scholars argue that by eliminating the inconsistencies of state socialism, the market is good for ecology and will find the right answers in challenges like climate change and other environmental issues. At that, they often turn to the history of the Soviet Union, which in pursuit of development, destroyed, or transformed a vast number of ecosystems. Other researchers refer to the experience of China or Vietnam and argue that the market transition is irrevocably damaging the environment of these countries and, as a result, the whole world.
By seeking to contribute to a discussion about the implications of market transition for the environment, this package aims to go beyond a simple dualism (is market or plan good for ecology). In doing so, we focus on areas peripheral to the world economy, where the pace of transition is low, post-socialist approaches to resource management are still relevant, and where local communities still depend on “pure” farming, fishing, or harvesting what nature contains. Moreover, our “peripheries” are border regions, or spaces where cultural patterns to resource management are mixed, while the environment often suffers even more than in economically developed centers, as neighbors are hardly concerned about the long-term sustainability of a foreign environment. Furthermore, in an attempt to narrow down our research focus, we refer only to rural localities.
Thus, the work package aims to understand a connection between environmental changes and political and economic transformations in the rural areas of borderlands in post-socialist countries adjoining China.
Our topics include:
– the challenges of “agrarian transition” in regions bordering to China. Anthropologists refute the rigorous universalism of the agrarian transition and call for studying ‘deviations.’ They state that transitions are not linear, never end with the construction of a uniform and expected ‘markets.’ Even if transition leads agro-industrial market-oriented regimes to appear, these regimes are different. Moreover, significant side effects occur. Scholars write about land dispossession, a substantial layer of “losers” (that is about people, who lost more than won), environmental degradation, to name but a few problems. The deviations are more dramatic in the periphery, and hence, we focus on regions adjoining to China. This proximity already adds peculiarity, as China designs the agricultural market differently. We seek to understand how the means of production (labor, capital, and land) are shaped in such regions. We ask, how does China “affect” the redistribution and usage of the land, capital allocation as well as labor supply? How have Chinese farmers and business penetrated the agrarian markets, which niches they are currently employed or conduct businesses? When studying the agrarian transition, we are also interested in how capitalism (or what is produced as part of the agrarian transition) becomes significant in people’s daily lives, how it is discussed, and perceived, and do people explain environmental issues by the agrarian transition.
– uncontrolled resource extraction in regions bordering to China. Oil, gas, jade, timber, fossils, gold, medical herbs, to name but a few – all il/legally to be brought to China to feed the “World Factory Manufacturing” and to keep going one of the world’s largest economies. Thus, we aim to investigate at what cost Russia, Kazakhstan or other countries export to China, consisting mostly of the natural resources exhausts and limits local recourses with devastating effects of deforestation, large scale earth degradation, and water pollution. Manipulating both international and domestic prices of recourses in China brings profit to large state enterprises involved in oil, gas, and timber trade, and to numerous intermediary companies involved in smaller-scale border trade, but not much to local communities in borderlands whose life still depends on hunting, fishing and harvesting what nature contains. Research questions to ask are: How does cross-border trade in recourses contribute to global climate change and environmental pollution? What are the economic and environmental dependencies between borderlands and China? Moreover, what is the social and political response to the growing Chinese activities in border regions?
– the economic degradation (degrowth) of rural areas adjoining to China. Experts of climate change often see the process of economic degradation as a possible solution that can help to prevent, reduce, and address catastrophic climate change‐related impacts. Areas of our study (the Russian Far East or rural Mongolia), at first glance, present an ideal “natural experiment.” The local economy has been stagnating for years. However, the region has not seen any significant ecological recovery. That is because informal economy incentives are in place that further deepens environmental degradation – informal logging and mining, extralegal use of the resources of natural parks/specially protected areas, as well as land-grabbing and the informal involvement of land that previously protected soil against erosion. Thus, it seems that economic degradation, contrary to possible positive expectations, amplifies the process of environmental deterioration and degradation. We aim to study and explain this controversial situation.
– climate changes in rural areas. Climate change is often treated as a global phenomenon of the im-pact of fossil energy in the atmosphere. However, the problem and the consequences of climate change are much more diverse. Researchers often stress the need to develop local answers on global challenges because single communities can do a lot against this global phenomenon. People in the areas of our study are suffering from climate change for decades. Their experience reaches down to the 1960s when the Aral Sea was vanishing, to the 1980s, when Cyclones began to hit hard on Bangla-desh coasts, the 1990s when desertification was supported by many rural people in transition. As a result, people lost their living space and resources, and hence, health and wealth. However, they had developed strategies to cope with climate change. We aim to learn from local experiences and docu-ment the success stories.
Methodologically, our research is an interdisciplinary one. Although its core is field ethnographic data, we also use GIS, cadaster, and other data usual for geography, as well as economic data and methods.
Practical relevance. Our studies represent “bad” and “good” models of coping with climate change and should be noted by the Czech Republic and other post-socialist European countries, which share much of their institutional design and post-soviet legacy.
Coordinator: Natalia Ryzhova