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  • Assemblage Points of the Imperial Situation:Places and Spaces of Diversity

annual theme 2014 annual theme

In 2014, Ab Imperio invites its contributors and readers to examine the central category of new imperial history: the imperial situation. The coexisting and partially overlapping nomenclatures of social statuses and hierarchies of authority produce an irregular map of human diversity and hegemony, which can be discovered in virtually any epoch and society, “imperial” or “nation-state.” In this imperial situation, location can be exchanged for a different social status (say, a petty clerk from the capital becomes an important figure once he arrives in the borderlands or a colony); ethnicity and class generate different social capital in different situations or locations; and time is conditional and reversible (one can bomb people “into the stone age,” or propel them from primitive or feudal society all the way into socialism).

Numerous questions arise as soon as one projects this model onto specific case-study material: What is the relationship between the imperial situation and historical actors? Can we speak of a coherent imperial subject produced by the imperial situation? How exactly is the imperial situation “made?”

In order to avoid embedded explanatory strategies built into grand structuralist generalizations, we suggest operating with an open-ended middle-range theory category such as an “assemblage point.” Although it comes from the nonacademic sphere (namely, the visionary works of Carlos Castaneda), an “assemblage point” seems to be a quite neutral and “technical” way to capture the very moment of forming an imperial situation – at a certain moment, under certain circumstances, from certain “building blocks.” It is possible that this notion can be productively used with the new analytical and rational connotations of new imperial history. More conventional (but not much more analytically clear) categories such as “bricolage” or “hybridity” can be revisited and overhauled in the pursuit of developing a language to describe the process of producing the imperial situation – between structurally more stable “spaces” and “places.”

Four thematic issues in this annual volume of Ab Imperio approach this task from different angles. [End Page 327]

1/2014 Zeit und Raum: Adjacent Spaces, Overlapping Epochs?

Recipe number one: bring different worlds together, “mix, but do not stir.”

  • • Neighboring communities or regions get incorporated into a common social and political sphere, on different legal, economic, and political terms;

  • • Multiple temporalities espoused by different social strata and cultural groups coexist, resulting in the incongruences of calendars, work rhythms, and perceptions of the past and future;

  • • Perceived or self-nominated “civilizations,” “worlds,” “socioeconomic formations,” and “cultures” become integrated into an all-embracing worldview, through an assortment of adapting institutional and discursive mechanisms;

  • • Individual trajectories across various social loci and temporalities “stitch them up” together;

  • • Historical turning points, junctures, and decisive events as formative experiences.

2/2014 Crossroads and Multiple Temporalities: Contact Zones and Middle Grounds

Recipe number two: strangers meeting in the “middle ground” in search of identity and common sense.

  • • The city as a site of diversity, actualized and visualized: everyone is local, everyone is a newcomer;

  • • What mechanisms produce inequality in the inter-“minorities” relationships?

  • • How stable are the “conversion rates” between ethnicity and social status, wealth and territorial localization, education and state service?

  • • The nonessentialist understanding of collectivities as products of “magnetic fields” set by external factors and internal decisions;

  • • Thinking power without a clear subject in heterogeneous space: who rules the empire?

3/2014 Ghettos and Time Gaps (bezvremenie): Negativity as “the Moment of Truth”

The Test Case: Difference Being Produced Despite Isolation and Arrested Dynamics. [End Page 328]

  • • Seemingly homogeneous societies and groups still generate situationally and contextually revealing differences: in a Jewish Ghetto, within a peasant community, or in a “stagnating” and stable “Developed Socialism” society;

  • • “The narcissism of small differences” as a historical mechanism of social demarcation at work in routine situations and egalitarian settings;

  • • How historical ruptures and “time capsules” make symbolic boundaries look bigger than life;

  • • The art of inventing differences: states, social groups, and the management of populations and statuses;

  • • Unintended consequences: projects of uniformity and the proliferation of differences.

4/2014 Spontaneous Bricolage, Masters of Assemblage, and Their Contested Blueprints

Assemblage Points Deconstructed: Who, When, and Why Attempted to Rationalize...


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pp. 327-329
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