- The Make-Believe Space: Affective Geography in a Postwar Polity by Yael Navaro-Yashin
Although affect has recently aroused anthropological interest, it still remains ethnographically underexplored. In The Make-Believe Space, Yael Navaro-Yashin addresses this gap, charting new theoretical ground in the discipline. She focuses on the legacy of the Cyprus conflict as written in the environment and psychic worlds of individuals living in northern Cyprus, which was established as a governmental entity separate from the Republic in the south (generally associated with Greek-Cypriots) after the war of 1974 yet internationally unrecognized. In so doing, she also steers clear of the ruses often associated with theoretical argumentation: attacking straw men, embracing the extreme of the argument, opting for a predictable middle, or leaving ethnography to trail behind the theory. Two relevant issues on which discussion seems to lapse into such argumentation spring to mind. One is the treatment of materiality in actor-network theory, and the second is the condescension towards Foucault in post-Foucauldian treatments of subjectivity. Both of these questions, materiality and subjectivity, are discussed in depth throughout the book and presented in ways that open up rather than close down the space for analytical exploration. The concept of affect is brought to bear on these questions not as an answer that supersedes them, but as one that can explain those situations that ethnographic data throws open to complementary interpretation. A constant see-saw is the metaphor Navaro-Yashin uses to communicate the choices that theory proposes most of the time: this or that, or in this specific instance, interiority or exteriority in thinking about subjectivity. But rather than the well-known rejection of dualism and the “it’s always more complicated” approach, she argues for a “both and,” and shows how this is possible. The remarkable thing about this book is [End Page 935] that sight of the ethnography is never lost. Posters that cover bullet holes in the walls and the pained nonchalance of a woman that has lived through the aging of squalor in Nicosia’s border area keep the “both and” firmly anchored in the data.
In this book, Navaro-Yashin turns her attention to the politics of affect. Agreeing with the central project of affect theory for the need to go beyond discourse in looking at the construction of subjectivity, she nevertheless argues convincingly that the “beyond” cannot be only in the materialities of things per se. Affect is discharged and transmitted (by spaces, objects, buildings, rubbish), but the anthropological question must remain focused on the people who live with, collect, avoid, and encounter these objects if it is to remain ethnographically relevant. The result of this argument is an ethnography that embroils affect in the politics of violence and asks the difficult questions of how people re-inhabit such spaces by revisiting (in discourse, in thought, in feeling, or imperceptively) those violences. She therefore proposes an “affect-subjectivity continuum” (27) over the either/or question that approaches such as those of actor-network theory have posed in relation to Foucauldian ones. Throughout, she maintains a strong grasp of ethnographic analysis, allowing the data to steer the analysis rather than imposing an explanation already worked out. This makes for compelling reading which refuses to alienate those unfamiliar with the concepts discussed. The Make-Believe Space is therefore not only an ethnography of the Cyprus conflict, nor a theoretical discussion of affect. It contributes to both without privileging either.
Take the ethnography of Cyprus, for example. One of the virtues of the anthropological approach is the ability not only to look at situations from new angles, but to also invent the vocabulary to describe these perspectives when former approaches and methods are found wanting. The anthropology of Cyprus has sadly not really taken advantage of this until now. The reason for this can be instructive for other places where topics of concern have centered on one central issue of a definitively international dimension: “the Cyprus conflict” has for decades been the prerogative of political science and cognate disciplines...