Workshops series on Identity, Politics and Place in relation to indigenous peoples in Leipzig.

Friday 22 June 2012 I participated to a workshop in Leipzig, at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography, on the theme: “Identity, Politics, Place and Representation”.
The workshop had been preceded the day before (21.06.2012) by a public lecture given by Oren Yiftachel, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, with the title of – Urban Regimes and ‘Gray Spacing’: Between Privatizing Democracy and ‘Creeping Apartheid’.

Professor Oren Yiftachel during the public lecture.

An interesting lecture that touched upon “the impact of structural economic, identity and governance tensions on urban regimes. It draws attention to the pervasive emergence of ‘gray spaces’; that is, informal, temporary or illegal developments, transactions and populations. ‘Gray-spacing’ has become a central strategy to manage the unwanted/irremovable, putting in train a process of ‘creeping urban apartheid’” (Lecture abstract -2012, Yiftachel). This issues were analysed by referring to research findings related to various cities around Europe, Africa and Asia, and “with special focus on the ‘ethnocratic’ cities of Israel/Palestine”(Lecture abstract -2012, Yiftachel). Some of these aspects were also highlighted in his introductory lecture to the workshop, “Mapping the homeland”, but with an emphasis upon crucial issues of mapping and in particular on the effects that these can have on the lives of people who chose live or are forced to live on the margins of society. Maps, through the marking or unmarking borders as well as highlighting or ignoring them, become an effective tool of social and political control in any given territory.

Professor Oren Yiftachel in his workshop introductory lecture at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (IfL).

The other presentations in the workshop spanned from issues related to the historical analysis of maps of the Holy Land to those of new graphic representations of Europe, or to those related to Moroccan nomads and their understanding of land ownership. The title of my presentation was “Sámi and Sápmi: Conflicts on issues of Identity and Space in the Finnish North” and I focused on some of the aspects related to the effect of mapping the northern forests done by cartographers and officials of the Forestry Department and the efforts of local herders to see their pasture territories recognized and on how the contentions are based, amongst others, on a different understanding of the notions of space, i.e. “forest vs. pastures” and of land tenure rights that are understood, as argued by Foucault, either within the sphere of the state sovereignty or, from a nomadic perspective, based more on a direct engagement with land and the uses it affords rather than as a result of planning activity.
Tomorrow, 28th June, will be also a very interesting day as there will be a public lecture by Ronald Niezen, from McGill University, at the auditorium of the Institute of Geography. The title is: “The Ethnography of the Unknowable: Public Opinion and the Pursuit of Cultural Justice”. The lecture will focus on the anthropological tool par excellence, participant observation, and challenge it effectiveness in the analysis of the processes of cultural identity formation by arguing that the “the dynamics of cultural identity formation now include the influence of abstract, impersonal, unpredictable “publics.” The processes by which distinct people define who they are, above all the ways they articulate and defend their collective rights and shape and represent their essential attributes, are now often negotiated and “mediated” (literally and figuratively) in collaboration with distant consumers of rights and culture”(Lecture abstract -2012, Niezen). The lecture will be followed on the 29th June by a day workshop, at the Oriental Institute of the University of Leipzig, on “Identity Politics in States with Nomadic/Indigenous Populations”. The workshop is divided into three main themes, Identity Politics in relation to a) Culture, b) Land, and c) Nature. Each session will be introduced by a keynote presentation that will address each of this topic and will then be followed by two presentations that will span from issues related to cultural rights and identity to those related to land rights and land use among indigenous populations and to nature protection and modern indigenous entrepreneurship. My presentation will touch upon issues of cultural identity, internal also to the Sámi community itself, in relation to social interaction with the national majority at times of confrontation over issues related to natural resources, land claims and of traditional and modern livelihoods.
I will let you know more after the workshop, but for anyone who is in Leipzig today, 28th June, you are warmly welcome to participate to the public lecture today at 18:00, at the auditorium of the Institute of Geograpgy, Talstraße 35!

These public lectures and workshops are organized by the SFB 586 AG 1 “Herrschaft” and SFB 586 TP E9 “Power Technologies’ Production of Space: Sámi Territoriality and Indigeneity” of the SFB 586 Difference and Integration at the Universities of Leipzig and Halle-Wittenberg, Germany.

Nuccio Mazzullo

3 thoughts on “Workshops series on Identity, Politics and Place in relation to indigenous peoples in Leipzig.

  1. Thanks, Nuccio. I look forward to reading a comment on how the workshop went! I wonder how much the organisers have thought about their three categories of nature, land and culture. Does it make sense to compartmentalise the world into these? I think most current anthropology with people remote from urban centres has shown that there is no such distinction for the people, and maybe it also doesn’t make sense for anthropologists to work with this distinction. Do you remember Tim Ingold’s writings against the artificial divide between society and nature?

    1. Dear Florian! Thank you for your comment on our last Friday’s workshop on “Identity Politics in States with Nomadic/Indigenous Populations.” It went wonderfully and I am sure that Nuccio will report you on this blog. As the organiser – social and political geography – of the workshop I have indeed thought alot about these three categories. It goes without saying that you are absolutely right if we think of views inside such communities. But if we work on interactions and communication between nomadic/indigenous communities, State and majority, these communities, then, see themselves very soon confronted with images/imaginations and social constructs, or categories, of the majority and in many cases they will have to deal with them. Identity politics are a crucial part of it. Matter-of-factly, the complex of “nature” particularly proved to be highly relavent during the workshop and more emphasis on this should be put on in social sciences, also by anthropologists. I will both include rational and list of presentations of the workshop and I am looking forward to further interesting discussions:


      Workshop: Identity Politics in States with Nomadic/Indigenous Populations

      Identity politics are a central form of interaction between (ethnic) minorities and majorities. They are catalysed through imaginations and images about a given group, constitute its position in the society, give ground for the formulation, demand and realisation of rights in many different contexts and through a feedback loop impact further identity formations. With regard to nomadic/indigenous populations that usually see themselves confronted with a sedentary state and its accompanying power technologies like law and administration, the significance of identity politics seems to be even more obvious. During the workshop we will discuss three crucial aspects or topics in question that relate to the various settings in which identity politics take place: culture, land and nature. The construction of cultural distinction can become a legitimising basis for special cultural and minority rights to secure a group but in certain contexts also for politics of discrimination, assimilation, and marginalisation and alike. Many scholars and activists argue that there is an essential connection between nomadic/indigenous peoples with the land (and related spatial constructions like territory) they traditionally inhabit and use. Based on a modern conception of space as composed by fixed and exclusive territorial entities, whatsoever, its originally fluid and dynamic character is overall often denied and may create or contribute to strong conflicts in many cases. Nature, romantically idealised as counterpart to Man, can become a tool to define group identity, too, as it excludes nomadic/indigenous people from what is regarded civilisation, which, antithetically can serve as a source for an exceptional moral value of this group.
      This workshop is organized by the SFB 586 AG 1 “Herrschaft” and SFB 586 TP E9 “Power Technologies’ Production of Space: Sámi Territoriality and Indigeneity” of the SFB 586 Difference and Integration at the Universities of Leipzig and Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. In its 12 years of existence researchers at the SFB 586 have trans-disciplinary investigated in nomad-sedentary interactions and considered a 5000 years history with a geographical scope spanning from Morocco to China and the Sudan to Fennoscandia and Siberia. The AG Herrschaft has broadly dealt with issues concerning power and domination, political offices and rules, colonization and administrative control, territory and borders, citizenship and identifications. The joint work of the colleagues – historians, geographers, anthropologists, and orientalists – has resulted in two unique special issues in Nomadic Peoples and Eurasian Studies on nomads in the political field.


      Identity Politics I: Culture
      Ronald Niezen (McGill): The Reverse Epistemology of Cultural Rights and Identity
      Thorsten Schoel (SFB 586): Identity and Politics of the Syrian Ḥsana Bedouin: Domestic and Foreign Affairs
      Nuccio Mazzullo (SFB 586): True Sáminess: Conflicts and Identities in the Finnish North

      Identity Politics II: Land
      Batya Roded (Achva): Recognition and Indigenous Land Rights: The Case of the
      Arab-Bedouins in the Negev – A Comparative Perspective
      David Kreuer (SFB 586): Dynamics of Land Use in Eastern Morocco
      Kirill Istomin (SFB 586): Where My Pasture Ends? The Traditional One-dimensional vs. the State-induced Two-dimensional Land Tenure Systems among Komi Reindeer Herders of Northeastern Europe

      Identity Politics III: Nature
      Katharina Pohl (Bielefeld) & Patrick Frommberg (Berlin): The Ecological Sámi
      Judith Wiemann (SFB 586): Entrepreneurship in the New Indigenous State of Bolivia
      Peter Koch (SFB 586): Modern Indigeneity? Sámi Reindeer Husbandry in a Norwegian National Park

  2. Stephan Dudeck

    When I understood right it was not a compartmentalised understanding of nature, culture and land, but the different (and sometimes separated) discourses on cultural rights, land rights and nature protection that caused the division of the workshop. Deconstructing the concepts of nature or culture does not diminish the power of the discourses build upon them.
    By the way Nuccio: how did the workshop go?

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